Saturday, 21 May 2016

Catching up!

The Content ReaderAs life has been very busy lately, I did not have time to write as many reviews as I would have liked. I have read a few books though and here are a short sum-up.

Alkemistens dotter (The Alchemist's Daughter) by Carl-Michael Edenborg is about Rebis Aurora Drakenstierna, born in the end of the 18th century as the last in a family of alchemists. Her mother dies young and she is brought up by her rather fanatic, alchemist father. He is teaching her everything there is about alchemy. She is born with a calling: she is the one who will destroy the universe!

When her father dies she is not fully taught, and she realises rather quickly, she does not know the formula for destroying the universe. She sets out to visit the few surviving members of her family in Marstrand (Sweden), Paris and Berlin to try to find out if they know something about the matter. It turns out they don't, but meeting her relatives bring another dimension to her studies, and with her adventures, especially in Berlin, her life takes another turn and she starts to doubt her calling.

It is always interesting to read books about alchemy. It is a world apart and people within it see life and death in another perspective. I am ambivalent about whether I liked the book or not, but was rather fascinated by the world described. It is an easy read, and I really liked the style of the writing. It is an adventure story full with fire and light, a world of alchemy as well as historical fiction and a woman with a calling. The tension builds up through the novel and closer to the end, I was wondering whether Rebis would be able to fulfil the prophecy. The ending was quite a surprise!

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Tulip Fever by Deborah Moggach has been on my TBR shelves for some time. I bought it after having read the excellent book by Mike Dash about Tulipomania. Deborah Moggach has written a love story set against the mania of the Tulip market in Holland in the 17th century. The cover of the book is a detail from a painting by Parmigianino called Antea. In the style of Tracy Chevalier, being inspired by a painting, Moggach gives us a story of a love that takes you beyond reason.

Sophia is the young wife to the old, wealthy merchant Cornelis Sandvoort. He is a very sympatheic man, much in love with his wife and is doing everything for her. She is not unhappy, her husband did save her mother and sisters from a life in poverty, and she is quite content with her life. Until her husband hires a painter, Jan van Loos, to paint their portrait. They fall head of heels in love with each other and their meetings become more intense. Until one day, the decide to run away together. Since money is always a problem, van Loos gets into the tulip business in order to get the money needed. All is well until the very last deal...! Lives' small hick-ups plays a big part and the ending is quite surprising, even twice!

The characters are very well drawn and I even thought that Jan van Loos was a real person! That is how good Deborah Moggach has written this little pearl of a novel. It also fitted very well into our planned trip to Holland, that was cut rather short, as you have seen in an earlier post. I am rather fascinated by this part of Dutch history, the golden age of the 17th century.

Antea by Parmigianino
Another 'Dutch' book is the excellent The Other Rembrandt by Alex Connor. She is an art historian, which you can very well believe, reading this story of the world of art and art galleries, written, at least it seems so to me, with a lot of insight. As we learn, the success of the art galleries goes up and down. Owen Ziegler owns a successful gallery, until one day he finds himself in deep debt. He is forced to sell his original painting by Rembrandt. Although he always knew it is an original, painted by the master himself, his colleague who is buying it, is stating it is a painting from his work shop, and cheating him on the price. Ziegler asks his son Marshall, a translator living in Amsterdam, to come home to support him.

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Soon afterwords Owen Ziegler is murdered and Marshall goes on a quest to solve his father's murder. Along the way he discovers the murky world of art. Turning up unexpectedly are, what seems to be, genuin letters, written by Rembrandt's maid and lover, Geertje Dircx. Rembrandt's favour was transferred to another maid, and Geertje took him to court for breaking a promise of marriage. In the end she was sentenced to be incarcerated in a House of Corrections, which was a sort of prison or madhouse in those days. These letters reveals a secret about 'the other Rembrandt'.

Marshall tries to cope with all the information he receives, while he is finally discovering the world of his father's. More, rather brutal murders or slayers follow, and the tension rises. This is a book with a lot of layers. I did guess the murderer rather early, much earlier than Marshall himself Yay! However, this book has so much more, and when you think you have come to the end it continues until the end. Or not? There seem to be yet another angle to the story. An absolutely fascinating read and a must read if you are interested in history and art. It kept me thrilled until the very last page. Alex Connor has written another five books, also related to art, so there is hope of more exciting books.

Stormaktens sista krig by Olle Larsson is a historical non-fiction about the "Last war of the Great Power" being Sweden in the beginning of the 18th century. It covers in principal what is called "The Great Norden War" which took place between 1700 - 1712. It was lead by the king Charles XII. He was born in 1682, became king in 1697 when he was 15 and left Stockholm on 16 April 1700, never to return. He died in Fredrikshald in Norway in 1718. Still today the scientists do not know whether the bullet came from the enemy side or from his own side.

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For Swedes, at least from my generation (the younger ones probably don't know that much about Swedish history unless they have a genuin interest in it) there are two battles that stand out in our history, and that people do know. 1632, in the battle of L├╝tzen, present day Germany, where one of our greatest kings ever, Gustav II Adolf, died, during the Thirty Year's War. The second would be the battle of Poltava, present day Ukraine, although the year might not come at once. It was fought in 1709 and although it did not end the wars, it changed its course. From there Charles XII went to visit the Ottoman Empire, where he stayed until they threw him out in 1714! An excellent book if your are interested in history.

That was a short sum-up of some of the books I have read lately. I have now read 21 books from my TBR shelves, so I am happy about that. I have set at least 50 books from these shelves for 2016, so I am on my way!

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