A police procedural with shades of a Golden Age crime novel, complete with an end-of-book 'whodunit' explanation letter. It also bears the distinctionA police procedural with shades of a Golden Age crime novel, complete with an end-of-book 'whodunit' explanation letter. It also bears the distinction of being the only crime novel I've read whose resolution hinged so completely on the accuracy of transportation time tables and the dependability of train schedules.
Points and Lines gives us great interplay (if only briefly) between the older, country-based Columbo-esque Detective Torigai and the younger, coffee-drinking, city sleuth Mihara, as well as nice snapshots of daily life in Japan in the 1970s. The novel reads less like a story about real people and a real crime than it does a sort of narrative brain teaser, but that's more an observation than a critique. A very enjoyable read....more
The farm at Viðfjörður in East Iceland experienced dozens of hauntings and ghostly episodes in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. In this novellaThe farm at Viðfjörður in East Iceland experienced dozens of hauntings and ghostly episodes in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. In this novella, Þórbergur Þórðarsson gathers together both folk anecdotes that were collected about these "wonders," as well as the memories of several sisters who grew up on the farm and who also lost several brothers in a drowning accident that they believe to be connected to a ghost who frequented their home—"sá gamli," or, "the old one."
Þórbergur being something of a folklorist—as well as a great believer in mysterious phenomena and entities himself—the stories are related in relatively unadorned fashion, but there are still a number of delightful scares: ghostly cat and seal heads thrown at unwanted guests in abandoned huts, disappearing doors, mysterious, gray cow-monsters, loud knocks on upstairs windows, premonitions, and even (my favorite)...ghost puppies.
I'm going to be translating an excerpt of this novella this semester and think it's going to be great fun.
This was picked up off a 'take-a-book' shelf and I brought with me on vacation because I'd read that Donna Leon's crime novels were in the vein of othThis was picked up off a 'take-a-book' shelf and I brought with me on vacation because I'd read that Donna Leon's crime novels were in the vein of other 'literary' crime authors I've enjoyed, because I was looking forward to a novel set in Venice, and because I was hoping for a great beach read. But while I truly loved all the descriptions of place/setting and the daily comings and goings of life in Venice (I would have happily read a book all about lunches in Venice, or one that spent a lot more time talking about the boat-buses, for instance), Doctored Evidence was incredibly frustrating and disappointing because of its latent (sometimes, actually, rather blatant) and totally needless (from a plot perspective) homophobia.
I get that in many instances Leon is conveying the POV and/or biases and bigotry of her characters. And often—through Elettra, for instance, and to a lesser and less-convincing degree, through Brunetti himself—these biases and prejudices are dispensed with. Nevertheless, a really icky (for lack of a more erudite word) feeling of homophobia lies over the whole novel. Brunetti goes on a hunt for secretly gay men who have positions of power in Italy because he convinces himself that their homosexuality (which he frequently equates with the seven deadly sin of lust) is the only reason that any of them might have been blackmailed and driven to murder an old woman.
Worse, I think it irresponsible (to say the very least) that a book written in 2004 should introduce a gay subcharacter who, in addition to having died from AIDS, also subscribed to pornographic magazines featuring very young boys. And this salacious, grimy detail and horrific false equivalence (i.e. gay man = pedophile) has absolutely no relevance to the plot whatsoever. It's never walked back, it's never recanted, it's never proven to be false. It's simply introduced so that later, another character can show her dignity and open-mindedness by saying that no one, not even a pedophile, deserves to die of AIDS. It reinforces a horrible prejudice and again, false equivalence, still held by many people and there's no reason for it. It's lazy and bigoted writing and I'd like to think that Leon could do better. ...more
A really interesting portrait of and travelogue about Nigeria, made all the more interesting by the fact that the author, Noo Saro-Wiwa is herself NigA really interesting portrait of and travelogue about Nigeria, made all the more interesting by the fact that the author, Noo Saro-Wiwa is herself Nigerian, but grew up in England and then stopped going back to the country all together after the murder of her activist father. This is by no means a memoir. Saro-Wiwa's does occasionally dip into her own and her family's personal history, but always maintains a certain distance from events in her past and doesn't delve too much into her own emotions or feelings—even when describing, for instance, the process of reassembling her father's skeleton years after his death, once his body had been recovered and returned to his family. I think she could have written this book as a more introspective memoir and probably would have done a great job with it, but Saro-Wiwa is a travel writer (she's written several travel guides) and it makes sense that she'd opt for a more hybrid approach.
