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Showing posts from April, 2014

Spies by Michael Frayn

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This is a review also for Book beginnings on Friday. The third week of June, and there it is again: the same almost embarrassingly familiar breath of sweetness that comes every year about this time. I catch it on the warm evening air as I walk past the well-ordered gardens in my quiet street, and for a moment I’m a child again and everything’s before me – all the frightening, half-understood promise of life. This is the beginning of this wonderful book by Michael Frayn. Frayn is a very active writer and has written both fiction, plays and for television. His prose is simple but beautiful and very descriptive. The story is simple but he still manages to keep you attention all through the book and it is even difficult to put it down because you think there will be a rational explanation in the end. The two boys Keith and Stephen are best friends, living in the same street and only having each other. Stephen is the old man in the introduction above who goes back to his ch

Blog talk #3 – The Seven Wonders of the World

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Hanging Gardens of Babylon The last evening in Mallorca before going back to Brussels I was looking for a book to just go through quickly. I ended up with The Seven Wonders of the World by John & Elisabeth Romer. The Seven Wonders of the World has always fascinated me, as well as, I am sure, a lot of other people. Today we speak of modern wonders and they sure exist. The Great Wall for example, the Terracotta army in Xian in China, Taj Mahal in India and a lot of other fantastic constructions. But the Seven Wonders  of the antiquity keep holding a special place in peoples’ heart.  Temple of Artemis Everyone has heard of each of the Seven Wonders of the World, but few have seen all of them for themselves. To do so one has to go abroad to Persia, cross the Euprates river, travel to Egypt, spend some time among the Elians in Greece, go to Halicarnassus in Caria, sail to Rhodes, and see Ephesus in Ionia. Only if you travel the world and get worn out by the effort of the j

Raixa, Mallorca

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Raixa Raixa is a manor house that traces its beginnings back to the Islamic times when it most likely was a farmstead. The development of the house came when the first count of Montenegro, Ramon Despuig i Rocaberti, bought Raixa in 1660. It then became a family home. The house was expanded over the next century. The most important persons to the development of the house were the brothers Joan and Antoni Despuig i Dameto . Joan (1735-1813) was the fourth count of Montenegro and the seventh count of Montoro. His brother Antoni (1745-1813) followed an ecclesiastical career and was appointed Cardinal by Pope Pio VII in 1803. He was the one who had ambitions for Raixa and was a patron and collector of art and antiques during his stay in Italy. He also sponsored excavations near Rome. With the finds, which he transferred to Raixa, he established a museum in the house. He is also the man behind the carved, terraced garden that lingers along the hill on the back of the house. It was dec

The Quiet Flame by Phililp Kerr

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This is a review also for Book beginnings on Friday This is a book I picked up at the wonderful second hand bookshop in Palma. It turned out to be a 5 points/stars/coffee cups or whatever book. I must admit I have never heard of Philip Kerr before, but I will be eager to read more books by him. This is a very different crime fiction with a fascinating story against historical backdrops before and after the Second World War which takes place in Germany and Argentina. The boat was the SS Giovanni, which seemed only appropriate given the fact that at least three of its passengers, including myself, had been in the SS. It was a medium-sized boat with two funnels, a view of the sea, a well-stocked bar, and an Italian restaurant. This was fine if you liked Italian food, but after four weeks at sea at eight knots all the way from Genoa, I didn’t like it and I wasn’t sad to get off. Either I’m not much of a sailor or there was something wrong with me beyond the company I was keeping these

‘La Casa de Robert Graves’

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One of the most famous writers to have lived in Majorca  was Robert Graves. His house is now a wonderful museum and here a report from there.  Robert Graves was an English poet, novelist and classical scholar. Mostly known for his books I, Claudius and Claudius the God he was also a renowned poet. He had to write the books to make a living. In 1929 Graves left England with his then mistress, Laura Riding. His wife and four children stayed behind. He found a place that he loved in Deià, in Majorca and has made this village known as a place for writers and artists even today. Many famous people visited him here both from the literary world and the film industry. He built a lovely house, overlooking the sea, surrounded by a wonderful garden, which is now a beautiful museum, La Casa de Robert Graves, or Ca N’Alluny, which is the Spanish name. (Yes, a lot of positive adjectives, at least I managed to use three different).

