Friday, 16 November 2018

Smiley, Jane "Golden Age"


Smiley, Jane "Golden Age" (Last Hundred Years: A Family Saga #3) - 2015

I have read several books by Jane Smiley, really liked "A Thousand Acres" and "The All-true Travels and Adventures of Lidie Newton" and thought that also her "13 Ways of Looking at a Novel" was brilliant.

However, this trilogy has not met my expectations. The first book, Some Luck, was alright, Jane Smiley does have a good style that makes you overlook some minor glitches. The second one, Early Warning, really was not captivating but I wanted to give her one last chance and hoped, the story would pick up and get more interesting again. It didn't.

As I already mentioned in the second book, I would have liked a short introduction, a short retelling of the first book, at least a re-introduction of the characters. But that's not the only complaint I would have had. There were quite a few new ones, I found it hard to connect them to the stories I already knew, they were too far removed from them. I usually love these kinds of stories, family sagas over a long time but you have to be able to know the families. I didn't have the feeling I did in this case.

I think all in all, Jane Smiley should have stopped after the first book, just call it a book about the first half of the century. Might have been a great story.

From the back cover:

"The third novel in the dazzling Last Hundred Years Trilogy from the winner of the Pulitzer Prize Jane Smiley.

1987. A visit from a long-lost relative brings the Langdons together again on the family farm; a place almost unrecognizable from the remote Iowan farmland Walter and Rosanna once owned. Whilst a few have stayed, most have spread wide across the US, but all are facing social, economic and political challenges unlike anything their ancestors encountered.

Richie Langdon, finally out from under his twin brother's shadow, finds himself running for congress almost unintentionally, and completely underprepared for the world-changing decisions he will have to make. Charlie, the charmer, recently found, struggles to find his way. Jesse's son, Guthrie, set to take over the family farm, is deployed to Iraq, leaving it in the hands of his younger sister, Felicity, who must defend the land from more than just the extremes of climate change.

Moving through the 1990s, to our own moment and beyond, this last instalment sees the final repercussions of time on the Langdon family. After a hundred years of personal change and US history, filled with words unsaid and moments lost, Golden Age brings to a magnificent conclusion the century-long portrait of one unforgettable family."

Wednesday, 14 November 2018

Nadal, Rafel "The Last Son's Secret"


Nadal, Rafel "The Last Son's Secret" (Spanish: La maldición de los Palmisano) - 2015

I do like Spanish authors in general and am always happy when I find another one to add to the list. The author is introduced with "Rafel Nadel can write better than play tennis". Good one! I have no idea how well he plays tennis but I can assure you, he writes very well.

This story takes us to Italy. A visitor notices that a village lost 42 sons in the first world war and that half of them carry the name Palmisano. Then, in the second one, there is not a single one with that name but again a family that covers half the list: the family Convertini. We get to know both the families in this book, and the secret they carry.

A very interesting story, well written, amiable characters, and some hateful ones, of course. We get a glimpse into the life of Italians during the wars, the followers of the evil powers as well as those who choose to become partisans, we get to like the people, get to understand their motives. The link between fiction and non-fiction is very well done.

All in all, I really enjoyed this book and I think, even if you don't like to read about the war, this story has a lot to give.

From the back cover:

"In the hot, dusty square of a small village in Puglia, there are two memorials: one to those killed in the First World War, and one to those lost in the Second World War. On the first, every single member of the Palmisano family is listed, and on the second all the names are members of the Covertini family. In total, 44 men, all dead.

In this sweeping and heartbreaking tale of the fate of a tiny hilltop village, Vitantonio and Giovanna are born moments apart just as the First World War ends, and just as their two fathers are killed on the front. But growing up among the olive groves of southern Italy, war seems far away - until clouds begin to gather on the horizon as the Second World War looms ...

A huge international bestseller, this sweeping and heartbreaking tale of the fate of a tiny hilltop village in Italy during the two World Wars will stay with you for ever."

Monday, 12 November 2018

Dodd, Lynley "Hairy Maclary from Donaldson's Dairy"


Dodd, Lynley "Hairy Maclary from Donaldson's Dairy" - 1983

Hairy Maclary from Donaldson's Dairy. Already the title makes you want to dive into the book and the illustration is very inviting, as well. All the kids used to love him. The rhymes are just too cute. The animals are so funny, starting with their names, Schnitzel von Krumm or Muffin McClay, for example, not to forget Hercules Morse.

If you have a little one and haven't read this to them, yet, Apparently, there are twenty books about all his friends now. And the author is from New Zealand, something I didn't know when I shared this book with my children.

From the back cover:

"Hairy Maclary goes off for a walk in town, followed by a few friends. All is uneventful until they meet Scarface Claw, the toughest tom in town, and run for home. The story is told by a brilliant, cumulative rhyming text and terrific pictures."

Friday, 9 November 2018

Drinkwater, Carol "The Olive Harvest"


Drinkwater, Carol "The Olive Harvest" - 2006

Years ago, I read the first two books of the "Olive Series", "The Olive Farm" and "The Olive Season". Now I read the third one in the trilogy, "Olive Harvest". Another intriguing story about a couple who decides to buy an olive farm in the South of France and not just use it as a holiday home - that as well - but also grow olives and other vegetables there.

