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Showing posts from December, 2010

Friday night folklore: The Skeleton and the Man in Red

Here is spooky New year's Eve tale: Once upon a time at one of Icelend’s farm churches, a whole skeleton of a man was found on the ground in the graveyard. The next time there was a burial, the pastor had it buried with the coffin, but not long afterwards it was again discovered above ground. The pastor made several  attempts to bury the skeleton, but it would always find its way back out. Eventually he gave up and had the skeleton transferred into the church and stored under one of the pews and there it stayed for a long time.  One New Year’s Eve when the pastor was about to perform the nightly reading from the holy books, he realised that he had left his hymnal in the church after the last service. He spoke up and said “Is there someone here who is not afraid of the dark who is willing to fetch my hymnal from the church?” One of the farm maids replied that she would do it and went and brought back the hymnal. Then the pastor said to her: “I see you are not afraid of the dark,

Short stories 341-350

“Santa Claus Beat” by Rex Stout. A clever policeman clears up a theft case. “Whatever Became of Ebenezer Scrooge?” by Tom Tolnay. What happened on Boxing Day, after the events of A Christmas Carol . “Who Killed Father Christmas?” by Patricia Moyes. A third murdered Santa. This ends Mystery for Christmas . “The Telephone” by Mary Threadgold. About a ghost, or maybe not. “Afterward” by Edith Wharton. About a ghost one doesn’t realise one has seen until long afterward. “On the Brighton Road” by Richard Middleton. About a tramp who is joined by a spooky companion on the road to Brighton. “The Absent-minded Coterie” by Robert Barr. A funny story about a super-sleuth who bears more than a little resemblance to Hercule Poirot, except he predates that estimable detective by more than a decade. The story itself is more in the vein of Doyle. Recommended. “The Problem of Cell 13” by Jacques Futrelle. A funny story about the original Thinking Machine and how he was able to think himself ou

Frankfurter Buchmesse 2011 Challenge: 101 Reykjavik by Hallgrímur Helgason

Genre : Lad-lit Year of publication : 1996 Setting & time : Reykjavík, Iceland; contemporary German and English title : 101 Reykjavik Gex-X slacker Hlynur spends his days moping around, watching porn, chatting on the Internet, bar-hopping and spending his unemployment benefits on booze and Ecstasy, all the while enjoying living in what we Icelanders call “Hotel Mom”. Two unexpected pregnancies precipitate an existential crisis, but in the end he manages to overcome it. This is a not-so-subtle twist on the classic coming-of-age storyline, except the character doesn’t grow and doesn’t learn anything and just stays the same. The language is creative and verbose, sometime overwhelmingly so. For example, the Icelandic version has one sentence that is over four pages long (can anyone confirm that this structure has been kept in the English and/or German versions?). There has been some mention of the language in the English translation coming across as stilted and unnatural at tim

So sad today

Today I say goodbye to my grandmother, who died on December 23rd, after a fairly short illness. Her death came only two days after we buried my aunt, her second eldest daughter. This has been a very hard and sorrowful Christmas season for my family, with two deaths so close together, but it has shown us how important it is to have such a close-knit family as ours is.

Meme: Top Ten Books I've Read in 2010

Top Ten Tuesdays is a meme organised by The Broke and the Bookish. This week we are looking at the 10 best reads of the year 2010. Please visit the originating blog and click on the links to visit some of the other participating blogs to see more great reads. I decided to exclude any re-reads from this list. It was still quite hard to draw up, since I actually read at least a dozen books this year that I would have liked to include. I haven’t put them in order of preference, but chose to put them in alphabetical order by title instead. Aska (English title: Ashes to Dust ) by Yrsa Sigurðardóttir. This is possibly Yrsa's best novel to date, although I must admit that I still have the last two of her books left to read. Cider with Rosie by Laurie Lee. Such a wonderfully rich narrative of childhood in the early 20th century. Empires of the Indus: The Story of a river by Alice Albinia. A combination of travelogue and history that spans 2 millenia and several countries. Ghost S

