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Andrew Rose. The Prince, The Princess and the Perfect Murder

I ran across a mention of Marguerite Alibert somewhere, and it led me to this book which was a deal on Kindle. She was a French courtesan who had a relationship with the future Edward VIII during WWI. Several years later she shot her rich Egyptian husband in a hotel in London. Despite shooting him in the back in front of witnesses, she was completely acquitted of murder. In large part because good old racism, but also, in all probability, because she still had letters from the prince, and there was interference from his household to keep his name out of the trial. It was all in all an interesting read about a woman I have never heard of before.

Victor Laval: The Ballad of Black Tom A novella building on Lovecraft’s The Horror of Red Hook, which is easily his most racist work- which is no mean feat, considering his general views on everyone who wasn’t a white man from New England. The main character in this story, though, is a young African American man who affiliates himself with Lovecraft’s Robert Suydam for reasons I don’t want to spoil you with. I liked it and found it very interesting, but I would have liked it a bit more fleshed out; it felt like there was a lot of room for more in-depth characterization.

Elizabeth Kostova: The Historian One of my constant re-reads. I love stories with different time frames and I love historical mysteries. And I’ve been fascinated by Dracula, both the real and the literary one since I was eleven. So this is pretty much the perfect book for me. It also makes me want to travel. Kostova’s descriptions of Venice and Dubrovnik, which I have visited, are spot on, and it makes me curious about the other places she describes. I would love to see this made into a TV-series- I think it could be pretty awesome!

Doreen Tovey: Cats In the Belfry

As I mentioned it in my book meme the other day, I felt the urge to re-read it. Still very funny!
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Memoirs of A Professional Cad by George Sanders. Being on a bit of a George Sanders-trip I remembered I bought this on Kindle ages ago. It’s short, so it only took me two evenings to finish it. It’s not exactly great literature- it’s a couple of anecdotes in loosely chronological order. I strongly suspect a lot isn’t true as sanders cheerfully contradict himself, often several times over. But it’s also very funny and I laughed out loud several times. I think he must have been a very funny man if you caught him in the right mood at a party. It also gives me the impression that he was very intelligent and didn’t have the least interest in actually exposing himself in literary form. Some things ring true tough, like his view on therapy (it’s not so much the kind of therapy that counts, but finding what works for you). Or when he contemplates Ruben’s Saturn Devouring His Son and wonders why one chooses to paint something like that. I checked it out, and it’s a deeply disturbing piece of art, so I kind of agree. In short, a fun book if you are a fan of Sanders, but not more than that.

Some time ago a scene from a book came to mind. A man is traveling in an underground labyrinth, and part of it are catacombs, filled with the mummified remains of young and beautiful people. He’s told they were sacrificed to an evil god a very long time ago. While walking the labyrinth he and his companions are followed by some kind of malignant being, and they realise they have to get through the labyrinth quickly. The corpses they pass are first more or less decomposed, but eventually, they come to a part where they look like they are sleeping. A woman wakes up and speaks to him, telling him they are not truly dead, their soul is still within them, but only until the evil god reaches them and take their soul and they will truly die. She gives the man a talisman for protecting before sinking back in her deathlike sleep.

It was a very vivid memory, but it took me a while to remember in which book I read it. Then I remembered it’s from a Swedish fantasy trilogy by Bertil Mårtensson, I read in my early teens. They are not translated but translated they are called The Road Away, The Road Back and The Road Out, collected under the name The Roads of Power. Having not read the books for about 35 years I was a bit apprehensive of re-reading them. What you love when you are thirteen may not be what you love now.

But I enjoyed it. The fantasy world is very clearly inspired by Tolkien, Watership Down and Greek mythology, but also Scandinavian mythology, most notably trolls, described pretty much like John Bauer paint them.

It begins with a young man, Jarel, who shows up in a mountain in without any memories of who he is. He gets entangled into a fight against the evil Aulor, a fight led by Jore who owns an enchanted golden bow, and Andira, a beautiful woman who sometimes is a man; Ander. The two first books are really just two parts of a continuous story, the last is set 10 years later. I was surprised over how diverse and nonjudgemental the books are, considering they were written around 1980. Especially Andira who is never judged by owning her sexuality, and for liking being a man on occasion. Well, she is judged by other characters, but not by the author.

There are several highly effective scenes and interactions. Like “the fright” a kitelike construction with bells attached which can only be used by someone who has been genuinely wronged. The fright follows the victim at a distance, but don’t actually do something. However, as everyone knows a person followed by a fright must have done something terrible, the person quickly gets shunned. And imagine being followed by something wherever you go ringing bells. In the end, the victim either commits suicide or try to destroy the fright. But in destroying it, they always kill themselves. Or the grey sexless humanoids created from earth which just relentlessly walk forward, but kills everything they touch.

There is also a lovely little sub-story about a man who has learned to speak rabbit. While imprisoned a female rabbit finds him to give him a message, but when she realises he is caught, she stays with him, and later successfully plans to free him.

But on occasion the prose is clunky, and sometimes a lot happens which is only mentioned. Sometimes I don’t mind, like when Andira is imprisoned by a man who proposes to love her. She just needs to stop becoming a man and be a “real” woman. And to convince her he resorts to beatings and rape. We are, thankfully, only told in passing about that. But then there are scenes like the one where the little rabbit breaks into the prison and frees her human. And we don’t get to see it. Suddenly he is free and she’s sitting on his shoulder, and we are told he has been rescued. And I had really looked forward to seeing them meet for the first time!

All in all, I enjoyed my reread, but the prose is not as good as the characters and the settings. I actually think it would make a great TV-show; the fantasy world Mårtensson created is very good and there are a multitude of interesting characters, settings, and situation which would work great on screen.
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I’ve read less than usual lately, and as I always read more than one book, I currently has several halfway read, but I’ve only actuaölly finished one book since my last reading post.

The Stone Circle by Elly Griffiths. The last in the series about Ruth Galloway. I always enjoy them as I like the character and the blend of history and crime. This one was also better than the previous one, so I enjoyed it a lot, without feeling it was the best book ever.

