Monday, 30 November 2015

First of advent and book launch

Yesterday was first of advent. We don't have a candle stick with four candles this year, which is customary in Sweden. In stead we settled for a 'christmas tree' candle that we received from Sally.

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In the afternoon we ignored the grey weather and headed down town to Waterstone to attend my friend Helen's book launch. Helen MacEwan is the founder of the Brussels Brontë Group and has written two earlier books about the Brontës; Down the Belliard Steps - Discovering the Brontës in Brussels, a book about how the group came together. Her second book is The Brontës in Brussels, a complete guide to Charlotte's and Emily's stay in Brussels and the places they visited.

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Her third book was inspired by her earlier books. While researching them she came upon the first biographer of the Brontës after Elizabeth Gaskell, Winifred Gérin. She is actually the only one who has written one book for each of the siblings, four altogether. Helen discovered that, not only was she a Brontë fan, but she had an amazingly exciting and varied life.

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Helen MacEwan
Helen gave us a short summary of Gérin's life, as well as all the detective work that was put in to find information about her, especially from her younger days. It took Helen two years to finalise the book, which included a lot of travel and visiting people who once met Gérin or have the papers she left behind. Can't wait to read this book. I got a signed copy of course!

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Helen signing books

Friday, 27 November 2015

'Bonjour Tristesse' and 'A Certain Smile' by Francoise Sagan

Two short books by famous French author Francoise Sagan. Bonjour Tristesse was her first book, written when she was only 18 years old. It is also her most famous book. Both books are about young love and complications. However banal that may sound, it is not banal at all. I was quite overtaken by both stories, they are very well written and you turn the page to see how the love stories will end.

Bonjour Tristesse is about 17 year old Cécile who lives with her father, the mother is dead. The father, Raymond, is a seductive, amorous man, with a string of mistresses coming and going. This story is mostly set in the south of France during some summer months. Elsa, the latest of the young mistresses, come to live with them in a rented villa. All is well. Cécile meets Cyril a neighbouring young man, and they fall in love with each other. In comes Anne Larsen, a woman the same age as Raymond, independent, self assured, intelligent and successful. Totally different from the usual women that hangs around. Very soon Raymond and Anne informs Cécile that they are going to get married. Anne is also a sort of guarding for Cécile and is trying to sort out, what she thinks, the too carefree life that Cécile and her father live. Cécile sees that their lives will be totally different with Anne around. She plots a scheme to separate Anne and Raymond and get Elsa back into their lives. It has devastating consequences.

A Certain Smile has a similar story, but this time Dominique is a law student and Bertrand, a fellow student, her boyfriend. One day he takes her to visit his aunt and uncle. The uncle, Luc, is a bohemian kind of man, well travelled and mentally on pair with Dominique’s mind. They are attracted to each other and manages to get away together to spend two weeks together in Cannes, where their relationship is confirmed. However, Luc, and in principal Dominique, know that it is only an affair and love has nothing to do with it. As the affair develops, Dominique realises that she is falling in love with Luc. When both Bertrand and Francoise (Luc’s wife) get to know about the affair it comes to an end. Luc is not changing his life and Dominique is devastated.
…Besides, I admired Luc. I could not help admiring his intelligence, his equilibrium, his virile way of giving to each thing its right weight and importance, without being either cynical or complacent. Sometimes in exasperation I wanted to say to him: ”Why can’t you love me? It would be so much more restful for me.” But I knew this was impossible. Ours was more an affinity than a passion, and neither of us could ever bear to be dominated by the other. Luc had neither the opportunity, the strength, nor the desire for a closer relationship.

He smiled mockingly. If i had shown him that I wanted it otherwise he would soon have changed his ’little girl and her protector’ attitude. Fortunately I felt quite adult, even rather blasé.
”No, ” I said, ”I feel perfectly responsible. But what am I supposed to be responsible for? There is only myself, and my own life, which, after all, is simple enough. Still, I am not unhappy, I’m sometimes even contented, but never really happy. I am nothing, except when I’m with you, and then I’m all right!”
Two excellent stories of love and relationships, told in a rather harsh, matter of fact way. You wonder where their feelings are? It seems to me that all the characters see love more as a means of living for the moment, rather than deeper feelings that, with the years, will evolve into something steady and truthful. Two novels, that are still interesting to read today. After all, love is universal through times.

Thursday, 26 November 2015

The Human Factor by Graham Greene

I am almost ashamed to say that this is my first book by Graham Greene. A classic spy thriller in the same fashion as John Le Carré. The set-up is classic:  a small unit in MI6, a leak and a search for the traitor.

