Saturday, 31 December 2011

Ingalls Wilder, Laura "Little House Books"

Ingalls Wilder, Laura "Little House Books" 1932-1971
Little House in the Big Woods (1932)
Farmer Boy (1933)
Little House on the Prairie (1935)
On the Banks of Plum Creek (1937)
By the Shores of Silver Lake (1939)
The Long Winter (1940)
Little Town on the Prairie (1941)
These Happy Golden Years (1943)
On the Way Home (1962, published posthumously)
The First Four Years (1971)

"Laura Ingalls's story begins in 1871 in a little log cabin on the edge of the Big Woods of Wisconsin. Four-year-old Laura lives in the little house with her Pa, her Ma, her sisters Mary and Carrie, and their trusty dog, Jack.
Pioneer life is sometimes hard, since the family must grow or catch all their own food as they get ready for the cold winter. But it is also exciting as Laura and her folks celebrate Christmas with homemade toys and treats, do the spring planting, bring in the harvest, and make their first trip into town. And every night they are safe and warm in their little house, with the happy sound of Pa's fiddle sending Laura and her sisters off to sleep.
And so begins Laura Ingalls Wilder's beloved story of a pioneer girl and her family. The nine Little House books have been cherished by generations of readers as both a unique glimpse into America's frontier past and a heartwarming, unforgettable story."

What can I say about the "Little House" stories that hasn't been said already? What a wonderful story (not only) for children about how it was growing up in the pioneer years. Laura and her sisters moved around North America from one unsettled piece of land to the next. We learn what it means to really stand on your own, having to produce all the food and shelter for your family. Amazing. In her later books, Laura tells us more about her struggles of her later years but the first ones seem all so happy.

My favourites among her novels, definitely "The Long Winter" and "Farmer Boy" about her husband's childhood on a farm in New York. But they are all great. All kids should read it and if you haven't done so as a kid, you should do so now. I read them as an adult because they were not very well known in Germany when I was little and they were among the first books I read in English (besides those I had to read when in school).

From the back cover: "Little House in the Big Woods
Wolves and panthers and bears roam the deep Wisconsin woods in the late 1870's. In those same woods, Laura lives with Pa and Ma, and her sisters, Mary and Baby Carrie, in a snug little house built of logs. Pa hunts and traps. Ma makes her own cheese and butter. All night long, the wind howls lonesomely, but Pa plays the fiddle and sings, keeping the family safe and cozy.

Little House on the Prairie

Pa Ingalls decides to sell the little log house, and the family sets out for Indian country! They travel from Wisconsin to Kansas, and there, finally, Pa builds their little house on the prairie. Sometimes farm life is difficult, even dangerous, but Laura and her family are kept busy and are happy with the promise of their new life on the prairie.

Farmer Boy

While Laura Ingalls grows up in a little house on the western prairie, Almanzo Wilder is living on a big farm in New York State. Almanzo and his brother and sisters work at their chores from dawn to supper most days -- no matter what the weather. There is still time for fun, though, especially with the horses, which Almanzo loves more than anything.

On the Banks of Plum Creek

Laura's family's first home in Minnesota is made of sod, but Pa builds a clean new house made of sawed lumber beside Plum Creek. The money for materials will come from their first wheat crop. Then, just before the wheat is ready to harvest, a strange glittering cloud fills the sky, blocking out the sun. Soon millions of grasshoppers cover the field and everything on the farm. In a week's time, there is no wheat crop left at all.

By the Shores of Silver Lake

Pa Ingalls heads west to the unsettled wilderness of the Dakota Territory. When Ma, Mary, Laura, Carrie, and baby Grace join him, they become the first settlers in the town of De Smet. And Pa begins work on the first building in what will soon be a brand-new town on the shores of Silver Lake.

The Long Winter

The first terrible storm comes to the barren prairie in October. Then it snows almost without stopping until April. Snow has reached the rooftops, and no trains can get through with food or coal. The people of De Smet are starving, including Laura's family, who wonder how they're going to make it through this terrible winter. It is young Almanzo Wilder who finally understands what needs to be done. He must save the town, even if it means risking his own life.

Little Town on the Prairie
The long winter is over. With spring come socials, parties, and "Literaries." There is also work to be done. Laura spends many hours each day sewing shirts to help send Mary to a college for the blind. But in the evenings, Laura makes time for a new caller, Almanzo Wilder.

These Happy Golden Years
Laura is teaching school, and it's terrifying! Most of the students are taller than she is, and she must sleep away from home for the first time. Laura is miserable, but the money is needed to keep Mary in a college for the blind. And every Friday -- no matter what the weather -- Almanzo Wilder arrives to take Laura home to her family for the weekend. Laura and Almanzo are courting, and even though she's not yet sixteen, she knows that this is a time for new beginnings.

