Monday 31 May 2021

Mantel, Hilary "The Mirror and the Light"

Mantel, Hilary "The Mirror and the Light" - 2020

I have read both "Wolf Hall" as well as "Bring up the Bodies" by Hilary Mantel and I couldn't wait for the third book in the Wolf Hall Trilogy.

Well, knowing how the book ends didn't add to my enjoyment on the book, probably on the contrary. I am not surprised, the author didn't get the Booker Prize for this third book in the series (although it was longlisted) because I have the feeling, Hilary Mantel was dreading it as much as the reader did.

It starts with a lot of repetition, not as in someone is retelling the whole story but Cromwell more or less reliving the execution of Anne Boleyn, more or less a pre-shadow of the end of his own life.

I think we have all come to like Thomas Cromwell in the first two books, as opposed to what many historians try to tell us. Maybe it's good to recognize that not everyone in history was the way they have been portrayed. If any book teaches us this, "Wolf Hall" is the right one for that.

However, just as in the first two books, the writing was fantastic. The author managed to catch our attention, maybe not from the very first page but certainly soon thereafter. The Tudors always get there.

What surprised me most was how quick the fall from grace took place and how swiftly everyone stood there to see it and help bringing it to an end. You would have thought something really bad had happened, but no, just a few words here or there that are twisted in your mouth and you're a traitor. Incredible.

I would have liked a list of all the characters at the end, as I always find that useful in any historical book, fiction or non-fiction.

Now that Cromwell's life is over, I wonder who Hilary Mantel is going to write about next.

From the back cover:

"England, May 1536. Anne Boleyn is dead, decapitated in the space of a heartbeat by a hired French executioner. As her remains are bundled into oblivion, Thomas Cromwell breakfasts with the victors. The blacksmith’s son from Putney emerges from the spring’s bloodbath to continue his climb to power and wealth, while his formidable master, Henry VIII, settles to short-lived happiness with his third queen before Jane dies giving birth to the male heir he most craves.

Cromwell is a man with only his wits to rely on; he has no great family to back him, no private army. Despite rebellion at home, traitors plotting abroad and the threat of invasion testing Henry’s regime to the breaking point, Cromwell’s robust imagination sees a new country in the mirror of the future. But can a nation, or a person, shed the past like a skin? Do the dead continually unbury themselves? What will you do, the Spanish ambassador asks Cromwell, when the king turns on you, as sooner or later he turns on everyone close to him?

The Mirror & the Light, Hilary Mantel brings to a triumphant close the trilogy she began with Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies. She traces the final years of Thomas Cromwell, the boy from nowhere who climbs to the heights of power, offering a defining portrait of predator and prey, of a ferocious contest between present and past, between royal will and a common man’s vision: of a modern nation making itself through conflict, passion, and courage."

One of my blogger friends (Brona from Brona's Books) organized a read-along here.

Friday 28 May 2021

Eric Carle †

Rest in Peace, Eric Carle.

Eric Carle was one of my sons's favourite authors when he was in 1st grade. They used to do a lot of pictures in the way he had created his books. It was a great exercise for a little boy who didn't like to draw.

He passed away May 23rd at the age of 91.

Eric Carle has written and illustrated more than seventy books, his most famous of all "The Very Hungry Caterpillar" which, I think, every child born after 1969 must have read. Here is a very tiny, small selection.

Eric Carle, you have given so many kids (and their parents) so much joy. Sorry that it's time to say goodbye.

10 Little Rubber Ducks
A House for Hermit Crab 
Does A Kangaroo Have a Mother, Too?
From Head to Toe
Hello, Red Fox!
I See a Song
Pancakes! Pancakes!

Papa, Please Get the Moon for Me
The Tiny Seed

Book Quotes of the Week

"Stories were power. And whoever controlled the story controlled everything. A story could bring people together, or it could tear them apart. It could spread like a sickness, infecting people. It could lead them into battle or shake them into seeing what they had refused to see before" Libba Bray, The King of Crows

This is a good description of why the pen is mightier than the sword. 

"Every rereading of a classic is as much a voyage of discovery as the first reading." Italo Calvino

And a link to the people who have been there before us and from whom we can still learn a lot.  

"Frederick Douglass taught that literacy is the path from slavery to freedom. There are many kinds of slavery and many kinds of freedom, but reading is still the path." Carl Sagan

And not reading always puts us back. Reading is the one thing that nobody can take from us and that can lead us to so many wonderful places.

Find more book quotes here.

Thursday 27 May 2021

Sapolsky, Robert M. "Behave"

Sapolsky, Robert M. "Behave: The Biology of Humans at Our Best and Worst" - 2017

This was probably the toughest book I ever read even compared to "Ulysses" or "The Odyssey" and some other heavy and long classics). I guess anyone who read this and can repeat all of that deserves at least a master's degree.

I was never good at any science subject in school. Mainly because I wasn't interested in it. My teachers did not succeed in getting me enthusiastic about the subjects. If I had had a teacher like Robert Sapolsky, that might have been a different matter.

It still doesn't mean that I'd ever become an expert. There was far too much to-ing and fro-ing to my liking. That was just above my head.

The author says it himself in one of his last chapters:
"If you had to boil this book down to a single phrase, it would be 'It's complicated.' Indeed it is. But it is a complicated subject and I'm glad I read the book."

And one final quote:
"The opposite of hate is not love, its opposite is indifference." Elie Wiesel whose book "Night" is a publication everyone should read.

This was our international online "extra" book club read in May 2021.

