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Books in June ’13

Let me tell you, it has been a busy month again! Work leaves me little free time, and what I have of it I tend to spend with friends. And I still have to take care of all the exchange business (like, you know, finding an apartment…) and studies and everything.

But I do manage to read, so here you guys go!

 

Jonathan L. Howard: Johannes Cabal the Necromancer

Johannes Cabal has never pretended to be a hero. There is, after all, little heroic about robbing graves, being chased around by torch-bearing mobs, and selling your soul to the devil. All routine inconveniences, however, when your business is raising the dead.

But now Cabal wants his soul back. He needs his soul back.

It means a trip through festering bureaucracy of Hell and a bet with Satan. It means that, in return for his own soul, Cabal must gather one hundred others.

Given control of a diabolical carnival – created to tempt to contentiousness, to blasphemy, argumentation and murder, but you can also win coconuts – and armed only with his intelligence, a very large handgun, and a total absence of whimsy, Cabal has one year. One year to beat the Devil at his own game.

And isn’t that, perhaps, just a little heroic?

(Back cover of Headline 2009 paperback)

This book was recommended to me based on my love of one of Locke Lamora’s made-up identities, the type of character I’ve now come to call Fastidious Vadran. The person who recommended this really hit the nail on the head – Johannes Cabal is exactly what I like. Very grumpy and indeed very fastidious, he seems to be the kind of character who has crooked morals and stops at nothing to achieve his own ends.

But there’s more to him than that, and Howard plays that out in this first book with skill. It’s very amusing in a vein of Terry Pratchett, while the subject material veers more towards Neil Gaiman, and I can promise you, this book does not fail to tug at your heartstrings amidst the laughter.

I very warmly recommend this book! I’m not one to go for books about necromancers, as that particular art doesn’t appeal to me, and would never had picked Johannes Cabal up had it not been recommended to me. Now that I have read it, I can honestly say I would have sorely missed out.

Published: 2009

Pages: 335

 

Jonathan L. Howard: Johannes Cabal the Detective

For necromancer Johannes Cabal, dealing with devils, demons and raising the dead is pretty much par for the course. But when his attempt to steal a rare book turns sour, he is faced by a far more terrifying entity – politics.

While awaiting execution for his crime, Cabal is forced to resurrect an inconveniently deceased emperor. Seizing his chance, the cunning Cabal engineers his escape, fleeing the country on a state-of-the-art flying ship.

But the ship has more than a few unpleasant surprises, including an unwelcome face from the past and the small matter of some mysterious murders. Cabal may work with corpses but he has absolutely no intention of becoming one. Drawn into a deadly conspiracy, is he shuffling dangerously close to the end of his mortal coil?

Johannes Cabal is back – a little older, a little wiser, but just as sharply funny, cuttingly sarcastic, and unexpectedly violent as ever.

(Back cover of Headline 2010 paperback)

Yes, I jumped right to the second part. This one I enjoyed even more than I did the first one, mostly because it plays a lot with the conventions of detective fiction – including a murder within confined quarters and a revelation scene in the best whodunit style – and I could really enjoy all the genre jokes. It’s also even more entertaining when it comes to humour than its predecessor.

I have an ever-growing soft spot for Cabal. Impatient, annoying, grumpy, darling man!

Published: 2010

Pages: 365

 

Torsten Ekman: Aleksanteri I: Keisari ja isänmaa

I’m sorry, another book in Finnish! Although this is translated from Swedish, there is no English translation, as far as I know. My apologies.

The title is at first misleading: the book is not strictly a biography of Alexander I. He is the main character, so to speak, but more attention is directed towards Finland and how the events of the Napoleonic Wars link different European countries. It’s often hard to tie Finland into the Napoleonic Wars: at the beginning of them, Finland was still a part of Sweden, whereas from 1808 onwards it became an autonomic part of Russia. This book truly helped me see these events in a wider context, with the focus naturally on the relationship between Finland, Russia and Sweden.

