Monday, 26 October 2020

Short reviews - part IV

Museum of Broken Promises by Elizabeth Buchan 

"The Museum of Broken Promises is a beautiful, evocative love-story and a heart-breaking exploration of some of the darkest moments in European history.

Paris, today. The Museum of Broken Promises is a place of wonder and sadness, hope and loss. Every object in the museum has been donated - a cake tin, a wedding veil, a baby's shoe. And each represent a moment of grief or terrible betrayal. The museum is a place where people come to speak to the ghosts of the past and, sometimes, to lay them to rest. Laure, the owner and curator, has also hidden artefacts from her own painful youth amongst the objects on display.

Prague, 1985. Recovering from the sudden death of her father, Laure flees to Prague. But life behind the Iron Curtain is a complex thing: drab and grey yet charged with danger. Laure cannot begin to comprehend the dark, political currents that run beneath the surface of this communist city. Until, that is, she meets a young dissident musician. Her love for him will have terrible and unforeseen consequences. It is only years later, having created the museum, that Laure can make finally face up to her past and celebrate the passionate love which has directed her life."

There is a lot to reflect on in this novel, especially memories and what they can do to us. In general, the flashbacks in Prague feel a bit long. The time was different, but Laure's naivety can sometimes feel a little annoying. On the other hand, dreams of love belong to the youth, rightly so. It is interesting to follow how Laure develops between the three, time periods that make up the book. In a way, she is three different persons, with the older one being the most appealing.

It is a story about memories and their impact on our lives.  Patrick Modiano often writes about memory and oblivion in his novels, and asks: "What do you really remember about an event thirty years later - and what do you just think you remember?"

How well it fits in here. Is Laure's memory reliable? Does she interpret the events differently today, with life experience? Laure's memories have kept her imprisoned for the past thirty years. Would it not be better to forget, as many advised her to do? What kind of life do you have if you live on memories based on shattered dreams? 

Contemplating Adultery, The secret life of a Victorian Woman by Lotte and Joseph Hamburger

"'And yet if you knew what rapture it would be for me to minister in any way to the pleasures of a man who loved me as I desire...'

In the early 1830s Sarah Austin, trapped in a loveless and dutiful marriage, 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.

Thus begins one of the more extraordinary relationships ever recorded its erotic tension and passionate tenderness heightened by the danger of discovery as every nuance of emotion is committed to paper."

This is a fascinating account of the mind and thoughts of a middle-class Victorian lady. Living in a loveless marriage might have contributed to her fascination and love for a man, prince and romantic adventurer, which she had never met. I could not help thinking the couple was very much ahead of their time; a sort of online dating. They wrote physical letters, today we write online. But, with the correspondence, they really got to know each other. That is if they were true to what they wrote. 

The story of how these long-lost letters were found is also interesting. In short, they belonged to the Varnagen collection. During World War II, officials at the German State Library in Berlin moved manuscripts and other documents to a Benedictine monastery in Silesia. This area was ceded to Poland in the postwar settlement. The collection was considered as a war loss until in the 1980s archivists became aware that the collection was kept in the Jagiellonian University at Cracow. 

And then of course... How could I not read a book having as cover The Day Dream by Dante Gabriel Rosetti?

A Thousand Ships by Natalie Haynes

"This was never the story of one woman, or two. It was the story of all of them...

In the middle of the night, Creusa wakes to find her beloved Troy engulfed in flames. Ten seemingly endless years of brutal conflict between the Greeks and the Trojans are over, and the Greeks are victorious. Over the next few hours, the only life she has ever know will turn to ash...

The devastating consequences of the fall of Troy stretch from Mount Olympus to Mount Ida, from the citadel of Troy to the distant Greek islands, and across oceans and sky in between. These are the stories of the women embroiled in that legendary war and its terrible aftermath, as well as the feud and the fatal decisions that started it all..."

The Iliad hardly mention any women, I think only Helen (of course) and Briseis. Natalie Haynes has corrected this and gives us a dramatic account of what happened to the women surrounding the fighting men. We meet the goddesses and mortals and get the Troyan war from another angle. It is exciting and thrilling as well as terrifying. Women always fare badly in wars. I love the Greek sagas and their gods and goddesses, and it was nice to meet them again in all their menacing ways; they are after all utterly selfish, revengeful, intriguing, beautiful and ugly, always trying to interfere with both immortals and mortals. Most of the women mentioned in the novel I had heard about, but there are a few new acquaintances. We know what happened to some of the women, but with others Haynes gives us a tale of another life. 