I’ve watched the third season of True Detective. I liked the first season, and disliked the second; I lost interest after two episodes. But as I always enjoy Mahershala Ali’s work, I decided to give the new season a go. And I actually liked it better than season 1. The plot was a bit hard to watch at it dealt with the disappearance of two children, but the acting made up for it. It takes place in 1980, 1990 and 2015, and I thought the aging of the actors very well done. I’m not sure the plot was that original- I guessed everything but the final twist halfway in, but it didn't matter. Mahershala Ali was superb, especially as an old man who is suffering from a memory disorder. There are also better female characters than in season 1. Spoilers )

We are caught up with Brooklyn Nine Nine, and I still love it. It such a great show on so many levels.

We also watched the first season of Cardinal. Nothing wrong with the acting, but I don’t need gruesome torture scenes and icky corpses in my shows. And do we really need more shows with a tortured middle-aged male cop with family troubles? Spoilers )
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Den dag jag blir fri (The Day I Will Be Free) by Lawen Mohtadi; a biography over Katarina Taikon, author, Swedish Romany activist and leader in the civil rights movement. Romani have lived in Sweden since the early 16th century, and as in most other countries they have been met with considerable prejudice and aggression. Nowadays they are considered a national minority in Sweden along with Jews, Sami, Sweden Finns, and Tornedalians. Katarina Taikon who was born in 1932 didn’t learn to read and write until she was 30, and then she wrote the book Zigenerska (Gypsy Woman) which was a very prominent work in the struggle to finally allow Romani to live in hoses instead of tents and caravans and to go to school. In 1969 she started to write the Katitzi-series, biographical novels for children. It begins when Katitzi is seven. Her mother, a Swedish farmer’s daughter who ran away to marry, dies when she was a baby and when her father remarries when she is five, friends of the family takes in Katitizi. But as they are not allowed to adopt her, she eventually returns to her father. As a small child, Katitizi’s father was quite wealthy, and her foster family was too, but now her father, who runs a tivoli, is a lot poorer. For Katitzi who has forgotten her family, the return is a cultural shock. She quickly grows close to her three older siblings, but her step-mother, who also is Swedish, dislikes her step-children, and in particular Katitzi. In the course of several books the step-mother’s abuse escalates and when Katitizi is fourteen her father marries her off to a man several years older, as a way to remove Katitzi from her step-mother. Her husband, despite having promised to not have sex with Katitzi until she is older, rapes her and after a miscarriage, she runs away and eventually manages to get a divorce. The series ends when Katitzi is sixteen, she lives in a girl’s home in Stockholm and is starting a movie career. Resonating through the books are Katitzi longing to go to school, and also her anger over the prejudices she encounters.

The biography was very interesting. Katarina Taikon suffered a cardiac arrest when she was only 50 and was in a coma for 13 years before she died. The author draws heavily on interviews with Katarina’s older sister Rosa, who was a very interesting person as well. She was 36 when she learned to read and write and then went to art school and reinvented her father’s profession as a silversmith, traditionally something only Romani men did. You can find her work in museums today. Anyway, it was very interesting to learn how accurate the Katitzi-series are in regards of Katarina Taikon life, and gave a very interesting background to how Kalderash Romani came to Sweden in the late 19th century, and what Swedish attitudes and laws in regard of Romani looked like then. We also get an account of Katarina and Rosa’s lives as adults and their work for Romani rights.

But it also has some curious holes. There is nothing about Katarina’s older siblings as adults, which is especially odd as her brother Paul was murdered in the early 60’s, a murder which never got solved, probably largely because the murdered was Swedish. It is also very little about the stepmother and the younger half-siblings. Katarina’s own mother evidently adapted well to Romani culture and her marriages were happy, despite an age difference of nearly 25 years. But her step-mother, who ran away from husband and children t marry Katarina’s father, never integrated with her husband’s family, and could never understand why she, a blond Swedish woman, was met with the same prejudice and hate. It’s clear from the books that her abusive behaviour in large part is due to her own unhappiness. So there was a large chunk of things missing. I can imagine this is because a lot of these people are still alive, or have children who are, and may not want to be featured in a book. But overall it was a very interesting read.

I’m still reading Diana Wynne Jones. Soilers are under the cuts.

A Tale of Time City It’s 1939 and Vivian is evacuated from London. Only she gets kidnapped by two boys from the Time City, a place which consists outside time. They think she is a person called the Time Lady and the want her to stop the imminent destruction of the city and help find Faber John, the Time Lady’s husband and co-founder of Time City. It’s impossible for me to not see Romana and Four as these characters, especially since Faber John’s name means John Smith, and the book contains a lot of time travels. It’s more SF than fantasy, and a book I didn’t like much when I first read it, but now enjoy very much.

Conrad's Fate Fantasy meets Downton Abbey. Conrad has been told he has very bad karma and the only way to fix it is to start working at the Stallery, a huge manor house and find the person who he was supposed to murder in a previous life. He starts working as a trainee valet, along with a boy called Christopher. As in Christopher Chant, future Chrestomanci, who is looking for his friend Millie who has run away. I thoroughly enjoy this book, which is partly a parody of the romance of the big house with its numbers of happy servants. I also like Christopher more when he isn’t just the awe-inspiring Chrestomanci, even if he has wonderful dressing gowns.

The Pinhoe Egg Chronologically speaking this is the last Chrestomanci-book, written from the viewpoint of Cat Chant, and a girl, Marianne Pinhoe, living in a village close to Chrestomanci Castle. Her family is witches who have spent generations hiding from Chrestomanci, as they don’t want him to have opinions on their use of magic. But when her grandmother, the family’s matriarch, becomes senile, things start to dissolve quickly. And it certainly doesn’t get better when she befriends Cat and gives him an egg they find in her grandmother’s attic- an egg which turns out to be of a Read more... )

House of Many Ways This is the third Howl-book, and I find a little uneven. I like the heroine- bookish, sheltered Charmaine who dreams about working in the King’s library and is drafted to take care of her wizard-uncle’s house when he is ill. I love the concept of the house, which is like the TARDIS- bigger on the inside, and I Like the magical dog, Waif. And it’s always lovely to meet Sophie, Howl, and Calcifer again. Read more... )
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Spoilers for The Magicians of Caprona and Hexwood under the cut.