But I must say the translation was not very good. Lots of incorrectly inclined Finnish, some that made my shudder in disgust (“Rehbinder ei tietänyt”) and just general oddness. I have not checked, but this is probably a mark of the translator being either in a hurry or just very lost in the interlingual twilight zone – either way, they haven’t been able to step back from the original text in order to see the target language in the right light. (I’m not blaming, I do that myself whenever I have to translate something…)

But in general, it’s a nice primer to what went on around that time. I liked it, and can now confidently continue on to more in-depth works on the subject.

Published: 2011 (original title Alexander I. Kejsare och fosterland)

Translation: Martti Ahti 2013

Pages: 300

 

Agatha Christie: Appointment with Death

A tyrannical old martinet, a mental sadist and the incarnation of evil. These were only three of the character descriptions levelled at Mrs. Boynton, the matriarch who kept her family totally dependent on her. But did she really deserve to die on the excursion to beautiful Petra? Hercule Poirot hears about the murder and feels compelled to investigate-despite the family’s request not to do so. Do they have something to hide and, if so, can they keep it hidden from this master sleuth?

(Goodreads)

This Christie was originally on my project list, as the film version really appeals to me. I did enjoy the book, although concentrating on it was a little hard due to the strong visual memories from the film and the fact that work was busy at the time I was going through this one and had to read it in a very fragmented fashion. Nonetheless, it’s a gripping Christie, despite my trouble remembering what was the novel and what the film.

Published: 1938

Pages: 303

Scott Lynch: The Lies of Locke Lamora

Read this time for the read-along going on in Tumblr! I finished a little early.

The reasons why I love this book can be found in a previous post here.

Published: 2006

Pages: 530

 

David Lodge: Small World

Veteran rivals for an exclusive academic chair (recently endowed with $100,000 a year) do scholarly battle with each other in what the Washington Post Book World called a “delectable comedy of bad manners . . . infused with a rare creative exuberance”. From the author of the award-winning Changing Places.

(Goodreads)

This one was recommended to me by my father. We don’t really share an opinion on literature, but about this he was absolutely right – I loved it. Small World is funny, surprisingly gripping after you figure out who is who and how it’s structured, and probably even more deeply entrenched in literary jibes than I can recognise (I intend to read it again at some future date with the objective of dissecting it better). This is clearly a well thought out novel and consequently a pleasure to read. I particularly recommend it to those interested in literary theory, although it’s entertaining even if you’re just a general book lover like yours truly.

Published: 1984

Pages: 339

 

Agatha Christie: After the Funeral

When Cora is savagely murdered with a hatchet, the extraordinary remark she made the previous day at her brother’s Richard funeral suddenly takes on a chilling significance. At the reading of Richard’ s will, Cora was clearly heard to say: “It’s been hushed up very nicely, hasn’t it… But he was murdered, wasn’t he?”

In desperation, the family solicitor turns to Hercule Poirot to unravel the mystery…

(Goodreads)

Yet another Christie! This time I remembered the killer very well, even the clues leading up to them, but I nevertheless enjoyed this one very much! Perhaps one of the clues is a little too obviously a clue, but it’s hard to say, as it was one of the clues I remember from the film.

Published: 1953

Pages: 378

 

That is all I managed this month!

Books bought:

Michael Gregorio: Critique of Criminal Reason

Jonathan L. Howard: Johannes Cabal: Fear Institute

Honno (edit.): Wooing Mr Wickham

Jonathan Strahan (edit.): Fearsome Journeys

Venetia Murray: An Elegant Madness

…It is actually possible I bought other books as well, but the months are a little blurred in my mind.

Currently reading:

Georgette Heyer: Bath Tangle

 

Next weekend is Finncon! I will try and report about it!