The First Four Years
Laura and Almanzo Wilder have just been married! Their life on a small prairie homestead begins with high hopes. But each year seems to bring unexpected disasters -- storms, sickness, fire, and unpaid debts. These first four years call for courage, strength, and a great deal of determination. Always, though, there is love, especially for the newest member of the family -- baby Rose.

There are some wonderful pages on the web that are worth visiting:
Laura Ingalls Wilder
Laura Ingalls Wilder - Frontier Girl
The Little House Book

If you like her stories, you might want to read the "sequel", based on her memoirs, as well:
Old Town in the Green Groves: Laura Ingalls Wilder's Lost Little House Years” by Cynthia Rylant

If you want a more grown-up version, try "These is my words" and "Sarah's Quilt" by Nancy E. Turner. If you enjoyed the "Little House" stories, you will love these, too.

Friday, 30 December 2011

Wilde, Oscar "The Importance of Being Earnest"

Wilde, Oscar "The Importance of Being Earnest" - 1895

"Oscar Wilde's madcap farce about mistaken identities, secret engagements, and lovers entanglements still delights readers more than a century after its 1895 publication and premiere performance. The rapid-fire wit and eccentric characters of 'The Importance of Being Earnest' have made it a mainstay of the high school curriculum for decades."

What a wonderful, humorous play. A hilarious satire. Jack pretends his name is Ernest, so he can be anonymous in town. All sorts of mix-ups evolve from this, one funny scene follows the other. I love it!

Read also "A Woman of No Importance" and the interesting biography about his wife "Constance".

Thursday, 29 December 2011

Osorio, Elsa "My Name is Light"

Osorio, Elsa "My Name is Light" (Spanish: A veinte años, Luz) - 1998

"Twenty-year-old Luz, an Argentinean, is on holiday in Madrid with her husband and new-born son. But secretly she has a mission - to find her real father. Carlos was a 'desaparecido' - one of the many political activists in Argentina who literally 'disappeared' during the country's brutal military dictatorship in the seventies - while her mother, a political prisoner, was killed trying to flee the country. As a baby, Luz was secretly adopted by a wealthy couple, unaware of her true origins. My Name is Light is a gripping, emotionally charged book, a powerful story about a young girl's quest to find her identity and to uncover the deadly secrets of one of Argentina's darkest periods."

A highly interesting novel about something that didn't happen that long ago, yet is not so widely published. Of course, everyone knows there were a lot of problems in Argentina but I have not read a novel where it was described this well. A deeply moving story that was awarded the Amnesty International literary prize. So worth reading.

Tuesday, 27 December 2011

Kneale, Matthew "English Passengers"

Kneale, Matthew "English Passengers" - 2000

“A big, ambitious novel with a rich historical sweep and a host of narrative voices. Its subject is a vicar's ludicrous expedition in 1857 to the Garden of Eden in Tasmania, [as] meanwhile, in Tasmania itself, the British settlers are alternately trying to civilise and eliminate the Aboriginal population ... The sort of novel that few contemporary writers have either the imagination or the stamina to sustain.”

How the sailors from the Isle of Man who just wanted to smuggle a little alcohol, ends up in Tasmania, I don't remember that very well. I do remember though, how they landed there and the effect they had on the people living there already, the native Australians.

Quite a weird book at times. I liked the part of the aboriginals and what you could learn about their lives. I do like historical novels, so it was interesting to learn more about that. But I didn't like the priest and all the Europeans and the story that led to their "discovery". The novel did get quite boring at times.

It's been quite a while that I read it (with my previous book club). It had just received the Whitbread Award and it didn't encourage me to read any more books from their lists even though I had liked the runner up which I had read before ("White Teeth" by Zadie Smith).

Book Description: "It is 1857 and the Reverend Geoffrey Wilson has set out for Tasmania, hoping to find the true site of the Garden of Eden. But the journey is turning out to be less than straightforward – dissent is growing between him and sinister racial-theorist Dr Potter, and, unknown to both, the ship they have hurriedly chartered is in fact a Manx smuggling vessel, fleeing British customs. In Tasmania the aboriginal people have been fighting a desperate battle against British invaders, and, as the passengers will discover, the island is now far from being an earthly paradise ..."

Matthew Kneale was shortlisted for the Booker Prize for “English Passengers” in 2000.

Monday, 26 December 2011

Brown, Rita Mae - The Hunsenmeir Trilogy

Brown, Rita Mae - The Hunsenmeir Trilogy
Six of One- 1978
„Loose Lips“ - 1999
Bingo- 1988

A story about two elderly ladies, the Hunsenmeir sisters, and the Lesbian daughter of one of them. They live in Runnymede, Maryland, a small town with all its nosiness and gossip. A totally hilarious story, great for a good laugh. Time to re-read, I think.

