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Showing posts from 2011

End of year pondering: Thoughts on personal libraries, collecting and decluttering

It occurred to me, as I was preparing to add my e-books to my library database, that library size really doesn‘t matter any longer, at least where space is concerned. You could have a library with the same number of volumes as America‘s Library of Congress (over 22 million volumes), and yet you could carry it with ease in your pocket. In terms of the sheer number of owned books this is a great big opportunity for bibliophiliac one-upmanship.  There are a little over 800 titles in my e-book collection, mostly free books downloaded from Project Gutenberg and other websites that legally offer e-books for free, plus a few I have bought or been given. Altogether they take up about 650 megabytes of hard drive space, which is enough to fill the largest hard drive available for the type of laptop I own, and then some. That hard drive takes up about the same amount of space as a small powder compact. The 2 terabyte external hard drive I use for backing up the contents of the computer

Reading report for November 2011

I had this ready at the start of the month but have only just realised that I never published it, so here goes: I finished 9 books in November, of which 4 were TBR challenge books. I have now reached the TBR goal for this year: to get the TBR stack below 800 books by reading and/or culling. I took a long look at my bookshelves yesterday (make that December 5th) and made a drastic cull, bringing the TBR down to 791 books. I plan to continue with the challenge in 2012, and will probably begin with a goal of going below 750 TBR books. This almost became the first month for a very long time in which I did not finish one mystery or thriller, but because the journey covered in The 8.55 to Baghdad was inspired by Agatha Christie and her journey on the Orient Express, I decided to reread Murder on the Orient Express . Knowing what the outcome of the mystery would be allowed me to concentrate on other things about it, and it struck me how brilliant Christie was at drawing, with a few deft

Down Under by Bill Bryson

Originally published in July 2005, on my original 52 Books blog. This is the account of Bill Bryson’s (broken up) journey around Australia, to visit its biggest cities and some interesting sights, natural and man-made. Bryson is obviously an australophile. This book is a virtual love letter to Australia, especially its natural beauty, and in a lesser way to its people. Even though he writes in his usual humorously mocking style, and criticises certain things, especially environmental policies and the less than helpful staff at hotels in a certain city, the book is for the most part a very positive and affectionate, sometimes glowing, account of this interesting country. Besides covering his impressions and travel experiences, Bryson gives some account of Australian history and the country’s attractions, and the book can, in fact, be used as an informal guide to some of the places he visited. He seems to have been very diligent in hunting down and exploring unusual little museums and

The Imps with the Bags

Swearing is said to feed the Devil, and swearing during Christian holidays must be extra nourishing for him. Here is a moral tale of just that: I t is said that a long time ago, in a valley in the north of Iceland which is no longer inhabited, there were once seven farms. It happened that one Christmas Eve the farmer who owned the farm nearest the mouth of the valley was guarding his sheep while they grazed. In the twilight he noticed seven half-grown boys walking on the bank of the river and heading towards the valley. All were dressed in black, with caps on their heads and carrying folded-up bags. They were moving very fast and running with a strange and grotesque gait.  The farmer felt very uneasy upon seeing this sight and stared after the lads until they disappeared around a hillock. He wondered who they could be, and finally came to the conclusion that they must be imps, come to collect all the swearing people did over the Christmas holidays, to feed their master and themselv

Cover Her Face by P.D. James

Originally published in July 2005, on my original 52 Books blog. Such a gorgeous cover! When a conniving and secretive young housemaid at the Maxie mansion is murdered, the local constable immediately calls in the Scotland Yard. The Yard’s representative is Chief Inspector Adam Dalgliesh, who goes about his job of investigating and interviewing suspects and witnesses, in a thorough, calm and apparently unemotional manner. He uncovers seething emotions, hatred and passions that bubble just under the surface, and finds that most of the people who were at the mansion the night of the murder had good reason to dislike or even hate the murdered woman. This, the first of P.D. James’ popular Chief Inspector Dalgliesh books, is a rather Christiesque story. Dalgliesh uses Hercule Poirot’s preferred method of gathering together the suspects to unveil the killer, and the story is a country manor mystery in the Golden Age style, as so many of Agatha Christie’s books were. The characters of t

