September 2007 Archives

Jonathan Carroll: Voice of Our Shadow

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Voice of Our Shadow is the story of Joe Lennox. As a kid, he kills his delinquent brother, kind of accidentally, but manages to suppress the guilt. He turns his brother's story into a short story. The story is made into a play, making enough money for Joe so he can move to Vienna to live a life as a writer.

In Vienna, he learns to love the city, meets some friend and finds love - but unfortunately in a wrong place, with a wrong person. Soon Joe has another death on his conscience. A nightmare begins, as the fantastical elements of this story come to life. The story has elements of horror and supernatural.

Jonathan Carroll has written a beautiful and fast-moving book. It's not my favourite of his work, but even a weaker Carroll book is still a good one. Worth reading, but don't start with this is you're new to the world of Jonathan Carroll. [ Voice of Our Shadow (Fantasy Masterworks) at ] [ Voice of Our Shadow at LibraryThing ]

William Goldman: The Princess Bride

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The Princess Bride is an honest and old-fashioned adventure. The bride of the title is Buttercup, the most beautiful girl in the world, soon to be married to Prince Humperdinck - too bad she's in love with Westley, the farm boy. Before you reach the end, you've come to know an evil Sicilian criminal mastermind, a Spanish fencing wizard, a gentle Turkish giant and many other memorable characters.

It's not just a funny adventure, there's an additional metafictional level. As the story goes, William Goldman didn't write the book: it's an abridgement of a book written by S. Morgenstern. Every now and then Goldman pops in the story, interrupts and discusses some details of Morgenstern's work he disagrees with and has cut off. I'm fairly sure some people will dislike that, but to me, it was the thing that made Princess Bride shine.

It was good, but not spectacular - I don't quite get the amazingly good reviews at Amazon, for example. It was funny, definitely, but not hilarious. The book is oozing good one-liners, that I admit. So, if you're looking for adventure, romance and excitement, The Princess Bride is certainly a good choice. [ The Princess Bride at ] [ The Princess Bride at LibraryThing ]

Frank Schätzing: Der Schwarm

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It all starts innocently enough: some missing fishermen, some whales acting strange, some strange worms found in the bottom of the ocean. Of course, things start getting serious, when these aquatic troubles spread around the globe and problems get bigger and bigger. Eventually the survival of the whole human race is threatened.

The premise of this book sounds quite exciting. The problem is, the author has spread all the excitement over 911 pages (at least in the Finnish edition), and there's at least 300 pages too much. He spends some time on his main characters, and I didn't care about a single one of them. There's endless lecturing and preaching. I'm sure a skilled script editor will make a really great movie of this book, but as it is now, there's so much dead weight it took some real effort to make it to the end.

I made it, though, and found the ending ultimately disappointing. I mean, was that why I went through the 900 pages? The book was interesting enough to keep me reading, but in the end, felt like a disappointment. If you can read Finnish, Risto Isomäki's Sarasvatin hiekkaa has a similar theme, but is much superior (at least three times better, with just one third of the pages!). (Review based on the Finnish translation.) [ The Swarm: A Novel of the Deep at ] [&nsbp;Der Schwarm at LibraryThing ]

A History of Card Games cover

Most books on card games tend to focus on rules and rules alone. If there are any references to the history of card games, they tend to propagate one of the popular false myths (myth #1: crusaders brought the cards to Europe, myth #2: gypsies brought the cards to Europe, myth #3: Marco Polo brought the cards to Europe). David Parlett comes to rescue, however: his book focuses on the history and development of the card games in Western Europe, starting from their introduction in 1370s.

Parlett describes plenty of games and traces their development and evolution. Most of the book covers trick-taking games, which is of course obvious to a book covering European games. His history seems valid and well-researched and he has a knack of describing games well. While this isn't a rule book, many games are described well enough that an experienced card player can play them.

There aren't that many good books on the topic - this one's the only one I've read. If you're at all interested in the topic, this one's highly recommended. [ A History of Card Games at ] [ The History of Card Games at ] [ A History of Card Games at LibraryThing ]

Levitt is an economist who thinks outside the box. In this book, he spins some oddball ideas: how legal abortion reduces crime, how swimming pools are more dangerous than guns, the effect of "black" names for the future of the children and so on. He applies economist thinking to various subjects, often with fairly fresh results.

While he does provoke some thoughts and the New York Times journalist Dubner has written a pretty good book, somehow this doesn't entertain me quite as well as Malcolm Gladwell's books. Part of it must be the way Dubner praises Levitt in between the chapters - at least to a Finnish reader, those parts are just too egoist.

Still, Freakonomics is a hit book for a reason, and while I wouldn't suggest buying it - it's very much read and forget - reading the book isn't a waste of your time (besides, it's a really quick read), but may instead provoke some actual thinking and cause you to take new looks at old things. That's always good! [ Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything at ] [ Freakonomics at LibraryThing ]

Cornelia Funke: Inkheart

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Have you ever wanted to have your favourite characters from your favourite books alive in our world? In Inkheart, that's exactly what happens when Mo reads aloud from books: he makes things appear from the books, while other things in our world get sucked in the books. Years ago, Mo read the evil Capricorn and his henchmen out of the book Inkheart, while his wife got trapped in the book.

Now, Capricorn comes back, looking for Mo and his 12-year old daughter Meggie and the one copy of Inkheart they possess. They must flee the evil mastermind, who wants to find Mo so he could read things for Capricorn. It's a start of a dangerous adventure! Meggie, who is the charming main character of the story, must use her wits and the support from her friends to triumph over the evil forces.

Inkheart is a lovely story that will please anybody who has a passion for books and stories. The book seems written for young adults, but it's certainly dark and dramatic enough for grown-ups as well. (Review based on the Finnish translation.) [ Inkheart at ] [ Inkheart at LibraryThing ]

Donald E. Westlake: 361

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361, published originally back in 1962 and in 2005 by Hard Case Crime, is a classic hardboiled detective story. Things go bad for the protagonist - his father is killed, while he ends up with a gimp foot and a blind eye - and then, it gets worse.

Like in any hardboiled novel worth the label, 361 has plenty of action, both gunfights and fistfights. The hero empties a bottle of booze about every two pages. This is definitely not high literature, but 361 is a gripping book I'm sure many people will read in one sitting. It has great entertainment value, simply put. [ 361 (Hard Case Crime) at ] [ 361 at LibraryThing ]