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Books in May ’13

May turned out to be busier than anticipated. My intention was to catch up with reading and get through 13 books. I wasn’t supposed to be working yet, so that wasn’t supposed to be a problem: well, not all things go according to plan. I’ve been working since the beginning of the month. But I still managed nine books. That would have been ten if I hadn’t had a surprise shift today.

There was some unpleasant paper stuff that I needed to take care for university as well, but that is now more or less sorted.

What with all the work, now that my only co-worker got sick leave on the busiest weekend in all spring, I was hard pressed to get this post out at all. So you guys better enjoy it!

John Scalzi: Redshirts

Ensign Andrew Dahl has just been assigned to the Universal Union Capital Ship Intrepid, flagship of the Universal Union since the year 2456. It’s a prestige posting, and Andrew is thrilled all the more to be assigned to the ship’s Xenobiology laboratory.

Life couldn’t be better…until Andrew begins to pick up on the fact that (1) every Away Mission involves some kind of lethal confrontation with alien forces, (2) the ship’s captain, its chief science officer, and the handsome Lieutenant Kerensky always survive these confrontations, and (3) at least one low-ranked crew member is, sadly, always killed.

Not surprisingly, a great deal of energy below decks is expended on avoiding, at all costs, being assigned to an Away Mission. Then Andrew stumbles on information that completely transforms his and his colleagues’ understanding of what the starship Intrepid really is…and offers them a crazy, high-risk chance to save their own lives.

(Goodreads)

I have no idea why I’ve been putting this book off. I really enjoyed it. Without spoiling much, I can say it is hilarious and emotional and so meta I’m surprised I liked it, but I did. It’s a quick read, written in a light style, and accessible to people with a rather limited acquaintance with science fiction television like myself.

Just… go grab it. It’s really worth it.

Published: 2012

Pages: 314 (Tor hardback)

Agatha Christie: Elephants Can Remember

Hercule Poirot is determined to solve an old husband and wife double murder that is still an open verdict! Hercule Poirot stood on the cliff-top. Here, many years earlier, there had been a tragic accident. This was followed by the grisly discovery of two more bodies — a husband and wife — shot dead. But who had killed whom? Was it a suicide pact? A crime of passion? Or cold-blooded murder? Poirot delves back into the past and discovers that ‘old sin can leave long shadows

(Goodreads)

For a practiced reader, even one of only my experience, the clues in this one were fairly obvious. The general feeling I got was that this book was produced in a hurry – at times it read like drafts and bits that had been forgotten in. I did enjoy it, nonetheless, and am looking forward to the movie that will air June 9th!

Published: 1972

Pages: 256 (Harper Collins facsimile edition 2009)

Patricia Highsmith: The Talented Mr Ripley

Since his debut in 1955, Tom Ripley has evolved into the ultimate bad boy sociopath, influencing countless novelists and filmmakers. In this first novel, we are introduced to suave, handsome Tom Ripley: a young striver, newly arrived in the heady world of Manhattan in the 1950s. A product of a broken home, branded a “sissy” by his dismissive Aunt Dottie, Ripley becomes enamored of the moneyed world of his new friend, Dickie Greenleaf. This fondness turns obsessive when Ripley is sent to Italy to bring back his libertine pal but grows enraged by Dickie’s ambivalent feelings for Marge, a charming American dilettante. A dark reworking of Henry James’s The Ambassadors, The Talented Mr. Ripley—immortalized in the 1998 film starring Matt Damon, Jude Law, and Gywneth Paltrow—is an unforgettable introduction to this debonair confidence man, whose talent for self-invention and calculated murder is chronicled in four subsequent novels.

(Goodreads)

I watched the movie first, and, frankly, liked that better than the novel; it was more complicated and the ending so heart-breaking I was upset for a good few hours afterwards. My notes say, ‘fairly nice, although nothing spectacular’. Highsmith’s style is a bit on the heavy side, and reading this relatively slim novel took me a surprisingly long time (granted, I did most of the reading at work). I found Tom Ridley to be an interesting character, and the workings of his mind were fascinating to follow. I’m not sure if I’ll look to the sequels, but I might, some day.