Indian Folk-tales and Legends

Originally published in January 2005, in 2 parts. Book 47 in my first 52 books challenge. Edited/Retold by: Pratibha Nath Year published: 1995 Pages: 170 Genre: Folk-tales, myths, legends Where got: Paramount Book Store, New Delhi, India I bought this book during my stay in India in 1996. For some reason I only ever read the first few stories, and when I got back home I put it on a shelf and promptly forgot about it. It came to light again recently when I was culling my books, and I decided to finally finish reading it. Like most of the locally published books I bought in India, it is printed on cheap paper that is already yellowing, and the glued binding is coming apart, even though the book has rarely been opened. As you can see, the cover is quite funny – I believe that’s supposed to be a demon. This is a collection of folk-tales and legends from all over India. Although the stories are meant for children, they are readable for persons of any age who like folk-ta

Short stories 331-340

On with December: “Cold and Deep” by Frances Fyfield. About getting away with murder on Christmas. The next 12 stories come from Mystery for Christmas , a collection of Christmas crime stories originally published in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine and Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine. “The Christmas Bear” by Herbert Resnicow. About a missing toy and the grandmother who solved the mystery of its disappearance. “Christmas Cop” by Thomas Adcock. An undercover cop meets with a moral dilemma on Christmas. “Dead on Christmas Street” by John D. MacDonald. It looked like the mob did it, but did they really? Recommended. “I Saw Mommy Killing Santa Claus” by George Baxt. What the title says. “Kelso’s Christmas” by Malcolm McClintick. A second murdered Santa. Recommended. “The Marley Case” by Linda Haldeman. A modern Scrooge starts to wonder how Jacob Marley died and gets an unexpected visit. “Mystery for Christmas” by Anthony Boucher. A film studio script doctor helps the police

Friday night folklore: The Christmas Night Dance

This is another variation of the “person left to guard the farm” tale: On a particular farm one of the women would always be left to guard the farm while the other attended Christmas mass. One Christmas, and several Christmases after this, the woman chosen would be incurably insane when the people got back. Eventually no-one was willing to stay behind, until a new maid was hired and not told what had happened to the others. She was then told to guard the farm on Christmas Night. When the others were gone, she lit all the lights and placed them so that the whole farm was well lit. Then she sat down on her bed with a book and started reading. She was an intelligent girl and religious. When she had sat for some time, a large group of people entered the farm, men, women and children. The started dancing and invited the girl to join them, but she sat still and said nothing. Every now and them someone would try to cajole her into dancing, even offering her rich rewards if she did so, but s

Top mysteries challenge review: The Glass Key by Dashiell Hammett

Year of publication: 1931 Genre: Thriller Type of mystery: Murder Type of investigator: Amateur (gambler, sworn in as a (crooked) district attorney's special investigator) Setting & time: An unnamed American city, contemporary Story: Gambler Ned Beaumont is the right-hand man of crooked politician and crime boss Paul Madvig. The latter is supporting a senator for re-election and plans to marry his daughter. Then the senator’s son is murdered and people start getting mysterious letters that implicate Madvig in the murder, and Beaumont, who considers Madvig to be his friend, starts investigating the case as a gang war is brewing. Review: This is one excellent tour de force of a thriller. Red herrings, twists, crossings and double-crossings – this story has them all, even twists that are so twisted that some of them become double switchbacks. You never really get a complete grip on what is going on – the plot moves too fast and every character is too slippery and

Meme: Top Ten Books I Hope Santa brings

Top Ten Tuesdays is a meme organised by The Broke and the Bookish . Visit them and click on the links to visit some of the other participating blogs to see more Christmas wish lists. To compile this list I took a look at my Book Depository and BookMooch wish lists and decided which books I would like to most to get for Christmas. These are mostly wishlist books I can’t get from the library and am unlikely to get through BookMooch, plus a couple of new or newish books I can’t wait to read. There are no Icelandic books on the list, but I am looking forward to reading the latest books by Arnaldur Indriðason (which my parents will in all likelihood get for Xmas) and Yrsa Sigurðardóttir (which one of my friends will buy for herself if she doesn’t get it for Xmas), and several other Icelandic authors not known in other countries. 1. The Songs of Love and Death anthology. This has stories by several of my favourite authors. 2. The Hundred-Foot Journey by Richard C. Morais. Foodie read