I've read several books now that are set in Lagos, and it was interesting to see that churning, chaotic, vibrant, and sometimes frightening environment recreated here, often with long discussions of some of the urban fixtures and institutions that have been discussed and/or critiqued by other authors (I'm thinking of Teju Cole's Every Day is For the Thief, specifically) like the National Museum or the danfo buses. But it was also fascinating to read more about areas of Nigeria that I had not only never heard of, but also which returned a pretty shockingly sparse selection of images when I tried to Google them. (I think this is a book that would have benefited immensely from the inclusion of some photographs, even in black and white.) ...more
Years ago, in preparation for a class project in a YA Lit class in library school, my professor asked me who my hero was. (The having of a hero appareYears ago, in preparation for a class project in a YA Lit class in library school, my professor asked me who my hero was. (The having of a hero apparently being a given.) I told her that I didn't really have heroes and she was aghast. "No heroes?" she asked sadly, before brightening just as quickly and asking, "What about Elenore Roosevelt?"
After reading My Life in France, however, I am happy to report that I am as close to having a hero as I've ever been. Julia Child: left-leaning, wayward daughter to her conservative parents, left home to pursue work with the Office of Strategic Services (the precursor to the CIA), lived in multiple countries in South Asia. Met the love of her life, with whom she shared a love of travel and good food, never had kids. Stumbled upon her life's work in her late thirties, learned a foreign language fluently (and several others semi-conversantly) in her late thirties, made a splendid success of herself in her forties. Had a wacky high-pitched voice to match her wacky, high-pitched personality. Could make fun of her height (over six feet) and her 'gargoyle feet' without seeming to feel secretly bad about those qualities. Clearly enjoyed her wine. Not embarrassed to be goofy. All about making a refined or otherwise inaccessible medium/field (French cuisine) accessible and interesting to a general audience without talking down to them. Self-motivated, ambitious, curious, unapologetic, and a big fan of making mistakes in public (that is to say, on air) and then learning to live with them.
Yes, I'd say that Julia Child is at the very least going to be my emotional-professional-spiritual guide going forward, if not simply being referred to as my absolute most favorite person I've never met ev-er.
This was my first foray into the Rebus series, one which I had been eying for a long time—not least due to its Edinburgh setting. Funny then that theThis was my first foray into the Rebus series, one which I had been eying for a long time—not least due to its Edinburgh setting. Funny then that the one I picked to start with didn't actually take place in Edinburgh at all. No matter, though: A Question of Blood was a nice introduction to the character and his backstory, I think, even though it is a rather late entry as far as I can tell.
I finished the novel pretty snappily, without finding myself bored or distracted and wanting to jump over to other plots and books (a common problem for me). The interwoven plotting and snappy pacing are both work well, the characters and relationships clearly drawn, and the various intrigues all reasonably twisty. Good news all around. Personally, I thought the main subplot related to Rebus' suspicious injury (suspicious because his hands have been severely burned and a man he'd had altercations with died in an arson fire) was resolved a bit too easily, as was the internal inquiry into his possible role in a murder. Additionally, while it does draw out the suspense and the reader's uncertainty, the fact that he knows whether or not he's telling the truth about his involvement in the event but *we* don't know is kind of a cheat. It feels artificial, given that we are inside his thoughts for much of the rest of the book, but it's not written first person so I suppose Rankin can get away with it.
There were also times throughout the novel that I found Rebus' outsider status as your prototypical "loose canon" cop—complete with the wise-cracking, the disregarding authority, the inadvisable outbursts, etc.—a little forced. We get it already—he's a lone wolf (except he's not). No need to overdo it.
