Saturday, 28 February 2015

Book swapping - new books

Well, it seems I was too much into the problems with the Google+. I apologise to all of you who are pestered with my 'add to circles', probably too many times. Hopefully, now it works all right. So, I simply forgot to tell you what books I swapped. Here they are:

Sashenka by Sebastian Sebag Montefiore. I love his history books, I have two that I have not yet read about Stalin and Jerusalem. I read the book about Potemkin which is absolutely fascinating. Could just not stop reading.

Fatal Voyage by Kathy Reichs. I have read one of her books before, and I liked it very much. Of course I am a fan of Bones, and this series is based on Reichs' books. A must read that it.

Daughter of Fire by Barbara Erskine. This is one of these 'connected reading' book. I am now reading, hope to finish by tonight, a book about the Celts. this book there is a chapter on female queens of the Celts time, Cartimandua. Just when I am reading this book, I stumple upon this fictional book by Erskine. Fantastic!

Kristin Lavransdotter by Sigrid Undset is a classic which I have not yet read. So it is about time and I was really happy to find this book.

The Untouchable by Gerald Seymour rings a bell. I think I have read about this book on one of the many blogs I am following. Seems like a great suspense novel.

Looking forward to read these books one day. They are competing with all the other books on my TBR shelves!

Friday, 27 February 2015

Book swapping evening in Brussels

Every last Wednesday of the month there is a book swapping evening in a restaurant in the outskirts of Brussels. Karin is the energetic lady behind this initiative. I was there for the first time this Wednesday and was impressed. Quite a big room on top of a restaurant (very convenient if you are hungry after your book hunting!), filled with book cases and books orderly sorted by language, fiction and non-fiction and books for kids, dvds and cds as well. You bring some and take some.

I had gone through my book shelves and left around 25 books, and found six new ones. One I gave away to a friend, so I came home with five books. My husband was very happy!

Karin to the left, with a customer.
There were quite a few people who looked around and you heard - as always in Brussels - a lot of different languages from the rather big international community. This will be a recurring event for me. I will get back to you later on. Karin has promised that I can make an interview with her, to get the background to how it all started.

Me, Google+ and technicalities!

If you are already in my circles and I am in yours, and still you get a new request from me, please have patience. I am trying as best I can to organise things with my blog, myself and everything around me. The problem is, that the more I organise myself, the less organised I feel! I have now registered with so many 'tools' to help me in blog and life so I am totally confused. It takes time to learn how to use them, and I suppose I don't need five different type of calendars to keep me in order...or maybe I do?

Google+ to start with. I discovered that I had three different accounts, and the one I wanted to use was not used at all, because my circle for 'The Content Reader' was directed to somewhere else where there was no action.  Hopefully, now everything will be all right. Fingers crossed. I almost got a fit when I tried to log in to my blog after deleting the two Google+ pages, and it was not available because there was no Google+ profile. Well, luckily it was easily filled in and blog was back!

I found a web-site with 300 awesome free things to use for bloggers and other wild animals on the web! I probably downloaded half of them (just joking!). Some of them found their place under my bookmarks. Mostly for photoshopping photos without Photoshop and similar tools. Once going through them I deleted most of them. It always sounds so good, but of course it is not suitable for everyone. I think I have to downgrade to just the necessary things and try to learn how to use them.

My idea is also to try to improve the layout of my blog. What will happen there is still to be seen and might turn into nothing. All of a sudden I don't get an e-mail when someone leaves a comment, which makes it difficult to follow. I am not aware of doing any changes to the comments. Furthermore, old comments pop up automatically, when I publish a new post???? Strange things are happening.

So, if there is a little bit of turbulence around 'The Content Reader' in the near future, you know the reason. Maybe have to rename the blog into 'The Confused Blogger'!

Happy blogging all of you and I will soon be back with some more positive posts.

Tuesday, 24 February 2015

Five Quarters of the Orange by Joanne Harris

My friend Malin gave me this book some time ago. It is by one of my favourite authors, Joanne Harris and she never disappoints you! Her books make you feel good and are always a pleasure to read. Often they tell a story about people a little bit special, and which have a past that affects their present life.

So also in this book, where Framboise Dartigen returns to her childhood home in the small village of Les Laveuses in France after fifty years. She grew up here with her mother, brother, and sister during the war. Here is the origin of the secret that has hung heavily over her and her siblings their whole life.