Mouse or Rat? Translation as negotiation

Originally published in January 2005, in 3 parts. Book 46 in my first 52 books challenge . Edited to include publication information. I don't know what the xxxx is going on here, but whenever I try to use the Beta posting engine (this refers to tBlog, and not to Blogger) to edit an existing post, the text disappears, just as the introduction to Mouse or Rat? did here. Fortunately, the review was posted separately. Author : Umberto Eco Year published: 2003 Pages: 193 Genre: Translation theory, writing Where got: Contents: In this book, Eco discusses translation as a kind of negotiation: between translator and author, between languages, and so on. He mostly discusses what is known as translation proper, i.e. the translation from one language (source) into another (target). He also mentions other kinds of translations, like intersemiotic translation or transmutation, which is the translation from one form of art into another, e.g. a novel into a film or a

Short stories 321-330

  Merry Christmas, Everyone! On with the reporting: “Caravan” by Rosalyn Chissick. A fine little tale about a girl who joins the circus. Recommended. “The Seven Steps from Shag to Spouse” by Tiffanie Darke . The stages of development in a relationship. About as dreary as the title suggests. “Lip Service” by Karen Moline. A man tells his friends the story of a narrow escape from a woman. “Saving Amsterdam” by Chris Manby. About finding love again. “A Form of Release” by Daisy Waugh. About a has-been pop star yearning for a come-back. “Hurrah for the Hols” by Helen Simpson. A family holiday and the woes of parenthood. “No Worries” by Sarah Ingham. About travel as a metaphor for healing after a breakup. “Re: The World”, by Amy Jenkins. GNI. About the one who got away. This finishes Girls’ Night Out . I had some inkling of what I was getting myself into when I decided to read this book for the challenge: lots of light-hearted stories about romance and some stories about break-up

Friday night folklore: The Elves’ Christmas Dance

In the olden days it was a tradition to hold a mass on Christmas Night, which was attended by everyone who possibly could, but there was always someone who had to stay behind to guard the farm. This task usually fell to the shepherds, since they needed to look after the sheep as usual, whether it was a holiday or not. They had rarely finished their day’s work when it was time to depart for the church, and so they stayed behind.  As the story goes, there was a farm where this tradition was upheld. But the difference was that one Christmas morning when the people returned from the church, the shepherd had disappeared and was never found. The farmer hired another shepherd, but next Christmas Night he also disappeared, and so did his successor. The story got around and no-one was willing to go there to do the shepherding. It was not until after the first day of summer that a man came to the farmer and asked if he still needed a shepherd. He had good recommendations and the farmer hired hi

Reading journal: The Woman in White, entry 1

Before I start I must say that although I have not read the book before, I know the story broadly, from an abbreviated audio book version I once listened to and from a film version seen many years ago. Below you will find minor SPOILERS, so be warned. I found out when I read the Moonstone that Wilkie Collins was a master at creating wonderfully live characters. They might sometimes appear at first sight to be drawn in broad strokes, but then they surprise you by saying or doing something you would never expect that particular stereotype to say or do, and so they stop being stereotypes. Collins was also a master of creating characters it is difficult to be indifferent to. Mr. Fairlie is one such character – one realises almost from the start and certainly from Mr. Gilmore’s narrative onwards, that he is in large measure to blame for the whole disastrous events that follow, because of his indolence and unwillingness to act in the best interests of his niece. I have got to the point o

Mystery review: Tied up in Tinsel by Ngaio Marsh

Year of publication: 1972 Series and no.: Inspector Roderick Alleyn (Detective superintendent in this book), no. 27/32 Genre: Country murder house mystery Setting & time: England, contemporary Agatha Troy, Roderick Alleyn’s famous painter wife, is at a country house to paint the owner’s portrait. As Alleyn is working on an extradition case in Australia, she accepts an invitation to spend Christmas there (there is no mention of her son, Ricky, which I find strange). Then a servant disappears under suspicious circumstances just after Alleyn has returned and accepted an invitation to join the house party over Christmas. Although the investigation of the case rightfully belongs to the local police, the master of the house is able to force Alleyn to take over the investigation, which he reluctantly does. When I read this book I found myself getting irked at some discrepancies in the story when compared with the previous books. Alleyn, who has hitherto not hesitated to poke hi

