Thursday, 31 January 2019

Kristin Lavransdatter by Sigrid Undset

In November Classic Spin #19 we were encouraged to read a chunkster book, and were given a deadline for 31 January 2019. I had not adjusted my list to chunksters only, so my no. 1 was Henry James' Washington Square which I finished rather quickly, since it is not really a thick book at all.  I decided to choose another, thicker book, from my list. I wanted to read Kristin Lavransdatter by Sigrid Undset for a long time.  My version compiles all the three books (The Wreath, The Wife and The Cross) of this Norwegian family saga, set during the Medieval Ages, mid 14th century.

Sigrid Undset was born in Denmark in 1882 and died in Norway in 1949. She wrote the book in Norwegian. The prize motivation was: "principally for her powerful description of Northern life during the Middle Ages." On this I can agree. It is a fantastic family saga, a strong female 'heroine', traditions, life at the countryside, or mountains, religion and superstition.
"No one and nothing can harm us, child, except what we fear and love."
Sigrid Undset, The Wreath
The book tells about nature, traditions and above all religion in this small corner of Norway. It is mixed with the story of Kristin Lavransdatter, her love for Erlend and their children. In the summer of 1959, the Swedish Radio asked their listeners to choose the best love story in the world. Kristin Lavransdatter won a clear victory. It is a love story, but not of the romantic kind. Kristin and Erlend love each other, but the hardship of daily life takes its toll. Kristin has been raised to take care of a big farm. Erlend was out fighting for his king and lived a different life. Kristin is the pillar of the family, taking care of house, children and people working for them. Erlend is a restless soul and have difficulties settling down. I think most people can identify with both of them, and we can also see similarities with our lives today.
"Many a man is given what is intended for another, but no man is given another's fate."

Sigrid Undset, The Wife 
Kristin Lavransdatter is an epic saga and an excellent story of how life was at the time. I was quite surprised how strong religion was (although I guess I should not). Religion was mixed with superstition, a lot of rules for people to live by and it added a sort of anxiety. Undset also manages to include politics and how it affects the families. It was turbulent times and a fight for the throne. To complicate matters, there was a union between Sweden and Norway and a minor on the throne. Political turmoil in other words.

It is a chunkster of a book (860 pages for all three books). It took a little bit of time to read, lots of text and less dialogue. However, this is a book that grows on you.  Although a love story, real life takes over and the love of the young very quickly disappears behind the daily chores. I am glad I read it, and I have thought a lot about it after I finished it. It does stay with you. I can understand why it got the Nobel Prize in Literature, and as such, it is more 'accessible' than most other winners.

Friday, 25 January 2019

New purchases

At Christmas I received a book voucher, so the other week I went over to the bookshop to see what was on offer. Since I try to read from my TBR shelves, and download to my ipad, I don't often go an buy a book in the bookshop. I have found though, since I am back in Sweden, that I go there a little bit more often than before. Still, I like to read English books in the original language, but it is a pleasure to find book in Swedish these days.

My voucher, plus an offer of three books for 10€, gave me ten books, to the price of 17€! Yes, a good deal indeed, since books are quite expensive in Sweden. Plus I ordered one from Amazon (Prisoners of Geography). Here is a short summary of the books. Some of them are translated in English and some are not.

Prisoners of Geography (Ten maps that tell you everything you need to know about global politics) by Tim Marshall. I ordered this via Amazon, since I wanted it in English. From the back cover:
"All leaders are constrained by geography. Their choices are limited by mountains, rivers, seas and concrete. Yes, to follow world events you need to understand people, ideas and movements - but if you don't know geography, you'll never have the full picture. ...
Prisoners of Geography looks at the past, present and future to offer an essential insight into one of the major factors that determines world history. It's time to put the 'geo' back into geopolitics."
I have been looking at this book for some time. It sounds like an interesting mix of geography, history and politics.