Friday, 23 October 2020

Short reviews - part III

 Three more short reviews of books I really liked.

Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens

"For years, rumors of the “Marsh Girl” have haunted Barkley Cove, a quiet town on the North Carolina coast. So in late 1969, when handsome Chase Andrews is found dead, the locals immediately suspect Kya Clark, the so-called Marsh Girl. But Kya is not what they say. Sensitive and intelligent, she has survived for years alone in the marsh that she calls home, finding friends in the gulls and lessons in the sand. Then the time comes when she yearns to be touched and loved. When two young men from town become intrigued by her wild beauty, Kya opens herself to a new life–until the unthinkable happens."

At the beginning of 2019, Where the Crawdads Sing, was the top best-selling novel in the US. It has got raving reviews and it does not disappoint. It is a bittersweet story about a girl who grows up alone in the marshes. We follow how she adapts to life, learns about nature where she lives, and how she struggles with survival, emotions and coming to terms with her lonely life. It is an amazing story that stays with you for a long time. Although the murder case affects the story and Kya, it is part of a greater story. Delia Owens deals so well with the emotions and turmoils of Kya's life, so tears are not far away. In spite of this, she never goes sentimental. Kya would not have liked it. The ending of such a story is hard to predict but does not disappoint. One of the books one just have to read. 

in her wake by Amanda Jennings

"A tragic family event reveals devastating news that rips apart Bella’s comfortable existence. Embarking on a personal journey to uncover the truth, she faces a series of traumatic discoveries that take her to the ruggedly beautiful Cornish coast, where hidden truths, past betrayals and a 25-year-old mystery threaten not just her identity, but also her life."

A book I had never heard about, the back cover sounded interesting and it turned out to be a hit. A wonderful story of family ties and what they mean. A woman trying to find her past and future, and discovering things about herself along the way. A wonderfully, written account of a young woman's life and sorrows. 

The Railwayman's Wife by Ashley Hay

"Australia 1948

Anikka Lachlan has all she ever wanted - until a random act transforms her into another post-war widow. Awash in grief, she looks for answers in the pages of her favourite books.

A local poet, Roy McKinnon, who found poetry in the mess of war, has lost his words and his hope. His childhood friend Dr. Frank Draper also seeks to reclaim his pre-war life but is haunted by his failure to help those who needed him most - the survivors of the Nazi concentration camps.

Then one day Ani finds a poem. She knows neither where it came from, nor who its author is. An unexpected and poignant love triangle emerges, between Ani, the poem, and the poet - whoever he may be."

A beautifully written story about a young woman in Australia, her past, her family and her future. The remnants of the war loom over this story. How the affected men are trying to come to terms with their experience and what they have seen, and how it affects their families that were not there. It could easily be read for this part only, but the poem Ani finds gives another dimension to the life of the people in the small village by the ocean. Another bittersweet novel which gives you a lot to think about.  

Monday, 12 October 2020

Non-fiction November 2020


Another favourite challenge is coming up, namely Nonfiction November. Hosted by Katie@Doing Dewey, Rennie@What's Nonfiction, Julie@Julz Read and Leann@Shelf Aware. As you see below, they will host one week each.

As usual, each week is filled with a challenge as regards Nonfiction. It will be exciting to exchange views on our different interests when it comes to Nonfiction. 

Week 1: (November 2-6) – Leann will be kicking things off with Your Year in Nonfiction: 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: (November 9-13) – I’ll be rocking Book Pairing: This week, pair up a nonfiction book with a fiction title. It can be an “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: (November 16-20) – Rennie is asking you to Be The Expert/Ask the Expert/Become the Expert: Three ways to join in this week! You can either share 3 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: (November 23-27) – Katie’s rounding things up with New to My TBR : 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! 

Week 5: (Nov. 30) – To cap the month off, we’ll be talking nonfiction via podcast.

This year's reading

I have read 18 Nonfiction books so far this year (from my own shelves and from the library). My TBR shelves host another 92 nonfiction books. My favourite nonfiction subject is history. I cannot say exactly what I will be reading, will leave some 'spur of the moment' decisions. However, I would like to mix the subject. From my list:


Having recently visited Delft in the Netherlands, I bought two books about the city and its most famous citizen, the painter Johannes Vermeer.