Dogs and Goddesses

Authors: Jennifer Crusie, Anne Stuart & Lani Diane Rich Genre: Supernatural romantic thriller Year of publication: 2009 Setting & time: Ohio, USA, contemporary Three women, Daisy, Abby and Shar, meet at a dog obedience training class and are given a mysterious drink that makes them able to understand the speech of their dogs and releases powers they didn’t know they had. They discover that, along with four other women, they are the chosen priestesses of an ancient Assyrian goddess. As if discovering they are demi-goddesses themselves wasn’t enough, they also meet Sam, Noah and Christopher, three very sexy men who all have some connection to the goddess, who has plans to take over the world. But things have changed in the four thousand years since her cult was last strong, and the goddess has to contend with free will and a goth priestess who wants her all to herself. This is an entertaining supernatural romp of a romantic thriller which doesn’t take itself too seriou

Meme: Top Ten Books I'm Anticipating For 2011

This meme is hosted by the Broke and the Bookish . For more anticipated and upcoming books, please visit the mother site and click on the links to some of the participating blogs. I decided to only include books that are getting published in 2011, but was only able to come up with five: A new book from Arnaldur Indriðason, as yet untitled. A new book from Yrsa Sigurðardóttir, as yet untitled. Lavender's Blue by Jennifer Crusie. It will be interesting to read a mystery from my favourite contemporary romance author. Frostfire by Lynn Viehl.The third installation in the Kyndred series. Snuff (working title, so subject to change) by Terry Pratchett. A Discworld Watch novel.

Letters to Alice, on first reading Jane Austen

Originally published in December 2004. Book 45 in my first 52 books challenge. Author: Fay Weldon Year published: 1984 Pages : 156 (pocket book) Genre: Literary essays and criticism Where got: Public Library About the book: I came across this book in the literature section of the public library, while browsing for quick reads (I’m slowly reading a long non-fiction book and like to relax between sections with short novels). Although Letters to Alice … is shelved under General Fiction in the Germanic Languages (Dewey class 830), the suggested classification on the book’s publication information page is Dewey class 823.7, which is the classification for Jane Austen studies. At first glance the book seems to be a hybrid of fiction and non-fiction, and therefore rather hard to classify under the clear-cut Dewey system. It’s classifiable as fiction because it is written in the form of an epistolatory novel, as letters to Weldon’s imaginary niece who stands in for the common reader

This made me laugh will always remain my private persuasion that Nature was absorbed in making cabbages when Mrs. Vesey was born, and that the good lady suffered the consequences of a vegetable preoccupation in the mind of the Mother of us all."  Walter Hartright describing Miss Fairlie's former governess, in The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins.

List Love 4: 10 Best Horror Novels That Have Been Made Into Good Horror Films

Time for a little List Love. I came across this list of 10 best horror novels made into films when I was checking if had forgotten to mention something good on my Top Ten Books for Halloween list. This does not seem to be a consensus list, but rather one person’s opinion, but since film adaptations of books are a subject I am interested in, I decided it was worthwhile to look at this list in an issue of List Love. The Exorcist by William Peter Blatty (1971). The book made me afraid to go to sleep – the last book ever to do so. The movie was good, very creepy and the “pea soup” scene was disgusting. Rosemary’s Baby by Ira Levin (1967). I have neither read nor seen this one, but the book is on my Top Mysteries Challenge list, so I will read it one day. I generally find that reading the book before I see the movie is better, so I will not be watching it until I am done with the book. The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson (1959). One of my top 10 best supernatural sus

Friday night folklore: Queen Bothilda

It is an old tradition in Iceland to attend a midnight mass on Christmas Eve, and many folktales tell of what would happen to those who stayed home to guard the farm while the others were gone. There are many variations both of the following tale and also of another that tells of the person left behind disappearing altogether and someone breaking that pattern with bravery or cunning. Next Friday’s story will be one of those. One Christmas Eve on a farm in south-western Iceland there was a knock on the door and outside there was a beautifully dressed woman who asked if she could stay the night there. The farmer welcomed her in and asked her name, but she said she was called Bothilda but was unwilling to say where she came from or who her people were. She stayed the night and was alone in the house while the people from the farm attended the midnight mass. When they came back in the morning, they saw that the house was cleaner and tidier than it had ever been before and everything was r

