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.

Friday, 12 October 2018

Book Quotes of the Week


"In the end, we all become stories." Margaret Atwood

"The story is truly finished - and meaning is made - not when the author adds the last period, but when the reader enters." Celeste Ng

"He who learns but does not think, is lost! He who thinks but does not learn is in great danger ... Men of superior mind busy themselves first getting at the root of things; when they succeed, the right course is open to them." Confucius

"It is books that are the key to the wide world; if you can’t do anything else, read all that you can." Jane Hamilton

Find more book quotes here.

Thursday, 11 October 2018

And the Nobel Prize for Literature 2018 goes to ….


Word cloud made with WordItOut

As every year, many people look forward to hearing who received the Nobel Prize for Literature this time around. So, today would probably have been the day when they would have announced the newest laureate. Would - if they had elected one.

I will not go into the details why there is no winner this year, I bet everyone has read enough of it in the news. But - what a shame for that to happen to such a prestigious prize. Alfred Nobel is probably turning in his grave.

I love the Nobel Prize for Literature, I have found many great authors that way. What a pity we will not have one this year even if they announced they might choose two in 2019.

Because I was so disappointed, my thoughts were that I have lots of Facebook friends who love reading, so I asked them which would be their choice for a laureate. And here is the list - strictly in alphabetical order. I was happy that someone else also chose my favourite nominee, JCO. I added the books I read of my friends' choices in brackets.

So, Nobel Prize Committee, if you read this, take head.

Margaret Atwood (The Handmaid's Tale; The Blind Assassin)

Coelho, Paulo (Brida, The Alchemist)

Gaiman, Neil

Hays, Edward

Irving, John (A Widow for One Year)

Nesbø, Jo

Oates, Joyce Carol (Big Mouth & Ugly Girl, A Book of American Martyrs, Carthage, Dear Husband, The Falls, The Gravediggers Daughter, Jack of Spades, The Man Without a Shadow, Middle Age, Mudwoman, The Sacrifice, Sexy, We Were the Mulvaneys, A Widow's Story)

Ruiz Zafón, Carlos (The Angel's Game, Gaudí in Manhattan, The Labyrinth of the Spirits, Marina, The Midnight Palace, The Prince of Mist, The Prisoner of Heaven, The Shadow of the Wind, The Watcher of the Shadows)

Of course, I am always happy to add other authors that anyone who reads this might put on their list!

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

Tuesday, 9 October 2018

Weidermann, Volker "Summer Before the Dark"


Weidermann, Volker "Summer Before the Dark: Stefan Zweig and Joseph Roth, Ostend 1936" (Ostende - 1936, Sommer der Freundschaft) - 2014

This is a highly interesting book about German authors before and during World War II. Two very famous and important German (Austrian). Stefan Zweig was rich and successful, Joesph Roth was an alcoholic and on his way to destruction, even without the help of the Nazis. Both of them were in big danger, they were Jewish.

Stefan Zweig had spent a summer in Ostend, at the Belgian coast in the summer of 1914. In 1936, he goes back there again and invites many of his friends and colleagues to join him. Besides Joseph Roth, there are many other authors and editors, Irmgard Keun, Egon Erwin Kisch, Ernst Toller with his wife Christiane Grautoff, Arthur Koestler, Hermann Kesten, Émile Verhaeren, James Ensor, Štefan Lux, Soma Morgenstern, Annette Kolb, most of them refugees, most of them banned from publishing in Germany, but also non-authors, political activists like Willi Münzenberg, Otto Katz, Etkar André, Géza von Cziffra, Olga Benário Prestes.

In this novella, the author tries to retell the story of their meeting, their hopes and their despairs. He manages to build a picture about the end of a civilization and how it was hurtling down its own destruction. How many good and brilliant people have ended in this war, how much could they have told us, how much could they have discovered?

We can follow the writers in their view about the political situation, how different people try to do different things about it - or not. A totally interesting way to look at history from within.

Quite a few of them met later on in Sanary-sur-Mer in the South of France where many of them were interned as enemy aliens and some of them even sent to Auschwitz. Today, there is a commemorative plaque for the exiles.

From the book cover:

"It's as if they're made for each other. Two men, both falling, but holding each other up for a time.

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."

The author has also mentioned many many books by all those interesting authors:

Auden, W. H. "No more Peace"
Brecht, Bertolt "The Threepenny Opera" (Dreigroschenoper)
Hašek, Jaroslav "The Good Soldier Švejk" (Der Brave Soldat Schwejk)
Hesse, Hermann "Heumond" (no translation)
Huxley, Aldous "Brave New World"
Kesten, Hermann "Philipp II." (König Philipp II.)
Keun, Irmgard "After Midnight" (Nach Mitternacht)
Koestler, Arthur "Darkness at Noon" (Sonnenfinsternis)
Mann, Heinrich "Im Schlaraffenland" (no translation), "Weg zum Hades" (no translation)
Mann, Klaus "Mephisto" (Mephisto)
Mann, Thomas "The Magic Mountain" (Der Zauberberg)
Maupassant, Guy de "Bel Ami" (Bel Ami)
Neumann, Alfred "Das Kaiserreich" (La Tragédie impériale, trilogy)
Rilke, Rainer Maria "The Lay of the Love and Death of Cornet Christoph Rilke" (Die Weise von Liebe und Tod des Cornets Christoph Rilke)
Roth, Joseph "Confession of a Murderer" (Beichte eines Mörders, erzählt in einer Nacht), "Weights and Measures" (Das falsche Gewicht), "The String of Pearls" (Die Geschichte der 1002. Nacht), "The Legend oft he Holy Drinker" (Die Legende vom Heiligen Trinker), "Erdbeeren" (Fragment) (no translation), "Job" (Hiob), "The Ballad oft he Hundred Days" (Die Hundert Tage), "The Wandering Jews" (Juden auf Wanderschaft)
Schnitzler, Arthur "Der Ruf des Lebens"
Zweig, Stefan "Anton", "Das Buch als Eingang zur Welt", "Maria Stuart", "The Royal Game/Chess Story/Chess" (Schachnovelle), "Decisive Moments in History" (Sternstunden der Menschheit), "Beware of Pity" (Ungeduld des Herzens) (his only novel). Most of these stories are short stories or novellas. They might have been translated but I didn't find many of them.