Macbeth by Jo Nesbo probably do not need any more detailed introduction. One of the most popular thriller writers in the world.
"He’s the best cop they’ve got. When a drug bust turns into a bloodbath it’s up to Inspector Macbeth and his team to clean up the mess. He’s also an ex-drug addict with a troubled past. He’s rewarded for his success. Power. Money. Respect. They’re all within reach. But a man like him won’t get to the top. Plagued by hallucinations and paranoia, Macbeth starts to unravel. He’s convinced he won’t get what is rightfully his. Unless he kills for it."
I am almost ashamed to say I have not read anything by him. I have The Leopard on my shelves and started it once. The murder in the beginning was so terrible I could not continue to read. I don't know why murder mysteries these days have to have such violent murders (many of them in Nordic/Scandinavian books). Well, hopefully this starts less terrible. One read I can go back to the other one.

Thursday, 24 January 2019

Metropolis by Philip Kerr

Publisher: G.P. Putnam's Son's (Penguin Publishing Group
The book will be on sale on April 9, 2019
Hardcover - 384 pages
I received a copy of this book (via Edelweiss) for a fair & impartial review

Ever since I read my first book about Bernie Gunther some years ago, I was hooked. With Bernie Gunther, Philip Kerr has created a different hero, in a different time. Bernie Gunther is a homicide detective in Berlin's Kriminalpolizei (Kripo) during the Nazi time. Not an easy task under normal circumstances, and even more so during these turbulent times. That could be why Bernie Gunther is tough, rough and cynical, but with a very special sense of humor.
"He's sardonic, tough-talking, and cynical, but he does have a rough sense of humor and a rougher sense of right and wrong. Partly that's because he is a true Berliner." (Philip Kerr)
In his latest book, Metropolis, Kerr takes us back to the very beginning; that is, to tell the story how Gunther ended up at the Kripo. Having been in Vice for some years he is honoured to be offered the very prestigious post and accepts without further ado. More or less immediately, he is thrown into a  a serial murder case, aiming at prostitutes and war invalids begging in the streets. Gunther thinks it is the same murderer, and he decides to go undercover to find some traces of the illusive murderer.

As he tries to concentrate on the murder case, he is nevertheless affected by corruption within his own force. The Nazi party begins to infiltrate the state organism and anti-semitism is ripe. You don't know who you can trust. The theatre world is booming and as he is about to go undercover, he meets a make-up artist. She helps turning him into a realistically looking, handicapped war veteran. She is strong and witty and Gunther finds a soulmate.

The story takes place in 1928, during the Weimar republic, in a Berlin still suffering from World War I. Gunther is a disillusioned war hero, and it is his cynicism that helps him survive. Kerr visualises a Berlin, raw, with its vices, dark underworld of criminal gangs, prostitution and perverse sex clubs. It takes my mind to Christopher Isherwood's  Farewell to Berlin. The same decadence and lack of trust in the future. A fight to survive and living by the day. It is so well done.

Metropolis as a title for the book is very well chosen. It gives us the connection to Fritz Lang's famous, urban dystopian film from 1927. This is how we are imagining a city going towards its doom. To make an even stronger connection, Fritz Lang and his wife Thea von Harbou, are side characters in the novel. Bernie Gunther moves between the different layers of society and seems at home in all of them. Berlin is an interesting background, although always present, in this Bernie Gunther's first murder case with the Kripo.

In Metropolis we meet a younger and less experienced man than we meet in later books. His memories of the war are still ripe and affects him. His wife died in 1918 in the Spanish influenza pandemic, and privately he is a little bit lost. Or maybe, he is just afraid to be hurt again. He is a ladies' man, so never short of temptations. Gunther is a very likeable character, although he sometimes takes short cuts. His intentions are good at least, and it is good to meet a character who sticks to his belief in what is right or wrong.

I can highly recommend this, or any of Kerr's other books about Gunther. The stories are good and the time is very well portrayed and researched. That is with most of his books; they fit into a time and circumstances that are interesting to read about. On top of this, you always get a good murder mystery. If you have not read any of Kerr's books about Bernie Gunther, this is a good one to start with.

There is a Bernie Gunther fan site which is very interesting to read. There is also information about Kerr's other books.

Unfortunately, Philip Kerr died in March 2018 of cancer. Just before, he finished his 14th Bernie Gunther novel, Metropolis.