Off on a tangent

Yesterday, a barely remembered comment from a Terry Pratchett novel about a professor at Unseen University sent me to google to look up from which book it came. The professor in questions was commonly referred to as the "reader in the loo" or something similar, but the results that came up for that sentence (sans quotation marks) sent me off on a tangent. Among the search results on the first page was the following Wikipedia entry, which has to be one of the weirder ones to be found in that estimable encyclopaedia (not that the entry is in any way silly, but it's weird that the subject made it onto WP in the first place). It's a long entry, too: Wikipedia: Toilet paper orientation Apropos of this, here is a challenge for you, Dear Reader: To find a more unexpected or strange Wikipedia entry and post it as a comment to this post.

List love: A funny dozen

I present you with a dozen funny novels I have enjoyed through the years. Indeed, some of them are on my perennial re-reading list, e.g. nos. 2, 6, 7 and 10. Some will have you laughing out loud while others might have you bubbling with barely suppressed laughter through the read. Not all of them may appeal to all of you, as they range from dark satire to  airy parody to pure slapstick, but there is something in there for almost everyone. In no particular order: Catch-22 by Joseph Heller. Satire. About the absurdities of army life and war. The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams. All of the books in the series, but especially the first one. Very good science-fantasy and a parody of the genre, and also very funny. T hree Men in a Boat, to say nothing of the Dog by Jerome K. Jerome. A funny collection of the travel misadventurs of three men and a dog on a boating holiday in the Thames. Auntie Mame by Patrick Dennis. The adventures of the unflappable Auntie Ma

From Doon with Death by Ruth Rendell

Originally published in June 2005, on my original 52 Books blog. Margaret Parsons, a dowdy housewife, disappears from her Kingsmarkham home, and is found murdered the next day. During the investigation, suspicion fall on several people, including her husband, a former boyfriend, two former school friends, and their husbands. Finally, when Wexford and Burden discover a cache of inscribed books from “Doon” to “Minna”, they begin to piece together a story of obsession and desire, going back more than a decade, and make a startling discovery as to the identity of “Doon”. This is the first book in the Chief Inspector Wexford series. Like many other readers, I first became aware of Wexford as the leading character in a series of very good TV films based on the books, starring George Baker as Wexford. For some time I wasn’t even aware they were based on books, and even when I did realise it, I still was not very interested in reading them. Then I started becoming interested in crime myster

Review: Bollywood Boy by Justine Hardy

Genre: The stated genre is Travel, but Film and Social History could just as well apply Year published: 2003 A glimpse of the Hindi movie industry’s newest heartthrob, Hrithik Roshan, sent Justine Hardy on a year-long exploration of the whole Hindi movie phenomenon. She interviewed people in the movie industry, including a film journalist, a small-time director, actors and actresses and a former movie choreographer, to gain insight into the industry, but it is her interviews and conversations with the ordinary people, the fans, that are the most interesting and illuminating. Always at the centre of the narrative is Roshan and Hardy’s ever more comical attempts to get an interview with him (it took a loooong time). In the end we don’t get a very deep insight into Bollywood, just a look at the surface glamour and glitter, with the occasional deeper glimpses of the dangers involved (organised crime both extorts money from the film-makers and backs their projects) and the dark side

Pastures Nouveaux by Wendy Holden

Originally published in June 2005, on my original 52 Books blog. My first introduction to chick lit was the much praised Bridget Jones’ Diary, which I frankly hated. IMHO, the movie, for once, was better than the book. It didn’t stop me exploring further, however, and I have read several books belonging to the Genre : good, bad and indifferent. I’ve even reviewed some in this blog. Warning: SPOILERS ahead Two very different couples’ lives begin to interweave when they move to a small village in England. They are the practically broke illustrator Rosie and her ill-tempered columnist boyfriend Mark, and filthy rich actress, evil stepmother and bitch queen Samantha and her husband, Guy the financier. Also involved are a noisy family of slackers who live next door to Rosie and Mark’s cottage, a farmer who becomes attracted to Rosie (who seriously considers dumping Mark for him), a reclusive rock star, a former Bond girl and Guy’s teenage daughter, who has every intention of breaking u

