Saturday, 31 December 2016

My One Word meme

Thanks to Brona at Brona's Books I have discovered the My One Word meme hosted by Sheila@Book Journey.  This meme comes at a perfect time for me. The idea is to find one word to represent your new year. Sheila means that "a word can fluctuate - take on new meaning depending on the circumstances, and come out at the end with a whole new meaning then first anticipated." She has been kind enough to link to a list with words, and I think I have found my word for 2017.

... and the word for me will be SPARKLE!

I want to sparkle this year, both for myself and for my projects. I want to think of myself first, to feel good, style myself, gather energy and find a positiveness in life. If I manage that I will be able to give more to my beloveds, family and friends. 2016 was a very busy year, with good things, but it generated a lot of work, and left me rather fatigued and without energy. I hope 2017 will see me make my life and everything around me sparkle. To gather energy and willpower to proceed with my projects and be able to give more to my fellow beings.

I would like to vitalise my blog, maybe change the layout a bit, learn more on the technical side of blogging, write more posts, improve the photography, venture out in the unknown and take myself out of my comfort zone. This will be especially valid for some of my other projects. If I can make myself sparkle, I might be able to develop other areas into sparkling fireworks!

I will set clear goals for 2017.  Yearly goals, monthly goals and weekly goals. Not too big, they should be within reach. Discipline myself, and enjoy the outcomes. In my new sparkly self I see myself with more energy, more power, more determination which hopefully will lead to the fulfilment of my goals.

I want to stop and reflect on things around me. Enjoy nature and walks. Not just rush by, but stop and look around and enjoy all the beautiful things that are there. I am a Pisces and enjoy everything with water. Just listening to water flowing in nature is a treat and like cotton for the soul. We have to find and cherish these rare moments in a busy life.

I happily look forward meeting you all again in 2017. I will comment more on your posts, will get out of my introvert self, sparkle (haha) and be on the way! See you there!

Wednesday, 28 December 2016

Read 52 books in 52 weeks - TBR challenge

Another challenge that will help me lower my TBR shelves. It is Robin of My Two Blessings hosting this very useful challenge. Go to the link to see all of the rules and to my Challenge page for my own reading.

I hope I will be able, and should be able, to finish this challenge without a problem. After all, even when I have no time to read, I read at least a book a week!

Monday, 26 December 2016

Merry Christmas!

I wish all of my blogging friends out there a little bit of a late Merry Christmas. 

I hope the holidays were nice and peaceful. I celebrated in the south of Sweden with family from both sides and I think we all enjoyed the Christmas time, in spite of it not being too Christmas like outside. But we always have a Disney hour with various Disney figures to look at. It is a tradition since 1960, and there, in the world of fairy tales, we get a feeling for the season. 

Once this tradition has been done it is time for a Christmas smorgasbord, Christmas presents and a quiet evening.

Wednesday, 14 December 2016

The Witch of Portobello by Paulo Coelho

Paulo Coelho has written a wonderful, beautiful story of a modern life. It is done through a set of interviews with people who encountered Athena, a young woman who left a lasting impression on all who met her. She is born in Transylvania to an unmarried gypsy woman, and is given away for adoption. She is adopted by a Libanes couple and her first years are spent there. When the war comes, they move to London.

She studies, meets a man, gets married and has a son. But something is missing in her life, so she decides to leave her marriage, take her son and search for something she does not really know what it is. By chance, as so often happens when you let go of controlling things, she comes in contact with people with special gifts. Gifts which are not always explainable. Through a special dance she finds piece and with it comes a search for something higher in life.

Coelho has created a lovely character in Athena, and in her search for something to live for, he contemplates the difficulties of our modern times. Our fear of everything that is not "normal", our lack of understanding for everything that is different. Athena's search for a higher meaning, for the Earth Mother, and for an answer to all her questions, takes her through different countries and different cultures and back to where she was born.

Athena's story is revealed through interviews with people who knew her, or came in contact with her. We understand that at this point something has happened to Athena, but we do not really know until the very end.

It is a beautiful and magic story Coelho tells us. Are we too fixed on material things? Do we forget our mental longing, for something that can fill our souls with the important things in life? He makes you reflect and look for the things around us that we do not always see.

Monday, 12 December 2016

Jane Austen x 2

Sense and Sensibility

Recently I have read two books by Jane Austen. It is always a pleasure…or almost. I like some books more than others. I started with Classic spin #14 which guided me to Sense and Sensibility. It has been on my shelves for ever, and I don't know why I have not got around to read it. Well, now was the time, and I am happy to say that I did manage - for once - to finalise one of my classics in time.

Surprisingly, because I was always thinking this was one of her best and most famous books, I did not like it. I thought the story rather simple. Ok, this is maybe the norm for these kind of books, but normally Jane Austen manages to capture a lot of, I would not call them actions, but happenings along the way. Here I thought it was just ono long uphill account of trivia that could not engage me. The only one really engaging me as a character was Elinor, and she is not enough to carry the whole book.

The story is the usual. Two rather poor, but not desperately poor sisters are looking for a good match. Being Jane Austen it still has to involve love and that can, as we know, be rather complicated. Nevertheless, Marianne, the younger sister, falls in love with the dashing John Willoughby who is passing by the area where they live. When Willoughby has to leave to attend to his affairs elsewhere, there is an understanding that they are engaged without it being officially pronounced.

