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?