By the way, when I read the books, the titles were not half as colourful.

Friday, 23 December 2011

Fontane, Theodor "Effi Briest"

Fontane, Theodor "Effi Briest" (German: Effi Briest) - 1894

"Unworldly young Effi Briest is married off to Baron von Innstetten, an austere and ambitious civil servant twice her age, who has little time for his new wife. Isolated and bored, Effi finds comfort and distraction in a brief liaison with Major Crampas, a married man with a dangerous reputation. But years later, when Effi has almost forgotten her affair, the secret returns to haunt her, with fatal consequences. Considered to be Fontane's greatest novel, Effi Briest is a humane, unsentimental portrait of a young woman torn between her duties as a wife and mother and the instincts of her heart."

I re-read this book a while ago because I love to read classics and it had been a while.

Fontane managed the description of the society of the late 19th century excellently ( not that I know from personal experience :-)), we just have to be lucky to live today. But is it so much easier today than it was back then? Some things have changed, life has not become easier that way.

The whole situation Effi - Instetten - Crampas - is doomed to failure, of course. Although Instetten has his doubts in between whether he is doing the right thing, he feels obliged to keep up appearances.

I really liked the phrase of Geheimrätin (Privvy Councillor) Zwicker: “Why are there stoves and fireplaces?” Well, it would never come to this story in that case. And that would have been a pity.

Fontane is one of the best German writers of the time. He gives us a good insight into a society that seems strange to us but which we still can not get enough of.

Thursday, 22 December 2011

Irving, John “A Widow for One Year”

Irving, John “A Widow for One Year” - 1998

The story of Ruth, a “difficult woman” from toddler into middle age, from Long Island to
Amsterdam. The story of a disturbed childhood and a troubled mind.

This is definitely a book I would not have read if it wasn't for my book club. I still don't know whether I liked it or not. It certainly is a book that makes you think about a lot of things.

Book Description: "This is the story of Ruth Cole. It is told in three parts: on Long Island, in the summer of 1958, when she is only four; in 1990, when she is an unmarried woman whose personal life is not nearly as successful as her literary career; and in the autumn of 1995, when Ruth Cole is a forty-one-year-old widow and mother. She's also about to fall in love for the first time..."

Hesse, Karen “Out of the Dust”

Hesse, Karen “Out of the Dust” - 1997

Karen Hesse has a great style to write about the problems of ordinary people throughout history. She describes the life of a Jewish girl immigrating to America in “Letters from Rifka” and now tells us about life during the Great Depression in the 1930s in the US. A children's version of “The Grapes of Wreath”, a young girl struggling to survive the Dust Bowl and all the problems that arise from it.

From the back cover: "Written in free verse, this award-winning story is set in the heart of the Great Depression. It chronicles Oklahoma’s staggering dust storms, and the environmental–and emotional–turmoil they leave in their path. An unforgettable tribute to hope and inner strength."

Wednesday, 21 December 2011

Precht, Richard David “Who Am I and If So, How Many?"

Precht, Richard David “Who Am I and If So, How Many?: A Journey Through Your Mind” (Wer bin ich und wenn ja, wie viele? Eine philosophische Reise) - 2007

Usually, I read non-fiction more “on the side”. During the time I need for it, I read at least 2-3 novels.

In this case it was exactly the reverse. I could hardly put the book down. The individual sections were complete by themselves, so you could read a chapter every other month. But - I didn't want to.

Richard David Precht manages to make a subject as exciting as a thriller, a subject that can also be represented quite tough and boring. Sure, it's not a book for a philosophy student - although I'm sure they can learn from this, as well. But he offers a lot of knowledge for the average citizen that you would not find otherwise in such a vivid and entertaining way.

I would recommend this book to anyone who has even the slightest interest in philosophy and always wanted to know how this world works.

The book is objective and original. The fact that it has been translated into English after only a couple of years speaks for itself.

Tuesday, 20 December 2011

Haynes, Melinda “Mother of Pearl”

Haynes, Melinda "Mother of Pearl" - 1999

"Set in the Deep South in the late 1950s, Mother of Pearl vividly brings to life the extraordinary inhabitants of the small town of Petal, Mississippi. Central to the novel are the stories of Even Grade, a 28-year-old black man abandoned by his mother at birth, Valuable Korner, a 15-year-old white girl whose family history holds a trunkful of damning secrets, and Joody Two Sun, an enigmatic obeah woman who sees into the hearts and minds of the townsfolk from her riverside camp on the outskirts of town. Cast in a tragicomic passion play, Even, Val, and Joody find their destinies entwined as they search for the love and family that they have always been denied."