Elinor and Marianne are invited by friends to spend some time in London, and Marianne is eager to meet Mr Willoughby again. Unfortunately, he is not as eager and a love triangle is developing.
In the meantime Elinor is in love with Mr Edward Ferrars, who has a problem socialising in a normal manner and complications follow. There is also a Colonel Brandon, an older gentleman in love with Marianne. The story continues, as it seems to me, forever, and nothing is really happening. Maybe, I should not say that, of course we get a picture of London life, and how the nobility go about their lives. But the story seems to drag out forever before the final end. There is nothing wrong with the end, it just took quite a long time to get there. As Shakespeare said: "Much ado about nothing".

Of course, Jane Austen's writing is always a pleasure to read. This was her first book, although it was not published until after her death. She went on to write Pride and Prejudice, my absolute favourite of her books. Her typical stories on the life of the gentries are already in line here, and her following novels are just clear improvements.

Northanger Abbey

The second book I read was Northanger Abbey. This was her second last novel that she wrote (Persuasion was the last) and it was published posthumously. I really loved this novel. Here Austen is inspired by the Gothic novels like The Mysteries of Udolpho by Ann Radcliffe, which also plays an important role in the novel. The unlikely heroine is Catherine Morland, one of many children of a countryside gentleman, with enough, but not an access of money. She is invited to spend some time in Bath with their neighbours, and the first part of the book tells of her adventures there. We are introduced to her brother James, his friend John Thorpe and his sister Isabella. These two last characters are something out of the extra ordinary, and they are described in a very good way. Rather quickly we realise what kind of people they are, but our innocent heroine needs more time to see through the external frame.

We follow Catherine's stay and her love interest, a Mr Henry Tilney, whose family estate is Northanger Abbey. The second part of the book takes place there, when Catherine is invited to spend time with Henry's sister Eleanor. The Abbey is run by the father Colonel Tilney in a rather rigid fashion, and Catherine is amazed how Henry and Eleanor are obeying their father's whims. The Abbey fascinates Catherine and when she hears that Mrs Tilney died suddenly when Henry and Eleanor were away, her fantasies take hold of her, supported by her reading of The Mysteries of Udolpho, and she sets out to find out what really happens.

It is all a very charming book, and funny. You really laugh here and there which is maybe not how we remember Jane Austen. Although you can be slightly irritated at Catherine, being so innocent and not the cleverest of heroines, the novel has a lot of unforgettable characters, the description of times in Bath and times in the countryside, give you an insight of the world at the time. One of Austen's great creations.

Sunday, 11 December 2016

Keyword Reading Challenge 2017

Claudia at My Soul Called Life is hosting the 2017 Keyword Reading Challenge. Sounds like another great challenge so I am in. So, how does it work? Claudia has chosen six keywords associated with each month in 2017. Our task is to read one book each month whose title includes one or more of the keywords for that month. As usual I will head for my TBR shelves first. If I don't find anything there I will look for a suitable book. After all, one has to read some new books as well!

Here are your 2017 Keywords

JAN- Court, Fall, Of, Way, Deep, Thousand

FEB- And, Rose, Promise, Every, Deception, Blazing

MAR- Shall, Go, By, Silence, Her, Saga

APR- From, Trigger, Tale, His, Crown, Mist

MAY- Four, Wind, All, Fury, Days, Shade

JUN- Without, Know, Good, Watch, One, Have

JUL- Before, Final, All, Freedom, Life, Dream

AUG- Sun, Infinite, Big, My, Wherever, Most

SEP- Sand, From, Between, Ever, Reasons, Clash

OCT- Darker, You, Ashes, Out, House, Sea

NOV- Place, War, Heart, Why, Give, Meet

DEC- Forget, Twilight, Only, Crystal, On, Will

Hopefully see you there!

A Sea of Leaves

Went for a walk in the forest yesterday. Since it was mid-day, there were not that many people around. Probably out making errands and preparing for Christmas. Although no sun, a lovely day and we were swimming in a Sea of Leaves!

Friday, 9 December 2016

Finalised challenge - Full House Reading Challenge for 2016

As of 8 December, 2016, I have finalised this challenge. I am quite happy about it. Partly, because most, if not all, of the books come from my TBR shelves.

I did change one title, which is allowed, and that was 'Debut novel'. I just could not find any, or did not look hard enough. You never know. I changed it to a 'Nobel Prize Winner' instead. One has to take advantage of having read one of those winners. It does not happen every day, or even every year!

Great challenge! Thank you to Kathryn at Book Date for hosting. Luckily, she is also hosting for 2017, and I have already signed up!

  1. Author you wish was known better - Alex Connor - The Other Rembrandt
  2. Published in 2016 - The High Mountains of Portugal by Yann Martel
  3. Book from series you love - The Black Moon by Winston Graham
  4. Debut novel - change to Nobel Prize Winner - Nässlorna blomma (Flowering Nettle) by Harry Martinsson
  5. Thought Provoking book - The Sage of Waterloo by Leona Francombe
  6. Had laugh out loud moments - The Almost Nearly Perfect People - Behind the Myth of the Scandinavian Utopia by Michael Booth
  7. Book club worthy - Becoming Jane Eyre by Sheila Kohler
  8. Color word in title - The Masque of the Black Tulip by Lauren Willig
  9. Authors' surname starts with same letter as yours - Blekingegatan 32 by Lena Einhorn
  10. You didn't want to put it down - The Woman in Whiteby Wilkie Collins
  11. Way out of comfort zone - The Circle by Clive Eggers
  12. Family relationship word in title - Travels with my Aunt by Graham Greene
  13. Book you bought - Amsterdam - A History of the World's Most Liberal City by Russell Shorto
  14. Setting begins with B - Belgium: Under jorden i Villette by Ingrid Hedman (Under the Earth)
  15. Author outside own country - The life-changing magic of tidying by Marie Kondo (Japan)
  16. Self challenge - The Prague Cemetery by Umberto Eco
  17. Memoir - Grymhet by Birgitta Lindqvist (short stories from her life)
  18. First in a series - The Secret History of the Pink Carnation by Lauren Willig
  19. You'd like to change the cover - Jenny S by Denise Rudberg
  20. A dominant color on cover - How can one not be interested in Belgian History by various authors
  21. New author to you - Paul Griner with The German Woman
  22. Would make a good movie - De gömda rummen (Habitaciones cerradas) by Care Santos
  23. Library book - The Dinner by Herman Koch
  24. Published 2015 - Croissants till frukost by Annika Esstasy (pocket version)
  25. Been on TBR ’forever' - Our Man in Havanna by Graham Greene

