Saturday, 25 June 2016

The Night Manager - tv-series

I have just finished watching The Night Manager. It is based on John Le Carré's spy thriller from 1993. Fantastically adapted for television with great acting by Tom Hiddleston and Hugh Laurie in a different role from what we are used to.

Jonathan Pine is a former British soldier, turned night manager in luxury hotels around the world. At one point he gets involved with a woman, the mistress to a wealthy Egyptian. She hands over documents showing that her lover is working with a famous international businessman who deals in arms and drugs under the auspices of selling legal products. The woman is killed for handing over the documents and that changes the path for Pine. He is contacted by a branch of the British intelligence service and enrolled to go undercover to frame Roper.

It is partly filmed in Mallorca which I know rather well. Other film locations are Cairo, Zermatt and Turkey, where I have been as well. It is always nice to see places where you have been on film.

It is a typical John Le Carré story and it keeps you in suspense through the whole series. I like it so much so I am thinking of reading the book, although I normally prefer to read the book before watching the series or the movie.

Have you read it? Have you seen the series?

Thursday, 23 June 2016

The Road by Cormac McCarthy

A modern classic is this tale from a future where earth is destroyed by a catastrophe of some kind. A father taking his son on the road to a warmer and better place, where you don’t have to fight for your life. Where people are good people. Where you don’t have to be afraid of the people you meet and take for granted that they will kill you to get something to eat.

Their odyssey takes them through a post-apocalyptic America, where nothing much has survived, but a few people. All are looking for food and other things that can help them survive. It is so well written and described in such a way that you are there with the father and the son. Feeling their longing for a place that is no more, living on memories of their wife and mother, trying to find a place they can call home and settle down. Where there will be food for the day, warmth enough to be comfortable, and they do not have to suspect everyone they meet for going to kill them to get the meagre raisons of food they have.

McCarthy has written a totally enthralling story on a future we all dread. You get absorb by the fight for a decent life that the father is trying to arrange for his son. The father is sick and dying and, apart from other fears, he cannot bear to think of leaving his son in the abyss. The closer to the end of the book you come, the more you wonder how it will end.

It is not a very thick book, but each page is filled with the story of a fight for survival and wonderful dialogue between the father and son. McCarthy received the Pulitzer prize for this book and he is really worth it. A wonderful tale in all its terror.

I don't want to spoil this master piece, but I could not help thinking of the Mad Max films that visualise a similar future world.

Wednesday, 22 June 2016

The hand that first held mine by Maggie O’Farrell

Strangely enough, this is the second book in a short time, that I read, loved the story but not the way it is written.  But, misunderstand me right; the writing itself if wonderful, it is just the parts that takes you out of the story (see below). The story is told from two different time frames and in the end the two stories merge. I must say in quite a surprising and extraordinary way. You are in for some surprises at the end.

The story starts in the 1950s with Lexie Sinclair who is longing for another life. By chance she runs into a charming artist and journalist, Innes Kent, in her remote village. That is the chance meeting she needs to take the big step to go to work in London. Inevitably she runs into Innes Kent and from there her life is never the same.

In present time we meet Ted and Elina, as they have got their first child. The birth was very dramatic, both for Elina and for Ted and it takes time for both of them to settle in as parents and their new life. From the beginning it is just Elina having problems coming to terms with the horrors of the birth, but the child brings out forgotten memories in Ted and he starts questioning his own childhood. The trauma of Elina’s childbirth is very well described, but the descriptions linger on a little bit too long.  Just as she recovers, Ted starts acting strangely.

Just like with The Hidden Room, this is a fascinating, very well written story. But, as with the other novel, the author decides to step out of her characters and adress the reader. I know, Charlotte Brontë did the same in the end of Jane Eyre: ’Reader, I married him’. All right, I can accept that although it somehow also takes you out of the story.  I find it especially irritating when you are in another time.

The older story is written in past tense, and the present story in precent tense. Here an example, where, after a section of Elina and Ted, we go back to Lexie:
”Here is Lexie, standing on a pavement at Marble Arch. She is adjusting the back of her shoe, smoothing her hair. It is a warm, hazy evening, just after six o’clock. Men in suits and women in heels and hats, pulling children by the hand, flow around her as if they were a river and she were a rock in their path. ”
Do you know what I mean? Here the story goes from telling Lexies story, to putting the reader somehow into the story. I don’t really like this. I want to be the unseen, reader, getting the story without them knowing it, so this approach does not really work for me. However, these parts only happens here and there. Overall, the story is told as I think it should.

