Wednesday, 1 April 2020

In splendid isolation, or...?

These are difficult times, as the coronavirus spreads over the world and affects more and more people. I hope that you are all right out there? How are you keeping up with restrictions in moving around society?

In Sweden, we are allowed to move around outside, although should refrain from it when not necessary. For me and my husband, it is not a big problem. He came back from Nepal just over two weeks ago. Coming home early, due to the spreading of the virus. He landed in Vienna and re-directed his trip to come to Sweden. It is good that we can be here together in times like these. It would not be so nice to be in two different countries for a time where we don't know when it will end.

Walking close to home

We spend our days mostly at home. We go for weekly shopping and errands. We try to go for a walk most days. We are lucky to be able to start walking directly from our home, going to the beach, or around the nearby limestone quarry. Otherwise, we take the car and go to national parks, not far away from where we live. We see very few people, and when we meet someone, we all make sure to keep the distance. It is nice to be able to take these walks and get a bit of fresh air. The weather has been wonderful, so that is an extra plus. It must be very difficult for those of you who cannot leave your home. Please let me know how you are keeping up.

An excursion to Lake Pulken to watch the cranes, and
a walk on the beach at Åhus, picnic in the harbour 

Since nothing much is happening due to the standstill, I take this opportunity to catch up with various projects that are lagging behind. I have picked up my journaling for 2019. I am now done with March, so still, a few months to go. Other journaling projects are also in the pipeline. Further projects that are trying to get some attention are a photographing course, getting used to being creative with my iPad pro, blogging, writing, studying and reading.  Furthermore, projects around the house like spring cleaning, fixing broken things, organising whatever there is to organise. There is an endless list of things to do.

Walking in national parks

If you like reading you always have something to do. Especially, if your bookcases are full of non-read books. I have only read three books from my shelves this year. I tend to borrow books at the library now that I am living in Sweden. Now is the time to start with my own books.

I will make a challenge of my own, to read at least seven books per month from my shelves. And,... it is not an April Fool's Day joke! For now, I am reading The Leopard by Jo Nesbo. I find that it is easier to pick a detective story or a light storybook these days, rather than more serious and thoughtfully books. I am still dedicated to reading nonfiction books.

Please let me know how you are getting through your days. Keep up the spirit, take care and keep safe.

Tuesday, 24 March 2020

The Tigress or Forli by Elizabeth Lev

I recently visited Florence, which you can read about on my other blog The Content Reader Goes OutdoorFlorence is one of the prominent city-states during the Italian Renaissance. I am currently reading various books about the de' Medici family and will return to the subject later on. While searching for books about this time, I happened to find a book about Caterina Riario Sforza (1463-1509). She was the illegitimate daughter of Galeazzo Maria Sforza, Duke of Milan. The story of her life is more than life itself. She was an incredible woman; mother, wife, warrior, and icon.  She met many of the important men of her time:
"Pope Sixtus IV, Caterina's benefactor and uncle by marriage, who commissioned the Sistine Chapel frescoes in which she is immortalized. 
Count Girolamo Riario, Caterina's first husband and an originator of the Pazzi conspiracy, whose corrupt ways led to their flight from Rome to Forli. 
Niccolò Machiavelli, the Florentine political theorist who as a young diplomat was humiliated by Caterina and later took revenge with his pen. 
Giacomo Feo, Caterina's secret second husband, a jumped-up family retainer whose assassination led to a bloodbath on the streets of Forli. 
Giovanni de' Medici il Popolano, Caterina's beloved third husband, who provided Caterina entrée into Florentine culture and society, and an heir worthy of her legacy. 
Cesare Borgia, nephew to the ruthless Borgia pope Alexander VI, who would bring Caterina's rule to an end with unspeakable cruelty." 
Raised in the court of Milan, she grew up in a world of intrigues. That might have been the reason for her surviving all the different ordeals she met with during her life. She was married to her first husband at the age of ten and bore him six children. She was intelligent and well-read and considered the most beautiful woman of her time. When her family was threatened she did not hesitate to take unusual measures to save them. Even if it meant to ride from Forli to Rome, eight months pregnant!