This book had been on my TBR pile for quite a while before I picked it up. Really don't know why, maybe the cover prevented me (or the fact that there are 200 more books waiting).

Anyway, I loved this novel. It's an Oprah book and until now I liked every single one of the ones I did read (quite a few).

Every time I read a novel set in the South in that time, I am glad I didn't have to live then and there. There were so many restrictions, especially for coloured people, but also for anyone who didn't "belong".

Joody Two Shoes is a bit of a fortune teller, someone who knows everything, she brings some mysticism into this novel that heavily verges on Magic Realism.

Monday, 19 December 2011

Handford, Martin “Where's Wally?”

Handford, Martin “Where's Wally?” (Where's Waldo?) - 1987

I was looking for a character starting with W for an “Alphabet Challenge”. I just had to think about Wally (or Waldo in the US or Walter in Germany, but he also has non-“W” names: Charlie in French, Efi in Hebrew, Hetti in Hindi, Holger in Danish, Jura in Croatian, Valik in Czech, Veli in Turkish and Vili in Hungarian, to name just a few) and Wilma and I thought, I haven't written about these fabulous books.

I guess Wally is known worldwide because he is going everywhere. Mind you, he is also hiding everywhere, so I'm surprised anybody knows him at all.

I have spent many many happy hours with my boys trying to find Wally, the other characters and items in numerous pictures, we have had so much fun trying to find the weirdest things in the strangest places. This is a wonderful book to share with your children.

The children seem to love it a lot, too, in 2009, students in the US dressed as Wally and set a record in the Guinness Book, an attempt in England the following year didn't succeed but in 2011 it was broken in Ireland.

From the back cover: "An activity book that features Wally, along with his friends, who are fiendishly hidden in every scene."

McMahon, Katharine “The Rose of Sebastopol”

McMahon, Katharine “The Rose of Sebastopol” - 2007

It is the time of Florence Nightingale, the Crimean War in 1854. How can an intelligent girl not want to follow in her footsteps?

This is the beginning of the novel, Rosa Barr follows Florence Nightingale in order to help her wounded compatriots. From then on, it drifts to the cousin who stays behind to Italy where Rosa's traces disappear. It has the tendency to drift into chick lit but fortunately finds its way back all the time. Not a bad read, a lot of different situations play into the story.

Thursday, 15 December 2011

Faber, Michel “The Fire Gospel”

Faber, Michel “The Fire Gospel” - 2008

This is considered a fantasy book though I would probably describe it as alternative historical fiction.

Anyway, a scientist visits a museum in Iraq that was looted. He discovers the “fifth gospel” and finds that it is difficult to share with the modern world.

I thought this was an easy read - easy doesn't necessarily say without any background. I loved the story and the writing. This was my first book by the author and it certainly will not be the last.

I didn't think about religion in this book. I mean, anyone can come up with something ancient that was found just recently and thereby try to go back in time. There are enough "fifth gospels" already and we can discuss about whether the ones that did make it into the bible should have been the ones or not. But that is not the point in this book.

I enjoyed reading it. And the amazon reviews were hilarious.

Tuesday, 13 December 2011

Herman, Sarah & York, Lucy “The Unofficial Facebooker's Social Survival Guide”

Herman, Sarah & York, Lucy “The Unofficial Facebooker's Social Survival Guide” - 2008

A friend gave me this because she thinks I am the ultimate Facebooker. Actually, a lot of my friends think that.

I quite like the book, it's a handy little guide to what you should and shouldn't do on Facebook and there are quite a few funny stories in it.

Croker, Charlie “Løst in Tränšlatioπ"

Croker, Charlie “Løst in Tränšlatioπ. Misadventures in English Abroad” - 2006

Not really a novel, just one of those humorous books about language and how it can be understood and expressed quite differently in different countries. This edition collects all those funny little signs and descriptions we find all over the world - not without telling us that we shouldn't judge, the person translating this knows at least one foreign language, probably better than anyone who needs the translation into their language.

Still - it's funny to read, for example when you are advised to “Beware of your luggage”, or being told to “not use the Emergency Exit in peacetime”, or you can order “half a lawyer with prawns'. I promise, you actually will be rolling on the floor laughing.

Oh - and I really love the different letters in the book title.

Monday, 12 December 2011

Franzen, Jonathan “The Corrections"

Franzen, Jonathan “The Corrections” - 2001

I read this book a while ago and didn't like it very much. I couldn't really connect to the people, none of them seemed "real". The whole writing style seemed unconnected. Maybe this was what Franzen tried to portray but he should let you feel the disconnection among the family members not between the reader and the book.

