Wednesday, 27 April 2016

The Sage of Waterloo by Leona Francombe

The Content ReaderThis is a lovely and wonderful book, written by one of my Brontë friends, Leona Francombe. Leona is a very talented lady; not only does she write books but she is also a classical pianist.

Inspired by the battle of Waterloo which took place on 18 June 1815, on the huge plains outside Brussels, it has survived as one of the most famous battles. Leona has found a different angle  to describe the battle and the various people involved in it. She tells it from the point of view of William, a white rabbit, today living at Hougoumont, the farmhouse which held an important stand during the battle.
”Odors that I knew well - dandelions, for example - flooded the senses. Even with my dim vision I could see why: just beyond the fencing lay an entire, hallucinatory lawn of them.
Ah, yes… How well I remember my dandelion lesson.
”Life cannot be lived secondhand, William! (Old Lavender again.) ”No one can truly describe a dandelion. You must experience one yourself - even if it means taking a risk. And you can’t say you’ve lived until you’ve taken at least one risk. Can you?”
When I first heard that it was told from a rabbit’s point of view, I was a little bit doubtful. Then I remembered the wonderful Watership Down by Richard Adams, so I opened the book with great anticipation. It does not disappoint you. This novel has hit ”one of my favourite books” list without doubt.

Monday, 25 April 2016

Amazing photos!

If you haven't discovered the amazing photographer and photo shopper Erik Johansson, here is the opportunity. Amazing photos! Check out his web-site.

Landfall by Erik Johansson

Sunday, 24 April 2016

Blekingegatan 32 by Lena Einhorn

I read another historical fiction by Lena Einhorn, some years ago. It was Siri, about Siri von Essen, the first wife of August Strindberg. It was excellent, so when I saw this book, which is about the early years of Greta Garbo, I grabbed it. It does not disappoint. Excellently and engagingly written.

Lena Einhorn is a physician, with a PhD in Virology and Tumor Biology, and has also done research ranging from tumor viruses, to the question of "what it is in embryonic life that strongly inhibits the development of cancer in fetuses and newborns". In the 1990s she changed her carrier into making television programs and writing books. She has also made a documentary of Greta Garbo and now using her research into her life, to write this book.

Garbo's story is rather well-known, especially her career. Here we get to know so much more about her, and I think Einhorn has managed to transfer the character of Garbo into this book. It is written with great respect for the person behind the name. We follow and live with her through the pages. Very early on it is clear that Garbo really is the reclusive person she was thought to be.

Her first relationship was with a man in Stockholm, Max, when she was still very young. After a while she ends it, he is very sad, and says to himself; "Greta, is there anyone who can have you?" I think this line is significant for her whole life. She decided who to be with, but she never gave all of herself in her relationships. Possibly only to Mimi.

When starting theatre school at the Dramatic theatre in Stockholm, she meets another young, aspiring actress, Mimi Pollak, and they become friends for life. Ms Pollak also made a successful acting career in Sweden. They spent as much time the could together, and their friendship slowly turned into a relationship. It was only in 2005, when the author saw the letters from Greta Garbo to Mimi Pollak, that she realised that their friendship was so much more and how much they really meant to each other. The son of Mimi Pollak published the letters after her death, and it is said that she kept them in her handbag all her life! There are extracts from the letters in the book.

As we know Garbo left for a successful career in Hollywood, although short. She had many relationships, but none lasting, at least what we know of. This was not for her. It is somewhat typical of her character to finish when she was on top. It seems she wanted to act, to be someone she wasn't, but only on her own conditions. A fascinating character indeed, and this fantastic historical fiction lets us have a peek on her life.

From Lena Einhorn's web-site I found this link to the book with a resumé in English

Saturday, 23 April 2016

The Sound of Silence!

This is what you have heard on this blog lately. I don't know what happened, but all of a sudden the
real world took over most of my attention! In March, my parents came to visit for two weeks. Great fun, since we don't see each other that often. At about the same time we sold our flat in Mallorca, which generated a lot of preparations.  For Easter we went there to finalise the signing and moving out of the flat. It was sad in a way, but we will come back to Mallorca. It is a lovely place!