Some comments:

  • The book is massive and we agreed, that it lacks structure. Or at least, none of us found a helpful structure.
  • Indeed, this was a tough read. The author could have taken more care about structure. I took 14 pages of hand written notes and I think, I needed them.
  • Sapolsky organizes a huge amount of technical neuroscience into a logical and memorable structure, so that the context and significance of all that info is clear. He emphasizes the interplay of various factors. Then he discusses the personal, social, political and legal consequences of that information, forming a coherent view of humanity. Brilliant! 717 pages
  • The chapter outline indicates the structure of the book and that helped me to maintain my orientation while reading.
  • We plan to set up another meeting and discuss parts of the book to make up for the missing structure. If we discuss the whole book in just one hour with several people it may get a bit chaotic.
  • We might then post questions for maybe one chapter at a time.

From the back cover:

"Why do human beings behave as they do?

We are capable of savage acts of violence but also spectacular feats of kindness: is one side of our nature destined to win out over the other?

Every act of human behaviour has multiple layers of causation, spiralling back seconds, minutes, hours, days, months, years, even centuries, right back to the dawn of time and the origins of our species.

In the epic sweep of history, how does our biology affect the arc of war and peace, justice and persecution? How have our brains evolved alongside our cultures?

This is the exhilarating story of human morality and the science underpinning the biggest question of all: what makes us human?

For those of you who think, this might be a little too heavy but are still interested in "science for beginners", start with one of these:

Bryson, Bill "A Short History of Nearly Everything" - 2003
- "The Body. A Guide for Occupants" - 2019

Harari, Yuval Noah "Sapiens. A Brief History of Mankind" (Hebrew: קיצור תולדות האנושות/Ḳizur Toldot Ha-Enoshut) - 2014
- Noah "Homo Deus. A Brief History of Tomorrow"- 2016

Wednesday 26 May 2021

Storm, Theodor "The Rider on the White Horse" and other tales

Storm, Theodor "The Rider on the White Horse and other tales" (German: Der Schimmelreiter und andere Erzählungen) - 1888

"Der Schimmelreiter" (The Rider on the White Horse aka The Dikegrave/The Dykemaster) - 1888
"Es waren zwei Königskinder" (There were two king's children) (title of a folk song) - 1884
"Bötjer Basch" (Cooper Basch) from "Bei kleinen Leuten" (At little people) - 1886
"Ein Doppelgänger" (A Double) - 1887

* * *

"The Rider on the White Horse" is well-known in Germany. Most people have heard of Hauke Haien, even if they haven't read the story or seen a play or a film with him.

There are not many Gothic novels from Germany and Theodor Storm was not exaclyt in the right time-frame and you can also classify the story as a legend but I think this might be one of the most successful books of the Gothic genre in the German language.

One of my favourite German authors, Thomas Mann, called it a "tremendous tale, with which Storm took his conception of the novella, as epic sister of drama, to unprecedented heights".

I read my first book by him in school (Pole Poppenspäler/Paul the Puppeteer) and that was more the classic German realism genre than these novellas here. I loved that story and Husum, Storm's hometown, the "grey town beside the sea", that still shows much of his life.

For some reason, I never read any of the novellas in this collection. I should have done a long, long time ago.

With his way of telling a story, Theodor Storm manages to create suspension in a unique way. You can't wait to turn the page to see what's going on next. Like many other books from this time, life by the sea was a constant battle with the forces of nature. And people were very superstitious, they used to believe in many old wives' tales as well as the Christian church. Bringing all these subjects together is probably one of the secrets behind this masterpiece.

But we don't just learn about nature in the 19th century, we also learn about the people who lived back then and how they coped with life. A good story.

From the back cover:
"The Rider on the White Horse begins as a ghost story. A traveler along the coast of the North Sea is caught in dangerously rough weather. Offshore he glimpses a spectral rider rising and plunging in the wind and rain. Taking shelter at an inn, the traveler mentions the apparition, and the local schoolmaster volunteers a story.

The story is both simple and subtle, and its peculiar power is to surprise us slowly. It is a story of determination, of a young man, Hauke Haien, living in a remote community (Storm depicts the village with the luminous precision of a Vermeer), who is out to make a name for himself and to remake his world. It is a story of devotion and disappointment, of pettiness and superstition, of spiritual pride and ultimate desolation, and of the beauty and indifference of the natural world. It is a story that opens up in the end to uncover the foundation of savagery on which human society rests.

Theodor Storm’s great novella, which will remind readers of the work of Thomas Hardy, is one of the supreme masterpieces of German literature."

The edition I read offers three more novellas. They have all been published separately in German but I couldn't find them as an English translation. They are probably in one of the collections you can find or on Project Gutenberg which I can't look into because it is blocked in Germany.

I have found a few of his stories here to read online: Angel Classics.
And some more on the English page about Theodor Storm and his works here.

"There were two king's children" (German: Es waren zwei Königskinder) (title of a folk song) - 1884

Reading the title, I have a melody in my head since it is the title of a German folk song or ballad. Like in the story, there are two young people who love each other but who can't get together.

If you would like to listen to the song, there are a few variations on YouTube, one of the nicest ones is here.

"Title of one of the folk-songs often sung by the music students in the story.  It relates the love affair of the student, Marx, which ends in his death."

"Bötjer Basch" (Cooper Basch) aus "Bei kleinen Leuten" - 1886

I had never heard of this story before but I really like it. Rather than fighting nature, the protagonist has to fight society. He is poor, his wife dies, his son goes to America to earn a living and disappears, there is nothing that doesn't overcome cooper Basch. But he soldiers on and there is a happy end.

"When the old sister of the cooper Daniel Basch goes into the poorhouse, he has the means to marry Line, the Harbour Master's daughter. She dies in childbirth, however, when their son Fritz is just six years old. Liked by all, the boy becomes a competent workman, and goes to America leaving his pet bullfinch with his father. A false report of his death and the theft of the bullfinch cause Daniel to attempt to drown himself but is eventually saved. Nearly dying of pneumonia, however, he is saved by the return of Fritz and the bullfinch. Fritz takes over the business and marries Magdalene, the daughter of his old teacher.


