Monday, 28 December 2015

Christmas reading

Christmas is over for this year. We had a quite Christmas here in Mallorca. Beautiful Christmas mass in the Cathedral of Palma to get a little bit of tradition to an otherwise rather untraditional Christmas. At least for a Swede. No snow here, just lovely sunshine, blue sky and around 20 degrees C.

The Content Reader

As you see from my December reading I have managed quite a few books this month. I also got two books for Christmas; Blå stjärnan by Jan Guillou - the fifth instalment in Guillou's family saga of the 20th century and from my geology studying son, Fossiljägarna (The Fossil Hunters) by Björn Hagberg and Martin Widman. One of the big mysteries of evolution when and how 'the fish went ashore'. I love these kind of books and have already started reading it. Have a look at the wonderful book marks, also a present from my son.

The Content Reader

I see many of you have already done a summary of your 2015 reading. Since I expect to read at least one more book before the end of the year, I will post my summary after the new year. I have also reflected on how to proceed with blogging and other interests in 2016, as well as a list of my favourite books this year. All in good time.

Thank you all for sharing my love for books and being friends out there. I wish you all

A Happy New Year!

Tuesday, 22 December 2015

The Brontës: A Biography by Brian Wilks

The Content ReaderHaving just read Brian Wilks book about Jane Austen, it was with great pleasure that I opened his book about the Brontës. Being part of the Brussels Brontë Group and, as such, a fan of the Brontës, I have read quite a few biographies about them. However, as with the Jane Austen biography, I like the way Brian Wilks approach his subjects.

He manages to extract the most important things on the lives he is writing about. It does not mean that you feel that he has left anything out. Not at all. It is all in there, and all verified by his own interpretation of actions and happenings. I actually felt that I have learned more about the Brontës, although I thought I knew it all, by reading Wilks’ biography and his way of making us acquainted with the Brontës.  Being such a unique family they have managed to keep us spellbound almost 200 years later.
They were a tightly knit group of people all sharing exceptional gifts, interests and ambitions. As Charlotte tells us: 
My home is humble and unattractive to strangers, but to me it contains what I shall find nowhere else in the world - the profound, and intense affection which brothers and sisters fell for each other when their minds are cast in the same mould, their ideas drawn from the same source - when they have clung to each other from childhood, and when disputes have never sprung up to divide them.
Brian Wilks gives us a thorough knowledge, as far as it is possible of both parents, Maria and Patrick and of their aunt Branwell. He questions some ’acknowledged facts’ and shares with us his ideas, built up with the knowledge there is.

Sunday, 13 December 2015

Jane Austen by Brian Wilks

Yet, another biography of Jane Austen. This time published as an e-book by Endeavour Press. The book was originally published in 1978, but still feels very fresh.

I have recently read three books about Austen, related to food and names in; Jane Austen and Food, Jane Austen and Names by Maggie Lane, as well as Only a Novel: The Double Life of Jane Austen by Jane Aiken Hodge. Although, after reading the books above and thinking I know Jane Austen by now, I was quite captivated by Brian Wilks version of her life. It does not go into too much details, but keeps it on a track which can be compared to a novel in itself. Beautifully written and approaching Jane Austen with a wonderful insight into the person she might have been. It is a personal story of her life and deeds. Like Brian Wilks says in the Foreword:
"’It is a truth universally acknowledged that,’ writers are congenitally wired for communication. The evidence in Austen’s novels of her use of gossip, malicious and otherwise, her use of letters, stories, anecdote, her character assassinations and mischievous exploration of motive and intention, all suggest she would be blogging away with the best of us."
This quote shows the essentials of Brian Wilks’ understanding of Jane Austen. He manages to put her novels into our modern world and makes us understand them,  her writing and her times. There are numerous quotes from her books to show how she translated her own world into her books.

Although living a ’narrow’ life in the countryside, she was very well aware of the politics and social rules of her time and which she put into her novels. Through her brothers she had access to the navy and its life, the Napoleonic as well as other wars were part of her life. Socially she belonged to the country-side gentry, but through her brother Edward, who was adopted by the Knight family and their sole heir, her social circles widened from her own into the higher circles of the Knights. Edward also provided a house on his estates for Jane, her sister and mother when their father died.