When their mother died she gave what little she had to be divided among the three siblings; the older brother Cassis inherited the house, the older sister, Reine-Claude, the wine cellar and Framboise herself received a photo album or more like a journal, and a huge truffle in oil. It seemed that she got away with the least valuable stuff, however, as the story evolves we realise that she made the big win.

Monday, 23 February 2015

Books coming my way!

Friends of mine were sorting out old books and kindly asked me if I wanted some of them. Never saying 'No' to such a request, I went through the books and found some very nice classics.

I have read Gone With the Wind, but none of the other. So, extending my TBR shelves with 17 books!

Thursday, 19 February 2015

Valentine card history - continuation

Last week I wrote a post about the background to the tradition of sending Valentine cards. If you remember, it is said, that the first Valentine card was sent in February 1477 from Margery Brews to John Paston. I can say that I was quite surprised when I started my Future Learning course with the University of Leicester on England at the time of Richard III, and looking at documents as sources to learn more about history, the name Paston turned up. Yes, it is one of the many Johns in the family that received this Valentine card from Margery Brews. They later married so the outcome was a happy one. Here is the text of what turns out to be two letters or cards (from The Project Gutenberg).

Tuesday, 17 February 2015

Top Lists of 100 best novels of ...

There are a lot of lists of the 100 top best novels of different kinds. Rose City Reader provided two; one from Modern Library and one from Erica Jong (female writers). Interesting books on both lists, so I decided to check whether I had read any of these important books.

Not so  far, I am afraid to say:  from the list of female writers I have read 12 and have another 4 on my TBR shelves, which means they will be read soon (haha?!). From the other list I have read 17 and have 12 on my TBR shelves. You can see here which the books are (green read and blue TBR shelves). And the rest...are there to be read too! One of these days!

Monday, 16 February 2015

Future Learning - Richard III

I have enrolled in an on-line course with Future Learning at the University of Leicester. The theme is England in the Time of King Richard III . The course will explore 15th century England through archaeology, history and literature. You will also learn how people lived at the time. It also includes the discovery of his grave and the reburial that will take place in March. Just started today and since it is on-line it gives the participants an opportunity to exchange views and ideas. Just great. I still think you can enroll if you are interested (see link above).

Why Richard III? Well, it is a story where real life exceeds fiction. He has a very bad reputation to his name, and it is only recently that the research about his life and deeds has produced more diverse views. And you know what it is like sometimes when you hear a name or a place. Once you hear it, it keeps popping up all the time. With Richard III it started with Josephin Tey's The Daughter of Time. A detective trying to solve the riddle who murdered the princes in the Tower. You can read my review here.

Sunday, 15 February 2015

Valentine tradition!

Valentine Day celebration goes back many years. Already in the Medieval Ages the saint Sankt Valentine was celebrated. Nobody really know which Valentine is referred to, but the Catholic church started to celebrate a saint by that name, already in the 5th century. According to one of the several legends, Valentine was a christian living in Rome in the 3rd century. He was put in prison by emperor Claudius II, because he had ignored a law that forbade anyone to wed young couples. Before his execution he managed to smuggle a card to the prison keeper's daughter, whom he was in love with. According to legend this is the first Valentine card. He also is said to have picked flowers to give to the lovers that he wed, and from there comes this tradition.

During the Medieval times the Valentine day was a feast for young people in love, especially in France and England. There the custom of writing love letters was established. From 19th century and onwards there existed pre-printed Valentine cards. They were often decorated with silk and laces. The oldest Valentine card is from 1477 when Margery Brew sent a greeting to her beloved John Paston.

My Valentine treat

Valentine is not something we really celebrate. However, with all the 'halo' around it you can't escape it. I was surprised by my husband with a lovely bouquet of roses. That does not happen often so it was a real treat.

Since the sun was shining I bought some lovely tulips the other day. I just love tulips.

And...yesterday's dinner guest came with a lovely bouquet of flowers as well!

So, for this Valentine the house is full of flowers! Isn't that wonderful?

Thursday, 12 February 2015

A Daytrip to Antwerp

This morning the sun was shining for a change, so I decided to go to Antwerp, to visit a few more museums and churches. When I got closer I realised that Antwerp is grey and no sunshine. Hmm, should maybe have stayed in Brussels. However, later in the day the sun came out. Here some photos from the day.

From a private collector's museum Mayer van den Bergh. Lovely paintings and other collections. There were even some paintings from Brueghel (older and younger).

The Library

The wall paper of the library. Fantastic!