In memoriam: Anne McCaffrey

I read today, on one of my regular blog stops, that Anne McCaffrey has died. I discovered the Dragonriders of Pern series when I was in college. I picked up the very first book to be published, Dragonflight , at a fantastic second-hand bookshop that, alas, no longer exists. It was love at first read. I scoured the second-hand bookshops for the rest of the books then published, and found Dragonquest , T he White Dragon , and the Harper Hall trilogy, read them and loved them all. I introduced them to my mother, who is an even bigger fantasy fan than I am, and she loved them too. Then came Renegades of Pern , All the Weyrs of Pern and Dragonsdawn , and ouch! Our favourite fantasy stories had become science fiction. Neither of us liked it much, but we struggled on. We finally gave up as the books became more and more sciency (even the prequels and mid-quels) and less and less fantastical, but we both still have an enduring love for the early books and have re-read them often. I wond

Romance review: Happy Ever After by Nora Roberts

Genre: Romance, contemporary Series: The Bride Quartet Year of publication: 2010 Setting & time: Greenwich, Connecticut, US; contemporary Level of sensuality: Hot, breathless kissing, short and flowery sex scenes. Parker Brown (‘of the Connecticut Browns’) is a modern day princess: classy, beautiful, wealthy and well-bred, but blessedly free of any pretension or hauteur (except when faced with people likely to hurt her friends). She is the planner, director and M.C. of Vows, the one who holds the whole wedding-planning business together. Malcolm is a Harley-driving former Hollywood stunt-man who ran away from a damaged childhood but has returned to run his own automobile repair-shop and plays poker with Parker’s brother Del. Ever since Parker kissed Mal to spite her brother, he had been interested in knowing her better, and the chemistry is undeniable. But will her breeding and his past get in their way? Not a bit. Their story runs a smooth and shiny and not very e

Ex Libris: Confessions of a common reader by Anne Fadiman

Originally published in June 2005, on my original 52 Books blog . This slim collection of essays by journalist Anne Fadiman was originally published in a literary magazine, but adapted and in some cases rewritten for the book. It was recommended to me by several people who know I love reading, and I would just like to say thanks to them for the recommendation. I have been trying for ages to find the book - according to the library database it was always in, but I couldn’t find it where it was supposed to be shelved. I finally came across it where it had been filed on the wrong shelf, probably by some browsing library patron. The book is basically about several different aspects of reading and owning books and an analysis of the author’s reading habits. She discusses, among other things, the problems of uniting libraries, her addiction to collecting books about doomed polar expeditions, her habit of proofreading everything she reads, those pesky gender pronouns that turn everyone in

Romance review: Savor the Moment by Nora Roberts

Genre: Romance, contemporary Series: The Bride Quartet Year of publication: 20 No. in series: 3 Setting & time: Greenwich, Connecticut, USA; contemporary Level of sensuality: Several sex scenes including one in which a metaphor does not evoke the intended emotion in the reader (clue: I posted it the day before yesterday...) Laurel is the baker/pastry chef of Vows, the wedding planning business run by four childhood girlfriends. She has known Del, company lawyer and brother to her friend and business partner Parker, for most of her life and they are as close as siblings, except Laurel has known for about as long that he is The One. She doesn’t know that Del has recently started noticing her as a sexy woman rather than as an honorary sister, so isn’t quite ready for the backfire when she kisses him in a fit of pique. They end up agreeing to date for 30 days – with no sex – and no one will have any problem guessing what happens next. The “how it happens” is the reason w

Since I posted a bad metaphor yesterday, today you get a nice little taste of Nora Roberts humour

This conversation between the rigidly-in-control-at-all-times heroine and her friend takes place after the hero has thoroughly kissed the heroine before they actually get together, seriously confusing her: “I was wearing the Back-Off Cloak.” “What?” “I’m not stupid. He made a little move in the kitchen. Actually, he makes little moves every time I run into him, which is disconcerting, but I can handle it. So when I walked him to the door, I thought he might get ideas.” Laurel’s eyes widened. “You swirled on the Back-Off Cloak? The famed shield that repels men of all ages, creeds, and political affiliations?” Yes.” “Yet he was not repelled. He’s immune.” She gave Parker a slap on the arm. “He may be the only creature of his kind.” Nora Roberts, Happy Ever After