As a last side note, I loved the author intro on the book—the stories about the characters that Rankin wrote in after auctioning character rights and the anecdote about being pranked by a member of Belle and Sebastian. Good way to get a feel for Rankin's sense of humor and also nice to see how he incorporated a character that he didn't himself dream up from scratch, but rather had to work in as a sort of exercise. ...more
I'm not, as a rule, a big fan of procedurals, but I received this book for Christmas with an enthusiastic recommendation and so went in with an open mI'm not, as a rule, a big fan of procedurals, but I received this book for Christmas with an enthusiastic recommendation and so went in with an open mind. Very glad that I did—it was fast-paced, decently twisty, well-plotted with well-drawn characters and just generally a whole lot of a fun. Painted a nice portrait of Bath, as well, which up until this point, I was only familiar with from Jane Austen novels. I had no problem jumping into the series from this point, and would recommend it as an entry point into the Diamond novels. I'll definitely return to this series, and very soon.
(Those of you who are fans of the series: any recommendations for which Diamond novel I should read next?)...more
Having finished this book just minutes ago, I'm by no means ready to really write anything of substance about it. However, an initial reaction seems wHaving finished this book just minutes ago, I'm by no means ready to really write anything of substance about it. However, an initial reaction seems warranted, as this was just such an enveloping reading experience. I'm reminded of a bookstore owner's description of his favorite (vampire) novel (Anne Rice's Queen of the Damned, if you're interested): "It's just so large."
For a book that is actually a lot of fun to read (even when the events of the narrative are downright harrowing), A Tale for the Time Being is also a surprisingly dense read, bringing together such a variety of narratives and narrative techniques and schools of thought and iconic (recent) historical moments, that I did have to set it down every now and then and take a breather (I actually spent a week just reading another book from start to finish as a sort of palate cleanser.) A short and incomplete summary of some of the main themes/concepts/subjects: Zen Buddhism, suicide, depression, alternate realities, quantum physics, Schrodinger's cat, the 2011 tsunami in Japan, 9/11, Japanese cosplay communities, bullying in (Japanese) schools, tidal currents, landscape art, and, of course, theories of time...Anyway, it's a lot of food for thought and I imagine that I will be thinking this book over for a long time to come. ...more
Another one of my forays into Icelandic children's literature, Rikka og töfrahringurinn á Íslandi (Rikka and the Enchanted Ring in Iceland) by the fasAnother one of my forays into Icelandic children's literature, Rikka og töfrahringurinn á Íslandi (Rikka and the Enchanted Ring in Iceland) by the fashion/jewelry designer Hendrikka Waage has a bit of a muddy plot going in. In the first few pages, we're told that Rikka is a Sagittarius and has a red ring which is imbued with powers from planet Uni; her friend Linda is a Taurus and wants her own green birthstone ring. Then they run into their disabled friend, Dimitri, whose father is Russian and was born in Azerbaijan, and who works at the zoo in the summer, gets around using a wheelchair, and communicates using a chart of illustrated signs that he and other people can point to.
After this somewhat unnecessary diversion, however, Rikka and Linda take off to the Laugardalslaug pool to enjoy the hot pots. Then Rikka's magic ring, which has the power to transport the girls off on wonderful adventures, whips them off on a tour of All Things Awesome in Iceland. In the course of their day, the magic ring takes the girls
*To see the large-scale statues by Steinunn Þórarinsdóttir *To play handball and learn a little about Iceland's talented handball team *To ride Rikka's two Icelandic horses *To ride snowmobiles on Vatnajökull *To celebrate Icelandic Independence/National Day on June 17 at Þingvellir *To take a boat through the glacial lagoon Jökulsárlón *To eat delicious Icelandic food like lamb and lobster soup and drink Iceland's very clean, very healthy water *To fish for salmon *To see the giant lava formations of Öxnadal *To meditate on Snæfellsjökull *To get drenched at Geysir *To view Yoko Ono's Imagine Peace Tower on Viðey
And then they are spirited home again. The End. (It bears noting that they are accompanied by all manner of Icelandic creatures on their journey--puffins, elves, and Icelandic sheepdogs follow them gleefully through each new site...)
It's a cute book in some ways, and very earnest in its desire to both celebrate Iceland and also get kids excited about traveling (this was one of the intentions, per the book description), but overall it seems like the type of book meant for tourists and people visiting Iceland. So I wonder if there is actually an English version somewhere. The book is also apparently the first in a series--Rikka's magic ring takes her to Japan and India, and maybe some other countries, too.