He has also mentioned many other authors without listing any of their works which are all worth reading:
Honoré de Balzac, Paul Claudel, Richard Dehmel, Fyodor Dostojewsky, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Gernard Hauptmann, Hugo von Hofmannsthal, Gustav Mahler, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Friedrich Nietzsche, Leo Tolstoy, Frank Wedekind, Walt Whitman, Oscar Wilde

Monday, 8 October 2018

Grass, Günter "The Tin Drum"


Grass, Günter "The Tin Drum" (German: Die Blechtrommel. Danziger Trilogie 1) - 1959

Günter Grass is one of my favourite Nobel Prize winners, certainly one of the best German authors we ever had. His style is unique, his language superb.

How to describe this book? To even try would be like rewriting the whole story which is, of course, impossible.

Why is it so important? The story represents not only a part of our history that is told from a completely different perspective than most books of the war, it also describes how many things could have been through the magic realism genre.

Oscar Matzerath was born in the then free city of Danzig (now the Polish city Gdańsk). When he is three years old, he decides not to grow anymore. He tells us the story of his grandmother and through his narration we go through WWII, the occupation of Poland and the post-war life of many refugees who went to West Germany.

Oscar incorporates many different characters, the grown-up child, the obsessive drummer, the evil of this world, the actor who wants to show us how it's done. He is many people in one, hard to grasp but so much one of us that we seem to know him.

This is certainly not one of the easiest books to read but it is totally worth it. It is a story you will never forget. I will continue reading the two other books of the "Danzig Trilogy": "Cat and Mouse" (Katz und Maus) and "Dog Years" (Hundejahre).

Like many other successful books, "The Tin Drum" was made into a film and received the Academy Award for best Foreign Language Picture.

From the back cover:

"Meet Oskar Matzerath, 'the eternal three-year-old drummer.' On the morning of his third birthday, dressed in a striped pullover and patent leather shoes, and clutching his drumsticks and his new tin drum, young Oskar makes an irrevocable decision: 'It was then that I declared, resolved, and determined that I would never under any circumstances be a politician, much less a grocer; that I would stop right there, remain as I was - and so I did; for many years I not only stayed the same size but clung to the same attire.' Here is a Peter Pan story with a vengeance. But instead of Never-Never Land, Günter Grass gives us Danzig, a contested city on the Polish-German border; instead of Captain Hook and his pirates, we have the Nazis. And in place of Peter himself is Oskar, a twisted puer aeternis with a scream that can shatter glass and a drum rather than a shadow. First published in 1959, The Tin Drum's depiction of the Nazi era created a furor in Germany, for the world of Grass's making is rife with corrupt politicians and brutal grocers in brown shirts: 

There was once a grocer who closed his store one day in November, because something was doing in town; taking his son Oskar by the hand, he boarded a Number 5 streetcar and rode to the Langasser Gate, because there as in Zoppot and Langfuhr the synagogue was on fire. The synagogue had almost burned down and the firemen were looking on, taking care that the flames should not spread to other buildings. Outside the wrecked synagogue, men in uniform and others in civilian clothes piled up books, ritual objects, and strange kinds of cloth. The mound was set on fire and the grocer took advantage of the opportunity to warm his fingers and his feelings over the public blaze. 

As Oskar grows older (though not taller), portents of war transform into the thing itself. Danzig is the first casualty when, in the summer of 1939, residents turn against each other in a pitched battle between Poles and Germans. In the years that follow, Oskar goes from one picaresque adventure to the next - he joins a troupe of traveling musicians; he becomes the leader of a group of anarchists; he falls in love; he becomes a recording artist - until some time after the war, he is convicted of murder and confined to a mental hospital. 

The Tin Drum uses savage comedy and a stiff dose of magical realism to capture not only the madness of war, but also the black cancer at the heart of humanity that allows such degradations to occur. Grass wields his humor like a knife - yes, he'll make you laugh, but he'll make you bleed, as well. There have been many novels written about World War II, but only a handful can truly be called great; The Tin Drum, without a doubt, is one. - Alix Wilber"

Günter Grass "whose frolicsome black fables portray the forgotten face of history" received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1999.

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

When visiting Lübeck a couple of years ago, I was happy to be able to visit the house where he lived. You can read about my experience here.

Friday, 5 October 2018

Book Quotes of the Week


"A room without books is like a body without a soul." Marcus Tullius Cicero 

(Una stanza senza libri è come un corpo senz'anima.)

"When you learn to read you will be born again … and you will never be quite so alone again." Rumer Godden

"Poetic language is a way of giving the sense of an answer, just a sense of one, that the story itself is unable to provide." Emily Ruskovich

"A book is like the Tardis - it's bigger on the inside." N.N.
[If anyone can tell me the originator of this quote, I'd be very thankful and would happily include the name.]

Find more book quotes here.

Thursday, 4 October 2018

Wolf, Christa "They Divided the Sky"


Wolf, Christa "They Divided the Sky" (aka "Divided Heaven") (German: Der geteilte Himmel) - 1963

I grew up with the "Iron Curtain". And just as those on the East side of the curtain couldn't come to us, we in the West couldn't go there. Mind you, we always considered ourselves the lucky ones and I remember the day the curtain was torn down, the fall of the Berlin Wall and all that, as if it was yesterday.

The author Christa Wolf grew up in the East, she was a big supporter of socialism but not the regime in her country. I can understand that quite well, I would probably say that my political views are similar to hers.

In this novel, one of her first, we meet Rita and Manfred, a young couple living somewhere in East Germany shortly before the wall was built. We learn about their problems in the new state, their different views about what can be done and what they do themselves.

They are torn between their relief of having survived the war and their desire to move on. But what is better? Capitalism or socialism. A difficult question, even today.