Looking forward to making a full card for 2017!

Thursday, 8 December 2016

The Binding Chair by Kathryn Harrison

May is only five years old when her grandmother imposes the Chinese tradition of foot binding to her. This affects her whole life, but being the strong person she is, she refuses to let it hinder her in her ambitions. Married to an older man who already have three wives, she is faced with a cruel man, his wives and a humiliating life. But May is not the person to suffer silently, so she breaks away and starts a new life as a prostitute. The aim is to find a wealthy Englishman to marry. She starts by learning English.

Life does not always turns out as is expected and May stays longer in her profession as she had anticipated. But one day Arthur Cohen turns up in her room and her life changes forever. He is not there for the usual reason, but comes as a representative of the "Foot Emancipation Society". He is there to help her, but falls hopelessly in love. He proposes to May who is reluctant to venture into a marriage with Arthur, who is a somewhat confused man. However, his insistency pays out and they marry.

As Arthur's wife she enters the life of a Jewish business family living in Shanghai. Arthur is living with and from his brother who is a wealthy businessman, while Arthur ventures into schemes bound to fail even before they start. May forms a bond with Arthur's niece Alice, and the story is set from the point of view of these two characters. It takes place in the beginning of the 20th century in Shanghai, London and Nice.  Along the way May and Alice meet a set of colourful women, all of them disfigured, either physically or mentally. Alice is set to make life easier for May who consistently resists, and May is trying to prevent Alice from falling in love and make decisions that will effect her whole life. In the end all women meet in Nice, in another setting, another kind of world, but all stuck in their own life's tale.

Through and through the book we get an insight into the complicated life of women exposed to foot binding. It is often horrific reading, and you can just imagine, or maybe not, the pain and complications that followed them during their whole life.

It is a wonderfully written book, well researched, compassionate and thrilling.  Life in China with its traditions and culture and the clashing with European values, makes this an intriguing story.

Wonderful characters, quite different who, by destiny, are intermingling in each others life. Well written, well developed characters and times. She writes about the essential questions of life; who are we? Are we formed by our past, traditions and culture? It is a story about class, race and gender, beautifully and engagingly written. Makes you want to read more by Kathryn Harrison. She has written several books; both fiction and non-fiction.

I bough this book in a second hand book store. It has a wonderful cover, as you can see from the picture. Have you read anything by Kathryn Harrison?

Wednesday, 7 December 2016

Full House Reading Challenge 2017

I love this Challenge hosted by Kathryn at Bookdate  and participated during 2016 (almost finished it, but not quite). As with most Challenges I join, I try to use them to lower the number of books on my TBR shelves. This is a perfect challenge to do that. My aim will therefore be to read as many books as possible from my own shelves. 
You will find the rules under the link above, but in short, you have to read one book from each category below. One can be changed if you so like. Here are the categories (for easy updating I choose to list them. I am not entirely sure how to update the chart):
Non fiction -  The Pursuit of Glory - The Five Revolutions that made Modern Europe 1648 - 1815 by Tim Banning     
On TBR for 2+ years -    Blondie by Joyce Carol Oates    
More than 500 pages - Buddenbrooks by Thomas Mann
Page Turner -
Middle Grade Book -
2017 published -
Published pre 2000 - An Instant of the Finger Post by Iain Pears (1997)
UK/European author - The Book of Disquiet by Fernando Pessoa (Portuguese)      
Back List book from fav. author - Shirley by Charlotte Brontë
Book from a list - 
Award Winner - The History of the Siege of Lisbon by Jose Saramago
Book about books -  All Roads Lead to Austen - A Yearlong Journey with Jane by Amy Elizabeth Smith       
Book from childhood -
Diversity book - Dr Luther and Mr Hyde by Per Svensson
Australian/NZ author -
Western -
USA/Canadian author - Lord John and the Hand of Devils by Diana Gabaldon
Not really for you - 
Attractive cover -
Borrowed -

The rest will be filled in as I start my reading year 2017. 
Do you like to participate in Challenges? Which is your favourite one or 

Tuesday, 6 December 2016

6 Degrees of Separation Meme

6 Degrees of Separation is a monthly meme hosted by Kate @Books Are My Favourite and Best.

This is my first entry with 6 Degrees of Separation. I find it interesting to follow a thread in what I read. One book leading to another, be it the same author, the same genre, the same theme or the same anything. A link is a way to discover new books, places and people.

The 3 December book is Revolutionary Road by Richard Yates. I have not read this book, neither seen the movie. But I always intended to, but the future will tell. From there I would use Road as the connecting word and go on to a new purchase; All Roads Lead to Austen - A yearlong Journey with Jane by Amy Elizabeth Smith. Austen is always interesting and this seems to be a new way to approach her. Naturally the connection is Austen so I choose Northanger Abbey which I recently read and just loved. It comes out as my second favourite Austen (after Pride and Prejudice of course).

