Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Tears of the Giraffe

Ooooooohhhh what a great read. Reading the books about the No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency is sure to leave you all warm and fuzzy inside. They are filled with the same fundamental belief in human goodness as, for example, Ellis Peters' Brother Cadfael novels - and it's just glorious.

However, at times I've wondered if McCall Smith's descriptions of Africa don't border on exotism, exotism of that modern, "nice" kind, where we long for the (perceived) simpler and friendlier life of some Other Culture, and become unreasonably disappointed when we see that the Other Culture also has problems. But I've decided that's it's more a case of homesickness. He loves Botswana deeply, and misses it. That's obvious. When I sometimes think he's portraying his characters as almost naive and simplistic (usually when we're "inside their heads", reading what they're thinking) - he might turn around and show them doing something that turns that notion of naivety on its head. And several times we get snippets of personal history from different people, snippets that don't shy away from pain and sorrow, but neither do they wallow in it. These are books I want to own. These are books to reread over and over, for their sweetness.

The only way to decide if it's exotism or style I suppose is to read all of McCall Smith's other books. Oh, such hardship. Woe me indeed. (My husband just told me to go and buy the books instead of waiting for them to turn up in the library, so hey! Carte blanche to shop!)

In Tears of the Giraffe Mma Ramotswe and Mr. J.L.B. Maketoni make progress in their engagement, including adding to their family. Their relationship is so adorable! Awwww. Mma Ramotswe solves the mystery of the American boy who went missing in the Kalahari ten years before, and her secretary becomes an assistant detective and solves the problem with the butcher's unfaithful wife.

Alexander McCall Smith has a website, I discovered! http://www.randomhouse.com/features/mccallsmith/

Section on The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency: http://www.randomhouse.com/features/mccallsmith/no1.html

With the cutest Precious Ramotswe agony aunt column: http://www.randomhouse.com/features/mccallsmith/ask.html

Monday, October 24, 2005

Today's library haul

Angel of Darkness, by Caleb Carr (looking forward to it!)

The Fifth Rapunzel, by B.M. Gill (have no idea what this'll be like. Apparently the Sunday Times' reviewer wrote that she was "On a par with ironic Rendell at full tilt." - that's what sold me.... Haven't read anything by Gill before.)

Dead Souls, by Ian Rankin (I'm not sure if I've read any of his books. But I met a former techer the other night who said he liked Rankin better than Val McDermid (like, OMG WTF?!), so I have to read him now.)

Tears of the Giraffe, by Alexander McCall Smith. (At last! Whoo-hoo! These are never in! Great books - I say, even though I've actually only read the first one...)

The library can't cater to my needs any more. I need more Josephine Tey, Ngaio Marsh, Sue Grafton, Faye Kellerman (I like her more than her husband), Dorothy Simpson (very cute books), Val McDermid... as you can see I have a theme of female crime writers going on.

I could, in theory, buy books. Unfortunately we already own about 25 shelving metres of books - not counting the ones in the cellar. They share the 69,8 square metres that make up our flat with me, my husband, and two children (who also have books). So in order to buy more books I have to
1. Make my husband get rid of a bunch of books. It's his turn. He has a lot of meaningless crap. All my books are Good, Useful and um, Pretty. Or something.
2. Get better job so can afford to buy books.
3. With better-paying job, possibly even buy new shelving for books so I can fit more in OR
4. With better-paying job, find bigger apartment to fill with own private crime library.

It's hard to know where to start (although 1 is looking pretty damn good).

Sunday, October 23, 2005

The Laser Man

After finishing my Anne Perry (and btw, NO MORE I say, if I turn up blogging about another Anne Perry feel free to spam my comments section) I quickly read a book that unfortunately isn't translated to English - dare I add yet? Lasermannen - en historia om Sverige by Gellert Tamas. "Lasermannen" literally means "The Laser Man", and is the police and media nickname for a serial killer named John Ausonius, who terrorized the darker-skinned community of Sweden during the early 90s. He started off by shooting his victims with a rifle with a laser sight, hence the nickname. In the end Ausonius killed only one person, but he shot eleven, all men, all foreign-looking. Several of them were injured for life. I was in my mid teens during that time, and can remember the sick jokes people used to play at school with little mini laser-light key rings and the like. The sight of a red dot moving about on somebody's body was a mark of real terror back then.

Tamas has interviewed Ausonius in prison, and also (it seems) everyone who ever met him. The book is obviously very well researched. The book is not solely about Ausonius - instead, by describing the political and financial turmoil of the late 80s/early 90s he attempts to show how Ausonius must have been influenced by Swedish society's acceptance of xenophobia/rascism at the time. I think he succeeds rather well, and it's not a bad read. A little scatty at times, jumping back and forth between events and times. Recommended. It's almost a must-read for anyone who wants to understand this period in Swedish history.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Anne Perry and/or Lemony Snicket

I have one more Perry book on loan from the library, one of the Victorian ones, I think. I'll read it, even though her style wears me down.