A brilliant book that describes how Germany was divided in two halves for almost half a century. For those of us growing up with it, a reminder of what was and what could have been. An insight into the other side. For those who were born later and/or don't remember it themselves (or haven't lived in Germany), a good history lesson.

From the back cover:

"First published in 1963, in East Germany, 'They Divided the Sky' tells the story of a young couple, living in the new, socialist, East Germany, whose relationship is tested to the extreme not only because of the political positions they gradually develop but, very concretely, by the Berlin Wall, which went up on August 13, 1961.

The story is set in 1960 and 1961, a moment of high political cold war tension between the East Bloc and the West, a time when many thousands of people were leaving the young German Democratic Republic (the GDR) every day in order to seek better lives in West Germany, or escape the political ideology of the new country that promoted the "farmer and peasant" state over a state run by intellectuals or capitalists. The construction of the Wall put an end to this hemorrhaging of human capital, but separated families, friends, and lovers, for thirty years.

The conflicts of the time permeate the relations between characters in the book at every level, and strongly affect the relationships that Rita, the protagonist, has not only with colleagues at work and at the teacher's college she attends, but also with her partner Manfred (an intellectual and academic) and his family. They also lead to an accident/attempted suicide that send her to hospital in a coma, and that provide the backdrop for the flashbacks that make up the narrative.

Wolf's first full-length novel, published when she was thirty-five years old, was both a great literary success and a political scandal. Accused of having a 'decadent' attitude with regard to the new socialist Germany and deliberately misrepresenting the workers who are the foundation of this new state, Wolf survived a wave of political and other attacks after its publication. She went on to create a screenplay from the novel and participate in making the film version. More importantly, she went on to become the best-known East German writer of her generation, a writer who established an international reputation and never stopped working toward improving the socialist reality of the GDR."

Wednesday, 3 October 2018

Armstrong, Alexander; Osman, Richard "The 100 Most Pointless Things In The World


Armstrong, Alexander; Osman, Richard "The 100 Most Pointless Things In The World" - 2012

If, like me, you love quiz shows and are lucky to live in a country where you can watch "Pointless", you will certainly have watched it and love it. For those unfortunate enough who don't, here's a short information.

"Pointless" is a quiz show where you have to find obscure answers to questions that were put to a hundred people before and the fewer people answered it, the fewer points the teams get. The aim is to find as many "pointless" answers, i.e. answers nobody knew, because the fewer points you have, the better. So, if asked for, let's say, a capital in Europe, London would certainly not be the best answer as most British people might know that.

The show is hosted by British comedian, actor and singer Alexander Armstrong and Richard Osman, a TV presenter and comedian. They are both hilarious and have the best chemistry ever. Even if you don't like quiz shows, you might want to tune in and I promise, you'll fall in love with it.

One of my main subjects is when they ask the contestants about geography and Richard mentions, as always "and by 'country' we mean a sovereign state that is a member of the UN in its own right".

Anyway, this was the concept of the show. The book is something else, although not entirely. Both Alexander and Richard talk to us about what they think are the 100 most pointless things in the world. I must say, when it comes to things like "restaurants advertising themselves when you're already eating there" or "explaining rules on episode 400 of a quiz show", I totally agree, even though there are worse things in life, like "war" and "over-complicated hotel showers", two points that are also mentioned and that I would certainly have listed myself.

And then it comes to some of the really hilarious ones like "being 14" or "dictators' pets". Just Richard and Alexander as we all love them.

Plus, they enter some of their pointless quiz questions. What's not to like?

From the back cover:

"The world is full of pointless things. From rail replacement bus services to chip forks. From war to windchimes. From people who put cushions on beds to people who read the bit they write about the book on amazon. Look around you right now. Just about the only thing that isn't pointless is you. You look amazing. Join Alexander Armstrong and Richard Osman, the hosts of BBC1 quiz show Pointless as they take you on a journey through The 100 Most Pointless Things in the World. Filled with play-along quiz questions and unlikely facts, their hilarious collection of musings on some of the most pointless things found in everyday modern life is the perfect blend of the obscure, the fascinating and the downright silly."

Tuesday, 2 October 2018

Backman, Fredrik "A Man Called Ove"


Backman, Fredrik "A Man Called Ove" (Swedish: En Man som heter Ove) - 2012

If you are looking for a hilarious book, this is the one for you. A friend recommended it to me - thank you very much!

There is not too much to tell without spoiling it for anyone. Only this. Ove is a man in his early sixties but he behaves like a hundred-year-old. He is grumpy, he makes his neighbours' lives difficult if not unbearable - depending on how much he dislikes them.

Or is he? He certainly is in his sixties, he certainly is grumpy but if you look behind the façade, you see the reason for his behaviour and start liking him …

In any case, whether you like Ove or not, you will definitely love the book.

From the back cover:

"Ove is almost certainly the grumpiest man you will ever meet. He thinks himself surrounded by idiots-joggers, neighbours who can't reverse a trailer properly and shop assistants who talk in code. But isn't it rare, these days, to find such old-fashioned clarity of belief and deed? Such unswerving conviction about what the world should be and a lifelong dedication to making it just so? In the end, you will see, there is something about Ove that is quite irresistible..."

Monday, 1 October 2018

Happy October!


Happy October to all my friends and readers

New Calendar picture with this
beautiful watercolour painting by Frank Koebsch


"Party am Strand"
"Party at the Beach" 



October is definitely autumn and I love the colours of the leaves on the trees. Not as colourful as the Indian summer in New England, I am told, but beautiful nevertheless.
There are many special events in this month. Breast Cancer Awareness is just one of them. My church (the Roman Catholics) celebrate the Month of the Rosary, my country German Unity Day, my Australian friends celebrate Labour Day, my Canadian friends Thanksgiving. So, lots to celebrate.

 And to my great delight, daylight saving time ends.
However, they only give us back one hour and not the 218 they have stolen from us all over the summer.


The birthstone for this month is the opal which can come in many colours and therefore it's supposed to bring luck.

