31 December 2016

My November and December book haul, pt. 1

Here are the books I bought in the last week of November and the first three weeks of December. 
I've already posted the books I got for Christmas, but here are the rest - well, part of them anyway. I decided to break this up into two posts because there are so many books.

First photo:
  • Johannes Cabal the Necromancer is one I decided I wanted to read when I first heard of it, but then  never got round to doing it.  
  • The Love Child and Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter both looked intriguing, for vastly different reasons.  
  • The Second Book of General Ignorance I got because I have the first and I'm a fan of QI.  
  • Seaworthy I got because I love Linda Greenlaw's writing, and  
  • The Complete Stories of Dorothy L. Sayers because I love her writing as well. 
Only Greenlaw's book is new. The rest are second hand, although some of them look like they have never been read.

Second photo:
The books in both photos below are all second hand, although I suspect at least a couple of them have never been read.   

  • Gönguleiðir á Íslandi is the first in a series of book describing interesting hiking routes in Iceland, and this one happens to cover the part of the country where I live. Since I am trying to get into better shape, and indeed must exercise daily in order to burn off some of the carbs my body can't metabolise properly because of my diabetes, so this book is going to get used when the summer arrives. Until then, I am planning to participate in a series of walks that will allow me to explore a beautiful nature area north of Reykjavík with a guide.
  • Lazarillo de Tormes and The Swindler contains translations of two Spanish picaresque novels that I started to read several years ago and then had to return to the library before I was able to finish them.
  • The guide book is self-explanatory.
  • Unfinished Tales is a welcome addition to my small collection of Tolkienana.
  • Green Grass, Running Water sees to be just the kind of magical tale I love to read, and  
  • The Tower promises to be a cracking thriller with supernatural elements.

Third photo:
  • My Family and Other Animals is one of my most reread books of all time. I decided it was time to get a new copy, since my old one is getting quite tatty.
  • The Consolations of Philosophy seems like a good introduction to the everyday uses of philosophy. 
  • Fimm fingra mandlan is a book of translated short stories by a Swedish author and seems like just my cup of tea.
  • The Snow Geese is a travelogue and those are like catnip to me.
  • I have hopes that The Big Little Book of Pilates will help me understand the Pilates system better and know what the hell I am doing the next time I decide to participate in a Pilates class.
  • At Home in Mitford seems like just the kind of book my mother would enjoy. Who knows, I might too...

30 December 2016

The books I got for Christmas

I usually get at least one book for Christmas, and this year I got four, so it was a good book Christmas.

My brother got me the Terry Pratchett Diary and The Turnip Princess.  I am reading the latter and enjoying it very much. The man who collected these tales, Franz Xavier von Schönwerth, was a contemporary of the Grimm brothers, but unlike them, he seems to have only given the tales he collected a minimal editing. They are therefore raw and feel much more "real" than the tales the Grimms published, which were refined and polished before publication. They therefore remind me very much of the Icelandic "ævintýri" (märchen) collected by my favourite folk-tale collectors, Ólafur Davíðsson and Jón Árnason.

Der schönster Ort der Welt is a book of essays by German-speaking booksellers. The title translates as "The most beautiful place in the world". It was a Christmas resent from myself to myself. It remains to be seen how do at reading it, since the only German I have been reading for the last several years is legal language, which is worlds away from the literary language.

The final book, Kryddjurtarækt, is about growing herbs and I got it from my aunt, who always gives me thoughtful and useful gifts. I have several kitchen gadgets she has given me that I didn't know I needed but have proven very handy.

21 December 2016

Review: Never the Bride by Paul Magrs

Genre: Urban fantasy, alternative reality, pastiche.

I'm not going to give any plot summary here, since the plot hinges on so many secrets that I might give one away by accident. 

Never the Bride builds on an interesting, if not exactly original premise: the old Gothic horror stories describe real historical events and there really are more things in Heaven and Earth (and Hell) than Horatio could have dreamt.

The Bride of Frankenstein is real and lives in Whitby; the Invasion from Mars really happened; vampires walk the earth; and there are more spooky goings-on in the Goth capital of Britain than you can shake a stick at.

Oh, and the book is full of cliches, just like the last two paragraphs. That's not to say it isn't entertaining, but there is something missing. The narrative is episodic rather than linear and while the stories that make up each episode do connect into a plot of sorts, there are so many loose ends flapping in the breeze that you can see not one, but several sequels looming up. None of the characters are fully developed, although Effie comes close to being more than a stereotypical elderly spinster, and Brenda shows promise of being developed into something deeper.

Some of the longer conversations are quite stilted, and there is a very stilted monologue in which the person talking speaks as if they are reading from a book. This could have been much better rendered by incorporating the story told therein into Brenda's general narrative, and even then it would still be a case of telling rather than showing, a mistake I would not have expected from as seasoned an author as Magrs, because this is such a common mistake of inexperienced writers.

As for the good points, the depiction of Brenda and Effie's friendship is realistic, showing both the ups and downs of friendship between two unusual women who are still getting to know each other. The story is also peppered with darkly funny incidents and descriptions that will at the least elicit chuckles, if not outright laughter.

