Thursday, 31 October 2019

Nonfiction November: My year in nonfiction, so far

Week 1 in Nonfiction November 2019, runs from Oct 28 - Nov 1

First week is hosted by Julz of Julz Reads. We have a few questions guiding us on what we have read so far this year.
  • What was your favourite nonfiction read of the year? 
  • Do you have a particular topic you’ve been attracted to more this year? 
  • What nonfiction book have you recommended the most? 
  • What are you hoping to get out of participating in Nonfiction November?

List of nonfiction books read this year (by category)

  • Linnés skånska resa (Carl von Linné's Scania Travel) by Ove Torgny 
  • Wedlock: How Georgian Britain's Worst Husband Met His Match by Wendy Moore (audio)
  • Skånes slott och borgar by C Karlsson, P Karlsson, M Christensen
  • Med Örnen mot polen by Svenska Sällskapet för Antropologi och Geografi (Scientific account of the Andrée expedition 1897)
  • Politik och passion  - Svenska kungliga äktenskap under 600 år (Politics and Passion - Swedish Royal Marriages during 600 years) by (editors) Henric Bagerius and Louise Berglund 
  • Eleanor, The Secret Queen - The Woman who put Richard III on the Throne by John Ashdown-Hill
Biographies or memoires:
  • Till minne av en villkorslös kärlek by Jonas Gardell. The author is a famous entertainer in Sweden and this is his memories of his mother. It is very touching. 
Grammar and studies: 
  • Grejen med verb (The Thing With Verbs, my transl.) by Sara Lövestam
  • Grejen med substantiv (The Thing With Nones, my transl.) by Sara Lövestam
  • Grejen med ordföljd (The Thing With Word Order)by Sara Lövestam
  • F in Exams. The Best Test Paper Blunders by Richard Benson

My favourite nonfiction read this year

My favourite book(s) have to be Sara Lövestam's three small books about Swedish grammar. They are hilariously funny, and makes a rather boring(? or not) subject into something spectacular. I made me realise that the Swedish language is rather more difficult than I imagined.

Do you have a particular topic you’ve been attracted to more this year?

Looking at the list of books I have read, I realise that for this year, I have a little bit more variety in my nonfiction reading than usual. Mostly, my nonfiction relates to history. This covers both historical events and specific persons. Of the 11 nonfiction books I have read, only five can be directed towards this category.  I can be quite pleased that I have read a little bit more various nonfiction books so far this year.

What nonfiction book have you recommended the most? 

That would have to be the same as my favourites; the grammar books.

What are you hoping to get out of participating in Nonfiction November?

To continue reading several books I have started but got stuck.  The books I have chosen are:

Simon Sebag Montefiore (one of my favourite historian authors) Stalin, The Court of the Red Tsar
Andrew Wheatcroft, The Habsburgs
Penelope Fitzgerald, Edward Burne-Jones, A Life
Cressida Connolly, The Rare and the Beautiful, The lives of the Garmans
Niall Ferguson, The Ascent of Money

I realised when starting that I have already read about The Lives of the Garmans. However, the other books are rather thick, so I will not add another one. Will probably not be able to read them all. I have started two books (of course, can't just read one at the time!); Simon Sebag Montefiore's biography about Stalin and Niall Ferguson's The Ascent of Money. Always a current subject!

Monday, 28 October 2019

The German Girl by Armando Lucas Correa

I love the cover

Eight o'clock on Saturday, May 13, 1939, steamer St Louis, sailing with the Amerika Linie (HAPAG), set sail from Hamburg with destination Cuba. On board were 900 people, mostly German-Jewish refugees leaving a more and more troublesome Germany for freedom at the other side of the world. The passengers had entry visas for Cuba. Nearing the island, the Cuban president Federico Laredo Brú, cancelled those visas, signed by one of his own general director. Only those visas, signed by a specific ministry, were valid. The result was that most of the 900 passengers had to stay on board and, in the end, return to Europe. Since all of them had entry visas for the US, the ship sailed on to the States and Canada, but they both refused to admit the people. They had to return to Europe. A couple of days before touching European soil, a committee had agreed with Great Britain, France, Belgium and Holland to receive the remaining refugees. In principal, only the people who were accepted by Great Britain survived the war.