Wednesday, 23 January 2019

The Secret Wife by Gill Paul

When I read the text on the back cover of this book I was a little bit hesitant to read this book. I have read quite a lot about the Romanovs, especially the last family, and felt that I did not need another story about them. Especially, since modern discoveries and science have put an end to the discussions whether one, or more, of the siblings survived their ordeal. I did start it though and I could not put it down until it was finished.

From the web-site of Gill Paul a short introduction.
"Two stories.
Two very different women, linked by the secrets of history. 
2016. After a devastating revelation, Kitty flees to her great-grandfather’s cabin on the shore of Lake Akanabee, New York State. There she discovers the spectacular jewelled pendant that will lead her to an extraordinary, long-buried family secret… 
1914. Russia is on the brink of collapse, and the Romanov family faces a terrifyingly uncertain future. Grand Duchess Tatiana has fallen in love with injured cavalry officer Dmitri, but events take a catastrophic turn, placing their romance – and their lives – in danger…"
Paul has written a fascinating story about a time of turmoil, that affected so many people. It is exciting, emotional and well researched as come to actual events. She has combined real and fictional events into an intriguing story of love and war, that stretches from World War I, the Russian revolution, into World War II and beyond. A fight for love that never ends, that affects the people concerned, but also the people that they meet. It even affects later generations. 

The two parallell stories work very well. Kitty's inheritance leads her to her great-grandfather of which she has hardly heard anything. Going through his cabin, talking to people, researching the internet, she slowly gets to know more about the man he was and the secret he kept. In the end his life and destiny give her a new look on her own life and relationships. It is Kitty and Dmitri who are the narrators. Through Kitty we learn more about the bigger story of the Romanovs and through Dmitri the smaller, more detailed parts of the story. It works very well in getting the story through. 

I really took to this story and the writing of Gill Paul. The link goes to her web-site, where you see other books she has written, both fiction and non fiction. I will certainly read something more of her. This was a book I really loved and although it is a romantic story, she has kept it on a realistic base, which makes it all so real. 

Thursday, 17 January 2019

Snow White Must Die by Nele Neuhaus

Nele Neuhaus is a German writer and new to me. I found the book (original title: Schneewittchen muss sterben) while using my Christmas gift card.  I was intrigued by the story on the back cover, and when I found the front cover with a snowy landscape, I knew I had to take this one. I needed a snowy motive for the Calendar of Crime 2019 challenge hosted by Bev at My Reader's Block. The criteria for January was themes connected to this month or the season. A snowy landscape was therefore perfect. And what a hit this crime novel was.

I have to admit that I started the book in the afternoon, could not put it down and finished it at 3 a.m.! Yep. One of those 'unputdownable' crime stories, where you just need to know 'whodunnit'.

Tobias is coming out of prison after a ten years sentence for killing two teenage girls. The bodies were never found, so the verdict was based on circumstantial evidence only. Coming back to the small village where he grew up and where the murders took place, he finds the family restaurang closed and his father living in a poor condition. The neighbours are not happy to see Tobias home again and try to force him away. At the same time a skeleton of a girl is found and the police starts an investigation. Pia Kirchhoff and Oliver Bodenstein are the two policemen put on the case.

It is a crime story, and I would not like to reveal too much of the story if you intend to read it. If you are a crime fan, you just have to! It is very well written. Pia and Oliver are well characterised and we follow them both privately and professionally. The police work is very well described and seems realistic. What makes this story so fantastic is the psychological effects on a small village, where everybody know each other, and where a local 'important' person makes sure that everyone is dependent on him, so he can pull the strings in all aspects of village life. And, so it seems, most of the village people have a secret to hide.

The intrigue is so well composed that it keeps up the excitement all through the book. It is impossible to guess who the culprit is until the very end. The village characters, who are very diverse, are well built up and you think you know them all. It is a nerv racking book, and as I said, impossible to put down until you know the end.

Nele Neuhaus has written nine books about Kirchhoff and Bodenstein, of which this is number four. I am happy to see that there are more books where this came from.