"A Double" (German: Ein Doppelgänger) - 1887

Another gripping story that starts completely different than you think it will go on. And you only understand the title towards the end. Like in his other novellas, there seem to be two stories. A present and a past one, both not uninteresting but the past one is the more intriguing one.

I don't know how well he is translated but the original is beautiful.

"The narrator meets a head forester in an inn near Jena and is invited to stay with him and meet his wife, Christine, who is also a North German.  It turns out that they come from the same town. As a child she was adopted by a clerical couple whose son is now her husband. The narrator is told by the forester that Christine's father was a man known as 'John Glückstadt' from the name of the prison where, as a very young man, he had served a five-year sentence for a robbery perpetrated out of mere bravado. He then realises why Christine thinks her father must have had a 'double', for she has a nebulous recollection of a violent man who ill-treated her mother, though her conscious memory of John Hansen is of a particularly loving father. John married Hanna, but in spite of his love for her and their child, the scorn of all for the jailbird, and his inability to earn more than a pittance because of this, so disturbed him that he took to beating his wife. One day he hit her and in falling she knocked her head against the stove and died. John never again gave way to anger, but centred his life on Christine and made her happy, although they were often near to starvation. He met his death on a pitch-black night by falling into a deep well, around which the tale revolves."

Tuesday 25 May 2021

Top Ten Tuesday ~ Top Ten Book Quotes


"Top Ten Tuesday" is an original feature/weekly meme created on the blog "The Broke and the Bookish". This feature was created because they are particularly fond of lists at "The Broke and the Bookish".

It is now hosted by Jana from That Artsy Reader Girl.

Since I am just as fond of them as they are, I jump at the chance to share my lists with them! Have a look at their page, there are lots of other bloggers who share their lists here.

This week's topic is: Book Quotes that Fit X Theme
(Pick any theme you want, i.e., motivational quotes, romantic dialogues, hunger-inducing quotes, quotes that fill you with hope, quotes on defeating adversity, quotes that present strong emotions, healing, etc. and then select quotes from books that fit that theme.)

I share some quotes about reading and books most Fridays (see here), so today I wanted to do something else, still quotes from books. The famous "first lines". I always say I do judge books by their covers, as I mentioned in my post here, but do we also judge books by their first lines?

There are many different kind of first lines, those, that give away something about the story, those, that make you curious, those that start in the middle of the book, those that become great quotes, and those that become a story of their own.

"It was a pleasure to burn."
Bradbury, Ray "Fahrenheit 451" - 1953

"You are about to begin reading Italo Calvino's new novel, If on a winter's night a traveler."
Calvino, Italo "If on a Winter’s Night a Traveller" (Italian: Se una notte d’inverno un viaggiatore) - 1979

"Mother died today. Or maybe, yesterday; I can't be sure."
Camus, Albert "The Stranger" (aka "The Outsider") (French: L'étranger) - 1942

"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair."
Dickens, Charles "A Tale of Two Cities" - 1859

"Whether I shall turn out to be the hero of my own life, or whether that station will be held by anybody else, these pages must show."
Dickens, Charles "David Copperfield" - 1850

"They shoot the white girl first."
Morrison, Toni "Paradise" - 1998

"They say when trouble comes close ranks, and so the white people did."
Rhys, Jean "Wide Sargasso Sea" - 1966 (Prequel to "Jane Eyre" by Charlotte Brontë)

"Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way."
Tolstoy, Leo (Толстой, Лев Николаевич) "Anna Karenina" (Russian: Анна Каренина = Anna Karenina) - 1877

"You better not never tell nobody but God."
Walker, Alice "The Color Purple" - 1982

"The Gunman is useless."
Zusak, Markus "The Messenger" - 2002

Friday 21 May 2021

Book Quotes of the Week

"What does reading mean to me? For me it is like breathing, so vital, so basal, a necessity I cannot live without. Reading is my comfort and my retreat. Without reading I can exist, but I cannot thrive." Neena H. Brar

Yes, no life without reading.

"I enjoy sharing my books as I do my friends, asking only that you treat them well and see them safely home." Ernest Morgan

Exactly. I am more than happy to share a book, it's like sharing your soul. 

"Read good authors, that you may know what English is. You will find it to be a language very rarely written nowadays and yet the grandest of all human tongues." C.H. Spurgeon

I always recommend reading books in other languages because it helps so much with improving them.

Find more book quotes here.

Thursday 20 May 2021

Bulgakov, Michail "The Master and Margarita"

Bulgakow, Michail "The Master and Margarita" (Russian: Мастер и Маргарита/Master i Margarita) - 1929-39

When the last "classics spin" number was drawn, I got this book to read. One of my blogger friends (Emma from Words and Peace) recommended I read an edition with many annotations. Since I had the book already (I bought it a couple of years ago when Russia was the theme of a German book fair) and it had no annotations, I searched the net and there are some great sites that explain all the meanings of almost every sentence meticulously.

These pages were especially helpful:
Master & Margarita (in several languages)
Along with much information on the novel, you will also find on this site different films and TV-series based on The Master and Margarita, and subtitled in English by your webmaster.
LitCharts (including a study guide)
Get Abstract (in German)
Inhaltsangaben 24 (in German)

And then there are some good blog posts about the book (I happily include yours if you let me know the link):
Words and Peace, one of my favourite blogs, Emma has a very diverse page and always gives the greatest tips.
Resolute Reader
A Guy’s Moleskine Notebook who reviewed it even twice, first here and then here.