Read more... )

Books read during 2018. A * indicates a re-read. I’ve read 59 books, 13 short stories or novellas, and only 4 non-fiction books. 36 of these were new to me, and 40 re-reads.

Read more... )
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I felt inspired to start re-reading Diana Wynne Jones. She is one of my favourite authors and I feel that even her weakest books are still a good read. Despite recurring themes like; multiple universes, a protagonist with no, or weak magic really being very powerful, abusive parental figures and clever cats, she never gets boring, and the books always take unexpected and interesting twists.

Spoilers for Dogsbody, Charmed Life and Howl's Moving Castle )
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More backlog books read during last summer

Gail Carriger Competence The third installment of The Custard Protocol series. Prudence and her crew get themselves to Peru and find a new kind of vampire species. Though the focus on this book is actually on her best friend Primrose and her growing attraction to the were-lioness Sekhmet. I always enjoy Carriger’s books, though, on the whole, I like The Parasol Protectorate series better.

Gail Carriger How to Marry Werewolf Guilty of an indiscretion? Time to marry a werewolf.
Major Channing is a rather unpleasant werewolf in Carriger's full-length book; in this novella, we get to know him better. A young American woman, faith, is sent to England with the express purpose to marry a werewolf, as her family thinks she is ruined for anything else. On the whole, this novella is darker than Carriger’s books usually are. Channing’s backstory is not a happy one, and what has happened to Faith before she comes to England is horrible. It was a good novella anyway, and I enjoyed the romance.

Gail Carriger Romancing the Werewolf Gay. Victorian. Werewolves.
Another one of her romance novellas. Professor Lyall and young Biffy are werewolves in love, but by the end of the Parasol Protectorate series, Lyall is sent away for several decades. Now he has returned to his London pack as Beta to Biffy’s newly minted Alpha. They find it’s not so easy to pick up their love story. Also, someone has started to abandon babies at the pack's doorstep. I loved this. Both Biffy and Lyall are great favourites of mine, so it was really nice to have a novella focusing on both of them. And it says something that I enjoy Carriger's romances because I don’t actually like romances at all. I couldn’t even stomach Bujold’s Sharing Knife-series- and I adore Bujold. But I like Carriger’s light and humorous style.

Minette Walters Fox Evil, The Shape of Snakes, Disordered Minds, The Chameleon's Shadow, The Scold’s Bridle, The Echo, Dark Rooms and The Devil’s Feather. All re-reads. These are not a series but stand-alone crime novels. Walters seems to have moved on to true crime fictionalisations and historical novels, and I don’t mind. I really enjoyed her earlier books, The Scold’s Bridle being a favourite, but feel they get weaker and weaker. Most in this reread is just the later ones, and I generally found the characters more and more uninteresting. But I love Walters descriptions and her use of unreliable narrators. I also have a soft spot for old crimes being investigated.
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Meme nicked from [personal profile] liadtbunny

1.What shows you watching these days?
This autumn I have watched/still watch;

Doctor Who I really like Thirteen, and I like the new companions too, but somehow I find this season a bit- lackluster. I don’t hate anything, but I don’t particularly love anything either.

The Good Life I like this show more and more. The idea is original and clever, and I like the actors. Even, surprisingly, Red Danson who I never cared for before.

Brooklyn-Nine-Nine I know, I know, this show have been around forever, but I haven’t watched it before. It shouldn’t be something I like, but I love it, much to my surprise.

Charmed I’m a bit unsure about this reboot, but so far I haven’t stopped watching. I’m very meh about all the love interests though- I only like the police girlfriend, and now she seems to be gone. *mutters*

The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina I enjoyed it a lot, and it was vuísually stunning, but it felt a bit wobbly at times. I definitely think it has potential. I can get why not everyone cares for it.

The Man In the High Castle I liked this season better than the second, but it was also very obvious it already knew there is a fourth season cleared. It also managed to give me two really awful nightmares featuring Rufus Sewell's John Smith. Which says something of how scary I found that character, and how well Sewell plays him.

The Truth About the Harry Quebert Affair Beautifully filmed and well-acted, but also hiuínged on a few things which I found extremely unlikely. Like an author writing about a real crime NOT checking up the background on one of the major characters? Wouldn’t happen. But I enjoyed it while I watched.

The kid and I are taking a break from Supernatural (we’ve finished season 4) and are watching Penny Dreadful. I enjoy the re-watch and he enjoys getting to know the show. He may look like his father, but he sure is his mother’s son when it comes to interests and taste. I’m also curious about the spin-off set in the 1930’s. It can go both ways. And I hope we get to have some of the characters from the original. Several of them are immortal, after all.

Read more... )
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A. S. Byatt Possession This is one of my all-time favourites and I have re-read it several times. Funnily enough, I have never managed to get through any of her other books, but this one I love. Roland, a young scholar, considered mediocre by both himself and his employers finds, by chance, a letter written by a prominent (fictitious) Victorian poet. He identifies it as being a draft meant for an equally fictitious, but more obscure female poet; a connection no one has made before. In the company of a more successful scholar, Maud, he embarks on a quest to find out more. In a sense, it’s a mystery, but it’s also two love stories unfolding, the Victorian and poets and the modern scholars. I also find it amusing as I studied what in Sweden is called Literature Studies at University, so a lot of the jargong and theories are familiar with me. Nowadays it’s also firmly embedded in the 1980s, both in the descriptions of clothes, and the lack of modern technology. That doesn’t have to be a bad thing.

Ben Aaronovitch: Rivers of London, Moon Over Soho, Whispers Underground, Broken Homes, Foxglove Summer, The Hanging Tree and The Furthest Station. I binge-read these during my holiday. They’ve been on my reading horizon for several years. Peter Grant, a young, not completely brilliant, police officer encounters a witness to a murder. Only the witness is a ghost. About two minutes later he is transferred to a little-known branch of the London police, so small and obscure there is only one person in it. And he’s a wizard. Peter’s world gets a complete overhaul when he realises London is full of supernatural beings; most notable Father and Mother Thames (not related, and that’s part of the problem), the gods of the River Thames and their numerous offsprings. And Molly, a perpetually silent housekeeper, with far too many teeth.

