Tuesday, 22 May 2018

Williams, Tennessee "A Streetcar named Desire"

Williams, Tennessee "A Streetcar named Desire" - 1947

I normally don't like reading plays. Having said that, this is a great story and it didn't even read as a play, the writing is so lively, you don't need the actors to make it come real. You can visualize the characters, the places, the action. A tragic story that makes us feel for the people, all of them.

A brilliant book.

From the back cover:

"Fading southern belle Blanche Dubois depends on the kindness of strangers and is adrift in the modern world. When she arrives to stay with her sister Stella in a crowded, boisterous corner of New Orleans, her delusions of grandeur bring her into conflict with Stella's crude, brutish husband Stanley. Eventually their violent collision course causes Blanche's fragile sense of identity to crumble, threatening to destroy her sanity and her one chance of happiness."

Thursday, 17 May 2018

Ishiguro, Kazuo "The Remains of the Day"

Ishiguro, Kazuo "The Remains of the Day" - 1989

Years ago, I read "When We Were Orphans" with my book club. I didn't like it much and thought I might not read another book by this author. But since he received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2017, I decided I should give him another chance.

"The Remains of the Day" was better, granted. However, not as great as some people told me it would be. I found the writing very lengthy and drawn-out, the sentences dwindling toward an end that has nothing to do with the beginning anymore. The story itself could he been told within five to ten pages at the most, the rest is a musing and meandering of a man who realizes that he is growing older and what could have been.

I might have been able to follow those thoughts and even sympathized with the butler but I found I couldn't. The protagonist doesn't appear to be an unlikeable character but the way he is described doesn't provoke any interest, the whole story just flows along like a small brook with no windings or curves. The book reads more like the minutes of a meeting than a novel.

Sorry, Mr. Ishiguro, I love reading the books by Nobel Prize winners (see below) but you don't belong to my favourites there.

Lessons learned. If I don't like the first book I read by an author, I am more than likely not going to like the other one, no matter how much my friends tell me that that is his or her worst novel or whether the author is highly regarded or not.

From the back cover:

"A contemporary classic, The Remains of the Day is Kazuo Ishiguro's beautiful and haunting evocation of life between the wars in a Great English House.

In the summer of 1956, Stevens, the ageing butler of Darlington Hall, embarks on a leisurely holiday that will take him deep into the countryside and into his past."

Kazuo Ishiguro "who, in novels of great emotional force, has uncovered the abyss beneath our illusory sense of connection with the world" received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2017.

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

Monday, 14 May 2018

Numeroff, Laura "If You Give a Mouse a Cookie"

Numeroff, Laura "If You Give a Mouse a Cookie" - 1985

This is one of the many books that you read to your children, that they then read to themselves even though it is "only" a picture book and that you thoroughly enjoy because it reminds you so much of your own life. The mouse is like the little child that wants this and that and then something else. It teaches them about consequences.

Hilarious. Beautiful illustrations.

A happy book that I'm glad I found for my kids when they were little. A timeless classic.

From the back cover:
"If a hungry little traveler shows up at your house, you might want to give him a cookie. If you give him a cookie, he's going to ask for a glass of milk. He'll want to look in a mirror to make sure he doesn't have a milk mustache, and then he'll ask for a pair of scissors to give himself a trim....

The consequences of giving a cookie to this energetic mouse run the young host ragged, but young readers will come away smiling at the antics that tumble like dominoes through the pages of this delightful picture book."

Friday, 11 May 2018

Book Quotes of the Week

"When you read a great book, you don’t escape from life, you plunge deeper into it." Julian Barnes

"Who needs to go somewhere when you can read about it." Pseudonymous Bosch in "The name of this book is secret"

"The library is an arena of possibility, opening both a window into the soul and a door onto the world." Rita Dove

"I would never want to live anywhere but Baltimore. You can look far and wide, but you'll never discover a stranger city with such extreme style. It's as if every eccentric in the South decided to move north, ran out of gas in Baltimore, and decided to stay." John Waters, Shock Value: A Tasteful Book About Bad Taste

Find more book quotes here.

Thursday, 10 May 2018

McGowan, John and McGowan, Frankie "Actually, it’s Love"

McGowan, John; McGowan, Frankie "Actually, it’s Love" - 2004

This is a book about love. Written by all sorts of well or lesser known UK celebrities, this is a charity edition, proceeds are going to ROC (Research into Ovarian Cancer). Reading a book and adding something to a good cause, what could be better?

Some of the stories are lovely, others funny, interesting, unexpected. But they're all about love. The love to a person, to your children, your animals, a place, a hobby, or an occupation. All of them written from the heart. The funniest one, in my opinion was by Gary Lineker. For those of you who are not European, he is a very famous former professional footballer (soccer to North Americans) and now a well-known sports broadcaster. He wrote a nice poem about his love for a sport. You carry on reading believing it must be football he's writing about and then you discover it's - cricket

From the back cover:

"It comes in all forms, all shapes and sizes, from the unconditional love of a parent to a child, to the passionate, all-embracing love felt for a partner, to the unspoken love that man sometimes shows to fellow man through a thoughtful, selfless act of kindness.

The rich, the famous and the funny have joined together to create this treasury of tales about the things they have done for love. 

Whether it is writing Shakespearean sonnets, hitch-hiking down the M1, or nearly drowning on a motorbike in the rain, these hilarious and heart-warming stories of your favourite celebrities will have you laughing and crying and even cringing - but definitely dying to read the next one!

This is an uplifting and extraordinary testament to the most glorious of human emotions."

Tuesday, 8 May 2018

Ackroyd, Peter "Tudors"

Ackroyd, Peter "The History of England, Vol. 2 Tudors" - 2012

After having read the first part of Peter Ackroyd's History of England, "Foundation", this was the second one in the series. He is planning to write six but I am sure this is my favourite since I find the Tudors the most fascinating part of British history.

Last year, I read "The Six Wives of Henry VIII" by Alison Weir, followed by her book about "Katherine of Aragon".  I am looking forward to reading more about the other five wives but …

Peter Ackroyd is a great writer, he just knows all the little details and can put them together so that you get the feeling, you have been there. All the problems the Tudor's encountered, how the Anglican church started, what the problems were etc. I grew up in a country that is half Catholic and half Protestant and there wasn't always much love lost between the two, so it was interesting to see how it all came to pass in England. I have always observed in Anglican services that they were a lot like Catholic ones and this book explains it all. Henry VIII really wanted to remain Catholic, just have nothing to do with the Pope and rule the church himself. That is just a very short explanation, so you better read the book if you want to know more.

In any case, whilst the author focuses a lot on the reformation in this edition, there is also a lot about Henry VIII's successors and how the island carried on after his death. Totally interesting.

From the back cover:

"Peter Ackroyd, one of Britain's most acclaimed writers, brings the age of the Tudors to vivid life in this monumental book in his The History of England series, charting the course of English history from Henry VIII's cataclysmic break with Rome to the epic rule of Elizabeth I.