A quotation for today

"The books we think we ought to read are poky, dull, and dry; The books that we would like to read we are ashamed to buy; The books that people talk about we never can recall; And the books that people give us, oh, they're the worst of all." Carolyn Wells (1862-1942)

Time for some reading challenges, pt. 3

Here are the fifth and sixth reading challenges I am considering. To read more about a challenge, just click on the image and you will be taken to the originating website. This one is to choose a minimum of three themes to read up on, with an increasing number of books in each level, plus a couple of other rules. I'm thinking that it could be combined with the mythology challenge I mentioned in my last post in this series. OR, I could participate in this one, where the originating blogger has already decided which 6 themes will be used:

A breakthrough in the American market for translated books?

I came across an article in The New York times yesterday about publishers that are trying to expand the US market for translated books. The American market for translations is notoriously difficult, and what the author of the article calls "the 3 percent problem" is very real - only 3% of all books published in the USA are translations and this has been the case for many years, while the German market, for instance, is much more open, with translation percentages in the double figures (I have heard as high as 40%, but couldn't find data to confirm it).

Short stories 311-320

“The Itch” by Polly Samson. About the beginning of a relationship and what may be the beginning of the end of the same. “Morro” by Alecia McKenzie. About a woman who is first the ‘victim’ of sex tourism but later becomes a sex tourist. “Flung” by Adele Parks. A frothy story about a jilted woman, a holiday and a fling with a younger man. “Pull Me in the Pullman Carriage” by Helen Lederer. A woman going through a sexual dry spell meets a hot stranger on a train. “The Plain Truth” by Claire Gilman. A plain girl gets to be sexy for a night, with consequences. Some realism, for a change. “Mr Charisma” by Yasmin Boland. About a paparazza who secretly hates being one. “The Sun, the Moon and the Stars” by Pauline McLynn. About a theatre production and a misunderstanding between lovers. Recommended. “The Shell of Venus”, by Victoria Routledge. GNI. Spa treatment as a metaphor for healing a broken heart. “Man with a Tan” by Anna Maxted. A girl meets a new guy just as she discovers that a

Short stories 301-310

When I looked at the list of stories I have read so far I realised I had read more stories by men than by women, so I decided to focus on short stories by women for the whole month of November. I finished Girl‘s Night In , an anthology of stories by contemporary female writers from the UK, Ireland, the USA and Australia that was published to raise money for the charity War Child . These stories were mostly women's magazine fare, relationship- and friendship-oriented stories with with lots of holiday romances, heroines working in publishing (the book having been published when Bridget Jones was at the height of its popularity) and several bad friends getting their comeuppance while several good or 'ordinary' girls got a life and got the guy, with a few different ones in-between. All good and fine by themselves, but reading so many of them so close together did get a bit boring after a while, but by the time ennui had set in I was almost done with the book, so I thought &quo

Tourists with Typewriters – Critical reflections on contemporary travel writing

Originally published in December 2004, in 3 parts. Book 44 in my first 52 books challen ge. Author: Patrick Holland & Graham Huggan Year published: 1998 Pages: 261 Genre: Historiography, criticism and history Sub-genre(s): Travel writing Where got: National/University Library Whenever I go browsing at the National/University Library I come across books on all sorts of interesting subjects. One of my haunts is the travel and geography section, where I have found many great reads about travel, which is without doubt my favourite genre. The last time I visited the library I ventured into the literary theory section, where I found this interesting book about travel writing and writers. The bibliography alone has given me a substantial number of books to add to my TBR list. Part 2: Tourists with Typewriters: Reading progress Try as I may, I can’t get into this book. I read a few pages and find myself dozing off. In 5 days I have only got as far as finishing the introduction and ch

Progress report for November and tentative reading plan for December

Of the books I named as possible November reads, I only finished The Three Musketeers and Twilight . I only read one Top Mystery instead of the 2 or more I had planned for, but managed to read 8 TBR books. As to A Kiss Before Dying and Innocent Blood , I am going to have to pay a hefty fine to the library for keeping them too long, so I’ll read them later. Instead I have a mind to read some Raymond Chandler and Dashiel Hammett for the Top Mysteries Challenge, as well as The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins, which is also my Chunkster Challenge book for the month. All of these have the advantage that they overlap with the TBR challenge. I am way behind schedule with my reporting for the 365 short stories challenge, but I hope to remedy that so I will not be posting those reports far into next January. The theme for November was ‘women only’. I am still reading Lark Rise by Flora Thompson, which has turned out to be an excellent slow read, but I expect to finish it in December