I enjoyed these books enormously. Peter is a good hero, and there is a large cast of very diverse characters, who are mostly quite interesting. If I have any complaints is that the light-hearted humorous tones sometimes depict rather horrific events, which can feel a bit surprising. But it’s not really bad, more like something I had to get used too. I’ve been to London several times, and even if I don’t know all of the places described in the books, I know about a lot of them, and it’s nice to be able to “see” when you read. I also, vastly, enjoy the idea of gods having semi-normal lives among us. Not unique to Aaronovitch, of course- Neil Gaiman springs immediately to mind there. There a new book coming soon, and I look forward to it.

Genevieve Cogman: The Invisible Library, The Masked City, The Burning Page and
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I still have a terrible backlog, only the first three are books I've read since I posted a reading post last.

Sarah Perry The Essex Serpent This was an odd one. Probably because I thought it was a fantasy, which it isn’t. It’s Essex, it’s the 19th century, and rumours of a sea dragon is afoot. It’s beautifully written, but I didn’t take to any of the characters, and, even if that is unfair, it wasn’t what I expected. I don’t think it’s a bad book, only just not for me.

L. M. Montgomery The Blue Castle I read this book for the first time not so long ago, but felt I wanted to re-read it again. I quite love it, a great book to lift your spirits!

Phil Rickman All of A Winter’s Night The last in the Merrily Watkins series; about a female priest who is also an exorcist, who gets involved in solving a murder. I always enjoy these books because I like the character gallery, but the murder case is often rather uninteresting. Not so this time; I found it unusually suspenseful. I also learned about Church of St Mary and St David, which is a church with some really weird and interesting sculptures. And about Border Morris, which seems to be very different from the morris dancing I knew about.

Catherine F. King The Ninety-Ninth Bride This is a re-telling of the Scheherazade-story in One Thousand and One Nights. Dunya is the neglected youngest daughter of the Grand Vizier, until the day she is given to the sultan to be the next bride-for-a-night. But when she enters the bridal chamber she is met by a beautiful woman, Zahra, who says she is Dunya’s sister, and that she, not Dunya, is the sultan’s bride. To Dunya’s surprise, everyone accepts this, and Zahra’s stories prolong her life, night after night. I enjoyed this story a lot. I like Dunya and her efforts to solve the mystery of Zahra, and also her own political awakening. Highly recommended!

Robin McKinley Deerskin Another re-telling, this time the fairy tale Donkeyskin. When the queen dies she elects a promise from her husband he only can remarry if he finds a woman as beautiful as she is. Unfortunately for their daughter, the kings decide she is the one. In the fairy tale, the princess tries to stall the wedding by demanding a number of difficult-to-produce gowns; this re-telling takes the story in a slightly different direction. I’ve read this book once before, some twenty years ago, and though I usually like McKinley a lot, I never felt the need to re-read it until now. And it’s not that I don’t like this book- I do, but it’s not an easy read. It contains one of the most horrific rape scenes I have ever read, and the lingering trauma Deerskin suffers makes this book difficult to read at times.

Emma Donghue The Wonder This novel takes place in Ireland in the 19th century. A young English nurse is hired to take care of a little girl who, everyone says, hasn’t eaten anything in several months. The general belief is that it’s a miracle and the girl is destined to become a saint. The nurse believes it’s a hoax, but try as she might she can’t determine how the child has survived for so long. She takes a great liking to her, and becomes increasingly more worried as it’s clear the girl is starving to death, she refuses to eat, and her family and neighbors seem to accept it without questions.

Based on rather horrible historical facts, throughout several centuries deeply religious children starved themselves to death, and was seen as saints by their surroundings. I read this book in one day; it was very gripping, if not particularly easy. I recommend it, but if you find sexual abuse of children triggering, then you should stay away.
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I haven’t done a reading post since March, but I have them written up. As I have such a hefty backlog I will catch up in a non-chronological order, so I have read several books by the same author I will do those books in the same post, even if I didn’t read them that way.

Mark Mills The Savage Garden It’s the 50’s and a young Englishman is invited to do an inventory of a small Italian garden from the early 16th century. He is well-received by the elderly lady who owns the manor house the garden belongs to and is soon entangled in two mysteries. There is some oddities in the architecture of the garden, which seems to point toward an ancient murder. And there is a more modern mystery concerning the death of the hostess son, shot by the German in the last days of the war. It’s a well-written book and I enjoyed it on this re-read too, even if I knew the answers.

Dan Waddell The Blood Detective, Blood Atonement, Blood Underground and Blood Reckoning Apparently genealogical crime novel is a genre on its own- who knew? At least I didn’t until I stumbled over the Blood Detective. Murder victims start turning up marked with an odd letter/number combination. It turns out the markings has to do with genealogy and the investigating police seek help from a professional genealogist. The writing is engaging and the main characters; the young genealogist and the middle age police officer in charge, are interesting enough. Interesting enough to read the other books. Book two concerns the murder of women and the abduction of their teenage daughters, and the third revisit a murder from the early 1990 when an old man is beaten to death by children. Now the children are adults and free- and someone is killing them. Blood Underground is a novella about a closed of subway station.

Jonathan Kellerman Night Moves I’ve kept reading the latest Jonathan Kellerman out of habit, sometimes wondering why I still do it. I think I have my answer now. I read this one in April, and even when I read the blurb on Amazon I can’t recall what it was about… I don’t think I will read the next Kellerman.

Lois McMaster Bujold The Flowers of Vashnoi After several fantasy novellas about Penric and his demon, Bujold revisits the Vorkosigan. This novella is set a couple of years after Miles’ wedding, and the main character is his wife; Ekaterin. The infamous butterbugs from A Civil Campaign have been adapted to clean up nuclear waste, and they are tried out in the wasteland that was once the city of Vashnoi. The problem is that the bugs are disappearing, and someone actually seems to live in the contaminated area. I always enjoy Bujold, and this was no exception.
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I missed posting this on Wednesday, as that was my day off, and I aim to not sit in front of the computer when I’m off work. On the other hand I thought I had finished more books, but I’ve actually only have several books “almost finished.”