Wednesday, 16 January 2019

Trains & Boats & Planes by Killen McNeill

"Love for Harry Moore will be forever linked with Marie, the beautiful girl from Alsace. Ever since his magical teenage encounter with her in a tine holiday resort in Donegal, it has never lived up to his expectations.
Thirty years later, Harry, middle-aged, but not quite disillusioned, travels to Strasbourg to take up the search for Marie and the innocence and longings of his youth."
McNeill's book is a coming of age story. Events of his early youth affects Harry Moore his whole life. He is not able to forget Maria, the girl he met during an enchanting summer, at a time when he is going from being a teenager to become a man. Good and bad things happened during this last summer of childhood, and it affected all of the people involved.

The story starts in the present time when Harry Moore is visiting Strasbourg on a business trip. Having never forgotten Maria, he intends to look her up. Thirty years is a long time and people change. He is hesitant, but in the end he contacts her.

This is Killen McNeill's first novel (from 2001) and a very good one. He is from Norther Ireland, but is living in Germany. The story is set with the Northern Ireland conflict as a background, although it is not at the forefront of the story. McNeill's way of writing reminds me a little bit about two Irish writers that I like, namely Colm Tóibín and Sebastian Barry. It is something in telling a story, where nothing much is happening in the physical sense, but more on a psychological level. Wonderfully, straightforwardly written, with a feeling of how young people act, their dreams and visions, or no visions at all.

The younger years and the devastating summer are seen in flash backs, and take up the bigger part of the book. It is only now, in middle age, that Harry finds the possibility to see clearly what happened all those years ago. Maybe we do need a life time to settle certain parts of our life. However, what if that has prevented us from living a full life?

Meeting Marie opens up a lot of feelings within Harry, feelings not easily controllable. And then he finds out other things, about Marie and his wife. A low toned book with a lot of feelings, thoughts and an outlook on what life is really about. Is it not all about the people we love?

Tuesday, 8 January 2019

2019 - Year of Shakespeare Challenge

The Classic Club and Rachel @ Hibernators Library have joined forces in order to read Shakespeare. There are two options here; to read all his plays over a three year period or read one comedy, one tragedy and one history play over the course of a 3-4 month period.

A short survey from the Classic Club showed that Rachel's idea is very popular. Rachel will host the first trimester - the comedies. She is aiming for 4 of them, but I think I will have enough struggle to read one.  Erica @ The Broken Spine has offered to co-host the tragedies with Rachel which are planned for September - December. Histories for May - August will also be hosted by Rachel, who is on a look-out for a co-host. You will find all the information under the links above.

If this is turning out well, the Classic Club might extent the challenge into 2020 and beyond.

My own choices for one of his plays in each category are:

Comedy - The Taming of the Shrew
History - King John
Tragedy - Hamlet

Slightly hoping they are not too long. If so, I might change the titles later on. Since we are already in January, I better get started with The Taming of the Shrew. It is also on my spin list for the Classic Club so here I can hit two birds with one stone.

Monday, 7 January 2019

Challenge performance for 2018

Another year is gone and it is time to look how I fared with the Challenges I enrolled in for 2018. I did pretty well, I think, although I did not totally finish some of them.

For info on which books I read for each challenge go to Challenges 2019 and scroll down to link

The Full House Reading Challenge

Hosted by Kathryn at Book Date. The challenge is to read books that match the criteria in the grid. I proudly managed to finalise this challenge.

Mount TBR Reading Challenge 2018

Hosted by Bev at My Reader's Block. Read as much as you can from your TBR piles and try to climb a mountain. I set my aim for Mt. Ararat which is 48 books. Unfortunately, I only made it up to 4, 602 meters which is 535 meters below the top and 5 books down. Well, well, the air is thin up here. Not giving up thought, trying again for 2019!

European Reading Challenge 2018

Hosted by Rose at the Rose City Reader, the idea is to read books by European authors or books set in European countries. I aimed at the Five star - deluxe entourage, to read at least five books. Here I excelled a little bit with 11 European authors. Yay!

Cloak and Dagger Reading Challenge

Stormi and Kathy at Books Movies Reviews Oh My, are hosting the reading of mystery, suspense and thrillers. I did aim rather low, since I usually do not read a lot of suspense books. However, something happened and I read 30! I thus went from Amateur sleuth to Inspector. Quite proud.


