Tuesday, 27 October 2015

Still Life With Murder (Nell Sweeney Mysteries) by P.B. Ryan

The Content ReaderBeing in Mallorca my reading habits is slightly different. More like; you take what you have. I do have a small library here, but most of the books I have already read, but there are of course still some. It would not be me if there wasn’t a TBR shelf or two!

Then there is the iPad where I save books for a day when no actual paper books are appealing. Being on a holiday it is nice with some easy going novels to spend the days in the sun. I subscribe to some newsletters who offers free or very cheap books. Most of the time they are not appealing to me, but from time to time there is a gem. Like this one!

I hadn’t heard of neither the book of the author, but the summary sounded interesting. A detective story set in Boston in the latter half of the 19th century. With a bold and intelligent woman as the heorine and the black sheep of one of the old families as the hero, and, taking place in a historical setting… was too much for me to resist. And what a wonderful, very thrilling story, taking you towards an end which you could not imagine until the very end. It was only when I came to the end that I realised that this is a series of six books!

Thursday, 22 October 2015

The President’s Hat by Antoine Laurain

The Content ReaderThis book was read by many during the Paris in July 2015 challenge, and with raving reviews. I had put it on my to-read list and was therefore happy when I found it recently at the Book festival in Brussels. On Tuesday, on my way to Mallorca, I finished it during the two hour flight. An easy read and very entertaining.

Wonderful story of the president’s hat, that is President Francois Mitterand. He forgets his hat in a brasserie in Paris, and Daniel Mercier, who dines at the table next to the President, finds it and takes it with him. Very soon he notices that the hat seems to have hidden powers. He acts totally out of character and achieves things he only dreamed of before. He realises it is the hat that makes him make decisions that changes his life in a positive way.

One day he forgets the hat on the train and is devastated. The hat is taken by someone else and her life is also changed. And so it goes…the hat makes stop overs with persons who are at cross roads in their life. The persons are not happy with their lives, but don’t have the energy, or, don't know how to change it.

It is a thought provoking book and it has a twist in the end which I like very much. One of these books that just gives you a positive feeling and hope for the future. Although the persons described in the book are totally different, Laurain manages to make us understand them and hope the best for them. It is written in a low tone which contrasts very well with the excitement of the individual stories. Highly recommended.

In my edition there is an interview with Antoine Laurain and one of the questions is:
"There are other real-life characters and actual events featured in the novel. Do you enjoy mixing the fictional and the real?
Very much. It’s a fundamental part of creative writing and especially so in the case of The President’s Hat. Some readers have even asked me if it was a true story! Perhaps it really did happen, without anyone knowing."

Sunday, 18 October 2015

Frankfurt Book Fair, 2015

Just back from two days at the Frankfurt Book Fair. It was amazing! Imaging going around a huge area with books everywhere. Well, we were not the only ones, and from time to time you really had to squeeze through people. That was, naturally, where the German speaking books were. When you entered into the international areas it was more space to move around. We covered most of what we wanted to see on Saturday and the rest we looked at today. I will write a few more posts about some of the interesting features, but here a small summary.

The Content Reader
On Saturday we were early! Not so many people at this time

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Lots of Halls - 1 - 11, we only visited some of them!
We started out at Hall no 3 where the German speaking books were. The Hall held a variety of fiction, and being Germany a lot, and I mean a lot of thrillers. They seem to be very popular. Other fiction both German and translations, books about travels, nature, cooking, gardening and much more.

The Content Reader
A German stand
There were several Halls covering international books; a huge area for Asian books with a lot of lovely stands; Indonesia was in focus during this years' Fair; European books where most countries of Europe were represented; then of course the English speaking world which covered two floors!

The Content Reader
The inner yard of the area
One floor of Hall 4 covered scientific and educational books. I will come back later to what was on offer here. Some great features for modern learning. A lot of new web applications for self publishing and other apps that are interesting for a book worm. Martin was looking at a few more halls, while I was resting my feet and having a nice Indian lunch. A lot of walking; from nine a.m. to nine p.m in principal! After a dinner, typical of the region, we headed back to our airbnb and had an early night.