I know "love" scenes are hard to write, but this metaphor really isn't a good one

„He watched pleasure turn her eyes to blue crystals, tasted her moan as he crushed his mouth to hers.“   Nora Roberts, Savor the Moment . Please tell me what is so sexy about crystals for eyes, even if they are blue? They are cold and hard and while they are pretty to look at, they are hardly sexy. That is an image that belongs more in a horror story than a romance novel."The Girl With the Crystal Eyes", anyone?

Romance review: Bed of Roses by Nora Roberts

Genre: Romance, contemporary Series: The Bride Quartet Year of publication: 2009 No. in series: 2 Setting & time: Greenwich, Connecticut, USA; contemporary Level of sensuality: Several breathless sex scenes and cute moments with kissing Emma, friend and business partner to Mac, heroine of the first book in the Bride Quartet, is the highly-skilled florist of Vows, the all-exclusive wedding-planning business they run together. She has long harboured a secret crush on Jack, an architect who is among her best friends. He is also interested in her, but hasn’t acted on it because of his close friendship with Parker’s brother who considers Emma, Mac and Laurel as his honorary sisters and is highly protective of them. After he helps her when her car breaks down late at night it becomes clear to them both that the attraction is mutual and after some initial hesitation they plunge into a passionate love affair. But their friendship, combined with Emma’s desire for the "ha

The Book of Tea by various authors

Originally published in June 2005, on my original 52 Books blog. Mary Cassatt: 5 O'clock Tea I am an avid tea drinker and have been ever since I drank my first cup of tea around age six. I enjoy tea in many of its incarnations: the sweet, spicy chai of India and Pakistan, the minty green tea of Morocco, strong and sweet Turkish tea, delicate Darjeelings, robust Kenyans and iced tea with slices of orange and lemon, to name some examples. I have never been much fond of fruit teas or plain green teas - the first I can tolerate iced, but the second tastes to me like freshly mown grass: the smell is nice and refreshing but the flavour is less than pleasing. I guess it’s an acquired taste and no doubt I will learn to drink it if I ever visit Japan or China. I am not what you would call a tea snob - you are just as likely to find me slurping sweet milk tea made with a tea bag (oh, my!), from a chipped and stained old mug (horror of horrors!), as you are to find me sipping milkless FT

Review: The 8.55 to Baghdad by Andrew Eames

Genre: Travel Area covered: Train journey (by stages) from London to Baghdad, with stops in Italy, various Balkan states, Turkey, Syria and various cities and archaeological sites in Iraq. Published in: 2004 This is an enjoyable read about setting out on a journey with the slimmest of excuses, in this case visiting places Agatha Christie travelled to and through when she set out to make a new life for herself after her divorce from her first husband, and to go to the places where she lived in with her second husband, an archaeologist who spent his working life digging up ancient cities in Iraq. Eames visited various places which one would have travelled through on a train journey between England and Iraq in 1928, which is when Agatha Christie first made the trip aboard the Orient Express , following her traumatic divorce from her first husband. Once the trip could have been made in a few stages (for example directly, without disembarking, from Paris all the way to Istanbul), b

Review: Vision in White by Nora Roberts

Genre: Romance, contemporary Series: Bride Quartet, book 1. Year published: 2009 Setting and time: Greenwich, Connecticut, USA; contemporary. Level of sensuality: Several flowery sex scenes. Wedding photographer Mackensie Elliot runs a successful wedding planning company with her three best friends. She has never known a proper family life because her immature, self-centered parents divorced when she was a child and have both gone through multiple marriages and relationships since. Additionally, her mother is a master manipulatrix who can play her daughter like a finely tuned instrument to get what she wants, usually money or unreasonable favours. As a result of all this, Mac is highly strung and insecure and doesn’t believe she is capable of maintaining a lasting relationship with a man. Along comes nerdy English teacher Carter Maguire, who is her opposite in every way: calm, rational and solid, in addition to being very sexy, so sexy that once Mac has decided to have a f