Wednesday, 11 March 2020

Best books read in 2019

A little bit late to summarise my reading for 2019, but better late than never. I use inspiration from Books in Bloom, who got inspired by Jamie@The Perpetual Page Turner and Esther@BiteInBooks for various surveys.

Best In Books

1. Best books you read in 2019:
- A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles

2. Book you were excited about & thought you were going to love more but didn’t:
- La fille qui lisait dans le metro by Christine Féret-Fleury

3. Most surprising (in a good way or bad way) book you read:
- Med Örnen mot polen by Svenska Sällskapet för Antropologi och Geografi (Scientific account of the Andrée expedition 1897)

4. Book you “pushed” the most people to read (and they did):
- A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles (I have pushed a lot, if people read, well, that is another matter).

5. Best series you started in 2019. Best sequel of 2019. Best series ender of 2019.
1793 by Niklas Dag och Natt

6. Favourite new author, you discovered in 2019:
- Beatriz Williams

7. Best book from a genre you don’t typically read/was out of your comfort zone:
- None

8. Most action-packed/thrilling/unputdownable book of the year:
- The Man from St Petersburg by Ken Follett (audio)

9. A book you read in 2019 that you are most likely to re-read next year?
- A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles

10. Favourite cover of a book you read in 2019:
- The Golden Hour by Beatriz Williams

11. The most memorable character of 2019:
- Count Alexander Rostov in A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles

12. Most beautifully written book read in 2019:
- A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles

13. Most thought-provoking/life-changing book of 2019:
- A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles

14. Book you can’t believe you waited UNTIL 2019 to finally read:
- Kristin Lavransdatter by Sigrid Undset

15. Favorite quote from a book you read in 2019:

- “if a man does not master his circumstances then he is bound to be mastered by them.” A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles

16. Shortest and longest books you read in 2019:
- Five Great Short Stories by Anton Chekhov (shortest)
- Kristin Lavransdatter by Sigrid Undset (longest - all four books/parts)

17. Book that shocked you the most:
- Wedlock: How Georgian Britain's Worst Husband Met His Match by Wendy Moore (audio)

18. OTP of the year (you will go down with this ship!):
- A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles

19. Favorite non-romantic relationship of the year:
- The Third Man by Graham Greene

20. Favorite book you read in 2019 from an author you’ve read previously:
- The Muse by Jessie Burton

21. Best book you read in 2019 that you read based SOLELY on a recommendation from somebody else:
- Jag for ner till bror by Karin Smirnoff

22. Newest fictional crush from a book you read in 2019:
- Count Alexander Rostov in A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles

23. Best 2019 debut you read:
- Silvervägen by Stina Jackson

24. Most vivid setting you read this year:
- Kristin Lavransdatter by Sigrid Undset

25. A book that put a smile on your face/was the most FUN to read:
- I think I read too many serious books this year!

26. A book that made you cry or nearly cry in 2019:
- I cry easily, but can't recall really crying over any of the stories I read in 2019

27. Hidden gem of the year:
- The Golden Hour by Beatriz Williams

28. A book that crushed your soul:
- Bränn alla mina brev by Alex Schulman

29. The most unique book you read in 2019:
- A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles

30. The book that made you the maddest (doesn’t necessarily mean you didn’t like it):
- Wedlock: How Georgian Britain's Worst Husband Met His Match by Wendy Moore (audio)

There you are! It might be a little bit onesided, considering that I went for A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles ten times. But, it did stand out as the best book ever. It is interesting to highlight the books you have read during the year in this way. Do you agree about any of the books I have chosen here? Please let me know.

Our trip to the Caribbean

During December and January, we made a trip to the Caribbean. If you are interested, you find a few posts on The Content Reader Goes Outdoor. St Lucia, Martinique, Dominica, and Guadeloupe.

I would love to hear your views of the islands, if you have visited, or intend to visit.

A magic beach in Martinique

Tuesday, 3 March 2020

The Girl who Temped Fortune by Jane Ann McLachlan

Publisher: Amazon Digital Services LLC
Publication date: March 3, 2020
I received an ARC of this book from the author for a fair & impartial review

I am always excited when I have a historical fiction novel in my hands. Especially, if the story is based on real life persons and events. I visited Florence recently, and am reading books (nonfiction) about that city, its history and famous persons. Its history is also connected to the history of other city states and kingdoms in the peninsula that today is Italy.