The tone is almost like that of a children's book, written in fairly simple language (and thus suitable for intermediary learners of English), but it is clearly written for adults. At least one would assume so, what with descriptions of gruesome deaths and allusions to sex.

Despite the faults, I did enjoy reading this book, and while I'm in no hurry to obtain the next book in the series, I wouldn't mind reading it if I came across it.

19 December 2016

Reading report,19 December 2016

It's Monday! What Are You Reading? is hosted by Kathryn at the Book Date and is "a place to meet up and share what you have been, are and about to be reading over the week."

Visit the Book Date to see what various other book bloggers have been up to in the past week.

I was in Germany last Monday and didn't have time to finish a reading report before I left, so here's a double doze:

The week before last I finished listening to Five Little Pigs by Agatha Christie, audiobook read by Hugh Fraser. I'm quite sure I have not read this one before, and I think it's just become one of my favourite Poirots. Fortunately there were no foreign accents in this one, other than Poirot's (refer to my previous comments on the subject in my last reading report if you don't know what I'm talking about).

This week I read quite a lot, but only finished two books.

The first was Never the Bride by Paul Magrs. This is the first book in an alternative reality urban fantasy series and while I found several things that could have been done better, I mostly enjoyed it but still have no intention to let all the various cliffhangers drag me into reading more of this series. I'm writing a review, so will not say any more here.

The second book I finished was one I started reading earlier in the year but set aside for various reasons. I found it languishing under a pile of laundry recently and decided to make an effort to finish it, and I'm glad I did because unless I read some really spectacular books before the end of the year, it will decidedly be in the top 10 of the books I have read this year. This was Casanova by Ian Kelly, a biography of the famous 18th century Venetian adventurer whose amorous exploits led his family name to become a synonym for "womaniser". This book presents Casanova as much more than that: an epicure, sensualist, mathematician, man of letters and clever observer of human nature, but also an opportunist, fraudster and gambler. A complex man, in fact. I happen to have two more Casanova books in my TBR pile: A 1929 edited English translation of his autobiography, Histoire de ma vie, and the novel Casanova in Bolsano by Hungarian author Sándor Márai. After what Kelly says about the various editions of the Histoire, I hesitate to read that one, as it's based on a heavily bowdlerised German version. It looks like the edition to read, should one want to read the story in Casanova's own words (or as near as possible, it having been written in French, which I do not feel up to reading) is the 1967 Williard R. Trask complete English translation, but it's so very looooong.

I am currently reading: Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children, or rather, I am listening to it. A friend lent me an iPod loaded with the audiobook and more or less ordered me to listen to it. So far I am enjoying it, but I think I need to get a printed copy, because the descriptions of the photographs just aren't the same as seeing them.

I have now managed to strike 6 books off the list of partially read books I compiled in October: three I decided to start reading over again, two that I finished reading, and one I decided to cull. Unfortunately I have added several books to the list since then, so I'll probably finish the year with between 50 and 60 partially read books strewn around the place. I think it might be time for a reading challenge...

I have also nearly reached my aim of culling 100 books from my collection. I was running out of shelf space and while rearrainging my bookshelves I realised I have a number of books on my keeper shelves that I had no interest in reading again, so I am going through the whole collection and culling books.

I have finished a project from this marvellous book that is going in a lucky recipient's Christmas package:

I can't show it yet, nor can I reveal who it's for, as the recipient might visit the blog.

I am already planning another project, a combination of two recipes in fact: the hare and the deer. Can you guess what I'm planning to make?

In other news:
I received an eagerly awaited package on December 5: two pairs of spectacles I ordered from abroad at the beginning of November. I made the mistake of putting the progressive vision pair on immediately. Then I sat typing a blog post and wondering why my eyes were watering, having forgotten my rule to always wait until I wake up the next morning to put on new spectacles, especially when the prescription is different from the previous one. I had the usual eye fatigue after the first day of wearing them, but I'm fine now and my vision is clearer than it has been in months (I was waiting for my eyes to recover from diabetes-related eyesight problems and had to use my old specs in the meantime). The other was a pair of single vision spectacles with lenses that darken in the sun and I plan to use as sunglasses.

16 December 2016

Friday links, 16 December, 2016

I didn't do much web-surfing last week. However, I did come across these links:

Not directly (or at all) related to books and reading:

Back to books: 
Today's book list is one of those inevitable end-of-year lists of the best novels of the year.
25 of them, to be exact.

Why did I chose this particular list? Because it's the first one I came across, that's why. In any case, these lists usually contain more or less the same collection of the year's bestsellers, and only the future will tell us which ones will be considered to be really good in the long run.

Finally, a book I might buy, or at least read:
Here's a link to an interview with the author.

09 December 2016

Friday links, 9 December 2016

When this list posts, at 8. a.m., my flight to Germany will be taking off from Keflavík Airport. I hope someone will find something to entertain, inform or educate them in this list:

Firstly, I came across this interesting Infographic about how the world reads and thought I'd share it.