The one I'm only after finishing is Shoulder The Sky. It's no. 2 in a series, I believe. Since she recapped all the drama parts of the first one i don't have to read it. Which is good for making the book easy to follow on it's own, but bad from a literary point of view - makes for heavy reading. Here's a typical quote from the book:

"Joseph drew in his breath to answer, then did not know what to say. It was his job here to make sense of the chaotic, to justify the descent into hell, even to make intolerable suffering bearable because it had meaning, to insist that there was a God behind it who would make even this all right in the end. [...] If personal murder for vengeance, or to rid oneself of embarrassment or pain, were acceptable, what exactly was it they were fighting for? Bert had spoken of country things like the church and the pub, a village whose people you knew, the certainty of seasons, but what he meant was the goodness of it, the belief in a moral justice that endured.
To allow Prentice to be murdered, and do nothing, would be a betrayal of that, and Joseph would not do it."

There's pages of this stuff. Seriously. If it's not said every second page, it hasn't been said at all, apparently. WE GET IT! God, woman. On it's own that quote is fine, but multiplied it's sleep-inducing.

The moral issue of the book is "is it always right to be a pacifist and avoid war?" Perry, or at least the main characters, say "no". You have to fight for what you believe in, and even when you discover that you're fighting under people who have made massive mistakes that have cost thousands of young men's lives, you still fight, for the soldiers who've gone before you. I'm not sure I agree, even though I understand the emotive sentiment behind it - but more importantly it gets repeated so often I'm thoroughly sick of this thesis before the (unsatisfying) end of the book.

So. One more Anne, then no more. I really want to like her writing, if nothing else for her compassion for all those people in history who have fought and died in muddy trenches and on cold seas, and for her excellent research (as far as I can tell anyway). But I can't. But don't get me wrong, it's not terrible. It's miles and miles and MILES better than Dan Brown, who should not make another dime off his rotten excuses for novels.

I also read The Miserable Mill by Lemony Snicket. WHat can I say, it's a Lemony Snicket... About four hours' worth of amusement. I would have adored these as a child, now I think they're cute, mostly. But keep writing, mr Snicket! We want to hear the end. Although if you kill them all off I'll be very upset.

Monday, October 17, 2005


So I'm reading another Anne Perry. This one is set during WW1, in the trenches (so far). WW1 makes me cry so much. Such tragedy, such loss, and we barely remember it because of the horrors of the next war.

But Anne Perry is heavy going. She talks and talks and talks. The best bits are the ones where she describes the vile conditions the soldiers endured. She's done her research and writes from the heart. However.... couldn't her editor have taken out The Big Pencil and crossed out a few lines??? Why do we have to read about the characters' inner turmoil after Every. Single. Bit. Of. Dialogue. It's beginning to wear me down. I really must try to learn my lesson and not choose any more of her books when I'm next at the library (but there isn't much else left...)!

And all her characters are so good. Like I said previously, it's all a bit too modern and soul-searching.

Argh. Back to book. I have to know how it ends, after all.

Saturday, October 15, 2005

Ngaio Marsh

Ngaoi Marsh is one of my favourite favourites.

The book I've just finished is called Clutch of Constables. It features Marsh's Scotland Yard hero Roderick Alleyn, but mostly his wife, the artist Troy Alleyn. After an exhibition she decides to take a five-day pleasure cruise - a spur-of-the-moment decision after spotting a sign about a cancellation. Naturally, everyone on the boat is not as innocent as you'd think...

The story is opened by Alleyn, who is lecturing would-be detectives on a criminal called The Jampot. He tells us that he became personally involved in "the affair" because of his wife. The story then moves on to being told from Troy's perspective, featuring her letters to her husband as a way of keeping us informed of what Alleyn learned from her before turning up at the later crime scene. Throughout the book the narrative switches from the events at the time of their occurance and Alleyn's lecture. (Marsh often uses the relationship between Alleyn and Troy as a narrative tool. It also helps us, as readers, to feel closer to them as characters. )

What I like best about Marsh's books is how they place me in the time in which they were written. I get a wonderful sense of how people thought and reasoned, what was new and in and what was not. Clutch of Constables brings up the problem of rascism (called racialism, quaintly enough), but in a very 1960s English way - decent people treat the blacks decently and the blacks do their bit to avoid offending racially prejudiced people. Ludicrous as it may sound it does help you understand prevailing ideas of the time. A modern novel can never really portray the past that way. In a modern novel the present constantly intrudes. As an example I could mention The Alienist by Caleb Carr (a book worthy of it's own post, but it's not getting one today - maybe when I read the sequel). Set in New York of the 1890s, all Carr's heros are just that little bit too modern and open-minded to seem genuine. The same goes for Anne Perry's victorian detective stories.