The thread here is Abbey which make me think of the Knights Templar. Suitable since I have a book on my TBR shelves that fits in; The Rise and Fall of the Knights Templar by Gordon Napier. It is always an interesting topic. Connecting words this time are Rise/Fall which takes me to a classic; The Rise and Fall of the Roman Empire by Edward Gibbon. I have the book somewhere and have read at least half of it. Hmm, can't remember having seen it for a while so it might have got lost! Rome is the connecting word and leads to The Classic World - An Epic History of Greece and Rome by Robin Lane Fox. Another fiction book on my TBR shelves.

Monday, 5 December 2016

Book Festival

The yearly Book Festival took place here in Belgium from 1-4 December. I took the car and went over to Mechelen, a town, just outside of Brussels, on the way to Antwerp, where this festival normally takes place. As usual there were a lot of books, mainly in Dutch, but also some in French and English. Furthermore, they also offer hobby material for scrap booking, journaling etc. A little bit like Christmas in advance.

Although I should not buy too many new books, I just can not resist such an event. The books are cheap and you always find some classics and discover books you have never heard of before. Although I really restricted myself, I came away with eleven books! And interesting ones. Can't wait to read them. Here they are in no specific order, just the pile on my desk.

All Roads Lead to Austen - A yearlong Journey with Jane by Amy Elizabeth Smith

"With a suitcase full of Jane Austen novels en espanol, Amy Elizabeth Smith set off on a yearlong Latin American adventure: a traveling book club with Jane. In six unique, unforgettable countries, she gathered book-loving new friends - taxi drivers and teachers, poets and politicians - to read Emma, Sense and Sensibility, and Pride and Prejudice. " Well, having just read Sense and Sensibility I felt this book talking to me.

Lord John and the Hand of Devils by Diana Gabaldon

"Diana Gabaldon delivers three tales of war, intrigue and espionage featuring the unforgettable Lord John Grey. In the heart of the eighteenth century, Lord John's world is one of mystery and menace; where allies have the power to destroy him with a single blow. As he ventures into an ominous unknown, his companions are haunted soldiers, sinister family secrets and lingering memories of a fiery-haired Scot named James Fraser. " A character from her books in the Outlander series who we meet here in a separate series.

Contemplating Adultery - The Secret Life of a Victorian Woman by Lotte and Joseph Hamburger

"In the early 1830s Sarah Austin, trapped in a loveless and dutiful mariiage, falls in love with a man she has never met - a German prince, author of the bestselling book she is translating into English. Their romance by letter becomes increasingly intimate as she eagerly confides the secrets of her inner life - her disappointment in marriage and her hunger for affection." Having just read Kate Summerscale's "The Private Diary of a Victorian Lady" it seemed fine to continue with another diary from the same time.

I love the cover and was thinking that it must be from a painting by the pre-Raphaelites. And right so; It is from 'The Day Dream' (1880) by Dante Gabriel Rossettti.

Friday, 2 December 2016

European Reading Challenge 2017

Rose City Reader is doing the European Reading Challenge again for 2017. I participated in 2015, I think, and it is also a great challenge. I will go for the five star (deluxe entourage) which means to read at least five books by different European authors or books set in different European countries.

Under the link above you will find the rules and link-up for this challenge. As for the other challenges I will aim at reducing my TBR shelves. Here are the five books I will read.

The Go-Between by J.P. Hartley (UK)
Goodbye to Berlin by Christopher Isherwood (Germany)
Nåden har ingen lag by Torgny Lindgren (Sweden)
Stalin, the Red Tsar by Simon Sebag Montefiore (Russia)
Pansarhjärta by Joe Nesbo (Norway)

I realise that I have mainly kept myself in Northern Europe. But, that is where I am from, and I take this opportunity to finish a couple of books that have been on my shelves a long time.

Thursday, 1 December 2016

Classic Spin #14 - review

Believe it or not, but for once I managed to finalise the book for the Classic Club spin, in due time as well. My number one was Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen. It has lived a quiet life on my TBR shelves for quite a few years. I love Austen, so there is really no excuse why I have shunned this one. Or is there? I always thought that it was considered one of her best books, without knowing exactly why. After having read it, it will end up as the one I like the least. I thought it was a really boring book, or as Shakespeare put it: "Much ado about nothing!"

The heroine was not very likeable, that is Marianne. Elinor, her sister was much more in my taste. In short, Mrs Dashwood becomes a widow, without much money to help her take care of the family. The brother is a total *%()" (you know what I mean), under influence of his terrible wife, and, although he has the means to support them he convinces himself that he has no obligation!?!? Mrs Dashwood is offered a cottage from a friend of theirs, pack up her things, takes her three daughters and moves to Devonshire. There they have a pleasant family life with friends and neighbours, until charming and dashing John Willoughby happens to pass by and enter the life of Marianne. Cupid was there very fast, obviously without thinking too much about it, and Marianne is lost in translation. However, before Mr Willoughby has to leave the area, he and Marianne are engaged.

lPenguin ClassicsNext we see the family with their friends in London.  Marianne is waiting for Willoughby to turn up. She writes him letters, but to no avail. He does visit them once, but at a time when they are out. Next we know Mr Willoughby is to be married to a heiress, throwing our dear Marianne into the depths of despair. In the meantime Elinor is in love with Edward Ferrars, her sister-in-law's brother. They met while Elinor and her mother and sisters stayed with her brother and sister-in-law. They both seem to care for each other, but not all men are as forward as Mr Willoughby, so nothing is really said. Elinor is a more sensible person than her sister, see the facts of life, and although unhappy, still manages to live her life.

