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Showing posts from May, 2020

Book 39: L.A. Lore by Stephen Brook

Researched and written in 1991, and published in 1992, just before the Rodney King riots, L.A. Lore is a snapshot of Los Angeles at the start of the 1990s as observed by a knowledgeable outsider. Brooks visited the city for three months and traveled to most of its municipalities and neighborhoods (and some neighboring ones), gathering material for his book. He puts a strong focus on architecture and museums, but also discusses the media, religion, the different cultures of the different neighborhoods, racial relations and history of the city, to name a few of the ingredients. Many chapters begin with snippets of radio shows he has listened to, although some of them actually seem fictional in their bizarre awfulness. The book is just about as sprawling as L.A. itself. I, like anyone else, have been aware of L.A. for a long time, and know the names of some its neighborhoods from popular culture and media: Hollywood, Bel Air, Venice, Malibu, Beverley Hills, Burbank, Santa Monica, Redon

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

I am always pretty sceptical when I come across social media spin-off books, and although I have bought a few, I make a point of only buying them second hand, because I tend to just read them and then dispose of them. This one is based on a popular Twitter account and contains a previously tweeted collection of problems that the author considers to be very British, although as a non-Brit I have to say that some of them are just very human. It's one of four books in a series, which just shows how popular the Twitter is.  Much like another Twitter spin-off book (two books, actually, if I have my counting right), Justin Halpert's Sh*t My Dad Says , the phenomenon is actually funnier if you read the tweets as they drop one by one. Read too many in one go, and they become tedious. This book has lived in my kitchen for the last couple of years, where I have occasionally picked it up to read a page or two of problems while waiting for the kettle to boil or my tea to finis

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

Since I have already posted about the audio version of another Marsh detective novel, Artists in Crime , which was read by a different narrator, I figured I would do one for this one as well, just to compare the narrators. There have been a number of different audiobook narrators for the books in this series, but Philip Franks and James Saxon have each narrated more of them than any of the other narrators and therefore I decided it would be interesting to compare their styles and techniques. As I mentioned in the previous post , I was mainly happy with Philip Franks' narration of Artists in Crime, with the sole exception of his pronunciation of Roderick Alleyn's last name. His reading was even and the voices just different enough to tell them apart, and his pacing was good. James Saxon, who narrated this book, pronounces Alleyn's name the way I have always thought it should be pronounced, i.e. the same way as Allen , which is good. Saxon has (or rather had - he die

Book 33: Police at the Funeral by Margery Allingham

Published in 1931, Police at the Funeral is the fourth of the Albert Campion detective novels by Margery Allingham. As I haven't read the previous novels and it has been along time since I read the only other Campion novel I have read , I don't feel equipped to comment much on Campion as a character, except to say that he's quite superficially developed at this point and he and Lord Peter Wimsey might well be first cousins: both are charming and aristocratic (although Campion's status is only hinted at by other characters - he is, in fact operating under an assumed name) and can look deceptively silly and vacuous when they want to, to the detriment of anyone who has to match wits with them. He also slips quite adroitly into a Bertie Wooster type role when he is trying to lull people into thinking him inconsequential and stupid. Anyhow, the story is about a family of middle-aged and elderly eccentrics who live in a house belonging to a formidable old lady who is mo

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

I first became aware of Nick Bantock's illustrated novels when I came across the first edition of Griffin and Sabine: An Extraordinary Correspondence when it was published in 1991. I didn't read them, however, until a few years ago, and found them beautiful - and the story rather superficial. This story concerns a young art conservator, Sarah, who is lured away from her safe museum job by a mysterious man who only corresponds with her through emails. While she works on his behalf to reunite an old art collection on his behalf, his story unfolds and she undergoes a spiritual and sexual transformation. Like Bantock's other books, it is beautifully decorated with the author's artwork, but is not as tactile as the books in the Griffin & Sabine and Morning Star trilogies, as the art is just printed on the pages and there are no fold-ins to unfold or envelopes containing letters to pull out. The story is told more in text than in images, which means that the reader

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

Original title: Maigret tend un pieg e. Translated by Daphne Woodward (1965).  This is the first Maigret book I have read in ages.  Opening a Maigret novel is like visiting old friends, not just Maigret, Madame Maigret, Janvier and all the rest, but also Paris.  In this book, we jump into the middle of an investigation of serial murders in Montmartre and Maigret is about to set a trap for the killer. It doesn't go quite to plan - he escapes, but does leave behind a piece of evidence that will lead the police to him.  Like most other Maigret books I have read, this isn't a whodunnit. In the Maigret books, the identity of the killer isn't often hidden from the reader until the last chapter, and instead we get to see how Maigret figures it out (although sometimes the killer is known from the beginning). Then the rest of the book is about either proving it or applying so much psychological pressure that the killer gives up and confesses. In this book, there is the