Published: 1955

Pages: 249 (Vintage 1999 edition)

Gillian Gill: Agatha Christie

A little too heavy on the summaries of some of the novels, but at the same time I must give credit where credit is due – only a few endings were spoiled, and Gill warned of that in the introduction. Fortunately for me, I have seen the screen adaptations of the ones with spoilers, so they were not really even spoilers to me.

This biography is nice and concise, and the major focus is on the effect Christie’s life had on her writing. I did like the way it is divided to chapters, but am not so sure about the composition. I’m fond of a more linear approach.

Published: 1990

Pages: 208 (plus notes)

Mika Waltari: Tanssi yli hautojen

As regards this blog, this book is a bit problematic. What I know of my own readership (and I realise that is very little), it doesn’t include too many Finns – and Tanssi yli hautojen has not been translated into English. But I did read it, so I want to discuss it, and therefore I’ll do my best to explain it.

Mika Waltari (1908–1979) is one of the best-known Finnish authors, and his best-known work in Finland as well as internationally is The Egyptian (orig. Sinuhe egyptiläinen). It’s impossible to find a list of Books You Must Read Before You Die without having The Egyptian in it, not in this country. Having said that, I haven’t actually read it. Tanssi yli hautojen (lit. trans. Dance over Graves) is my first proper experience of Waltari, except for some short stories and the Komisario Palmu (Inspector Palmu) films.

Tanssi yli hautojen is about the romance between Tsar Alexander I of Russia and a Finnish bourgeoisie girl, Ulla Möllersvärd. This is a fact of history: the two met when Alexander came to the Diet of Porvoo in 1809. In this diet, it was decided that Finland was not to be directly a part of Russia, but could keep the old laws and ways, as well as have autonomy. Waltari describes the anticipation and the resentment the Finns felt towards the Russians, as well as the cultural differences Alexander observes when he crosses the border.

I just thoroughly enjoyed this book. It’s charming and made me giddy on several occasions, and I look forward to reading it again sometime. Maybe even writing my minor thesis on it?

Published: 1944

Pages: 282 (WSOY 2009)

Mary Balogh: A Summer to Remember

Kit Butler, Viscount Ravensberg, is cool, dangerous and fast becoming one of London’s most notorious rakehells – and marriage is the last thing on his mind. But Kit’s family has other plans. Desperate to thwart his father’s matchmaking, Kit needs a bride fast. Enter Miss Laure Edgeworth. A year after being abandoned at the altar, Lauren has determined that marriage is not for her. When these two fiercely independent souls meet, sparks fly – and a deal is hatched.

Lauren will masquerade as Kit’s intended if he agrees to provide a passionate, adventurous, unforgettable summer. When the summer ends, she will break off the engagement rendering herself unmarriageable and leaving them both free. Everything is going perfectly – until Kit does the unthinkable and begins to fall in love. A summer to remember is not enough for him. But how can he convince Lauren to be his, for better, for worse, and for the rest of their lives?

(Piatkus 2010 back cover)

I really liked this one. The hero is likeable, the heroine is more or less sensible, and their relationship progresses not in an absolute rush but at a nice pace that’s not so fast as to be unbelievable but fast enough to keep the book going without too long gaps.

An excellent read for the summer months, if you like romance! There are also other books revolving around the characters mentioned in this book, and I’m actually rather curious to see Freyja Bedwyn’s story, as I disliked her a whole lot in this one.

Published: 2002

Pages: 376 (Piatkus 2010)

Julia Quinn: An Offer from A Gentleman

As the illegitimate daughter of the Earl of Penwood, Sophie Beckett has never been accepted in polite society. And since her father’s untimely death, her step-mother has made her life doubly hard, forcing her to work as an unpaid servant. Sophie’s days are pure drudgery, until one night her fellow servants conspire to help her attend the Bridgerton masquerade ball.