Archduke Ludwig Salvator and his Majorca

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Son Marroig is a house that originally dates from late medieval times. It is built on a hill on the rocky northwest coast of Majorca with a magnificent view over the sea. To this place came a young archduke of the Habsburg family, Ludwig Salvator, 19 years old. He fell high over heel in love with the place. What started out, as a love for the beauty of the place became an overwhelming interest in everything Mallorquín . He learned the dialect and chronicled the island’s topography, archeology, history and folklore in detail. He became quite an expert and wrote many books about the island. One of the most important one is ‘The Balearics’ which took him 20 years to write. His scientific work has contributed to the knowledge of Mediterranean geography and he was playing a leading role in environmental issues such as conserving the coastline of his estates. He was thus far ahead of his time. It is said that he spoke 14 languages. His interest in all things scientific and especially in

Sedition by Katharine Grant

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This will be a very short review. For the first time ever I think, I can not form an opinion about a book. The summary of the book sounded good enough. Four fathers in 1794 England decides to arrange a concert with their 5 daughters in order to get them married. A pianoforte is bought (reluctantly for some reason from the maker) a French teacher is hired (although he is hired by the pianoforte maker to seduce the girl as well and then destroy them for future husbands). The harelipped daughter of the pianoforte maker wants to kill all the girls since she is in love with the teacher. One or two of the daughters have other plans. Does it sound confusing? Yes rather, but this is only the beginning. All characters are different this I have to give credit for, but it is still not very engaging. The sexy bits try to cover the whole spectrum of sexuality and it just becomes too much. I am not able to see any reason for the persons behaving as they are. The story is unexpected here and there

A Winter in Mallorca by George Sand

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Majorca has always been a popular place to visit, partly because of its climate. The winters especially are very pleasant. However, the beauty of the island is also a reason to visit. The most famous tale of the winter time is George Sand’s A Winter in Mallorca . She came here with her lover Frederick Chopin during the winter 1838-39. It was said that the climate would be good for his tuberculosis. Unfortunately, this was not one of the best winters. It was cold and humid and in those days there was not much heating to talk about. The couple finally rented cells in the Carthusian monastery in Valldemossa and thus made this little village famous. The monastery, which today is a museum, hosts the cells where the couple was staying. There is a slight confusion on which cells they were using. Cells 2 and 4 claims to be the ones they were staying in, but a visitor says he visited them in cells 4 and 5. One of the cells contains the Pleyel piano, which is the actual piano that Chopin was

Twilight in Italy

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It has been a little bit quiet on this blog for a while. It is because I have been travelling. We went with friends to wonderful Tuscany in Italy over Easter, to enjoy the landscape, history, food, wine and culture. It is many years since we were there so it was really nice to come back. We flew to Pisa where a rented car took us south to the area of Montalcino. Yes, famous for the Brunello wines! This is the square in Volterra When my husband mentioned that we could pass by Volterra (where we never visited before) I realized that I also had a higher cause for this trip than just enjoying food and wine. That makes it necessary to confess that I am a fan of the Twilight books and movies! I resisted a long time to watch the first movie but when I did I was lost. Probably the romantic in me. Volterra, is the home to the Volturi, the ‘royal family’ of the vampires. As fans know, in the second book, New Moon, Edward goes there on his suicidal mission. It is beautifully filmed, startin

World Book Day today

Today is the World Book Day. What book would you like to give away on such a day? I would go for one of my favourite book The Garden of Evening Mists' by Tan Twan Eng. I am travelling so therefor not that many posts. But check out, there will be several from a trip to Tuscany and much more.

Book Talk # 2

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I read in the paper this morning that the Pulitzer prize for 2014 has been announced. Congratulations to Washington Post and The Guardian for the Public Service prize. In the Literature category The Goldfinch  by Donna Tartt won the prize for Fiction. I loved her book The Secret History  but haven't read anything else by her. Although this is on my reading list. Have you read it? What do you think? Other winners are Drama The Flick  by Annie Baker History The Internal Enemy. Slavery and War in Virginia, 1772-1832 by Alan Taylor Biography or Autobiography Margaret Fuller: A New American Life by Megan Marshall Poetry 3 Sections by Vijay Seshadri General Nonfiction Toms River: A story of Science and Salvation by Dan Fagin   Can't say I have heard about any of them, but I am sure they are all good. Anybody who knows? I am not always 100% for books that win prizes. For the Man Booker Prize as you know who follow me here, I am not too fond of the winners. I guess that

A visit to Keukenhof in Holland to enjoy the Tulips!