- Vermeer's Little Street, A View of the Penspoort in Delft by Frans Gruzenhout

- A View of Delft, Vermeer Then and Now by Anthony Bailey


I have a couple of books about evolution and it might be time to read them:

- Min europeiska familj, De senaste 54000 åren (My European Family, the latest 54000 years) by Karin Bojs

- Evolutionen och jag (The Evolution and I) by Johan Frostegård


Always interesting to read books about literature, how to read and ways of interpreting them.

- How to Read Novels Like a Professor by Thomas C. Foster


How should we approach and live life? Big questions. Jordan Peterson's book was talked about when it came out, and now might be the time to read it. 

- 12 Rules for Life, An Antidote to Chaos by Jordan B. Peterson


One of the most talked-about, and prize-winning book in Sweden in 2019. The lives of eels turned exciting. 

- Ålevangeliet (The Gospel of Eels) by Patrik Svensson

That is seven books. Let's see where we are at the end of November. 

Thursday, 8 October 2020

Short reviews - part II

 Continuing with a few more short reviews on books read during the summer.

1794 - Niklas Dag och Natt

His first book, 1793, was a big hit in Sweden, and according to Goodreads, it is called The Wolf and the Watchmen in English.  It is a juicy piece of 18th century he gives us. You feel the dirt, the smell and the poverty of Stockholm at the time. It is a continuation of the first book but can be read independently. 

A young mother is mourning her daughter who was brutally killed on her wedding night. Nobody wants to investigate the murder so she turns to Mickel Cardell who is working for the authorities to investigate crimes committed.  A young nobleman is arrested for a hideous crime he is accused of. And then there is Anna Stina Knapp who thought she had arranged her poor life in a good manner. But times change and she has to enter out into the crowded, rotten world of Stockholm, to save herself and her child. 

The first book was very brutal, difficult to read. This one is not less brutal. At the same time, apart from the brutal crimes, I would say, it is a realistic description of the people and the times in which they lived. . Natt och Dag writes well, it is exciting and thrilling to the very end. There is a 1795 coming!

Ostende by Volker Weidermann

Volker Weidermann is a German writer and literary critic. He is the literary director and editor of Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung. 

"Ostend, 1936: the Belgian seaside town is playing host to a coterie of artists, intellectuals and madmen, who find themselves in limbo while Europe gazes into an abyss of fascism and war. Among them is Stefan Zweig, a man in crisis: his German publisher has shunned him, his marriage is collapsing, his house in Austria no longer feels like home. Along with his lover Lotte, he seeks refuge in this paradise of promenades and parasols, where he reunites with his estranged friend Joseph Roth. For a moment, they create a fragile haven; but as Europe begins to crumble around them, they find themselves trapped on an uncanny kind of holiday, watching the world burn."

An interesting account of the last summer among friends, before the coming of World War II. We meet Stefan Zweig and Joseph Roth, unequal friends that put strains to their friendship. Zweig is the person with money and Roth the person who is dependent on money from his friend. Frictions are unavoidable. 

They are meeting up at the Belgian coastal resort for a relaxing, cultural and hopefully productive summer among other exiled writers. There are troubled times ahead, and most troubled is Joseph Roth. After the summer they split for different parts of the world. The future is not good for all of them. 

Death in Delft by Graham Brack

I was recommended this historical thriller set in the 17th-century Dutch town, as I was visiting Delft at the end of August.  

"Three young girls have been abducted from their homes. The body of one has been found in a shallow grave. The other two are still missing. The murder has shocked everyone in the peaceful city of Delft and the mayor is desperate to catch the perpetrator before panic can spread any further. With the bitterly cold January weather intensifying it is doubtful that the other two girls are still alive. But whoever took them is still at large. The mayor requests the help of Master Mercurius, a gifted cleric from a nearby university, and local artist Vermeer, who uses his skills to sketch the crime scenes."

A pleasant murder mystery to read. Perfect when you are visiting Delft, because going around the town and learn about its history, you meet the people you read about. Johannes Vermeer, the painter is of course there, as well as several other prominent people. With a map, you can easily follow Master Mercurious around this gorgeous town. 

Wednesday, 7 October 2020

Short reviews - part I

  I have not been in the mood to write reviews lately, even if I have read some really good books. As you might have noticed, not in the mood for any posts. Well, I thought I will make an effort and at least write a short summary of some of the books I have read in the last couple of months. 

Mornings in Jenin by Susan Abulhawa

"Forcibly removed from the ancient village of Ein Hod by the newly formed state of Israel in 
1948, the Abulhejas are moved into the Jenin refugee camp. There, exiled from his beloved olive groves, the family patriarch languishes of a broken heart, his eldest son fathers a family and falls victim to an Israeli bullet, and his grandchildren struggle against tragedy toward freedom, peace, and home. This is the Palestinian story, told as never before, through four generations of a single family."