Having said that, it is a wonderful, interesting story and it keeps you curious until the very end. I loved the characters of Lexie and Innes, and although I was, from time to time, slightly irritated with Elina and Ted, they won out in the end. A wonderful tale, and it makes me curious about Maggie O’Farrels’ other books.

Tuesday, 21 June 2016

Challenge update on the Classics!

Another short update on my Challenges. It regards Back to the Classics Challenge is hosted by Books and Chocolate. The rule is to choose between 3, 6 or 9 categories; I choose six: still from my TBR shelves.

19th Century Classic - Austen, Jane - Sense and Sensibility

I don't know why I have not come around to read this classic novel by Jane Austen. I loved her Pride and Prejudice and have read that one several times. I have also read Persuasion which I liked. But this novel, which many says is her best, has not been taken out of my book case. The same goes for Northanger Abbey and Mansfield Park. Just means that I still have time to enjoy new books by her. 

20th Century Classic - Greene, Graham - Our Man in Havanna (Read)

I read this earlier this year, and together with his novels The Human Factor and Travels With My Aunt, Graham Greene has popped up as one of my favourite authors. Wonderful style and a humour, hard to beat. 

Classic by a Woman Author - Undset, Sigrid - Kristin Lavransdotter

This is a classic from the famous Norwegian writer Sigrid Undset. I found it in a book swapping club and am happy to finally read this, her master piece.

Classic in Translation - Buddenbrooks by Thomas Mann

Another classics that should have been read a long time ago. This challenge gives me the opportunity to finally bite into this rather long novel, that gave him the Nobel Prize at a very young age. My version is in Swedish. 

Classic Detective Novel - The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins (Read)

Ever since I read The Moonstone I wanted to read something more by Wilkie Collins. This is one of his most famous books and it does not disappoint. I think the plot was better than The Moonstone, although it was good enough there. As you slowly, slowly come towards the end of the book and the revelation of the mystery woman in white who silently lingers in the shadows through the whole book. Somewhat of a master piece. 

Classic Short Stories - Chekhov, Anton - Five Great Short Stories

I have only read a couple of short stories before by Anton Chekov. Looking forward to read these five short stories. 

Tuesday, 14 June 2016

Challenge update - Shelf Love Challenge and Mount TBR Reading Challenge

'Shelf Love Challenge' is hosted by Second Run Reviews: Choose the amount of books you want to deduct from your TBR shelves. Since all my challenges are aimed at lowering the number of books, I have opted for 51+ books.

So far I have read 25 books, so it is looking good for the 51+ I have opted for.

The next challenge goes hand in hand with the above. The aim is to lower the number of books on your TBR shelves.

'Mount TBR Reading Challenge' is hosted by My Reader's Block in order to reduce your TBR shelves. Always a great challenge for me. I opt for 100 books!

So far I have read 25 books, so it does not look that great! I have also opted for 100 books at Goodreads so definitely have to speed up my reading.

Here are the books read so far:

1. The life-changing magic of tidying by Marie Kondo
2. Our Man in Havanna by Graham Greene
3. Jailbird by Kurt Vonnegut
4. The German Woman by Paul Griner
5. Under jorden i Vilette by Ingrid Hedström 
6. The Almost Nearly Perfect People - Behind the Myth of the Scandinavian Utopia by Michael Booth
7. The High Mountains of Portugal by Yann Martel
8. The Lady and the Unicorn by Tracy Chevallier
9. Amsterdam - A History of the World's Most Liberal City by Russell Shorto
10. Che by Björn Kumm (audio)
11. The Sage of Waterloo by Leona Francombe
12. Selected works by Alexander Pushkin
13. Blekingegatan 32 by Lena Einhorn 
14. How can one not be interested in Belgian History by various authors
15. The Secret History of the Pink Carnation by Lauren Willig
16. Alkemistens dotter (The Alchemist's Daughter) by Carl-Michael Edenborg
17. The Prague Cemetery by Umberto Eco
18. Tulip Fever by Deborah Moggach
19. The Other Rembrandt by Alex Connor
20. Stormaktens sista krig by Olle Larsson
21. Mad Women by Jane Maas
22. The Girl Who Saved the King of Sweden by Jonas Jonasson
23. Travels With my Aunt by Graham Greene
24. The hand that first held mine by Maggie O'Farrell
25. The Road by Cormac Mc Carthy

Well, summer is coming, or is already here. Although it will be a very busy time for me, I hope to be able to read some really nice books from my shelves.