Those sites were very helpful to understand the background of the novel but I think I would have enjoyed it just by itself, as well. And I surely could see some of the links to the Soviet Union. However, being interested in all these subjects, history, politics, religion, it made it even more fascinating.

What a book. Of course, from authors like Bulgakov, you foresee criticism of the Soviet State, it's expected. Bureaucracy is just as much criticized as oppression and everything that deviates from Karl Marx' original idea of communism.

But this book has so many more layers. There is a novel within the novel about Pontius Pilate and Jesus' last days, his friends and foes. The way, the two stories come together, is quite fascinating. There is a huge amount of references to both literature and history.

The book definitely gives us a lot of food for thought. The devil comes visiting Moscow together with some ominous companions, one of them a big black cat. As a result, the whole city is upside down.

I don't think it is possible to explain the concept of the book to anyone. You have to read it yourself, and if you really want to get down to the nitty-gritty, definitely have to read it with explanations. It's part fairy tale, part mystic realism, definitely political criticism, part comedy, part tragedy. It's not the easiest of reads but definitely one of the most worthiest.

And it certainly is one of the books I will want to read again.

From the back cover:

"Surely, no stranger work exists in the annals of protest literature than The Master and Margarita. Written during the Soviet crackdown of the 1930s, when Mikhail Bulgakov's works were effectively banned, it wraps its anti-Stalinist message in a complex allegory of good and evil. Or would that be the other way around? The book's chief character is Satan, who appears in the guise of a foreigner and self-proclaimed black magician named Woland. Accompanied by a talking black tomcat and a "translator" wearing a jockey's cap and cracked pince-nez, Woland wreaks havoc throughout literary Moscow. First, he predicts that the head of noted editor Berlioz will be cut off; when it is, he appropriates Berlioz's apartment. (A puzzled relative receives the following telegram: "Have just been run over by streetcar at Patriarch's Ponds funeral Friday three afternoon come Berlioz.") Woland and his minions transport one bureaucrat to Yalta, make another one disappear entirely except for his suit, and frighten several others so badly that they end up in a psychiatric hospital. In fact, it seems half of Moscow shows up in the bin, demanding to be placed in a locked cell for protection.

Meanwhile, a few doors down in the hospital lives the true object of Woland's visit: the author of an unpublished novel about Pontius Pilate. This Master - as he calls himself - has been driven mad by rejection, broken not only by editors' harsh criticism of his novel but, Bulgakov suggests, by political persecution as well. Yet Pilate's story becomes a kind of parallel narrative, appearing in different forms throughout Bulgakov's novel: as a manuscript read by the Master's indefatigable love, Margarita, as a scene dreamed by the poet - and fellow lunatic - Ivan Homeless, and even as a story told by Woland himself. Since we see this narrative from so many different points of view, who is truly its author? Given that the Master's novel and this one end the same way, are they in fact the same book? These are only a few of the many questions Bulgakov provokes, in a novel that reads like a set of infinitely nested Russian dolls: inside one narrative there is another, and then another, and yet another. His devil is not only entertaining, he is necessary: "What would your good be doing if there were no evil, and what would the earth look like if shadows disappeared from it?"

Unsurprisingly - in view of its frequent, scarcely disguised references to interrogation and terror - Bulgakov's master work was not published until 1967, almost three decades after his death. Yet one wonders if the world was really ready for this book in the late 1930s, if, indeed, we are ready for it now. Shocking, touching, and scathingly funny, it is a novel like no other. Woland may re-attach heads or produce 10-ruble notes from the air, but Bulgakov proves to be the true magician here. The Master and Margarita is a different book each time it is opened. - Mary Park"

It's always interesting to see the different kind of covers from different countries or different times but this one has as many fascinating editions, I just had to put a few together. You can find them all on Goodreads. I think it shows the diversity of the book and how different people perceive it.

Tuesday 18 May 2021

Top Ten Tuesday ~ Top Twelve Book Titles That Are Complete Sentences

"Top Ten Tuesday" is an original feature/weekly meme created on the blog "The Broke and the Bookish". This feature was created because they are particularly fond of lists at "The Broke and the Bookish".

It is now hosted by Jana from That Artsy Reader Girl.

Since I am just as fond of them as they are, I jump at the chance to share my lists with them! Have a look at their page, there are lots of other bloggers who share their lists here.

This week's topic is: Book Titles That Are Complete Sentences

I found so many of them, I just had to alter the title TTT a little, going from Top Ten to Top Twelve. I copied that from another blogger, so kudos go to Lindsey @ Lindsey Reads.

Christie, Agatha "And then there were none" - 1939

de Beauvoir, Simone "She came to stay" (French: L'invitée) - 1943

Dick, Philip K. "Do androids dream of electric sheep?" - 1968

Gavalda, Anna "I wish someone were waiting for me somewhere" (French: Je voudrais quelqu’un m’attende quelque part) - 1999

Grjasnowa, Olga "All Russians love birch trees" (German: Der Russe ist einer, der Birken liebt) - 2012

Hansen, Dörte "This house is mine" (German: Altes Land) - 2015

Kemal, Yaşar "The birds have also gone" (Turkish: Kuşlar da Gitti) - 1978

Lamb, Wally "I know this much is true" - 1998

Malouf, David "Fly away Peter" - 1979

Mantel, Hilary "Bring up the bodies" - 2012

Shriver, Lionel "We need to talk about Kevin" - 2003

Stanišić, Saša "How the soldier repairs the gramophone" (German: Wie der Soldat das Grammofon repariert) - 2006

After I put together that list, I thought, maybe one could write a story with all those sentences. Would certainly be a funny read.

Monday 17 May 2021

Zusak, Markus "The Messenger"

Zusak, Markus "The Messenger" (US: I am the Messenger) - 2002

A couple of years ago, I read "The Book Thief" with my book club and really loved it.  Not just me, the other book club members were also full of praise. I always thought that was the author's first book but that is not the case and when I found out, I had to read at least one more of his books. And this will probably not be my last one, either. Because I loved this even more.