The story follows Hannah, who is 12 years old in 1939, and her best friend Leo. They make their way around Berlin as the situation for the Jews become more stringent. Her parents are well off, even have money put away abroad. But as their lives are tightened, they talk about leaving their beloved Germany.

Anna is 12 years old in 2014. She grows up with her mother in New York. Her father died before she was born in mysterious circumstances. Her mother does not want to talk about what happened to him, so Anna make up his character from an old photo she has. Her mother is devastated about her loss, and it is Anna who has to take care of her mother. One day a letter and a small box arrive from Cuba and her mother is taken back to life. Her husband's aunt has sent them letters and photos, so they decide to travel to Cuba.

Of this sad exodus, Armando Lucas Correa has written a touching story of survival. But what exactly is survival? Is it just to survive, or should it be a possibility for a new future? Are there similarities between Hannah and Anna, although they are one, or even two, generations apart? Life in Cuba was another upheaval for the refugees from Germany. Revolution and a new system. How many times can you change your whole life, you sense of being? Is it better to just survive, thinking of old times, or is it better to try to adjust to whatever new life is there for you?

With this novel Armando Lucas Correa touches the essential questions in life. His characters are well drawn, which does not mean that you always agree with them. It is said of the Rosenthals (the name of Hannah's family) that they did not die. They just let go when they thought it was time. To let go can mean many things, also the prospects of a new, better life.

Friday, 25 October 2019

Book Beginnings on Fridays and The Friday 56

This week's book beginnings and page 56 text is another library book, Shadowplay by Joseph O'Connor. It is a little bit out of my usual style, but it features Bram Stoker, so could not resist it. I have not yet read it, but review will follow.

Love the cover!

"1878: The Lyceum Theatre, London. Three extraordinary people begin their life together, a life that will be full of drama, transformation and passionate devotion to art and one another.

The Chief ... HENRY IRVING volcanic leading man and impresario
The Leading Lady ... ELLEN TERRY most lauded actress of her generation
The Theatre Manager ... BRAM STOKER following along behind them in the shadows
Fresh from life in Dublin as a clerk, Bram may seem the least colourful of the trio but he is wrestling with dark demons in a new city, in a new marriage, and with his own literary aspirations. As he walks the London streets at night, streets haunted by the Ripper and the gossip which swirls around his friend Oscar Wilde, he finds new inspiration. But the Chief is determined that nothing will get in the way of his manager's dedication to the Lyceum and to himself. And both men are enchanted by the beauty and boldness of the elusive Ellen.This exceptional novel explores the danger and complexity of unconventional love, the restlessness of creativity, and the experiences that led to Dracula, the most iconic supernatural tale of all time. "

Book Beginnings on Fridays hosted by Rose City Reader

Victoria Cottage Hospital,
Near Deal,
20th February, 1908

"My dearest Ellen,
Please excuse this too-long-delayed response. As you'll gather from the above, I'm afriad I've not been too well. Money worries & the strain of overwork weakened me over this wretched winter until I broke down like an old cab-horse on the side of the road. ... 
Some of it is in a code even its maker has forgotten. I wonder what I can have been trying to hide & from whom. 
Well then, old thing - my treasured friend - it is a holy thought to imagine my words moving through your heart's heart because then something of me will be joined with something of you and we will stand in the same rain for a time under the one umbrella. ... 
Ever Your Bram.
P.S.: Like a lot of thumping good stories, it starts on a train."

The Friday 56 hosted by Freda's Voice
"'This extravagance - it's insane. I'm quite up a tree trying to understand.'  
'I might go to bed now.'
'For curtains.' 
'Why don't you come, Bram?' 
'I'll just finish up this. Be along in a minute.' 
Close to eight the following morning he awakens on the sofa. There's a note from her to say she's gone to the library. The fire in the grate is lighted but the room is cold. Raindrops on the windows cause strange shadows down the walls."

Thursday, 24 October 2019

The Woman in Black by Susan Hill

This is a book outside my comfort zone. I don't read a lot of scary book, and this is said to be a classical, scary Victorian style, ghost story. What made me take it? A reference at the back to indicate that this book has been compared to Henry James' The Turn of the Screw. That is really all I need.

