Tuesday 31 July 2018

Lopez-Schroder, Maite "Romping through Ulysses"

Lopez-Schroder, Maite "Romping through Ulysses" - 2013

While we visited Dublin recently (as described in this blogpost), we stayed in this wonderful guest house that was just like our own home. It was filled with books. What a treasure!

There was one that I really had to read as it gave me the opportunity to look at our host city through the eyes of James Joyce, Leopold Bloom and Stephen Dedalus or, easy, Ulysses.

A lovely little book that tells us how the two protagonists made their way through the city on 16 June 1904, better known as Bloomsday.

And the best part of it, there are more "Romping through …" books. You can romp through Dublin or any other Irish books as well as through other literature or even mathematics. What a cute idea for a booklet.

From the back cover:

"Read all about the strange affair of the garter and the bowler hat. This is a 64-page illustrated improper guide to James Joyce’s Ulysses. It's pocket-size with a retro vibe. There are maps to help you create your own romp through Dublin.

Dip into it as an introduction to Joyce's big book. You will find out what's happening in the story, get ideas of what to do and places to visit. Arm yourself with a quote or two and pick up some insider titbits."

Monday 30 July 2018

Czerski, Helen "Storm in a Teacup"

Czerski, Helen "Storm in a Teacup: The Physics of Everyday Life" - 2016

I found this book through a group on Goodreads (don't you just love Goodreads? Well, I do.) that gets together and suggests "brilliant books you've never heard of" (see my post here).

If you read the book description, there isn't much else to add, the book is about physics and how we can discover it in our lives. I have never been a huge science fan and just about went through my lessons at school by learning stuff by heart without really understanding it. I wouldn't say this was the book that finally made me understand, I've read other books about that before (like Bill Bryson's A Short History of Nearly Everything") and I have reached a point where I probably have understood as much as I ever will or there possibly is to understand.

However, this is a very informative book. If only our teacher had explained us magnetism through coins in our purse or evaporation through the stains coffee spots leave.

It was a pleasure for this non-scientific person to read this scientific book and I'm glad it was suggested in that reading group.

From the back cover:

"Take a look up at the stars on a clear night and you get a sense that the universe is vast and untouchable, full of mysteries beyond comprehension. But did you know that the key to unveiling the secrets of the cosmos is as close as the nearest toaster?

Our home here on Earth is messy, mutable, and full of humdrum things that we touch and modify without much thought every day. But these familiar surroundings are just the place to look if you’re interested in what makes the universe tick. In Storm in a Teacup, Helen Czerski provides the tools to alter the way we see everything around us by linking ordinary objects and occurrences, like popcorn popping, coffee stains, and fridge magnets, to big ideas like climate change, the energy crisis, or innovative medical testing. She guides us through the principles of gases (“Explosions in the kitchen are generally considered a bad idea. But just occasionally a small one can produce something delicious”); gravity (drop some raisins in a bottle of carbonated lemonade and watch the whoosh of bubbles and the dancing raisins at the bottom bumping into each other); size (Czerski explains the action of the water molecules that cause the crime-scene stain left by a puddle of dried coffee); and time (why it takes so long for ketchup to come out of a bottle).

Along the way, she provides answers to vexing questions: How does water travel from the roots of a redwood tree to its crown? How do ducks keep their feet warm when walking on ice? Why does milk, when added to tea, look like billowing storm clouds? In an engaging voice at once warm and witty, Czerski shares her stunning breadth of knowledge to lift the veil of familiarity from the ordinary. You may never look at your toaster the same way."

Friday 27 July 2018

Mukherjee, Neel "A State of Freedom"

Mukherjee, Neel "A State of Freedom" - 2017

I like stories about India and so far, haven't found one I didn't like. Well, I think I might have "achieved" it this time. What I didn't know - and it isn't mentioned anywhere in the book - that this is more a book of short stories, you discover it when the first story is over all of a sudden (on page 22).

The two longer ones seem to belong together but they might as well have been about different people as you only notice toward the end that this is the same person they talk about in the other story. Those were the only ones I could get into, as well. The three others, I couldn't really relate to any of the characters, even less the story itself. The second and the fourth story tell us about a rich Indian guy who returns home every other year to visit his family while the fourth goes more into the lives of the domestic personnel his family has hired. That was my favourite.

The first, third and fifth story are also supposed to be linked but the connection is far less obvious and doesn't really add to the individual stories.