L M Bujold's Penric and Desdemona novellas (“Penric's Demon”, “Penric and the Shaman”, “Penric’s fox”, “Penric’s Mission”, “Mira’s Last dance” and “The Prisoner of Limno”) i’ve read them all before, but I craved some nice comforting reads, and these fit the bill perfectly. They are set in Bujold’s Five Gods Universe. It’s set some hundred years after The Hallowed Hunt, and a couple of hundreds of years before The Curse of Chalion. A young man, Penric, accidently becomes a sorcerer when a demon inhabits his body after her previous sorceress unexpectedly dies in Penric’s arms. And her, in this case, are the collective memories of 1he ten women the demon has lived in before. Penric, in a way to cope, names his demon Desdemona. The first three novellas takes place during various times in Penric’s twenties. The last three are really just one story where Penric, now 30, is sent on a secret diplomatic mission where everything goes wrong. Apart from the bit of falling in love. Not that it isn’t problematic when one carries around a demon who acts like ten older sisters…

I adore almost everything Bujold has ever written, and the Five Gods Universe is one of the best fantasy realms I know of. Bujold seems to enjoy writing in these bite size novellas, and I hope there will be more Penric soon!

Your Beauty Mark by Dita von teese and Rose Apodaca. One day in the distant past; my early teens, I was allowed to use some of my mum’s makeup to go to a school dance. She didn’t wore much makeup, so my selection was a blue and a brown eye pencil as she vetoed eyeshadow. After much consideration I decided to wear the brown, as I thought it contrasted better with my blue eyes. At the dance I was told, in no uncertain terms, by one of the “cool girls” in my class, that if you had blue eyes, you could only wear blue eye makeup. And I thought “Why?”. And from then one I read everything about makeup I could find, making a whole book out of cuttings, and reading every beauty book I could find. And learned that my “cool” classmate wasn’t so knowledgeable-te tone on tone eye makeup was by the hopelessly dated, something belonging to the 1970’s. (Check out the girls in Anna for an easy reference). Now, in the early 80’s, makeup trends were exploding. I also developed an interest in using makeup, and for several years I didn’t go outside without it. Nowadays my approach I a lot more relaxed, but I still think makeup is a lot of fun, and I still enjoy reading books about it.

And Your Beauty Mark was a fun read. I could have done without the name-dropping and the product placement, but this book is certainly more than that. You get sound advice written in a chatty and friendly style. You kind of get the feeling you have Dita sitting in your boudoir offering advice as your new best friend. I’m aware we are talking about a public persona, but that persona comes across as a very approachable one. Lots of beautiful photos too.

Roger Delgado: I Am Usually Referred To As The Master by Marcus K Harmes. I’m a big fan of Roger Delgado who was Doctor Who’s first, and IMO best, Master. So of course I couldn’t resist reading this biography. If you are a fan you are likely to enjoy it, as there are a couple of things I have never heard of before; for example his first marriage. And I enjoyed reading about his work, especially as the Master. But the author decided to group delgado’s work after studio, or TV, or A-movie, which makes the book go back and forth on the timeline which was slightly confusing. The writing could have used some more editing, as if was fairly repetitive and with an overabundance of descriptors. I mean, you don’t have to write “his unhappy first marriage” every time you mention it.
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Rilla of Ingleside by L. M. Montgomery. This was always my favourite, apart from Anne of Green Gables, and the only one I’ve reread as an adult, though it was some time ago. Rilla is Anne’s youngest child, and the book starts when she is fifteen, just before WWI starts. What I find interesting is that Rilla isn’t an exceptional girl, like her mother, and countless other heroines. She’s a very normal teenager, a bit spoiled, not interested in intellectual pursuits, rather vain and mainly concerned with her looks and having fun. She’s a nice person, but also quite ordinary. And this is what makes the book so interesting. Because at the eve of her first ball the war breaks out, and her whole world is turned upside down. The book spans four years, and we follow Rilla as she grows up; she starts to take responsibility for her life. She takes care of a war orphan, organize, skillfully, a youth Red Cross society, as well as a number of tasks she had never imagined. And though she still has no intellectual interests at the end, unlike the rest of her family, she has still evolved into a intelligent and capable woman.

I also very much enjoy Rilla’s relationship with her favourite brother Walter. She worships him, but at the start of the book she feels he only sees her as a baby sister, not as someone he can truly talk to. My sister is six years younger than me, and I remember how great it was when she grow older and we became friends, not just sisters. Of course, the book also makes me cry several times over. Especially when it comes to Dog Monday. I didn’t cared much for the token love story. Even if Ken Ford is someone Rilla has known all her life, we, the readers, haven’t, and to me the love story feel rushed and underdeveloped. In their two scenes together before Ken goes to war, Rilla is shy and tongue-tied, and though we see her through Ken’s eyes, he is only thinking over how beautiful she is, not how she is as a person. I guess they get to know each others in the letters they exchange, but basically the whole thing feels like something that is there because there “has” to be a love story. It has nothing to do with Rilla’s process of becoming an adult.
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Rainbow Valley by L. M. Montgomery. I remember liking this book as a kid, but I didn’t remember how little on Anne it actually contained. Even her children are merely supporting characters. The focus of this book is the Meredith family; the new, widowed, minister, and his four children. It’s a much more complex story than any of the other Anne-books I have reread. The meredith children are loved by their father, and they love him, and each other. They are kind and considerate, with a well-developed sense of moral ethics. But their absent-minded father leaves them largely in care of an relative who, if not cruel, is very old and too frail to run a household. The children have no sense of social conventions, or practical skills, which repeatedly makes them at odds with their fathers' congregation.

Then we have Mary Vance, a runaway orphan the Meredith children befriends. Mary has been severely abused by her foster mother, and forced to work very hard. She is well aware how society runs, and she has many practical skills, but she has learned nothing of moral ethics. The Meredith are horrified other ignorance, and set themselves to teach her. And by learning, Mary Vance eventually secure a safe and happy home. In return Mary relentlessly points out the siblings lack och social conventions, leading to them trying to raise themselves “as no one else do it”. The result is often funny, but sometimes heartbreaking, and in the end it finally makes their father realise his neglect and do something about it. There is a very strong message that a person needs to know both good morals and know how to navigate society to be integrated, and in the end both the Meredith’s and mary Vance, by learning from each other, reach that point.