Burglars can’t be Choosers and The Burglar in the Closet by Lawrence Block

Originally published in June 2005, on my original 52 Books blog. These are the first two books in a long-running series about burglar Bernie Rhodenbarr. Bernie is a cool character, perfectly immoral when it comes to other people’s property, daring, professional and charming. The books are a light-hearted blending of the traditional cozy mystery and the rogue genre, because the sleuth is a criminal. Being a criminal, he has obvious problems. The only cop likely to take him seriously is bent and needs to be bribed before he will do anything for him, and in both these books Bernie is a suspect in the murders, so has to go not only undercover to solve the murders, but on the lam as well to avoid being arrested for them. I have read a fair number of rogue stories (e.g. Raffles, Arsene Lupin) but Bernie is the first of the rogue heroes I have really liked. I hated the Raffles stories - Raffles is mean and Bunny such a wimp that it’s a wonder anyone likes them at all, plus the stories ar

Little Indiscretions by Carmen Posadas

Original title: Pequnas Infamias Translated from: Spanish Translator: Christopher Andrews Genre: Crime, literary novel Year of publication: 1998 (original); 2003 (translation) Setting & time: Spain, contemporary Chef Nestor Chaffinch (speciality: sweet desserts) finds himself stuck inside a walk-in freezer in the middle of the night after catering a successful private party and is found dead and frozen in the morning. At least four people in the house had reason to want him dead, but who killed him, and was he even murdered at all? After this first, terrifying chapter, the narrative flashes back to the events that lead up to the death, showing how Fate tangled together the lives of several people and finally led them all together in one place for a grand finale. The translation is seamless and according to reviewers who have read it in both languages Andrews has managed to preserve the author’s style, which is, as any good translator knows, a commendable feat. This

Icelandic folk-tale: The Bags of Sin

One has to hope the minister in this story learned something from his experience: Once upon a time there was a minister or priest who was wont to moralise to his congregation. He preached sternly and told off his listeners for their sins with great gusto. Among his parishioners was an old woman who rarely if ever came to church and the minister would scold her mercilessly for this, telling her that she would not be allowed into the kingdom of heaven if she continued to neglect her church-going duties. The old woman ignored this completely. After some time had passed from the last scolding the old woman fell ill and sent for the minister, saying that she needed his services because she was being plagued by the sins of the human race. The minister hurried to her bed-side and was about to begin scolding her, for he could see that she was deeply worried and he thought it would be a chance to bring her back into the fold. But the old woman asked him to first listen to her and hear about

Death at Wentwater Court by Carola Dunn

If you’re sensitive to SPOILERS , don’t read beyond the plot summary. I noticed this book because of the cover, which is reminiscent of an old-fashioned children's book (until you look closer and notice the skull-and-crossbones snowflakes). Genre: Murder mystery Year of publication: 1994 (this edition 2009) Type of mystery: Historical cosy. No. in series: 1 Series detective: Daisy Dalrymple Type of investigator: Amateur (and police) Setting & time: England, 1920s The Honourable Miss Daisy Dalrymple arrives at Wentwater Court just after the beginning of the new year to write and photograph a story for Town & Country magazine. She already knows a couple of young people there, but in addition she meets Lord Wentwater, his children and his lovely young second wife, who seems to be very troubled and afraid of their houseguest, Lord Astwick. When Astwick is found drowned in the skating pond, everyone assumes it was an accident, but when the police arrive on

The ABC Murders by Agatha Christie

Originally published in June 2005, on my original 52 Books blog. A clever killer sends taunting letters to Hercule Poirot, telling him dates and the names of towns where he intends to strike. The towns and the victims are alphabetical, A in Andover, and so on. Poirot agrees with the police that they are dealing with a psychopath, but he can not but feel that there is something wrong about the letters, something that doesn’t fit the profile of the killer they have deduced from his methods and choice of victims. So begins a cat and mouse game, but who is which? Regular Christie fans will be in no doubt as to who is the cat and who is the mouse, but may be surprised at a deviation from the Christie formula. Whether it is real or a red herring, I leave up to the reader to find out. I admit to not being a Poirot fan - he annoys me too much, and I need to take breaks between the books about him, but this is quite a good Christie story. It is perhaps unfortunate that I have read so many of