Wilks matches life and customs in England at the time and how real life might have inspired the novels of Jane Austen. As Wilks describes it:
”Despite the rumblings of the industrial and agricultural revolution that were to shift the centre of gravity for the whole of the civilized world, rumblings that steadily grew through each year of Jane Austen’s life, England in the period 1775 to 1817 was stilla rural, picturesque, agricultural society.
Many economic historians see the very years of Jane Austen’s life as the hey-day of the English leisured class.
She wrote for many years before she was published and it was only in the end of her life that her books became more widely published and popular. Many were the evenings when she entertained her family with her writings.
”’The cultivation of her own language’ is precisely what Jane Austen set about. Words were to her playthings in her own personal life, and in her writing for publication she developed a sensitivity and confidence that resulted in a fine facility with English prose. It was the society which she found in her home that provoked the enthusiasm for and exploration of styles and techniques that were to become so eloquent a vehicle for her ideas.”
Jane Austen was a product of her own time. Her outstanding quality was the possibility to look at her surroundings with a sharp intellect combined with a wonderful sense of humour.
”In the later Austen family it was believed that Jane was a blend of both her parents’ natures: ’If one may divide qualities which often overlap, one would be inclined to surmise that Jane Austen inherited from her father her serenity of mind, the refinement of her intellect, and her delicate appreciation of style, while her mother supplied the acute observation of character, and the wit and humour, for which she was equally distinguished.’"
Jane Austen had a lot of inspiration from her own surroundings. The Austen family was very tight and helped each other out through all of their lives. Her many brothers all married and had many children (except her brother George which seems to have been mentally ill). Two of her brother’s were in the navy so she was well informed about what happened there, and we see references to the navy in several of her works. The ’marriage game’ of the country-side was all around her. All in all she managed to put it all into her novels with a grace and wit that still entertains people two hundred years later.

Brian Wilks’ biography of Jane Austen is written with care and a personal approach to her person. Highly enjoyable story of her life and work. Now I am heading for his biography of the Brontës!

Thank you to Endeavour Press for a review copy. The views above are my own personal ones.

Sunday, 6 December 2015

Allison Brennan continuing...

The Content ReaderEnd of the year and I have treated myself to some very easy going reading. Allison Brennan is really a little bit addictive! Finishing Best Laid Plans and continuing with the latest in the Lucy Kincaid series No Good Deed, I realised that there will not be another one for at least half a year. I therefore looked into her Max Revere series and hit another interesting series, of which there is a novella and two novels already out. Next one in the series will be out in April next year.

No Good Deed is the ending of the story starting in Best Laid Plans. There is suspense on every page, and when you think there can't be any more...she speeds up the action to another level before the end of the affair. It is really amazing. You just can't let the book down until you have finished. At least me. Her stories are so complex, with many characters, but she manages to keep it all together until the very end.

Starting on the Max Revere series was another hit. The first one is a novella, Maximum Exposure, with the background story of how Maxine Revere came to be solving crimes. She is a criminal journalist and TV show hostess, trying to solve cold cases. She is tough and independent, have money in the background (that always makes it easier!) and is - sometimes - an obnoxious character. She is working with David, former military man, who is both assistant and bodyguard when needed.

The Content ReaderWhat I find so addictive with this series, almost more than with the other, is that the stories are so good. I just finished Notorious where Max goes back to her family in California to attend a funeral of a childhood friend, Kevin. Seventeen years ago, one of their friends, Lindy was brutally murdered and Kevin was accused of the murder. He was acquitted due to circumstantial evidence only, but was believed to be the culprit. He was not. Ever since his life went into a downward spiral until recently, when he started to look into who the murderer really was.

The Content ReaderIt is a fascinating story of dysfunctional families and ties, where family goes before anything else. The more Max looks into the various deaths; Lindy's, Kevins suicide (was it really suicide or murder), another murder taking place and another murder discovered, she gets more and more confused.   Working with the local police is not always straightforward or easy. Looking into old family secrets is not popular either, so Max feels antagonism from all sides. Not that that would discourage her. And when she meets detective Nick Santini other feelings start surfacing.

