Wednesday, 30 June 2010

The Legend of Sleepy Hollow and Other Stories by Washington Irving

The Legend of Sleepy Hollow and other stories
The Legend of Sleepy Hollow and Other Stories (Thrift Edition)
I've wanted to read the Legend of Sleepy Hollow for quite some time, so when I found this book at a good price I had to buy it. I guess I should have made my homework before picking this up: The Legend of Sleepy Hollow is a very short story, from where Tim Burton took the generic idea, and expanded it. It is quite nice, but it was a surprise as it is very different from the movie. Basically, the characters are there, the place is the same, the lore of the place is the same, but Ichabod Crane's backstory and what really happens is different.

Some of the other stories in this book were very nice: Rip Van Winkle was amusing and fairytale like, The Spectre Bridegroom was eerie but very sweet, The Wife was simply sweet and romantic, Adventure of a Mysterious Stranger and The Story of the Young Italian were very good and tragic, and The Mutability of Literature, although not really a story, was interestingly actual, although it relates with the printing press. Here's a quote:
"But the inventions of paper and the press have put an end to all these restraints. They have made every one a writer, and enabled every mind to pour itself into print, and diffuse itself over the whole intellectual world. The consequences are alarming. The stream of literature has swollen into a torrent—augmented into a river-expanded into a sea. "
What would have Irving said about the Internet, if he could only see it?

The other stories (Mountjoy, Adventure of the German Student, The Adventure of my Uncle, The Adventure of my Aunt, The Devil and Tom Walker) were not so good, most of the time boring and seeming to drag for ages. Westminster Abbey was especially boring, and I almost skipped it ahead because I hardly could read a paragraph at a time without my mind drifting to a much more interesting topic.

I liked Irving's writing style, a third-person that is not detached from action, with a somewhat conversational style. It seemed like he was telling me a story. This alone made the good stories great, and the not so good, enjoyable at least in a language level.

A complaint I have about this edition is: Why did they separate the stories Adventure of a Mysterious Stranger and The Story of the Young Italian when they are obviously parts of the same? The Adventure of my Uncle and The Adventure of my Aunt were not separated, and their connection is far more tenuous.

Final Opinion: It was an OK book; some good stories, some bad, one awful.


Thursday, 17 June 2010

Book Fair Haul, part 5

This week I made two more visits to the book fair.

On Monday  I ended up buying three books that I wasn't counting on. It is really one book in three parts, that was originally published in two books. Confused? So was I. It is O Planeta dos Dragões be Anne McCaffrey, which corresponds to Dragonflight and Dragonquest, the first two volumes of the Dragonriders of Pern series.

Yesterday I visited again, determined to do my last shopping, as the Book Fair ends next weekend. I bought four books: one that I've been trying to buy for quite some time (the one that disappeared from its shelf before), A Rainha do Sul [The Queen of the South] by Arturo Pérez-Reverte; one that I picked up on the first day, because it was pretty, and been looking at it ever since, Terra de Neve [Snow Country] by Yasunari Kawabata; the book of the day in one of the stands, that seemed nice, O tempo dos Imperadores Estranhos by Ignacio del Valle; and finally a book that caught my attention in a review, O caso das Mangas Explosivas [A Case of Exploding Mangoes] by Mohammed Hanif.

To top all of this, I received Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel in the mail, that I won in a competition made by the Portuguese publisher.

Wednesday, 9 June 2010

Book Fair Haul, part 4

Now that the fair is on its second week, it takes me much less time to walk through it. I know where most of the books are, and only check on some stands to see if there is anything new, or at a better price.

Today I went to buy one book, but ended up with two. And the name of another to check reviews and on bookmooch.

The one I wanted to get was A Escriba by Antonio Garrido (La Escriba in Spanish, not available in English), an historical novel set on Charlemagne's time.

The other one was a random book that I encountered on a stand that had some of Tim Burton's books. It is A Loja dos Suicídios (The Suicide Shop) by Jean Teulé, and it is a black humour novel. The first sentence of the book is (roughly translated by me):
"It is a little shop where a sun ray never enters."
It will probably be a fast but delightful read.