There she meets her very own Prince Charming, handsome Benedict Bridgerton and falls head over heels in love. Benedict is equally smitten, but when the clock strikes midnight Sophie is forced to flee the ballroom, leaving only her glove in his hand…

(Piatkus 2011 back cover)

Not too keen on this one – it was nice, but as usual in Quinn the main conflict gets solved too early for good dramatic effect. The end, I admit, was very sweet! The dialogue is a bit dramatic though, and the Cinderella adaptation was a bit too obvious, especially considering how it got abandoned halfway through the novel.

Also, I’m miffed that I don’t think I figured out who Miss Whistledown is and therefore there’s nothing to it but to read the whole Bridgerton series. (Not that I’m complaining.)

Published: 2001

Pages: 358 (Piatkus 2011)

Diana Wynne Jones: Charmed Life

Cat doesn’t mind living in the shadow of his sister, Gwendolen, the most promising young witch ever seen on Coven Street. But trouble starts brewing the moment the two orphans are summoned to live in Chrestomanci Castle. Frustrated that the witches of the castle refuse to acknowledge her talents, Gwendolen conjures up a scheme that could throw whole worlds out of whack.

(Goodreads)

I do love Diana Wynne Jones, but I do not care for children as main characters. This was a slight problem with this first novel in her Chrestomaci series, as the main character is decidedly a child. The Chrestomanci himself is an interesting character, and if someone can promise me there is more of him in the subsequent books in the series I’ll be happy to read them as well. Actually, reading the other books is a good idea in another respect as well: the proper story seems to start at the very end of this novel, which annoyed me a great deal.

Tim Stevens’s illustrations must be mentioned. The edition I got from the library had a less than appealing cover, but the chapter illustrations made everything better!

Published: 1977

Pages: 267 (Collins Modern Classics 2001)

Mark Lawrence: King of Thorns

The second book in the Broken Empire series, Lawrence takes his young anti-hero one step closer to his grand ambition.

To reach greatness you must step on bodies, and many brothers lie trodden in my wake. I’ve walked from pawn to player and I’ll win this game of ours, though the cost of it may drown the world in blood…

The land burns with the fires of a hundred battles as lords and petty kings fight for the Broken Empire. The long road to avenge the slaughter of his mother and brother has shown Prince Honorous Jorg Ancrath the hidden hands behind this endless war. He saw the game and vowed to sweep the board. First though he must gather his own pieces, learn the rules of play, and discover how to break them.

A six nation army, twenty thousand strong, marches toward Jorg’s gates, led by a champion beloved of the people. Every decent man prays this shining hero will unite the empire and heal its wounds. Every omen says he will. Every good king knows to bend the knee in the face of overwhelming odds, if only to save their people and their lands. But King Jorg is not a good king.

Faced by an enemy many times his strength Jorg knows that he cannot win a fair fight. But playing fair was never part of Jorg’s game plan.

(Goodreads)

Finally had the chance to read this!

As with Prince of Thorns, I would be hard pressed to tell you what exactly happens during the course of the novel. The realisation that I don’t know bothered me for a while, until I came to the conclusion that it is because of the same reason that keeps me from actually understanding what happens in Hannu Rajaniemi’s novels: I get distracted by the prose. It doesn’t even matter much what happens, when I can have beautiful sentences that sound good in my head.

Having said that, I was confused by the mixture of past and present whenever they were in the same chapter. The time layers were a bit hard to follow, especially while distracted by beautiful words, and I kind of wish there had been more line breaks to signal time change.

Things I like about this novel include the older Jorg, whom I find to be more approachable, and, as with Prince, the way the novel’s old world – our world – is referred to. It makes me giddy every time I spot a word that looks weird but sounds terribly familiar, like “dena” and the cemetery.

The intensity got really high towards the end, and I was absolutely blown away. I kid you not, I gasped out loud on the bus and then kept grinning like a maniac.