5-15 books - Amateur sleuth
16-25 books - Detective
26-35 books - Inspector
36-55 books - Special agent
56+ books - Sherlock Holmes

Alphabet Soup Reading Challenge 2018

Hosted by Escape with Dollycas Into a Good Book, this challenge is to read one book that has a title starting with every letter of the alphabet. I managed all but six letters; I, Q, W, X, Y and Z. I did look into what was missing to late and had not time to choose books starting with these tricky letters.

Where Are You Reading Challenge 2018

Hosted by Book Dragon's Lair, this is all about places and locations in books. Here, as well as above, I managed all except six letters; J, M, O, Q, T and X. Some not that difficult letters, but once again, I just floated with the books I read.

2 x 18 Challenge

Hosted by Rose City Reader, and it is all about reading two books for each year of the century, and they should come from your TBR shelves. Considering most of my TBR books are older, I did not manage to fulfil this challenge. I managed to read 29 out of 36. I failed the following years: 2x2002, 1x2005, 1x2007, 1x 2008, 2x2011.

52 Books in 52 Weeks

Hosted by Robin of my Two Blessings, the aim is to read a book each week of the year. I failed weeks 22, 36, 42, 44, 45 and 52. Well, better luck and planning for the new year.

All these are challenges I enjoy and I will continue follow some of them for 2019.

Saturday, 5 January 2019

Mount TBR Final Checkpoint 2018

Bev at My Reader's Block has posted the final checkpoint for this year's challenge. One of my favourite challenges, not only because it has as its aim to lower our TBR piles, that are lying around our houses. It also reminds us that we should be out climbing, walking or whatever we enjoy doing to keep our health up. Climbing is not my cup of tea, but with this challenge I am doing my best.

I tried to be realistic and aim at 48 books and an ascent to Mt. Ararat. I almost made it but not quite. By 4.602 meters, or 43 books, the air got a little bit thin and I had to stop. The last 535 meters, or 5 books, alas, had to be abandoned. I will try to do better this year. Still, I had a few interesting adventure along the way.

It was not really Hundred Years of Solitude but I can understand the feeling. The Hunting Season was on, but I did not manage to shoot anything. However, The Mysteries of Beethoven's Hair followed me along the path, and I looked out for it, without finding it. I did Find Your (my) Element, and was happy to learn more about the stars above. When I got Restless I walked over to The Secret Keeper who always provided me with a little bit of sweets. I learned of Brontë in Love and wanted to roam the moors, rather than climbing the mountain. However, when I saw the Girl in Rose, I heard Haydn's music in my head. I did run into The Tiger's Wife and was dreading that this would be a Fatal Voyage. Must be safer in Brooklyn I thought. Or in Ireland where The Heather is Blazing. It reminded me of The Thirteenth Tale and I wonder if The Virgin's Lover made it. Then of course it was The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time which made me wonder wether I had entered Sophie's World or not. Or, was it just The Bugatti Queen racing by in her car?

A stitch in time - is Hundred Years of Solitude
Don't count your chickens  (during) - Hunting Season
A penny saved is (makes) - The Heather Blazing
All good things must come (with) - The Tiger's Wife
When in Rome - Angel Falls
All that glitters is not - Love in a Blue Time
A picture is worth a - Streetcar Named Desire
When the going gets tough, the tough get - Restless
Two wrongs don't make (a) - Betrayal
The pen is mightier than - The Mistresses of Cliveden
The squeaky wheel gets - The Secret Keeper
Hope for the best, but prepare for - Cathedrals of the Flesh
Birds of a feather flock  (makes the) - Butterfly Effect

Hope to meet you up a mountain in 2019.

Stuck with reading!

Sitting in Munich airport since our flight this morning was cancelled. We have been re-booked to another flight later this afternoon. Luckily, I have my computer with me and can take this opportunity to update my blog for 2019. Look over my challenges, read your blogs and enter into a little bit of meditation for the reading year to come.

For the most time though, I will open my chunkster book for the last Classic Club spin. It is Kristin Lavransdatter by Sigrid Undset, and I expect to come a lot further into the book. I have finished the first part of the first book. The version I have contains all three books.