Our plan was to buy another flat in Sweden. I knew already where and had seen the flat in a viewing some years ago. We settled down to wait for the relevant flat to come on the market, expecting to wait even a year or two. You can imagine the surprise when it came on the market this April! We went to Sweden for a day to have a look. I already knew I loved the flat, having seen it before, but the good thing was that my mister also loved it! We gave an offer and got it.

So you see I have been busy with contracts (boring but necessary) and all the administration around buying and selling. I have hardly had time, or could concentrate, to read, and only finished a few books. Now when everything is 'up and running' I will have time to concentrate on my blog again!

The five books I bought!
I did manage to visit the yearly Book festival in Mechelen, a suburb east of Brussels. Managed also to buy a few books, although I try to limit myself, as promised!. Most books were for my junk journaling ideas, and only a few for reading!

These I bought to use for junk journaling!
This book market also has a lot of scrap booking material, so this is where I spent a few euros! With all the new material coming in, I realised I had to organise my set of drawers where I keep most of it. More about that in a later post.

For journaling and scrap booking

...and these as well

This I bought for my son who is studying Geology
50 Minerals, the history that changed the world

...and this for my husband! 
In April, so far, I have read five books. Selected works by Alexander Pushkin, with some of his longer poems. Blekingegatan 32 by Lena Einhorn, is an historical fiction about the early life of Greta Garbo. Excellent book and review will follow. The Circle by Clive Eggers, I read for one of my book clubs, about the world being taken over by a huge digital company. Very much actual today, but I did not really like the book. It was interesting but a little bit repetitive and I could not connect with any of the characters, except maybe one. The Aspern Papers by Henry James, I read for the "Brontë Reading Group". I am really into Henry James for the moment and we had a very interesting discussion on the book. The last one I finished is How can one not be interested in Belgian History. The chapters collected from a symposium held in Dublin in 2005, and it is an interesting account, from various international authors. Review will follow.

I am presently reading a historical fiction by Lauren Willig The Secret History of the Pink Carnation which is about a history student obsessed with the Scarlet Pimpernell and his accomplices, and are looking into a still undisclosed spy from that time. This is one of the books I picked up from the book market!

Wednesday, 13 April 2016

2 x Henry James

Having read a while ago The Turn of the Screw and lately, What Maisie Knew and (for the second time) The Aspern Papers, Henry James is popping up as one of my favourite authors.

He is never an easy read. Well, easy enough to read, but his novels always end in a state of: WHAT! What does he mean? Why don’t we get any answers? It is really amazing.

A while ago I saw a movie based on his What Maisie Knew which I really liked. It was put in a modern setting, but I thought that the end would be more or less in line with James’ novel. So I was reading and reading, amazed over the characters that appears in the novel. Are any of them really sane? Some do seem so, but as mentioned above, James does not want to make it easy for us. Reading on, getting closer to the end, I was just expecting the rather happy ending that I had seen in the film. I was up for a surprise! The ending was neither happy nor unhappy, and definitely not as in the film. And then again, James leaves us with a question mark! Or maybe he wants us to make up our own ideas of the future for his characters.

In short, this novel is about Maisie who is a young girl who is torn between her mother and father when they divorce. They don’t seem to care very much about her, and only care when it means they can hurt each other. She grows up with a governess on both sides. Her mother marries a younger man who takes an interest in Maisie. Her father marries the governess who also takes an interest in Maisie. She ends up spending more time with the governesses and her new step-father than with her own parents. From here the story takes different turns. One thing is for sure. Henry James is never boring!

For the Brontë Reading Group we approached The Aspern Papers. It is said that the story is loosely based on  letters Percy Bysshe Shelley wrote to Mary Shelley’s stepsister, Claire Clairmont, who saved them until she died.

The narrator of the story is a publisher and editor and is preparing a book about the famous, since long dead, poet Jeffrey Aspern. He finds out that one of his mistresses, Juliana Bordereau, is still alive and is supposed to have letters from Aspern. Since all attempts to have access to the letters have been blocked by Juliana, the narrator enters into a scheme to get hold of them. He manages to rent rooms in the big, dilapidated palace in Venice where Juliana is living with her niece Tina. The two ladies are living in solemn solitude. The narrator manages to approach Miss Tina and after a while reveals his intentions. She promises to help him.

In true Henry James spirit a battle of the minds takes over. I will not reveal more, you just have to read this, excellent novella, one of James’ own favourites.