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

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

Friday, 28 September 2018

Book Quotes of the Week


"How can you be bored? There are so many books to read!" Lailah Gifty Akita

"If one reads enough books one has a fighting chance. Or better, one's chances of survival increase with each book one reads." Sherman Alexie

"Reading - even browsing - an old book can yield sustenance denied by a database search." James Gleick

"For all I know, writing comes out of a superior devotion to reading." Eudora Welty

Find more book quotes here.

Thursday, 27 September 2018

Henderson, Kristin "Driving by Moonlight"


Henderson, Kristin "Driving by Moonlight: A Journey Through Love, War, and Infertility" - 2003

Years ago, a member in our book club suggested this and I bought it back then. However, somehow I never really got around to starting it, and now I know why.

I thought this was going to be a book about a woman struggling with her inability to have children but it wasn't really. Yes, she speaks about that, as well. But she also speaks about struggles that have nothing to do with it, the military, September 11th, religion. While I understand that all these played into her life, it wasn't for me. She jumps from one point to the next without finishing the first thought and then returns sometimes later without giving any more information about the second thought. Just a little higgledy-piggledy.

As to the other, non-infertility related topics, maybe I'm not American enough for them.

Not my book.

From the back cover:

"When Kristin Henderson's husband, a Lutheran chaplain, ships out with the Marines to Afghanistan after 9/11, Henderson struggles to reconcile her Quaker belief in pacifism with her strong feelings about the smoking rubble in her hometown of Washington, D.C. Together with her German shepherd, Rosie, Henderson sets off in an old Corvette on a cross-country journey through America's byways, exploring a changed country and her own altered emotional landscape. Hoping for answers, Henderson finds peace instead, and learns the freedom that comes with letting go."

Wednesday, 26 September 2018

Abulhawa, Susan "The Blue Between Sky and Water"


Abulhawa, Susan "The Blue Between Sky and Water" - 2015

This is my second book by Susan Abulhawa. I loved "Mornings in Jenin" and was sure this wouldn't be bad, either. And I was not disappointed.

The author tells us about ordinary Palestinians whose lives changed when the Israeli state was formed. All of a sudden, they had no country any more, no rights, nothing. They were pushed from one side to the next and the world looked upon them as troublemakers. I always wonder what others in their situation would have done. Probably nothing else.

We always hear about Palestinians in the news when they have attacked something. We never hear when they have been attacked. The news would be full of them, I guess.

Anyway, this book is about several generations of a Palestinian family, how the different members cope with the changes - or don't cope. It is especially about the women who, like usual, have to carry most of the burden. And they often become stronger with the troubles that are coming their way.

I have friends in Israel and I don't want this to be seen as a criticism against them. But I totally understand the people of Palestine and that they would wish to have their country back. A lot of the troubles in the Middle East could have been avoided, had not some Europeans decided this was the best way to solve their conflicts.

I will definitely read more books by Susan Abulhawa. She is a great story-teller.

From the back cover:

"It is 1947, and Beit Daras, a rural Palestinian village, is home to the Baraka family - oldest daughter Nazmiyeh, brother Mamdouh, dreamy Mariam and their widowed mother. When Israeli forces descend, sending the village up in flames, the family must take the long road to Gaza, in a walk that will test them to their limits.

Sixty years later, in America, Mamdouh's granddaughter Nur falls in love with a doctor. Following him to Gaza, she meets Alwan, who will help Nur discover the ties of kinship that transcend distance - and even death. Told with raw humanity, The Blue Between Sky and Water is a lyrical, devastatingly beautiful story of a family's relocation, separation, survival and love."

Friday, 21 September 2018

Book Quotes of the Week


"Personally, I am a hedonistic reader; I have never read a book merely because it was ancient. I read books for the aesthetic emotions they offer me, and I ignore the commentaries and criticism." Jorge Luis Borges

"I used to walk to school with my nose buried in a book." Coolio

"This is every reader's catch-22: the more you read, the more you realize you haven't read; the more you yearn to read more, the more you understand that you have, in fact, read nothing. There is no way to finish, and perhaps that shouldn't be the goal." Pamela Paul

"There is a space on everyone's bookshelves for books you have outgrown but can't give away. They hold your youth between their pages, like flowers pressed on a half-forgotten Summer's day." N.N.

[If anyone can tell me the originator of this quote, I'd be very thankful and would happily include the name.

Find more book quotes here.

Thursday, 20 September 2018

Fry, Stephen "Mythos: The Greek Myths Retold"


Fry, Stephen "Mythos: The Greek Myths Retold" - 2017

I have never been a huge fan of all those Greek gods and their myths and I have always thought that's because I don't know enough about them. So, when I found this book by Stephen Fry, whom I really admire, I thought, okay, I'll give it another go.

Do I know more about the gods, titans, and all the other mythical creatures? Well, yes. Will I remember who is who and in which stories they appear? Mmmmh … probably not. And this has nothing to do with the brilliancy of Stephen Fry's way of telling those myths. No, he's as great as ever. But I have decided that those stories are not for me. There are a few stories that are not too bad but on the whole, they don't really interest me. Not even when someone as fantastic as Stephen Fry tell them. Probably too much like fantasy for me.

From the back cover:

"No one loves and quarrels, desires and deceives as boldly or brilliantly as Greek gods and goddesses.

In Stephen Fry's vivid retelling we gaze in wonder as wise Athena is born from the cracking open of the great head of Zeus and follow doomed Persephone into the dark and lonely realm of the Underworld. We shiver when Pandora opens her jar of evil torments and watch with joy as the legendary love affair between Eros and Psyche unfolds.

Mythos captures these extraordinary myths for our modern age - in all their dazzling and deeply human relevance."

Wednesday, 19 September 2018

Erpenbeck, Jenny "The End of Days"


Erpenbeck, Jenny "The End of Days" (German: Aller Tage Abend) - 2012

Jenny Erpenbeck is quite a well-known German author so I thought it was about time to read one of her books. I was not disappointed. What an interesting book.