Well, for those of you who will read the book I will not reveal the ending. Only that it took a very long time, a lot of turns left and right, back and forth before everything was settled. Not exactly as you might expect, so there is  a little bit of a surprise in the end. However much I love Austen and her way of writing, which is also excellent here, it is just tooooooo many words this time. To much lingering on details which might not be so important. I am thinking that half the book, or at least one third, could have been cut out. Still, if you are an Austen fan you just have to read it. N'est pas?

I must admit that I read it as an e-book, although starting out in the paper book. But the text was so small, it was impossible for me to read it. There is one reason why the e-readers are good sometimes!

In the meantime, I have read Northanger Abbey for the Brontë Reading Group, and we will discuss it next week. I really liked that novel and it will come up on a stable second best after Pride and Prejudice. Is there anything that can beat that one? I don't think so, but I still have Mansfield Park to read. On third place so far is Persuasion, which I also like. Which is your favourite Jane Austen?

Wednesday, 30 November 2016

A 2017 Challenge - The Alphabet Soup Reading Challenge

Time for another challenge that popped up in my Feedly. It is the 2017 Alphabet Soup Reading Challenge hosted by Escape With Dollycas, which I have not done before. The idea is to read one book for each of the letters in the Alphabet. Go to link to see the rules. As always I try first hand to grab a book from my TBR shelves. Here is my initial list. Curious to see if I can fill up the whole list from these shelves? Since I am Swedish and we have three more letters than the English alphabet, I added them. Just for the fun of it. Hope it is ok.

A - Aldermans arvinge by Gabriella Håkansson
B - Buddenbrooks by Thomas Mann
C - Colombus, The Four Voyages by Laurence Berggren
D - Darwin's Sacred Cause, Race, Slavery and the quest for Human Origins by Adrian Desmond and James Moore
E - Eleanor, The Secret Queen by John Ashdown-Hill
F - Freedom by Jonathan Franzen
G - Gabriele d'Annunzio by Lucy Hughes-Hallett
H - Historien om Lissabons belägring by Jose Saramago
I -  If you Could See Me Now by Cecilia Ahern
J - Jorden runt på 80 dagar by Jules Verne
K - Krysalis by John Trenhaile
L - Lisbeth by Ragnhild Hallén
M - Moderspassion by Majgull Axelsson
N - Notorious by Janet Dailey
O - Ofredsår by Peter Englund
P - Påven Johanna by Donna Woolfolk Cross
R - Russka by Edward Rutherford
S - Sophie's World by Jostein Gaarder
T - The Tiger's Wife by Téa Obreht
U - Unsolved Mysteries of Amsterdam by Martijn J. Adelmund
V - Viskar ditt namn by Kristin Hannah
W - Women in Love by D.H. Lawrence
Å - Återvändaren by Butler & Öhrlund

Well, five letters missing, so have to look for them elsewhere. Otherwise, I am quite pleased that I could come up with almost all the books from my own shelves. Looking forward exchanging views with all the participants.

Tuesday, 29 November 2016

Mrs Robinson's Disgrace (The Private Diary of a Victorian Lady) by Kate Summerscale

Kate Summerscale is a journalist/author who specialises in books about real life events. Some years ago I read her The Suspicions of Mr Whicher or The Murder at Road Hill House, telling the story of a little boy being murdered in the midst of his family, in the mid 1800s. It was an interesting account on the police work and probably the first time that the private lives of the Victorian family concerned, was not so private anymore.

The title of this book teased me, and I was not aware of the actual theme of the book when I bought it. I figured it would be a daily account of a Victorian lady, which would give me a glimpse into her world. It was not exactly what I expected.

Mrs Robinson was married to Mr Robinson (of course) in her second and not entirely happy marriage. The husband was occupying himself with his business and often left his wife on her own. She did not really have anyone to confide in, so did so to her diary.

It is full of her daily life, her family, friends and her infatuations with different men. It is all very well, until she, several years later, becomes ill and her husband finds her diary. He takes it, reads it and immediately files for a divorce.

It seems that in the mid 1800s laws were changed and it was a little bit easier and affordable to get a divorce. However, this case was rare, since the husband used the diary of his wife as a means to prove that she had been unfaithful.

Summerscale moves between the diary notes and historical data of the time. We get a glimpse into the life and customs, as well as events happening around the trial. What is interesting is to see how judges, male of course, viewed women and women's sexuality at the time. There was a lot of developments within psychology, phrenology and sexuality going on in the mid 1800s, and Summerscale skilfully incorporates these developments into the overall story.

I found it quite fascinating, but at the same time a little bit sad. Mainly that a private account, that was not supposed to be read by anyone else, was used in a very public trial.  One can only imagine how it would have hurt her to have it all read out in the court room. I will not reveal either the outcome and more details of the diary. However, the verdict in the end is quite surprising. Maybe not the verdict as such, but the reasoning behind it.

An interesting tale of times gone by. Kate Summerscale has given us another historical account,  with great knowledge of the time and the customs and how the Victorian upper class lived their lives.