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

Venice: Tales of the City is an anthology of writing about Venice, gathered together, edited and sometimes translated by Michelle Lovric. The book is organised into themed chapters and each chapter begins with some Venetian proverbs, then moves on to short quotations about the city, and then to excerpts from longer works, including  history books and travelogues, poetry and fiction. Many of the quotations are curiosity-inducing and make one want to read more, which is just what an anthology should do. Lovric has taken care to curate this eclectic collection in such a way as to not only include passages about Venice as seen through the eyes of visitors and expats living there, but also through the eyes of Venetians, and its fun to compare the two and see how often one sees allusions or direct statements about the city's decline and its glorious past in the texts written by foreigners and Venice as a vibrant, living city in the texts written by local writers and visitors from

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

I consider myself to be an anglophile and have paid regular visits to England for the last 20 or so years. Every time I go there, I buy books that become my souvenirs of the trip. This is one such book. I am a great lover of both language and popular science, and often when I find books that feature both, I try to buy or borrow them. Natural history, including zoology and its many branches, is also among my favorite non-fiction subjects to read about, so this books was an obvious choice for me. Mrs. Moreau's Warbler mainly deals in etymology - one of my favorite aspects of language studies. But it is not just about etymology - the origins of words - but about and how we use language to define and classify the world around us, combined with taxonomy, ornithology, history and the author's bird-watching activities. The author's approach to the subject is systematic and time/history based, i.e. he begins with the "Origins of Bird Names" and then moves on throu

Book 24: Happyslapped by a Jellyfish by Karl Pilkington

Karl Pilkington amuses me. His child-like observations are entertaining and occasionally funny and his persona of ultra-straight man (in the comedic sense) being buffeted around by circumstances that are only made funny by his responses to them (which usually are either bafflement or misery), make for entertaining television.   An Idiot Abroad is possibly the best antidote you can find for an overdose of self-important travel shows, because it shows you that you don't have to enjoy travelling all the time - it's okay to sometimes just endure it. When I first came across the TV series An Idiot Abroad, I couldn't figure whether he was acting or not, but I came to the conclusion that he probably wasn't - he's just never developed a brain-to-mouth filter and so says what he's thinking and doesn't feel he needs to pretend to be sophisticated or profound. Anyhow, this isn't the kind of book that I would ever pay full price for - but I have enjoyed his T

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

No. 22: Tell Me Lies by Jennifer Crusie. Reread. It has the snappy dialogue one has come to expect from Crusie, but I have always felt there was too much going on in it and after finding myself skimming over pages and passages on this reread, I think I will probably cull it. No. 23: The Last Continent by Terry Pratchett. Occasional reread. Not one of my favourite Pratchetts, but it's a good read, and funny to boot.

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

I first read Bet Me in 2005, and it has been on my list of regular rereads ever since. As I have been moving towards multitasking while I "read", I decided to get the audio version, and I have no regrets. This is actually my second listen - I also listened to it back in 2018 when I first got it. This is just to add some notes on the narration, as I have already reviewed this novel. Read my original review to see what I thought of the book. The narrator, Deanna Hurst, does a good job of the reading, and one never confuses the characters, as she gives them different enough voices that once you get used to them, you never have any problems telling them apart, but she also doesn't exaggerate them, which is good, because while this book has some funny moments, it isn't a comedy in itself and I have occasionally listened to audiobooks where the narrator exaggerated thins so much that it sounded like slapstick. Her voice is well-fitted to the often rapid-fire dialogu

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

This isn't a review of the book, as much as of the narrator of the audio book version. Artists in Crime is among of the better of Ngaio Marsh's Chief Inspector Alleyn novels, and one of the ones I occasionally reread - not so much for the murder plot, which is gruesome and more than a little melodramatic, albeit clever - but for the romance. It's not a romance novel per se, but the side plot concerns Alleyn's very tentative courtship of his future wife, artist Agatha Troy. They had met in a previous book, where he was interested in and attracted to her while she was in equal parts intrigued by him and annoyed with herself for being so. In this book we get to see how she begins to accept that she has feelings for him, and he to have some hope that she may reciprocate his feelings for her. It is not the same breathtaking romance arc as in contemporary author Dorothy L. Sayer's detective novels, to which some have drawn parallels, but is quite satisfying even so.