Saturday, February 27, 2010

Katarina Wennstam: Alfahannen

Till min andra bokcirkel läste vi denna, och det var roligt att läsa en bok som är hyperaktuell just nu och som har satt igång eller i alla fall underblåst en massa debatt. Men som litteratur betraktat var vi rätt överens om att den inte var så mycket att ha, och vi grubblade en del över vad hon ville med den. Bästa teorin stod nog J för, som menade att den från början varit en mycket längre bok, men att förlaget strukit friskt för att få en bok som passade in i genren "deckare 300 sidor lång". Fast deckare är det inte. Faktiskt. Knappt ens en roman om ett brott, för den delen, märkligt nog.

Undrar när den blir filmad, för den är skriven som ett manus allaredan. Urk.

Miranda July: No One Belongs Here More Than You

This is for my first and original book discussion club. I understand that she is quite a popular author this July character, but this was my first encounter with her. She writes short stories that are at times too Carveresque for me to take them seriously as original works. I can see her talent, but to be honest I didn't go wild over this.Most often it almost felt calculated, but there were a few stories that tugged at my core. Unsure of this. Will be interesting to discuss it next week.

Adrian Mathews: The Apothecary's House

I borrowed a big stack of books from my sister today so I have to quickly get rid of my backlog. Starting with this, a book that turned up in our house I'm not sure how - must've been a spontaneous second-hand buy somewhere. I was seduced in by blurbs on the cover as per usual, and the information that Mathews won the Silver Dagger Award for his novel Vienna Blood.

Set in Amsterdam, we meet Ruth Braams. who is some sort of art historian - gosh what was it she was, I may look it up now - "finished her doctoral thesis on domestic typology in the work of Jan Steen" those were her qualifications, whatever that means. I think art historian is an okay term. Anyway, for an art historian working with determining rightful ownership of stuff the Nazis stole, she is remarkably uneducated in many matters, which means that her friend and colleague Myles (an Englishman in Amsterdam, who speaks Dutch, to his credit) has plenty of opportunities to tell her, and thus us, about events in history and so on that you'd think would be common knowledge. Then we have the classic problem of the novel being set in a place that is foreign to the author, cue several instances of people walking down blahblah street, to the left seeing the yadayada museum and to the right the intricate details of the statue of so-and-so.

Apart from that it's a very entertaining read in many places: hard to pinpoint now because I'm remembering mostly the faults to be honest. But oh yeah, Mathews writes great banter, I liked that. Most memorable thing for me was how Ruth gets her biscuit-dunking perfect by dunking the first one and counting until the bottom drops off, and then timing all subsequent dunks accordingly for maximum wetness without fallout.

If I find Vienna Blood I'm definitely going to read it, but for now I'm a little unsure as to why I read so many people on the Internet praising him so highly as a mystery/thriller writer, because in my opinion it could have done with some heavy editing really. A bit much and a bit messy. The end was very quoi? Could make a good film! If they skip the part where she skates down a canal to a clandestine appointment. Really.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Not not reading

I have been reading plenty, just not finding the time to sit and blog about it. I've also joined another book discussion club, which is interesting! Reread The Hunger Games and Catching Fire, to avoid starting another new book and lagging even further behind on the blog... I'll be back soon.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Robert Harris: Ghost

Mr Bani borrowed this thriller, probably because he'd heard of it being filmed, which always tends to make him interested in reading a book first. So he said it was quite entertaining, so I read it too. And it is that. Up to a point.

The book is about a ghost writer, a writer creates moving autobiographies out of monotonous half-phrases uttered by semi-forgotten football players, musicians and actors. He gets recruited to write the memoirs of the former PM of Britain  for an exorbitant sum of money. A manuscript already exists, but the previous ghost writer, who was a member of the PMs staff, died suddenly and there is no-one to finish it. Our man takes the job, even though the deadline is a month. While he is there at Martha's Vineyard writing away, the former  foreign secretary has the former PM indicted at the International Tribunal of War Crimes for his involvement in the "war against terror". (I don't remember the names at the moment, we've returned the book.)

From here on it becomes so-so. The former PM is a thinly veiled Blair. His dominant wife - is this a faithful Cherie? The foreign secretary - Robin Cook? Everything becomes so obviously an angry rant at how the UK did whatever the US wanted. Which maybe has its place, it's just not terrific as a book, as a thriller. It becomes the usual tired conspiracy theory, with the CIA everywhere and no-one safe and "they can get you at any time".

The ghost writer himself is equipped with a sardonic sense of humour, so it's not an unfunny book. Like I said, entertaining. Good travel reading. But not really a great thriller.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Diana Wynne Jones: The Merlin Conspiracy

Oh I know. I'm ridiculous, really I am. But I'm get so obsessed with things, and it's so easy to just go "oh another one why not" because I feel so secure in knowing what I'll get. Plus I get to relive my childhood.

This is sort of a sequel to Deep Secret, focusing on Nick this time, and Roddy and Grundo, two wizard children from the alternative universe of Blest. Roddy and Grundo discover a plot of some sort, aimed at disrupting or changing the magic of Blest, and through twists and turns Nick turns up to help them, together with a rogue mage called Romanov.

It's not bad, but a bit more of the same.

Monday, February 08, 2010

Kate Thompson: Switchers

Picked this up on a whim at the library, hoping that the youth section would introduce me to more fun fantasy or science fiction that I missed when I was growing up. This seemed promising, if the cover quotes were anything to go by. Also, it was set in Ireland, which is always nice. But it was quite boring really. In fact, it's so disappointing I'm going to tell you all about it.