Rich in detail and atmosphere, Tudors is the story of Henry VIII's relentless pursuit of both the perfect wife and the perfect heir; of how the brief royal reign of the teenage king, Edward VI, gave way to the violent reimposition of Catholicism and the stench of bonfires under "Bloody Mary." It tells, too, of the long reign of Elizabeth I, which, though marked by civil strife, plots against her, and even an invasion force, finally brought stability.

Above all, it is the story of the English Reformation and the making of the Anglican Church. At the beginning of the sixteenth century, England was still largely feudal and looked to Rome for direction; at its end, it was a country where good governance was the duty of the state, not the church, and where men and women began to look to themselves for answers rather than to those who ruled them."

I also read "Thames. Sacred River" by the same author.

Monday, 7 May 2018

Smith, Betty "A Tree Grows in Brooklyn"

Smith, Betty "A Tree Grows in Brooklyn" - 1943

Many of my friends have told me about this book and it has been on my wishlist for ages. I finally made it. And I am glad I did. A young girl growing up in poverty loves reading. That might have been my story though we were never as poor as the Nolan family. Probably because my father didn't drink and brought the money home he earned through his regular job. But I can totally relate to Francie. How she came to love books and how they became her only friends sometimes. Books are always there for you.

I could also understand Francie's mother Katie, how she tried to save some pennies in order to get food onto the table. It must have been so hard for her.

Francie lived a hundred years ago but her message lives on and is still as valid now as it was back then. With an education, we can get out of the deepest holes.

This book is well written, from the point of view of a girl growing up but with a very adult understanding. It makes you think about life and its meaning.

In any case, I could relate to Francie so well that I just had to love this book. I would have loved to read this when I was young.

From the back cover:

"A profoundly moving novel, and an honest and true one. It cuts right to the heart of life ... If you miss A Tree Grows in Brooklyn you will deny yourself a rich experience...  It is a poignant and deeply understanding story of childhood and family relationships. The Nolans lived in the Williamsburg slums of Brooklyn from 1902 until 1919... Their daughter Francie and their son Neely knew more than their fair share of the privations and sufferings that are the lot of a great city's poor. Primarily this is Francie's book. She is a superb feat of characterization, an imaginative, alert, resourceful child. And Francie's growing up and beginnings of wisdom are the substance of A Tree Grows in Brooklyn."

Friday, 4 May 2018

20 Quirks and Strange Habits

It's Quote Friday but this week I'd like to show you something else. Jack Milgram from Custom-Writing.Org sent me this infographic he created. I thought it was so interesting and I'm sure you all like this, as well.

His stories about James Joyce (A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, Dubliners, Ulysses), Virginia Woolf (Mrs. Dalloway, To the Lighthouse), Franz Kafka, Truman Capote, Victor Hugo (Les Misérables), Edgar Alan Poe, Flannery O'Connor, Anthony Burgess (A Clockwork Orange), Friedrich Schiller, Agatha Christie (Poirot Investigates), Alexandre Dumas, William Faulkner (Light in August), Lewis Carroll, Ernest Hemingway (For Whom the Bell Tolls, The Old Man and the Sea), Gertrude Stein, Vladimir Nabokov (Lolita), Jane Austen (Emma, Lady Susan, Mansfield Park, Northanger Abbey, Persuasion, Pride & Prejudice, Sense & Sensibility, The Watsons), Honoré de Balzac, Arthur Conan Doyle, and Dan Brown (The Da Vinci Code) are hilarious, lovely, shocking, but most of all, informative. I love Alexandre Dumas and his colour-coding technique, something I do myself from time to time.

I hope you enjoy this infographic as much as I do. Happy Weekend!

Infographic by Jack Milgram Custom-Writing.Org

Tuesday, 1 May 2018

Happy May!

Happy May to all my friends and readers

New Calendar picture with this
beautiful watercolour painting by Hanka Koebsch

"Gezeichnet von Meer und Wind"
"Marked by Sea and Wind"

May is the third month in the year to have 31 days. Its name comes from the Greek goddess Maia, her Roman equivalent being the goddess of fertility, Bona Dea. Probably because everything seems to bloom and flower in this month. One more reason to be the month of marriages in the Northern hemisphere. 

The birthstone of this month is the emerald which stands for love and success, a gemstone o one of the most beautiful green colours you can find. It also gave Ireland its poetic name because the "Emerald Isle" is also the most beautiful green one. 

Enjoy this month with the beautiful watercolour painting by Hanka Koebsch. I love the sea, so I appreciate any picture of it.

You can find a lot more wonderful pictures on their website here.

Monday, 30 April 2018

Bandi "The Accusation"

Bandi (반디) "The Accusation: Forbidden Stories from Inside North Korea" (고발/Gobal) - 2014

Seven short stories tell us about the life in North Korea. Seven individual stories about seven people and their families. We can imagine that life in such a closed-off dictatorship cannot be easy but the author gives us a good view over people in different kind of situations. And the conditions are just horrible for everyone.

A very impressive book. A highly important book. I am not a fan of short stories usually but this is definitely worth reading. Both the author and the person who smuggled the notes out of the country risked their lives to bring it to us, we should not disappoint them.

From the back cover:

"In 1989, a North Korean dissident writer, known to us only by the pseudonym Bandi, began to write a series of stories about life under Kim Il-sung's totalitarian regime. Smuggled out of North Korea and set for publication around the world in 2017, The Accusation provides a unique and shocking window on this most secretive of countries. Bandi's profound, deeply moving, vividly characterised stories tell of ordinary men and women facing the terrible absurdity of daily life in North Korea: a factory supervisor caught between loyalty to an old friend and loyalty to the Party; a woman struggling to feed her husband through the great famine; the staunch Party man whose actor son reveals to him the absurd theatre of their reality; the mother raising her child in a world where the all-pervasive propaganda is the very stuff of childhood nightmare. The Accusation is a heartbreaking portrayal of the realities of life in North Korea. It is also a reminder that humanity can sustain hope even in the most desperate of circumstances - and that the courage of free thought has a power far beyond those seek to suppress it."

Friday, 27 April 2018

Book Quotes of the Week

"To read is to fly: it is to soar to a point of vantage which gives a view over wide terrains of history, human variety, ideas, shared experience and the fruits of many inquiries." A C Grayling

"Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards." Søren Kierkegaard

"Reading is food for the brain." Maribel C. Pagan

"Library doors are a gateway to anywhere." 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, 26 April 2018

Schaik, Carel van & Michel, Kai "The Good Book of Human Nature"

Schaik, Carel van & Michel, Kai "The Good Book of Human Nature: An Evolutionary Reading of the Bible" - 2016

When I started reading this book, I had a certain thought how it might be. Years ago, I read an explanation on why people had to live kosher, why certain food was "unclean" and others had to prepared differently. I thought this might be a book like that, explaining the meanings of parts of the bible.

And it is in a way. However, it turned out completely different than what I thought. It might be a great read for all those who think you can either believe in the bible or in science. The authors of this book show us that this is absolutely not the case. They draw certain lines between the stories of the Old Testament, the New Testaments and the findings since.

A lot of their explanations are so clear that you wonder why nobody else thought about it before. Probably because people just took the bible for granted the way it was written and didn't question anything or didn't want to find anything that might question something.