Secondly, I have never been a member of a book club, and after reading this, I'm glad: Top 10 Book Club Faux Fas.

Thirdly, here is an interesting article about Arthur Conan Doyle and how he was taken in by a simple hoax: Arthur Conan Doyle, Spiritualism, and Fairies.

Fourthly, the stories that inspired famous books are often just as fascinating as the books themselves. Here is an article on The True Story of Jaws.

Fifthly, here is a fascinating animated article about discovery: How Delivering Meals To Seniors Showed Me The Real New York. For once, a Buzzfeed article that is not full of annoying gifs from movies and TV shows I haven't seen.

Then there was the time an American gentleman wanted the USA to buy Iceland from Denmark. I'm glad they didn't, as it's unlikely we would be an independent country today if this had happened.

And, finally, here is the book list:
I have a fairly tidy mind, but for some reason lists with an illogical number of entries fascinate me. This one made me wonder: Why 37? I don't know, but probably they couldn't think of any more books: 37 Books With Plot Twists That Will Blow Your Mind. I have read 4 of these and own 3 more that are TBR, but several more of them are on my ever-expanding TBR-not owned list.

07 December 2016

Drowning in books

I may have mentioned before that many Icelanders LOVE books. Not only do we buy them for ourselves, but we also love to give them as gifts. The market is small and therefore the one time it really pays to advertise books is the time of the year when you can give books to lots of people. In other words: Christmas.

Don‘t get me wrong: Books do get advertised at other times, like in March/April/May when the 14-year olds go through their confirmations and in May/June when school graduations take place. The market at those times is however mostly for reference books, classic literature in fine bindings and expensive non-fiction books about subjects like photography, natural history or cooking, and the advertising is likewise mostly limited to these subjects.

Books that are likely to sell well and are published in paperback at various times of the year, such as the latest by authors like Jo Nesbø or Lee Child, also get advertised, while some, especially translations of Harlequin romances, are simply sold in grocery stores the year round and can usually be fount right at the register.

Religionwise, Iceland is for the most part Christian. While many people who are registered members of the national church are really only nominally religious, they still celebrate Christmas. Some agnostics and people of other religions celebrate it too, either as a family holiday or to make sure their kids don‘t feel left out. Many of these people give books as gifts. The price tag on the average hardback novel happens to coincide with many people‘s idea of the right amount to spend on a Christmas present, and (in case I didn‘t put it across strongly enough before) ICELANDERS LOVE TO READ!

No surprise then that Jólabókaflóðið (English: The Christmas Book Flood) is a major annual event in Iceland. In the three or so months leading up to Christmas new books begin to appear on the market, beginning with a trickle and ending in a flood, or possibly a tzunami. It certainly feels that way when you look at all the juicy new titles and the stacks upon stacks of books appearing in book shops and some supermarkets, beginning in November. This is also when the media bombardment starts for real.

The March-June advertising I mentioned earlier is only a dress rehersal for the Big Season. New books and books that were published without fanfare earlier in the year are advertised with various levels of build-up, ranging from an entry in Bókatíðindi (English: Book News or, literally Book Tidings) or newsletters from publishers, to ads in newspapers and magazines, to radio and TV still ads. I have even spotted a few book trailers in recent Christmas seasons.

However, there is a downside to all this. The book flood causes an over-inflation of book-selling data, as a large number of books will be returned to the bookshops for credit after the holiday season. These go back in stock, and while some will be re-sold normally in the course of the year, most will end up at the big annual Book Publisher's Union (Félag íslenskra bókaútgefenda) book market and at individual publisher's sales throughout the year, which is where canny book-lovers can pick up great bargains on previous years' books. The stocks will then dwindle little by little, year by year, until finally, sometimes after a couple of decades of making these rounds, the print run will finally be sold out.

About 15 or so years ago, Bónus, a chain of low-price supermarkets in Iceland, started stocking books around Christmas-time, and soon other chains followed suit. They only carry the books most likely to sell, and sell them at such bargain prices that one knows there must be robbery going on somewhere. Many people will rather buy these books there than at a higher price elsewhere because who doesn't love a bargain? However, it seems that it's the authors who lose the most when books are sold at such bargains, and therefore, when I buy books in Icelandic to give as gifts, I prefer to buy them at full price from a book shop.

Another reason why I prefer to take that approach is that although it is possible to return books to Bónus and the other supermarkets, you can not get a direct refund, but must either choose another book or choose to get a credit note.

Getting a book bought in a supermarket is a horror for me, because people rarely get it right when they buy me books because of not asking what I want but simply assuming I would like something, and because I rarely want any book that's available in the supermarkets, and then the alternative is the credit note and in Bónus or Nettó that means your Christmas present ends up being... groceries.

At least books bought in Hagkaup can be exchanged for clothes, magazines (which cost as much as paperback books around here), electronics or costume jewellery.