We had livid discussions on this novella in the group. A lot of different ideas about the characters and the scheme and on what really happened. The more we discussed, the more we entered into the characters presented in the book, and on what they really meant with their actions. Fantastic group to discuss books with!

Monday, 4 April 2016

Mount TBR Reading Challenge 2016 - Check Point #1

I joined Bev's challenge at My Reader's Block to lower the number of TBRs that seems to be a constant presence, in my home at least! I opted for Mt Everest, that is to read 100 books from my TBR piles.  I now have (after sorting out a few books I finally realised I will never read) 193 books on my shelves.  If I managed to read 100 there will be less than hundred for next year! Haha, well, if I don't buy any more in the meantime. I try to be rather strict with physical books at least for the time being. Here a first summary of my reading so far.

1. The life-changing magic of tidying by Marie Kondo
2. Our Man in Havanna by Graham Greene
3. Jailbird by Kurt Vonnegut
4. The German Woman by Paul Griner
5. Under jorden i Villette by Ingrid Hedström
6. The Almost Nearly Perfect People - Behind the Myth of the Scandinavian Utopia by Michael Booth
7. The High Mountains of Portugal by Yann Martel
8. The Lady and the Unicorn by Tracy Chevallier
9. Amsterdam - A History of the World's Most Liberal City by Russell Shorto
10. The Sage of Waterloo by Leona Francombe
11. Blekingegatan 32 by Lena Einhorn

 A. Post a picture of your favourite cover so far.  

I think it has to be this one from a historical fiction on Greta Garbo

 B. Who has been your favourite character so far? And tell us why, if you like.

Grandmother Old Lavender (a rabbit) from the wonderful story The Sage of Waterloo, which is told from a rabbit point of view. She has the wisdom learned through generations, tells the history of the battle and the people involved and always has a word of wisdom to sooth her grandson William.

 C. Have any of the books you read surprised you--if so, in what way (not as good as anticipated? unexpected ending? Best thing you've read ever? Etc.)

I have to choose The Sage of Waterloo here as well. A surprisingly human story from a rabbit perspective and with a wonderful twist in the end. On top of this a beautiful, almost poetic prose.

 D. Title Scrabble: See if you can spell a word using the first letter of the first word in the titles of some/all of the books you have read so far. Feel free to consider "A," "An," or "The" as the first word or not as it helps you with your word hunt.

My word BLOG!

Blekingegatan 32 by Lena Einhorn
The Lady and the Unicorn by Tracy Chevallier
Our Man in Havanna by Graham Greene
The German Woman by Paul Griner

Great challenge, thanks for hosting Bev!

Back to blogging!

It has been a busy month for me, so as a consequence, the blogging has been suffering. First my parents were here for two weeks which was very nice. We don't meet that often. Then we were preparing documents for the sale of our flat in Mallorca. Last week saw us there, emptying the flat and finalising the sell contract. A lot of work! At the same time it was sad to leave this wonderful apartment, but it was too big for us and a lot of work. Next time we go to Mallorca we rent something and just enjoy this wonderful island, where you always discover something new.

The Content Reader
View from the Cathedral in Palma
Reading has been a little bit slow as well, but I have managed to finish a few books in March. I also wrote four reviews. Reviews will come for the wonderful The Sage of Waterloo by my Brontë group friend Leona Francombe, for an interesting audio book on Che by Björn Kummas well as What Maise Knew by Henry James. It is not that easy to review his novels, since, once you have finished the book, you start wondering what he meant! On Saturday I read a very interesting historical fiction on Great Garbo, Blekingegatan 32 (this is the address where she lived in Stockholm) by Lena Einhorn.

The Content Reader

I have been following your posts on feedly, so is rather up to date. Still some more commenting to do. I only read six books in March, although I have a hunch at the back of my head that I have forgotten to mention another read! Have to check when I come home.

All the best for reading in April! Hope to read some more from my TBR shelves, which are also connected to several of my challenges. I have already started The Sleepwalkers, The Prague Cemetery, The Knights Templar in Britain and a book about Belgian History. Hopefully, I will finish all of them in April.

