An interesting series of anecdotes about Unuhús ('Una's house'), a salon/quasi-halfway house for artists, writers, and social outcasts in Reykjavík inAn interesting series of anecdotes about Unuhús ('Una's house'), a salon/quasi-halfway house for artists, writers, and social outcasts in Reykjavík in the early 1900s. Though these stories were 'set in writing' by Þórbergur Þórðarson—himself a former resident of Unuhús—they're the memories of the poet Stefán frá Hvítdal, who lived there on and off for some years. As Þórbergur explains in the introduction, he took it upon himself to commit Stefán's memories about Unuhús to paper during the summer of 1922, while visiting Stefán and his wife in the countryside.
Despite the importance of Unuhús, its proprietor, and its residents at a pivotal point in Þórbergur's life, he himself wrote very little about his time living there, although there are some short stories and anecdotes about it that have been included in the recent collection of his previously unpublished writings, Meistarar and lærisveinar....more
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
This book was fervently recommended to me on a trip to the US a little over a year ago, a recommendation that I filed away and then forgot entirely unThis book was fervently recommended to me on a trip to the US a little over a year ago, a recommendation that I filed away and then forgot entirely until I found it on a summer reading shelf in a public library on the outskirts of Reykjavík. I read a review which summed it up as "that scene in Apollo 13 where they have to 'connect this thing to that thing using only this stuff,' but more," which was a really good sell for me, because that was, honestly, my favorite part of that movie. I'm not a science/engineering/sci-fi/space nerd (honestly: space is so scary—why do we keep going there?!), but despite that, I still found this to be a really invigorating read. (Clearly: I read it in two days.) I really liked all the bits about potato cultivation and even if I still don't really understand how he was able to light oxygen (or hydrogen? or nitrogen?...I forget) on fire and somehow end up with water, I sort of enjoyed reading about the process every time he went into explanations. And hey, it's basically an epistolary novel to boot, so that was fun.
Way late to the party, but glad to know what all the hubbub was about when this (and then the movie) came out....more
I'd seen another Loretta Chase title (Lord of Scoundrals) pop up on a number of recommendation lists and so when I couldn't find that one at the libraI'd seen another Loretta Chase title (Lord of Scoundrals) pop up on a number of recommendation lists and so when I couldn't find that one at the library, I decided to give Miss Wonderful a try instead. Chase seems to often get classified as a 'Classic' romance writer, and I get that from this book, which combines shades of Georgette Heyer with the overarching themes of Elizabeth Gaskell's North and South. This is a romance, of course, but that plot line is balanced with a rather complex one involving coal mines, the proposal for a new canal, and general distrust about modernization and mechanization. The gender balance gets upset pretty regularly, especially towards the beginning of the novel—our hero takes a Austenian tumble down a hillside and then has to be basically carried to safety by our heroine and tended to at her manor; he's also far more focused on fashion and clothing than she is—but these re-castings feel really natural to their circumstances, situations, and overall personalities. The plot resolution gets a little fast and loose towards the end of the book, there's a slight twist ending that didn't really feel necessary, and the heroine has some pre-wedding jitters that I didn't buy at all, but overall, I really enjoyed this book. Lots of banter and sparkling wit, lots of interesting non-romance plot, and lots of fun....more
An enjoyable P.D. James, although not my favorite of hers—a little too clever-clever with the murder plot and the big reveal (almost a bit Agatha ChriAn enjoyable P.D. James, although not my favorite of hers—a little too clever-clever with the murder plot and the big reveal (almost a bit Agatha Christie, which isn't something I necessarily look for from James) and I wasn't wild about the fact that Dalgliesh not only figures out such an extraordinarily convoluted scenario without any concrete means of doing so, but also that the How and Why details are withheld from the reader for so long. It seems a bit showy and is also an artificial way of increasing the narrative tension. Nevertheless, this is an entertaining entry in the Dalgliesh series and also reveals some interesting personality traits—and flaws—about the detective. ...more
I have really enjoyed the two previous Lovesey books that I've read—one from the Peter Diamond series (From Cop to Corpse) and one historical title (TI have really enjoyed the two previous Lovesey books that I've read—one from the Peter Diamond series (From Cop to Corpse) and one historical title (The False Inspector Dew)—and given that this book has arguably the best title ev-er, I was really looking forward to this book. But having read 3/4 of it, I just can't be bothered to finish it. For one, the murder doesn't happen until almost the last quarter of the book and when it does happen, the victim is a character that we've encountered, but not one that we've learned much about. As a result, her treatment feels cursory and unimportant, rather than a fully-fledged character who we have learned/will learn much about—a person whose life has some kind of real weight and significance.