A girl called Tess has known from an early age that she could switch, i.e. become any animal she wanted. This is how she now spends any free time she has. She is an only child, her family moves around a lot, so she has become a loner. One day she is approached by a boy who is a Switcher too, and he claims that there is someone who wants to talk to them about the cold weather that is starting to threaten most of Europe with another ice age. Apparently they can help. They change into rats and travel to the country where an old biddy, who was a Switcher in her childhood, tells them that the cold is because the oil drilling in the Arctic have woken some dangerous beasts called Krools (incidentally, król means king in Polish. I'm just saying), who generate cold and destroy (eat) everything. Tess and Kevin travel north to combat the Krools, first as birds, then as polar bears. Then they realise that they can also change into animals they've never seen, so become mammoths and then DRAGONS and that's how they beat the Krools. Interspersed with this are scenes from the UN force out to combat the cold, who think that Kevin and Tess are part of the problem and try to kill them.

This is pretty much how it reads. Episode after episode plonked one after the other. No character development. No real pivotal moments. Nothing makes me care one iota about these people. Also, I don't even get a sense of Ireland. Very poor. I might have enjoyed this at the age of ten, but only in that mindless readreadread way one has at that age, not much more. How poor. And the cover quote compares it to The Golden Compass. Please. I didn't like the second and third books in that trilogy (also BORING), but The Golden Compass is fantastically imaginative and this is not. Not.

Thing is, it could have been better. With ten rewrites. Okay basic idea.

Sunday, February 07, 2010

Edith Pargeter: Most Loving Mere Folly

I borrowed this thinking I hadn't read it, but it did seem familiar once I'd gotten into it, so I must have. Hardly likely that the library would have anything by Pargeter, a.k.a. Ellis Peters, that I hadn't read. This is a loosely a crime story, but it's more about the people around the crime and what the crime and suspicions do to them. Sort of as though Pargeter was experimenting with the format. It's not terribly successful though, she sort of drenches you in words.

In a small town/village near London, a talented artist and ditto potter lead a supposedly contented married life, until the artist in drunken happiness one night introduces his wife to a local garage mechanic. The wife and the mechanic fall wildly in love. One morning, shortly after finding out about the affair, the artist husband is found dead, poisoned. The wife is suspected, and tried, and acquitted. But one of the two, the wife or the lover, must have done it, surely. So who is it, and is the other safe?

It's not very tense or anything, more into the romantic side. And all might have been easier if the wife's name wasn't Suspiria. Such a mouthful.

Friday, February 05, 2010

The sorting of books

Today I stayed home with Minimus, who is sick, and on a whim decided to sort our books according to colour. Which is the only way to sort them if you're at all aestethic, I understand. I'm sort of a dormant aesthete myself. I want pretty, and it makes me feel bad when things aren't pretty, but I can't be bothered to make them pretty and I don't seem to have a great talent for it. If you see what I mean.

But anyway, I like this colour-sorting lark. It does make the whole clutter of books look more harmonious. Several problems did arise though - for example,  I agonized over whether to break the colour-coding rule and keep a series of books together anyway, but in the end I stuck to the rules pretty well. I decided on whites to beiges to yellows to oranges to reds to purples to blues to greens to browns to blacks to greys. Almost consistently.

Most books, I've discovered, have white spines. Quite a number have black. Red are not rare, but brown is. There are a surprising amount of yellows or peachy tones, and blues are often very mottled, not so many pure blues.. Purples may be the rarest. I'd have thought there'd be more greens... Make of this what you want.

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Gillian Cross: Pictures in the Dark

I picked this up from the youth section in the library because I had this idea that I'd read something by Gillian Cross for adults, so it'd be interesting to see how she wrote for kids. But I must have been confusing Gillian Slovo and Amanda Cross or something... Anyway, this is quite good I thought, bar that Charlie, our hero, is maybe a little too good - gets a tad one-dimensional. Charlie loves photography and gets very excited when he thinks an otter lives in the river. If he could get photos of the otter it'd be quite a scoop. But why is the otter so closely connected to the bullied, strange boy, Peter - so closely that it seems to come from Peter's family's garden? And how crazy is Peter's father becoming over this, and is Peter in real danger? Etc. Quite readable. Checking out Gillian Cross's homepage I realise that I have seen The Demon Headmaster on the telly, so maybe that's where I recognized her from? Anyway, I was interested enough by this to borrow the other book that the library had, but it's for even younger kids so I might return it. On the other hand I might need it after finishing Beloved.

Monday, February 01, 2010

Toni Morrison: Beloved

I am not reading this exclusively, because I read mostly on the bus to work, and you can't read Beloved and arrive presentable. When you read Beloved your stomach contracts with tension and you cry and snivel madly. Many tissues are needed. So I'd borrowed these other books (kiddie books) as bus fare, but having finished one of them I put Beloved in my bag, and so spent an hour weeping this morning. We are steadily working our way to the central point of the story, the greatest tragedy. I don't know if I can stand it, and at the same time I'm riveted and I'm finding it hard to not think about the book. That said, it's not a depressing book, not really. There's just so much pain in it. It's a fantastic story of people who have been traumatized since the day they were born, and are trying so hard to put it in the past and keep it there, with little success. It's a tribute to the resilience that humans can have, the resilience that keeps people alive and good after terrible degrading things have been done to them. After they, too, have done terrible things.

This is one of the best books I've ever read, and it should be high up on every list of "greatest books ever written". It's wonderful. Read it.