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" (Norwegian: 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.

Friday 9 March 2018

Book Quotes of the Week

"Emerson said that a library is a magic chamber in which there are many enchanted spirits. They wake when we call them. When the book lies unopened, it is literally, geometrically, a volume, a thing among things. When we open it, when the book surrenders itself to its reader, the aesthetic event occurs. And even for the same reader the same book changes, for the change; we are the river of Heraclitus, who said that the man of yesterday is not the man of today, who will not be the man of tomorrow. We change incessantly, and each reading of a book, each rereading, each memory of that rereading, reinvents the text. The text too is the changing river of Heraclitus." Jorge Luis Borges

"Libraries literally aren't just a place to obtain books for free. They're one of the few public spaces left in our society where you're allowed to exist without the expectation of spending money." Long Tweets McGee

"If you lay in your bed at night and haven’t learned anything new that day, get out of the bed and read a book." R. Moore

"With books I am never alone." 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 8 March 2018

Hastings, Max "The Secret War"

Hastings, Max "The Secret War: Spies, Codes And Guerrillas, 1939–45" - 2015

A highly interesting book if you are interested in this subject.

We always hear about the battles of a war, more rarely about what is going on behind the scenes, in this case, what did the secret agents or spies (depending on which side you were, the first lot was always your own, the second that of the enemy) do during World War II? What were their successes, what their downfalls?

The author has collected an immense treasure of details and put them all together, the book almost reads like a spy story itself. There is so much in it, if you don't study this at university, you probably will not want to go into so much detail but you can always decide what to retain and what not.

Brilliant book. Brilliant writing.

From the back cover:
"In The Secret War, Max Hastings presents a worldwide cast of characters and extraordinary sagas of intelligence and Resistance to create a new perspective on the greatest conflict in history. The book links tales of high courage ashore, at sea and in the air to the work of the brilliant ‘boffins’ battling the enemy’s technology. Here are not only the unheralded codebreaking geniuses of Bletchley Park, but also their German counterparts who achieved their own triumphs and the fabulous espionage networks created, and so often spurned, by the Soviet Union. With its stories of high policy and human drama, the book has been acclaimed as the best history of the secret war ever written."

Monday 5 March 2018

Han, Kang "The Vegetarian"

Han, Kang "The Vegetarian" (Korean: 채식주의자/Ch'angbi) - 2007

When I found this book, I thought it might be about a woman who became a vegetarian. And it was. But also, it wasn't. This book has been described as dark and that is correct. But it is also weird. It is hard to follow the thoughts of the protagonists, I always try to empathize with any problem they encounter but I had a hard time doing it in this case.

This story is about two sisters and their husbands, about love and lust. There are three stories about Yeong-hye, the woman who turns vegetarian and whose life takes a strange turn and nobody's life will ever be the same again. The first story is told by her husband, the second by her brother-in-law, the third and last by her sister.

I would have loved to like this book. But I didn't, really.

From the back cover:
"A beautiful, unsettling novel about rebellion and taboo, violence and eroticism, and the twisting metamorphosis of a soul.
Before the nightmares began, Yeong-hye and her husband lived an ordinary, controlled life. But the dreams—invasive images of blood and brutality—torture her, driving Yeong-hye to purge her mind and renounce eating meat altogether. It’s a small act of independence, but it interrupts her marriage and sets into motion an increasingly grotesque chain of events at home. As her husband, her brother-in-law and sister each fight to reassert their control, Yeong-hye obsessively defends the choice that’s become sacred to her. Soon their attempts turn desperate, subjecting first her mind, and then her body, to ever more intrusive and perverse violations, sending Yeong-hye spiraling into a dangerous, bizarre estrangement, not only from those closest to her, but also from herself."

Han Kang received the Man Booker International Prize in 2016 for "The Vegetarian".

Friday 2 March 2018

Book Quotes of the Week

"The greatest deed you can do for anyone is not free them from pain or hunger, but from ignorance." Matshona Dhliwayo

"Here's what I mean by the miracle of language. When you're falling into a good book, exactly as you might fall into a dream, a little conduit opens, a passageway between a reader's heart and a writer's, a connection that transcends the barriers of continents and generations and even death ... And here's the magic. You're different. You can never go back to being exactly the same person you were before you disappeared into that book." Anthony Doerr

"In dystopia, when time has run out and the worst is yet to come, the urge to live still remains." Elizabeth Fifer

"Sometimes you just need to lay on the couch and read for a couple of years." 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 1 March 2018

Hanks, Tom "Uncommon Type. Some Stories"

Hanks, Tom "Uncommon Type. Some Stories" - 2017

Sometimes I don't know why I still do it. I'm not the biggest fan of short stories. Too short for my liking. But I couldn't withstand getting this book. Tom Hanks a writer? And stories about typewriters? Has to be good.

And it was. Some really nice stories that could have easily been made into a large book - maybe we'll see them in a film one day, I wouldn't be surprised ...

Anyway, all these stories have something in common. In every single one of them, there is a typewriter, mostly an older one, not an electric one, not a computer, no, one of those nice old mechanical ones.

I always have to think about Tom Hanks in "You've got mail" where he deletes a whole paragraph letter by letter. And that alone makes me laugh.

I wouldn't say all the stories are funny. Or all the stories are thoughtful. Or all the stories are ... you get it, the stories are all quite different. But I did enjoy all of them.

From the back cover:
"A hectic, funny sexual affair between two best friends. A World War II veteran dealing with his emotional and physical scars. A second-rate actor plunged into sudden stardom and a whirlwind press junket. A small-town newspaper columnist with old-fashioned views of the modern world. A woman adjusting to life in a new neighborhood after her divorce. Four friends going to the moon and back in a rocket ship constructed in the backyard. A teenage surfer stumbling into his father’s secret life.

These are just some of the people and situations that Tom Hanks explores in his first work of fiction, a collection of stories that dissects, with great affection, humour, and insight, the human condition and all its foibles. The stories are linked by one thing: in each of them, a typewriter plays a part, sometimes minor, sometimes central. To many, typewriters represent a level of craftsmanship, beauty and individuality that is harder and harder to find in the modern world. In his stories, Mr Hanks gracefully reaches that typewriter-worthy level.

Known for his honesty and sensitivity as an actor, Mr Hanks brings both those characteristics to his writing. Alternatingly whimsical, moving and occasionally melancholy, Uncommon Type is a book that will delight as well as surprise his millions of fans. It also establishes him as a welcome and wonderful new voice in contemporary fiction, a voice that perceptively delves beneath the surface of friendships, families, love and normal, everyday behaviour."

Happy March!

Happy March to all my friends and readers

New Calendar picture with this
beautiful watercolour painting by Hanka Koebsch

"Wo bleibt er denn?"
"Where is he then?" 

March was the first month of the Roman calendar. 
It was named after their god of war, Mars. 

The birthstone of this month is the jasper, another quartz, mostly red, yellow or brown. The green version with red spots is called heliotrope or bloodstone and this is the one that usually is considered the birthstone for March.
Enjoy this month with the beautiful watercolour painting by Hanka Koebsch. I think we can all guess what the little birdie is looking out for: Spring!

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