Sunday, 27 November 2016

What's in a Name - challenge 2017

We are nearing the end of the year and it is time to have a look at the results from the 2016 challenges. While doing this, I have noted that the 2017 challenges are building up, and, as usual, a lot of interesting ones. My main challenge this year was to lower my TBR shelves, and any challenge I joined would have to fit in to the various books on these shelves. It has worked out very well. So far I have read 44 books from these shelves, and I hope to be able to finish at least 50 this year. Six to go! There are still 206 minus 44 = 162 books on my shelves, but I am slowly getting there. The aim is another 50 for 2017.

I love all the challenges I am participating in this year. One which is already there to sign up for in 2017 is "What's in a Name" hosted by The Worm Hole. You find the criteria and link-up on the link. For 2016 I have three more books to read, and I just picked them out from my shelves in order not to forget. They are:

Light in August by William Faulkner
The Binding Chair by Kathryn Harrison
Under the Greenwood Tree by Thomas Hardy

The following criteria is set up for 2017 (my choices after the brackets).

A number in numbers - I have no title with numbers, so have to find. Otherwise I might use Nine Parts of Desire by Geraldine Brooks

A building - The Mill on the Floss by George Elliot

A title which has an ‘X’ somewhere in it - Kansler Axel Oxenstierna 1&2 by Gunnar Wetterberg

A compass direction - East of Eden by John Steinbeck (in a book with his collected works)

An item/items of cutlery - Nothing that fits, so have to find a book for here.

A title in which at least two words share the same first letter – alliteration! - The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield

Looking forward starting the new year with this challenge. Are you participating in any challenges next year?

Wednesday, 23 November 2016

Dansa på deadline (Dancing on deadline) by Alexander Rozental and Lina Wennersten

Dansa på deadline is a book about procrastination, written by psychologist (Alexander) and journalist (Lina). A very interesting book, especially if you are a master of procrastination! When I started the book, I was a little bit surprised. How come these people, which I do not know personally, have been writing a book about me? Everything I read could be directly related to my own life. After the first initial chock, I realised it probably means I am not the only procrastinator in the world.

The book is very well written. Very pedagogical and it speaks directly to you. After each chapter there are exercises and good advice to help you in the right direction. I have not yet done the exercises, but will do those which seem most applicable to myself.

Here are a few things to consider.
  • Impulsive persons have the biggest difficulties with procrastination. They have no patience or disciplin to wait for the reward. They choose the easiest and least satisfying tasks first and the more troublesome tasks at the end, when there is no more time to deal with them. We use self control to deal with impulsiveness. Self control makes us work towards the goal, even if it lingers in a rather far distant. Lack of self control makes you distracted and you probably turn to tasks that give you the reward sooner. Therefore the more complicated tasks, the more they are delayed until the very last minute. 
  • Lack of self confidence is another culprit and makes it more difficult for us to reach the goal we are aiming at. It goes hand in hand with self-efficacy, that is; confidence in your own ability to act towards a set target. Self confidence and self efficacy are developed depending on experiences during our childhood. To challenge ourselves will take us in the right direction. To set up goals and manage to fulfil will boost our self confidence.
  • It seems people doing sports normally are less prone to procrastination. This goes hand in hand with the fact that to be a good sportsman/woman you have to have discipline. 
  • For the more complicated tasks, and where there is a deadline, we do the first part of the task using 80% of total time. The other half is done during the last 20%. 
  • A good way to reach a satisfactory achievement is to set smaller goals along the way. If we see the very big mountain in the end, we tend to turn to other tasks more easily to fulfil and finish. If we just look ahead for the next 400 metres, it is easier to reach this level and from there take another small step. 
  • It is also important to take breaks from time to time. Take a 5 min break; take a small walk, get some coffee or tea or speak with a colleague. 

The book contains a lot of interesting research, statistics and advice how to get around procrastinating. It is easy to grasp, and while it is in Swedish, I am sure there are many books out there in English tackling the problem. A lot of the research come from US universities. I hope, with the help of the exercises and all the good advice, I will be able to find a good routine so I can put procrastination behind me.  Having said that; you can imagine my procrastination before finalising this post!

What about you? Are you prone to procrastination? Or are you digging straight into a difficult task, plan it accordingly and finish it a little bit ahead of the deadline?

Tuesday, 22 November 2016

Charles Dickens - Compassion and Contradiction by Karen Kenyon

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way – in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.
This is the opening line from one of Charles Dickens most famous books, A Tale of Two Cities. Charles Dickens is considered one of the greatest novelists during the Victorian era. Almost all of his books are famous and has created unforgettable characters, whose names are used, still today, by artists and alike. He was considered a genius already in his life time. Numerous are the biographies written about him. A couple of years ago I readCharles Dickens: A Life by Claire Tomalin. An excellent, and detailed, account of his life, his work and his times. It is highly recommended. However, if you want to read a shorter account of his very active life, I can recommend Karen Kenyon's Charles Dickens: Compassion and Contradiction publish as an e-book by The Odyssey Press/Endeavour Press.

Karen Kenyon is an American teacher in writing and author of poetry, essays, interviews and travel articles. She has written a well researched, very compassionate, vivid account of the life, works and times of Charles Dickens. Nothing is missing. With compassion she takes us through his traumatic childhood, which was to stay with him all his life, and gave him his social conscience, always present in his literary work.  He was an avid walker, and walked for hours around London's poor areas, watching and noticing people around him and the life they led. Later on he visualised them in his novels.

His compassion led him to write news articles and he even created newspapers who dealt with many of the social problems of the day. Most of his life, he was under a lot of stress to complete his stories, often first printed as weekly instalments in the newspapers, before they were printed as a book. This was a new way of reaching out to the poor people, who could buy a paper, but could not afford books. He was immensely popular. Due to a very strict disciplin, which he kept all his life, there was nevertheless  time for his friends and people in need. He seems to have been working all the time.