Anyway, one part of this book explains that the garden Eden might have been the life of the hunter-gatherers and that life changed quite enormously when the people settled down. More illnesses, fights, more rules. There was no private property before, people lived in small groups and life was ruled by "one for all and all for one". This had to change when everyone started farming their own land.

The authors also explain that we have a first, second and third nature, the first being in-born, probably comparable to an animal instinct. The second nature is given by religion and society, how we ought to behave. The third nature has to do with laws and rules, definitely a lot more than what the hunter-gatherers dealt with.

In any case, a great analysis of the history of the bible. It explains the evolution as well as the reason for religion.

A brilliant book, both fascinating and informative.

From the back cover:
"The Bible is the bestselling book of all time. It has been venerated or excoriated—as God’s word, but so far no one has read the Bible for what it is: humanity’s diary, chronicling our ancestors’ valiant attempts to cope with the trials and tribulations of life on Earth.

In The Good Book of Human Nature, evolutionary anthropologist Carel van Schaik and historian Kai Michel advance a new view of Homo sapiens’ cultural evolution. The Bible, they argue, was written to make sense of the single greatest change in history: the transition from egalitarian hunter-gatherer to agricultural societies. Religion arose as a strategy to cope with the unprecedented levels of epidemic disease, violence, inequality, and injustice that confronted us when we abandoned the bush - and which still confront us today.

Armed with the latest findings from cognitive science, evolutionary biology, archeology, and religious history, van Schaik and Michel take us on a journey through the Book of Books, from the Garden of Eden all the way to Golgotha. The Book of Genesis, they reveal, marked the emergence of private property - one can no longer take the fruit off any tree, as one could before agriculture. The Torah as a whole is the product of a surprisingly logical, even scientific, approach to society’s problems. This groundbreaking perspective allows van Schaik and Michel to coax unexpected secrets from the familiar stories of Adam and Eve, Cain and Able, Abraham and Moses, Jesus of Nazareth and Mary. The Bible may have a dark side, but in van Schaik and Michel’s hands, it proves to be a hallmark of human indefatigability.

Provocative and deeply original, The Good Book of Human Nature offers a radically new understanding of the Bible. It shows that the Bible is more than just a pillar for religious belief: it is a pioneering attempt at scientific inquiry."

Wednesday, 25 April 2018

Olson, Pamela J. "Fast Times in Palestine"

Olson, Pamela J. "Fast Times in Palestine: A Love Affair with a Homeless Homeland" - 2011

Like most of us growing up in the Western world, Pamela Olson only had heard about the Middle East and all their troubles in the news, in books, always second hand, always full of prejudices and stereotypes. In 2003, she travelled to Palestine and found out for herself what this people has been going through.

The author gives a detailed account about life on the West Bank (and in Gaza) after the wall was erected. What it means for a Palestinian living in a country that is no longer their own. Pamela Olson tells us all about their daily lives and struggles.

Not since "City of Oranges" have I read such a detailed witnessing story about the people from the country that was supposed to be "without people". Same as then, I ask what's the solution? What can be done to help these people. And how can we ever get peace in the holy land? All I can say is that we need more people like Pamela Olson who report back what they see. Maybe it will open some eyes that will make a difference.

But it's not just the interesting topic that makes this story worthwhile reading, the author has a great way of describing everything. She also has her own website and continues her story in a blog called Fast Times in Palestine.

From the back cover:
"Pamela Olson, a small town girl from eastern Oklahoma, had what she always wanted: a physics degree from Stanford University. But instead of feeling excited for what came next, she felt consumed by dread and confusion. This irresistible memoir chronicles her journey from aimless ex-bartender to Ramallah-based journalist and foreign press coordinator for a Palestinian presidential candidate.

This book illuminates crucial years of Israeli-Palestinian history, from the death of Yasser Arafat to the Gaza Disengagement to the Hamas election victory. Its griping narrative focuses not only on violence, terror, and social and political upheavals but also on the daily rounds of house parties, concerts, barbecues, weddings, jokes, harvests, and romantic drama that happen in between.
Funny, gorgeous, shocking and galvanizing, Fast Times in Palestine challenges the way we think not only about the Middle East but about human nature and our place in the world."

Books she loves:
Kanaaneh, Dr. Hatim "A Doctor in Galilee"
Jundi, Sami al; Marlowe, Jen "The Hour of Sunlight"
Horowitz, Adam; Ratner, Lizzy; Weiss, Weiss (ed.) "The Goldstone Report" (United Nations Fact Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict)
Abulhawa, Susan "Mornings in Jenin"
Pappe, Ilan "The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine"
Kricorian, Nancy "Zabelle"
Sagan, Carl "Cosmos"
Johnstone, Keith "Impro"
Madson, Patricia Ryan "Improv Wisdom"
Thoreau, Henry David "Walden and Civil Disobedience"
Lee, Harper "To Kill a Mockingbird"

Tuesday, 24 April 2018

Bollen, Christopher "The Destroyers"

Bollen, Christopher "The Destroyers" - 2017

Our latest book club read. I had never heard of this author and I'm not totally surprised. "Mystery" and "thriller" usually doesn't come up in my books.

I only had a couple of days to read this book because it arrived very late from the library. But I think that was a good thing, this is probably not the kind of story you want to spread out.

Not a bad novel, the characters are pretty well drawn, you can imagine they actually exist. The story itself, well, I've never been rich but I can imagine it hits you harder when you don't have any money all of a sudden than when you never had it. People make different decisions in such a situation.

I don't completely agree with the title, the game the "Destroyers" the boys used to play as children, contributed nothing to the story in my opinion.

However, it was an interesting book.

From the back cover:

"Arriving on the Greek island of Patmos broke and humiliated, Ian Bledsoe is fleeing the emotional and financial fallout from his father’s death. His childhood friend Charlie - rich, exuberant, and basking in the success of his new venture on the island - could be his last hope.

At first Patmos appears to be a dream -long sun-soaked days on Charlie’s yacht and the reappearance of a girlfriend from Ian’s past - and Charlie readily offers Ian the lifeline he so desperately needs. But, like Charlie himself, this beautiful island conceals a darkness beneath, and it isn’t long before the dream begins to fragment. When Charlie suddenly vanishes, Ian finds himself caught up in deception after deception. As he grapples with the turmoil left in his friend’s wake, he is reminded of an imaginary game called Destroyers they played as children - a game, he now realizes, they may have never stopped playing.

An enthralling odyssey and a gripping, expansive drama, The Destroyers is a vivid and suspenseful story of identity, power and fate, fathers and sons, and self-invention and self-deception, from a writer at the very height of his powers."

We discussed this in our book club in April 2018.

Monday, 23 April 2018

Scott, Mary; West, Joyce "No Red Herrings"

Scott, Mary; West, Joyce "No Red Herrings" - 1964 (Inspector Wright #4)

Another lovely book by my favourite New Zealand author, Mary Scott. In collaboration with Joyce West, she wrote five Inspector Wright novels. This is the fifth. There are always horses in those stories, much more obvious than in any of Mary Scott's own novels, at least their role is a lot more prominent.