Arthur Kipps, is a young lawyer who travels to a village in the middle of nowhere, to take care of the estate of recently deceased Alice Drablow. Her house is situated outside the village, on an island which is only accessible via a small bridge, or road, during low tide. It is a monstrous house, with a life of its own.

Already during the funeral, he sees a peculiarly dressed woman in black. Everyone seem reluctant to even talk about the lady, and he gets no answers to his question on who she is. While staying in the old house, he is haunted by sounds, locked doors, wind, fog and rain. He hears things which sounds real, but are they?

This is a traditional ghost story with all the usual elements. It is very well written, not overly dramatised, and we can feel both the helplessness of Kipps, as well as an urge to find out who the woman in black is. And then comes the ending...! Spooky, to say the least. Yes, Henry James comes to mind. I am afraid that it might stay with me longer than I wish.

It has been made into a film with Daniel Radcliffe. It is also a theatre play in West End where it has been running for 25 years. It is obviously rather famous, but I have never heard of it. What about you?

Wednesday, 23 October 2019

Non Fiction November Challenge

Nonfiction November is coming up, hosted by Readerbuzz and co-hosts. I think one third of all my books are nonfiction, so I am ready to go. Co-hosting with Deb Nance are: Katie at Doing Dewey, Julz of Julz Reads, Rennie of What’s Nonfiction, Sarah of Sarah’s Book Shelves, and Leann of Shelf Aware.

The event will run from Oct 28 – Nov 30 

November is dedicated to our favourite nonfiction. There will be talks, discussions, exchange of views, recommendations and lots more. On top of this I expect to find new blogging friends who, like me, love nonfiction. Head over to Readerbuzz for more practical details on posting, links etc. Below is the schedule of events and the host for each week.

Schedule of Events

Week 1 (Oct. 28 to Nov. 1)

Your Year in Nonfiction So Far (Hosted by Julie at Julz Reads)

Take a look back at your year of nonfiction and reflect on the following questions – What was your favourite nonfiction read of the year? Do you have a particular topic you’ve been attracted to more this year? What nonfiction book have you recommended the most? What are you hoping to get out of participating in Nonfiction November?

Week 2 (Nov. 4 to Nov. 8)

Nonfiction / Fiction Book Pairing (Hosted by Sarah at Sarah’s Book Shelves)

This week, pair up a nonfiction book with a fiction title. It can be a “If you loved this book, read this!” or just two titles that you think would go well together. Maybe it’s a historical novel and you’d like to get the real history by reading a nonfiction version of the story.

Week 3 (Nov. 11 to Nov. 15)

Be The Expert/Ask the Expert/Become the Expert (Hosted by Katie at Doing Dewey)

Three ways to join in this week! You can either share three or more books on a single topic that you have read and can recommend (be the expert), you can put the call out for good nonfiction on a specific topic that you have been dying to read (ask the expert), or you can create your own list of books on a topic that you’d like to read (become the expert).

Week 4 (Nov. 18 to Nov. 22)

Nonfiction Favourites (Hosted by Leann at Shelf Aware)

We’ve talked about how you pick nonfiction books in previous years, but this week I’m excited to talk about what makes a book you’ve read one of your favourites. Is the topic pretty much all that matters? Are there particular ways a story can be told or particular writing styles that you love? Do you look for a light, humorous approach or do you prefer a more serious tone? Let us know what qualities make you add a nonfiction book to your list of favourites.

Week 5 (Nov. 26 to Nov. 30)

New to my TBR (Hosted by Rennie at What’s Nonfiction?)

It’s been a month full of amazing nonfiction books! Which ones have made it onto your TBR? Be sure to link back to the original blogger who posted about that book!

There will also be an Instagram Challenge! Find all the hosts that are on Instagram: @sarahsbookshelves, @julzreads, @shelf_aware_, and @doingdewey!

What now?
What is the most important thing to do now? Get together some wonderful nonfiction books, I think. Look through your stacks and see what nonfiction books you have been saving for Nonfiction November. Request books at your local library. Don't forget to look for a few audiobooks. Keep that stack near at hand, but be prepared to shuffle out something if it isn't working for you.