Next week will see a few more reviews here. The holidays are over, time to go back to serious reading and blogging!

Wednesday, 2 January 2019

Reading statistics 2018

A new year means statistics from the old year. It is quite interesting to go through what you have read last year. Some books you tend to forget you have read, but when you see the titles they come up to the surface again. I don't have any one book that stands out this year. It probably means that I have been on a good, even level in my reading.

I have read 83 fiction (78%) and 23 non fiction (22 %) books. They are divided into: Historical fiction 8, Classics 20, Mystery 28, Other fiction 27; Biographies 6, History 5 and other non fiction 12. Top individual categories turn out to be Mystery and Classics. The division between fiction and non fiction is quite good. Although I might try to read some more non fiction this year. I listened to five audio books, and I am at the end of another, rather long one. It takes a long time for me to go through the audio books, since I listen mostly when out walking. I read both paper books and e-books and enjoy both ways of reading.

Overview of 2018 books

The 2018 reading year was for me quite different than usual. First of all, I read a lot of classics which, to a large extend, was due to my university course in Literature. It made me discover some unexpected pearls. For example Chrétien de Troyes' Lancelot. Estimated to have been written in 1177 and 1189, it holds a freshness and modernity that is amazing. Another classic I enjoyed was Voltaire's Candide. A humorous intake on the world at his time, and a real pleasure to read even today. Maybe not much have actually changed?

By far the best mystery was Jane Harper's Force of Nature, which had a compelling story which kept you guessing until the end. I also liked the two detectives and their interaction. I wanted to read another book by her, but I never got around it. Just lets me have some joyous reading for 2019.

A wonderful combination to read was Henry James' The Portrait of a Lady and the continuation of the story, Mrs Osmond, as written by John Banville. Always a fan of Henry James, as is John Banville, which is the reason it took him many years to decide on a sequel. It is done with utmost skills and a language close to James, that it is hard to notice a difference. The only difference might be that Banville makes an ending.

I cannot say that any book this year stood out against the others. It was an even reading year, a lot of mystery books, which I usually not read a lot of. Maybe the influence on being in Scandinavia? Most books appealed to me, but Arnaldur Indridason always sticks out. I must admit though that the last book I read, The Shadow Killer, left me without a clue on whodunnit? Anybody who has read it and can give me a hint. I wanted to re-read the last chapter again, but forgot and gave the book back before reading it through more thoroughly.

After many years on my TBR shelves, and thanks to the Classic Club, I finally read Sophie's World by Jostein Gaarder. It is an interesting book, where Gaarder manages to make you understand a little bit of philosophy. That is, until the philosophical world enters the real world. Or, is it the real world that enters the philosophical world? Hmm! A pearl of a book and a must if you are interested in philosophy.

Always interested in people's lives, I enjoyed a few biographies. To mention is Miranda Seymour's The Bugatti Queen, with its tale of an unusual woman's life. The Mysteries of Beethoven's Hair by Russell Martin and Lydia Nibley is another interesting story of how life move items through history. A last mentioning will go the Marie Benedict's The Other Einstein. A historical fiction about Einstein's first wife Miléva Maric. An interesting take on the value of wives' influence over scientific husband's work.


A new year is upon us, and how fast the old year disappeared! From a reading point of view it was a good year for me, managed to read over 100 books. More on my reading and statistics in another post.

Just wanted to check in and wish you a new good blogging year, with lots of reviews and posts about what we like to do. I feel privileged to share your blogging events from all over the world. What books you are reading, which trips you do, the challenges and memes. You are a great community and I am happy to be part of it.

I celebrated new year in Innsbruck, Austria with a firework in the city. On New Year's Day we attended the New Year's Concert (Neujahrskonzert) in the Congress hall. It was a fantastic concert. The theme was Maximiliam Ist. 2019 it celebrating the 500 years since his death, and events will unfold through the year. The music chosen was from his time and forward towards the famous Strauss, father and son. Beautiful music all through. It was managed by the fantastic, 26 year old conductor Kerem Hasan. Indeed a remarkable performance.

I continuous good blogging year and all the best for 2019!