Anyway, just another easy but pleasurable read.

From the back cover (translated):
"In a peaceful area in New Zealand, with peaceful people, strange things happen all of a sudden. Vida Cox, the dodgy landlady of a disreputable hotel, has been murdered. Then little Beth Sutherland has disappeared. And what about the missing hibiscus brooch?"

Friday, 20 April 2018

Book Quotes of the Week

"Of all man’s instruments, the most wondrous, no doubt, is the book. The other instruments are extensions of his body. The microscope, the telescope, are extensions of his sight; the telephone is the extension of his voice; then we have the plough and the sword, extensions of the arm. But the book is something else altogether: the book is an extension of memory and imagination." Jorge Luis Borges

"Thinking is more powerful than talking. Reading is more enlightening than seeing." Dr T.P. Chia

"It is a narrow mind which cannot look at a subject from various points of view." George Eliot

"So it is with children who learn to read fluently and well: They begin to take flight into whole new worlds as effortlessly as young birds take to the sky." William James

Find more book quotes here.

Thursday, 19 April 2018

Ruiz Zafón, Carlos "The Labyrinth of the Spirits"

Ruiz Zafón, Carlos "The Labyrinth of the Spirits" (Spanish: El laberinto de los espíritus - El cementerio de los libros olvidados #4) - 2016

It was a lucky day in 2001 when I first stumbled upon my first book by Carlos Ruiz Zafón. Finally the fourth book in the series of the Cemetery of Forgotten books has been published and was available as a paperback in translation. You can't imagine how I have waited for this.

And I was not disappointed. The fourth novel was just as exciting as the first three that had originally been called a trilogy but - luckily - the author decided to turn it into a tetralogy. Maybe he'll even write a fifth one? No matter what, if he is writing another book, I am going to read it.

We have learned a lot about the family Sempere and the authors they read, their friends and their lives, esp. the lives of the people in Catalonia during the Franco regime. It must have been horrible. But the author manages to describe all the incidents meticulously, with so much detail that you can imagine having been there yourself.

In this novel, he gets behind the scenes of a minister and his evil deeds. The Sempere family is involved again and we also hear about some of the characters from the previous episodes. Apparently, you can read the series in whatever order you want, there is always some information from the other books. I intend to re-read all the other three books soon.

These are the first books in the series:
- "The Shadow of the Wind" (La Sombra del Viento)
- "The Angel’s Game" (El Juego del Ángel)
- "The Prisoner of Heaven" (El Prisionero del Cielo)

From the back cover:
"The internationally acclaimed New York Times bestselling author returns to the magnificent universe he constructed in his bestselling novels The Shadow of the Wind, The Angel’s Game, and The Prisoner of Heaven in this riveting series finale - a heart-pounding thriller and nail-biting work of suspense which introduces a sexy, seductive new heroine whose investigation shines a light on the dark history of Franco’s Spain.

In this unforgettable final volume of Ruiz Zafón’s cycle of novels set in the universe of the Cemetery of Forgotten Books, beautiful and enigmatic Alicia Gris, with the help of the Sempere family, uncovers one of the most shocking conspiracies in all Spanish history.

Nine-year-old Alicia lost her parents during the Spanish Civil War when the Nacionales (the fascists) savagely bombed Barcelona in 1938. Twenty years later, she still carries the emotional and physical scars of that violent and terrifying time. Weary of her work as investigator for Spain’s secret police in Madrid, a job she has held for more than a decade, the twenty-nine-year old plans to move on. At the insistence of her boss, Leandro Montalvo, she remains to solve one last case: the mysterious disappearance of Spain’s Minister of Culture, Mauricio Valls.

With her partner, the intimidating policeman Juan Manuel Vargas, Alicia discovers a possible clue - a rare book by the author Victor Mataix hidden in Valls’ office in his Madrid mansion. Valls was the director of the notorious Montjuic Prison in Barcelona during World War II where several writers were imprisoned, including David Martín and Victor Mataix. Traveling to Barcelona on the trail of these writers, Alicia and Vargas meet with several booksellers, including Juan Sempere, who knew her parents.

As Alicia and Vargas come closer to finding Valls, they uncover a tangled web of kidnappings and murders tied to the Franco regime, whose corruption is more widespread and horrifying than anyone imagined. Alicia’s courageous and uncompromising search for the truth puts her life in peril. Only with the help of a circle of devoted friends will she emerge from the dark labyrinths of Barcelona and its history into the light of the future.

In this haunting new novel, Carlos Ruiz Zafón proves yet again that he is a masterful storyteller and pays homage to the world of books, to his ingenious creation of the Cemetery of Forgotten Books, and to that magical bridge between literature and our lives."

Favourite quotes:
"You drink to remember, you write to forget." David Martín
"The Semperes travelled through books, not the map."

Wednesday, 18 April 2018

Roach, Mary "My Planet"

Roach, Mary "My Planet. Finding Humor in the Oddest Places" - 2013

I have read articles by Mary Roach for a long time and certainly have been one of her biggest fans. I looked for a book by her ages ago and didn't find it. So now I was happy to hear from a friend that she did indeed publish several in the meantime. I had to get one immediately.

Whether she tells every phone operator what she thinks about their message "your phone call is important to me", talks about every woman's horror about getting their husbands to ask for directions or any other nightmares we might have with our beloved, she really does find humour in the oddest places.

On three pages, she tells us all about problems we face every day, maybe more when we are married but a lot also goes for single people. In any case, I'm glad I didn't read this on the bus. Her stories are a treasure and I will certainly look out for more.

From the back cover:

"A Hilarious Collection of Essays from one of America's Most Gifted Humorists!

Mary Roach, the bestselling author of Stiff, Spook, Bonk, and Packing for Mars, is considered one of the funniest science writers of all time. Roach removed the medical gauze to reveal a different side of her comedy in the Reader's Digest column "My Planet" - which was runner-up in the humor category of the National Press Club awards. Now available as a complete collection for the first time, the quirky, brilliant author takes a magnifying glass to everyday life, exposing moments of hilarity in the mundane and revealing amusing musings about marriage to, as she puts it, "the man I call Ed." 

Learn to laugh at your spouse's obsessions, appreciate automated customer service, and find pockets of pleasure in mazelike bargain stores. You'll never look at a grocery list the same way again."

Tuesday, 17 April 2018

Craig, Charmaine "Miss Burma"

Craig, Charmaine "Miss Burma" - 2017

A recommendation by my blog friend Judy from Keep the Wisdom, (check out her post here) and I though it sounded totally interested. I had read a book about Burma/Myanmar before, so I didn't necessarily need to read it for my challenge "Travel the World Through Books" but that's not the main reason I do that list.

This story is based on the author's mother and grandparents, so I suppose a lot of the events are exactly as they happened. What a tragic story. If you are expecting a book about how a beauty queen is chosen, I wouldn't recommend it. If you want a book about Myanmar and its history, what they did to the people and why we didn't hear more about it, I highly recommend it. This novel reads a little more like a non-fiction book - which I like. There is so much the author covers about the history and culture of her country here, the different peoples that were thrown together. And we see what this does not only to her family but to all those members who don't belong to the ruling class. Her grandfather was a Jew from India, her grandmother a member of the Karen minority in Burma.