Mary Vance is an interesting character. Montgomery often fall back to the idea of nature of nurture. It is, for example, implied that Anne is such a refined character despite her early childhood, because her dead parents were gentlefolks. Mary, however, has a terrible background. Her parents were drunkards who abused her, and both committed suicide. And though mary isn’t an altogether sympathetic character, she feels a lot more realistic than most of Montgomery's children.

And though Montgomery fall back to one of her favourite tropes; the two spinster sisters with the old, dark-haired, the dominant character, the West sisters are both living breathing characters. I also liked the side-step from The One True Love-trope. Both Rosemary West and John Meredith has lost their first love, but eventually learns it is possible to love again. And I also liked the recognition that different people wants different things in a relationship.

The Only Girl in the World, A Memoir by Maude Julien. I’m not sure why I picked this up, because I usually can’t stomach books where children suffer. I don’t regret reading it, but it was a very hard book to get through. Maude Julien was born in 1957, and her father isolated her, and her mother, putting Maude to a series of horrific experiences in the effort in making her a super human. Clearly insane, he had spent years planning this, going so far to adopt her mother when she was only six years old, grooming her into the “perfect” wife, and future teach to maude, by giving her a very throughout education. It was really a very strange, and horrible book, with Maude growing up completely ignorant of the world outside her father’s estate, and deprived of any pleasures apart from reading and a few pets. And despite the abuse she is put through, her father is never caught and punished. Maude finally get some contact with the rest of the world at fifteen, and at eighteen she gets married and escape her father through that. I would have liked to know more about her mother who seem to see Maude as a rival more than daughter- possibly because she was raised by Maude’s father herself, but there is very little analysis over that. Possibly because Maude’s mother is still alive.
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I’ve continued with my L. M. Montgomery re-read.

Further Chronicles of Avonlea This book was published against Montgomery’s wishes, and it’s not a very good one. None of the short stories are memorable, and the last one “Tannis of the Flats” is pretty much unreadable with an overabundance of racials stereotypes and slurs. Don’t read it.

Anne of Ingleside. I never read this book as a child as it wasn’t translated until I was all grown-up. I did read it once then, but I had forgotten pretty much everything. It isn’t very memorable. It’s a sweet book about Anne’s happy domestic life. Even the terror of fatal illness can’t take that away, but the result isn’t very interesting. We follow Anne and her children through five years, alternating POVs between all of them, which makes it a bit jumpy. It’s also a terribly gossipy book. Whole chapters are about people gossiping about character’s we only ever hear about in a few paragraphs, and never in person, which makes it feel rather pointless.

Considering how unhappy Montgomery's own life was- and this book was written just a few years before her death, it’s easy to imagine this book was Montgomery's life of dreams. Anne is happy and at 35, after six pregnancies, she is still slim and beautiful. Her marriage is perfect, her children are lively and loving, and everything is alright by the end of every chapter. I think I would have enjoyed it more if I read it as a child, but I don’t think it would ever have been my favourite.

After all this perkiness I felt the need for a change; The Stress of Her Regard by Tim Powers. I’ve read it once before, but it was a couple of years ago, so the details were a bit hazy. It’s the early 19th century and a doctor; Michael Crawford, is about to get married. At the stag party he slips his fiance's wedding ring on the finger of a statue, but when he tries to retrieve it, the stone hand has closed. The day after the wedding Crawford wakes up to find his bride brutally murdered, and the suspicion falls, quite naturally at him. He flies England pursued by his dead wife’s sister, slowly realising he has unwittingly picked up another spouse when he put the ring on the stature.

This is part an historical novel. Crawford’s life gets mixed up with those of Keats, Byron and Shelley, as well as several other historical characters. Powers has taken great care to get the facts right, so you learn quite a bit about the Romantic poets by reading this book. But it’s also a vampire story. Here the vampires are sentient beings made of stone who needs blood to be able to transform themselves into human form. They latch on to a human, something they see as marriage, and that human will live a long life and be unusually creatively blessed. Yes, this is a book where the Romantic poets are displayed prominently. In return they want blood, but they are also extremely jealous and will slowly but surely kill off everyone their spouse loves. As classic vampires they are sensitive to sunlight, garlic and silver, but once married you are not getting rid of them easily. The books is long and covers several years, so the plot isn’t exactly easy to line out. I like it a lot. I like vampires, but not the romantic hero-type which has been popular in the last decade, or so. Powers’ vampires are very “other”, completely inhuman and with no real understanding of humans needs. And I like slow-moving books, and I love historical novels where the facts are right. A book right up my alley, in other words.

I don’t usually plan what I’m going to read next, but probably something by LeGuin now. I haven’t re-read her in years, but I read everything I could get my hand on by her all through my pre-teens, and teens.
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I’m still rereading L. M. Montgomery’s Anne-books.

Anne of the Island I always enjoyed this book, mostly, I think for Patty’s Place. I really wanted to live there. Otherwise it really isn’t that memorable, apart from Philippa Gordon who is quirky and amusing. Anne’s other friends; Stella and Priscilla, are rather anonymous. We are told when they first appear in Anne of Green Gables what they look like and about their personalities, but they never really do anything which showcase those personalities, and I find them rather forgettable.

Anne of Windy Poplars This have always been one of my favourite Anne-book. Anne’s letters to Gilbert are amusing, and thankfully Montgomery doesn’t include the love letter parts. I like Anne winning the Pringle’s over, albeit completely by chance, and I like the character of Katherine Brooks. I also like Little Elizabeth. The child with a dead mother and absent father is something Montgomery use several times- in Anne of Avonlea we have Paul Irving. But paul is basically the perfect child, and even if his father isn’t around, it is clear he loves his son. And though paul’s grandmother is strict, she is also a loving caretaker. Little Elizabeth's story is far bleaker, and she is a more interesting character. Anne is rightly concerned over the emotional abuse of the child, though now, as an adult, I don’t find the solution very satisfactorily. I don’t buy that a father who hasn’t even been bothered to write to his daughter for eleven years, will hardly be the perfect parent the books try to present him as.