Additionally, supermarket books are only returnable for a couple of weeks after Christmas, whereas if you return a book to a bookshop, you have a vastly bigger choice of both books and other merchandise to get in exchange, and if you don't find anything then, you can get a credit note that's valid for a year.

So, expats living in Iceland: I know books are expensive here, but if you are unsure whether your Icelandic friends actually want the book you're planning on giving them for Xmas, or there is a chance they might get more than one copy, spend a little more and buy it in a bookshop. They will thank you for it if they end up exchanging it. And don't forget to ask for a skilamiði, because without it they will have to pay to exchange the book.

Yep, you read that right: if the book does not have a little exchange sticker with the bookshop logo and a date on it, you have to pay to exchange it. This is because dishonest people realised that they could buy a book in Bónus and return it to a bookshop and pocket the difference. This happened at such a large scale that the bookshop chains took to putting exchange stickers on the books with "exchange by" dates.

I hope you have found this article on the Icelandic book-flood informative, and if you have any questions or comments, you know what to do. My comments are moderated and since time differences mean that you might be commenting while I am sleeping, it can take as much as 12 hours for a comment to appear, and longer on weekends.

06 December 2016

Enter this great Giveaway!

Who would like 250$ to buy books with? 

I know I would.

 This Christmas giveaway is run by I Am a Reader, it runs from December 5th to 22, and the prize is a 250$ Amazon Gift Code or $250 in Paypal Cash! Good not just for buying books (although that's what I would use it on).

What would you buy if you won?

Thanks to this awesome group of bloggers and authors who have joined with me to bring you one fabulous prize!!

Click on the image to read all about and enter the contest!

05 December 2016

Reading report, Monday 5 December 2016

It's Monday! What Are You Reading? is hosted by Kathryn at the Book Date and is "a place to meet up and share what you have been, are and about to be reading over the week."

Visit the Book Date to see what various other book bloggers have been up to in the past week.

I can hardly believe it's December already. It feels like summer was only yesterday, and now Christmas season is here. I'm caught in a time phenomenon where days pass very slowly, but weeks zip by. Before I know it, it will be April and I'll start preparing my VW mini-motorhome for my trip to Germany. 

Plans for the trip itself are ongoing, although I am taking a short break from planning that trip and am instead getting ready to fly to Frankfurt with my mother to visit Christmas markets in Hessen and Baden-Württemberg later this week. We will be staying in Heidelberg. Last week the long-term weather forecast was for rain, but the forecast has changed and now it looks like it will be dry the whole time and we might even see some sun.

As for reading, I didn't finish any books worth mentioning in the week before last, so I didn't write up a report. Instead of reading as much as I usually do, I was busy working on some Christmas presents. One of them is a large, crocheted bedspread that is made up of granny hexagons that need to be crocheted together. It's about 3/4 done and I'll post a photo once it's finished.

The books I finished last week were mostly romances, with a couple of mysteries and a travel book thrown in for variety. This is a time of year when I'm at risk for depression, so I usually turn to the guaranteed happy endings provided by romance novels.

The non-romance books were: 
  • Cards on the Table by Agatha Christie, an audio book read by Hugh Fraser. First-time listen, but I have read it before.
  • Hercule Poirot's Christmas by Agatha Christie, another audio book read by Hugh Fraser. I do not remember reading this book before. Fraser is a good reader, and does a creditable French accent for Poirot, but I have noticed that when he does other accents, they all sound vaguely Russian, which is very incongruous when the character he's speaking for is supposed to be South-African. On the other hand, he does outraged Englishness very well indeed.
  • Campervan Crazy: Travels With My Bus by David and Cee Eccles, which is the book I chose as my prize for the money I won in October's prize drawing on The Book Date. Loved it! It's about the Volkswagen Transporter, mostly T1 and T2 camper conversions, and the people who love them. These vans have been everywhere and seem able to get to places where usually only 4WD vehicles would venture into. My own campervan is a new VW Caddy, but I get a glint in my eye whenever I see a classic Transporter on the road.

The romances were all Christmas-themed novellas and long short stories: 
  • Bluebird Winter by Linda Howard is a rather creepy contemporary romance novella in which a doctor comes to the rescue of a woman in labour, delivers the baby and coerces her into marrying him because, hey! insta-love!, all within 48 hours of meeting her for the first time. Cue misunderstandings and a "getting to know you" period which mostly seems to consist of her being told by everyone what a wonderful man he is. I found the story unsatisfactory due to the unconvincing way he fell in love with her and the aforesaid creepiness factor.
  • When Love Flue In by Lillian Francis is a gay romance novella in which a rich businessman has been in love for several years, with the man who comes in once a year to clean his chimney, and finally gets the chance to get to know him better. I liked this one. The romance didn't feel rushed, as the characters had both been half in love with each other and only needed an opportunity to get to know each other in order to start a romance.
  • Jesse's Christmas by R.J. Scott. I can't remember anything about this one, so it must have been pretty mediocre because I would remember if it was good or bad.
  • The Christmas Throwaway by R.J. Scott. This one I did like. It's a sweet and slightly sappy Christmas story about a policeman who rescues a young man who has been driven out of his childhood home for being gay. They fall for each other, but the cop is very careful to keep things proper and fearful of being seen as a predator, so the story actually takes three Christmases to get to the coming together part of the romance.