In any case, this is a great book if you want to learn more about that part of our world. And I think we all should know more about it.

From the back cover:
"Based on the remarkable lives of the author's mother and grandparents, Miss Burma is a beautiful and poignant story of how ordinary people come to be swept up in the fight for freedom.

A beautiful and poignant story of one family during the most violent and turbulent years of world history, Miss Burma is a powerful novel of love and war, colonialism and ethnicity, and the ties of blood.

It is 1939, and Benny, a young Jewish officer, is working for the British Customs Service in Burma. One day during his shift at the docks, he catches sight of a young woman with hair down to her ankles, standing at the end of a jetty. This is Khin, who belongs to Burma’s Karen ethnic minority group, which for centuries has been persecuted by the Burman majority. She and Benny soon marry, but when World War II comes to Asia, and Rangoon finds itself under threat of the Japanese occupation, the young couple and their baby daughter Louisa are forced to take shelter among Khin’s Karen countrymen in the eastern part of Burma. After the war, the British Empire strikes an independence deal with the Burman Nationalists, led by Aung San, leaving the Karen and other ethnic minority groups in a precarious position. Soon Benny will become an architect of the Karen revolution, which sparks the longest running civil war in recorded history.

Nearly a decade into the civil war. Louisa captures the country’s imagination, becoming Burma’s first national beauty queen. As she navigates her soaring fame and increasingly dire political reality, Louisa will be forced to reckon with her family’s past, the West’s ongoing covert dealings in Burma, and her own loyalty to the cause of the Karen people.

A captivating story of one family during the most violent and turbulent years of world history, Miss Burma is a masterful novel of love, war, and the struggle to lead a meaningful life."

Monday, 16 April 2018

Mbue, Imbolo "Behold the Dreamers"

Mbue, Imbolo "Behold the Dreamers" - 2016

Not as much a book about Cameroon but about immigrants in the States. There is some part that tells about Cameroon but the majority of the "action" takes place in New York City.

It is interesting to see the comparison with an immigrant family who had nothing back home and a US American who has everything and then everything falls to pieces as he loses his job, i.e. his company goes bankrupt. How they deal with the problems they are faced with.

This would be a great book club book. Does really everyone want to come to America? Are women treated that much differently in the two cultures? What about the children? Yes, great topics to discuss.

The characters were described very well, you got to like some of them a lot, others not so much. I don't think anyone is surprised to find that I preferred the Africans but I wonder how any of them would behave had they been born into the other culture …

This was a debut novel but I hope Imbole Mbue will write more.

From the back cover:
"Jende Jonga, a Cameroonian immigrant living in Harlem, has come to the United States to provide a better life for himself, his wife, Neni, and their six-year-old son. In the fall of 2007, Jende can hardly believe his luck when he lands a job as a chauffeur for Clark Edwards, a senior executive at Lehman Brothers. Clark demands punctuality, discretion, and loyalty - and Jende is eager to please. Clark’s wife, Cindy, even offers Neni temporary work at the Edwardses’ summer home in the Hamptons. With these opportunities, Jende and Neni can at last gain a foothold in America and imagine a brighter future.

However, the world of great power and privilege conceals troubling secrets, and soon Jende and Neni notice cracks in their employers’ façades.

When the financial world is rocked by the collapse of Lehman Brothers, the Jongas are desperate to keep Jende’s job - even as their marriage threatens to fall apart. As all four lives are dramatically upended, Jende and Neni are forced to make an impossible choice."

Wednesday, 11 April 2018

The "Piggybank" Challenge 2018

This is my sixth year of taking part in this challenge and decided to carry on. Why? You will discover once you read this text:

This is a challenge idea by a German blogger. I have translated her text and you can find the original site here at "Willkommen im Bücherkaffee". They seem to have discontinued the challenge but I will carry on.

How long does this challenge last?
1 March 2018 to 1 March 2019

What goes into the piggybank?
For every book I've read - €2.00 into the piggybank
(Amount can be individually altered, of course)

• For every finished book, the amount chosen is inserted into the piggy bank/ money box.
• This money is then off limits until the end of the challenge, i.e. the piggybank stays closed.
• On 1 March the piggybank can be opened and you can go shopping extensively - or carry on reading and saving.
• Be consistent and put the money into the bank immediately, otherwise you will lose track easily. (Personally, I put the books I read right next to the money box  until I drop the money in, otherwise it gets forgotten very quickly. Only after that do i put the book back on the shelf.)
• A list of books read would be very nice because you can perfectly observe the savings success.
• In addition, it would be great if you post a challenge post on your blog. This way, everyone can follow the progress of the other challenge participants so much easier. If you don't have a blog, then just leave a comment here in the comments from time to time about your opinion or your progress.

Would you like to join us?
Go ahead! It is worthwhile in any care and you will certainly not regret it.

Just write in the comments or by email to buecherkaffee@yahoo.de and send your link to the post. You may use the challenge logo with a link to the challenge in the Bücherkaffee.

The hashtag for the Twitter exchange : # Sparstrumpf

Last year, I read 136 books in that timeframe which resulted in €272 to spend on something nice. :-D

My progress (I add the German title, if available, for my German friends):

Ruiz Zafón, Carlos "Das Labyrinth der Lichter" (El laberinto de los espíritus - El cementerio de los libros olvidados #4/The Labyrinth of the Spirits) - 2016 

Scott, Mary; West, Joyce "No Red Herrings" (Das Rätsel der Hibiskus-Brosche) - 1964 (Inspector Wright #4)
Bollen, Christopher "The Destroyers" - 2017
Olson, Pamela J. "Fast Times in Palestine: A Love Affair with a Homeless Homeland" - 2011 

Schaik, Carel van & Michel, Kai "The Good Book of Human Nature: An Evolutionary Reading of the Bible" (Das Tagebuch der Menschheit. Was die Bibel über unsere Evolution verrät) - 2016
Bandi (반디) "The Accusation: Forbidden Stories from Inside North Korea" (고발/Gobal/Denunziation) - 2014 

Smith, Betty "A Tree Grows in Brooklyn" (Ein Baum wächst in Brooklyn) - 1943
Böttcher, Jan "Am Anfang war der Krieg zu Ende" (Y) - 2016 

Ackroyd, Peter "The History of England, Vol. 2 Tudors" - 2012
McGowan, John and McGowan, Frankie "Actually, it’s Love" - 2004 

Ishiguro, Kazuo "The Remains of the Day" (Was vom Tage übrigblieb) - 1989
Williams, Tennessee "A Streetcar named Desire" (Endstation Sehnsucht) - 1947
Feuchtwanger, Lion "Jud Süß" (Jew Suss) - 1925 

Walser, Martin "Ein fliehendes Pferd" (Runaway Horse) - 1978
McCall Smith, Alexander "The Saturday Big Tent Wedding Party" (12) - 2011
Ten Boom Corrie "The Hiding Place. The Triumphant Story of Corrie Ten Boom" (De Schuilplaats/Die Zuflucht) - 1972
Kross, Jaan "Professor Martens' Departure" (Professor Martensi ärasõit/Professor Martens Abreise) - 1984 

Hunt, Ken "Xenophobe's Guide to the Aussies" (Die Australier pauschal) - 1995
Schami, Rafik "Die dunkle Seite der Liebe" (The Dark Side of Love) - 2004

My lists of 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016 and 2017.