Reading this book I realised that Montgomery did a massive change in when the books takes place. Anne of Green Gables starts around 1895, but you probably only get that if you know your fashion history. Those puff sleeves Anne dreams on is a very distinct fashion detail in the years before the turn of the century. And in this book, when Anne is in her early twenties, The 1906 San Francisco earthquake is mentioned. But Rilla of Ingleside takes place during WWI and Rilla is Anne’s youngest child, and as she is fifteen in 1914- well, obviously that chronology doesn’t fit.

Anne's House of Dreams I didn’t like this book at all as a child and I probably only reread this a few times. To my surprise I liked it a lot better now. The previous Anne-books are quite episodic, but in this one we have only three plot threads; Anne’s first years of marriage, leslie Moore’s deeply unhappy marriage, and captain Jim and his Life Book. I found captain Jim boring as a child, and I found him rather boring now too. But for the first time I actually liked Gilbert. My main beef with him in the previous books is that he doesn’t seem to have any personality. We know basically nothing of his interests, apart from him being good in school, and when we are told he is going to be a doctor we haven't had any indication this is actually something he is interested in before. But here we see him as someone clearly interested and invested in his job. I also thought the occasion when Anne and Gilbert disagree was nicely handled. I couldn’t read the chapter about little Joyce- it was far too close to home. Reading this book in my teens I didn't like Leslie who I thought oddly unpleasant to Anne. But now I thought it was quite understandable- she has had a very hard life and it isn’t so strange she sometimes find it difficult to cope with anne’s happiness. I also didn’t understand how horrible her marriage actually is. She is forced to marry a man she dont want at sixteen, and it’s obvious he rapes her on their wedding night. All in all, this book has been the biggest surprise in my re-read.

Chronicles of Avonlea A collection of short stories where Anne is only seen briefly, and mentioned once or twice. It really highlights the tropes Montgomery like, the two sisters where the older is dark and quirky, and the younger is sweet and weak. Or the two lovers who part in their youth and eventually are brought together again. My favourite is “Old Lady Loyd” about an old woman who is too proud to tell anyone she isn’t rich anymore, but horribly poor and lonesome. Then the daughter of her former lover turn up, and Miss Lloyd falls in love again. Over the course of several months she plays the fairy godmother, slowly sacrificing more and more to help the young woman. I like it because the main character isn’t perfect; she is quirky and haughty, and I also think the description of her loneliness if heartbreaking.
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I haven’t read much lately, mostly because the cold gave me a very bad headache.

A Grave Talent by Laurie R. King. I’ve read this book several times, not for the murder mystery, but for the characters. I enjoy reading about the characters at Tyler’s Road, I love the description of artistry, and Vaun herself, and I love the growing friendship between detectives Kate Martinelli and Al Hawkins. And the murder mystery is good too; several little girls are found murdered, eerily mimicking an old murder, and the convicted murderess is living nearby...

The Blue Castle by L. M. Montgomery. The only Montgomery books translated to Swedish was the one’s about Anne and Emily, so I’ve never read anything else. This one seemed geared to an older audience, and I wish I had read it in my teens- i would have loved it wildly then. But I liked it now too. Plot-wise it was easy to predict what would happen, but I liked Valancy, and I very much enjoyed her transformation from bullied old maid to radiantly happy. If you haven’t read it, it’s about a young woman who is terribly bullied and down-trodden by her pretty awful family. But when she learns she has only a year left to live, she stops feeling afraid and decides to actually live the time she has left. Very enjoyable read with shades of Jane Eyre and Persuasion. Also,, even if Barney Snaith is idealised, he is much more of a real person than ever Teddy Kent and Gilbert Blythe.

Anne of Green Gables by L. M. Montgomery. While reading The Blue Castle it struck me i haven’t re-read the Anne-books since my teens, and only in the Swedish translation. I was always much more an Emily-girl, and those books I re-read regularly. It was fun to read Anne of Green Gables again, but it was even clearer to me now why I always preferred Emily. Anne’s mood swings and endless chatter doesn’t really grip me, and Diana is a much more bland best friend than Ilse Burnley, and I have never liked Gilbert Blythe. (Sorry). But even so, I enjoyed reading it again, and I think I’m going to re-read the whole series.

Paganism: An Introduction to Earth-Centered Religions by Joyce & River Higginbotham, which I will talk about elsewhere.
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I’m behind, again, on my reading posts. You can tell i have felt stressed out this autumn because I have mostly read lightweight and/or speedily read books.

Steven Brust’s Jhereg and Yendi. Fantasy where humans share the world with reptilian, and very long-lived, humanoids called Dragaerans. The protagonist is a human assassin; Vlad Taltos. I’ve heard a lot of good about these books, but I was rather meh about them. I’m not over fond of first person narratives, and I don’t much care for the prevalent idea of making gangsters into some kind of flawed heroes. A major plot point is that the Dragaerans are sorted into “houses”, each with their own characteristics when it comes to occupation, character traits, looks and even colour they wear. And I don’t much care for this kind of “set” society. With that said I can also say that Vlad is a pretty likeable person, and the books were fast reads- about 200-250 pages each. I’ve started on the third book which seems to add some complexities and layers to the society and to Vlad’s worldview, which makes it more interesting to me.

A Long Day in Lychford, the third of Paul Cornell’s Lychford-novella’s about three witches with very different worldviews and temper. It was a nice read, but IMO the weakest of them, so far. It was still enjoyable- Cornell has written both episodes and novels for Doctor Who, and there is a quirkiness in these novellas which reminds me of the show.

A whole bunch of Shani Struthers. 44 Gilmore Street and Old Cross Cottage which are book 3 and 4 of her Psychic Surveys series. I enjoyed book 1, but felt book 2 was a letdown. These two were better again. In the first a family has trouble with a very malevolent ghost, in the other one the series main protagonist goes to a working holiday to a haunted cottage. I also read two of her novellas. Blakemort in which one of the characters in the Psychic Surveys series relates her experiences as a child, and very much felt like a prelude to something yet to come. And The Eleventh Floor where a young woman find herself trapped in a very strange hotel. On the whole I think Struthers have good ideas, but, as is so often the case with ghost stories, they don’t hold the whole way through. There is also an irritating habit of letting her characters be very stupid about certain plot points, just to keep the story going. The novellas hold together much better on that account.