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During our 17 years in Brussels we have never visited Keukenhof,  the Garden of Europe as it is known. Well, we actually passed by once but it was the wrong time of the year so we didn't see any flowers. Mid-April (depending on the weather as always is the best time to go there to see the tulips but also a lot of other flowers. On top of this I can tell you that we were not alone. It is amazing to see all these people in all different angles, standing, leaning, bending, kneeing, sitting, lying and I don't know what angle to try to get a good photo of the flowers. People use not only cameras (some bring their tripods with them so it looks really professional) but also ipads and smart phones. It seems to be a mecca for photographers. Well, we took a few photos as well. My husband did most and he tends to inflate them. But that is the luxury of the digital photo cameras today. I delete some of them discreetly afterwards! Flowers in various arrangements Keukenhof means '

John Dollar by Marianne Wiggins

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This is a review also for Book beginnings on Fridays hosted by Rose City Reader . They appeared with the sun at their backs on the rest of the hill after daybreak, black figures, threading their way towards the sea through the grey rocks and heather into the town of St. Ives. The old Indian descended first, leading the donkey on a tether; Charlotte rode across the donkey's back. Charlotte's hair had gone from gold to white when she was rescued from the island years ago, and it fell around her now, wild and full and loose, because the Indian had thought it looked its best that way. I grabbed this book in a haste from my TBR shelves. It seemed the perfect size, perfect size of letters (yes, I have difficult reading too small scripts these days!) and it had been with me since 1989! At least I think so, because I can remember I bought it when it came out and it is printed in 1989. 25 years and what a waste for a fascinating book! I was hooked from the first paragraph and chapt

The Paris Wife by Paula McLain

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I have a weakness for historical fiction and even more when it is about a well known person. Lately, I read Freud's Mistress  and now I found another good one about Hemingway and his first wife Hadley Richardson, The Paris Wife  by Paula McLain. It is told from Hadley's point of view and retells the story how they met, married and went to Paris to live during the roaring twenties. Well, it was not that roaring for them, Hemingway struggling to write his first novel and surviving by working as a journalist. They still managed to travel around in Europe, visiting Italy, Austria, Spain especially Pamplona, San Sebastien, Madrid in Hemingway's quest for bull fights. They travelled with friends, other artists, writers, painters and others who always seemed to be drawn to each other in those days. The Spanish visits was the base for one of his his first books (and by some considered as one of his best)  The Sun Also Rises.  Living with an artist is probably not that easy and

Spice - The History of a Temptation by Jack Turner

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This has been a slow, quiet day and I did not feel like doing anything more than read. After lunch (sushi) and being a sunny day I ventured outside to finish off  Spices , with a cup of coffee and a wafer. Turned out to be rather windy though, so had to go inside after finishing the coffee. Well, the sofa in the living room, on which the sun was shining seemed like a good alternative. I have read this book for quite some time. All in all it is an interesting book. The beginning was really exciting when Turner tells us about the quest for spices and the search for India where the spices were supposed to grow. We follow Columbus' several trips to America. He could not be convinced that he had not found India, in spite of the fact that they did not find any spices. They did find chillies which later on became a very popular spice. Vasco da Gamas' route in 1497-99 where they came to Calicut in India and what seems to have been the most dangerous and terrible trip of them all; Mag

Book talk # 1

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Inspired by some other blogs I will introduce this regular talk. That is, hopefully at least 2-3 times a week or when there is something that has caught my eye and I want to share with you. The Swedish blog Finsalongen   said on 13 March that she is looking for something when she is reading, not having found out exactly what it is and if it is possible to define it exactly. Now she thinks she found it - she is after an intellect, a way of seeing, experience, perceive and pass on. The story is almost unimportant. Personally, I disagree. For me, the story is the most important thing in a book. This is the one that keeps you stuck, that wants to make you turn another page and eagerly await the end. A good story stays with you long after the book is finished. There can be beautiful language, interesting characters, high flying words, but if the story is not there...well, then it is not enough. What do you think? Do you have any ideas about this? Spring coming up so I want to share wi