Actually, Oprah had Franzen on her list but he declined. I think that was part of the reason I read it. In general, I have enjoyed quite a few of the Oprah books and I just wanted to know why he made such a fuss about being on the list. I do understand now, he just doesn't fit in there.

Jonathan Franzen was shortlisted for the Pulitzer Prize for "The Corrections" in 2002.

Cosby, Bill “Fatherhood”

Cosby, Bill “Fatherhood” - 1987

“You know the only people who are always sure about the proper way to raise children? Those who've never had any.” - Bill Cosby

I love Bill Cosby. “The Cosby Show” is one of the funniest programmes I know. Bill Cosby is both funny and wise, I could listen to his rantings, uhm wisdom, forever. So, it's a good thing he put them all into this fabulous book.

I am not a fan of short stories. But these aren't short stories. They are variations on a theme. Every story is on a different part of one subject, raising children. Bill Cosby knows all about that. I could just quote him all day long. One last one: “Always end the name of your child with a vowel, so that when you yell the name will carry.” Wish he'd told me that before I ended both my sons' names with a consonant. ;-)

Sunday, 11 December 2011

Goethe, Johann Wolfgang von “The Sorrows of Young Werther”

Goethe, Johann Wolfgang von “The Sorrows of Young Werther” (Die Leiden des jungen Werther) - 1774

This epistolary novel is also slightly autobiographical. Goethe has always been a very important German author. This is probably one of his most famous books very much to the disdain of the author.

Young Werther is a young artist, very sensitive. He corresponds with his friend whom he tells about all his troubles and sufferings, his unrequited love to a girl.

Apparently, the book had a huge influence on the people at the time. But not only contemporary readers were influenced, there are still German and international authors referring to the novel.
Thomas Mann wrote “Lotte in Weimar” where Goethe meets the young girl, Charlotte, Ulrich Plenzdorf, a GDR author, wrote “Die neuen Leiden des jungen W.” (The New Sufferings of Young W.) in 1970 and it is still as actual as it was then.

I also read "Iphigenia in Tauris".

Roberts, Karen "The Flower Boy"

Roberts, Karen "The Flower Boy" - 2001

“The Flower Boy is a deeply moving and enchanting novel - a story of love, town secrets and family divisions.”

I read this book probably ten years ago. A story about Ceylon, as it was called then, in the 1930s. A story about a friendship, about Europeans in Asia, about masters and servants. A very well told story of the friendship between a little Ceylonese boy and the daughter of his English masters. I really liked this novel.

Saturday, 10 December 2011

Dinesen, Isak/Blixen, Karen “Out of Africa”

Dinesen, Isak/Blixen, Karen “Out of Africa” - 1937

Who didn't watch the fantastic film „Out of Africa“? I often read a book and then watch a movie which really is the wrong way around because you never really like the film if you've read the book and see your own images.

Now - “Out of Africa”. I think I would have liked the movie even if I'd read the book first. Meryl Streep captures the narrator's language so beautifully, I don't think one can imagine it any different.

Isak Dinesen, aka Karen Blixen, moves to Africa where she marries a good friend and wants to start a dairy farm with him. Nothing happens as planned but we get to know a smart and wonderful woman with a big heart who really gets to like the continent and its inhabitants. I have thoroughly enjoyed reading this novel.

From the back cover: "From the moment Karen Blixen arrived in Kenya in 1914 to manage a coffee plantation, her heart belonged to Africa. Drawn to the intense colours and ravishing landscapes, Karen Blixen spent her happiest years on the farm and her experiences and friendships with the people around her are vividly recalled in these memoirs. Out of Africa is the story of a remarkable and unconventional woman and of a way of life that has vanished for ever."

Goethe, Johann Wolfgang von “Iphigenia in Tauris”

Goethe, Johann Wolfgang von “Iphigenia in Tauris” (Iphigenie auf Tauris) - 1787

A play by Goethe, one of the books you have to read in the German high school. Iphigenia is the daughter of Agamemnon who offers her to the goddess Artemis. Even though the goddess rescues Iphigenia and takes her to the island of Tauris, a lot of things happen as a consequence.

I am not a big fan of reading plays, I rather watch them. However, this is a very interesting story that teaches a lot about Greek mythology.

I also read “The Sorrows of Young Werther”.

Friday, 9 December 2011

Ilibagiza, Immaculée “Our Lady of Kibeho"

Ilibagiza, Immaculée with Erwin, Steve “Our Lady of Kibeho: Mary speaks to the World from the Heart of Africa” - 2008

I read  Immaculée Ilibagiza's harrowing tale of the genocide in Rwanda “Left to Tell: Discovering God Amidst the Rwandan Holocaust” which was written before this one but happened later. During the first book I was always amazed about her faith, her indistructible faith in God that he would spare her. How could someone so young be so faithful?