We get to know Ed Kennedy and his friends, all more or less "losers" who don't have a brilliant future in their lives. Ed's siblings went to university, he is a taxi driver with not formal education. His friends are in similar situations. That's when Ed becomes "The Messenger".

I loved all the messages he had to deliver, they were compassionate and showed a lot of empathy. And that's how I came to love Ed, as well. What a wonderful young man. And most of the recipients of the messages are wonderful, as well. We learn that we can help others just by being there, lending an ear, buying them an ice cream … It doesn't need much to be the hero in someone else's life and we don't always need a reward for that, either. The book itself contains a great message.


Needless to say, I love his writing style.

From the back cover:

"protect the diamonds
survive the clubs
dig deep through the spades
feel the hearts

Ed Kennedy is an underage cabdriver without much of a future. He's pathetic at playing cards, hopelessly in love with his best friend, Audrey, and utterly devoted to his coffee-drinking dog, the Doorman. His life is one of peaceful routine and incompetence until he inadvertently stops a bank robbery.

That's when the first ace arrives in the mail.

That's when Ed becomes the messenger.

Chosen to care, he makes his way through town helping and hurting (when necessary) until only one question remains: Who's behind Ed's mission?

Friday 14 May 2021

Book Quotes of the Week

"Writing nonfiction is more like sculpture, a matter of shaping the research into the finished thing. Novels are like paintings, specifically watercolours. Every stroke you put down you have to go with." Joan Didion

I like that comparison. In any case, authors are just as great artists as painters and sculptors.

"He never went out without a book under his arm, and he often came back with two."
Victor Hugo, Les Misérables

Who hasn't done that every other day? The first one, of couse, never leave the house without anything to read. 

"I would say it weighs as much as 2 hard covers!" Mayersche Buchhandlung

And I would say that's a good way of comparing weights!.

Find more book quotes here.

Tuesday 11 May 2021

Top Ten Tuesday ~ Top Ten Books with Trees on the Cover

"Top Ten Tuesday" is an original feature/weekly meme created on the blog "The Broke and the Bookish". This feature was created because they are particularly fond of lists at "The Broke and the Bookish".

It is now hosted by Jana from That Artsy Reader Girl.

Since I am just as fond of them as they are, I jump at the chance to share my lists with them! Have a look at their page, there are lots of other bloggers who share their lists here.

This week's topic is: Books with Nature on the Cover (flowers, trees, landscapes, animals, etc.)

Nature on the cover. Nature can be many things, as Jana says, flowers, trees, landscapes animals or anything else that's beautiful juust by itself.

I have always loved trees, especially if it's just a single tree standing majestically in the middle of a field. So, it was clear to me that I had to look for books that have a tree on its cover.

I found many and it was hard to weed out the books until I was down to ten. I hope you enjoy them as much as I do.
Brontë, Emily "Wuthering Heights" - 1847
Drinkwater, Carol "The Olive Farm: A Memoir of Life, Love and Olive Oil in the South of France" - 2001
Droste-Hülshoff, Annette von "The Jew's Beech" (German: Die Judenbuche) - 1842
Frazier, Charles "Nightwoods" - 2011
Guterson, David "The Other" - 2008
Powers, Charles T. "In the Memory of the Forest" - 1997
Powers, Richard "The Overstory" - 2018
Tokarczuk, Olga "Primeval and Other Times" (Polish: Prawiek i inne czasy) - 1996
Zweig, Stefanie "Nowhere in Africa" (German: Nirgendwo in Afrika) - 1995

Monday 10 May 2021

See, Lisa "Snow Flower and the Secret Fan"

See, Lisa "Snow Flower and the Secret Fan" - 2005

Lily and her friend Snow Flower were both born on "the fifth day of the sixth month of the third year of the Daoguang Emperor's reign" which translated into June 5, 1824 in our calendar. Because of that and some other traits they have in common, they are destined to be "laotong", we would probably say BFFs (best friends forever) today. Yet, same as their husbands, they don't choose the laotong themselves, it's the stars that predict it.

I have already read another book by Lisa See, "Peony in Love", where she mainly writes about the Chinese culture about death and how to take care of your dead ancestors. This one is more about the living, especially the women, the way women in the 19th century in China lived. Not only were they more or less confined to the women's chambers (and the kitchen) of the house, they also had to endure foot binding. This horrible custom gets described very well in this book and while I have read many books about China (my first ones were by Pearl S. Buck when I was a teenager), I don't recall it ever being described so vividly. It's also interesting to see how important it was to have small feet, the smaller, the more marriageable a young girl would be, the better her station in life later on.

It is hard for us today to even understand how parents could do that to their children. And how women were treated in general. How could a mother do that to her daughter? Well, first of all, they all get told all their life that women aren't worth anything and that they raise their daughters for another family. But they want them to have a comfortable or at least half-way decent life. And culture dictated that women had to have small feet. The smaller the feet, the better the marriage. I doubt I could have done that today but it's easy to make that judgment from our point of view. We can decide not to get married or choose our own husbands without big problems. But back then it was essential for survival.

But we also read about Nü Shu, a secret phonetic form of 'women's writing which is something that fascinated me from the moment I heard about it. And the custom that a woman only started living with her husband (and his family) once she had given birth to her first child. Until then, she stayed with her parents and then she would only return to them on certain days of the year when everyone else did the same.

In the book, Lily starts looking back at her life from the view of an 80-year-old woman. She tells us all about her life in her native family, her married family, her friendship and breakup with Snow Flower, her life during the Taiping Rebellion (Wikipedia), her roles as daughter, wife, mother, friend. She doesn't leave anything out.