The one I will try to get on Bookmooch is a crime novel, based on Fairy Tales (because I like them, even if I had a bad experience with a book based on them). It is Brother Grimm by Craig Russell.

The Book of Lost Things By John Connolly

The Book of Lost Things by John Connolly

The Book of Lost ThingsThe Book of Lost Things seemed, at first glance, exactly the right read for me: dark with fairy tales gone wrong. But it turned out to be a bit of a disappointment.

Taking place during World War 2, it tells the story of David, a twelve year old boy who recently lost his mother, and finds himself living in an old house, with his father, his stepmother and his newborn stepbrother. David's only comfort are the books that he is constantly reading and that speak to him (and I mean, literately speak). But when he hears the voice of his dead mother calling him, asking him to help her, he embarks in a journey in a fantasy world.

It's an allegorical story, that is quite clear from the beginning. To what the allegory referred to, it took me a while to guess (and some of the nuances I only learnt at the end, when the author explained). It is mostly about coming of age, but told with a bit of nostalgia, so it seemed to me that it was a book for adults (actual adults, to whom the childhood was a happy time long ago, and all the bad parts stopped being quite that bad as memory fades, and worse things happen), about a young boy; and not, like I supposed, a book for teenagers with a bit fantasy and horror.

The story and the fairy tale retellings were nice, but I felt distanced from the main character and his quest. This was probably because I'm an only child, and most of the anger and resentment that David felt for his younger stepbrother were completely lost on me. The book really starts to get good towards the end, when this "brotherly" envy is no longer as important.

Another thing that didn't sit well with me was the moralizing factor of the book. I know fairy tales are meant to taught us morals, and some are more subtle than others in that. But as far as subtlety goes, The Book of Lost Things has none. I knew I was being taught morals, regardless of whether I had them in the first place or not, or of whether I wanted or not. And I didn't want, nor did I need them.

My edition contained a lot of extras, and I think it is safe to say I probably enjoyed the extras more than the book itself. The biggest part of the extras are devoted to the fairy tales in the book, how they relate to the story of David and what he was going through, their history, and finally, the fairy tale itself. So, I guess I enjoyed the deconstruction and analysis of the story more than the story itself.


Sunday, 6 June 2010

Red by Hyunjoo Song - A different version of Little Red Riding Hood

Finished reading The book of lost things, which is heavy on Fairy Tales retold (or should I say Fairy Tales gone wrong?) and found this video on Vimeo, that features the same theme.

I have to say it's such a sweet retelling. Also, I now want an unicorn bunny.

Red from Hyunjoo Song on Vimeo.

Edit: And here is Hyunjoo Song's blog

Reading Challenge - 25 to 29

The books on this list will be mostly fast reads and short stories. Books I could drop when I got the one I was reading (The mark of the Horse Lord) back, because I left it with a friend and it took me a long time to have it back.

25 - Contos Apátridas 
(I don't think this book is available in English, but you can read it if you know Spanish, Portuguese or Italian)
This is a collection of short stories by Ibero-American authors.

Um tradutor em Paris by Bernardo Atxaga [A translator in Paris] is a very existentialist story. A man retraces the steps in taken 20 years before in Paris, in order to accept his disability. Strange, feels unfinished and definitely not my cup of tea.
Nunca lá estive by José Manuel Fajardo [I was never there] is about nostalgia and remembering a day in the past. It is beautifully done, like most of Fajardo's writing. My favourite story in the book.
Tragédia do homem que amava nos aeroportos by Santiago Gamboa [Tragedy of the man who loved in airports] is amusing. It's about a man that finds himself being the boy toy of flight attendants.
Antiga Morada by Antonio Sarabia [Old address] is another strange story, about a brother and sister living alone in a old mansion. There is incest, ghosts and attempted murder. I liked the writing style, but the story was a bit disturbing.
O anjo vingador by Luis Sepúlveda [The vengeful angel] is a Monty Python-ish CSI kind of story. And that's why it's amazing. I really couldn't care less about the crime, but I loved the surreality of it.

Final opinion: a enjoyable book where the good stories outweigh the bad.