As I said, whilst liking Indian stories, this was not mine. I shall go back to authors like Amitav Ghosh, Jhumpa Lahiri, Rohinton Mistry, V.S. Naipaul, Vikram Seth, and others that I hopefully will come across.

Lesson to be learned for the publisher: Don't call short stories a novel, you get bad reviews from those who expect a novel and readers who only like short stories will not attempt it.

From the back cover:

"What happens when we attempt to exchange the life we are given for something better? Can we transform the possibilities we are born into?

A State of Freedom prises open the central, defining events of our century - displacement and migration - but not as you imagine them.

Five characters, in very different circumstances, from a domestic cook in Mumbai, to a vagrant and his dancing bear, and a girl who escapes terror in her home village for a new life in the city, find out the meanings of dislocation, and the desire for more.

Set in contemporary India and moving between the reality of this world and the shadow of another, this novel of multiple narratives - formally daring, fierce but full of pity - delivers a devastating and haunting exploration of the unquenchable human urge to strive for a different life."

Book Quotes of the Week

"Reading should not be presented to children as a chore, a duty. It should be offered as a gift." Kate DiCamillo

"My mother taught me that reading is a kind of work, and that every paragraph merits exertion, and in this way, I learned how to absorb difficult books. Soon after I went to kindergarten, however, I learned that reading difficult books also brings trouble. I was punished for reading ahead of the class, for being unwilling to speak and act "nicely." I didn't know why I simultaneously feared and adored my female teachers, but I did know that I needed their attention." Hope Jahren, Lab Girl

"We don’t need a list of rights and wrongs, tables of dos and don'ts: we need books, time, and silence. Thou shalt not is soon forgotten, but Once upon a time lasts forever." Philip Pullman

"The nicest thing about a book is no commercials" Charles M. Schulz, The Peanuts

Find more book quotes here.

Thursday 26 July 2018

Brilliant Books You've Never Heard Of

Goodreads is fantastic, don't you agree? They supply so much information, give you the opportunity to share what you've read with friends and offers groups where you can find new inspiration. I've been following "Emma's Book Club" for quite a while and thoroughly enjoy it.

In any of my posts, I will put the link to Goodreads under the picture of the book. If you are interested in my Goodreads page, here is the link.

I always enjoy new kind of literature, something I haven't read before. So, when I saw the group "Brilliant Books You've Never Heard of" on Goodreads, I decided to join it, as well.  They decide once a month on their next read and you can forward suggestions that must only meet three criteria:

Published in or after 1960, but at least 6 months old
No more than 5,000 Goodreads ratings
No self-promotion

You will see that this results in some very diverse literature. I will try to read some of them when I can get my hands on them.

Can you recommend any brilliant books that others have never heard of?
Mine would be:
Stroyar, J.N. "The Children's War" and "A Change of Regime"

July 2017
Saintcrow, Lilith "She Wolf and Cub" - Goodreads
Aug 2017
Owens, Mark + Delia "Cry of the Kalahari" - Goodreads
Sept 2017
Stackpole, Michael A. "A Secret Atlas" - Goodreads
Oct 2017
Delport, Melissa "The Cathedral of Cliffdale" (Guardians of Summerfeld #1) - Goodreads
Nov 2017
Ryan, Anthony "The Waking Fire" - Goodreads
Dec 2017
Höst, Andrea K. "Hunting" - Goodreads
Jan 2018
Owen, Zachary T. "Beauties in the Deep" - Goodreads
Feb 2018
Marlow, Faith "Being Mrs. Dracula" - Goodreads
Mar 2018
Jans, Donald "Freaks I've Met" - Goodreads
Apr 2018
Austin, Emily R. "Oh Honey" - Goodreads
May 2018
Crispell, Susan Bishop "The Secret Ingredient of Wishes" - Goodreads
Jun 2018
Penn, J.F. "Stone of Fire (Arkane #1) - Goodreads
Jul 2018
Czerski, Helen "Storm in a Teacup: The Physics of Everyday Life" - 2016
Aug 2018
Petrosyan, Mariam (Петросян, Мариам) "The Gray House" (Дом, в котором...)
Sept 2018
Lukens, F.T. "The Rules and Regulations for Mediating Myths & Magic"
Oct 2018
Jenkins, Jerry B. "Riven"
Nov 2018
Mwanza Mujila, Fiston "Tram 83" (Tram 83)
Dec 2018
Petrosyan, Mariam "The Gray House"
Jan 2019
Ortberg, Mallory "The Merry Spinster: Tales of Everyday Horror"

Tuesday 24 July 2018

Remarque, Erich Maria "All Quiet on the Western Front"

Remarque, Erich Maria "All Quiet on the Western Front" (German: Im Westen nichts Neues) - 1928

The original German title of this novel is "Nothing New in the West" which is sort of the same as the English title but you can interpret it in two ways, not just something being quiet but something just as normal, in this case, people have been dying just as any other day of the war.