How long is a child going to live, what kind of life is it going to be? Who is going to be around, who will be there to mourn them when they die. In this book, we get a feeling on how different a life can go and how different the end can be. A very interesting concept of describing how certain decisions can end a life or prolong it.

A brilliant story that is written with so much poise, so much dedication, it's almost as if the author writes about someone she knows herself personally.

A very moving book, a great novel by a great author.

From the back cover:

"Winner of the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize and the Hans Fallada Prize, The End of Days, by the acclaimed German writer Jenny Erpenbeck, consists essentially of five 'books,' each leading to a different death of the same unnamed female protagonist. How could it all have gone differently? - the narrator asks in the intermezzos. The first chapter begins with the death of a baby in the early twentieth-century Hapsburg Empire. In the next chapter, the same girl grows up in Vienna after World War I, but a pact she makes with a young man leads to a second death. In the next scenario, she survives adolescence and moves to Russia with her husband. Both are dedicated Communists, yet our heroine ends up in a labor camp. But her fate does not end there….

A novel of incredible breadth and amazing concision, The End of Days offers a unique overview of the twentieth century."

Monday, 17 September 2018

Briley, John "Cry Freedom"


Briley, John "Cry Freedom: The Legendary True Story of Steve Biko and the Friendship that Defied Apartheid" - 1987

I have never seen the movie "Cry Freedom" but it has been on my wishlist for ages. Now, I put it right on top. This is a book that was written after the film - quite a rarity. And interesting story about a man who tried to claim freedom for his people, equal treatment, no matter the colour of your skin, the end of apartheid. He wanted all that peacefully and paid the ultimate price. I don't think this is a spoiler because Steve Biko has been dead for over forty years.

But it is also the story of another man, one born into privilege in a country where it makes a huge difference who your ancestors are, born with that kind of attitude that makes them think they deserve this privilege for whatever weird reason. When Donald Woods meets Steve Biko, a friendship develops. John Briley, the author, describes this in a very subtle way, you can just imagine how the friendship evolved slowly but surely.

The life of Donald Woods is probably just as interesting as Steve Biko's. The story about their friendship describes the story of South Africa, the story of Apartheid. I have read quite a few books about the people from this country and it shocks me again and again how something like this could even happen, how people could accept this. I doubt that I will ever understand but I urge everyone to read about it and make sure this doesn't happen again, in your own country or elsewhere.

Brilliant story.

From the back cover:

"They said Steve Biko was a man of violence; then why did he talk of peace? They said he wanted revolution; so why did he talk of friendship? They said he died of hunger; why was his body broken and bruised? This is the story of a man's fight with the government of South Africa. It is the story of all people who prefer truth to lies. It is the story of all people who cry 'Freedom', and who are not afraid to die."

Friday, 14 September 2018

Book Quotes of the Week


"Reading is an exercise in empathy; an exercise in walking in someone else’s shoes for a while." Malorie Blackman

"You will always have friends. Real life doesn't always hand you the right people. But a book is the perfect place to find your people whenever you need them." Gillian

"Reading is departure and arrival." Terri Guillemets

"You are a reader, and therefore a thinker, an observer, a living soul who wants more out of this human experience." Salil Jha

Find more book quotes here.

Thursday, 13 September 2018

Chekhov, Anton "Summer Holidays"


Chekhov, Anton/Tschechow, Anton/Чехов, Антон Павлович/Anton Pavlovič Čechov "In der Sommerfrische: Meistererzählungen" (Russian: Дачники) [Summer Holidays] - 1880/87

Anton Chekhov was born about a century before me (1860-1904), so it is interesting to see how people lived back then. I always wanted to read one of his novels but when I happened to come upon this collection of short stories, I thought that might be a nice beginning.

It definitely was. I love Russian authors and have not been disappointed by any of them so far. They just have a great way of telling stories, each one of them is unique and interesting.

As with other Russian authors, we hear a lot about the misery of Russian life, the stories are all quite short, and I don't normally like short, in fact, I would have preferred some larger stories in between, but Chekhov manages to come to the point within just a couple of pages and tell you the whole life story of a character, and his whole surroundings, as well.

As there are different kinds of collections and none of them is the same as the others, here is the list of all the stories that are there. Some might not have been translated into English but I'm sure the majority has.

1886: Eine Bagatelle (Kleiner Zwischenfall; russ. Житейская мелочь) - A Trifling Occurrence
1886: Grischa (russ. Гриша) - Grisha
1887: Zu Hause (russ. Дома) - At Home
1887: Die Jungens (russ. Мальчики) - Boys
In der Sommerfrische (russ. Дачники) [Summer Holidays]
1886: Der Redner (russ. Оратор) - The Orator
1886: Ein Glücklicher (russ. Счастливчик) - The Major Plays
1884: Eine schreckliche Nacht (russ. Страшная ночь) [A Terrible Night]
1885: Der Gast (russ. Гость) [The Guest]
1883: Der Dicke und der Dünne (russ. Толстый и тонкий) - Fat and Thin
Aus dem Regen in die Traufe [From Bad to Worse]
1884: Das Drama auf der Jagd (russ. Драма на охоте) - The Shooting Party
Mnemotechnik [Mnemonics]
1899: Die Dame mit dem Hündchen (russ. Дама с собачкой) - The Lady with the Little Dog
1886: Agafja (russ. Агафья) - Agafya
1887: Ohne Auslagen (russ. Хороший конец) [Without Expenses]
Was Fräulein N.N. erzählt [What Miss N.N. Tells]
1886: Die Plappertasche (russ. Длинный язык) [The Chatterbox]
1886: Ein bekannter Herr (Ihr Bekannter, russ. Знакомый мужчина) [A Well-Known Gentleman]
Der Dramatiker [The Dramatist]
1885: Die letzte Mohikanerin (russ. Последняя могиканша) [The Last Female Mohican]
Eine Schutzlose (russ. Беззащитное существо) [A Defenseless Woman]
1887: Wolodja (russ. Володя) - Volodya
1887: Typhus (russ. Тиф) [Typhus]
1886: Gram (russ. Тоска) - Misery
1883: Die Verleumdung (russ. Клевета) [The Slander]
In den Chambregarnies (russ. В номерах) [In the Furnished Rooms]
Der böse Knabe (russ. Злой мальчик) - A Naughty Boy
1884: Ein Chamäleon (russ. Хамелеон) - The Chameleon
1884: Der Orden (russ. Орден) [The Medal]
1884: Die Rache einer Frau (russ. Месть женщины) [The Revenge of a Woman]
Misslungen [Failed]

[Titles in Brackets have been translated by me because I couldn't find the English title anywhere. They might have been translated, though.]