This particular Marsh novel was, unfortunately, not so gripping a story. I found it a little too easy to get distracted. It may be the fact that it centres around one of those typically 60s style supervillains - international, quirky, extremely intelligent and a master of disguise. I never really buy those characters. But never mind. I'd recommend a Marsh anyday!

It's all in the heroes. I love Alleyn and Troy.

Friday, October 14, 2005

Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell

That's right, I finished this a week ago, good thing I remembered to blog.

Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell (henceforth JSaMN) by Susanna Clarke is marketed (at least in Sweden) as "Harry Potter for adults". In my opinion this is probably not the best idea, since the books are not at all alike. JSaMN is a sort of pastiche of 19th century novels. As a Jane Austen fan I recognised the style immediately, and was charmed. The subject is magic, as in Harry Potter, but its old-fashioned style makes it a much heavier read. There are footnotes in abundance, although I would like to give new readers the advice to skip them if you find they break up your reading flow too much. They aren't strictly necessary for the story, they just add layers of depth and add to the fake realism.

Set in an alternate 19th century world, JSaMN describes the collaboration and later enmity of two magicians. There are lots and lots of different people and names to remember, and characters who are introduced in the first few chapters disappear only to be reintroduced in the last few. It is, as I said, very old-fashioned and absolutely charming. Do not read this if you've never managed to plow your way through David Copperfield and/or Tolkien. You won't make it. I know I mentioned Austen above, but that only means that the spelling and society is the same, not the style! Be warned.

I sincerely hope Clarke can follow up with a second novel to match this one. Looking forward to it.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Neil Gaiman - Coraline

To start off - I finished Eleven on Top yesterday, and it left me craving more. That's the trouble with chicklit; you end up needing more sexual innuendo. I get totally absorbed in the Ranger/Morelli dilemma poor Stephanie Plum has going on. And I sincerely hope that if the series ever gets filmed they cast somebody relatively normal-looking as Stephanie - because part of the joys of the books is that she seems quite average and nevertheless has these two gorgeous fellas drooling and fawning over her. To join the shallow madness, visit http://www.evanovich.com/ . The storyline is sort of the same in all the Plum books - in this one Stephanie quits her job as a bond agent, which leads to some new situations, but we don't see any new characters to speak of. Apparently Evanovich is contracted for another good few books, so we'll see if she can invent some new criminals in the Burg, or if she's going to have to turn all the seemingly stable citizens into criminal masterminds.

I also wanted to write about Neil Gaiman's children's novel Coraline. I borrowed it from a friend who is a huge fan, and was very pleasantly surprised. I myself have never been so enamoured by Gaiman's writing - sure, I've read Good Omens and enjoyed it (mental note: re-read book in order to blog about it), but that was a collaboration after all and I probably saw more Terry Pratchett in that. As for the comics... I don't get comics really. Unless they're funny. Comics should be funny to me, or else I feel cheated. My husband is a Sandman fan - as for me, I go berserk with all the bolding done in comics, forcing me to stress words in a very exaggerated manner.

But anway, I enjoyed Coraline. It was spooky though. Talk about your dark fantasies! Where does he get it all from? I'm very impressed.

Coraline has just moved with her parents to a new house. Her parents work all the time and don't pay her enough attention, so when Coraline discovers the mirror world where the Other Mother reigns she is, at first, very happy. But when the Other Mother wants her to have button eyes like her own (ew ew ew) Coraline runs away. The Other Mother then wants revenge, and Coraline has to save the day. It's nice to have a female heroine in a children's book - of course, in this particular genre it's not so uncommon, but as a mother of daughters I still appreciate it. The lesson to be learned is that you love your parents and your family, and will do whatever you can to save them. It's traditional, but not rammed down our throats. It certainly isn't the main point of the story. The spookiness is, and the distorted mirror world that holds people captive to the Other Mother's will. An absolute must-read, in my opinion.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

First post

I've started this blog in order to have a place to write about the books I read. This will serve two purposes - firstly, I'll be forced to briefly review and summarize the books I plough through in writing, which will help me remember which ones I've read and which authors I've enjoyed (because I do forget quite often), secondly, I might get some nice feedback from other readers. Which would be nice! Oh, and it's my birthday today. I'm 30 and have no career. It's time for a hobby.

My great weakness is crime fiction, so this blog will mainly be about that genre. With the odd bit of something else thrown in.

Currently I'm reading Janet Evanovich's Eleven On Top. This writer is one of my guilty pleasures. No genius, no earth-shattering revelations, no wise words to remember, nothing to say about current society - just a bit of fun. But hey, sometimes we need fun, right?