Anyway, I wanted to read this book for ages, it's been on my wishlist for decades. I have no idea why it took me so long. I remember knowing about it when I was in school and having seen part of the film (I think they might have shown it to us in school) and that it certainly contributed to me becoming a life-long pacifist. That and my parents who had to survive World War II as children and teenagers.

But it's not just the part that tells us about the war, the trenches, the fights, the cold, the dampness, the rats, the bad food, seeing the friends fall one after the other, worrying you might be next ... The protagonist has a home leave in between and his rendition of the visit with his family and him being in turmoil because it is a different life and he is a different person, it tells us a lot about what those soldiers went through when they survived, what soldiers still go through today. They are never the same again.

The edition I read (see the right picture) had a lot of additional information about how the book was received, how the Nazis forbade the film (of course!) and how they generally tried to bring this book into miscredit.

I recently read "War and Turpentine" by Stefan Hertmans who told us just about the same kind of story about his Belgian grandfather. The young men or rather boys on both sides went through a lot of hardship while the politicians were sitting in their warm homes and pushed further and further. As usual. So, that really is no news.

I think this should be a must-read, if not for all students in school but definitely for all politicians who think a war is a good way to solve their problems.

We read this in our international online book club in March 2023.

A comment by one of the members:
"All Quiet On The Western Front was an excellent and timely choice. Remarque created realistic, often likeable characters and then showed us how each gave up his life to war. The book rings true."

From the back cover:

"Considered by many the greatest war novel of all time, All Quiet on the Western Front is Erich Maria Remarque’s masterpiece of the German experience during World War I.

I am young, I am twenty years old; yet I know nothing of life but despair, death, fear, and fatuous superficiality cast over an abyss of sorrow. . . .

This is the testament of Paul Bäumer, who enlists with his classmates in the German army during World War I. They become soldiers with youthful enthusiasm. But the world of duty, culture, and progress they had been taught breaks in pieces under the first bombardment in the trenches.

Through years of vivid horror, Paul holds fast to a single vow: to fight against the principle of hate that meaninglessly pits young men of the same generation but different uniforms against one another . . .  if only he can come out of the war alive.

'The world has a great writer in Erich Maria Remarque. He is a craftsman of unquestionably first rank, a man who can bend language to his will. Whether he writes of men or of inanimate nature, his touch is sensitive, firm, and sure.' The New York Times Book Review

Friday 20 July 2018

Book Quotes of the Week

"When I got [my] library card, that was when my life began." Rita Mae Brown

"A book is a whole world that you can fit into your pocket." Matshona Dhliwayo

"Books are many things: lullabies for the weary, ointment for the wounded, armour for the fearful, and nests for those in need of a home." Glenda Millard

"Wear the old coat and buy the new book." Austin Phelps

Find more book quotes here.

Wednesday 18 July 2018

LeSieg, Theo (=Dr. Seuss) "The Cat in the Hat"

LeSieg, Theo (=Dr. Seuss) "The Cat in the Hat" - 1957

An absolute classic. A children's book that is just as much enjoyed by the adult reading it to them as to the first reader who manages their way through the pages. It is not surprising that it still belongs to every kid's library after more than half a century. We can tell that nothing has changed, children still like to hear of mischief but love to learn from it to. An early "stranger danger" story but with a lot of fun.

So, whether you have little children or not, this is a cute book for the hidden child in all of us.