Monday, 10 September 2018

Sansom, C.J. "Dominion"


Sansom, C.J. (Christopher John) "Dominion" - 2011

"The Children's War" by J.N. Stroyar is probably my favourite book ever. Therefore, I was quite pleased to find this book that tells another story about what would or could have happened, had the Nazis won the war. I have always said I am glad they didn't, even though some of my foreign friends might think I shouldn't be thankful Germany lost the war. But that is wrong. Germany didn't lose the war, the Nazis did and that was for the good of everyone, not just the foreigners. My parents who were still quite little when they were elected have been telling me stories that go hand in hand with these kinds of books.

Therefore, well done, Christopher John Sansom. In this novel, we assume that there wasn't a WWII, just a short war in 1939 and that the Nazis won and carried on ruling the world. And what an awful world that was. Just as bad as living in Germany during those years when you weren't a Nazi. You had to hide your feelings from everyone around you, just in case they disagreed with you and reported you. My grandfather made the mistake to warn everyone before the elections and was given quite a hard time afterwards. Luckily, they lived quite remote and he could hide in the nearby bogs.

Back to the book, we follow different kinds of people in Nazi ruled Britain, the followers, the resistance, the Jews, and even some German military guys who come to "help out". We get to know them quite well and follow their stories, their hopes and their dreams.

It was extremely interesting for me to read all this, imagining my grandparents in a time like that. Maybe someday I will come upon a great book about the German resistance in those hard times.

Best quote:
"Whenever a party tells you national identity matters more than anything else in politics, that nationalism can sort out all the other problems, then watch out, because you’re on a road that can end with fascism."

From the back cover:

"1952. Twelve years have passed since Churchill lost to the appeasers, and Britain surrendered to Nazi Germany after Dunkirk. As the long German war against Russia rages on in the east, the British people find themselves under dark authoritarian rule: the press, radio and television are controlled; the streets patrolled by violent auxiliary police and British Jews face ever greater constraints. There are terrible rumours too about what is happening in the basement of the German Embassy at Senate House. Defiance, though, is growing.

In Britain, Winston Churchill's Resistance organisation is increasingly a thorn in the government's side. And in a Birmingham mental hospital an incarcerated scientist, Frank Muncaster, may hold a secret that could change the balance of the world struggle forever. Civil Servant David Fitzgerald, secretly acting as a spy for the Resistance, is given by them the mission to rescue his old friend Frank and get him out of the country. Before long he, together with a disparate group of Resistance activists, will find themselves fugitives in the midst of London’s Great Smog; as David’s wife Sarah finds herself drawn into a world more terrifying than she ever could have imagined. And hard on their heels is Gestapo Sturmbannfuhrer Gunther Hoth, brilliant, implacable hunter of men . . .

At once a vivid, haunting re-imagining of 1950s Britain, a gripping, humane spy thriller and a poignant love story - with Dominion, C.J. Sansom once again asserts himself as the master of the historical novel."

Friday, 7 September 2018

Book Quotes of the Week



"The more you read, the more you learn, the more you learn, the smarter you are." Dr T.P. Chia

"Libraries are the thin red line between civilisation and barbarism." Neil Gaiman


"Collect books, even if you don't plan on reading them right away. Nothing is more imprtnat than an unread library." Austin Kleon 

"Reading is an adventure that never ends." Charles M. Schulz 

Find more book quotes here.

Tuesday, 4 September 2018

Weir, Alison "Six Tudor Queens. Anne Boleyn"


Weir, Alison "Six Tudor Queens. Anne Boleyn. A King's Obsession" - 2017

After having read "The Six Wives of Henry VIII" and "Six Tudor Queens. Katherine of Aragon. The True Queen", I had to read the story of the next queen, probably the most well-known and disputed one of King Henry's wives, Anne Boleyn. A wonderful portrayal of a young woman who seemed to have it all, at least for a while.

Just as the story about Katherine of Aragon, this one is told from the point of view of the new queen, Anne Boleyn. We hear about so many other facts about her life and can understand her a little better, I believe. Was she really the woman who wanted to break up a marriage for the sake of her own advantage, to become queen, and was she thereby responsible for the creation of the Church of England? Or was she simply just another playball in men's politics, a way for her father advance into higher royal circles and thereby getting richer and more important, a new toy for the king to play with?

We may never know the real truth behind her but Alison Weir gave us the chance to have a look at her from a different side, to try to get to know the real Anne Boleyn. The author has a great knowledge about the Tudors and therefore is able to bring them closer to us.

When I was younger, I always wondered how this despotic king managed to find six women who were willing to marry him but I have since learned that getting married back then wasn't the same as it is today, certainly not in the royal and aristocratic circles. I am really looking forward to reading about the other four wives in the next books.

A wonderful novel.

From the back cover:

"The young woman who changed the course of history.

Fresh from the palaces of Burgundy and France, Anne draws attention at the English court, embracing the play of courtly love.


But when the King commands, nothing is ever a game.


Anne has a spirit worthy of a crown - and the crown is what she seeks. At any price.


ANNE BOLEYN. The second of Henry's Queens. Her story.


History tells us why she died. This powerful novel shows her as she lived.
"

Monday, 3 September 2018

Kästner, Erich "When I was a little boy"


Kästner, Erich "When I was a little boy" (German: Als ich ein kleiner Junge war) - 1957

Erich Kästner is a famous German author, even outside of Germany. He has mainly written children's books that were translated and read all over the world and they were also made into many films. He is the author of "Emil and the Detectives" as well as "The Parent Trap", "The Flying Classroom", "The Animal Congress" and "Three Men in the Snow" (to name but a few) and was nominated for the Nobel Prize several times, though never received it. All of his stories are lovely, always with a hint of sarcasm and criticism of our society.

