Monday, 14 September 2020

Bookmark Monday

 Long time since I posted a bookmark here. Probably due to Corona, since travelling has been scarce. However, now I have made a short trip to Austria and Delft. You will find, in the coming days, two posts about these trips on The Content Reader Goes Outdoors. The meme is hosted by Guiltless Reading although I think Aloi is mostly posting this meme on her twitter/instragram accounts with the same name. 

In Delft, we visited churches and museums and I managed to find a bookmark of Girl With a Pearl Earring, one of the most popular paintings of Delft's famous son Johannes Vermeer. For my magnet collection on the fridge I bought another four motives by him; View of Delft, Little Street, Art of Painting, and Girl With a Pearl Earring. 

In the Vermeer centre, I found two books which I am looking forward to reading. They are Vermeer's Little Street by Franz Gruzenhout. Not much is known about the exact location of the painting, so it reads like a mystery. The other book is A View of Delft, Vermeer then and now by Anthony Bailey. "Vermeer has always been considered the most elusive of great artists, but his book tracks him down in his home town." Looking forward to reading these two books about the beautiful and historically interesting town of Delft.

More about Vermeer and what else to see in Delft on my post coming up on Wednesday (see above).

Monday, 17 August 2020

Favourite historical fiction by J.G. Harlond

In 2014 I read The Chosen Man by J.G. Harlond. I really loved the book and was looking forward to a continuation. Time passes and it was just when I read Deborah Swift's blogpost about a new book by Harlond, that I checked if there was a follow up to The Chosen Man. To my delight, I found that the one book had developed into a trilogy, with A Turning Wind and By Force of Circumstance. 

The 17th century is a very interesting century in many ways. The powers of Europe fighting for religion, new worlds, money, silks, spices, and more. Seafaring is big business, luxury commodities from the east are imported to Europe to please the upper classes. Not to talk about diamonds, rubies, emeralds, and other precious stones. In the center of activity stands Italian businessman and adventurer Ludovico da Portovenere, "one-time corsair, sometime merchant, secret agent of monarchs, servant of none".  

With Portovenere, J.G. Harlond has created an exciting character, not without faults, but always with a charming twist to his actions. Alina, a one-time runaway young lady, rescued by Portovenere, and Spanish wine merchant Marcos Alonzo Almendro are his brothers in arms. 

A Turning Wind


"From the trading colony of Goa to the royal courts of England and Spain, Ludo da Portovenere completes difficult and dangerous secret commissions on his own terms and for his own reasons. But, as these tasks bring him closer to success, Ludo is forced to confront dangerous secrets of his own. While Ludo pursues a delicate mission for the English queen in the Spanish royal court, Alina, Baroness Metherall, faces new challenges and dangers while trying to come to terms with what it means to be married to one person and love another.

Ultimately, Ludo and Alina must decide who they really are, and to what extent their shared past should influence their future."

By Force of Circumstance

""For sale: the English Crown Jewels"
Ludo da Portovenere, now a settled merchant is thrust back into his former profiteering ways when the Queen of England commissions him to sell priceless gems to raise money for the Royalist cause during the Civil War.
Will Ludo keep, or sell on the English Crown Jewels? There are many who would like to prevent him from doing either by removing him permanently from the stage.
Ludo plans to make a very significant profit - mostly for himself - but these plans are set awry when Alina, Baroness Metherall, becomes involved. Meanwhile, Marcos Alonso Almendro now a successful merchant in Plymouth is charged with acquiring the jewels to prevent them being sold at all. What none of them know is that the evil-minded Vatican agent Rogelio, who is pursuing a personal vendetta against Ludo, has been commissioned to acquire the very same jewels by the Vatican. Events move into perilous territory as it comes time for old scores to be settled, one way or the other.
Caught up in the violence of conflicts not of their own choosing, Ludo, Alina and Marcos have to decide where their loyalties lie, where they want to be, and ultimately, with whom."
All three books are very well researched. Harlond knows her history and even venture into little known events. She is doing a marvelous job of incorporating her fictional characters into real-life events. It is an exciting time in Europe and East India. With Ludo, Alina, and Marcos she has created unforgettable characters, who take us from the courts of England to the courts of France, Spain, and Portugal, to exciting harbours, dark alleys, and mysterious avengers, as well as 17th-century sea-trade. It is exciting, thrilling, and packed with action from beginning to end. Historical fiction does not get better than this. 