Ms Brennan manages to provide her stories with fascinating characters, whether they are good or bad. Often, at least in the Lucy Kincaid series, we get to follow also the bad characters, so you have two storylines that in the end collides. This makes it even more suspenseful since you don't know how your 'heroes' will get away from, or avoid these evil deeds. For the Max Revere series the stories are more complex and it is difficult until the very end to find out who really is the culprit. There are several to choose from, at least in Notorious. However, I suspected the real murderer, I had to abandon the idea along the way, just to pick it up again in the very end.

I have just started the third book in the series, Compulsion, but really have no time to read today, plus I have a couple of other books I have to finish. But it is difficult to stay away. My fingers are itching to take up my ipad and continue reading!

Wednesday, 2 December 2015

Best Laid Plans by Allison Brennan

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Just found book #9 in the Lucy Kincaid/Sean Rogan series, which I just love. When checking which number in the series it is,  I just realise that there is already a #10. Aren't we lucky!

Allison Brennan has written books about other characters as well, and I like them too, but this series is special. There is always a very interesting, quite intricate  story and the suspense is great, sometimes almost too much. Lucy is a FBI agent and her boyfriend Sean is a private consultant in computer technology. The system that he cannot hack into does not exist. They often work together on Lucy's assignments. Both of them have a lot of siblings and they all seem to work in the same business. A family affair one could say.

In this story Lucy and her FBI partner Barry work on a case where the husband of a congress woman is found dead in a hotel room, in a town he supposedly should not be in. He is naked and it looks like he has been with a prostitute. Not everything is what it seems and there are many leads, correct and false, threats and more deaths before the two of them manage to solve the case. Excitement along the way, I promise. The crooks are bad. There are some loose threads in the end, indication an continuation of the story in the next book, No Good Deed. Sorry, have to go and download the book. Maybe an early evening...!

The Content Reader

Tuesday, 1 December 2015

Hidden Lives by Margaret Forster

The Content ReaderI first came into contact with Margaret Forster reading her biography of Daphne du Maurier. So when I ran into this book, which is a story about her own family secrets, I was thrilled. And she does not disappoint.

When Margaret Forster’s grandmother died in 1936, she took secrets with her to her grave. Just before she died there was a mysterious woman in black who visited her. She never revealed to her daughters what it was all about. At her funeral, when the daughters gather and discuss this mysterious event there is another knock on the door. Outside is an unknown woman claiming to be her daughter and asking if she left anything for her.

After Margaret Forster’s mother died in 1981, she started to look into the history of her family. She discovered that her grandmother was born out of wedlock. But what was disturbing was the fact that she found her birth certificate and then there are no traces of her life until she reappears in the official records at the age of twenty-three!

The story is the starting point for telling the lives of her own mother and her siblings. They were born in the beginning of the 20th century and Margaret Forster traces their lives through childhood, adolescence and adulthood. It is a fascinating story of three women in the beginning of the century and how they coped with the modern developments during their own life time, based on the inheritance from their mother. The three sisters are very different and have different dreams. Even if it seems that at least some of them got the life they wanted, it did not always come out as expected. The siblings were very close and the family was the most important thing in life.

It is also a century where there was a huge development for women in society. When Margaret Forsters mother married she had to give up a very good, well paid job at the local Health Departement. It was not allowed for married women to work. She was an educated and intelligent woman who was obliged to stay at home and take care of the family. That was women’s duty of the day and it seems it was done without much reflection. Margaret Forster saw the unhappiness of her mother and decided early on to not become like her. She had inherited her mother’s intelligence, loved school and educated herself. Her life became different from her mother’s and grandmother’s.

Margaret Forster has written a wonderful piece of female history during the 20th century. A century that has evolved so much and so fast that it is hard for each generation to grasp the developments and ideas of the last one. It is told with feeling and a will to understand each generation. In the end she also discovers that when you look at the basics, the women in each generation are not that different after all.

This story stayed with me a long time after finishing the book. It makes you think of how women lived before and the hardships they endured. It is also a story of how the 20th century changed and affected people in a small town.

Margaret Forster has written many books of fiction, have edited Poetry by Elizabeth Barrett Browning and biographies of Charles Edward Stuart, William Makepeace Thackeray, Elizabeth Barrett Bowning and Daphne du Maurier, as well as The Grassroots of Active Feminism 1839-1939.