Jane Ann McLachlan's historical novel The Girl Who Tempted Fortune, is set in the Kingdom of Naples. I have not read much about this kingdom, although its history is closely connected to other European history. I was therefore pleased when I got the opportunity to read this book. The summary:
"In the royal courts of medieval Europe, where aristocrats vie for power and royal cousins battle over crowns, is it possible for the lowly daughter of a fisherman to dream of becoming mother to a monarch? 
Yet Philippa of Catania, the daughter of a Sicilian fisherman, risks everything to ride the wheel of fortune to the dizzying heights of power. And in the most enlightened kingdom of all Christendom, the 14th Century court of King Robert the Wise and his beautiful and brilliant heir, Queen Joanna 1 of Naples, it might not be so impossible after all. 
Follow the real story of Philippa of Catania as she defies the limits of birth and station on an unbelievable yet true journey to the heights of power and wealth in 14th Century Italy."
If it had not been for the prophecy her great grandmother once told, Philippa's mother might not have seen an opportunity for her to get away from her poor life. "This girl will travel far from home and rise high above her station. She will be mother to a queen - ...". In 1298, prince Robert of Anjou is in Sicily to conquer the island for the Kingdom of Naples. His wife, princess Violante, accompanies her husband although she is pregnant. Once the labour starts, the local mid-wife, Philippa's mother, takes Philippa with her to help with the important birth. Philippa is hired as wet nurse to the child, Charles. She is herself a young mother and married to an older man. The course she has entered will take her away from her family and Sicily for a new life at the court of the king of Naples.

Philippa's story and events are told in different time frames; between autumn 1298 to summer 1302, and March to October 1346. The former years tell the story of Philippa's new life, her sorrows, her ambitions and her life dependent on the whim of royal people. The final year is told as present day, and related to the terrible events that is occurring. Under the strain of the situation, Philippa is looking back on her life, how it developed, and what was really the meaning of the prophecy.

I am not always fond of stories going back and forth. In the beginning, I was wondering why the author had chosen such a way of telling her story, when it could have been told chronologically. However, as the two time frames develop, I realised it adds another perspective to the story. As you read what is happening in 1346, the initial story unfolds and gives you the background you need. As the times turn bad in the city, so does the situation for Philippa and her family. Imprisonment and torture were standards in those days, and Ms McLachlan does not shy away from describing such events.

That is probably why this is such an excellent and interesting novel. There is history, a little bit of romance and politics, but above all the nitty gritty dealings of the day. It brings the real world into the story, which I found very thrilling. Making a check on the real history, I found that Ms McLachlan has obviously done a lot of research, and treated the facts with respect. All through the story she brings in various real life characters, making history alive, taking you to the Naples of the day. Above all, she has written an interesting account of a fantastic woman, who rose above her station. What a life she led, and what an ending. Wonderfully, written novel and highly recommended.

This is the second book of the Kingdom of Naples series. The first book is: The Girl Who Would Be Queen. Each of the books can be read separately.

Thursday, 27 February 2020

Non Fiction Reading Challenge 2020

I have decided not to join too many new challenges this year. However, this is too good to be true. Just in line with my own reading plans. I want to read more Non Fiction this year. Book'd Out is hosting this challenge. Here a few of the rules (head over to Book'd Out for more).

The aim is to encourage you to make nonfiction part of your reading experience during the year.
The challenge will run from January 1st to December 31st 2020. Participants may join at any time up until December 1st 2020

So far I have read two books; The Raphaelite Sisterhood by Jan Marsh and a book about the Medicis by Göran Hägg. More of the Medicis will come up. I recently visited Florence and would like to read up on its history and important citizens.

Having been to the Caribbean in December/January, I would also like to read books about the 'discovery' of the Continent. Just started Columbus, The Four Voyages by Laurence Berggren, and ordered  Empire's Crossroads: A History of the Caribbean from Columbus to the Present Day by Carrie Gibson.

That will keep me occupied for a while. Are you joining this Challenge? What kind of books do you want to read?