If you are interested,  J.G. Harlond's web-site provides you with interesting background information about her books and her research. It also makes for exciting reading. 

Tuesday, 4 August 2020

Paris in July 2020 - coming to an end

All things come to an end, and Paris in July 2020 has finished. Host Tamara at Thyme for Tea,  lets us linger a little bit more though. Time to wrap up. I have enjoyed all the various posts about Paris and France. Learnt a lot, been inspired, got hungry, extended my to-read list, and even managed to put up a few posts myself.

As usual, my plans went 'out the window' (as we say in Swedish), meaning that very few of my intended posts were written. Other inspiration came in their place. I read books by my two favourite thriller writers; The Poison Will Remain by Fred Vargas and  Time is a Killer by Michel Bussi. A few favourite French movies went into the pot, as well as some unfinished posts from last year(!) about magical rooms; Gertrude Stein and Natalie Clifford Barney and Adrienne Monnier and Sylvia Beach. At the very end of July, I received a book from author and blogger Paulita Kincher for a review, Falling for Provence. That was a wonderful novel for wrapping up everything French. 

Thank you Tamara for hosting the event. I understand it is not only me who really enjoys the month of July, due to Paris but many other bloggers as well. Happy seeing old friends, make new acquaintances, and having had an enjoyable time. See you next year for Paris in July, but hope to run into you during the waiting time. 

Tuesday, 28 July 2020

Falling for Provence by Paulita Kincer

I have followed  An Accidental Blog by Paulita Kincer for some time. Always impressive when people really change their lives. Paulita and her husband sold what they had in the US and moved to France to fulfill a long-time dream. It has been interesting to follow in their footsteps. Paulita has written a new book, Falling for Provence, which I got the opportunity to read for an impartial review. It is the second book about Fia Jennings but can be read without having read the first one. You get hints of earlier adventures throughout the novel. 

I had imagined a non-fiction book about her and her husband's life in France. I was as far off as I could be. This is a romantic and suspense fiction novel. As you enter the story you arrive at a wonderful B&B in Provence. Fia Jennings is helping her aunt and uncle to care for the business, at the same time caring for her teenage twins. When Ali, an attractive professor checks in to the B&B Fia cannot help hoping for a few days of romance. 

Things are not what they seem to be though. Ali has other plans. As the story unfolds amid the backdrops of everyday life, Fia has to deal with her family, the business, the attractive professor, and her friend Christoph who suddenly turns up for a long weekend. Christoph and Fia have a history. And, what is the professor really up to? Common family problems are interfering with Fia's plans as she and Christoph try to find out what Ali is up to.  

For the suspense part, Paulita Kincer does not shy away from touching on important and difficult questions. The main theme in the suspense part of the book is a sensitive subject: to whom do historical artefacts belong? To the country where they were found or to the country who took them back with them? It is a tricky question and there is no easy answer. The way this part of the book unfolds is intricately written and is taken to a perfect, surprising ending. 

I really enjoyed this book. Paulita Kincer is very well balancing a story that plays out on different levels. We get a good glimpse of life in France, its traditions, and its people, as well as a mystery to solve. The characters are well-drawn, as are the surroundings of Provence and Paris. A well-written account of a short time in the life of Fia Jennings, her sorrows, worries, and happy moments. Touching on international history and European travel it makes for interesting, exciting, and varied reading. 

More information below. 

Falling for Provence
Paulita Kincer
on tour July 20-31 with  

Falling For Provence

(women’s fiction, romantic suspense, family life) Release date: June 5, 2020 at Oblique Press 245 pages Author’s page Goodreads


Running a French B&B isn’t all wine and smelly cheese, Fia Jennings discovers as she tries to create a new life for herself and a smooth path for her teenage twins, while not—absolutely not – falling into a new romance. But she didn’t anticipate a handsome stranger showing up on her doorstep and sucking her into an art caper with dangerous overtones. Can she make a new life in France or will she retreat to the States and her broken marriage?