Our man, Maurice Castle, is close to retirement. His only post abroad was in South Africa some years back.  Now he is back in London. During his years in South Africa, a local girl was working as one of his sources. He fell in love and he managed, with some difficulty, to get her and her son out of there. They married and are living a quiet life in a suburb to London. Living exactly like everybody else in the street, not to stick out, always to hide their real business. Their whole life is an artificial one, but at least they have each other.

The leak has been connected to the African section where Castle works. He jokes about it with his colleague Davis, and they don't take it too seriously to start with.  Things are moving very slowly forwards. In parallel we follow Castle and Davis and several of these mysterious, secret men in typical British outfits, meeting at their clubs, seeming not to have any friends, and often, no family. The move around in a world of their own, not connected to the world around them. The situation takes a turn to the worst when one of the colleagues is found dead.

This is not an action filled book, but there is tension on every page. It is an amazing story in all its simplicity, but so well told that you are turning the pages to see how it ends. The spy world is a harsh world and there is no mercy for traitors. Or is there?

Graham Greene approaches his story with love and care and with very small means he shows us that not everything is ’black and white’ in the espionage world.  The story has so many layers, that in the end we ask ourselves what was wrong really? More can not be revealed without spoiling the story.

I have two more books on my shelves by Graham Greene; Our Man in Havanna and Travels With My Aunt. They are both supposed to be good, so I have something to look forward too.

Wednesday, 25 November 2015

Have Mercy On Us All (Pars vite et reviens tard) by Fred Vargas

The Content ReaderThe first book I read by Fred Vargas was ’The Chalk Circle Man’. A different kind of ”inspector solves murder” kind of book. So happy when someone in the book club suggested another title of hers, Have Mercy On Us All. Fred Vargas is a pseudonym for Frédérique Audoin-Rouzeau, a French historian, archaeologist and writer. Fred is the diminutive of Frédérique, but Vargas comes from Ava Gardner’s character of a fictional Spanish sex symbol Maria Vargas in the film The Barefoot Contessa.

I think that her profession as a historian and archaeologist, is the base for the fantastic stories she tells. Her novels are not just any murder mystery; there is a complicated, intricate story behind. It is not for every inspector to solve these kind of murders, but inspector Adamsberg is not anyone. I doubt he would ever have a chance to go up the ranks in real life. But here he certainly is allowed to use his unorthodox methods of murder solving. In this book it seems that the plague is back in Paris, killing specific people. Or is it?

If these two books are anything to go by, it is not until the very end that you know who the murder is. And…in both cases I thought it was someone else, rather than the actual culprit. Once caught you don’t really feel very satisfied, because, the murderers themselves have a past of personal and tragic history.

This being a French book, there is a mistress involved, Camille. She comes and goes in Adamsberg’s life and they seem to have a sort of love/hate relationship. It is all very unclear, and according to a friend in the book club who have read many more books than I have, she continues to come and go. Although Adamsberg is more or less middle aged, he is not one of these worn out, divorced, half alcoholic, depressed inspectors that we often see in series these days. I am rather tired of them, so Adamsberg sticks out like a, maybe not a totally agreeable character, still a character that you like. At least I do.

Bring me the next book!

Tuesday, 24 November 2015

2016 Challenge - What's in a Name?

I will not participate in too many challenges in 2016. I have noticed that the biggest challenge I have is on my own TBR shelves, so will continue with them. I have managed to read quite a few in 2015, so I am happy about that.

The "What's in a Name" challenge, hosted by The Worm Hole seems to be something that I could manage and it is a challenge that tickle my curiosity. The basic rules are simple enough.

The basics
The challenge runs from January to December. During this time you choose a book to read from each of the following categories (examples of books you could choose are in brackets – I’ve included some from other languages, and translations most definitely count!):
  • A country (try not to use ‘Africa’!) Suggestions: Daphne Du Maurier’s Jamaica Inn, Xiaolu Guo’s I Am China, Martin Wagner’s Deutschland)
  • An item of clothing (Su Dharmapala’s Saree, Ann Brashare’s The Sisterhood Of The Traveling Pants, Javier Moro’s El Sari Rojo; Pierre Lemaitre’s Vestido De Novia)
  • An item of furniture (Marghanita Laski’s The Victorian Chaise-Longue; C S Lewis’s The Silver Chair; Goslash;hril Gabrielsen’s The Looking-Glass Sisters)
  • A profession (Adriana Trigiani’s The Shoemaker’s Wife; Mikhail Elizarov’s The Librarian)
  • A month of the year (Elizabeth Von Arnim’s The Enchanted April; Rhoda Baxter’s Doctor January)
  • A title with the word ‘tree’ in it (Ai Mi’s Under The Hawthorn Tree; Elle Newmark’s The Sandalwood Tree)
 Remember the titles I’ve given here are only examples, you can by all means use them if you want to but it’s not necessary. There are plenty of other books that will fit the categories and you may have some in mind already or even some on your shelves you can read.
So what should I read. I choose to look for my TBR shelves and did find books for all categories.