The Infernal World of Branwell Brontë by Daphne du Maurier

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Daphne du Maurier is mostly known for her novels (Rebecca, Frenchman's Creek and a lot of others), but she has actually written some non-fiction books as well. She was asked to write a new introduction to the new edition of Wuthering Heights  in 1954 and so she went to Haworth. During her visit there she got intrigued by Branwell and could not understand why he had been ignored by Brontë researchers. From Margaret Forster's excellent biography of Dahpne du Maurier we find the following note: (it) gave her the opportunity to test herself in a way she had, in fact, always wnated to do. There was a good deal of the scholar manqué in Daphne, in spite of her frequent claims to have a butterfly mind. As it was, she was prepared to teach herself by trial and error... Du Maurier has a lot of sympathy for Branwell, which of course is a must if you are writing a biography. Having read some Brontë biographies (for example the excellently The Brontës  by Juliet Barker) there was no

Harvest by Jim Crace

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This is a book I read for my book club. We meet once a month in a nice restaurant in Brussels called 'Carpe Diem' to discuss a chosen book, in this case Harvest by Jim Crace. Here a summary: It is the end of the summer, the end of the barley harvest and the villagers are preparing a feast to celebrate the harvest. Three outsiders, two men and a mysterious woman arrive on the woodland borders and put up a camp. The same night, the local manor house is set on fire and the outsiders are blamed, although the village people know that some of the villagers themselves did it. The men are punished and the woman disappears. The present owner to the manor has hired a land surveyor to draw a map of the land. It is hinted that there will be a change from farming barley to keeping sheep. Then the new owner (a relative of the present one) arrives from the city with his men and creates a turmoil in the regulated village life. Three women are accused of witch craft. The safe and regulated life

Brussels Brontë Group events this spring

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Here is something more for Brontë fans; quite a lot these days, but have patience other writers will have a say here as well. The Brussels Brontë group organises two events per year (normally in March/April and October) with lectures on anything to do with the Brontës and their time (for info have a look at the www.thebrusselsbrontegroup.org). During the last years there has been an added event in February where one of our members shares his/her special interest in the Brontës. Many of the people in this group are very creative and we see calligraphy, drawings, painting, blogging (not me but that's how I started!), research etc. This February one of our Dutch members, Eric Ruijssenaars , took us on a virtual tour in the Isabelle quarters in Brussels where the 'Pensionnat Heger' where Charlotte and Emily used to live, study and spend their free time betweeen 1842-43. His interest has generated two books about the Isabelle quarters; Charlotte Brontë's Promised Land

Book of Days - a calendar with the history of the Brontës

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This is a lovely book produced by Brontë Parsonage Museum. Friends gave it to me a while ago. It is a calendar with the notes on what the Brontës did on certain dates. Not all days are filled naturally, but for each day I will reveal little by little the history of the Brontës. It will published under the label  Brontëmania  so look out for it there. Here is the first entry. 1 April 1841. Branwell was appointed Clerk-In-Charge at Luddenden Foot Station. Next entry will be 4 April.

Beautiful libraries!

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Yesterday I talked about beautiful book stores. I am sure there are a lot more out there that I don't even know about. In my search for the book stores I ran into some beautiful pictures of libraries from Flavorwire . Here are some to enjoy by photographer Christoph Seelbach . National Library in Wien Here follows beautiful college libraries University of Coimbra, General Library, Coimbra, Portugal and here   public libraries      American entrepreneur Jay Walker's private library And here is the city library in Karlskrona, Sweden, built in 1959. I can not say it is in the same league as the other libraries shown here, but it is modern, airy and with a nice atmosphere. Does any of you have favourite libraries?

The most beautiful book stores in the world?

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A couple of years ago the Guardian had a request to readers to propose what could be the most beautiful book shop in the world. They were inspired by Flavorwire  who made a list of the 20 most beautiful book stores in the world (click link to see list).  Of this list my favourite seven would be: Selexyz Bookstore, Maastricht, Holland Livraria Lello, Porto, Portugal Cook & Book, Brussels, Belgium Librería El Ateneo Grand Splendid, Buenos Aires, Argentina Cafebreria El Pendulo, Mexico City, Mexico Shakespeare & Company, Paris, France Bart’s Books, Ojai, California I love coming in to these kind of book stores. Unfortunately, they are not that common anymore. The idea that you have a café or restaurant in the book store where you can borrow a book and read or look in while you are drinking your coffee, maybe find a fellow soulmate who loves books and have a nice talk. Of the book stores above I have only been to Cook & Book in Brussels and it is really lovely. Each