Secondly, I don't love the relationship between the two police officers—it feels like they may have been better introduced in another installment of the series, but here, Sergeant Cribb feels a bit like a flat Sherlock imitation who spends a lot of time talking down to his lackey, Constable Thackeray, who himself is a bit of prude. They don't feel terribly relateable individually, and they don't have a lot of chemistry together.
Where this book does shine, however, is in creating its backdrop—Lovesey clearly spent an immense amount of time researching the milieu of London music halls and imparts a lot of detail into his story. Apparently, this book was adapted as a PBS Mystery! special and I imagine that it would be a really enjoyable TV program, if only for all the setting detail.
I'm not giving up on Lovesey and his historicals, but I am going to leave this unfinished. ...more
I enjoyed the pacing and general plotting of this one, but maybe didn't connect with the main character that much. I liked, however, that she was a suI enjoyed the pacing and general plotting of this one, but maybe didn't connect with the main character that much. I liked, however, that she was a successful, professional woman and had a life that didn't center around romance. I think I also found the romantic hero a bit wooden and overly alpha for my tastes, although his backstory (and the backstory of his and Cameron's relationship years ago) was rather well developed. But he did a whole lot of 'stalking like a panther' towards her, which felt silly instead of sexy, and although his brooding was mocked by secondary characters a lot, it still seemed a bit much at times. I've started the second in the series, though, so it's clear that overall, this worked for me, even if it's not entirely my cup of tea. ...more
I found this book—along with two other installments of the Penguin series celebrating the 150th anniversary of the London Tube—on a 1 bookshelf in BriI found this book—along with two other installments of the Penguin series celebrating the 150th anniversary of the London Tube—on a £1 bookshelf in Brixton on a recent visit and picked it up for the sheer novelty of the series and the esoteric back cover. What a delightful surprise. Wadham's thinly-veiled autobiographical memoir is funny and candid, offering rich portraits of various family members in a way which feels real and unadorned. These are splendid characters, but she presents them, and herself, as nevertheless flawed and biased and very, very interesting. It's not actually about the Tube (or specifically, the Circle Line, as advertised) but it hardly matters: this is a tightly written, vibrant, and revealing portrait of a complicated and fascinating family living in London in the 1970s. ...more
**spoiler alert** The Strange Library is, appropriately, a strange little story that can be read in one sitting. The scenario—young boy goes to librar**spoiler alert** The Strange Library is, appropriately, a strange little story that can be read in one sitting. The scenario—young boy goes to library, only to find himself taken captive in a basement labyrinth by a brain-eating librarian and attended by a man dressed in a sheep costume who makes killer doughnuts—seems, at first, like it's going for the overhanded metaphor. But then you hit giggle-worthy statements like "I mean, public libraries like this one were always short of money, so building even the tiniest of labyrinths had to be beyond their means" and run into passages like the following:
"Mr. Sheep Man," I asked, "why would that old man want to eat my brains?"
"Because brains packed with knowledge are yummy, that's why. They're nice and creamy. And sort of grainy at the same time."
"So that's why he wants me to spend a month cramming information in there, to suck it up afterwards?"
"That's the idea."
"Don't you think that's awfully cruel?" I asked. "Speaking from the suckee's point of view, of course."
"But, hey, this kind of thing is going on in libraries everywhere, you know. More or less, that is."
This news staggered me. "In libraries everywhere?" I stammered.
"If all they did was lend out knowledge for free, what would be the payoff for them?"
So yes, possibly a tongue-in-cheek poke at public service detractors, but hardly an allegory.
Which means then, that The Strange Library is rather a real story kind of story, a bizarre little tale that simply takes its joy from the expansive possibilities of storytelling and relishes the chance to occasionally drop a super-literary, self-consciously unexpected turn-of-phrase, such as: "Like a blind dolphin, the night of the new moon silently drew near." (Which left me wondering, I might add, if dolphins that are not visually impaired somehow swim louder than their counterparts...)
Of course it should also be mentioned that the illustrations—all of which were sourced from archival materials in the London Library—are splendid. ...more