August 2008 Archives

Blog on hiatus

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I won't be adding any more reviews here for now. Writing this blog has been some effort, with relatively little gains involved. I will be writing reviews on LibraryThing, so if you're interested in my opinions of books, subscribe to my review RSS feed on LibraryThing.

Mahjong is a popular Chinese game, which was a huge fad in the Western world in 1920s and has since lived through waves of popularity. Currently the game is on the rise again. This handbook is from 1960's, but still very much worth reading. The copy I have says it's first printing from 1964, but I believe 2007 is the correct year.

Whitney covers a form of mahjong that was current in the 1960's, the Japanese classical mahjong. The game isn't played that way in Japan anymore, the more modern riichi mahjong is much more popular there, but it doesn't make this book obsolete (unless you're looking for information on mahjong as played in Japan today), because classical Japanese mahjong is a good mahjong rule set for beginners.

This handbook is a good choice for beginners: the rules explained in the book are simple and sensible, the presentation is excellent and the new edition looks really smart. Whitney covers the basic rules, scoring, offers plenty of alternative and optional rules to spice up the game and the book even has a pretty strong section on beginner mahjong strategy.

So, if you've got a mahjong set and want to learn how to play (perhaps your set came with rules you can't understand), getting Whitney's handbook is a good idea. [ Mah Jong Handbook at ]A Mah Jong Handbook at LibraryThing ]

Steve Erickson: Rubicon Beach

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Another Steve Erickson book, another interesting journey. This time the story circles around Los Angeles, told in three parts. First part follows a man who was put in prison for his political views (which he didn't have) and is now released to live in a library in ruined and ravaged Los Angeles. Second part tells the story of a mysterious woman and moves on to a movie script writer. Third part is a story of a son and a father.

It's all rather pleasantly confusing, yet everything comes together in the end - well, perhaps not quite completely, but providing some satisfaction nevertheless. This is one of those books you shouldn't try to understand, just enjoy. Erickson's writing is generally more about vivid images than captivating plots, I think, and here it's particularly clear. There's poetry in these words.

Rubicon Beach is a demanding and rewarding book. The third part fell a tad flat for me, but the first two parts were very good, after I got over the initial confusion. Erickson is a remarkable author and this is a book definitely worth reading, but not for everybody. [ Rubicon Beach at ]Rubicon Beach at LibraryThing ]

BTT: Other Worlds

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I've been rather lazy (and busy) doing Booking Through Thursday entries recently, but when my suggestion made it to the question of the week, I think I must participate! So, from Booking Through Thursday:

Are there any particular worlds in books where you'd like to live? Or where you certainly would NOT want to live? What about authors? If you were a character, who would you trust to write your life?

I wouldn't mind living in one of those trans-human post-scarcity optimistic cyberpunk futures. Something written by Charles Stross or Iain M. Banks, perhaps - Banks' Culture would be a nice place to live, some quiet little orbital far from the battle fronts. Nothing like the old "high-tech low-life" cyberpunk, that would be nasty.

Fantasy worlds are charming, but I wouldn't want to live in a pre-industrial world, I'd prefer somewhere where I don't have to worry a lot about survival, personal hygiene or things like that (then again, if I lived in a book, I probably wouldn't have to worry about anything like that, since authors usually skip that stuff - when was the last time you read about someone going to toilet?).

I'm of two minds when it comes to contemporary fantasy books - it sure would be neat to have a little magic in my life. Then again, I'm not sure I'd like to face the things people bump into in some of those books... Too much magic up close and personal could be nasty.

Vampires are a thoroughly used element in literature. However, Marcus Sedgwick has managed to write a reasonably fresh vampire novel. His trick is to cast Dracula aside and go back to roots, to old Eastern European vampire stories. Thus, his creation is charming and interesting.

My Swordhand Is Singing is written for a younger audience. There's some gory details, but I wouldn't have minded some more cruelty and horror. The plot - a story of a father and son, who wander from town to town as woodcutters, running into vampiric trouble in their current home town - is somewhat simplistic: there are interesting elements, but the resolution seems too easy.

Nevertheless, My Swordhand Is Singing is not a bad book at all. It just could be better... The story kept me reading and I'm sure I'm not the only adult reader who will find this book interesting and good for a quick read. There are some seriously cool details in the story. Definitely a book worth reading! (Review based on the Finnish translation.) [ My Swordhand is Singing at ]My Swordhand Is Singing at LibraryThing ]

I tried my luck with the Blog a Penguin Classic site. Like probably many others, I got a book I wouldn't otherwise have read. Toru Dutt is an 19th century Indian author and a poet and this book is the first novel from India written in French. This novel was written in secret and discovered by the author's father after her very early death.

As the title says, it's a diary. Mademoiselle Marguerite D'Arvers is a 15-year old girl, home from her convent education. At home she finds her childhood friends, the young count, his brother and the handsome Captain Lefèvere.

Marguerite loves one of the men, but which one of them loves Marguerite? As you can imagine, the network of relationships is somewhat complex and complicated and finding true love and happiness isn't obvious. Eventually Marguerite is married and begins the domestic life as a wife to man - but which one?

This is not my kind of book, really. I found Marguerite's naïve narration (she's constantly excited! and ecstatic! and thank God for that! Praised be Virgin Mary!) annoying and even though something actually happened in the story, I still found it boring rather than poignant. [ The Diary of Mademoiselle D'Arvers (Modern Classics (Penguin)) at ]The Diary of Mademoiselle D'Arvers at LibraryThing ]