From the back cover:

"Join the Cat in the Hat as he makes learning to read a joy! It’s a rainy day and Dick and Sally can’t find anything to do . . . until the Cat in the Hat unexpectedly appears and turns their dreary afternoon into a fun-filled extravaganza! This beloved Beginner Book by Dr. Seuss, which also features timeless Dr. Seuss characters such as Fish and Thing 1 and Thing 2, is fun to read aloud and easy to read alone. Written using 236 different words that any first or second grader can read, it’s a fixture in home and school libraries and a favorite among parents, beginning readers, teachers, and librarians.
Originally created by Dr. Seuss, Beginner Books encourage children to read all by themselves, with simple words and illustrations that give clues to their meaning.

Theo LeSieg received the Pulitzer Prize for all his works in 1984.

Monday 16 July 2018

Crwys-Williams, Jennifer (ed.) "In the Words of Nelson Mandela"

Crwys-Williams, Jennifer (ed.) "In the Words of Nelson Mandela: A Little Pocketbook" - 1998

A lovely little collection of quotes by Nelson Mandela who has received the Nobel Peace Prize and whose "Long Walk to Freedom" has given us so much inspiration. Here is a short version of what hes has said about all sorts of different subjects, about hope and freedom, racism and love, Africa and the world, shortly, about everything.

One of my favourite quotes:
"When we read we are able to travel to many places, meet many people and understand the world."

And another one which is especially interesting.
"There are men and women chosen to bring happiness into the hearts of others - those are the real heroes."
Nelson Mandela is definitely one of them.

From the back cover:

"Through his words and deeds Nelson Mandela has been embraced by the whole world as a symbol of courage, hope and reconciliation. Collected in In the words of Nelson Mandela, his comments on subjects as diverse as humanity, racism, friendship, oppression and freedom provide an insight into the man and all he stands for. By turns moving, generous, humorous and sad, this title eloquently conveys his warmth and dignity. It will be both an inspiration and a source of strength for all who read it."

Nelson Mandela received the Nobel Prize for Peace in 1993 "for ... work for the peaceful termination of the apartheid regime, and for laying the foundations for a new democratic South Africa".

Friday 13 July 2018

Book Quotes of the Week

"Books, books, books... all of them were necessary to me. Their presence, their smell, the letters of their titles, and the texture of their leather bindings." Colette

"My parents, and librarians along the way, taught me about the space between words; about the margins, where so many juicy moments of life and spirit and friendship could be found. In a library, you could find miracles and truth and you might find something that would make you laugh so hard that you get shushed, in the friendliest way." Anne Lamott

"I'm always amazed at friends who say they try to read at night in bed but always end up falling asleep. I have the opposite problem. If a book is good I can't go to sleep, and stay up way past my bedtime, hooked on the writing. Is anything better than waking up after a late-night read and diving right back into the plot before you even get out of bed to brush your teeth?" John Waters, Role Models

"Fiction is like a spider’s web, attached ever so lightly perhaps, but still attached to life at all four corners." Virginia Woolf

Find more book quotes here.

Tuesday 10 July 2018


Dia dhuit
("Hello" in Gaelic)

Last month, our family took a trip to Ireland. We visited Belfast where my son did an exchange semester but mainly, we spent our time in Dublin (or Baile Átha Cliath, as it is called in the native Gaelic), capital of the Republic, largest city of the Emerald Isle. Its original name means Blackpool in English. With a little over 1 million inhabitants (1,173,000 to be a little more precise), Dublin is a lovely city with lots of cultural and touristy sites but not too large to get lost in it.

My husband and my sons loved the opportunity to try all sorts of different Irish beers, visit the Guinness brewery and the Jameson distillery, but for me the most important part was its approach to literature.  Slàinte! ("Cheers" in Gaelic)

First, there is the old library in Trinity College which dates back to the times of Queen Elizabeth, the first, not the current one. It was really full, so you couldn't take any nice pictures like the ones you always see online (after all the tourists are out, I suspect) but I still managed to capture a few.
Then there were all the locations I remember from "Ulysses", "Dubliners" or other Irish novels like the ones by Edward Rutherfurd, "Dublin. Foundation" and "Awakening".

But one of the best parts here was seeing the Statue of James Joyce. I know he is not the easiest writer and maybe not the best liked one, but I love his books and was happy standing face to face with him. He lived from 1882 to 1941 and even though he spent quite a large part of his later life on the continent in Trieste, Paris and then Zurich, Dublin plays a major role in all of his novels. I can imagine how you can never forget this city, especially if you've grown up here.

My only regret was that I wasn't well enough to join the Literary Pub Crawl because I wasn't well enough to walk a lot. Maybe next time.