  • A country - The Knight Templar in Britain by Evelyn Lord (hope Britain is ok?)
  • An item of clothing - The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins (hope this ok as well, white hinting at a robe?)
  • An item of furniture -  The Binding Chair by Kathy Harrison
  • A profession - Alkemistens dotter (The Alchemist's Daughter) by Carl-Michael Edenborg 
  • A month of the year - Light in August by William Faulkner
  • A title with the word 'tree' in it - Under the Greenwood Tree by Thomas Hardy
I am quite pleased that I actually did find, with a little bit of flexibility, books that fit into the categories.

Looking forward to exchange views on these specific inclusions in a title.

Monday, 23 November 2015

Four Shades of Brown Book Covers

The Content ReaderI have read a few books recently without writing a review of them. Partly because I have been very
busy, and partly because of some lack of inspiration. When I took photos of some of the books I have read, I realised that they all had different kind of brown covers. Brown is not my favourite colour, it is not very common on book covers, so I was quite surprised to find four of them on my last reads. Here they are with a short summary of the books.

Opening Pandora's Box by Ferdie Addis

A book in the same series as The Classical Education; the Stuff you Wish You'd Been Taught at School, this time about phrases borrowed from the Classics, and the stories behind them. Many of these phrases we use today, often maybe, without knowing where they came from. Like the opening of Pandora's box, which today means 'to unleash a stream of unforeseen problems; to open a can of worms'.  The original being...

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According to the Greek poet Hesiod, Pandora was the world's first woman, created by the gods as a punishment for humankind. Pandora was blessed by the gods with all sorts of skills and graces, but beneath her extraordinary charms, they gave her a 'shameless mind and a deceitful nature'. At last, decked in Olympian finery, Pandora was given to the demigod Epimetheus as a wife.
Pandora brought with her a storage jar (later mistranslations made it a box), which the gods had filled with wars, plagues, famines and all the other evils in the world. When she arrived on earth, Pandora, perhaps through curiosity of perhaps out of malice, lifted the lid and unleashed a torrent of troubles on mankind. Only one thing remained behind: Hope, which comforts people through all their misfortune.
 The Happy Prince and Other Tales by Oscar Wilde

As you see, this is an old edition of Oscar Wilde's tales for children. I presume they are for children, but maybe they are mostly meant for adults. They all have a moral point to make. As usual with Oscar Wilde it is just wonderful! The book contains, apart from The Happy Prince also The Nightingale and the Rose, The Selfish Giant, The Devoted Friend and The Remarkable Rocket. Quite enjoyable.

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Fågelbovägen 32 by Sara Kadefors

The title is an address in an unknown town in Sweden. Here we meet the middle aged doctor Karin who is devoted to her work, above everything else. She also works freely for an underground medical centre that helps paper-less immigrants. There she meets Katerina, sick with pneumonia and working for a family that treats her badly. Karin decides to help her and asks her to come an stay with them.

It was a spur of the moment decision and Karin did not realise the consequences of her offer. The story tells how Karin's family, husband, son and daughter, and herself, are changing with the introduction of Katerina in their lives. All of the family, except Karin, accept Katerina, but for Karin it is not that easy. She finally lets her work in the house and she is doing a marvellous job, but for Karin the situation is a dual one. She does not want to use or take advantage of a paper-less person, at the same time she can not tell her to leave. Where would she go?

Very interesting moral dilemmas are discussed in this very well written book.

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The Song of Taliesin - Tales from King Arthur's Bard by John Matthews

This is a book with Celtic stories, based on The Mabinogion, Triodd Ynys Preydein and other tales from this time. John Matthews has studied the original sources and used the fragments to write the tales. It is very much in the style of the Celtic stories of gods, giants, good and evil. Gives an interesting insight into a world which did not give a lot of written sources to go down through history.

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Sunday, 22 November 2015

A Study in Scarlet by Arthur Conan Doyle: my 100th book in 2015

I have reached my 100th read books this year. This is the goal I set on Goodreads. However, it seems that not all the books I have read is available on Goodreads so I have to go on for another couple of books. That is no problem at all.