Anyway, at the very least, I learned some interesting vocab--bókstaflega ("literally") and töfraorku ("enchanted energy/powers") and fatlaður ("disabled"), among others. ...more
I was looking for a fast, fun read for a vacation that I took recently took and when The Expats (which, incidentally, was just listed as one of Bill OI was looking for a fast, fun read for a vacation that I took recently took and when The Expats (which, incidentally, was just listed as one of Bill Ott's 'Best Crime Novels: 2012' in Booklist) caught my eye, I thought it would easily fit the bill. But this book was pretty much a disappointment from start to finish. The set-up is promising, but the whole novel is sloppily structured and written and the conclusion is not only silly, it's also pretty lazy on the resolving details. (For instance, "I framed someone," is generally a fact that requires some explanation. Who did you frame? How did you frame him? You can't just leave it at "I set up a guy," and move on, particularly when the framing involves war criminals and international thievery.)
All in all, it felt like I was reading a treatment for a bad thriller film, and not one that made me care about any of the individuals involved--particularly the main character, who we're told is this super badass former spy, but constantly behaves like an amateur girl detective. ...more
**spoiler alert** I was certainly entertained by Outlander, at least for the first three quarters. But overall, even when it's enjoyable, it's a truly**spoiler alert** I was certainly entertained by Outlander, at least for the first three quarters. But overall, even when it's enjoyable, it's a truly weird book. That's not necessarily a bad thing--it is, after all, a time-travel adventure set between post-WWII England and 13th century Scotland, and there are romantic intrigues, burly Highlanders, Loch Ness monsters, witches, and more straight-up adventure than you can shake a stick at.
At the beginning, it's really all fun and action. The main character flies back in time by touching a mystical Scottish rock and pretty much adjusts to her new circumstances immediately. That's actually fine with me--I'd rather not waste time with a lot of 'oh my, what happened?' chapters. She's reasonably plucky and sassy--that's good. And yes, there are also about a thousand highland sex scenes once things get going (some rather good, some kind of embarrassingly written, some...weird.) But definitely a lot of them, in a lot of places and a lot of moods. Something for everyone, I guess.
Of course, Outlander has an odd prevalence of homo-erotic torture scenes (more than one character with an 'interest' in rape is portrayed as gay, which...um?), and there's also what one could easily describe as a pro-corporal punishment agenda. I mean, I don't need my 13th century highlanders to have the same ideas about child rearing as contemporary parents. It's fine that they describe the 'thrashings' they all received as children, and also even laugh about the experiences from time to time. But there are an awful lot of conversations in which a character explains how being routinely beaten by his parents led to his becoming a righteous man. Which is a bit much after commercial three or so. Also: I get the whole husband-beats-wife-because-she-almost-got-all-his-kin-killed thing. I get the logic--that a man would have received the same punishment and men were accustomed to 'correcting' their wives in this manner at that time. But Claire's reaction is strange and a little problematic. She fights it and then hates him after (understandable), but then exclaims her love for him (for the first time) when he describes why he did it. Ooph. Even if she does make him vow never to lay a hand on her again in anger, this is troubling to me.
Looping back to the issue of the surprise man-torture scenes: firstly, there are a lot of these. Jaime gets beaten, flayed, shot, has bones dislocated and crushed, is raped--it's a lot. I get that this guy is tough and sensitive and has honor and can take it, but geez. He still has a regular human body and after massive injury 100, one has to think that the protagonist's ability to "heal" (she was a WWII nurse and had a convenient botany hobby) is a bit overstated. Now, I think that it is interesting that the male character does a lot of honor/body-saving of his lady love, but also gets the brunt of the physical punishment and mental torture. That is unusual. As is the last 200 pages in which Gabaldon sorts out his emotional issues and the effects of sadistically-inflicted trauma. I'm not sure that so much of it was necessary for this story, and honestly, Gabaldon isn't really up to the task of parsing trauma and adequately showing a recovery process. But again, it's interesting. Weird-interesting.
(Oh, and her 1945 husband looks exactly like the evil English general/torturer/rapist? Is that because it makes it easier for her to fall in love with her Highlander? Why was that a thing?)
Anyway, I'll say it again: it's a weird book, but it's interesting. I'm not sorry I read it, and I even really enjoyed it at times, but it left sort of an odd aftertaste for me. It's certainly memorable....more