This morning we were at the Fair at ten a.m. and were ready at around 2.30 p.m. On the Sunday, which is the last day, some of the publishers sell their books. Some people, the 'professional' ones I presume, come with small trolleys to carry the books! At the very end we bought two gardening and herb books and some beautiful, different kind of book marks. Pictures and more about that later.

Frankfurt is around four hours drive from here, so not so bad. However, I am feeling a little tired so I am heading for another, early night. There are so many things we have seen during these two days, so it takes a little bit of time to digest.

Thursday, 15 October 2015

Book festival in Brussels

From today and until Sunday, the annual book festival takes place in the exhibition area, north of Brussels. I went there today to have a look at what they are offering this year. I spent two and a half hours there, and managed to buy 14 books and a lot of scrapbooking material. I really tried to control myself as regards the number of books. In reality I bough nine books to read. The other five goes under the category "junk journals". Yes, this is my latest obsession. By chance I came into some videos on Youtube and once having looked at some of them, and the tutorials, I am stuck. So, five of the books will be made into journaling books. Here is a list of the books I bought (for reading) with a summary.  Quite wonderful book and I am excited to have found them.

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Four of them are non-fiction:
The Disinherited - The Exiles Who Created Spanish Culture by Henry Kamen:
Henry Kamen's The Disinherited is the most significant and enjoyable book on Spain to appear for many years. He creates a picture of a dysfunctional, violent country that, since the destruction of the last Moslem territories in Granada in 1492, has expelled wave after wave of its citizens in a brutal attempt to create religious and social conformity. Moslems, Jews, Protestants, Liberals, Socialists and Communists were all driven abroad at different times, and consequently what we think of as Spanish culture was substantially their invention - a creative response both to having no home and to the shock of encountering new worlds.

Tuesday, 13 October 2015

Highgate Cemetery, East side

The East side of the Cemetery is less pretentious, but not less beautiful. Since you are allowed to walk around by yourself, you can take your time, enjoy the greenery and the old grave stones and tombs, hear the birds sing and get into a contemplative mood!

© The Content Reader

© The Content Reader

I had already looked out a few graves to visit, but we started just behind the entrance and walked south and then back up north again. I hope the photos will give you an idea of the peaceful surroundings.

© The Content Reader

While checking the map I spotted two Austrians buried here (my husband is Austrian so it seemed a good idea, no Swedes there unfortunately) Carl Mayer, author, mostly known for co-writing the screen script to the 1920s classic, silent movie The Cabinet of Dr Caligari's. According to Wikipedia:

Sunday, 11 October 2015

Audrey Niffenegger and Highgate Cemetery

Some years ago I read an interview with Audrey Niffenegger in connection with her latest book Her Fearful Symmetry (all quotes below from the book). The novel takes place in and around the Highgate Cemetery in London. Reading this book made me very curious on this burial ground, of which I was not aware of before. It was therefore high on my list during my last visit to London. And it does not disappoint.

The Content Reader
The entrance to the West Cemetery
There were a lack of burial ground in and around London in the mid-19th century. Stephen Geary, architect and entrepreneur bought the land and established the cemetery in 1839. However, it is not one ordinary cemetery; he constructed tombs and buildings where people could buy burial grounds for their whole family. The area, today very lush and at places overtaken by vegetation, is a fantastic, wonderful place to walk around in. In 1854, the west side of the cemetery became too small so an eastern part was bought and added to it. To solve the problem with transporting the coffins after services (there is a road in-between the two sides), they dug a tunnel under it and problem solved. On the East side you can walk around by yourself, but the West side is only accessible by a guided walk, well worth to take.
"The Victorians had created Highgate Cemetery as a theatre of mourning, a stage set of eternal repose."

Thursday, 8 October 2015

The Fourth King by Glen Petrie

I have finished another book from my TBR shelves. It is from 1986, so has been there for some time! It is a mystery how some books stays so long on the shelves without being read. This one especially, since it is a historical novel, which I love. This novel tells the story of Alexander Pushkin, considered by many to be Russia's greatest poet (I actually have a book with his poems, so now seems the time to read them as well) and his marriage to one of the most beautiful women of the time, Nataliya Nikolaevna Goncharova.