This is not just a place to go and relax, this is hard work. One really has to love this kind of work in order to do it. Carol Drinkwater does and so does her husband. Even though they have to go through many struggles, they carry on and survive yet another difficult season.

I am not a farmer, not even a great gardener but my father was, so I have quite a bit of passive knowledge. I did enjoy her description of the work and their life in Provence. I have been to their neighbouring province, Languedoc-Roussillon decades ago and I remember it to be absolutely beautiful. The author has revived those memories in a fantastic way, I really like her way of writing.

From the back cover:

"Carol and her husband Michel, home after long and separate absences, look forward to spending the summer together on their beloved olive farm Apassionata. But a shocking blow leaves Carol alone, and the future uncertain.

Feeling isolated and with no olives to harvest, Carol ventures beyond the farm to explore other aspects of Provencal life - from hunting to bee-keeping, the gypsies of the Camargue to the shepherds of the southern Alps, the ancient language to the ever-present demands of family and friends. And ultimately, Provence's generous diversity - and Carol's own persistence in sharing it with those she loves - pave a path to joy."

Thursday, 1 November 2018

Happy November!

Happy November to all my friends and readers

New Calendar picture with this
beautiful watercolour painting by Frank Koebsch


"Schwäne im Flug"
"Swans in Flight"



November is often not considered to be a happy month. There are so many church feasts that let us think about our departed loves ones, All Saints, All Souls, the Day of Repentance and the Sunday of the Dead are all celebrated in November. In Germany, we also have the National Day of Mourning to commemorate all the soldiers and civilians who died in wars, conflicts and political unrest. And then there is Remembrance Day for the members of the Commonwealth nations. 

But despite all this, I love November. It is a month of reflection, the weather just gets you to do so. And before all that Christmas stress begins. The songs get more melancholic, minor scale, beautiful. 

The birthstone for this month is the topaz which is a silicate mineral containing aluminium and fluorine. It's golden brown to yellow but can appear in many different colours. It's a symbol of friendship, therefore quite fitting for the blog.

Enjoy this month with this beautiful watercolour painting by Frank Koebsch.

You can find many more wonderful pictures on their website here.

Wednesday, 17 October 2018

Zeh, Juli "The Method"


Zeh, Juli "The Method" (German: Corpus Delicti. Ein Prozess) - 2009

I read a few books by German author Juli Zeh, none of them have been translated into English. I liked them all and was surprised to see that she also wrote a dystopian one.

In this futuristic novel, we suppose that there are no more illnesses but that the state has taken over everything, something a lot of conservatives think the communists already did but this goes a lot further.

Being healthy is something you have to be, you can't even be a little depressed and you certainly shouldn't do anything that might make you sick. If you don't, that's considered treason. The biggest question is, however, does complete health make us happy?

Quote: "Health is a state of complete physical, spiritual and social wellbeing - and not the mere absence of disease."

I couldn’t agree more.

I have read more interesting dystopian novels but this one certainly gets you thinking.

From the back cover:

"Mia Holl lives in a state governed by The Method, where good health is the highest duty of the citizen. Everyone must submit medical data and sleep records to the authorities on a monthly basis, and regular exercise is mandatory. Mia is young and beautiful, a successful scientist who is outwardly obedient but with an intellect that marks her as subversive. Convinced that her brother has been wrongfully convicted of a terrible crime, Mia comes up against the full force of a regime determined to control every aspect of its citizens' lives.

The Method, set in the middle of the twenty-first century, deals with pressing questions: to what extent can the state curtail the rights of the individual? And does the individual have a right to resist? Juli Zeh has written a thrilling and visionary book about our future, and our present."

Tuesday, 16 October 2018

Kaminer, Wladimir "Russian Disco"


Kaminer, Wladimir "Russian Disco" (German: Russendisko) - 2000

I read another book by Wladimir Kaminer recently (Ausgerechnet Deutschland. Geschichten unserer neuen Nachbarn" [Germany of all. Stories of our new neighbours]) but since that hasn't been translated, I couldn't review it here.

However, it reminded me that I read another book by this wonderful author that I haven't reviewed, yet. Well, here we go.

The author is one of the many Russian-Germans that came to Germany shortly after the wall came down. This is a book about all of his compatriots who - like him - ended up in Berlin. His short stories tell us how he got to know his new country by exploring Berlin and finding his way into the discos that were often led by Russians.

It's a funny way of trying to understand our new fellow citizens. While his stories often exceed our imagination - he is a master of sarcasm - they all make us laugh.

From the back cover:

"Born in Moscow, Wladimir Kaminer emigrated to Berlin in the early '90s when he was 22. Russian Disco is a series of short and comic autobiographical vignettes about life among the émigrés in the explosive and extraordinary multi-cultural atmosphere of '90s Berlin. It's an exotic, vodka-fuelled millennial Goodbye to Berlin. The stories show a wonderful, innocent, deadpan economy of style reminiscent of the great humorists. [Several of his European editors make a comparison with current bestseller David Sedaris.*] Kaminer manages to say a great deal without seeming to say much at all. He speaks about the offbeat personal events of his own life but captures something universal about our disjointed times."

* I'm not really a fan of David Sedaris, as you can see in my review about "Me Talk Pretty One Day", so I don't see a connection.