26 - M is for Magic by Neil Gaiman
M Is for MagicM is for Magic is a collection of short stories, some of which I already knew from Fragile Things (others are in Smoke and Mirrors which is in my To Read list). It is intended to young readers, but most of the stories are of the Horror kind.

The ones I already knew, I skimmed through them. October in the Chair starts with the months of the year telling each other stories, and finishes with October story. I loved the beginning, but October's Story is far too sad and tragic for me to re-read. How to talk with Girls at Parties is a very nice story about teenagers and love, and otherworld things. Sunbird is a great story, but it does nauseate me a bit (it deals with food, and people who like to eat, well, anything as long as it's tasty). The Witch's Headstone is part of The Graveyard book, and truly a children's story. A lovely one at that. And finally Instructions, which I love.

The new stories: The Case of the Four and Twenty Blackbirds is a strange film noir kind of story dealing with Humpty Dumpty's nursery rhyme. It felt a bit rushed, with potential for more if expanded. Troll Bridge and Don't ask Jack are also very strange, and maybe not exactly for kids. Don't ask Jack could be an adult horror story (and really scary as well) if it was longer. How to Sell the Ponti Bridge was a sweet story about con men, and selling a landmark. It had a nice twist, but not to the level of American Gods. Chivalry was one of my favourites, so sweet and surreal and lovely. And so British. The Price was another favourite, that actually brought tears to my eyes. It's sort of biographical (I think, although I rather not delve too deeply into that), about one of the cats of the author and what happened in the night.

All in all, this book felt a bit like a disappointment. Some stories were good, but most left me with an eerie and empty feeling. Had it not been for Chivalry and The Price, this book would be just average.


27 - One bloody thing after another by Joey Comeau
One Bloody Thing After AnotherOne Bloody Thing After Another is an apt title to this book.
I enjoyed it, even if it's not my favourite genre. It is a fast read, but delivers what it promises.

Full review


28 - The Mark of the Horse Lord by Rosemary Sutcliff
The Mark of the Horse LordThis is another book that the basic premise was brilliant, but its execution was not so. The story it's still good, but I did not enjoy the writing.

It's not a happy-ever-after story, but I found the end fitting, albeit sad. I liked the main character Phaedrus a lot (how couldn't I, a huge red head gladiator?), but I felt more drawn to a secondary character, Conory. I wish there was more about him in it.

My biggest complaint about this book is that there seems to be almost no female characters at all. There are two that are named, one is the evil usurper of the throne, the other her daughter whom the main character has to marry. And that is almost all there is to them.

It was nice, but I had hoped it would be better.


29 - Misfortune by Wesley Stace
I am not sure how I came about this book. It might have been a recommendation for another book, or simply finding the cover somewhere and being drawn to it (how could I not, there is a woman with a moustache!). In any case, it was an absolute find!


Full Review

Saturday, 5 June 2010

Book Fair Haul, part 3

It is Saturday and the weather seems to have mellowed down. Still warm, but not overly so. The perfect day to go check the book fair (yet again). And everyone seemed to have the same thought because it was packed!

It was a flash visit for me, because I only wanted to go buy one book: it was the book of the day in one of the stands.

I ended up with 2 books (it would have been three if the third one hadn't disappeared from its shelf): the one I was looking for, The Legend of Sigurd and Gudrun by J. R. R. Tolkien (A Lenda de Sigurd e Gudrún), and The Caballero in the Yellow Doublet by Arturo Pérez-Reverte (O Cavalheiro do Gibão Amarelo).

Wednesday, 2 June 2010

Book Fair Haul, part 2

Second day of the fair, and there I was under the blazing sun, and a list of books I wanted to find in hand!

Today I only bought one book (I mope, while my mother rolls her eyes and asks where shall I put all the books). Here it is, isn't it beautiful?

This is The book of imaginary beings by Jorge Luis Borges, and was on my wishlist for quite some time. I still haven't read Fictions (it's on my evergrowing To Be Read list), but I think I'll start with this one, because it's so pretty and seems so fantastical.

Upside of the fair: I can finally say I have something of a tan (even if it's more red-ish than brown).