But in this book, he describes his own life. His life as a little boy. Emil Erich Kästner was born in 1899 and his childhood lasted for fourteen years when it was ended by the beginning of the Great War.

Erich Kästner describes his life as a little boy just after the turn of the last century. We see him growing up in Dresden as the only child of a saddle maker and a hairstylist.  They were poor but they were happy.

We see little Erich play with his friends, learn at school, help his mother with her work, we see how families lived a hundred years ago.

Erich Kästner has the gift to describe all the details, even after many years. He wrote this book in 1957, such a long time ago. He mentions that you can't visit his home town Dresden anymore because it was destroyed. He would have been happy to see that they rebuilt a lot of it after the fall of The Wall. It's a lovely city now, I've been and I hope to go again. And the next time I will think about Erich Kästner and all his wonderful novels.

From the back cover:

"Autobiography by the author of 'Emil', detailing his childhood in Dresden and giving behind the scenes insight as to how some of the most famous children's books came to be written.

'When I Was a Little Boy' begins with a lament for Dresden: 'I was born in the most beautiful city in the world. Even if your father, child, was the richest man in the world, he could not take you to see it, because it does not exist anymore. (...) In a thousand years was her beauty built, in one night was it utterly destroyed.'"

Saturday, 1 September 2018

Happy September!


Happy September to all my friends and readers

New Calendar picture with this
beautiful watercolour painting by Frank Koebsch


"Lasst uns Laterne gehen"
"Let's Walk with the Lanterns"



September is the month when my favourite season starts: Autumn. An old Germanic name for this month is also "autumn moon". It always starts with the same day of the week as December. 

The birthstone for this month is the sapphire which is attributed to the planet Saturn. The name comes from a Latin word for blue and the stone is generally blue, though there are other varieties. 

A sapphire jubilee is celebrated after 65 years, so quite a long time. 

Coming to the lovely picture, a tradition in Germany is for little kids to walk around with Lanterns in the autumn. In recent years, it is usually done for the feast of St. Martin in November but when I was little, it was done all throughout the autumn, hence the picture, I suppose. You can buy many ready-made lanterns nowadays but it's always fun to make your own and many playgroups and elementary schools still do this with kids. 

So, enjoy this month with this beautiful watercolour painting by Frank Koebsch.

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

Friday, 31 August 2018

Book Quotes of the Week


"Reading is a gymnasium for the imagination where people can work out, get ready for the shocks of existence." Robert Hass

"What is written without effort is in general read without pleasure." Samuel Johnson

"The crime of book purging is that it involves a rejection of the word. For the word is never absolute truth, but only man’s frail and human effort to approach the truth. To reject the word is to reject the human search." Max Lerner

"I read old books because I would rather learn from those who built civilization than those who tore it down." N.N.

[If anyone can tell me the originator of this quote, I'd be very thankful and would happily include the name.]

Find more book quotes here.

Thursday, 30 August 2018

Fontane, Theodor "Frau Jenny Treibel"


Fontane, Theodor "Frau Jenny Treibel" (German: Frau Jenny Treibel oder 'Wo sich Herz zum Herzen find't') - 1892

Theodor Fontane is one of the German writers from the 19th century. His most famous novel is "Effi Briest" which I have reviewed earlier.

Same as in that novel, this tells us the story of a young woman. She is a teacher's daughter who is in love with the son of a rich industrialist "Kommerzienrat" (financial counsellor). Capitalism gained power and money made the world go around. So, the guy's parents were not really very happy, even the mother, who herself came from a simpler background.

Whilst the story itself is quite clear and held pretty simple, the description of German society at the end of the 19th century is the main story of this novel.

The language is quite satirical, and the characters could still be alive today, nothing seems to change that quickly.

Description (translated):

"In his satirically humorous society novel "Frau Jenny Treibel", which was published in 1892, Fontane unmasked the main characters in their selfish intrigues clearly enough as sentimental, conceited or downright pragmatic. Nevertheless, one can smirk and develop sympathy for the characters who come to such refreshing conclusions as: 'Money is nonsense, science is nonsense, everything is nonsense. Professor too'. If you deny it, be an ox."

Wednesday, 29 August 2018

Lamb, Wally "Wishin' and Hopin'"


Lamb, Wally "Wishin' and Hopin': A Christmas Story" - 2009


Another one of my favourite authors, Wally Lamb. I came across this short novel (just a couple of pages too long for a novella) in my library and since I hadn't read it, yet (in fact, I hadn't even heard about it), I borrowed it. And loved it.

Such a cute story about kids growing up, their dilemmas at school and at home, their frustration with other students and their teachers, all bundled into a story about a Christmas play. Not since "The Best Christmas Pageant" by Barbara Robinson have I had such a good laugh about a Christmas story.

I was a kid myself in the sixties, so I can relate to a lot of the parts that might not sound as "normal" to contemporary children. I found it hilarious. I also liked how he gives "biographies" at the end about most of the characters so we can see what happened to them later.

Lovely story. I didn't know they made a movie out of it. This is one of the few books I read where I think I might like to watch the movie.

From the back cover:

"LBJ and Lady Bird are in the White House, Meet the Beatles is on everyone's turntable, and Felix Funicello (distant cousin of the iconic Annette!) is doing his best to navigate fifth grade - easier said than done when scary movies still give you nightmares and you bear a striking resemblance to a certain adorable cartoon boy.

Back in his beloved fictional town of Three Rivers, Connecticut, with a new cast of endearing characters, Wally Lamb takes his readers straight into the halls of St. Aloysius Gonzaga Parochial School - where Mother Filomina's word is law and goody-two-shoes Rosalie Twerski is sure to be minding everyone's business. But grammar and arithmetic move to the back burner this holiday season with the sudden arrivals of substitute teacher Madame Frechette, straight from Québec, and feisty Russian student Zhenya Kabakova. While Felix learns the meaning of French kissing, cultural misunderstanding, and tableaux vivants, Wishin' and Hopin' barrels toward one outrageous Christmas.