Tuesday, 10 April 2018

Piercy, Joseph "The Story of English

Piercy, Joseph "The Story of English: How an Obscure Dialect became the World's Most-Spoken Language" - 2012

I love languages. I love to know everything about them, so I can't really pass over a book that says "The Story of English: How an Obscure Dialect became the World's Most-Spoken Language". Obscure dialect. That sounds interesting.

I have read a lot about how the English language developed, I know about the Celts and the Romans, the Angles and the Saxons, the Vikings and the Normans and you can tell which words come from which language and why English has such a weird spelling. We know about Chaucer, Shakespeare and many other important writers and what they have done to shape the language.

This book reads like a novel about some people who inhabited a small island, were invaded and then started to invade otters, as well. Totally interesting. There is a lot of history in this book but you can't understand the English language without getting into their history.

It's a quick story about the evolution of the language (less than 200 pages), not as funny as those by Bill Bryson ("Mother Tongue", "Troublesome Words" and "Made in America") but still not a bad read.

My favourite quotes:

"To write or even speak English is not a science but an art. There are no reliable words. Whoever writes English is involved in a struggle that never lets up even for a sentence. He is struggling against vagueness, against obscurity, against the lure of the decorative adjective, against the encroachment of Latin and Greek, and, above all, against the worn-out phrases and dead metaphors with which the language is cluttered up."
George Orwell, English Novelist (1903-59)


"If you describe things as better than they are, you are thought a romantic; if you describe things as worse than they are, you are thought a realist; if you describe things exactly as they are, you will be thought a satirist."
Quentin Crisp, English Writer and Raconteur (1908-99)

From the back cover:
"This is the compelling account of how the obscure dialects spoken by tribes from what are now Denmark, the Low Countries, and northern Germany became the most widely spoken language in the world.

English may have originated with just one country, but it is actually built upon influences from many different languages. From the Anglo-Saxons in the fifth century to the Normans in the eleventh, and on to present-day America, The Story of English shows how our language has evolved during the last two millenia.

Divided chronologically into sections ranging from pre-Roman and Latin influences to today's global language, this fascinating book also explores, among much else, the history of the printing press, the works of Chaucer, the evolution of The American Dictionary of the English Language - better known as Webster's - and the magisterial Oxford English Dictionary, to the use of slang in today's speech and the coming of electronic messaging: language for a postmodern world. 

The Story of English is the perfect gift for any lover not just of English, but of the history and development of language."

Thursday, 5 April 2018

Book Quotes of the Week

"If you cannot judge a book by its cover, surely we should not judge an author by one book alone?" E.A. Bucchianeri

"You’re the same today as you’ll be in five years except for the people you meet and the books you read." Charlie "Tremendous" Jones

"Read, every day, something no one else is reading. Think, every day, something no one else is thinking." Christopher Morley

"Friend: What’s that book about? Me: *handing my friend the book* Here, read it." 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.

Oates, Joyce Carol "A Book of American Martyrs"

Oates, Joyce Carol "A Book of American Martyrs" - 2017

I have yet to find a book written by Joyce Carol Oates that I don't like. This is no exception. I was quite mad at times, not at the author but at her characters. They were so alive, so real, incredible.

Of course, I don't understand people who condone one sort of killing and then go on to do another one. Who gives someone the right to kill someone else because he has killed. That goes for those "assassins" who kill abortion doctors as much as it goes for people who kill murderers "legally". I think, that is the main thought where JCO wants us to go.

A fascinating book about a subject that should be discussed much more than "I'm against abortion". If you really want to have fever abortions, you have to make sure fewer teenagers get pregnant. And no, "don't do it" is not a good idea. Children should be told at an early age what they should do in order to prevent a pregnancy. Then, there should be more support for parents, single mothers, anyone who raises kids. And better (preferably free) education possibilities. That all leads to a lot fewer abortions already. Just making it illegal leads to more illegal abortions and even more dead women.

You surely can tell from these few sentences which side I am on. And I am sure one of my favourite authors agrees with me. I admire her as much for her wonderful writing as well as for her courage to stand up for what she believes in. I can't wait to read her next book.

From the back cover:
"A powerfully resonant and provocative novel from American master and New York Times bestselling author Joyce Carol Oates

In this striking, enormously affecting novel, Joyce Carol Oates tells the story of two very different and yet intimately linked American families. Luther Dunphy is an ardent Evangelical who envisions himself as acting out God's will when he assassinates an abortion provider in his small Ohio town while Augustus Voorhees, the idealistic doctor who is killed, leaves behind a wife and children scarred and embittered by grief.

In her moving, insightful portrait, Joyce Carol Oates fully inhabits the perspectives of two interwoven families whose destinies are defined by their warring convictions and squarely-but with great empathy-confronts an intractable, abiding rift in American society.

A Book of American Martyrs is a stunning, timely depiction of an issue hotly debated on a national stage but which makes itself felt most lastingly in communities torn apart by violence and hatred."

Wednesday, 4 April 2018

Ephron, Nora "When Harry Met Sally ..."

Ephron, Nora "When Harry Met Sally ..." - 1990

Norah Ephron is one of my favourite writers and Rob Reiner is one of my favourite film directors. No wonder "When Harry Met Sally" is one of my favourite movies.

So, when I found the book with the script to the film, I had to put it on my list. It is almost like watching the movie, especially if you have seen it about a hundred times before and more or less know it by heart.

Of course, it also made me want to see the film again. In any case, I am happy to have the script and I can always go back to the scene I love the most, no it's not the one you think about that ends with "I'll have what she's having" but this one:

Waitress: "Hi, what can I get ya?"
Harry: "I'll have a number three."
Sally: "I'd like the chef salad please with the oil and vinegar on the side and the apple pie a la mode."
Waitress: "Chef and apple a la mode."
Sally: "But I'd like the pie heated and I don't want the ice cream on top I want it on the side and I'd like strawberry instead of vanilla if you have it if not then no ice cream just whipped cream but only if it's real if it's out of a can then nothing."
Waitress: "Not even the pie?"
Sally: "No, just the pie, but then not heated."
Waitress: "Ah"

I once saw an interview with Norah Ephron where she talked about being on a plane and changing an order the way she wanted it. The flight attendant asked her "Did you ever watch 'When Harry Met Sally'?" Anyway, it reminds me a little of me, maybe that's the reason I like this story so much.

From the back cover:
"Rob Reiner's enormously funny and moving When Harry Met Sally ... -- a romantic comedy about the difficult, frustrating, awful, funny search for happiness in an American city, where the primary emotion is unrequited love -- is delighting audiences everywhere. Now, the complete screenplay is published. Written by Nora Ephron -- author of screenplays for Silkwood and Heartburn (from her own best-selling novel) -- When Harry Met Sally...is as hilarious on the page as it is on the screen. The book includes an introduction by the author."