Paulita Kincer

Paulita Kincer has an M.A. in journalism from American University. She and her husband moved to southern France in 2018. She teaches college English online and ESL to adorable Chinese children. Visit her website and her blog at or follow her on Twitter @paulitakincer Instagram, or Pinterest Like her Facebook page at Paulita Kincer Writer.
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Thursday, 23 July 2020

Paris in July 2020 - Time is a Killer (Le temps est assassin) by Michel Bussi

Paris in July 2020 is hosted by Tamara at Thyme for Tea. Here we are sharing our love for everything Parisian and French. I am here with another review of a book from a favourite thriller writer, Michel Bussi. His stories are not like the average mystery/thriller. His characters are ordinary people, and it takes some time before you realise that there actually is a murder mystery. The murder(s) enter the story very discreetly, and as you go along you understand that all is not what it seems to be. 

"In the summer of 2016, Clotilde is spending her vacation in Corsica with her husband Franck and her teenage daughter Valentine. It is the first time she has been back to the island since the car accident in which her parents and her brother were killed decades earlier. She was in the car too, but miraculously escaped with her life.

This return plunges Clotilde back into the deepest recesses of her adolescence. She reacquaints herself with her paternal grandparents, Lisabetta and Cassanu, members of a powerful Corsican family that reigns over the island.

When a mysterious letter, signed “Palma”—Clotilde’s mother—arrives, the truth about her family, her parents’ death, and her childhood is called into question. Time is a Killer is a voyage into the complexities of Corsican society, a compelling portrait of woman’s awakening, and a masterfully executed novel of psychological suspense." (From the publisher Europa Edition)
While on holiday on Corsica with her parents in 1989, the teenage Clothilde writes a diary. In connection with the accident, it is lost. When returning in 2016 we realise that somebody has gotten hold of it. Bussi is using the diary to tell a parallel story, revealing the details, through the diary, of what was happening in 1989. It gives us the illusion that we know what was happening, until ghosts from the past start to turn up and change the story. Or is it just to make us a little bit crazy? Clothilde, as the center of attention, goes on a ghost hunt. She soon discovers that she cannot trust anyone.

The story is set in Corsica. Bussi is obviously familiar with the island, culture, and traditions, which creates an intricate background to the mystery. As usual, he manages to keep you spellbound and guessing until the very end. He does not provide simple stories or simple solutions. He weaves a web of deceit, murder, and mystery, which miraculously, he manages to clear up in the end. 

Michel Bussi is a professor of geopolitics and one of the most popular French authors today. He has written numerous novels. I have earlier read After the Crash and Black Water Lilies. They are both excellent. I enjoy thrillers and mysteries that have an interesting story. Bussi provides this in all his books. The stories are often very sad, and the murderers become killers by pure accident. As I said, intricate stories. 

Monday, 20 July 2020

Paris in July 2020 - This Poision Will Remain by Fred Vargas

Paris in July 2020 is hosted by Tamara at Thyme for Tea. Going into week 4 we enjoy sharing our love for everything Parisian and French. My contribution this week is about one of my favourite French police thriller writers.

Fred Vargas is the pseudonym of Frédérique Audoin-Rouzeau. She is a historian, archaeologist and novelist. As the two first professions, she is best known for a book about the Black Death. Her main writing these days are those of the police thrillers; three books about The Three Evangelists, and the books about Chief Inspector Adamsberg. This is a book about the latter. 

Vargas combines her interests in history and archaeology and her stories, and crimes, are often based on academic themes. Often history, but in this book, she ventures into science. Namely, into the life and deeds of a spider; Loxosceles reclusa. When a number of older people are dying from a bite from this spider, Adamsberg and his team are getting suspicious.

Usually, the bite of the spider does not lead to death. As he and his team are looking into the deaths, a gruesome past is opening up. It leads to an orphanage where things were not what they were supposed to be. Children, both boys, and girls suffered great anguish. Are they, after all these years, coming back for revenge on the group of boys who were harassing them? And, if so, why wait all these years?

Adamsberg and his colleagues are facing tough questions, drawbacks, and terrifying evidence before they manage to find the culprit. In the usual style of Vargas the story develops slowly, but in a way which is quite realistic. It is all based on true detective work. Adamsberg is an unconventional Inspector;  he prefers to walk around the room while he is thinking of the case;  he disappears into his foggy thoughts from time to time and his IT knowledge is limited. His colleagues all show different skills and characters; maybe not always professional, but with their own kind of ambition. The diversity of the knowledge of his colleagues helps Adamsberg in his search for the truth.