Through Amal's eyes, we see the fragile existence of her family and friends. Her story is very touching and dramatic and highlights the ups and downs of their insecure lives. A beautifully written family saga in a world of turmoil and violence. I really loved this novel. 

Vågspel (Venture) by Ann Rosman

"On June 5, 1916, the British warship HMS Hampshire sinks off the Orkney Islands. It takes 700 men, including the Minister of War Lord Kitchener, with it into the sea. World War I is ongoing and according to rumours, the ship was on its way with expensive cargo to Russia when it hit a German mine. Many divers, with their lives at stake, have tried to find and salvage Hampshire's mythical treasure.

Almost a hundred years later, a sailboat drifting off the same coast is found deserted. There are traces of blood and signs of a fight on deck. The boat belongs to Bo Stenman, a retired diver based in Marstrand. When it is clear that it was Bo himself who sailed the boat,  Detective Inspector Karin Adler and her colleague Folke go to Orkney to assist the police in the investigation. In a search for answers to what happened, the find that the connections between the missing Bo and the ship that sank a long time ago become stronger. 

Ann Rosman's sixth book with Karin Adler from Marstrand in the lead role takes place on the green and the windswept Orkney Islands, a place with strong folk beliefs and deep secrets. A place of death and sincere love."

One of my favourite thriller writers. Her present-day crime stories always have a historical background. Cannot be better for someone who loves historical fiction.  As usual, Rosman manages to keep up the pace of the story, keeping the secrets and mysteries hidden until the very end. 

The Magic Lantern by Ingmar Bergman

" 'When a film is not a document, it is a dream. . . . At the editing table, when I run the strip of film through, frame by frame, I still feel that dizzy sense of magic of my childhood.' Bergman, who has conveyed this heady sense of wonder and vision to moviegoers for decades, traces his lifelong love affair with film in his breathtakingly visual autobiography, The Magic Lantern.

More grand mosaic than linear account, Bergman’s vignettes trace his life from a rural Swedish childhood through his work in theater to Hollywood’s golden age, and a tumultuous romantic history that includes five wives and more than a few mistresses. Throughout, Bergman recounts his life in a series of deeply personal flashbacks that document some of the most important moments in twentieth-century filmmaking as well as the private obsessions of the man behind them. Ambitious in scope yet sensitively wrought, The Magic Lantern is a window to the mind of one of our era’s great geniuses."

I bought this book second hand, thinking I should read this autobiography about one of our most famous and skilled filmmakers. I was completely taken in by this account of his life. It is not a very detailed memoir, but he takes us through the ups and downs of his life. It is interesting, exciting and also explains from where his inspiration came and his thoughts (I think we all think they are dark and peculiar sometimes) about his productions. He also includes bits of his private life, being quite open about his relationships and why they did not last. It is a refreshing account, and you are feeling that you come a little bit closer to the man Ingmar Bergman. 

Last year we visited Fårö where he had a house. The island outside Gotland was a great inspiration for his work and many films were shot there. There is a small, very good museum of his work and his time on the island. The Magic Lantern added another piece to the man Ingmar Bergman. 

The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

I bought this book at 221, Baker Street. We did not go into the museum, the queue was too long, but we visited the museum shop. It contains several novellas on the adventures of Sherlock Holmes. I had only read a very few of his mysteries before and was not overly interested in reading more. However, it was a nicely printed book.  

To my surprise, I was totally taken in by both the writing and the stories. They were not so dry as I had imagined them to be. Furthermore, Watson seemed to be a little bit more spirited than you normally see him in the film/series adaptations. Here are the stories: 

A Scandal in Bohemia - The Red-Headed League - Five Orange Pips - The Blue Carbuncle - The Speckled Band - The Beryl Coronet - The Hound of the Baskervilles.

Friday, 2 October 2020

New purchases

I should not really buy any new books, but sometimes I cannot help myself. At least I manage rather well with new books since I can borrow them at the library. When I visit second-hand shops it is quite a different game. Here you often find older and non-fiction books that are not so easy to find today, although the library has them of course. No excuse there! I was just trying.

I tend to go toward non-fiction history books. In the neighbourhood you also find books about local history. Lately, especially during the pandemic when there was not so much more to do than go out into the woods, I have looked more into what was happening close by. Skåne, or Scania, is an interesting place. Settlements have been found from very early on, the area was Danish for centuries and since the mid 17th century is Swedish. That means there is a lot of history around. 