Wednesday, 11 February 2015

Vägen mot Bålberget (The Road Towards Bålberget) by Therése Söderlind

The English title is my own, direct translation of the Swedish title. This is a historical fiction about a witch hunt which took place in Sweden in the 17th century. It is somewhat a scary book on how these kind of matters were dealt with in the old days.

The book starts in the 1970s when Veronicas grandmother is dying. She tells her stories of older generations and that among their family, there was Malin who was accused of witch craft. Veronica and her father starts looking into the family tree and discover new things about their past. Veronica is not like other girls of her generation and she thinks that there must be something in the past that can give an explanation.

Here we leave Veronica to get the story of what happened in the 17th century. It is a miserable story of poverty, the way priests acted in those days, rules to follow and not being able to take control of your life. Sometimes the story was so miserable I could hardly read on. Just imaging the life that these people were living, it was a matter of life and death every season, every day. On top of this two young boys starts going around in the village, saying they can look at people, or women in this case, if they are witches or not. They somehow manage to collaborate with the priest and the next thing you know, around thirty women are accused of being witches and are locked in. Their own children are persuaded to testify against them and in the end most of them are burned.

Monday, 9 February 2015

The Master of Bruges by Terence Morgan

I bought this book because of the title with Bruges in it. This is one of the several, beautiful, medieval cities here in Belgium. At the time it was the Duchy of Burgundy. The book is a historical fiction about the german painter Hans Memling, who spent most of his life in Bruges.

We follow him from his apprentice years with the painter Rogier van der Weyden, his struggle to survive once van der Weyden dies, and how his luck is changed when Charles the Bold, Duke of Burgundy becomes his patron. He falls in love with the beautiful daughter of the Duke, Mary, and uses her as a model for many of his painted Virgin Marys. His life is forever entwined with the Duchy and it nearly cost him his life when the Duke insists on him painting the battle of Nancy which in the end was lost. By chance, he get's involved in hiding Edward and Richard, two York gentlemen who had to flee from England. Later on, he goes to England to finish a painting, started man years earlier for Sir John Donne, and gets involved in the intricate affairs of Edward IV, Richard III and the Princes of the Tower.

Hans Memling seems to be a man who is everywhere. As far as I can see, from reading about him, his life was not nearly as exciting as this book tells us. But it is an interesting historical touch and incorporates historical events happening at the time of Memling. The book also made me look a little bit more on his paintings, which seem fantastic. There is a Memling museum in Bruges and some of his paintings are also exhibited in the Art Museum in Antwerp. Two trips to do when the weather turns nicer.
Charles the Bold


It is funny how, sometimes, when you hear a name for the first time, it tends to pop up somewhere else rather quickly. This happened with Rogier van der Weyden, which seems to have been a rather well-known painter. This weekend me and my husband went to Leuven for a stroll in the old city. In the treasure chamber of the St Peter's church there was a triptych which was made after van der Weyden by an anonymous painter. I am sure he will ask for my attention soon again!

Sunday, 8 February 2015

All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

Author: Anthony Doerr
HarperCollins UK, HarperPress/
4th Estate/The Friday Project

Loads have been written about World War II, from many different angles. All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr is a lovely account from the view of two children; one French and one German. A mystery is woven into the story by the Sea of Flame, a mythical diamond.

The story is set over a ten year period from 1934-1944, continuing with the end of the war and ending with events in 1974 and 2014. It is a wonderful story of how the world changes the lives of two children when war is knocking on the door.

Werner Pfennig and his sister Jutta are growing up in an orphanage in Zollverein, a coal-mining complex outside Essen. Most people work for the mine and so did their father, who died in one of the many mining accidents.  The only prospect for Werner is to work there himself, which gives him nightmares. One day he finds a broken radio, takes it home and manage to repair it. As the years go by, he becomes an expert on electronic devices and is recruited by the Nazis, as rather young, to a school specialising in talented pupils in various areas. He is happy for this opportunity to do something else than mining, but as the years go by and the war starts, he sees how things develop in a way he does not like. By then it is too late to go back.

The Sea of Flame is a mythical diamond in the National Museum of Natural History in Paris. It is hidden behind thirteen doors, one smaller than the other. The story is, that it was found by a prince in Borneo, and with the stone in his hand, he survived a deadly blow. However, the longer the prince had the stone, the more bad things happened around him.

“The prince called together his father’s advisers. All said he should prepare for war, all but one, a priest, who said he’d had a dream. In the dream the Goddess of the Earth told him she’d made the Sea of Flames as a gift for her lover, the God of the Sea, and was sending the jewel to him through the river. But when the river dried up, and the prince plucked it out, the goddess became enraged. She cursed the stone and whoever kept it.”