Tuesday, 3 April 2018

MacGregor, Neil "Germany. Memories of a Nation"

MacGregor, Neil "Germany. Memories of a Nation" - 2014

I used to hate history at school. It was all "Where did this battle take place?" and "When was this war?" etc. without many details. So I am grateful for all the wonderful books I can read nowadays that give me so much information and make everything so much more interesting.

Over the years, I have read a lot of books about world history, European history, British history, the two World Wars, bits and pieces of German history,  but there are hardly any books about German history because the Germany as it exists nowadays has not been the same for that long. And I'm not just talking about the reunification that took place almost thirty years ago.

Now, I happened to come upon a book by Neil MacGregor, a British historian who wrote down everything that put together our nation of today.

If you don't know much about Germany (except that there were Nazis ... everyone knows that), this is the ideal book. I never knew that much about my own country and I am incredibly indebted to the author for putting it all together. Made me quite proud, probably about the first time in my life.

He points out what happened in Germany before that dark part in the history and where it went after that. The struggles and the accomplishments, culture and art, science and industry, the past and the future, that it seems to be the only country according to him who remembers the bad part of their history and not just the wins in certain wars.

And one of the best parts, he doesn't point fingers. He tries to understand how everything happened and he is also aware that not every German was a fan of the Nazis and that it was especially hard for them.

Certainly one of the best books I have read in ages. It was worth any minute. I'd love to read one of his other books.

From the back cover:
"A major new series from the makers of  'A History of the World in 100 Objects,' exploring the fascinating and complex history of Germany from the origins of the Holy Roman Empire right up to the present day. Written and presented by Neil MacGregor, it is produced by BBC Radio 4, in partnership with the British Museum.

Whilst Germany s past is too often seen through the prism of the two World Wars, this series investigates a wider six hundred-year-old history of the nation through its objects. It examines the key moments that have defined Germany's past, its great, world-changing achievements and its devastating tragedies and it explores the profound influence that Germany's history, culture, and inventiveness have had across Europe.

The objects featured in the radio series range from large sculptures to small individual artifacts and items that are prosaic, iconic, and symbolic. Each has a story to tell and a memory to invoke.

Sunday, 1 April 2018

Happy April!

Happy April to all my friends and readers

New Calendar picture with this
beautiful watercolour painting by Frank Koebsch
"Blühende Gärten in Groß Zicker"
"Flowering Gardens in Groß Zicker" 

April used to be the second month according to the Roman calendar. There are various ideas how it got it's name, one being the from the word "aperire" for open because that's what the flowers start doing but there are also rumours that it might come from the goddess Aphrilis or Aphrodite. The birthstone of this month is the diamond, one of the hardest and most appreciated gemstones.

Enjoy this month with the beautiful watercolour painting by Frank Koebsch with a view of a beautiful village in Northern Germany.

You can find a lot more wonderful pictures on their website here.

Friday, 30 March 2018

Book Quotes of the Week

"Read widely, think broadly, judge wisely" Dr T.P.Chia

"I need to experience books, not just read them." Lauren Morrill, Meant to Be

"I'm old-fashioned and think that reading books is the most glorious pastime that humankind has yet devised." Wisława Szymborska

"Reading takes me places and makes me feel things I’d never get to experience otherwise. Reading fills me up and empties me out, ready for the next adventure." 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, 29 March 2018

Ackroyd, Peter "Foundation"

Ackroyd, Peter "The History of England, Vol. 1 Foundation" - 2011

If you read my blog regularly, you will know that I am a big fan of British history. I couldn't even explain why, there has always been so much going on in that part of the world.

Anyway, I have read another book by Peter Ackroyd before, "Thames. Sacred River" and I knew he was a good writer. When I discovered, he'd written a series of four books about the whole history of English, I couldn't resist. This is the first one.

The author takes us from the first years of history, even before any written records, from the first flints that were found through stones of Stonehenge up until the first Tudor king, Henry VII. It's not just the chronological events that make this account so highly interesting, he interweaves stories about life and death of the ordinary people, how they got their names, for example, their social structure, what kind of food they had, how they punished their delinquents etc. etc. He hardly leaves any topic unmentioned. We can follow his stories and see how the society of today was formed, and that's a lot more than just knowing when Ethelred the Unready reigned or the Battle of Bosworth took place. I think this would be a great history book for pupils. There is a lot of detail in this book, yet it was written in a very entertaining style.

If you are only slightly interested in English history and would love to get a great picture, you should definitely consider this book. If you are highly interested, this is a Must Read.

Looking forward to:
Tudors: The History of England from Henry VIII to Elizabeth I (The History of England #2)
Rebellion: The History of England from James I to the Glorious Revolution (The History of England #3) (aka Civil War)
Revolution: The History of England from the Battle of the Boyne to the Battle of Waterloo (The History of England #4)

From the back cover:
"Peter Ackroyd, whose work has always been underpinned by a profound interest in and understanding of England's history, now tells the epic story of England itself.

In Foundation, the chronicler of London and of its river, the Thames, takes us from the primeval forests of England's prehistory to the death, in 1509, of the first Tudor king, Henry VII. He guides us from the building of Stonehenge to the founding of the two great glories of medieval England: common law and the cathedrals. He shows us glimpses of the country's most distant past - a Neolithic stirrup found in a grave, a Roman fort, a Saxon tomb, a medieval manor house - and describes in rich prose the successive waves of invaders who made England English, despite being themselves Roman, Viking, Saxon, or Norman French.

With his extraordinary skill for evoking time and place and his acute eye for the telling detail, Ackroyd recounts the story of warring kings, of civil strife, and foreign wars. But he also gives us a vivid sense of how England's early people lived: the homes they built, the clothes the wore, the food they ate, even the jokes they told. All are brought vividly to life through the narrative mastery of one of Britain's finest writers."

Monday, 26 March 2018

Scott, Mary, West; Joyce "Fatal Lady"

Scott, Mary, West; Joyce "Fatal Lady" (Inspector Wright #1) - 1960

Another charming novel by Mary Scott, one of my favourite author from teenage years. It's so lovely that I found her crime novels that she wrote with another author from New Zealand, Joyce West.

Did I say charming? Someone was killed. Apparently, not a nice guy but nobody deserves to get killed. But the rest of the characters are all wonderful. Well, all except one ...

I already had 26 of her books, now with the added murder mysteries, I have 32. Nice books I can always pick up when I need an easy read.

From the back cover (translated):
"Old Jack Hawkins is found dead in the paddock of his farm. Nearby, his racehorse Fatal Lady is grazing. The body shows terrible head injuries that can only stem from horse hooves. Did Fatal Lady kill her master? Or is the whole thing a cleverly planned and executed murder? After all, several people have a motive ..."

