Friday, 22 June 2018

Book Quotes of the Week

"School libraries are part sanctuary, part laboratory, part university, part launch pad; every library on earth is a multiverse - truth inside of truth, story inside of story, idea inside of idea - which is to say, infinite." Kelly Barnhill

"Reading a good book in silence is like eating chocolate for the rest of your life and never getting fat." Becca Fitzpatrick

"What great writers do is to turn the reader into the writer." David Comer Kidd

"My imagination has always topped anything a movie could come up with ..." Karen Marie Moning

Find more book quotes here.

Wednesday, 20 June 2018

Frazier, Charles "Varina"

Frazier, Charles "Varina" - 2018

After falling in love with Charles Frazier's "Cold Mountain", I have read all of his books so far. I had no idea what this book was about, that it followed the life of Jefferson Davis' wife. How much of that is true, I have no idea since I never heard of her before but the other dates and remarks about the people seem to be correct, as I would have expected of this author.

We always know too little about the wives of important historical figures. The saying goes that behind every great man there's a great woman, so I expect there must still be a lot of fantastic stories about great women out there.

I have read quite a few books about the Civil War so far and there is always some different aspect to look at. Because any war always comes down to the people who have to suffer through it.

But even if the subject wouldn't interest me, Charles Frazier deserves to be read because of his beautiful writing, he has a very special way of describing anything around him. I would love for him to publish a new book every year but I guess that would not necessarily be a good idea. So, I just have to wait another couple of years until I can enjoy another one of his great writings.

There is only one thing that bothered me, and this must not necessarily be the author's fault. Varina Davis is always referred to as V in the novel. I guess it saves some paper but you always have to "remember" what her name is and that that's what this abbreviation means. I wouldn't have voted for that option.

From the back cover:

"In his powerful fourth novel, Charles Frazier returns to the time and place of Cold Mountain, vividly bringing to life the chaos and devastation of the Civil War

With her marriage prospects limited, teenage Varina Howell agrees to wed the much-older widower Jefferson Davis, with whom she expects a life of security as a Mississippi landowner. He instead pursues a career in politics and is eventually appointed president of the Confederacy, placing Varina at the white-hot center of one of the darkest moments in American history - culpable regardless of her intentions.

The Confederacy falling, her marriage in tatters, and the country divided, Varina and her children escape Richmond and travel south on their own, now fugitives with 'bounties on their heads, an entire nation in pursuit.'

Intimate in its detailed observations of one woman’s tragic life and epic in its scope and power, Varina is a novel of an American war and its aftermath. Ultimately, the book is a portrait of a woman who comes to realize that complicity carries consequences."

Tuesday, 19 June 2018

Scott, Mary; West, Joyce "Who Put It There?"

Scott, Mary; West, Joyce "Who Put It There?" - 1965 (Inspector Wright #5)

This was a sad book to read because I know it will probably be the last book by Mary Scott that I read for the first time. I doubt I'll ever find any of her other ones. If any of my friends and readers knows of one that I didn't mention in my post "Mary Scott writes about New Zealand".

In this novel, the authors let a young girl find herself in the position that there is a body in her boot (or, if you're American, in her boot). And that's how the trouble starts …

Another pleasant read - despite the murder - of one of my favourite authors from my teenage years.

From the back cover:

"On her way to take up a position as companion to the wealthy Mrs Warwick-Smith, Delia Hunt is held up by a thick fog. By the time she is clear of the fog she has had morning tea with an attractive man and been stopped by policemen who discover a body in the boot of her car. The body is that of Mr Warwick-Smith. Who put it there?

Who killed the unpopular Mr Warwick-Smith? When Inspector Wright is called in, he finds that any one of several people, from friends to groundskeepers to mysterious cousins, could have done it. To complicate the mystery further, the overpowering Augusta Wharton, famous author of 'novels of passion', and her meek secretary, Miss Minnie Pink, become involved. The deeper Inspector Wright digs into the murder, the more strange things he discovers in what is normally a quiet country district.

In an exciting, deftly written climax, the murderer gives themselves away - by attempting a second murder.

Unfortunately, Mary Scott's books are out of print and only available second hand. I have heard in the meantime, that you can buy some of them as eBooks.

Monday, 18 June 2018

Donaldson, Julia "The Gruffalo"

Donaldson, Julia "The Gruffalo" - 1999

A happy book. A funny book. A book about an animal that doesn't exist and therefore might have terrible claws and terrible jaws but can't scare you because after all ... it does not exist.

This was a huge favourite in our house when the boys were little. It reminds you of a fairy tale but is a modern storybook. Lots of beautiful illustrations, a funny but simple story, not as short as some other board books, already a "big kid" book but equally enjoyed by kids of any age. It rhymes, you can almost sing along to the rhythm, but you can definitely growl and hoot along, imitate all the animal sounds from the forest.


From the back cover:

"A mouse is taking a stroll through the deep, dark wood when along comes a hungry fox, then an owl, and then a snake. The mouse is good enough to eat but smart enough to know this, so he invents . . . the gruffalo! As Mouse explains, the gruffalo is a creature with terrible claws, and terrible tusks in its terrible jaws, and knobbly knees and turned-out toes, and a poisonous wart at the end of its nose. But Mouse has no worry to show. After all, there’s no such thing as a gruffalo. . ."