Faunen by Anna-Karin Palm which will have a post on it’s own.
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Lovecraft Country by Matt Ruff. I love Lovecraft’s mythology, but the racism and misogyny are hard to take.But then there are some brilliant authors who take the mythology and make it soar, like the Swedish author Anders Fager, who mixes it with Swedish mythology and a (mostly), contemporary setting. Lovecraft Countrytakes the racism, gives it a good shake, and gives it center stage. Oh, it’s full of Lovecraftian horror themes, as well as some borrowed elsewhere, but that’s not the truly frightening stuff. The really scary bits in this book is the daily life of the protagonist, a family of African Americans in USA in the 1950’s, not monsters from beyond. I liked this book a lot, after I got used to it’s format. Each chapter is a self-contained novella, each featuring a different main protagonist, from a set of characters who also play parts in the other novellas. And there is also a underlying narrative which reach it's conclusion in the last chapter, so it is a coherent novel as well. For example, the first story is about a young man, Atticus, who go looking for his father in a small and isolated town, in the company of his uncle, and friend Letitia. The next one features Letitia as she purchases a house which turns out to be haunted. The novellas are a bit uneven in quality, but overall I found the book very good, and it was a joy to read. It has a proper ending, but also an opening for a sequel, which I wouldn’t mind. Apparently it is going to become a TV series, which I think could work very well.

Bryony and Roses by T. Kingfisher. You may have noticed by now I like fairy tale retellings. This one if a version of The Beauty and the Beast which was always one of my favorites (long before the movie, which didn’t come until I was an adult). In this novel beauty is called Bryony, and it’s she who gets trapped by the Beast and not her father. I really enjoyed this re-telling. Both Bryony and the Beast have distinct personalities and also hobbies, which I loved! And the tale was changed enough to make the narrative fresh and interesting.

Lord Peter Views the Body by Dorothy L. Sayers. This is the first collection of Sayers short stories, and it’s pretty uneven. A couple of macabre ones, like the one about an artist who makes some very curious pieces of art, or the man who inherits his uncle’s stomach. A couple of more straightforward murder mysteries, a couple of plain mysteries, and the absurd finale; “The Adventurous Exploit of the Cave of Ali Baba” where Lord Peter “dies” to go undercover for several years. My personal favourites are “"The Fascinating Problem of Uncle Meleager's Will" where Lord Peter and Lady Mary helps solving the clues to the whereabout of a testament by being frivolous, and "The Learned Adventure of the Dragon's Head" where we get to meet lord Saint-George for the first time.

A Skinful of Shadows by Frances Hardinge. The previous books I’ve read by Hardinge has been pure fantasy, this one is set before and under the Civil War in England. Makepeace’s grow up with her unmarried mother, who refuses to speak of her father. Makepeace also see ghosts. When she, eventually, learns about her father, she realises this is something she has inherited from him and his family. It’s a bit hard to say more without spoiling the book, but it’s well worth reading! It has a similar plot point with some of Bujold’s work, so I successfully guessed the big secret pretty much at once, but I enjoyed my read nevertheless.
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The Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club by Dorothy L. Sayers. This is the book where Lord Peter Wimsey fully emerge as himself. The mystery is also wonderfully complex. General Fentiman dies at his club, and there are no reasons to think there is anything fishy about it. He is very old, and not particularly wealthy. But then it emerges that depending on the exact time of his demise, he might have died a very rich man. And there there is an autopsy…

This is also the book the charming Marjorie Phelps are introduced- the one Lord Peter wouldn’t have minded marry if only friendship had been enough. Though this isn’t my favourite sayers, it’s definitely one of the better ones.

The Abandoned Orphanage by John Carter. Not too bad opening about an old orphanage where people sometimes disappear forever. Now, i don’t mind fantastic stories, but what is important to me is logic behaviour. And this book feel completely after the following; For plot reasons it is important that a boy around 12 is left alone one night. I find it pretty hard to believe that parents, who have been depicted as caring, would leave a child that young alone, but ok, that might happen. But, this family is still reeling from the disappearance of the boy's younger sister. And there is no way on earth I can accept caring parents would leave their remaining child alone at home under those circumstances. Would. Not Happen. And then you can have as many beautiful plot points you want to realise and it will still not work.

Penric’s Fox by Lois McMaster Bujold. It is no secret Buold is one of my favourite authors, and apart from her fantasy romance series I have loved everything she has written. (The romance series is probably fine- I just don’t care much for romance as a genre). Penric’s Fox is part of a series of novellas set in her fantasy world of The Five Gods. Penric is a young man who accidently acquire a demon, which makes him into a sorcerer. And as the demon’s personality is made up of parts of all the previous human it has shared body with, the demon is a very feminine one. Penric names it Desdemona, and sometimes complains it is like sharing a body with several sisters.

This novella is chronologically speaking the third one, taking place after Penric and the Shaman and before Penric's Mission. In this story a sorceress is found murdered and Penric becomes part of the investigation. There is of course the question of who murdered her, but he also needs to find the demon, or rather, they need to find the living creature the demon must have possessed. It’s not my favourite Penric-story, but as all of them are good, this was very enjoyable to read anyway.

Strange Practice by Vivian Shaw. Doctor Greta Helsing specialise in the medical care of supernatural beings. It’s not a very exciting life anyway, but when a mysterious sect starts to kill of supernatural beings in London, Greta finds herself in the forefront of the fight. In a way it’s a story I’ve read before, a world pretty much our own, but with supernatural beings; many of them having familiar names like the vampires Lord Ruthwen and Varney. But Shaw’s writing is engaging and Greta is a good heroine; intelligent and capable. This is the first in a series, and I look forward to the next book!

Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe. This is another re-read. A middle-age woman is befriended by an old one at a nursing home, and over the course of several visits is told the story of the Threadgoode family in a small town in the American south. You’ve probably seen the movie with Kathy Bates. I love the movie, but the book is better.

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