I can’t wait for Emperor of Thorns. I also have a budding hope Lawrence would write a female main character next, as I enjoy Katherine a whole lot!

Published: 2012

Pages: 597

Books bought:

Again, no picture, because I was an idiot and left my camera in the country. Instead I’ll just tell you, although I’m not sure anymore what I got and when. But let’s try.

Agatha Christie: At Bertram’s Hotel

Appointment with Death

After the Funeral

Mika Waltari: Tanssi yli hautojen

Margaret C. Sullivan: The Jane Austen Handbook: A Sensible Yet Elegant Guide to Her World

Currently reading:

Jonathan L. Howard: Johannes Cabal the Necromancer (and enjoying it very much indeed)

That’s all for me for this month! I doubt I’ll be posting much during the summer ­– as I said, work keeps things hectic. I’ve abandoned Project Christie, and the only immediate plan of anything but regular monthly posts is the Finncon report, which hopefully I can manage!

Happy beginning of summer, everyone!

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Dame Agatha and I

I do not consider myself a fan of Agatha Christie.

In all honesty, I would be a horrid liar if I claimed I was, because in the 20+ years of my life I’ve read only two novels to date – Murder on the Orient Express last year and now Murder Is Easy.

What I have done, is watching Christie. I love to curl up on the couch and follow Monsieur Poirot or Miss Marple as they go about their business. David Suchet is wonderful. I’m more partial to the films made after 2000, for their visual prowess, and am positively squealing in anticipation of the five new episodes, which, I understand, will be the last ones. My experience of Miss Marple started with Geraldine McEwan and has now progressed to Julia MacKenzie, and I have yet to take up the older ones, but I do enjoy myself immensely every time. I’ve seen most of the episodes quite a few times.

Geraldine McEwan as Miss Marple

This, of course, creates some problems to me as a reader. Having seen the episodes so many times, reading the books seems rather pointless. I don’t always remember the murderer, but the more frequently I watch the episodes the better I’ll remember, and particularly if I know the actor who played the murderer. (There is one who always turns out to be the murderer, but I will not reveal their name in order not to spoil anyone!)

Actors are one of the reason I find the post-2000 films so appealing. The pool of British actors is relatively small, and you get the same faces from time to time. So far, it would seem the same actor does not play in two Poirots or two Marples, unless they are a recurring character (like Zoe Wanamaker’s charming Mrs Oliver), but most play some role in both. Well, when I say most… Actor spotting is one of my favourite pastimes anyway, so Christie adaptations are a source of fun in that sense as well.

While or after watching the films I often look at what other people have said about the adaptation. It’s very interesting, seeing as half the viewers seems to be without much experience of the books like me, and the other half are first fans of the books and second fans of the films. I understand their pain at the changes made; after all, you guys know how upset I can get over film adaptations. However, recently the comments that have caught my attention have been about the modernisation and adding of elements that Christie did not write.

See, I don’t really mind all that much, not anymore. If it’s well done, all is fine. I watch every Austen adaptation that comes out, and have been beyond pleased with the additions made. On the other hand, the additions can be horrible, like in the new Wilde adaptation Dorian Gray, where there was one or two added scenes that I liked. I suppose it’s mostly little things that can be changed, and any extra in the larger scale offends sensibilities; but how does that work in Christie, where details are what matters? I’ve seen less complaining about adding Miss Marple to stories she does not belong to than about person A being person B’s sister instead of cousin. Maybe in detective stories it is more important to keep the details in tact in order to please the audience than it is to keep the general setting close to the book.

As a person who is interested in book-to-film adaptations, Christie would seem like a must to me. There is a theory book on adaptation that I mean to read, and what better to keep my mind academically engaged during the summer months than work with Christie adaptations? I hope to look into four films, chosen because of personal preference, read the novels they are based on, and then write a little comparison of them. Although my summer projects tend to end up abandoned, this is one I hope to keep to!

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