After reading this book, I am not surprised. She was born like that, her family was very religious and then she saw the visionaries.

A remarkable book by a remarkable young woman.

Bryson, Bill "At Home"

Bryson, Bill "At Home. A Short History of Private Life" - 2010

One of my favourite authors, Bill Bryson. He travels around the world and makes everyone laugh with his books. This time, he doesn't even leave the house, he describes the history of the world (well, mainly Britain and America) while walking through the different rooms in his house. Highly interesting, highly amusing. One of the easiest way to pick up a lot of knowledge.

I have read so many different books by this guy that I have an extra page for him: Bill Bryson - Funniest Author Ever

Thursday, 8 December 2011

Tellkamp, Uwe “The Tower"

Tellkamp, Uwe “The Tower" (Der Turm. Geschichte aus einem versunkenen Land) - 2008

I loved this book and couldn't wait to recommend it to all my friends. Now it was translated! Go, read it.

Uwe Tellkamp describes life in East Germany in the 1980s. I grew up in the Western part of the country and - as most of us - didn't have any contacts to the East. Which means I cannot vouch for the accuracy of the lives depicted. But I do have a feeling that it's pretty close, yet, not for everyone, only those who lived a more privileged life because of their jobs.

The length of the book enabled the author to go into so many details of so many different characters. Without that, he would have had to restrict himself to fewer characters or a more superficial description.

Of course, Christian Hoffmann was the protagonist, and I loved his portrayal. But my favourite character was Meno Rohde because he seemed the most "alive".

I certainly want to read more of this author and more of other GDR authors.

I read the original German edition of this novel.

Tuesday, 6 December 2011

Bacon, Charlotte “Lost Geography”

Bacon, Charlotte “Lost Geography” - 2000

Lost Geography” is a story about migration, a Canadian-Scottish family with their daughters, one of whom lives in France with her Turkish-English husband.

I especially like the description “'Lost Geography" teaches us, in a luminous sequence of intense personal dramas, that what keeps us alive isn't so much our ability to understand the details of our past as having the luck and courage to survive the assaults of both the present and history.”

This is what the story is all about, how do people with a different background relate to each other, what are the consequences of migration, inter-racial marriages.

The novel is full of tragedies, with the people fighting. And this is the real message of the book, how you can overcome obstacles and make the most of it. Make the problems a challenge instead of a dead end road.

Very interesting novel for which the author received several awards, quite deservedly.

Monday, 5 December 2011

Shalev, Meir “Four Meals”

Shalev, Meir "Four Meals" (כימים אחדים aka "As a Few Days" or "The Loves of Judith") – 1994

Three men love Judith, two farmers and a cattle dealer. Even though they all want to marry her, she doesn't marry anyone but has a son instead.

When Judith dies, all three men want to be the father of the boy and invite him to a meal to get to know him better.

Very short description of an extraordinary story. The boy doesn't just learn about his mother's past but also about life and love, relationships, destiny. This novel contains so many different characters and so many different traits in those characters. The author manages to describe not just those few people but almost everyone in the village. And the meals have a certain meaning, too.

A very deep account of love and life.

Streatfeild, Noel “Ballet Shoes”

Streatfeild, Noel “Ballet Shoes” - 1936

Three adopted orphan girls take dance lessons. That's the main plot. They all have different kind of talents and different kind of views, that makes the story interesting.

I must admit, I never heard of this author before watching “You've Got Mail”. But Meg Ryan described it so nicely, when I saw the book in our library (helping my son to find books), I just had to borrow and read it. It is a little old and you notice this when you read it, but, it's quite a nice story that you can still read more than half a century after it's been written.

From the back cover: "Pauline longs to be an actress.
Petrova is happiest playing with cars and engines.
And if she could . . . Posy would dance all day!
But when their benefactor Great-Uncle Matthew disappears, the Fossil girls share a future of a dazzling life on stage, where their dreams and fears will soon come true . . .

Saturday, 3 December 2011

Høeg, Peter “Miss Smilla's Feeling for Snow”

Høeg, Peter “Miss Smilla's Feeling for Snow” (Frøken Smillas fornemmelse for sne) - 1992

I remember everyone raving about this book. Smilla is a native Greenlander, an Inuit who lives in Denmark. She is friends with a neighbour boy who is killed by a fall from the roof. It is declared an accident but Smilla doesn't' believe it and starts her own investigation. A murder mystery with a twist.

Even though I don't usually enjoy crime stories, I thought this was quite fascinating.

Book Description: "When caustic Smilla Jaspersen discovers that her neighbor---a neglected six-year-old boy, and possibly her only friend---has died in a tragic accident, a peculiar intuition tells her it was murder. Unpredictable to the last page, Smilla’s Feeling for Snow is one of the most beautifully written and original crime stories of our time, a new classic."