Currently, I'm reading several books, but I don't expect I'll finish any, what with concentrating on finishing the bedspread and my long weekend in Heidelberg. I do plan on taking one - just one - book with me, but which one? Books to take travelling are always a difficult choice, but I'll probably pick a a book of short stories or essays, or my go-to in-flight read: Good Omens by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman. It's due for a re-read.

02 December 2016

Friday links for December 2, 2016

Today's collection of links is mostly stuff I have found over the last several weeks and months:

Here's a scrumptious literary food blog:The Little Library Café, where blogger Kate Young cooks and bakes food inspired by her favourite works of fiction.

Famous people:
I've been reading Casanova by Ian Kelly in stops and starts since the summer and found this article on him and his writings interesting: How Casanova's X-rated Memoir Created a Legend.

The book is dead. Long live the book! 
Once again, the book's demise has been announced and  yet the book lives on: The myth of the disappearing book: Misplaced hype overebooks dates back to the phonograph in 1894.

Book porn: 
16 Beautiful Jane Eyre Book Covers.

On my tour of Colorado, Wyoming and Utah's national parks this summer I bought a number of lovely retro-style fridge magnets with artwork related to each of the parks I visited, and I also bought a handful of stickers with similar art to use in and on my travel journal of the trip. When I got home I started looking for information about them and found this article: The Forgotten History of Those Iconic National Parks Posters.

Apropos of the last item, here´s this week's book list:  
100 Must-Read Books About the National Parks. I have only read one book on this list, Desert Solitaire by Edward Abbey, but it is one of my favourite pieces of nature writing. I would quite like to find books about the other parks I have visited, especially Yellowstone and Yosemite.

Finally, a book I am considering ordering:

30 November 2016

List love: 12 foods/dishes I discovered or want to try thanks to books other than cookbooks

I haven't written a List Love post in ages, but while going through some of my files I found a fully written post from several years ago and decided to post it, with a few minor adjustments. 

Note that it was written before I was diagnosed with diabetes, so I would have to make certain adjustments if I was planning to make some of the recipes today. 

This really should go on my cooking blog, but I thought it would be fun to do a cross-over post.

It’s no secret that I like to cook and eat and discover new recipes, and thanks to my reading of all kinds of novels and non-fiction over the space of 40+ years I have come across lots of different interesting foods and dishes.

I am not counting stuff I have come across in actual cookbooks and recipe collections and I am not including any books deliberately written as foodie books, but only books that made me take notice of some particular dish. However, I might do a post on mouth-watering foodie books later. Goodness knows there are enough books to choose from.

For an example, there are plenty of foodie mysteries out there, in series like the Goldie Bear books by Diane Mott Davidson in which the sleuth is a caterer, the three Charly Poisson books by Cecile Lamalle where the sleuth is a chef (and so is the author) and the tea shop mysteries by Laura Childs with a sleuth who owns a tea shop. There are also stand-alones, e.g. Agnes and the Hitman by Jennifer Cruise & Bob Mayer, where Agnes is a food columnist, and as part of other series otherwise not food-oriented, like Too Many Cooks from the Nero Wolfe mysteries by Rex Stout where Nero is a serious foodie and the victim and some of the suspects are chefs. But that's enough about a possible future post. Let's get to the books and dishes/foods:

  1. Chicken Marsala. Min, the heroine of Bet Me, a romance novel by Jennifer Crusie, becomes enamored of this dish after Cal, the hero, takes her out to dinner and orders it for her, breaking the diet her mother has imposed on her. Min has a culinary orgasm whenever she tastes it, whereas I can’t say the earth moved for me. It was okay, but maybe I just haven’t found the right recipe yet. Possibly it was not sensible to use Marsala marked as cooking wine.
  2. Damper bread. Jeannie Gunn’s description of making her first damper, in We of the Never-Never, is funny, and I want to try it - but not to bake in an oven but using coals like the genuine article.
  3. Fried green tomatoes. The book Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Café by Fannie Flagg is full of mentions of different kinds of U.S. southern food, but it was the fried green tomatoes that stood out, and they proved to be quite good once I got the hang of getting the coating to stay on them.
  4. Mayan hot chocolate. Discovered in Chocolat by Joanne Harris. I am yet to try this, but it sounds delicious.
  5. American pancakes. I can’t pinpoint the exact book where I read about American pancakes with butter and maple syrup, but I do remember I was itching to try them. I now make them occasionally for brunch.
  6. Seed cake. This is mentioned in The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien, and in such terms as to make it sound like a delicacy. It’s quite a nice cake, not too sweet and a nice change from chocolate cake.
  7. Treacle tart.This I encountered in the Harry Potter books by J.K Rowling. Harry helps himself to a slice of treacle tart at least once in each book (except, I think, The Deathly Hallows). While listening to Stephen Fry reading The Half-Blood Prince one day I suddenly found myself filled with curiosity to try it. I did, using this recipe. It was more like a heavy pudding than a pie/tart, came out stodgy with a weird texture and the two small slices I ate gave me a bellyache. I might try a modernised version as I think the addition of eggs and cream would make it lighter. Gordon Ramsay's recipe looks tempting.
  8. Cassoulet. First heard of in Gigi by Colette, although I suspect it’s more the movie than the novelette that awakened that longing in me. Still haven’t tried it.
  9. Beef tongue. I was an avid reader of Enid Blyton as a kid, and when the Famous Five were having one of their picnics it usually included boiled tongue. This I have tried and liked. It makes a nice alternative to ham in sandwiches.
  10. Tuna noodle casserole. I can’t remember the first mention of this, but it seems when someone dies in American novels, movies and TV shows, the neighbours inevitably bring the mourners this dish. I tried it and either the recipe was a bad one or the whole comfort thing is a joke, because it turned out disgusting.
  11. Macaroni and cheese. Another American comfort food I can’t remember where I first read of. Tried it recently and found it nice, if a little bland, definitely the kind of food you have to discover as a child to fall in love with. However, it has much potential for experimentation and improvement and I intend to try adding different stuff to the basic sauce, like Parmesan, mushrooms, ham and bacon. (The Icelandic equivalent would be macaroni milk).
  12. Durian fruit. I’m not sure where I first read about this, but it may have been in Michael Palin’s travelogue Full Circle, or Anthony Bourdain’s A Chef’s Tour. It’s supposed to smell like a combination of sewer sludge and rotting meat, but taste delicious.

25 November 2016

Friday links, November 25, 2016

Last week's first link was to a Roundworld reference in a Discworld book. Here is another one: Treacle mining. Treacle Mine Road is frequently mentioned in those Discworld books that take place in Ankh-Morpork, and treacle mines are mentioned as well.

Do all those books with "girl" in the title annoy you? Me too. Someone decided to investigate and came up with this: The Gone Girl With The Dragon Tattoo On The Train.

Love France but can't afford to go there? Try this:
Food-and-Book Pairings in Lieu of Travelling to France. 

A useful blog for writers, full of cautionary tales exposing less than ethical (and sometimes illegal) practices in the publishing industry that writers should be aware of: Writer Beware

The book list:
The 86 Greatest Travel Books of All Time. Why 86? Why not the usual 100, or 17 or 42? 
I rather think it's because these are ones you can buy through the website. But don't let that disturb you: there are some great reads on that list. I've read 16 of these books, own another 7 but haven't got round to reading them yet (although 2 are currently on the monster "books with bookmarks in them" list), 22 are on my wishlist and one I gave up on reading.

Book I'm thinking about ordering:

24 November 2016

Review: Rivers of London by Ben Aaronovitch

Genre: Urban fantasy police procedural.
Setting: Modern London.
Themes: Violence, death, crime, gods, magic, ghosts.

Constable-in-training Peter Grant is facing a career at a desk, writing reports for other policemen, at the end of his probationary period, due to being easily distracted. Things start looking up when he meets a ghost at a murder scene he is guarding. Next thing he knows, he's been recruited into a special branch of the London police that deals with paranormal and supernatural crime, has become a wizard's apprentice and is learning how to use magic. However, finding out he's able to see ghosts and do magic is soon the least of Peter's worries as a series of bizarre acts of violence and murder sweep the city. To add to the confusion, the river gods of London seem to be heading into a turf war.

I first heard of this book when I was browsing the Discworld discussion forum on Reddit, where it was recommended as something a Discworld fan might like to read. So I did some googling and decided it sounded like my cup of tea and ordered it.What I found was nothing like Pratchett, but still funny, intricately plotted and well-written, with an engaging narrator and an interesting supporting cast.

Aaronovitch draws on the tradition of classic whodunnits and police procedurals and mixes it with magic, but magic that follows scientific principles, many of which were discovered and codified by none other than Sir Isaac Newton. Therefore magic is not just a matter of doing some spells and poof! you have magic. The power for the magic has to come from somewhere, and Peter discovers that doing a spell will fry any nearby electrically connected device containing a microchip. This means he has found a reliable, solid way of knowing if magic has been done, but it also means he ends up having to replace his cell phone several times throughout the book.

There is murder, mayhem and violence in this story, but also plenty of funny incidents and interactions and interesting characters, and I have already ordered book number two, Moon over Soho, from the Book Depository.

Highly recommended for fans of both urban fantasy and whodunnits.

23 November 2016

Last week's book haul

I acquired four books last week.

  • Professor Stewart's Cabinet of Mathematical Curiosities was written by Ian Stewart, who I am familiar with as one of the co-authors of The Science of Discworld books, and it will be interesting to read this as I have been wanting to study maths again. I had my interest and joy in maths severely maimed by bad teachers when I was a teenager and I have always wanted to go back and study maths without the pressure of having to get passing grades.
  • Rivers of London is an entertaining urban fantasy police procedural. I will post a review tomorrow.
  • I was very happy to get my hands on a lovely, illustrated hardcover edition of Mark Twain's Diaries of Adam & Eve. I've already read both diaries, but it will not hurt to read them again in such a lovely book.
  • Why Not? looks like a nice loo book - I am beginning to see an end to my current toilet book (1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die) and need something totally different to read.