A Study in Scarlet was read for the 'Brontë Reading Group' and we will meet next week to discuss it. I have only read the occasional Sherlock Holmes book, but seen films and TV-series. This is the very first book about Sherlock Holmes and Dr Watson, and we get to know how they met in the first place. Very soon after their first meeting they decide to share accommodations on 221B Baker Street! Very soon after that their on to their first murder mystery. The inspectors Gregson and Lestrade are contacting Holmes to get his opinion on a mysterious murder, taking place in an abandon house, no sign of violent entry and the murderer has written the word RACHE (meaning 'revenge' in German) on the wall with blood.

Sherlock with his sharp eye has soon detected a lot of clues and makes his own conclusions and investigations. As usual it is difficult for the rest of us to make the correct deductions from the evidence, but of course, Sherlock is in a league of his own. Dr Watson, as usual, is puzzled and full of admiration.

This is not a very thick book and very soon we come to the situation where Sherlock is catching the murderer. None of the others have any clue what is going on. Now is the time to tell the story of what really happened. Here the first part of the books ends very abruptly and part two, which is titled, The Sign of the Four starts. Since it is a totally different story I thought that this was actually a different book, but it is the story of the initial reason for revenge and murder. The road to revenge had been going on for twenty years, before it could be finished.

This second part of the story is totally different to the Holmes/Watson part. It is very well written, and in a different style. You can hardly imagine that it is written by the same author. Obviously it is, because in the end we come back to our little group and all the revelations. The second story is very touching and even more exciting that the actual murder piece.

It seems that only the first part was published to start with. The second part, where the background to the story is told, was only published around four years later. Seems very strange to me, but...! Not very popular to start with, it was though, the first book in a series, that became very popular and have survived to our days. The books are still popular and remakes of films and TV-series are continuing.  

Friday, 13 November 2015

Broken Harbour by Tana French

The Content ReaderEver since I read Tana French’s debut novel In the Woods some years ago, I wanted to read something else from her. I really loved the book, although, I was not entirely satisfied with the ending. Maybe because I felt that part of the story did not get an explanation. On the other hand, it leaves you with an option to make your own ending and interpretation. We had a great discussion on it in our reading group. It is open for a lot of different interpretations.

I recently bought her fourth book, and it was with great anticipation I started it. Like with the other book you are directly thrown into a murder case. And not just any murder; it is a murder case with a twist.  The text from the back cover says it all in a few words:
Sometimes there is no safe place. 
Nothing about the way this family lived shows why they deserved to die. 
But here's the thing about murder: ninety-nine times out of a hundred, it doesn't break into people's life. 
It gets there because they open the door and invite it in.  
Michael Kennedy is assigned to this case, together with the newbie Richie Curran. Also here we get parallel stories; the detectives and the actual murder case. They are called out to a new development called Brianstown, former Broken Harbour. Husband and wife and two kids. The wife is still alive but in a serious condition. No signs of intrusion.

Wednesday, 11 November 2015

An ’outdoor’ challenge came my way!

Last week I heard about a company named Cotopaxi and they had a challenge that tickled my curiosity. So, here I am, inspired to participate in a Cotopaxi project, to write a post about my favourite adventure book.
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Apart from Mount Sinai, this might be
the highest climb I ever did!
From Mallorca, Spain

Since I was not familiar with Cotopaxi, I did a little bit of research on the web. The first thing I learn is that Cotopaxi is an active stratovolcano in the Andes Mountains, looks fabulous  in the pictures, and yes, I would like to visit! Scrolling further down I found the relevant Cotopaxi who is making outdoor clothing and accessories. They presents themselves as ”an outdoor gear company with a social mission”. That sounds like something I can agree too. Furthermore, and here is where she wanted my contribution; they have a section of their blog called "5 road trips inspired by adventure books". The books already there are:
  1. Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer
  2. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
  3. The Little House on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder
  4. On the Road by Jack Kerouac
  5. A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson 
The posts on these books are illustrated by a map with the tracks laid out. How easy can it be to ’follow in the foot steps’ of the books! And… do some healthy exercises on the way!

Sunday, 8 November 2015

Sunday bliss!

As usual on the weekend we try to take a walk in the forest, close to us. Yesterday, we made a little bit of a shopping round instead. Walking, in stead of taking the car as usual, we went to various shops along the main road. Imaging what you see when you walk, rather than taking the car. We discovered new shops and managed to buy a birthday present for a friend's 60th birthday next week.

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Today we made it to the woods. It must have been a special day, because I have never seen so many people here. This is a popular spot for people living in Brussels. They come out here to walk in the woods and then to go for one of the many restaurants that are covering the area close to the woods.