Friday, 2 December 2011

Tyler, Anne "Digging to America"

Tyler, Anne "Digging to America" - 2006

Two very different American families meet while adopting a Korean baby. One family are immigrants themselves, from Iran. The families become friends and start a tradition for both of them. The book demonstrates all the different parts of family life, the joys and the problems.

I really enjoyed reading this book. Anne Tyler has a great way of giving her characters life, describing both ordinary and extraordinary lives.

A lot of topics come up for discussion. How far do you want to keep your adopted child from another culture to stay in touch with this culture, how much are you as a family willing to adjust to this culture? How much are they willing to adapt themselves? How much is a marriage threatened or able to grow through an act like that? All these questions show what a great book this would be for a book club.

I also read "The Accidental Tourist" and "A Patchwork Planet"  but wasn't that impressed with either of those novels.

Tyler, Anne "A Patchwork Planet"

Tyler, Anne "A Patchwork Planet" - 1998

The story of a man who is socially regarded as a "loser", his failure, the disappointment of his family. Same as "The Accidental Tourist", I read this ages ago but the book didn't leave a huge impression. Nicely told but I couldn't warm to the characters.

Not at all like "Digging to America" which I enjoyed very much.

Read my other reviews about Anne Tyler's novels here.

Hesse, Karen “Letters from Rifka”

Hesse, Karen “Letters from Rifka” - 1992

I picked up this book at a school book fair because it looked quite interesting. The story is told by Rifka, a Jewish girl who has to leave the Ukraine with her family to go to America. On the way, she gets sick and cannot go with the family but has to stay behind in Antwerp. She writes down imaginary letters to her cousin in the margins of a Pushkin book and that way we learn about the lives of the Jews in Eastern Europe and the troubles they had to go through in order to get to lead a decent life.

From the back cover: "In letters to her cousin, a young Jewish girl chronicles her family's flight from Russia in 1919 and her own experiences when she must be left in Belgium for a while when the others emigrate to America."

The novel is recommended for 9 to 12 year olds but I am sure it is still interesting for older teens.

I also recommend “Out of the Dust” by the same author, about life during the Great Depression. 

Thursday, 1 December 2011

Dorrestein, Renate “A Heart of Stone”

Dorrestein, Renate “A Heart of Stone” (Een hart van steen) - 1998

Ellen tells the story of her family, she grows up as one of five children and buys her parents' home when she is in her late thirties and pregnant herself. Through old family albums, she tries to understand the tragedy that happened to her family years ago.

Very interesting story about memory and understanding, a psychological thriller. Renate Dorrestein is quite well known in the Netherlands, this is one of her few books that have been translated into English. She received several nominations for prestigious Dutch literature prizes for it. I am not surprised.

I read this in the original Dutch.

Bennett, Alan "The Uncommon Reader"

Bennett, Alan "The Uncommon Reader" - 2007

The driver of a mobile library meets Queen Elizabeth II who finds her passion for books, almost an obsession, she reads all the time and neglects her duties as the monarch.

A little satirical, a little funny, overall a pleasant book. I quite liked the references given to different other authors and novels.

Wednesday, 30 November 2011

Thomas, Rosie “The Potter's House”

Thomas, Rosie “The Potter's House” - 2001

The story of Olivia, an English woman who lives on a Greek island with her Greek husband and two sons. After an earthquake, a stranger turns up, an Englishwoman like herself. Olivia takes in Kitty who becomes a member of the community but the whole atmosphere changes the more she is integrated.

A weird novel, when I started reading this, I thought it was a chick lit book but it was quite interesting. It starts out weirdly but then it seems to get pretty normal (that's when I thought it was more "easy reading") and then it gets weird again, a little "magic fiction".

Tuesday, 29 November 2011

O'Dell, Scott “Zia”

O'Dell, Scott “Zia” - 1976

A sequel to “Island of the Blue Dolphins”. Zia is Karana's niece who wants to find her aunt who ended up on a deserted island. This is not the same as the first novel, mainly because Zia's life is described in the mission and not on the island. However, a good read, a must if you read the first novel.

From the back cover: "A young Indian girl, caught between the traditional world of her mother and the present world of the mission, is helped by her Aunt Karana, whose story was told in Island of the Blue Dolphins."

O'Dell, Scott “Island of the Blue Dolphins”

O'Dell, Scott “Island of the Blue Dolphins” - 1960

“Scott O'Dell won the Newbery Medal for Island of the Blue Dolphins in 1961, and in 1976 the Children's Literature Association named this riveting story one of the 10 best American children's books of the past 200 years.”

The Native American girl Karana ends up on a deserted island where she spends eighteen years alone. The story tells about her life, her struggles to survive.

