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 ]

Lucius Shepard: The Golden

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The Golden is a vampire story that mixes good old-fashioned vampires with a detective plot. The vampires have gathered to the Castle Banat to make major decisions about their future. It's the 1860's and vampires must decide, whether to remain in Europe or to flee to progress of the world to the Far East, where things might be safer for them.

However, a gruesome murder stops all that, and even though vampires are a rather cruel and violent lot, this crime is such an offense against their tradition that the guilty parties must be found. Michel Beheim, a young vampire and an ex-police from Paris gets the unpleasant job of figuring out who did it.

The vampires, scheming beasts as they are, twist the murder investigation into a vicious game, each trying to further their own interests. Can Michel trust anybody? And how can you investigate someone who's very powerful, nearly immortal and doesn't want to cooperate? It's a tough job, but Michel must figure out what happened.

The vampires are powerful people, driven by their passions. That means they're thinking about sex, pretty much all the time, and the book gets downright steamy at times. Then there's gratuitous violence, too. All the necessary entertainment, that is! Shepard's prose is baroque, which certainly fits the theme, but at times he gets perhaps too carried away. The descriptions of the Castle Banat are at some points almost silly.

The combination of a vampire setting with the detective plot does work, though. A pleasant book, if not mind-blowing. (Review based on the Finnish translation.) [ Golden at ]The Golden at LibraryThing ]

Night Autopsy Room tells a story of Yoshio, a medical student living in Japan just after the World War II. In the autopsy room of the medical college, he meets seven spirits, who want to tell the stories of their lives to him.

The spirits have lived hard lifes, and their stories are stories of hardship and oppression. The first spirit is a woman who was in Hiroshima when the atomic bomb fell, the second is a Korean man who faced discrimination in Japan, the third a Japanese woman driven to suicide by discrimination in America and so on.

I made it through the first two stories, then I had to quit - it was too depressing. Not the stories, though, even though they told awful tales of hard life. No, what bugged me was the way the author used the suffering of the people he created to promote religion. If there's something I really hate, it's telling people that suffering in this life is good, because it gives you a better place in Heaven after you die - that's the basic idea of the second story.

I simply can't tolerate that kind of rubbish. The spirits were a rather too excited about Jesus, too, the author seems very certain of his faith. Too bad I don't share it. The stories itself were ok, though the prose was somewhat wooden. Whether that is the author's or the translator's fault, I can't tell, but the way the stories were told was, to be frank, boring: surely these horrid fates could've been told more vividly. [ Night Autopsy Room: Seven Tales of Life, Death and Hope at ]Night Autopsy Room at LibraryThing ]

Naomi Novik: Throne of Jade

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Throne of Jade continues the story that began in Temeraire. The first book revealed that the dragon Temeraire is a rare Chinese Celestial and, as it happens, the Chinese want him back. The British government doesn't put up much resistance and thus Will and Temeraire find them on Allegiance, a large transport, on their way to China.

The sea journey takes them months, so there's lots of room for all kinds of action during the journey - battles, intrigue and conversations. The characters of Temeraire and Will are explored further, and the supporting cast is interesting as well, there are some rather cryptic Chinese fellows aboard the ship.

Towards the end of the novel, the ship takes them to China, where the events finally reach their peak. Of course, the reader probably knows they're going to make it just fine (there are, after all, three more books in the series), but how it turns out is a bit of a mystery until it happens. The way things are resolved smells perhaps a tad too deus ex machina to me, but I can forgive that: the book is otherwise very good. Besides, I think I prefer to have a fast-paced adventure instead of slower, several hundred pages long epic, so some short cuts are probably mandatory.

So, I'm rather satisfied with this second part of the series and I'm definitely looking forward to continuing to the third installment. [ Temeraire: The Throne of Jade (Temeraire series book 2) at ]Throne of Jade at LibraryThing ]

M. John Harrison: Nova Swing

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M. John Harrison returns to the universe he created for Light. This time the action is on planet-side, in a film noir world of Saudade. The Halo is a popular tourist attraction and there's nothing as attractive as the nasty stuff. Pieces of the Kefahuchi Tract have been falling on planets and that's what draws people to Saudade as well.

Vic Serotonin is a tour-guide, a criminal who takes people to see the event site, where wrong physics run loose. On the side he makes money by taking event site artefacts back with him and selling them. It's very much like the Zone from Roadside Picnic, indeed. Vic is a very film noir -ish character, constantly boozing and messing with people he would be better to avoid - but then again, the proximity of the event site tends to do that.

This is a strong story, with lots of curious and innovative science fiction elements in it. It's true to M. John Harrison's usual style, it's quite recognisable in its charm and confusion. Highly recommended, if you're looking for something unusual. Knowing Light is not mandatory, but helps. (Review based on the Finnish translation.) [ Nova Swing (Gollancz S.F.) at ]Nova Swing at LibraryThing ]