Unfortunately, the English title is not very good. In French, it is called Quand sort la recluse, meaning when the recluse/hermit comes out, and in Swedish Den instängdas blick, meaning the gaze of the one who is closed in. A recluse is someone who closes him/herself in, like a hermit. The English title does not well reflect the original title or the theme of the book. Well worth reading nevertheless!

By Fred Vargas I have read The Chalk Circle Man and Have Mercy on Us All. If you want a good story, a different story, and a guess who-dun-it, Fred Vargas is the thriller writer for you. 

Sunday, 19 July 2020

Fifty Plants that Changed the Course of History

On Tuesday, I visited an old castle from the 16th century. It is called Glimmingehus and is the best-preserved Medieval building in the Nordic countries. Look out for a post about the visit on The Content Reader Goes Outdoor next weekVisiting places, I enjoy looking in the museum shops. Here they had a nice mix of books and this one caught my eye and imagination. 

It is about plants and their origins, their stories, and how they have played a central role for man in the development of modern society. The stories of the plants merge into economy, politics, and agriculture. Some of them are well-known, others not so much. Looking forward to seeing how these plants have shaped our society. 

Tuesday, 14 July 2020

Die Manns (The Mann Family) by Tilmann Lahme

One of my favourite books is Buddenbrooks by Thomas Mann. It was Thomas Mann's first novel and it was published in 1901. It gave him the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1929. Tilmann Lahme's biography of the Mann family is an interesting account of a family where the author rose above everyone else.

Thomas Mann was born in 1875, but the biography starts in 1922 when he was already an established writer with part of his production behind him. It covers the years in Germany, the exile years during World War II (France, Switzerland, and the USA), the peace years, and the final years in Switzerland. 

The Manns was a troubled family. The mother Katia, took care of the family and the business that was Thomas Mann. They had six children; Klaus, Erika, Golo, Monika, Elisabeth och Michael. The Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung reviewed the book and this extract says it all. "Each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way, says Tolstoy. One should read this book to  understand the meaning of it." (my transl.) How true. This is a peculiar family and one cannot help reflecting that it might depend on Thomas Mann himself. Protected by his own family by his wife, he demanded peace and quiet to write. He was put on a pedestal, treated almost godlike. The children's only wish is an acknowledgment from their father.  It never comes. Furthermore, he did keep favourites, and not very discreetly. Maybe that is a reason why, almost all of them, had problems in their adult lives. Some of them did, occasionally, make good careers, but it came at a cost. 

All of the children, except Golo, lived off their parents. None of them did well in school. They jumped from education to education, work to work, and had difficulties settling down on their own, finding their place in life. There is a strange interdependency between the family members. The could not live with each other, but neither without each other. In 1933, the first day in exile, Golo writes in his diary: "Now the family is all I have; it can never end well..." (my transl.)

Thomas Mann struggled with homosexual tendencies, which was mostly reflected through his novellas,  Death in Venice being the most known such work. Three of his children were also homosexual, Klaus, and Golo, and Erika was bisexual. Klaus and Erika went in their father's footsteps, writing books, articles, and manifestos. Especially, Klaus and Erika, political to the left, tended to oppose life in most of its forms.  They also tried acting, especially Erika, but she got tired of acting when she did not get the main role from the beginning. Michael, the youngest, was a talented violin player. He, however, never wanted to leave the safe world of lessons to go into performing. He finally did and had some kind of career. Monika never really made it off at all. One wonders if the idea that achievements come easy was due to their successful father. 

The most successful of the children were Golo and Elisabeth. The latter became an internationally recognised expert on maritime law and policy and the protection of the environment. She received numerous rewards from various countries for her work. Golo studied history (after trying out numerous different educations), wrote books, and became a successful and famous historian. He was the only one who went for a career and life without constantly asking the parents for money. 

Egocentric is the word that comes to mind when describing the Mann family.  It is the main character of the family members, except Katia. She was quite different from the rest of them but very loyal to the Mann family as a concept. Maybe because her role was to be the practical person taking care of everything. There is however a lack of structure in the education of the children. Although one may not say they were spoilt, there was leniency towards them, which might explain their not too happy adult lives. There is always the idea that if anything goes wrong it is somebody else's fault. If there is a lack of money, somebody should give them money. This includes Thomas Mann. Although wealthy there were times when money was lacking. The family could not understand why their rich friends could not just give them the money they needed. 