22 November 2016

Review: Measuring the World by Daniel Kehlmann

Translated by: Carol Brown Janeway.
Genre: Historical novel.
Themes: Mathematics, science, travel, human interactions.

Kehlmann's novel is about two great men of the 19th century: Alexander von Humboldt and Carl Friedrick Gauss.

Von Humboldt is best known as a naturalist, geographer and explorer, and Gauss is considered to have been one of the greatest mathematicians of all time. Both were pioneers in their respective fields and what Kehlmann focuses on in his book is that both men measured the known world - one travelling far and wide to do so and the other doing it all inside his own head, rarely leaving his home state.

The narrative jumps around with alternating chapters about each man, going back and forth in time a little and showing the reader both men at various ages and stages of their careers. We also get to see parts of the story through the eyes of von Humboldt's long-suffering travel companion and collaborator, the French physician and botanist Aimé Bonpland, and those of Gauss' son, Eugene.

We are shown two vastly different but equally driven men, one from a family of high status, the other the son of illiterate labourers, both of whom were young men when they began to attract attention for their brilliance.

The narrative style is funny and occasionally poignant and always sparkling, and the translation is smooth and readable.

Well worth reading, especially if you like narratives of travel/exploration and historical figures.

21 November 2016

Weekly Monday Round-up (November 21, 2016)

It's Monday! What Are You Reading? is hosted by Kathryn at the Book Date and is "a place to meet up and share what you have been, are and about to be reading over the week."

Visit the Book Date to see what various other book bloggers have been up to in the past week.

Books I finished reading last week: 
  • Measuring the World by Daniel Kehlmann. Historical novel. I'm working on a review.
  • Rivers of London by Ben Aaronovitch. Fantasy police procedural, set in modern London. I'm working on a review.
  • What the Butler Saw: Two Hundred and Fifty Years of the Servant Problem by E.S. Turner. This is an informative account of life in service in England (and America) and a look at the upstairs-downstairs dichotomy. 

Books I acquired last week:

I will discuss them in more detail later in the week.

Weather report: 
We had the first frost in the Reykjavík area last week, with a little snow, which then melted and re-froze. The slippery pavements are preventing me from walking at my usual speed on my daily walks. Instead I am sort of shuffling along, trying to stay on my feet. If this keeps up I will either have to lengthen my walks from 5 km to 7 km a day to get in the same exercise, or join a gym so I can use a treadmill. Or maybe I'll start swimming instead. The hot pools here are a lovely, lovely way to end an hour of exercise.

Other things I did last week:
A meringue so shiny it looks like a blob of mayonnaise.
Baked sugar-free meringues. I'm diabetic and therefore sugar is EVIL and I wanted to try a recipe I found for sugarless meringues, using sucralose (Splenda). They were the whitest, shiniest meringues I have ever seen, but tasted horrible, metallic and nasty, and ended up in the trash. Next I'm trying with erythritol, which has less of an after-taste.

Ordered three books from the  Book Depository - the follow-up to Rivers of London and a later book in the series that was on sale, and a hardcover edition of the Science of Discworld IV. I figured it might not be available in hard covers for much longer and since my copies of volumes I-III are all in hard covers I decided this one had better be as well.

Ordered two new pairs of eyeglasses. My eyesight finally seems to have stabilised after getting messed up by the diabetes and I decided to order one pair of progressives and another single vision pair to use as sunglasses.

Booked a flight to Frankfurt, Germany for a long weekend in December. I'm taking my mother with me and we are driving to Heidelberg and staying there and going to the Christmas market.

18 November 2016

Juicy Friday links, November 18, 2016

I decided to make some changes to the Friday links. There will no longer be a fixed number of links, but any number up to 10, depending on what interesting stuff I have discovered during the week's web surfing. I will also start posting links that are not related to books and reading, or only indirectly or marginally so, because I often find interesting, fascinating or funny links related to my other interests that I want to share. I will continue to post one link to a book list per week, and I am considering putting in links to books on my TBR wishlist. Here are today's links:

  • Link the first relates to Terry Pratchett's Discworld, specifically to the resograph, the "thingness-writer" in Moving Pictures that measured disturbances in reality. It was made from a large vase and expelled steel balls from an aperture in the direction of the disturbance. It has a Roundworld counterpart, an ancient Chinese seismometer.
  • Link the third is about a bit of literary history. Whatever you might think of the writings of the Marquis de Sade, his story and that of his books is fascinating:‘The most impure tale ever written’: how The 120 Days of Sodom became a ‘classic’. 

Today's book list:
10 Books to Know and Celebrate Leonard Cohen. I didn't cry over Bowie or Prince, but I came close with Leonard Cohen. I have loved his music for years and can always find a song in his song catalogue for any mood I'm in.