Reading report for November 2010

I finished 14 volumes in November. I refer to them as volumes because if you count each novella in the three novella collections separately, I read 19 pieces that could have appeared as separate books. As with the Edward Gorey books I read earlier in the year, it is difficult to decide whether to count each piece as a separate book or not, but in the end I decided to use the same criterion, namely this simple question: Has it been published separately before? If the answer is ‘Yes’ then it’s a separate book, even if I read it in a collection or anthology. Using that criterion, the Santa, Baby anthology is one book, because although two of the novellas in it have been published before, they both originally appeared in other anthologies. The Debbie Macomber novellas are both still in print as single volumes, and the Nora Roberts volume was originally two books, a novel and two novellas, respectively, so that counts as two as well. That, if my mathematics doen’t deceive me, makes 16 bo

Friday night folklore: Grettir the Strong, the Maid and the Elf-man

This is a folk-tale but it tells of one of Iceland’s Saga heroes, the outlaw Grettir the Strong. It is also a classic helper story in which the central character does someone a favour and that person comes back to help them when they need it. On a farm somewhere in Iceland in the old days it was a tradition for one of the farm workers to be left out of the Christmas celebrations, turned out of the common room and made to spend Christmas Eve sleeping on the floor by the front door. These poor wretches would always disappear and everyone thought this was very strange. This had been going on for a long time. One summer day when the farm maids were milking the ewes, a stranger arrived, a man tall and strongly built, and asked one of the girls for a drink of sheep’s milk, as he was very thirsty. She asked him for his name and he said it was Grettir Ásmundarson. She told him that she was afraid to give him any milk because her mistress would punish her harshly if she saw that there was les

Books for Christmas

I love getting books for Christmas and birthday presents. My friends and family know this, which is why, when I was about 10 and still got presents from all my aunts and uncles and cousins, I once got 15 books for Christmas and 7 for my birthday. These days I am lucky to get one book, usually for Christmas. As a child and young teen I was happy with whatever books I got, but then things developed so that the only people who ever gave me books were the ones who had no clue as to what I liked to read. But that was fine because I realised that unwanted books could be exchanged for books I wanted, or for store credit that could be used later. How I loved store credit! In Iceland the main season for publishing and buying books is the months before Christmas. At some point, about 10-15 years go, the supermarkets got in the game, selling books at considerably cheaper prices than the book shops, but only the books likely to sell well and only from about mid-November to Christmas. It’s a bo

Time for some reading challenges, pt. 2

Here are the third and fourth reading challenges I am considering. To read more about a challenge, just click on the image and you will be taken to the originating website. This one is all about mythology, both fiction and non-fiction, with some specific rules. There are prizes to be won for participating in this one. Mythology and folktales were my favourite reading material from childhood and well into my my twenties. I already have several TBR books on the subject, so I could easily combine this one with the TBR challenge, which I will be continuing next year. --- This one is simply to read a certain number of Gothic novels, choosing from 4 levels: I found myself reading a number of novels with Gothic themes this year, so why not make them a challenge for next year?

Chunkster Challenge Review: The Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas, père

This was my third Chunkster Challenge read, the one for November, but for technical reasons (i.e. it took me 2 days to write the review) I was unable to post it until today. My final book in the challenge will be The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins, which is incidentally also a Top Mysteries Challenge book. Original French title : Les Trois Mousquetaires Genre : Adventure, historical novel Year of publication : 1844 Setting & time : France and England, 1625-28 Translated into English by : William Barrow (1846) Page count : 576 The edition I read is one of the earliest English translations of this classic story. According to Wikipedia, this edition, which seems to have stayed in print all this time is “fairly faithful to the original” with the exception that “all of the explicit and many of the implicit references to sexuality had been removed to conform to 19th-century English standards”. This has made me curious to read a modern, unexpurgated version, but that will hav