The Content ReaderThe novel starts with a Pushkin in exile. It seems he was at odds with the Tsar, Nicholas I, during most of his life. However, he is invited to come back to St Petersburg and meets for the first time Nataliya. She is only 13 years old, but he is fascinated and lost. They marry four years later. The novel mostly lingers on their married years. Pushkin is a man of the world, had many love interests and was a very experienced man. Nataliya is an innocent girl, having grown up in a family from the higher echelons of society, but somehow fallen down due to improper behaviour of the parents, plus lack of funds. Pushkin is not the first choice of either Nataliya or her mother, but in the end they both accept his proposal. This is a time when Pushkin feels ready to settle down and raise a family. Nataliya, on the other hand,  is overwhelmed coming into society, attending balls, flirting, dancing and the excitement of being close to the imperial family. She is so much younger than him and her life is just starting. Although warned by friends of Pushkin, to be careful since gossiping comes easy to this circle, she continues on a path on which there is no return. Her actions, as well as Pushkin's pride, lead to the cold, devastating January morning in 1837, when Pushkin is deadly wounded in a duel with his rival, Baron d'Anthès.

The book mostly covers the relationship between Pushkin, his wife and the supposed lover. Pushkin is troubled by his work (censorship and difficulties to write what he wants to write), money to pay for the lavish lifestyle, Nataliya's family, his own family and friends. But we meet many more people surrounding Pushkin and there are some surprises along the way. I don't know so much about Pushkin's life, so it is difficult to say where this historical novel is dealing with facts and fiction. Having read a little bit on the net, the grand design of the novel seems to relate to real events. Glen Petrie, has introduced a conspiracy by 'enemies' of Pushkin which I am not sure has any relevance in real life, but who knows. The writing feels genuin so I imagine that it is well researched. However, it makes for an exciting latter part of the book, and it is first here that the novel becomes a bit of a page turner.

Glen Petrie, is a historian, teacher and journalist (I think; it is difficult to find much information about him) and has written many books. This is well worth a read if you love historical fiction about real life characters. You get a hint of Russia at the time, but there is no in-depth story of either Pushkin, Nataliya or the Tsar, which supposedly is out of scope for a novel like this.

Petrie ends with an Epilogue and Afterword, which seems a summary of facts. The Epilogue is entitled "For many years to come I shall be beloved by the ordinary people", and this is probably no understatement. The Afterword is entitled "The great and good Pushkin should have had a wife who understood him better".  History can be very hard on people like Nataliya. Especially if they are married to a 'hero' of some kind and is not able to live up to the high standards that are set. Nataliya left for the countryside after Pushkin's death, but came back to St Petersburg and the social scene some years later. It is rumoured that she was the mistress of Tsar Nicholas, although he never formally acknowledged it. Petrie says though, that "there can be no doubt whatever that Tolstoy modelled Anna Karenina on her, and particularly his heroine's unflawed beauty and restless, suspicious unhappiness in Book Seven of the novel".

Last but not least, the word is Nataliya's.
"Her children of both marriages reported her as being an unhappy woman. Her youngest daughter - by Peter Lanskoy - recalled her saying shortly before her death in 1863, at the age of fifty-one, "They say people should never speak evil of the dead, but I know I shan't be allowed any peace, even in my grave."

Wednesday, 7 October 2015

43 Books You Won’t Be Able To Stop Talking About

Over at BuzzFeed Books they asked subscribers to their newsletter which books they could not stop talking about. The answers resulted in a list of 43 books, which really cover the whole range of genre books from Classics to modern YA fantasy. Head over to Buzz Feed Books (link above) to get a summary of each book.

For us with a huge number of TBR books it is difficult to look at such a list, because it is so tempting to read all the books. I guess they have to go on the To Read list instead. A book that seems very popular, considering the many and raving reviews from other bloggers, have ended up as No. 1;  A Little Life by Hanya Yanigahara. This is a must it seems. From the list I find four books that I have read; Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë, 1984 by George Orwell, The Secret History by Donna Tartt and Cutting For Stone by Abraham Verghese. L.P. Hartley's classic The Go-Between is waiting on my TBR shelves.