While I probably wouldn't call this one of the best children's books, I really liked this story when I read it as a girl. I read it later on with my boys and still thought it was a wonderful book. I later on read the sequel “Zia” which is interesting to read as a follow-up.

From the back cover: "Twelve-year-old Karana escapes death at the hands of treacherous hunters, only to find herself totally alone on a harsh desolate island. How she survives in the face of all sorts of dangers makes gripping and inspiring reading. Based on a true story."

Wurtzel, Elizabeth “The Secret of Life"

Wurtzel, Elizabeth “The Secret of Life: Commonsense Advice for Uncommon Women” - 2001

I found this book in the library, it sounded funny. It wasn't. Just the ramblings of a woman who seems to be unhappy with herself and the rest of the world. The kind of woman you wouldn't want to be friends with because all she does is talk about other people. And she always knows better than everyone else. And if you follow her advice, you end up being as miserable as she seems to be. Or maybe I'm just not "uncommon" enough. ;-)

Monday, 28 November 2011

Hemingway, Ernest "The Old Man and the Sea"

Hemingway, Ernest "The Old Man and the Sea" - 1952

"The Old Man and the Sea", always sounds a little exotic, a little adventurous, a little romantic, I love that title.

An ageing fisherman who hits a stroke of bad luck, doesn't catch anything for ages, goes out to sea and catches the probably largest fish he has ever set eyes on. What follows is his struggle to bring the fish home. Alone. The description of his efforts, of his problems, are just fantastic. A great book, I'm not surprised about the success. Wonderful writing, you can imagine being there with Santiago, the fisherman, in his boat. Although, he'd probably make you work and help him get the fish back home. …

Apparently, this was one of the main reasons, Hemingway was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature. I can understand that. Such beauty!

From the back cover: "The Old Man and the Sea is one of Hemingway's most enduring works. Told in language of great simplicity and power, it is the story of an old Cuban fisherman, down on his luck, and his supreme ordeal; a relentless, agonizing battle with a giant marlin far out in the Gulf Stream. Here Hemingway recasts, in strikingly contemporary style, the classic theme of courage in the face of defeat, of personal triumph won from loss. Written in 1952, this hugely successful novella confirmed his power and presence in the literary world and played a large part in his winning the 1954 Nobel Prize for Literature."

Ernest Hemingway received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1954 "for his mastery of the art of narrative, most recently demonstrated in 'The Old Man and the Sea' and for the influence that he has exerted on contemporary style" and the Pulitzer Prize for "The Old Man and the Sea" in 1953. 

I contribute to this page: Read the Nobels and you can find all my blogs about Nobel Prize winning authors and their books here.

Friday, 25 November 2011

Harris, Joanne "Chocolat"

Harris, Joanne "Chocolat" - 1999

"Chocolat begins with the arrival in a tiny French village of Vianne Rocher, a single mother with a young daughter, on Shrove Tuesday. As the inhabitants of Lansquenet-sous-Tannes clear away the remains of the carnival which heralds the beginning of Lent, Vianne moves with her daughter into a disused bakery facing the church, where Francis Reynaud, the young and opinionated curé of the parish, watches her arrival with disapproval and suspicion."

I read this book quite a while ago when everyone was raving about it. Actually, it was one of my former book club reads. I liked it all right but couldn't possibly think why everyone was just praising it so much. The story itself was not so absolutely new or interesting, the writing was alright but nothing of the ordinary. As I said, it was alright but that was it.

Then I happened to watch the movie. Don't remember why because usually I wouldn't necessarily watch a movie after I didn't like the book in the first place. But I watched it and I loved it. Probably due to the actors, they were all great. This is the only story I can think of where I liked the move better than the book.

I also read "Five Quarters of the Orange", "Coastliners", and "Blackberry Wine".

Read more about her other books here.

Harris, Joanne "Coastliners"

Harris, Joanne "Coastliners" - 2002

If you have read any of the other books by Joanne Harris, you will probably expect recipes. Well, there are none. Although it still is her style, she describes a French village, a woman who returns there after having lived in Paris for ten years and is confronted with her past. So, nothing new there. But the story is very interesting, you can't wait to find out what happened, how everything will turn out.
Nice read.

From the back cover: "On the tiny Breton island of Le Devin, life has remained almost unchanged for over a hundred years. For generations, two rival communities have fought for control of the island's only beach.
When Mado returns home ot her village after a ten-year absence, she finds it threatened, both by the tides and by a local entrepreneur. Worse, the community is suffering from an incurable loss of hope. Taking up the fight to transform the dying village, Mado must confront past tragedies, including the terrible secret that still haunts her father.

I also read "Chocolat" and "Five Quarters of the Orange", and "Blackberry Wine".