How are you doing with your challenges? How does your summer reading, or winter reading for those in other parts of the world, proceed? The most important thing is that we enjoy the reading, discover new authors and books. My ’to read’ list is always filling up with your recommendations.

Sunday, 12 June 2016

Challenge update - What’s in a Name

This challenge is hosted by Wormhole, with six different criteria to fullfil.

A country - The High Mountains of Portugal by Yann Mantel (Read)

An item of clothing - The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins (Read)

An item of furniture -  The Binding Chair by Kathy Harrison

A profession - Alkemistens dotter (The Alchemist's Daughter) by Carl-Michael Edenborg (Read)

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

The titles are the one I have chosen for each criteria.  As mentioned earlier, I try to use books from my TBR shelves to fulfil the challenges. These books all come from there, except The Woman in White which I read electronically.

Half away through the year I have finished three of the six books. I am reading Under the Greenwood Tree, and I do love Hardy, but find this book somewhat difficult. Mostly because it is written in dialect and it is difficult to read. However, it is not a thick book so I will dedicate to finish it during June.

How are you doing with your challenges? Are you also following this one?

Saturday, 11 June 2016

A visit to the Museum of Comics Art in Brussels

A while ago, me and a friend went downtown to check out a small exhibition of Brontës’ memorabilia. It was a very small exhibition, hosted in a book shop. Since it was a very small exhibition, we went through it quickly, and since it was raining, (what else?) we decided to go to the near by Museé de la Bande dessinée or the Museum of Comics Art. It is situated in a wonderful house designed by Victor Horta, the famous architect of Art Nouveau. It was built as a departement store for Magasins Waucquez. After Waucquez’ death in 1920, the building began to languish away and in 1970 the magasin closed its doors. It was only due to Jean Delhaye, a former aid to Horta, that the building was saved, and in 1975 it was acknowledged as a protected building.
The Content Reader
The entrance hall to the Museum

Friday, 10 June 2016

Travels With my Aunt by Graham Greene

The Content ReaderAnother lovely, low key book by Graham Greene. Travels With My Aunt is not what it seems to be. First I thought it was a sort of travel book, but it is not. As usual with Greene, we meet people who are not what they seem to be.

Henry Pulling is a bachelor a former bank manager, now in retirement. His life is simple; to care for his dahlias. His retirement is a slow as his working life. That is, until his mother dies and he meets his aunt at her funeral. Without knowing it his life will never again be the same.

His aunt, in her mid seventies, is still full of life and invites him to accompany her on her travels. Starting with a short one, to Brighton, he starts to get an idea that his aunt is not what he thought. She reveals an anecdote here and an anecdote there giving him a small insight into her past life. When she persuades him to join him for a trip to Istanbul with the Orient Express, there is no way back.

Being Graham Greene, everything is not what it seems to be and the life of his aunt takes a turn to the unexpected. It is a pleasure to read about the trips, the surroundings and the people that Pulling meets, all very well described. Fascinating characters, all told in his low key prose, with a pinch of wonderful British humour.
”There was nothing to to sit on in the cell - only a piece of sacking under a barred window too high for me to see anything but a patch of monotonous sky. Somebody had written on the wall in Spanish - perhaps a prayer, perhaps an obscenity, I couldn’t tell. I sat down on the sacking and prepared for a long wait. The wall opposite me reminded me of what my aunt had said: I trained myself to be thankful that the wall seemed to keep its distance.”
The laid back person who takes things as they come.
”It took him more than an hour or two to persuade them to let me go, but they forgot to take the cahir from the cell after he’d gone and they brought me some thin gruel, and these I took for favourable signs. To my own surprise I wasn’t bored, though there was nothing I could usefully add to the history on the wall, except two problematical dates for Tunis and Havana. I began in my head to compose a letter to Miss Keene describing my present circumstances: ’I have insulted the ruling part of Paraguay and I’m mixed up with a war criminal wanted by Interpol. For the first offence the maximum penalty is ten years. I am in a small cell ten feet by six, and I have nothing to sleep on but a piece of sacking. I have no idea what is going to happen next, but I confess I am not altogether unhappy, I am too deeply interested.’ I would never really write the letter, for she would be quite unable to reconcile the writer with the man she had known.”

While reading I was wondering whether it had been filmed or not. When I read the book, I imagined Maggie Smith as the characterful aunt. When I checked, it was filmed and Maggie Smith played the aunt. The film is on youtube, so will try to watch it one of these days. Watching Maggie Smith is always a pleasure!