1. A Little Life by Hanya Yanigahara
2. Mystic River by Dennis Lehane
3. Modern Romance by Aziz Ansari
4. The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern
5. The Complete Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi
6. Bird Box by Josh Malerman
7. Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen by Christopher McDougall
8. Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas
9. Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates
10. I’ll Give You The Sun by Jandy Nelson
11. The Girl With All The Gifts by M.R. Carey
12. The Go-Between by L.P. Hartley
13. The Darkest Child by Delores Phillips
14. Shatter Me by Tahereh Mafi
15. Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë
16. Unwind by Neal Shusterman
17. Sea of Poppies by Amitav Ghosh
18. First They Killed My Father: A Daughter of Cambodia Remembers by Loung Ung
19. The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater
20. The Rise and Fall of Great Powers by Tom Rachman
21. Giovanni’s Room by James Baldwin
22. The Art of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo
23. Forbidden by Tabitha Suzuma
24. Death with Interruptions by José Saramago
25. The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros
26. The Good Girl by Mary Kubica
27. Ghost Boy: The Miraculous Escape of a Misdiagnosed Boy Trapped Inside His Own Body by Martin Pistorius
28. 1984 by George Orwell
29. Veronika Decides to Die by Paulo Coelho
30. Defending Jacob by William Landay
31. A Constellation of Vital Phenomena by Anthony Marr
32. Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng
33. Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell
34. Animal Dreams by Barbara Kingsolver
35. Easy by Tammara Webber
36. The Murder of Roger Ackroyd by Agatha Christie
37. The Secret History by Donna Tartt
38. Cutting For Stone by Abraham Verghese
39. Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald by Therese Anne Fowler
40. House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski
41. Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel
42. Land of Love and Drowning by Tiphanie Yanique
43. Neapolitan Novels by Elena Ferrante

What about you? Have you read most of the books and do you agree that it is difficult to stop talking about them? Do you have other books that you cannot stop talking about. I agree about Wuthering Heights, The Secret History and Cutting for Stone. I am not so sure about 1984, although I read it many years ago and should maybe try it again. After all we are now closer to the times Orwell describes.

I also see some of my favourite writers in the list; Agatha Christie, Barbara Kingsolver, Paulo Coelho and José Saramago (of which I have one book on the TBR shelves, but have never read anything by him).

Tuesday, 6 October 2015

London revisited

The Content Reader
Me on the Cutty Sark
I have been to London this weekend. It is always such a treat. Lucky with the weather for two days at least, blue sky and sunshine, you could even sit outside to eat. Monday came with grey skies but we managed more or less to avoid more than a drip of rain.

My visits to London always comes with a well prepared list of things to see. My husband joined me this time and his wish was for Greenwich, which we visited on the grey Monday. We arrived Saturday afternoon, so just went for a walk down-town for some shopping. I wanted to buy the new iPhone, but alas, you had to order and wait for right one. That means I have to wait until it comes to Belgium, which will not be until around Christmas time. I managed to find a new calendar for my filofax and some stickers, and that was all. Walked back to our friend Richard's flat where we are luckily invited when in London. He lives in the Barbican, which is a terribly ugly building, today a protected one with very special architecture in concrete, but so central and convenient. In the evening we enjoyed a nice dinner at Cote Brasserie, in the neighbourhood.

Thursday, 1 October 2015

The Art of Hearing Heartbeats by Jan-Philipp Sendker

Just finished this amazing book which I bought during my last sejour in Sweden. When checking the original title I realised that the original book is in German. Jan-Philipp Sendker was a foreign correspondent for German magazine Stern in the nineties (from 95-99 in Asia). In 2002 he wrote this book entitled Das Herzenhören.

It such a beautifully written book about the most important thing in life, love. In our busy world we tend to forget that, and we are stressing through the 'squirrel wheel' to achieve more and more. If you want to stop for a moment and reflect, you just have to read this book.

It is difficult to make a summary of the story without spoiling it for new readers.  It is developing in a way that surprises you all the time. Just a few hints of the story. Tin Win (originally from Burma) is a very successful Wall Street lawyer. One day, he is retired by this time, he leaves the flat in the morning not to return. Investigations show that he flew to Bangkok, but from there the track ends. Four years later, his daughter Julia, finds love letters her father wrote to a Mi Mi living in Burma. The curious thing is, the letters were never sent. She is somewhat shocked to find out that her father might have had a secret love affairs and curious why the letters were never sent. She has the address and decides to go looking for him.