I saw it's also available in a Scottish edition. That should be fun.

Friday, 15 June 2018

Ruiz Zafón, Carlos "Gaudí in Manhattan"

Ruiz Zafón, Carlos "Gaudí in Manhattan" (Spanish: La Mujer de Vapor) - 2009

A short story about a young architecture student who can go to New York with his much admired hero Antonio Gaudí. A very short story. But it was by one of my favourite authors, so I had to read it. And it was just as beautiful as his novels. I just don't get why he didn't make it into a whole book.

A rich person offers Gaudí to pay for the rest of the Sagrada Familia and it turns out to be a young woman … or was it all a dream? A magic realism story like no other. Plus, there were some great illustrations and pictures in the booklet.

From the back cover (translated):

"A young student of architecture accompanies the famous architect to America, where Antonio Gaudí is to receive the order to build a skyscraper. But when they arrive in Manhattan, things take a different course."

Thursday, 14 June 2018

Hertmans, Stefan "War and Turpentine"

Hertmans, Stefan "War and Turpentine" (Dutch/Flemish: Oorlog en terpentijn) - 2013

I had not heard about this author before even though he probably should be known in the Netherlands since there are not so many countries that write in Dutch. When it was suggested in our book club, I thought this would be a good choice to read another Belgian author.

And it was. Stefan Hertmans tells about his grandfather's life according to the memoirs the latter hat written. It is a heartwarming tale about a young man who was 23 when World War I started and had to go into a war nobody wanted. His father had been a painter and so was he. We hear a lot about that part of his life but even more about his life in the trenches in the fields of Flanders.

The story is us about the life of the protagonist as a child, a young man, a married man and later, an old man, partly through his own diary. But its also a story about the author and how he grew up with his grandfather.

A nice story, well told, very picturesque.

I read this in the original Dutch language.

From the back cover:

"Shortly before his death in 1981, Stefan Hertmans' grandfather gave him a couple of filled exercise books. Stories he’d heard as a child had led Hertmans to suspect that their contents might be disturbing, and for years he didn’t dare to open them.

When he finally did, he discovered unexpected secrets. His grandfather’s life was marked by years of childhood poverty in late-nineteenth-century Belgium, by horrific experiences on the frontlines during the First World War and by the loss of the young love of his life. He sublimated his grief in the silence of painting.

Drawing on these diary entries, his childhood memories and the stories told within Urbain’s paintings, Hertmans has produced a poetic novelisation of his grandfather’s story, brought to life with great imaginative power and vivid detail.

War and Turpentine is an enthralling search for a life that coincided with the tragedy of a century - and a posthumous, almost mythical attempt to give that life a voice at last."

We discussed this in our book club in May 2018.

Wednesday, 13 June 2018

Schami, Rafik "The Dark Side of Love"

Schami, Rafik "The Dark Side of Love" (German: Die dunkle Seite der Liebe) - 2004

Rafik Schami has managed to get on my list of all time favourite authors with just three of his books. Luckily, he has written a lot more so I am looking forward to more great novels.

Rafik Schami once said you cannot understand the history and present of the Arabs without the prohibition of love. And with this book he has shown us a great example and hopefully helps us to understand each other better. Apparently, it took him 30 years to write this book. 30 years well spent, even if this had been his only one.

His real name is Suheil Fadél, his pen-name means "friend of Damascus". He fled from his country in 1970 and settled in Germany where he still lives today. All his books are written in German. This book is slightly autobiographical.

This is the story of Farid Mushtak, born in Syria in 1940, into a Syriac-Christian family (like the author). His father is a baker - like the author's …

This is the story of Farid's love to Rana Shahin, a love that cannot be because their families are arch-enemies.

This is the story of the families Mushtak and Shahin who have been enemies for so long that hardly anyone remembers how it all started.

This is the story of Damascus, the capital city of Syria, a city that has lived through difficult times for a long long time.

And finally, this is the story of Syria and its history. Lots of information, especially if you have never read a book about this country.

The book has about 1,000 pages but at the end you think, this was far too short, could have been twice as long. It's just that brilliant!

I read this in the original German language.

Translation of the German back cover:

"In his opulent story mosaic, Rafik Schami tells of a love that must not be, of blood revenge, tribal feuds and family strife, and spans an oriental-colourful picture arc over a century of Syrian history."

Even though this is a lot shorter, it's much better than the blurb on the English back cover which only describes the beginning of the novel:

"A dead man hangs from the portal of St Pauls Chapel in Damascus. He was a Muslim officer and he was murdered. But when Detective Barudi sets out to interrogate the man's mysterious widow, the Secret Service takes the case away from him. Barudi continues to investigate clandestinely and discovers the murderers motive: it is a blood feud between the Mushtak and Shahin clans, reaching back to the beginnings of the 20th century. And, linked to it, a love story that can have no happy ending, for reconciliation has no place within the old tribal structures. Rafik Schamis dazzling novel spans a century of Syrian history in which politics and religions continue to torment an entire people. Simultaneously, his poetic stories from three generations tell of the courage of lovers who risk death sooner than deny their passions. He has also written a heartfelt tribute to his hometown Damascus and a great and moving hymn to the power of love."