I also thought it was interesting how important horoscopes were. Lily and Snow Flower were horses which meant they were free-spirited and independent, but also hardworking.

But the language in the book is also beautiful, makes you want to read on and on.

A very interesting novel if you are interested in history, China, or the life or women in general.

From the back cover:

"In nineteenth-century China, in a remote Hunan county, a girl named Lily, at the tender age of seven, is paired with a laotong, 'old same', in an emotional match that will last a lifetime. The laotong, Snow Flower, introduces herself by sending Lily a silk fan on which she’s painted a poem in nu shu, a unique language that Chinese women created in order to communicate in secret, away from the influence of men.

As the years pass, Lily and Snow Flower send messages on fans, compose stories on handkerchiefs, reaching out of isolation to share their hopes, dreams, and accomplishments. Together, they endure the agony of foot-binding, and reflect upon their arranged marriages, shared loneliness, and the joys and tragedies of motherhood. The two find solace, developing a bond that keeps their spirits alive. But when a misunderstanding arises, their deep friendship suddenly threatens to tear apart.

Friday 7 May 2021

Book Quotes of the Week

"There is something wonderful about a book. We can pick it up. We can heft it. We can read it. We can set it down. We can think of what we have read. It does something for us. We can share minds, great actions, and great undertakings in the pages of a book." Gordon B. Hinckley

True, there is so much in and about a book. But the best part of all is that you can read it.

"Strange, isn’t it? To love a book. When the words on the pages become so precious that they feel like part of your own history because they are. It’s nice to finally have someone read stories I know so intimately." Erin Morgenstern, Starless Sea

That is definitely strange. A book can become life. But we have to open the cover and start reading. Good luck! 

"It's always better to have too much to read than not enough." Anne Patchett

Story of my life. I doubt I'll ever run out of reading material and that's a calming thought.  

Find more book quotes here.

Thursday 6 May 2021

Stroyar, J.N. "Becoming Them"

Stroyar, J.N. "Becoming Them" (The Children's War Book 3) - 2017

Ten years ago, I read "The Children's War" and "A Change of Regime", one of the best books I ever read and still my favourite. As a German, having to live with the consequences of one of the most terrible wars ever, I have always asked myself what would have happened if the Nazis had won the war. We all would have lost, that's for sure. J.N. Stroyar has brought these thoughts to paper and painted a very vivid picture in her first two books. Then, one day, I learned there was a third one. Wow! I couldn't believe it. I was lucky to find a copy. I have no idea why these books don't get reprinted, I know so many people who would love to read it.

So, I finally found a copy. It had been ten years since I read the first two books. Would I remember enough to jump right back in? Looks like I didn't even have to. The author was so clever to include a ten pages of summary in the front where she retells the story for those who want to review what was in the first books and it might even be enough for those who never read the first ones. I think this should be obligatory for any sequel to any book. Makes reading the follow-up so much easer.

They say on the back cover "the long awaited finale". I didn't even know there was to be a finale. I didn't even know there would be a third book. Mainly, I think, because so little is known about the author. All I know is that she's a US physisict who used to live in German (Frankfurt, I believe) and now lives partly in London and partly in the USA. And that she won the "Sidewise Award" in 2001, an annual award for "Alternate History". She doesn't even have a Wikipedia page. So, I haven't seen anywhere that she was writing a third story.

In this final book of the trilogy, we see how everything gets together in the end, how the long and arduous underground work finally leads to the end of the Nazi party. But not without many, many difficulties first. This third book is just as fascinating, exciting and thrilling as the first two. I hope many people will be able to read it.

I also hope that the author is going to write more books.

Quote from Wikipedia:
"The Bradenton Herald described The Children's War as 'a brutal look at what might have been and a reminder of the price of freedom.'"
So very exact and true.

From the back cover:

"The long awaited finale of The Children’s War is presented in Becoming Them. Drawn from genuine historical incidents and people, both from the past and the present, the story examines the psychology of war, torture, and resistance, of guilt and innocence.

Set in a world sixty years after the conquest of Europe by Nazi Germany, the resistance movement continues its struggle for freedom, passing their war on from generation to generation. Peter Halifax, one-time member of the English Underground, has just been released from prison and now works with his assassin wife Zosia Król in Berlin under the direction of her brother, Ryszard, who, as his alter-ego Colonel Richard Traugutt, is second in command of the Third Reich. Together they attempt to collapse the Nazi Party and reform the Reich from within.

The story begins in London where Peter has been sent to liaise with the English Underground as a member of the newly formed Nichtdeutsch Council, but instead he becomes the target of an assassination attempt. It is only one indication of the growing chaos and violence in the Reich as the population becomes disenchanted with the dithering leadership of their new Fuhrer, Josef Frauenfeld.

As a member of the Nichtdeutsch Council, Zosia attempts to organize the various opposition factions into a coherent movement while struggling to raise her family, carefully keeping her three children away from Berlin high society where Magdalena, who is Elspeth’s and Peter’s daughter, might be recognized. She also maintains contact with her base in the Carpathian mountains and undertakes jobs for them that lead her into ever more questionable actions.

Richard Traugutt, as special advisor to the Fuhrer, works to change the laws of the Reich to give more rights and freedoms to its subjects, but he is endlessly stymied by Frauenfeld who has fallen under the sway of Richard’s enemies, the Lederman brothers, who are staunch supporters of the racial categorizations of Reich law. In an attempt to shatter Frauenfeld’s illusions about the rigid class system, Richard maneuvers Peter, who is still classified as subhuman, into the highest tiers of Berlin society, into re-establishing his illicit relationship with Elspeth Vogel, and even into befriending the Fuhrer in the hopes of causing a cultural clash that will force Frauenfeld to re-evaluate his adherence to Nazi philosophy. Traugutt’s plan falls foul of all his directives, and his determination to follow his own personal agenda for reform, ruthlessly manipulating people and events to maximize their effectiveness – whatever the personal cost – results in constant conflict with his allies and a withdrawal of support from the Underground hierarchy.