My month, my nonfiction favourites

I have chosen five books from my shelves rather randomly. I will probably not be able to read them all, but maybe a couple of them. I am interested in history. Most of my books are somehow connected to history and people through centuries, high and low.

  • Simon Sebag Montefiore (one of my favourite historian authors) Stalin, The Court of the Red Tsar
  • Andrew Wheatcroft, The Habsburgs
  • Penelope Fitzgerald, Edward Burne-Jones, A Life
  • Cressida Connolly, The Rare and the Beautiful, The lives of the Garmans
  • Niall Ferguson, The Ascent of Money

Tuesday, 22 October 2019

Calypso by David Sedaris

I used this novel for last week's Book Beginnings on Fridays and The Friday 56.

David Sedaris is a new, to me, author. I knew nothing about him, but found this book at the library's new books' shelf. The back cover text sounded good, it is a large print edition, which is always helpful, so I grabbed it. It is a great read.
"With Calypso, Sedaris sets his formidable powers of observation toward middle age and mortality. Make no mistake: these stories can make you laugh till you snort. Sedaris's wirting has never been sharper, and his ability to shock readers into laughter is unparalleled. But much of the comedy here is born out of that vertiginous moment when you own body betrays you and you realize that the story of your life is made up of more past than future." (From back cover)
He takes you on a hilarious ride of satire and humour, spelling out a lot of the things we usually just think to ourselves, but not always dare to speak out loud. When his sister used up all her inheritance at once and went to live in the street, he writes. "It's like she saw poverty as an accomplishment. "I'll be out at one in the morning, knee-deep on a Dumpster and elbowing aside some immigrant Haitian lady for the good stuff," she boated once when I visited her in Somerville.
"Maybe the Haitian woman has to be there," I said. "she has nothing at her disposal, while you have an education. You had braces on your teeth. You speak good English." My argument was an old and stodgy one: the best thing you can do for the poor is avoid joining their ranks, thus competing with them for limited goods and services."

Sedaris highlights memories of his past with his family and partner. It is enjoyable, and takes place to the background of world events. Highlighting modern life with all its technicalities, healthy life style...or not. "Every one in America is extremely concerned with hydration. Go more than five minutes without drinking, and you'll surely be discovered behind a potted plant, dried out like some escaped hermit crab. When I was young no one would think to bring a bottle of water into a classroom. I don't think they even sold bottled water. We survived shopping trips without it, and funerals. Now, though, you see people with those barrels that Saint Bernards carry around their necks in cartoons, lugging them into the mal and the movie theatre, then hogging the fountains in order to refill them. Is that really necessary? I think as I stand behind them with an aspirin dissolving in my mouth, fuming." I really liked this part, since I always need to have water with me when I am out walking. My husband insists it is not necessary, even for a longer walk in the woods.

Sedaris is looking at how society works and how we move within it. He has lived in the US, France and England and he tells us about aspects of life in different countries. Once, while in their house in England, he fell down from a ladder and could not get up, and his partner calls the hospital, on which he has the following thoughts. "Hugh phones the NHS - the National Health Service - and after being asked a number of preliminary questions, I'm put through to a nurse named Mary.
"Who are you again?" I ask.
"Mary," she repeats, not, I notice, Mary Steward or whatever her last name is. Everything in America is based on lawsuits, on establishing a trail. In the United States I'd be told to come in immediately for X-rays, but in England they figure that unless you're unconscious or leaking great quantities of fluid - blood, pus etc. - there's no point in wasting everyone's time. Mary asks me a number of questions to determine whether I pierced a lung, which apparently I have not. "But it really hurts when I cough," I tell her.
"Well, David," she says brightly, "then my advice to you would be not to cough, and to have a lovely Christmas."

I love his sense of humour and his outlook on life. It makes you think about life's peculiarities and how we perceive the world we live in. There are some 'below the waste' humour which I am not so fond of, but most of it makes you smile and nod in recognition. He paints a wonderful picture of his family, if it is true or not, I don't know. But it makes for charming and witty reading, based on a lot of love.