So, where do the contradictions come in? One part of his life that he failed in, is his family. In 1836, 24 years old, and having already started writing the Pickwick Papers, he married Catherine Hogarth, daughter of the editor of the Evening Chronicle.  They were two different kind of people and with the years they became more estranged. Catherine's love for Dickens however, lasted a life time. His went away as the number of children grew! They had 10 children and somehow, it seems, he blamed Catherine for the number of children! Their family life was turbulent. Catherine suffered from depressions, and especially post natal depressions, of which Dickens had no understanding or patience. Most of their life Catherine's sisters lived with them to help her with the big family, of which she was not able to cope. Where Dickens had compassion and an interest to do good as concerned his friends and the poor people of the day, he had no compassion with his own family. In 1858 the couple separated, and most of the children stayed with Dickens. At this time he had also met Ellen Ternan, an actress, which he fell in love with. The art of their relationship is still somewhat unclear.

Dickens led a turbulent life in private as well as in his official role of the master, genius author. His involvement in the social problems of the day, gave him the base he needed in creating immortal characters and stories. Kenyon, takes us through Dickens literary life and weaves his private life, compassions and contradictions into it. It is a wonderful tale, of a unique character, who, with his charisma and pure energy, managed to live his life fully. Kenyon, successfully, tells his story with all the energy he himself put into his life. The biography almost feels like a roller coaster, where you follow him through the different parts of his life, almost without thinking or breathing. It is difficult to put down this book. A fascinating book about a fascinating character.

Thank you to The Odyssey Press/Endeavour Press for a review copy of the book. The views above are my personal ones.

Tuesday, 8 November 2016


Rose City Reader hosts a A Once-In-A-While Blog Event called "What is Storyline Serendipity? It is finding happenstance in the books you read. Serendipity seems to be a rather difficult word to translate into other languages, so let's take a look on where the word Serendipity comes from.

According to Wikipedia "Serendipity means a "fortunate happenstance" or "pleasant surprise". It was coined by Horace Walpole in 1754. In a letter he wrote to a friend, Walpole explained an unexpected discovery he had made by reference to a Persian fairy tale, The Three Princes of Serendip. The princes, he told his correspondent, were "always making discoveries, by accidents and sagacity, of things which they were not in quest of". The notion of serendipity is a common occurrence throughout the history of scientific innovation such as Alexander Fleming's accidental discovery of penicillin in 1928, the invention of the microwave oven by Percy Spencer in 1945, and the invention of the Post-it note by Spencer Silver in 1968."

Serendipity happens to me from time to time. A word or a place you have never heard of before and then it pops up here and there. It happened to me when I read the word "dipsomaniac" in Thomas Hardy's novel Jude the Obscure. I had to look it up to see what it means. It is a synonym, maybe used more in the past than the present (?), for alcoholic. Shortly afterwards I read the word in another novel, although I am not able to remember which one.

A new happenstance turned out lately. Having read Diana Gabaldon's book Outlander I ran into (not physically (!)) the battle of Prestonpans which took place on 21 September 1745 within the Jacobite rising. Reading Kidnapped by R.L. Stevenson it popped up again. The hero David Balfour is kidnapped and sent on board a ship. After a while he manages to escape together with a Scottish freedom fighter Alan Breck Stewart. While making their way back to the village where David will fight for his inheritance he has a chat with Alan.
“What,” cried I, “were you in the English army?”“That was I,” cried Alan. “But I deserted to the right side at Prestonpans – and that’s some comfort.”I could scarcely share this view: holding desertion under arms for an unpardonable fault in honour. But for all I was so young I was wiser than say my thought.“Dear, dear,” says I, “the punishment is death.”  
Recently, I opened the book The Witch from Portobello by Paulo Coelho. In the first chapter we meet Heron Ryan who is asked by his former teacher to follow her to Prestonpans in Scotland. From Paul Coelho's website I found the following:
"On 31 October 2004, resorting to a feudal law that was abolished the following month, the town of Prestonpans in Scotland granted official pardon to 81 persons – and their cats – executed for practicing witchery in the 16th and 17th centuries.According to the official spokesman for the Barons of Prestoungrange and Dolphinstoun, “most of them had been condemned without any concrete proof – based only on the witnesses of the accusation, who declared that they felt the presence of evil spirits.”"
So it is that Prestonpans has now popped up three times in my life. I am awaiting the fourth time. Let's see what the future has in line for me. Do you have any similar experiences in your reading or daily life?
The battle of Prestonpans in the Outlander version

Monday, 7 November 2016

Books read lately

Finally got going with my reading again. It feels great! Here just a few short lines on the latest books that I have read.

A Whole Life by Robert Seethaler - the book was nominated for the Man Booker prize, and rightly so. I really loved this low toned, matter of fact story of a man who does not have much going for him. In spite of that he accepts life as it comes, makes the best of it and never venture into dreams he can not fulfil. A magically, wonderful book of a life without few expectations. Although I find the book very sad, Seethaler manages to keep it on a high level and does not venture into self pity for his character.

Grymhet (Cruelty) by Birgitta Lindqvist - she spent time working in China and the book contains short stories from her experience there. As the book title indicates it is often a cruel life she meets, but she manages to write magic into the stories and they leave you with a wow experience and a greater understanding of a different culture.