That was the last of the Graham Greene’s books on my TBR shelves. However, I am sure I will read more books in the future by this wonderful writer. Earlier books read and reviewed are The Human Factor and Our Man in Havana.

Thursday, 9 June 2016

Analfabeten som kunde räkna (The Girl Who Saved the King of Sweden) by Jonas Jonasson

Jonas Jonasson is mostly famous for his debut The Hundred Year Old Man Who Climbed out of the Window and Disappeared. This is his second book and it is written in the same, rather hilarious fashion. This time his main character is Nombeko Mayeki, who grows up in Soweto in South Africa. Among her many talents is the possibility to count, and I am not talking about 1+1 = 2! She manages much more complicated calculations.

This talent takes her from the very poor surroundings, through a high security scientific research centre in South Africa to Sweden and the immigration facilities. Here starts a series of random events that involves security services, police, outcasts of the society, well-known people and even the king of Sweden.

A totally unbelievable story, that after all could be true in theory! What I like about his books is the way he approaches his characters; the description of people outside the society, not really fitting in, but they find their niche in life and make something out of it. We are not all what we seem to be, and we do not all have to fit into a template of how we should act and be. I think that is the main idea of Jonasson’s books and he tells it in a charming way.

I am a little bit confused over the English title The Girl Who Saved the King of Sweden. The original title is (my free translation) The Illiterate Who Could Count. But that is life!

Wednesday, 8 June 2016

The Classic Club spin

Having failed almost completely to finish any of the books on my list (I only finished La Nausée by Jean-Paul Sartre), I am still hopeful. Maybe this time.

The spin is #15 and 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
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

 ... and the book is: Vile Bodies by Evelyn Waugh

I should definitely be able to read that one. Will bring it with me to Halle, where I will go to watch a tennis tournament with my son. We are hoping that the greatest, Roger Federer, will be back in action! Rain is forecasted so there might be time to read in between!

As you see I did finish The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins, but this was outside of the Spin.

I will still try to read the last spin; A portrait of the Artist as a Young Man by James Joyce.

Let us be surprised!

Good luck with your books. Anything interesting that you might finalise for August 1?

Monday, 6 June 2016

Bookmark Monday

It is Monday and I am joining Guiltless Reading in our love for bookmarks. Recently I found this bookmark. Lovely! Although I am not entirely sure how to attach it to the book.

The Content Reader

Like this?

The Content Reader

The Content Reader

There are two more shoes, in different colours, that I can attach. Almost like a bracelet where you can add various pendants! Maybe it will help me read this book, that was my last spin in The Classics Club. Waiting for todays' spin to see where I end up.  

Happy reading!

Friday, 3 June 2016

De gömda rummen (Habitaciones cerradas) by Care Santos

Care Santos is a new writer to me. I read several, very good reviews on this book, so when I found it in the library, while in Sweden, I took the opportunity to borrow it.  As always, when I start a book which has got raving reviews, I am a little bit vary that I might be disappointed. You just expect too much...maybe!

The novel was a little bit difficult to get into. I started and then put it down for a few days, before starting again. Mainly because I had limited time to read it, otherwise I might have delayed it further. Once into the book though, it was difficult to put it down. At the same time I did not like so much the way it was written, although the story is fascinating. There you are - a lot of opposites. 

Violeta Lax is the grand daughter of the famous, Spanish artist Amadeo Lax. She is an art curator, living in Chicago, and a specialist on the art of her grand father. The artist left his house and art to the Catalonian state, with the wish that it should be made into a museum. Now in 2010, many years after his death, the house will be renovated and open as a museum. Violeta rushes to Barcelona to have a look at the house before the renovation starts.  

One of the famous aspects of the house is a mural painting of her grand mother, the beautiful Teresa. She left the artist and their son, for another man and was never heard of again.  When the painting is removed from the wall, a secret door, without a handle, is discovered. Inside a mummified cat and a woman, dead since long, are found.

At the same time Violeta receives a letter from an unknown woman, living at Lake Como, who asks her to visit her there. There is a hint, that they have something in common. 

Parallel to the modern story, we get to know the story of the artist, his family and life. Little by little the story evolves. Family secrets, a life style long gone, an egoistic artist who controlled the lives of the people around him, makes for fascinating reading. It is really a fantastic story. Sometimes a little bit too detailed, and all the stories might not have been necessary for the overall story. However, it gives a solid base for the characterisation and the environment in which they are living.