Books I bought recently. 

Blom, K Arne & Moen, Jan - Försvunna städer i Skåneland - about lost cities in Skåne (Scania)

Foster, Thomas C., - How to Read Novels Like a Professor  - sound like an interesting book, and will hopefully, improve my reading. 

Gilhus, Ingvild S & Thomassen, Einar - Antikens religioner - Religions of the Antique, always interesting. 

Hartemans läkarebok av år 1765  - a doctors book of deceases in 1765. I will use it as research for a project of mine. 

Hern, Kjell - Bra sagt genom tiderna  - Intelligent quotes through time. I love these kinds of quotes. 

Hagerman, Maja - Spåren av kungens män - The trace of the king's men. Historical notes. 

Lagerkvist, Pär - Barabbas - Barabbas, one of the most famous of this Nobel Prize Laureate. I wanted to read it for a long time.  

Lagerkvist, Pär - Sibyllan - The Sibyl, another book by Lagerkvist. 

Professions of the Ancient World - interesting to see what kind of professions were common in the ancient world. 

Litteraturorientering för gymnasieskolan - Literature for high school pupils. 

Maugham, Williams Somerset - The Moon and Sixpence - Famous book, by famous author. Wanted to read for a long time. 

Sjöström, Oskar - Fraustadt 1706, Ett fält färgat rött  - Another historical battle for the Swedes. 

Wesseling, Henk, Imperiernas tid 1815-1919  - Time of Empires 1815-1919. Interesting political time in Europe with big changes. 

León, Vicki - Working IX to V, Orgy Planners, Funeral Clowns, and Other Prized Professions of the Ancient World - Working 9 - 5, looks like it could be an interesting overview. 

Looking forward to digging into these books. 

Thursday, 1 October 2020

Classic Club Spin #24

Last Classic Club Spin#24 ended on number 18. Under that number, I have Dante's The Divine Comedy of which the book is divided into three parts. Earlier I finished Hell and for this month I read Purgatory. I have started Heaven which I should finish at the end of the week.

It is not an easy book to read, but, I did find it more interesting than I thought.  I am trying to read more of the most famous classical literature, and this is one of them.  Even if I am not able to appreciate it like a professor in literature, it nevertheless gave me pleasure. 

Cannot say I really will be able to analyse it, but there are others who can. On Wikipedia, you can find this summary of Dante's meaning with The Divine Comedy.
"The narrative takes as its literal subject the state of souls after death and presents an image of divine justice meted out as due punishment or reward, and describes Dante's travels through Hell, Purgatory, and Paradise or Heaven, while allegorically the poem represents the soul's journey towards God, beginning with the recognition and rejection of sin (Inferno), followed by the penitent Christian life (Purgatorio), which is then followed by the soul's ascent to God (Paradiso). Dante draws on medieval Roman Catholic theology and philosophy, especially Thomistic philosophy derived from the Summa Theologica of Thomas Aquinas. Consequently, the Divine Comedy has been called "the Summa in verse". In Dante's work, the pilgrim Dante is accompanied by three guides: Virgil (who represents human reason), Beatrice (who represents divine revelation, theology, faith, and grace), and Saint Bernard of Clairvaux (who represents contemplative mysticism and devotion to Mary). Erich Auerbach said Dante was the first writer to depict human beings as the products of a specific time, place and circumstance as opposed to mythic archetypes or a collection of vices and virtues; this along with the fully imagined world of "The Divine Comedy", different from our own but fully visualized, suggests that the Divine Comedy could be said to have inaugurated modern fiction."

 It gives a strong feeling of how important and strong religion was in those days. When you read Hell and Purgatory and meet all the lost souls there, you cannot help but think they regret what they did during their lives. The Comedy is a travel through the afterlife, looking at the bad and the good sides of it. I wonder if the people who read it when it was published, had second thoughts of the way they lived their lives? I guess not.

“To course across more kindly waters now
my talent's little vessel lifts her sails,
leaving behind herself a sea so cruel;
and what I sing will be that second kingdom,
in which the human soul is cleansed of sin,
becoming worthy of ascent to Heaven.”

Dante Alighieri, Purgatorio

“Madness it is to hope that human minds
can ever understand the Infinite
that comprehends Three Persons in One Being.
Be satisfied with quia unexplained,
O Human race! If you knew everything,
no need for Mary to have borne a son.”

Dante Alighieri, Purgatorio