Friday, 18 October 2019

Book Beginnings on Fridays and The Friday 56

The Content Reader

Friday once again, and time for Book Beginnings on Fridays and The Friday 56.  This week I go for a library book that I borrowed a couple of days ago. Calypso by David Sedaris.  Here an extract from the back cover:
"When David Sedaris buys a beach house on the Carolina coast, he envisions long, relaxing vacations spent playing board games and lunging in the sun with those he loves most. And life at the Sea Section, as he names the vacation home, is as idyllic as he imagined, except for one vexing realization: it's impossible to take a vacation from yourself. "
The Content Reader

Book Beginnings on Fridays hosted by Rose City Reader
"Though there's an industry built on telling you otherwise, there are few real joys to middle age. The only perk I can see is that, with luck, you'll acquire a guest room. Some people get one by default when their kids leave home, and others, like me, eventually trade up and land a bigger house." 

The Content Reader

The Friday 56 hosted by Freda's Voice

"Who wants to date you anyway? I wondered, scowling at the photos. 
I'm not one of those short men who feels he got shafted. Yes, it's hard to buy things off the rack, but that's what tailors are for. I fit easily into airplane seats. I can blend into crowds hen I want to. Added height would be of no more use to me than a square head, so who needs it? "

A little bit of humour would be the summary of this book. Looking forward reading it.

Thursday, 17 October 2019

The Mystery Path, part 1

Without any exact planning, I have gone down the mystery path lately. I have read several books that have a mystery and/or murder in it. What I like about them is that they are more like average fiction, rather than a detective story. Only one of them belong to the traditional genre. The other positive thing is that the murders are not that bloody or cruel. Many of the traditional detective/crime stories these days, have these gruesome, cruel and violent murders, which is not so nice to read about. The books I have read lately tend to lean on good, traditional mystery solving à la Agatha Christie.

Ordinary Thunderstorms by William Boyd

Adam Kindred is a scientist, working with climate relating research. He has a meeting with a fellow researcher at his home. When he arrives to the flat, he finds his friend dead, murdered. He is wrongly accused for the murder and has to go underground. In a split second he lost everything; his home and job and his whole life. He can't use his credit cards, he has little money in his pockets.

This is a story of survival. How do you survive without the ordinary comforts we have today, without money in your pockets?  When hunted by the police and the murderer? Kindred encounters all sorts of people on his underworld journey; priests, prostitutes, people sleeping under the bridges and along the Thames, a police woman whom he might be able to trust, or not? It is an interesting journey into the psyche of people with different aims in life. Maybe we can find a happy life, even when we are forced to turn away from the life we expected.  It makes you  think of what is relevant in life. Maybe we don't need all the things we think we need. Quite an extra ordinary story with many twists.

The Silent Patient by Alex Michaelides

Said to be the thriller of the year, it is an amazing debut novel. Alicia is a famous painter, married to a fashion photographer. One day when her husband returns home, she shoots him five times in the face, and then refuses to speak. To hide her away from public life she is taken in at the Grove, a secure forensic unit in North London. In spite of various kind of treatments, she remains silent.

Theo Faber is a criminal psychotherapist and has set his mind on working with Alicia. When a position is available at the Grove he manages to secure it. He is sure that he will be able to make her speak. The story is mainly set from Faber's point of view. We follow his treatment of Alice, as well as a story of his private life and relationships. Having been himself a patient in psycho therapy for many years, one can expect a few surprises along the way.

It is an excellently written story. The sympathy lies with both characters, and they are very well molded.  The various doctors within the Institution closely guard their own section of psycho therapy, and something is going on. Faber is a master of analysing the different fractions and actions that are taking place. Not everyone agrees with his take on making Alicia talk. And what does Alicia think?

The ending is a pure surprise and it hits you rather suddenly. I, at least, did not see it coming. The Silent Patient is a psychological thriller that keeps your attention to the very, surprising end. Hitchcock comes to mind. Can't be better than that.

The Muse by Jessie Burton

I loved Burton's first book, The Miniaturist. It came with a lot of good reviews, which always raise your expectation. No problem there, it is a wonderful novel. With such a first book, one has high expectations for the second book, which might lead you to believe that it is really difficult to hit the high mark once again. No worries! This is another wonderful novel and story from Jessie Burton.