Misfortune by Wesley Stace


I am not sure how I came about this book. It might have been a recommendation for another book, or simply finding the cover somewhere and being drawn to it (how could I not, there is a woman with a moustache!). In any case, it was an absolute find!

Set in the 19th century it tells the story of Rose Old Loveall, from birth to death, in a memoir style, and with very quirky language. What makes this book different? Well, Rose is found by the Young Lord Loveall after being left for dead in a rubbish heap, barely a day old, and rescued to be brought up as his child, and heir to his fortune. Only Rose is a boy, even if he is brought up as a girl.

This alone made the book amazing. And no, I'm not a particular fan of gender bending or cross-dressing, but the idea of a boy raised as a girl only because her/his father refused to accept that (s)he wasn't the sex he though/wished the baby was, seemed hilarious to me.

I loved the writing style, quirky and funny, but never demeaning the story. There were parts that it was truly Dickensian. On page 15 I was already certain I would love it, by page 31 I knew it was going to be epic. Even if I never had so much trouble with pronouns since The Left Hand of Darkness. But the author was never intimidated by Rose's gender duality. When Rose thought of herself as a girl (because she believed to she was one for a long time), she was referred as such. When he finds out that, after all, he is a boy, Rose becomes a "he". No confusion whatsoever.

There is also some play on words that is simply marvellous. Some of it comes directly from the character of Geoffroy Loveall, that names Rose Old as such, to be an anagram of his beloved sister's name Dolores, and renames Rose in one of her plays, as Lord Ose, another anagram. There is also the play with the family name, Loveall, that love all, live in Love Hall, and have the motto of Amor Vincit Omnia (Love conquers All).

But even if this is quirky and funny, there are deep themes being explored, gender identity and the definition of self being some of them. Finding out that one has been lied to all their life, by their parents on top of all, can have devastating consequences, and give a sense of loss like no other. Rose goes through all of this, and there are parts of her life that remain unknown to the reader, although they are hinted at, for she is ashamed of what she has done in her despair. To add to this, there is also the loss of her right to inherit the Loveall name and Love Hall, because she was adopted. It is amazing to read of Rose's misfortunes and problems, angsty in parts, but no overly so, and how she overcomes them.

Despite this, there is a happy ending waiting for Rose, and throughout the book there are hints that it will be so. And yes, the nice plot twist in the end is expected, some would say not entirely believable, but I liked it. It fitted Rose, especially because she was referred to as Miss Fortune (another play on words), because despite all that happened she was indeed very fortunate.

Absolutely lovely.


Tuesday, 1 June 2010

Book Fair Haul, part 1

It is that time of the year, when the temperatures rise, the clouds gather threatening rain when there should be none and the book fairs pop up like mushrooms.

The biggest one here in the north of Portugal is Porto's book fair, now in its 80th edition. And it started today.

I went with some books in mind; of those I bought one: The Third God by Ricardo Pinto (O Terceiro Deus in Portuguese). I waited long for this book to be published, waiting for it be translated into Portuguese so it looked nice with the rest of the collection. It's a big book (888 pages, and I was afraid I was going to dislocate my shoulder just by carrying it around), and the last in the trilogy, so I really can't wait to read it.

I found two books in English, The legend of Sleepy Hollow and other stories by Washington Irving, and Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi.

The legend of Sleepy Hollow was one of those books that was on my maybe-to-buy/mooch/borrow list, this is, I might read it if I found it around, but I was not in a great hurry to get it. Still, it was there with a nice price and coming with "other stories", so I bought it.

Persepolis was probably one of the greatest finds in the book fair. I have watched the film, and loved it; and was aware that there was a book that was its basis. To find it in a book fair was amazing, and I had to take it home with me.

The other two books, in Portuguese, were on my wishlist for quite some time. Lord of the Light by Roger Zelazny (O Senhor da Luz, in Portuguese) and The Eye of the Heron by Ursula K. Le Guin (Explusos da Terra, in Portuguese). In fact, I had almost lost hope of ever find the last one. Both books were very old publication of pocket books, and extremely cheap.

Here they are, in all their glory!

There are other books that I found that I might buy on a future visit, and a lot more that I have to jot down the name so I can find more about it.