As their plots unfold and the Resistance begins to tear itself apart, the past comes back to haunt them all, sowing distrust and fear among the conspirators. With each passing month they more and more come to resemble that which they hate. Their loyalties are frayed, their motives are questioned, trusted comrades turn traitor, and their enemies grow in power. Time is running out.

As background to the story, Becoming Them contains a complete summary of both
The Children’s War and A Change of Regime."

See more comments on my ThrowbackThursday post in 2021.

Tuesday 4 May 2021

Top Ten Tuesday ~ My Ten Most Recent Favourite Reads

"Top Ten Tuesday" is an original feature/weekly meme created on the blog "The Broke and the Bookish". This feature was created because they are particularly fond of lists at "The Broke and the Bookish".

It is now hosted by Jana from That Artsy Reader Girl.

Since I am just as fond of them as they are, I jump at the chance to share my lists with them! Have a look at their page, there are lots of other bloggers who share their lists here.

This week's topic is: My Ten Most Recent Reads

I thought it would be too easy to just share the last ten reads, so I thought I'd share the last ten reads of this year I enjoyed the most.

I was surprised how many of them were either about women oppressed or whole countries or parts of them oppressed.

Dickens, Charles "The Old Curiosity Shop" - 1840
Charles Dickens is one of my favourite authors and even though this is not his best book, it certainly is good enough to make it into my top ten. Nobody can tell us about poverty in the 19th century better than Mr. Dickens.

Elliot, Jason "An Unexpected Light. Travels in Afghanistan" - 1999
I have read many books about Afghanistan but next to "The Sewing Circles of Herat" by Christina Lamb, this is certainly one of the best reports about this country. Written by a guy who travelled through it during all kinds of dangerous times and really got to know the people.

Gogol, Nikolai (Никола́й Васи́льевич Го́голь, Nikolay Vasilyevich Gogol) "The Overcoat. Stories from Russia" (Russian: Шинел/Shinyeliь) (German collection: Gogols Mantel. Erzählungen aus Russland) - 1842 et al.
If you like Russian authors, you will certainly find one or probably more among the authors in this collection of short stories.

Hansen, Dörte "Mittagsstunde" [Lunchtime] - 2018
A German book that has not been translated. Yet. Her first book, This House is Mine, has been, so I am hopeful this will be finding its way onto English speaking shelves, as well. A good story about the end of many villages, and this doesn't just happen in Germany.

Harris, Kamala "The Truths We Hold. An American Journey" - 2019
Do I need to explain who Kamala Harris is? I hope not. I have read this book shortly after she was elected vice president of the USA. What a fantastic woman.

Jacobs, Harriet Ann (Linda Brent) "Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl" - 1861
One of my books on my classics list. I have read lots of books about slavery but this one was actually written by a slave herself. With all her thoughts and fears.

Lee, Min Jin "Pachinko" - 2017
A book about Korean immigrants in Japan. Nobody wants them there and people are awful to them. A great book for anyone, especially those who have to deal with foreigners in their own country.

Obama, Barack "Of Thee I Sing: A Letter to my Daughters" - 2010
I have read some books by Barack Obama whom I greatly admire but not a children's book, yet. This one is wonderful.

See, Lisa "Snow Flower and the Secret Fan" - 2005
After reading "Peony in Love" by the same author, I was looking forward to this one. While "Peony" is about Chinese tradition and their beliefs of the afterlife, "Snow Flower" is about the life of women in 19 century China.

Stroyar, J.N. "Becoming Them" (The Children's War Book 3) - 2017
"The Children's War" and "A Change of Regime" belong to my all-time favourite books, so I had to read "Becoming Them". It's a good finish of a long, long story.

Monday 3 May 2021

Andersson, Per J. "From the Swede who took the train and saw the world with different eyes"

Andersson, Per J. "From the Swede who took the train and saw the world with different eyes" (aka: Take the train: on the track through history, present and future) (Swedish: Ta tåget: på spåret genom historien, samtiden och framtiden) - 2019

This is one of the books where I found an English title (even two English titles in this case) but no picture of the cover. So, I hope it has been translated. If not, sorry, let's hope it will get a translation. Because it is a good book. It's not what I expected. It thought this was a description of his travels. And it is, in a way. But it was more a description of his time in the train in order to get to the places rather than about the places itself.

It starts by the author travelling by train with his parents as a little child. It includes a description of his grandparents who worked for the train company in Sweden. Then he goes on how he travelled as a teenager by interrail and later with his children when they reached that age. He visits Italy and Germany, India and Nepal, the USA, takes the Orient Express. And mainly, he advocates travels by train in order to save the world.

I used to take the train a lot when I was younger. From fifth grade onwards, I took the train to get to my secondary school, at the beginning it was even a steam train which always amazes most of my American friends. Then, I used it to get to work. I also participated in the Interrail community, I went to Scandinavia (Denmark, Sweden, Finland) with it, Great memories. And all in all, a very well written book.