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Not entirely matured blackberries!

The wood, or more like it a forest, is so huge so, once your inside and choose your own paths, you are quite on your own. A lovely day, 19 degrees C, and the autumn colours of red and yellow fight with the still green plants and trees. There were leaves everywhere, so one has to lift ones feet, not to stumble on a hidden root.

I hope that your Sunday was as relaxed as ours?

Saturday, 7 November 2015

Reading habits?

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A book well read? Bended spine
and a lady's fan?
There are many different kinds of reading habits. What we most commonly talk about is probably; “Where do you like to read?” Another one is if you mark the page where you are by folding the corner (“dog ear” we call it in Swedish and I am not able to remember the English word for it. Maybe someone can enlighten me?) Another one is how you read your books and this is the topic of today’s post.

My husband gets very irritated with me when he, from time to time, spots the books I have read (I am talking about pocket books here, hard cover is something else). He says I ‘destroy’ the books! Hm, thanks.  In my case it means, that some way inside the book, I fold the spine ‘inside-out’ to be able to read properly. In most books, but not all, after a certain number of pages you cannot read the text closest to the spine. Do you know what I mean? You have to move the book left/right to be able to read properly. I admit that when the book is finished it does not close properly. The pages make the book opens up like a lady’s fan, and the spine is full of traces from my folding it the ‘wrong way’. But, I love when you can see that a book has been read. Don’t you?

Borrowing books from my friend Lena can be a very nervous enterprise. I see the book, know she has read it, and still, it looks totally new! Like it was taken directly out of the shelf in the book shop! I just received a non-fiction, history book from my aunt Maggie (thank you very much!). I think she has already read it, but it looks totally new to me. Well, not anymore, because I am 70 pages into the book! I do not know how people do it? It is like magic! I would not be able to have a book look like new, once I am finished with it, however hard I try.

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A very well read sample of a wonderful book!

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...and looking at it from the other way!
Some years ago I read a wonderful book called Oscar’s Books by Thomas Wright. He goes through Oscar Wilde’s books (those he owned and which are still around). In the margin of his books he wrote comments on what he was reading. I wouldn’t normally do that, and today we would probably just use a marker (how boring!). In days without markers you made a comment by pen. How wonderful for us today to be able to read these comments, especially when it comes from someone like Oscar Wilde. Lovely book which parallels his books and his life.

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Audrey Niffenegger's excellent books,
read with love!
I would never treat a hard back as I treat a pocket book. But, it does not mean I have less regard for the pocket books, it is just not done…and it is not necessary, because they are bound in a different way. It is the same with folding the book corner to mark where you are. I would never do that in a hard back, but I would do it in a pocket book. There you go! Me in a nut shell.

How do you read your books? Bending the spine? Making comments in the margin? Folding and ear instead of using book marks? Any other ideas on reading habits? Leave a comment and share with me the way you read.

Tuesday, 3 November 2015

Thackeray - A Writer’s Life by Catherine Peters

Recently I read Pendennis by William Thackeray. Someone told me that it was, in certain parts, based on experiences from his own life, so I made a mental note to read a biography of him. I have just been to Mallorca for two weeks, and stepping into the flat I was astonished when the first book I see on the shelf is a biography of Thackeray! Just shows the overview I have of my TBR shelves, especially in Mallorca.

This is a biography by Catherine Peters from 1987. Got raving views at the time and it is very well written. Ms Peters chooses to analyse his books in the back drop of his own life, which makes an interesting angle. She points out influences from his life and how they made it into his writing.

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His childhood was not happy and his school years disastrous and remained with him all his life.
We Indian children were consigned to a school of which our deluded parents had heard a favourable report, but which was governed by a horrible little tyrant, who made our young lives so miserable that I remember kneeling by my little bed of a night, and saying, ’Pray God, I may dream of my mother!. (Roundabout Papers, ’On Letts’s Diary’
His continuous studies at Cambridge were idle and he had no clear idea of what he wanted to do. He was very good at drawing and writing was also one of his favourite occupations. He had a small heritage from his father, who died when he was young, but somehow he managed to waste part of it and lose the other part in bank failures by the time he was twenty-one. He travelled around Europe, spent time in Weimar, met Goethe and enjoyed the somewhat decadent life that took place there at the time. He married Isabella Shawe, a young lady totally under the influence of her mother (Thackeray had a life long antipathy for his mother-in-law) who was too fragile for this world and after giving birth to three daughters (one died when only eight months old), became incurably insane. Thackeray was not able to take care of her at home and she was living for the rest of her life in a private home with a private nurse. She survived him by twenty years.