Their life in exile was a rather pleasant one compared to a lot of their fellow exiles. In 1939 Klaus Mann's novel The Volcano was published. He considered it his best novel and worked on it for two years. It received good reviews when it was published and his fellow emigration colleagues felt he had described their lives well. "Possibly it would have been in place with "a little more poverty and despair over money," "a little more misery, dirt and darkness" in a novel about emigration, says Stefan Zweig. Klaus Mann has not experienced any of this, and thus he has not described it."(my transl).

Lahme's biography is well researched and makes for interesting reading. There are a lot on Mann's views on the politics in Germany, the war years, and the following return to Europe after the exile, not mentioned here. It reads like an exciting book where you wonder what will happen next to the family.

The Mann family saw the world according to their eyes. When it did not live up to their expectations, they went on with a few white, and sometimes, not so white lies. This was most notable with Klaus and Erika. While reading the biography, one is more than amazed at how they lived their lives. Although sometimes a little bit shocked about their actions, their attitude towards each other, towards other people and towards the world, it is a fascinating account of a family out of the extraordinary. 

Monday, 13 July 2020

Paris in July - French movies

Paris in July, hosted by Tamara at Thyme for Tea. Everything French and Paris is interesting for this group of bloggers.

I wanted to watch a French film, but have not yet got through D'après une histories vraie (Based on a True Story). In the meantime, I wanted to recommend a couple of other French films that I love.

I really enjoyed  Coco Avant Chanel (Coco Before Chanel), about the French fashion icon. This is her story before she got famous. It is beautifully filmed and shows a woman determined to make something of herself and her talent. Audrey Tautou makes an excellent performance as Coco. 

Another French icon is Colette. Keira Knightley plays Colette in the film with the same name. It is the story of how she became a successful writer, and the obstacles she faced on the way. For a long time, she had to publish her books under the name of her husband. 

Both films highlight strong women who had to fight hard to make it in a men's world. I found both films very interesting. 

One of my favourite French movies is The Intouchables. It is about an aristocrat, who after he becomes a quadriplegic from a paragliding accident, hires a young man from the projects to be his caregiver. Superbly acted by François Cluzet and Omar Sy. Two different kinds of people, from different worlds, meet, clash, fight, and become friends. It is about how we all can take lessons from each other, how we can learn from people different from us, and how someone, locked into his own world, can come out on the other side. It is a charming film and a must-see. (Links to trailers under titles).

Monday, 6 July 2020

Paris in July - A Magical Room by Ingrid Svensson, part II

Paris in July, hosted by Tamara at Thyme for Tea. Head back to her page to see posts from participants in this annual challenge.

I continue from my last post about two other literary salon hostesses in 1920s Paris; Adrienne Monnier and Sylvia Beach.

Adrienne Monnier

had no connections to the literary world when she opened her book shop on 7, rue de l'Odéon in 1915.  Her mother encouraged her to read and her father provided financial support.  Reading was not her only interest, she also enjoyed theatre and music. Debussy became a favourite. 

The area where she opened her shop was not so exclusive then as it is today. It was, at the time, home to bohemian students who needed cheap housing. Her bookshop, La Maison des Amis des Livres,  was surrounded by shops, a theatre and cafés and people soon found their way there. From 1921 Sylvia Beach opened her shop on the other side of the street. "The researcher Laure Murat is speaking about rue de l'Odéon as the Atlantic, a transfer route that unites the French and the new world". 

The bookshop was a magic room, used as a meeting point, a book shop, a lending library, and a salon. Monnier herself described it as a "small, grey shop". It was simply decorated as far as furniture was concerned. The walls were filled with writers' portraits, writers she favoured. It resembled an exhibition in the end. 

Monnier was an outgoing person and made contacts easily. She developed her bookshop, arranging events and meetings with writers. Quite modern in her approach how to turn people's interest to her shop. She advertised, started a membership scheme to borrow books. Her idea was that to buy a book one either had to have read it or know about it. She promoted books and writers in a way so even people without money could enjoy her shop. Very soon her shop was a melting pot of literary and cultural gatherings.