The author also mentioned quite a few films that include train rides:
The Arrival of a Train (French: L'arrivée d'un train en gare de La Ciotat), 1896
The General, 1926
The Lady Vanishes, 1938
Tåg 56, 1943
Brief Encounter, 1945
Strangers on a Train, 1951 (Hitchcock)
North by Northwest, 1959 (Hitchcock)
From Russia with Love, 1963 (James Bond)
The Train, 1964
Closely watched trains (Czech: Ostře sledované vlaky), 1966
The Taking of Pelham One Two Three, 1974
Runaway Train 1985
Darjeeling Limited, 2007

Then there are books that mention train rides:
Greene, Graham "Stamboul Train" - 1932
Christie, Agatha "Murder on the Orient Express" - 1934 (the story was also turned into several wonderful films, my favourite Hercule Poirot is, of course, David Suchet, but the greatest landscapes can be seen in the recent one by Sir Kenneth Branagh)
Guthrie, Woodie "This Land is My Land" - 1943
Theroux, Paul "The Great Railway Bazaar" - 1975
MacLean, Alistair "Death Train" - 1989
Diskis, Jenny "Stranger on a Train - Daydreaming and Smoking Around America" - 2002
Nair, Anita "Ladies Coupé" - 2001
Liksom, Rosa "Compartment No. 6" (Finnish: Hytti nro 6) - 2012

I am sure we can all find other books where trains play an important role. I can think of a few, some of them I've read, others are on my wishlist, others I just came across.

Christie, Agatha "4:50 from Paddington" - 1957
- "The Mystery of the Blue Train" - 1928
Dickens, Charles "Dombey and Son" - 1848
Fowler, Christopher "Hell Train" - 2011
Hawkins, Paula "The Girl on the Train" - 2015
Hay, Ashley "The Railwayman's Wife" - 2013
Highsmith, Patricia "Strangers on a Train" - 1950
MacNeill, Alastair "Alistair MacLean's Death Train" - 1989
Mercier, Pascal "Night Train to Lisbon" (German: Nachtzug nach Lissabon) - 2004
Nesbit, E "The Railway Children" - 1906
Pasternak, Boris "Doctor Zhivago" (Russian: Доктор Живаго = Doktor Živago) - 1957
Rowling, J.K. "Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone" (US: "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone) - 1997
Stoker, Bram "Dracula" - 1897
Tolstoy, Leo (Толстой, Лев Николаевич) "Anna Karenina" (Russian: Анна Каренина = Anna Karenina) - 1877
Verne, Jules "Around the World in Eighty Days" (French: Le tour du monde en quatre-vingts jours) - 1873

He also has a good website (in Swedish): Bloggarvagabond

And this is the German cover:

From the back cover: (Description here.)

"All Aboard! How You Learn to Stop Worrying About Climate Change and Love to Travel by Train
Per J. Andersson

A powerful reflection on the importance of train travel and a mesmerizing love letter to trains

In times of climate change and shifting global powers, traveling by train can offer not only a green alternative but also fascinating way of exploring the distance between two places and the people you meet on the way…

In this book Per J Andersson makes us his travel companions on enthralling train rides throughout the world. We embark on classic train journeys through the gruff North of England and on Indian railroads, on exhausting long-haul train rides through America and even on a trip on the infamous Orient Express from Paris to Istanbul.

While we watch the world roll past us through the windows, Andersson tells us all about what we see and about everything else hidden from our view: from stories and meanings behind train stations to the multi-layered history of train travel itself, its value in different times and places, how humans experience and use trains and what impact the railway will have in the future. As trains represent participation, social responsibility and environmental awareness, everyone who believes in a future for the railway also believes in the value of caring for future generations.

Per J. Andersson has written an exciting and informative book that will make every train ride an astonishing experience.

Saturday 1 May 2021

Six Degrees of Separation ~ Beezus and Ramona

 Beezus and Ramona

Cleary, Beverly "Beezus and Ramona" - 1955

 #6Degrees of Separation: from Beezus and Ramona (Goodreads) to Samuel August from Sevedstorp and Hanna from Hult

#6Degrees is a monthly link-up hosted by Kate at Books Are My Favourite and Best. I love the idea. See more about this challenge, its history, further books and how I found this here.

This month’s prompt starts with Beezus and Ramona by Beverly Cleary. It was chosen in honour of the author who died last month.

It's always interesting to see how the covers, especially of children's books, change over the years. Since I haven't read anything by Beverly Cleary, I thought I make a little image strip of some of the covers. I don't remember seeing anything by Beverly Cleary in Germany when I was little and my boys were not much into her, the books were "too girly". 

Since this book is about two girls whose names appear in the cover, I have chosen to list books with two names (mainly children), as well. Some of them are better known than others but I hope some people will find something that interests them.

Dai, Sijie "Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress" (French: Balzac et la Petite Tailleuse Chinoise) - 2002
Children growing up during the Chinese Cultural Revolution were often thrown into another life, from the city to the countryside and vice-versa.

Grimm, Jacob und Wilhelm "Jorinda and Joringel" [German: Jorinde und Joringel] - 1812
A fairy tale about two young people who fall in love but have to overcome some obstacles, as usual in fairy tales. You can find a link to the translation of this and other fairy tales in my link.

Busch, Wilhelm "Max and Moritz" (German: Max und Moritz) - 1865

Two very well-known boys in Germany, not the nicest of kids with not the best ending but it came to mind right away.

Atwood, Margaret "Oryx and Crake" (MaddAddam # 1) - 2003
The two main characters in this dystopian novel, Oryx and Crake, remind me of children, they are naïve and innocent. Let's hope we never get to this stage.

Shakib, Siba "Samira and Samir" (German: Samira und Samir) - 2004
Another world, another story about a girl growing up in Afghanistan with no chances to ever get out of a vicious circle … unless she changes her identity.

Lindgren, Astrid "Samuel August from Sevedstorp and Hanna from Hult aka A Love Story" (Swedish: En kärlekshistoria: Samuel August från Sevedstorp och Hanna i Hult) - 1975
The famous Swedish author tells us about the life of her parents. Of course, we don't just see them as children but that's where the story begins.

Look for further monthly separation posts here.