So, I hope you enjoy these pictures at least a little.

Slán! (which simply means "safe" in Irish but also "Good-bye")

Monday 9 July 2018

Greer, Andrew Sean "Less"

Greer, Andrew Sean "Less" - 2017

So far, I have never read a Pulitzer Prize winning novel that wasn't interesting. I guess I had to come across one at one point. This was it.

If the author had expanded more on the fear of the protagonist of turning old, or even on the fear of being left alone since his boyfriend got married, this could have been a good story. Or if he had concentrated on the different events he visits in the different countries, it could have been a good "holiday story" or "summer read". But this way, it was nothing at all. The story jumps from the present into the past and while I usually like that, I still would like to know where I am at the moment.

According to the notes on the back cover, this book is supposed to be funny, hilarious. I didn't laugh even once.

The only difference between this book and chick lit? They don't talk about shoes all the time.

From the back cover:

"Arthur Less is a failed novelist about to turn fifty. A wedding invitation arrives in the post: it is from an ex-boyfriend of nine years who is engaged to someone else. Arthur can't say yes - it would be too awkward; he can't say no - it would look like defeat. So, he begins to accept the invitations on his desk to half-baked literary events around the world. 

From France to India, Germany to Japan, Arthur almost falls in love, almost falls to his death, and puts miles between him and the plight he refuses to face.
Less is a novel about mishaps, misunderstandings and the depths of the human heart."

Andrew Sean Greer received the Pulitzer Prize for "Less" in 2018.

Friday 6 July 2018

Dickens, Charles "David Copperfield"

Dickens, Charles "David Copperfield" - 1850

Full title: The Personal History, Adventures, Experience and Observation of David Copperfield the Younger of Blunderstone Rookery (Which He Never Meant to Publish on Any Account)

Every time I read another book by Charles Dickens, I have the impression, this is definitely my favourite. But, I do believe I have found the best ever now. Apparently, it mirrors Charles Dickens' life the most of all his books.

Somewhere I read "I have in my heart of hearts a favourite child, and his name is David Copperfield". I couldn't agree more.

I loved all the nice characters and hated all the bad ones, as it should be but this was really a very story where you could get immersed. The language is as beautiful as the flow of the story, the details as great as the English countryside. We can follow our hero from his childhood into maturity, get to meet everyone who is important in his life. Even though the book is more than 150 years old, we can still retrace the steps, feel for the protagonist and his sidekicks. That's what constitutes a real classic.

As always, his names are always hilarious. But nothing really tops Uriah Heep!

Of course, the disadvantage of reading such a big book of 1,000 pages always is, you feel like you lost a friend when you finish it.

I will definitely have to find my next Dickens book soon!

Even if you're not much into classics or chunky books, if you ever considered reading a Dickens novel, take this one.

From the back cover:

"Dickens's epic, exuberant novel is one of the greatest coming-of-age stories in literature. It chronicles David Copperfield's extraordinary journey through life, as he encounters villains, saviours, eccentrics and grotesques, including the wicked Mr Murdstone, stout-hearted Peggotty, formidable Betsey Trotwood, impecunious Micawber and odious Uriah Heep.

Dickens's great Bildungsroman (based, in part, on his own boyhood, and which he described as a 'favourite child') is a work filled with life, both comic and tragic."

Monday 2 July 2018

Happy July!

Happy July to all my friends and readers

New Calendar picture with this
beautiful watercolour painting by Hanka Koebsch


July - most kids have their school holidays this month, at least in the Northern hemisphere so we all know what that means - full roads! 

One of the birthstones of this month is the ruby, one of the cardinal gems together with amethyst, sapphire, emerald, and diamond. The word comes from the Latin word for red because that's is colour. It's always been considered a stone of nobility, "the queen of stones and the stone of kings". 
Apparently, it is good to counteract exhaustion and stimulates circulation, helps to reduce fear and sharpens the mind.

 Another one, and a lot more mine because it's green, is the aventurine, a quartz stone. Its name from the Italian "a ventura" meaning "by chance". It's supposed to be have a soothing and comforting energy which is understandable given its green colour. 

Enjoy this month with the beautiful watercolour painting by Hanka Koebsch. 
My favourite flowers are peonies but hydrangeas come a very close second. And we have a lot longer to enjoy them, as well.

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

Soon the new calendars will be on sale again. 
If you are interested, have a look at their website.