In 1921 Sylvia Beach moved in with Monnier, and they became an established pair. They lived together and worked opposite each other. This lead to a direction into the English language and promotion of new writers both from Europe and the other side of the Atlantic. Although they were two independent women, it seems that they supported mainly male writers. Could, of course, be that there were not that many female writers at the time. There were a lot of women engaged in the work of the shops, but not as writers. 

Monnier also wrote herself, poetry, and articles, which received good reviews. She also ventured into publishing books and starting magazines. Apart from her work in her shop, she was very productive in other literary fields as well as fighting for female voting rights. There is a lot more information about this remarkable woman, but I stop here.

Sylvia Beach

"My loves were Adrienne Monnier and James Joyce and Shakespeare and Company" (my transl.)

Sylvia Beach might be the most famous, or remembered of the ladies who kept a salon. Mainly because her bookshop Shakespeare & Company is quite famous. Born in the US she arrived in Paris in 1916 together with her sister Cyprian who already lived in Paris. Cyprian was hoping for a carrier in films.

Sylvia had studied languages and spoke Italian and Spanish, apart from French. Her aim was to immerse herself in French literature. She started out as a volunteer (this is during the war) in agriculture and vineyards. After the war, she worked for the Red Cross in Serbia as a secretary and translator. 

At the end of 1919 she was back in Paris with Adrienne Monnier. Meeting Adrienne had a significant influence over her life. Together with Adrienne Sylvia developed into a powerful, goal-oriented, and independent woman.

She opened her bookshop on 17 November 1919, in a Paris changing after the war. A new era opened up. Art was changing and the new writers were arriving. Her bookshop was much more colourful than Monnier's. Carpets, art, antique furniture filled up the rooms, and there was even a kitchen. The new Englishspeaking literature was rather unknown in France, as was the modern American one. Sylvia Beach found her niche here. She wanted to introduce Anglo-Saxon literature in the original language, which was a genius initiative. After the war, Paris saw an influx of Americans who found their way to her cozy bookshop. Many writers left the US due to limitations in freedom of the press. 

Sylvia sold and lend books, and could not imagine selling books she did not like herself. She enjoyed when customers sat down in an armchair and read from the book before deciding whether to buy it or not. On her shelves, one could find Sherwood Anderson, Charlotte Brontë, Beowulf, Robert McAlmon, Thomas Hardy, Ernest Hemingways, Samuel Richardson, and Dorothy Richardson. She mixed old with new. 

As Adrienne Monnier, she knew how to attract people by using promotion, signs, and display books and magazines in the windows. She promoted literary magazines, supporting new up-coming writers and poets. The important writers published extracts from there coming books in various magazines, like Finnegans Wake by James Joyce. 

In 1921 she moves her bookshop to 12, rue de l'Odéon, opposite Adrienne Monnier. At the same time, she moved in with Adrienne where she stayed until 1936. "Sylvia had alert eyes, a brown velvet jacket and was kind", writes Hemingway. She let him borrow books on credit when he did not have any money. It was here he found his way to the Russian authors. It opened a new world to him: "to read in a city like Paris, where you could live and work well, no matter how poor you were, was like receiving a great treasure." (my transl). Maybe that was part of Sylvia's talent that she could encourage and detect talent. The story of James Joyce and Ulysses is well known. 

The 1920s was the glorious period for Shakespeare & Company. During the 1930s depression Americans went back to the US. The number of Americans in Paris went down from 20 000 to 4 000 persons. André Gide started an aid campaign to help Sylvia Beach keep the bookshop. It worked for some time, but with the onset of the war, she had to close in 1941. In 1942 she was taken to a detention center in Vittel, where she spent six months with other American and British women who stayed on in France. 

Returning back to Paris, she did not want to open the bookshop again. She settled down at the top floor of the shop where she used to store books, and spent the 1940s working for the Red Cross and other charities. After the suicide of Adrienne Monnier her life turned darker.  She died in 1962 and the papers she left behind are kept at different universities in the US. The name of her bookshop is still alive. Now situated on 37, rue de la Bûcherie, it is a different bookshop where only the name connects it to Sylvia Beach. 

All in all, a very interesting book of which the three posts I have written contains just a fraction. Unfortunately, the book it is not translated.