Friday, 16 March 2018

Book Quotes of the Week

"Read to lead in order to succeed." Habeeb Akande

"Your library is your portrait." Holbrook Jackson

"A man only learns in two ways, one by reading, and the other by association with smarter people." Will Rogers

"Books let you fight dragons, meet the love of your life, travel to faraway lands and laugh alongside friends, all within the pages. They're an escape that brings you home." 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, 15 March 2018

Ibsen, Henrik "Peer Gynt"

Ibsen, Henrik "Peer Gynt" (Danish: Peer Gynt) - 1867

I have always loved the music "Peer Gynt" by Edvard Grieg and therefore, the title of this play alone sounded both mysterious and enchanting to me at the same time.

I have mentioned it before, reading a play is only half the pleasure and I'd much rather watch a play but that's not always possible. So, after long deliberation, I finally tackled this one. I find it even harder to read when it its written - like here - in poems.

There are trolls in this play but also travels to North Africa (Morocco and Egypt), we witness a kidnapping and murder, love and betrayal, life and death, this story has it all. It is both satirical and mystical.

However, Peer Gynt is not the kind of character you would like him to be. Why even his mother is fond of him, nobody knows. He is not at all likeable, he is not nice to anyone, we all would be better off without him.

Certainly not my favourite book of the year but I am glad I finally read it.

From the back cover:
"Peer Gynt was Ibsen's last work to use poetry as a medium of dramatic expression, and the poetry is brilliantly appropriate to the imaginative swings between Scandinavian oral folk traditions, the Morrocan coast, the Sahara Desert, and the absurdist images of the Cairo madhouse. This translation is taken from the acclaimed Oxford Ibsen. John McFarlane is Emeritus Professor of European Literature at the University of East Anglia, and General Editor of the Oxford Ibsen."

Wednesday, 14 March 2018

Carnarvon, Countess Fiona of "Lady Almina and the Real Downton Abbey"

Carnarvon, Countess Fiona of "Lady Almina and the Real Downton Abbey: The Lost Legacy of Highclere Castle" - 2011

If you watched and enjoyed "Downton Abbey", this is the book for you. The series was filmed in Highclere Castle and the present Countess of Carnarvon describes the life of Lady Almina, the real Lady Cora Crawley, who opened her castle as a hospital in World War One. There are so many similarities in their lives, it's incredible.

I especially enjoyed the background not only of Lady Almina but also of her husband, George Herbert, the 5th Earl of Carnarvon who was involved in the discovery of the Tutankhamum tomb. Also, his half-brother was much engaged in the independence of Albania. They even offered him the throne. Lady Almina's father was Alfred de Rothschild, and there was another character to be added to the story.

And then there were a lot of pictures, not only of the family but only about the "downstairs" families who worked for the castle for generations.

All in all, an interesting book with a lot of historical background.

From the back cover:
"Lady Almina and the Real Downton Abbey tells the story behind Highclere Castle, the real-life inspiration and setting for Julian Fellowes's Emmy Award-winning PBS show Downton Abbey, and the life of one of its most famous inhabitants, Lady Almina, the 5th Countess of Carnarvon. Drawing on a rich store of materials from the archives of Highclere Castle, including diaries, letters, and photographs, the current Lady Carnarvon has written a transporting story of this fabled home on the brink of war.

Much like her Masterpiece Classic counterpart, Lady Cora Crawley, Lady Almina was the daughter of a wealthy industrialist, Alfred de Rothschild, who married his daughter off at a young age, her dowry serving as the crucial link in the effort to preserve the Earl of Carnarvon's ancestral home.  Throwing open the doors of Highclere Castle to tend to the wounded of World War I, Lady Almina distinguished herself as a brave and remarkable woman.

This rich tale contrasts the splendor of Edwardian life in a great house against the backdrop of the First World War and offers an inspiring and revealing picture of the woman at the center of the history of Highclere Castle."

Tuesday, 13 March 2018

Kennedy, Emma "Shoes for Anthony"

Kennedy, Emma "Shoes for Anthony" - 2015 

When it was suggested in our book club to read this novel instead of another one we had planned to read because it was something lighter' and less serious after a few 'heavy' books, I had to laugh because it is another war story.

However, it's true, the book is a lot lighter than the ones we read in the last couple of month. It's more or less the story of the author's father who grew up in Wales during the war. It's interesting to see all the events through the eyes of a little boy and his friends, his family who was as poor as church mice and all the other people in the village who stuck together in the grim times.

But we also learned about the hard life the miners had anyway, the risks they took every day, the accidents that could happen and the illness they'd eventually all ended up with.

I had to compare it with the stories my parents told me, they were probably about the same age as Anthony. The biggest difference was that in Wales, nobody had to hide their disgust whereas in Germany, if you were against Hitler, you really had to keep quiet. It didn't take long for someone to report you and you ending up in a concentration camp. At least the miners in Wales had a mutual enemy.

I was glad my book club chose this because it was a beautifully told story with a lot of charm and humour. I'll happily read more by Emma Kennedy.

From the back cover:

"This 1944 World War Two drama tells the story of Anthony, a boy living in a deprived Welsh village, anticipating the arrival of American troops. Suddenly, a German plane crashes into the village mountain. A Polish prisoner-of-war survives and is brought into the community where he builds a close relationship with Anthony. Later, the villagers discover one of the Germans on the plane has survived and is still on the mountain.

Joyous, thrilling, and nostalgic, Emma Kennedy’s Shoes For Anthony will have you wiping your eyes one moment and beaming from ear-to-ear the next. This is a small gem of a novel that reviewers (and readers) will cherish."

We discussed this in our book club in March 2018.

Monday, 12 March 2018

The non-western books that every student should read

Last year, a friend sent me an article from the Guardian by Sunny Singh, lecturer at London Metropolitan University and author of "Hotel Arcadia". It was called called "The non-western books that every student should read". 

I forwarded it to my book club and we decided to read at least one of the books from the list. We then decided on "So Long a Letter" by the Senegalese author Mariama Bâ. It was a great book and I decided I would love to read all of those book. One of them (Palace Walk) had been on my wishlist for ages anwyay. 

Read the article here. And this is the list with links to the books I already read: 

Ananthamurthy, U. R. "Samskara" (ಸಂಸ್ಕಾರ/Rites) - 1965
Bâ, Mariama "So Long a Letter" (Une si longue lettre) - 1979 
Fanon, Frantz "The Wretched of the Earth" (Les damnés de la terre) -1961 
Khedairi, Betool "Absent" (غايب/Gabe) - 2004
Mahfouz, Naguib "Palace Walk" (بين القصرين/Bayn al-qasrayn) - 1956 
Narayan, R. K. "Malgudi Omnibus" (Trilogy: Swami and Friends, 1935; The Bachelor of Arts, 1937; The English Teacher, 1945)
Ruzhen, Li "Flowers in the Mirror" (鏡花緣/Jing Hua Yuan) - 1827 
Unigwe, Chika "On Black Sisters’ Street" (Fata Morgana) - 2007
"Dhammapada" (धम्मपद), Buddhist text - ca. 300 BCE 

I still think this is a wonderful list written by someone who obviously knows her business. It gives a lot of inspiration to anyone who wants to broaden their mind and understand people from other parts of this world.