What I did not like so much was the way in which it was written. Mind you, it is a translation, and maybe things were lost on the way. The story goes back and forth, back and forth, and not always in chronological order. Sometimes the same past come before the present (in the flash backs) and sometimes it is repeated from different people’s point of view. It made me a little bit irritated while reading.

The big surprise though is that this book has stayed with me ever since. I loved the story and the drama of it. The stories are separate and Violeta does not know all of the things we get to know about the past. However, what she finds out along the way, makes her revise her picture of her grandfather and the life he led.  I saw somewhere that it is compared to Zafon’s books, and it has a little bit of his dreamy atmosphere in them, as well as taking place in Barcelona. A lost world of grandeur in this beautiful city. Even today visiting Barcelona, you can feel the atmosphere. 

I see that they have made a TV mini-series of the book in Spain. Would be lovely to watch!

Thursday, 2 June 2016

Month in Review - May 2016

The Content Reader

Bookdate is rounding up our reading for May, so I take the opportunity to summarise my month.

May was a very busy month, with holidays and travels. I still read eight books, which I think is fine, considering the lack of time. I also read some 200 pages in a very thick book with small text; the excellent The Sleepwalkers by Christopher Clark. One of these thick books, good to grab for a trip. You don't really run the risk of finishing it half way through your trip! At least not on a short one.

Here are the books I read:

The Prague Cemetery by Umberto Eco
Tulip Fever by Deborah Moggach
The Other Rembrandt by Alex Connor
Stormaktens sista krig by Olle Larsson
Mad Women by Jane Maas
Analfabeten som kunde räkna (The Girl Who Saved the King of Sweden) by Jonas Jonasson
The Dinner by Herman Koch
De gömda rummen (Habitaciones cerradas) by Care Santos

Best book(s)

It is almost impossible to choose the best story from these eight novels. I really loved all the books (a good month in other words!), and they are all very good. If I have to choose one, it will probably be the last one, ”The Hidden Rooms” or ”The Closed Rooms” which is a more direct translation from the Spanish. In Swedish it is called the equivalence of ”The Hidden Rooms” (unfortunately, not yet translated into English, as far as I can see). It is rather peculiar, and I did not entirely like the book when I read it. Or, I did like the story, but not so much the writing. However, it has stayed with me, since I finished it about a week ago, and lingers there in the back of my head. Well, more about that in a coming review.

Writers’ nationality

Without any plan, just grabbing what I felt like, I managed to read books by writers from six different countries. I am very pleased about that. They are from Italy (Eco), Great Britain (Moggach, Connor), Sweden (Larsson, Jonasson), USA (Maas), the Netherlands (Koch) and Spain (Santos).

Number of posts

I posted seven posts this month. I thought it was a little bit less than usual, but turns out to be rather average! Hmm! No control there of how much I post it seems. Although, some of the posts contain more than one review.

Goodreads' challenge

I set a goal to read 100 boks this year. I am 10 behind for now, which means I have to speed up the reading in the coming months.

Wednesday, 1 June 2016

The Dinner by Herman Koch

I have read several reviews on this book, from various blogs, and all of them positive. It is always with a little bit of anticipation you start a book like that. You are afraid that you will not like is as much as you might think. Well, with this book, I did not need to have any worries.

The Dinner is a family drama, although you don't know exactly what kind of drama from the beginning. The story is told from the point of view of one brother. A brother that has a somewhat minority complex towards his older brother, who is a successful and famous politician. Even the possible new prime minister of the country. You understand that the younger brother is envious of his older brother, although in his own mind, he is not.

The two brothers meet for dinner with their wives. Arranged by the older brother, they go to one of the most famous and excellent restaurant in the city. Only the possibility for his brother to get a table at this top restaurant, makes the younger one squirm. As the dinner proceeds the feelings between the four participants deteriorates in various ways. The main reason for the dinner is to discuss their two sons who have ended up in trouble, although it is not clear what kind of trouble. Indications are dropped here and there, but it is only at the end of the dinner, that the horrors of the whole situation come out in the open.

The story reminds me of We have to talk about Kevin, which is another novel about the difficulties of raising children, and our role as parents and guardians in their lives. As with that novel, this ones gives you a dark undertone, something is wrong but you don't know exactly what. When the story reveals itself in full, you wonder who really has problems; the children or the parents. Spooky!

An excellent book and I really enjoyed it. The story reveals itself, little by little, and even when you think you know what happens, you realise you don't. The ending is not what you can expect and maybe that is why you can almost think of this book as a horror story.