In honour of Cohen, here's a video related to the last link - a live performance of his tour de force prophetic song, The Future:


That's enough for today.

Thanks for stopping by, and happy reading!

17 November 2016


Why is it, now that I can finally glimpse a hope that I'll be able to finish the bedspread - the one I started making three years ago - before this Christmas, is it that I feel no interest in continuing with the task of crocheting it all together and instead am plotting to make myself a Hogwarts scarf to wear this winter? And I'm not even a Harry Potter megafan.

Reading Report for October 2016

I finished 13 books in October, of which 5 were rereads. 8 were fiction in 5 genres and 5 were non-fiction in the same number of genres.

The stand-outs were  Not on the Label and Dragonology, the former because it is a very thought-provoking book and the latter because of its gorgeous design. I also enjoyed getting reacquainted with Charlotte MacLeod's writing - I had forgotten how good she is at writing funny characters.

The Book of General Ignorance was like having Stephen Fry speaking in my head throughout the reading.

The Mystery of Swordfish Reef turned out to be one of Upfield's more far-fetched mysteries and I got the feeling he had got to thoroughly hate his detective by the time this book was written.


  • A Precious Jewel by Mary Balogh. Regency romance. 
  • The ABC Murders by Agatha Christie. Murder mystery. Audiobook.
  • Appleby's End by  Michael Innes. Mystery. 
  • Whose Body? and The Nine Tailors by Dorothy L. Sayers. Murder mystery. 

 First-time reads:
  • Rhine Valley From Cologne to Mainz by Berlitz Guides. Guide book (charmingly outdated).
  • The Boy's Book of Survival by Guy Campbell (text) & Simon Ecob (illustrations. Self-help manual.
  • Ride Like Hell and You'll Get There: Detours into Mayhem by Paul Carter. Memoir.
  • Not On the Label: What really goes into the food on your plate by Felicity Lawrence. Expose of the food industry and food retail industry.
  • The Book of General Ignorance by John & John Mitchinson Lloyd. Trivia.
  • The Odd Job by Charlotte MacLeod. Murder mystey.
  • Dragonology by Dugald A. Steer. Cryptozoology.
  • The Mystery of Swordfish Reef by Arthur Upfield. Murder mystery.

16 November 2016

Book haul for last week and the week before

I acquired 4 books in the week before last: 3 non-fiction books and one novel, and have already read two of them.

  • The big red book is a richly illustrated history of the Vikings. It was fist published back in the 1960s, so I expect some more stuff has come to light since it was written, but it's a gloriously beautiful book worth owning.
  • Common Grounds is a book on the natural history of a small area of land in Harrogate, Yorkshire. Click on the link to read my review. 
  • Alice is about what might have happened to Alice after her adventures in Wonderland.  Clink the link to read my review. 
  • The Devil in the White City is another history book.I expect I will read it soon, as it has been on my TBR list for several years.

Then I acquired 12 books last week and have already read 2 of them and started reading a third.

First photo:

  • The book in the top left corner is titled Deutschland, and is a photo book about Germany. It was published in 1964 and all the photos are black-and-white. As I have mentioned before, I am going on holiday to Germany next year and I have been gathering reading material, mostly guide books, to prepare for the trip. There is some text in this book, all of it in German, and I plan to read it in order to prepare for the trip. I studied German for 4 years when I was in my teens, but have not used it much since. My vocabulary has therefore become sadly eroded and I want to beef up on it before I set off.
  • Animalwatching is a gorgeous natural history book by zoologist Desmond Morris. It will go nicely on the shelf next to my David Attenborough books.
  • Historic Costume in Pictures is a Dover Publications reissue of a series of sumptuous costume plates originally published in Germany in the 19th century. 
  • Leonardo da Vinci's Machines is full of da Vinci's drawings of his inventions, with explanations and discussions. I have thoroughly enjoyed watching TV shows where people have built some of these machines, and was fascinated by an exhibition of scale models of some of them that I visited some years ago, so the book is a happy addition to my library.
  • Live Alone and Like It is a guide to the single life for women. It was first published in the 1930s, so I expect some of the advice will be out of date, but it will be fun to read. I just wish I could return the photograph I found inside it to it's rightful owner.

Second photo:
  • Top left: An Icelandic translation of The Joy of Sex
  • Centre, top: An old book of crochet designs. I crochet quite a lot and this book contains several classic designs.
  • The Man Who Loved China. Simon Winchester is among my favourite authors of history/biography books and this is one I have not read before.
  • The Long Earth - I thought I had a copy of this, but I couldn't find it in my library database, so when this appeared on the exchange bookshelf at work I pounced on it.
  • Nótt is an Icelandic  translation of Eli Wiesel's classic book about life in a German concentration camp during World War 2.
  • A Dubious Legacy. I was delighted to discover a Mary Wesley book I had not read before. 
  • The Solace of Open Spaces. This one I have already read and thoroughly enjoyed. (See the Weekly report).