Skrivandets sinne by Elisabeth Rynell - a book a read for my studies in creative writing. Small stories on the mind of writing, thought worthy and poetic at the same time. She relates to her own writing and what has inspired her.

The Hour Glass Factory by Lucy Ribchester - I bought this book when the author visited Brussels. She told us about using real events to make a fictional story. The times are fascinating (London beginning of the 20th century) but I could not really get into the book or the characters. The story tended to drag out and a lot of details which, to me, was not entirely relevant.

Porto Francos väktare (Porto Francos guardian) by Ann Rosman - an audio book I listened to during my trips to and from Sweden. I have read another book by Rosman which I really loved. Historical fiction at its best. This book is written in a similar way, meaning a present day murder mystery and a parallell historical story. Very exciting and well researched for the turbulent times of the west coast in Sweden.

Croissant till frukost (Croissant for Breakfast) by Annika Estassy - I have read good reviews of her feel good novels, and this is the first one I read. An easy read, feels good (!) and keeps it rather real. Meaning not going into too much romantic tendencies. The ending was quite a surprise, which kept it up all the way.

Kidnapped by R.L. Stevenson - a classic tale that I read for the Brontë Reading Group. A young boy get kidnapped (being arranged by his rather evil uncle) but manages to escape together with a Scottish freedom fighter. It is one of his most famous and popular books and I rather liked it.

The Black Moon by Winston Graham - downloaded books 5-7 of the Poldark series, just to keep ahead of the wonderful TV adaption by BBC. Just saw the last episode yesterday and are awaiting the filming of the next couple of book. This book is written 23 years after book number 4. It continues the story of the Poldark family as if nothing had come in between! Wonderful historical fiction.

Cirkeln (The Circle) by Mats Strandberg and Sara Bergmark Elfgren - I started this book already in 2014 and somehow it disappeared. I have been looking for it forever and only found it recently when I cleared out my house to move a few things to our flat in Sweden! It is a YA fantasy and it is really well written. It tells the story about 7 young witches in a small village in Sweden. They discover that they have power above normal, but also find it difficult how to handle it. When two of them are killed they have to thread a dangerous path to be able to discover what evil forces want to hurt them. Quite fascinating. It is the first in a series of three, of which I have the second and will buy the third. Nice to find such good fantasy novels written by Swedish writers. The genre is not very common in Sweden but is on the rise.

Sunday, 30 October 2016

Sunday bliss and a new reading corner

I am, once again, in Sweden to fix a few things in our flat. Martin and me have spent the last week to fix outstanding things in the flat, mainly buying some new furniture. We are awaiting our last buys tomorrow; a TV bench and a buffet, both in the same modern style. I have also found a nice, comfortable reading chair with foot pall to go into my library, which is in the corner of the living room. The outlook from the chair is through the balcony door over the lime stone quarry ahead. A lovely view that extends into eternity!

My reading chair with a sheep skin for warmth!
After all the work we decided to take the weekend off. Saturday came with heavy winds and rain and we were not too eager to venture outside. However, I went to the spa area that belongs to our residence, and spent a couple of hours reading (yes actually, finally!) and dosing off in the sun that shone through the big windows. Then a tour to the hamam and a swim in the pool. Absolutely wonderful. In the evening we went to have a look at our son who was playing a padel tournament nearby. Spent four hours on a Saturday evening looking at his games. Very exciting and it went rather well.
Padel tournament in Malmö
Sunday came with wonderful, autumn sunny weather. We took the car and went about half an hour to the Torup castle which is surrounded by a wonderful beech forrest. We walked around on different paths, for hours. It was so beautiful with the sun shining through the red and yellow leaves. A stunning day.

Beech forest in Torup

Yddinge lake

Passing by a golf course
As for the reading I am still on the fifth book in the Poldark series, but hope to finish it before the end of the month! I have also started on a Swedish book, Färjan, (The Ferry) while I am here. It is about strange things happening on one of the ferries that go between Stockholm and Helsinki. As a matter of fact, I am going early to bed to read and slowly fall asleep after this day full of exercise and sun! Hope you also had a nice weekend with a lot of fresh air and reading!

Wednesday, 19 October 2016

Classic Spin # 14

There has been another Classic Spin from The Classic Club. Lately, I have not had time to read any of the spins, although I am eager to reduce my classical list, which is also a TBR list. This time the spin ended on number 1. Here is my list:

1. Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen
2. The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins
3. David Copperfield by Charles Dickens
4. The Mill on the Floss by George Eliot
5. Light in August by William Faulkner
6. Karin Lavransdotter by Sigrid Undset
7. Buddenbrooks by Thomas Mann
8. A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man by James Joyce
9. Women in Love by D.H. Lawrence
10. A Streetcar Named Desire by Tennessee Williams
11. Richard III by William Shakespeare
12. Travels With My Aunt by Graham Green
13. The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
14. The Overcoat and Other Stories by Nikolaj Gogol
15. Vile Bodies by Evelyn Waugh (for 1 August)(not finished)
16. Sweet Bird of Youth by Tennessee Williams
17. The Taming of a Screw by William Shakespeare
18. Mansfield Park by Jane Austen
19. To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf
20. Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain

A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man I did not manage to finish, but the aim is there. One day! Vile Bodies I tried to read but gave up. I think that the two books I have read from the list I read outside the spin. One book I did read is La Nausée by Jean-Paul Sartre (deleted from the list after reading).

As you see, number 1 is a classic that I am eager to read, Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen. That will be my aim for 1 December. I will read another Austen book, Northanger Abbey, for my Brontë Reading group, set for December 6. So, a couple of Austen books in the near future.