In the Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex by Nathaniel Philbrick

Genre: History Year of publication: 2000 Setting & time: USA and the Pacific Ocean, 1820-21 In 1820 the whale ship Essex , small, old and with a mostly inexperienced crew, set out from Nantucket Island towards the whale-hunting grounds of the Pacific Ocean. Once they were there the crew proceeded to hunt sperm whales and fill the hold with barrels of oil, but on November 20th the ship was attacked by a huge bull sperm whale which rammed it twice and sank it. The crew were able to rescue some navigational charts and equipment and food from the sinking ship, but were left floating aboard three flimsy and old whale boats thousands of miles from the South-American mainland. Ironically, in light of what was to happen later, fear of cannibals kept them from making for the nearest cluster of islands and instead they resolved to head for South America, a mistake that may have cost 12 of the crew of 20 their lives. About 20 years later Herman Melville read about the incident, whic

Reading report for October 2011

I finished a total of 10 books in October, which means that my reading index is slightly up, although it has not yet reached last year’s monthly average. In addition there was one D id N ot F inish, which was rather unfortunate as it sounded very interesting when I was offered it for reviewing. The books were a mixed bag of various genres, and I have reviewed no less than four of them. One review is already published (in 2 parts) and three more are coming up in the next couple of weeks, starting tomorrow. Mary Balogh, Colleen Gleason, Susan Krinard, Janet Mullany : Bespelling Jane Austen . 4 paranormal romance novellas, 2 historical , 2 contemporary . Jim Crace: The Devil's Larder . Short stories with a food theme. Carola Dunn: Death at Wentwater Court . Cosy murder mystery; historical. Rachel Gibson: Daisy's Back in Town . Romance, contemporary. Kay Hooper: Lady Thief/Masquerade . 1 volume, 2 historical romances (1 short novel, 1 novella) Michael Innes: Appleby's E

Icelandic folk-tale: Rich Rusty

There once was a farmer who lived with his wife on a very poor farm in the north-east of Iceland. They owned a bitch that gave birth to a rust-brown puppy. This puppy the farmer raised and used as a sheep-dog, calling him Rusty. He gave the dog an ewe-lamb as payment for his faithful service. The ewe-lamb grew up to have lambs of her own, and so on, and the dog was very lucky in that none of his sheep ever went missing and all the ewes always had twins, most of them ewes. Over time Rusty came to own all the sheep on the farm and finally the farm as well. People started calling him Rich Rusty, and the farm was now prosperous and doing very well. Rusty was much loved by his owners, so much so that when people were served food or given favours and people thanked the couple, they would reply and say not to thank them but Rich Rusty. Once when the bishop of northern Iceland was on a tour of inspection of his diocese he arrived at the farm. He and his men were welcomed with a grand feast


A lovely quotation from Travels with a Donkey in the Cévennes   by Robert Louis Stevenson: "For my part, I travel not to go anywhere, but to go. I travel for travel’s sake. The great affair is to move; to feel the needs and hitches of our life more nearly; to come down off this feather-bed of civilisation, and find the globe granite underfoot and strewn with cutting flints. Alas, as we get up in life, and are more preoccupied with our affairs, even a holiday is a thing that must be worked for. "

Romance review: Bespelling Jane Austen, part II

Continuing on from yesterday: Blood and Prejudice by Susan Krinard Sub-genre: Contemporary Setting & time: USA, east coast, and England; modern times Level of sensuality: Kissing. There is no need to mention which Austen novel this story is based on, as the title speaks for itself. I also think it’s pretty clear that vampires are involved. Like in Northanger Castle , the plot is patterned after the plot of the original. The characters, those of them that are used (Charlotte Lucas, for one, is missing) are the same people as in Pride and Prejudice , with the same names and certain modifications appropriate to the modern setting. For one thing, Elizabeth is more active in trying to discover the truth about Darcy than she is in P&P, which is believable because, spirited and forward as she might have seemed to a contemporary of Austen’s in the original, she would seem rather docile and reserved showing the same behaviors in a modern setting, so that is all for the good.