Wednesday, 26 February 2020

Book sales 2020

In Sweden there is a big book sale going on in February every year. Yesterday, I did go to have a look, aiming for two books that I had already checked out. Considering the state of my book shelves, I have to restrain myself. Did not help much since I came back with seven books, of which four were VERY thick.

I don't count the Soduko book I bought. Love soduko, and find it very relaxing. I did concentrate on the non fiction books. I live in Sweden now and can easily borrow books from the library, including e-books. So convenient.

Three books about Skåne. Love the covers.

I could not resist a series of three books on the history of Skåne. This is the province in which I live. Until 1658 the southern part of Sweden belonged to Denmark. The history of this part is therefore very interesting. One of our famous historians, Gunnar Wetterberg has written the history of Skåne covering the periods; 11500 BC - 1375 AC, 1376 - 1720 and 1720 - 2017. He is also a great writer. I have several books by him.

The biggest hype for a book last year was Ålevangeliet (The Gospel of the Eel) by Patrik Svensson. I think he has gathered all information available, and some more, about this rather mysterious creature and its life. It received several literary prizes and is supposed to be very good.

The next one I could not resist since I have a problem sleeping. Matthew Walker's Why we sleep - unlocking the power of sleep and dreams might be the book I need. I really hope there are some tips in it for me!

One of our greatest female writers is Selma Lagerlöf. Anna-Karin Palm has written a biography on her life, with the title "Jag vill sätta världen i rörelse" (I want to make the world move - my translation). It has also got good reviews. Love such biographies.

Well, that was all. They have to share the space with all the other books.

Tuesday, 25 February 2020

The First Book of the Year 2020

Through Readerbuzz, I stumbled upon First Book of The Year hosted by Sheila at Book Journey. A little bit late maybe, (been travelling extensively since beginning of December, making the blog suffer) but I wanted to say a few things about my first book this year. First of all the idea of this Meme.

Sheila encourages us to pick a book to start out the new year. The criteria is flexible:

  • A guilty pleasure book...
  • A favourite book that you never got around to read or want to re-read...
  • All in all, whatever you like to read as the First Book Of the Year...
My first book was just a book I choose by coincidence. Since I was travelling, I had my ipad with me, full of downloaded books. Having read a few easygoing, historical fiction books at the end of the year, I fancied a non fiction book next. It turned out to be The Pre-Raphaelite Sisterhood by Jan Marsh. We have heard about the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, but Marsh (who is quite an expert on the group) choose to focus, in this book, on the women in their lives.

An exciting and gripping book about women whose lives happened to intertwine with the best of Victorian painters, artists and writers. There are extensive documentation on the Pre-Raphaelites, but not much about their women. Some of them did paint as well, or were writing, but most of them left no traces of their lives behind them. The destiny of the women were quite different. It did not seem easy to be part of these artists. Most of them were very strong, and had to be to survive in this circle. Jan Marsh has done extensive research and she takes us straight back to the Victorian times.

I find the group and the era utterly fascinating. I always visit the Pre-Raphaelite section of Tate Britain when I am in London. Wonderful paintings. Earlier I have read:

Desperate Romantics was made into a TV-series (with Aidan Turner as Rosetti) and Effie was made into a movie (with Dakota Fanning as Effie). Highly recommended.

A non fiction book as my first book of the year, is also setting the tone for the idea I have of my reading for 2020. I want to read more non fiction. Preferably, grouping together several books on the same subject. Week 3 of the Non Fiction November had as themes; Be the Expert, Ask the Expert and Become the Expert.  I would like to be the expert, but first I have to become the expert.

A few thoughts about my reading for this year. I will not enter too many challenges, just a few favourite ones. Looking forward to see what you all will read for the coming year.

Monday, 24 February 2020

Bookmark Monday

This meme is hosted by Guiltless Reading. Last week I spent three days in Florence. It is such a wonderful, historical city, a pure pleasure to be there. I have been there before, so I choose what to see again. Collecting a few bookmarks does not take up a lot of space in your luggage.

Visiting David at the Galleria dell'Academia is always a treat. Such a beautiful statue.

The Uffizi Gallery with its treasure of statues and paintings, is a must in Florence. Standing out are two paintings by Sandro Botticello; The Birth of Venus and Primavera. 