From the Funicello family's bus-station lunch counter to the elementary school playground (with an uproarious stop at the Pillsbury Bake-Off), Wishin' and Hopin' is a vivid slice of 1960s life, a wise and witty holiday tale that celebrates where we've been - and how far we've come."

Friday, 17 August 2018

Book Quotes of the Week



"The fluent reader sounds good, is easy to listen to, and reads with enough expression to help the listener understand and enjoy the material." Charles Clark

"When you read a book, and who you are when you read it, makes it matter or not." Ann Hood

"How do you explain to somebody who doesn't understand that you don't build a library to read. A library is a resource. Something you go to, for reference, as and when. But also something you simply look at, because it gives you succour, answers to some idea of who you are or, more to the point, who you would like to be, who you will be once you own every book you need to own." Howard Jacobsen

"You should never read just for 'enjoyment'. Read to make yourself smarter! Less judgmental. More apt to understand your friends' insane behavior, or better yet, your own. Pick 'hard books'. Ones you have to concentrate on while reading. And for god’s sake, don't let me ever hear you say, 'I can’t read fiction. I only have time for the truth.' Fiction is the truth, fool! Ever hear of 'literature'? That means fiction, too, stupid." John Waters

Find more book quotes here.

Thursday, 16 August 2018

Oates, Joyce Carol "Jack of Spades"


Oates, Joyce Carol "Jack of Spades. A Tale of Suspense" - 2015

Joyce Carol Oates is definitely one of my favourite authors. Her novels are always full of suspense, full of psychological meanings, full of interpersonal relationships. This is all of that and still quite different from her other novels. I doubt I would have read this kind of book had it been by any other author, I doubt I would have been drawn to it.

This novel is clever as always. It seems kind of short and I'm not usually a fan of short stories but this one was just the right size. The story is twisted and you can't wait for it to come all together, can't wait for the end.

I really did enjoy it, Joyce Carol Oates is just a fantastic writer. As mentioned in a New York Times Book Review on another of her novels: "After all these years, JCO can still give me the creeps." Well said.

From the back cover:

"From one of the most highly regarded writers working today, Jack of Spades is an exquisite, psychologically complex thriller about the opposing forces within the mind of one ambitious writer, and the delicate line between genius and madness.

Andrew J. Rush has achieved the kind of critical and commercial success most authors only dream about: he has a top agent and publisher in New York, and his twenty-eight mystery novels have sold millions of copies around the world. He also has a loving wife and three grown children and is highly respected as a philanthropist in his small New Jersey town. Only Stephen King, one of the few mystery writers whose fame exceeds his own, is capable of inspiring a twinge of envy in Rush.

But unbeknownst to anyone, even in his own family, Rush is hiding a dark secret. Under the pseudonym 'Jack of Spades', he pens another string of novels - dark potboilers that are violent, lurid, even masochistic. These are novels that the refined, upstanding Andrew Rush wouldn’t be caught reading, let alone writing. When his daughter comes across a Jack of Spades novel he has carelessly left out, she insists on reading it and begins to ask questions. Meanwhile, Rush receives a court summons in the mail explaining that a local woman has accused him of plagiarizing her own self-published fiction. Before long, Rush’s reputation, career, and family life all come under threat - and in his mind he begins to hear the taunting voice of Jack of Spades.

Tunneling into the most fraught corners of an immensely creative mind, Jack of Spades is a startling, fascinating novel by a masterly writer."

Monday, 13 August 2018

Domínguez, Carlos María "The House of Paper"


Domínguez, Carlos María "The House of Paper" (Spanish: La Casa del Papel) - 2007

An interesting book about a woman who dies reading, a man who builds a house out of books and another guy who tries to find the link between them. Too short for my liking (only 96 pages), one doesn't get to meet the characters very long, you just get started and the story is over.

But it was a pleasant enough read. And as a bonus, there's a lovely map in the front of the book showing the route of the protagonist to South America. It looks like those old maps that were printed on parchment, a detail every book lover must also love. A lovely little story about people who love books.

From the back cover:

"Bluma Lennon, distinguished professor of Latin American literature at Cambridge, is hit by a car while crossing the street, immersed in a volume of Emily Dickinson's poems. Several months after her untimely demise, a package arrives for her from Argentina-a copy of a Conrad novel, encrusted in cement and inscribed with a mysterious dedication. Bluma's successor in the department (and a former lover) travels to Buenos Aires to track down the sender, one Carlos Brauer, who turns out to have disappeared.

The last thing known is that he moved to a remote stretch of the Uruguayan coastline and built himself a house out of his enormous and valuable library. How he got there, and why, is the subject of this seductive novel-part mystery, part social comedy, and part examination of all the many forms of bibliomania.

Charmingly illustrated by Peter Sís, The House of Paper is a tribute to the strange and passionate relationship between people and their books."

There are a lot of books mentioned in this novel. The main one is
"The Shadow-Line" by Joseph Conrad.

Others:
Burckhardt, Jacob "The Civilization of the Renaissance in Italy" (GE: Die Cultur der Renaissance in Italien)
Cervantes, Miguel de "Don Quixote" (E: El Ingenioso Hidalgo Don Quijote de la Mancha)
Dickinson, Emily "Poems"
Dostoyevsky, Fyodor "The Brothers Karamazov" (RUS: Братья Карамазовы/Brat'ya Karamazovy)
Faulkner, William "Absalom! Absalom!"
Hesse, Hermann "Siddhartha: An Indian Poem" (GE: Siddhartha)
García Márquez, Gabriel "One Hundred Years of Solitude" (E: Cien años de soledad)
Hemingway, Ernest "A Farewell to Arms"
Salgari, Emilio "The Tigers of Malaysia" (IT: Tigre della Malesia)