Odelle is a young girl, and aspiring author, from Trinidad who comes to live in London in the 1960s. She gets a job as secretary at the Skelton Gallery, to work for the co-director Marjorie Quick. She meets Lawrie in a party and they start going out together. One day Lawrie comes to the gallery with a painting, which is an inheritance from his mother. When Marjorie sees the painting she turns pale.

Olive Schloss is the talented daughter of art dealer Harold Schloss and his wife Sarah. The family lives in Spain in the 1930s, just before the Spanish Civil War starts. They get acquainted with local artist and revolutionary Isaac Robles and his half sister Teresa. She works as a maid in the house, but also becomes a friend to the family. As trouble is looming in Spain, the interaction between Isaac and Teresa and the Schloss family tightens.

Burton's stories, in this excellent novel, is about being talented and daring to do something about it. Odelle, doubts her own talent, and it is only because of Marjorie that she gets a short story published in the papers. Olive Schloss is also talented, but reluctant to go public with her works. Different times, similar parallells. This is a story of daring to follow your dreams, but also a story of, especially, I think, female lack of self confidence in what you are able to achieve. What happens when love enters your life? Does it take over other dreams? Is it possible to combine your love for art with your love for a person? How do you value it, in the years to come?

I love these kind of novels, where the story takes place in different times. It gives you more perspective on the issues, considering the times in which they took place. Burton knots the stories beautifully, but sadly, together in the end. Stories like these, stay with me long after I have finished reading the book.

Jessie Burton is now out with her third book, The Confession. Can't wait to read it.

To be continued...three more novels in part 2.

Thursday, 10 October 2019

The Nobel Prize in Literature 2018 and 2019

The local library had an open invitation for a Nobel reception, to await the announcement of the new Laureates of the Academy.

A lot of expert guesses before the announcement. Several important writers from all over the world was suggested. Once Mats Malm took the floor, it was announced that two European writers, one woman and one man has been awarded the prize. Polish Olga Tokarczuk won the prize for 2018, and Austrian author Peter Handke for 2019. I am not familiar with any of the two authors, but am looking forward to read something by both of them.

The 2018 prize is awarded to Polish author Olga Tokarczuk,
“for a narrative imagination that with encyclopedic passion represents the crossing of boundaries as a form of life.”
I am looking forward reading something by her, and it seems that her 2014 novel The Books of Jacob is well worth to start with. She also won the Man Booker International Prize 2018,  for Flights. 

The 2019 prize is awarded to Austrian author Peter Handke,
“for an influential work that with linguistic ingenuity has explored the periphery and the specificity of human experience.”
He is an author as well as a play wright. Suggestions to start with might be, Short Letter, Long Farewell, from 1972 and The Left Handed Woman, from 1976 (also made into a film).

Anyone who has read anything by these two authors? Any recommendations? What do you think of the choices from the Academy? Did you have a favourite of your own?

Tuesday, 1 October 2019

Beyond All Reasonable Doubt by Malin Persson Giolito

Malin Persson Giolito has written five books, of which I have read four. Have not yet read her last book. Of the four, there is only one I did not really like (her first one), the others are excellent and thrilling. Probably, mostly known for Quicksand, about a school shooting, made into a TV series by Netflix.

Her heroine, Sophia Weber, is a lawyer. Stig Ahlin was sentenced to lifetime, thirteen years earlier, for having killed a fifteen year old girl. He has always insisted he was innocently sentenced, and is now trying for a re-examination of his case. Sophia's mentor is asking her to take the case.

She is not so eager to jump into this case, which seems doomed beforehand. She promises her mentor to have a look at it. She discovers that the police investigation was very badly done at the time. That is a reason, good enough, for her to take on the case.

The book changes between Sophia's work and Katrin, the murdered girl, and her actions leading up to the murder. It is an exciting story, where Persson Giolito takes us along the legal offices, mixed with a personal account of the girl, her friends and family. To  sentence someone for murder, the evidence has to be beyond reasonable doubt. Was Stig Ahlin guilty? Or was he wrongly sentenced? Was there another murderer? In that case, who? The story keeps you guessing until the very end. And when the end comes...! You are utterly surprised, more than once.

Malin Persson Giolito writes very well. Having worked as a lawyer herself, she knows the subjects on which she is writing. It is realistic, exciting and utterly thrilling.