The other four bookmarks are on amazing buildings in Florence; Il Duomo, Palazzo Vecchio and Ponte Vecchio.

Wednesday, 29 January 2020

The best books read in 2019

Time to look at the books I have read during the last year, and which ones are the best ones. It is always tricky to choose some out of all you have read, but there are always a few books who raise above the rest. I read unusually many detective stories/thrillers this year. It was actually the biggest genre, 33% of all I read. Maybe it does not come as a surprise that I find four, or even five books, depending on how you calculate, among my list of best books. Here are also four non fiction books. I have cheated slightly, since the books by Sara Lövestam are three, which makes it twelve books. However, they are of a similar kind so I put them as one.

Here is the list in no particular order, only by genre.

If I have to choose one which is the very best, it has to be A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles. It is not only the best book of the year, but I think, also the best book I have ever read. It is a bold statement, but it really has everything that makes it a great classic. I read it in Swedish, but will now buy the book in English, and I will read it slowly again. I can see myself read this over and over, which is a big thing for me. I seldom reread books, although it does happen with favourite ones. You have my review under the link. If you have read it, please let me know what you think.

The Golden Hour by Beatriz Williams, is a historical fiction, partly based on true events. It was a wonderful and exciting read. I am a fan of historical fiction, but even if you are not, it reads like a very good fiction, and includes a mystery story, with a surprising end.

Saratoga Trunk by Edna Ferber is a classic. I have had it on my shelves for ages, and never got around to read it. It was a surprisingly fresh tale from the end of the 19th century. Edna Ferber is a new acquaintance, but makes for more reading.

The Man From St Petersburg by Ken Follett was a thrilling and exciting read, or listening. I listened to it during my holidays, and could hardly put it down. It is set at the outbreak of World War one, and contains a Russian anarchist out to murder a high profile Russian diplomat, a noble family where the wife is Russian, Winston Churchill and other politicians from that time. It is a thrilling tale, which also includes a complicated love story. It is so well told, and I realised that it was such a long time since I read anything by Ken Follett. He is a master. 

Two books by Nele Neuhaus enlightened my year; Snow White Must Die and Big Bad Wolf. Her books are so well written, well characterised with interesting life stories of the people involved in a crime. It is much more than a crime novel.

Another thriller writer of great class is Håkan Nesser. His books are, like Neuhaus', based on interesting life stories and characters. 'The Association of the Left-Handed' (my translation, I cannot see that it has been translated to English yet). However, any book by him makes for good, interesting and exciting reading.

The Silent Patient by Alex Michaelides is another great story of murder and 'who dunnit'. His first book, and one can hardly wait for the next one. Michaelides has made his amateur sleuth into a psychiatrist, which can be scary in itself. It is a great story, the detailed actions of the protagonists are given to us slowly. However, it is not until the very end you realise the whole horrible story.

During the Non fiction month I intended to read quite a few books. I was stuck with Simon Sebag Montefiore's great tale on Stalin. Stalin - The Court of the Red Tsar is a horrifying tale of a man who treated a huge country like his own family. Montefiore has had access to newly open archives and made interviews with survivors and relatives. It is a very detailed account on a tyrant, paranoiac who sentenced people to death on a whim. It was sometimes quite difficult to read about the horrors, and it took me quite some time to read it. Having said that, it is a very thick book. A must read. Montefiore has a talent for writing history and facts, that almost reads like fiction. In this case, facts overtake any fiction you could think of.

Last, but not least, three books by Sara Lövestam. She is a linguist, teacher and writer. Her talent is to make grammar fun! Yes, believe it or not. I was laughing myself through her three books on nones, verbs and the order in which words are placed in a sentence. I always thought Swedish was quite easy to learn, but was I wrong. She teaches people who learn Swedish as a foreign language. The examples she makes of how confusing the Swedish language can be, makes, at least me, revalue my idea.

Well, that was a few of my favourite reads last year. Happy to hear you views on some of the books. Do you agree? Or disagree? Reading is a very individual treat, that is why it is so interesting to discuss books with other people. It gives another look on how stories are interpreted.

All the best for the 2020 reading.