When the Germans occupy France, the head of the museum sends three of this employees out of Paris with either a copy of the stone or the real one. Nobody knows, except the director, who has the real stone. Mr Le Blanc is one of these people.

Marie-Laure Le Blanc, whose mother died giving birth to her, lives with her father in Paris. He is the principal locksmith for the National Museum of Natural History, and as such in charge of all the keys to all locks in the museum. When Marie-Laure, together with other children, hears the story of the stone, she does not really believe it. One month later she is blind. To help her manage on her own, outside the house, her father builds a model of the area where they live in, with all the streets, houses etc. When she has learned from the model where everything is, her father takes her out into the streets. They have to flee Paris when the Germans come, and they go to relatives in Saint-Malo. Here the father builds her another model of the old city where they are staying.

With the occupation comes Mr von Rumpel, an expert on precious stones. He is dying of a tumour and is looking for the stone who can give him his life back. He tracks down the three emissaries and finally finds out who has the real stone.

The stories of Werner and Marie-Laure continues in flash backs through the years until they both end up in Saint-Malo on the French north-west coast. While reading I was questioning the flash backs. Why not just tell the story in chronological order? However, after ending the book, I realise that it makes the whole story more exciting, and when you catch up, there is always something that was not told earlier, so you are constantly taken on to new roads and developments.

This is a very well written book, with sensitive story telling, and a big eye for details and children’s thoughts. Although the stories we hear are terrible it never gets sentimental, not even in the end. It is beautifully written and wonderfully told with a dosis of thrill as well. This book will come down as one of my favourites. It also makes me curious on Anthony Doerr’s other books.

Thank you to HarperCollins UK, HarperPress/4th Estate/The Friday Project for giving me a review copy.

Wednesday, 4 February 2015

In the garden this morning!

The first snowdrops! (Galanthus)

Emma by Jane Austen

I have been totally down and out with a flew for almost a week. The only thing I could do was reading, which is the only positive thing coming out of it. And...believe it or not I managed to finish Emma which I have started several times. Maybe because I was so out, I did not even have the energy to irritate myself on the character! However, I must admit, that about halfway through the book, she somehow improves. There is also where the book becomes a little bit 'exciting', if I may use this word for a Jane Austen book.

This picture is from September 2014,
when I started the book.
This is a book about marriages, for everyone except for Emma, who has clearly stated that she can not marry since she has to take care of her father. Especially now when miss Taylor, Emma's governess since eight years, has married Mr Weston. Emma flatters herself that she has done the match to marry the two, and being rather unoccupied she decides that Mr Elton, the young vicar needs a wife. This is the start to a set of marriages to 'be or not to be'.

Sunday, 1 February 2015

L'herbe des nuits (Herb of the Night) by Patrick Modiano

As usual, you could almost say, the Nobel Prize winner in Literature in 2014, was not widely known. Patrick Modiano, is a French writer with around 30 books to his name. Some of his books were already translated into Swedish, but very few into English. I suppose that has or will change soon. The reason for the prize according to the Nobel Committee is "for the art of memory with which he has evoked the most ungraspable human destinies."

I thought that maybe this writer is a little bit more accessible than a lot of the others. So when my friend Lena asked if I wanted to borrow, 'Nätternas gräs' (L'herbe des nuits) I said yes. It is a short book, and it is about memory. Jean, the narrator, is a writer and he wanders around the streets of Paris and villages in the outskirts, to remember something that happened 40 years ago. He met Dannie, a mysterious woman, who at one point just disappeared. She befriended a crowd of various, also rather mysterious persons, bordering on criminality, or something else? Once they all disappeared from his view, the police contacted him about his connection to the group.

We follow Jean through the streets of Paris, and his notebook. He always makes notes about everything; name of cafés, streets, signs, shops, etc. While reading his notes 40 years later he is trying to find answers to what happened to Dannie and his own feelings for her.

It is an easy read, and I can really recommend it. The streets of Paris are nicely described, and we can follow along Jean's and Dannie's life at the time. When he happens to run into the police officer that once interrogated him, he gets a few more clues on Dannie. Jean's story is told in a matter of fact way, and without emotions, neither then nor now.  I would not mind reading another book by him. The Academy's Permanent Secretary Peter Englund suggest to start with one of Modiano's books that has been translated into English; Missing Persons.