Tuesday, 22 March 2016

The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins

The Content Reader

The first book I read by Wilkie Collins was The Moonstone, considered to be one of the first detective stories in the English language. It was written in 1868. I really loved it; the way it was written and the story. To my surprise, The Woman in White was written earlier, already in 1859. By this time Collins had become friends with Charles Dickens and this novel, as most of his other novels, were serialised before they were printed. That is, of course, why it is such a long book. By the time I had read about one third, I could not possibly imagine what was going to take place in the next two thirds of the book. Well, I was about to see.

The more I got into the book, the more difficult it was to put down. I really loved it. The story absolutely fascinated me, and although it is one of those ’slow’ books where nothing much seem to happen, there is a continuous development of the story, in its own slow pace.
It is built up by extracts of most, but not all, of the persons involved in the mystery. It starts with Walter Hartright, when he, one evening on his way home meets the mysterious woman in white. Being a gentleman he helps her to find her way to London. They do a little bit of small talk, and she reveals she was only happy once in her life, when she spent some time in Limmeridge House in Cumberlands. This is the exact place where Walter Hartright is going, in order to teach drawing to two sisters, Marian and Laura, living there. 
Once there he tries to find out who the woman in white is, but nobody seems to remember that she has once been there. A certain help is received from Marian, who finds a trace in one of her mother’s old letters. The ’ghost’ of the woman in white, and the secret she says she knows, is hanging over all the events in the novel. Each testimony takes the story a little bit further, until it all is revealed in the end. The story is scattered with exquisitely drawn characters, and it is a treat to follow them, whether you like them or not. They are like the characters ’littering’ an Agatha Christie novel. They are there to build up the story, deepen the mystery and in the end…several culprits to choose from.
A fine mystery indeed. Well written, keeping up the suspense, even take you - or again, at least me - into a fit of thinking and screaming to myself (silently of course); ”No, no, don’t do that! No, don’t go there! No, it is a trap, don’t you see! That is why I think that this will be one of my favourite suspense novels. I loved The Moonstone, and, I think I can say, I probably think this is a little bit better. 
This is my first entry for the Vintage Mystery Cover Scavenger Hunt 2016, hosted by My Reader’s BlockGolden Age for mysteries published before 1960. It is related to 'Ghostly Figure'. This novel was published in 1859.

The Content Reader
It fall under 'Ghostly Figure'. Just a few to go!

Saturday, 19 March 2016

The Little Things we do in between Reading!

The Content Reader

I am finally reading The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins. So far it is really great and a real page turner. However, it seems to be very, very long! I am only one third through the book and I don't know what will happen with the rest of the book. It is really a good, old fashion mystery where we only get a little information at the time. Wonderful book so far.

In between reading I watched The Danish Girl. Interesting film with fantastic actors. I found the film somewhat slow at times, but when I had finished it, it lingered with me for a long time. I think the sufferings of Lili came out really well and also the impact the situation had on the people around him/her.

My latest craze and discovery is Podcasts. I just love them. I happily listen to fellow bloggers Simon at Stuck in a Book and Rachel at Book snob and their Tea or Books podcasts. Today while out walking I was listening to The Guardian's podcasts on books. One interview with Bill Bryson and one with Colm Toibin. Really interesting and fun to listen to. I 'LOLed' many times, and that does not happen too often to me. I also have other podcasts waiting for me on blogging, books and organising yourself. There are so many interesting podcasts out there. Do you have any favourites to recommend?

What do you enjoy doing in between reading?

Thursday, 17 March 2016

Amsterdam - A History of the World’s Most Liberal City by Russell Shorto

The main reason for me reading this book, was to get a historical background to the Dutch 'Golden Age' in the 17th century, for a project I am doing. However, it is such an excellent and interesting read, covering the history of this fantastic city, up to our days, so I highly recommend it for anyone interested in history.

The Dutch are well known for their liberal views, and this book tells it all. Shorto is covering the whole history of the city, and it is as exciting as any adventure book. He knows what he is talking about. He lived in Amsterdam for six years from 2007 to 2013, and is not only an author, but also a historian and journalist, and the book is very well researched.

This is evident in all the details of people living in the city, within all areas of the society. The freedom of speech and the possibilities to pursue your ideas, created a very talented population, in a time where restrictions were put on people by governments and royals. He has found the stories of, not only well known people, but also ordinary people that somehow made their mark on the city. A fascinating story of fighting against the sea to make arable land, hardworking people on all levels, immigrants attracted by the possibilities the city offered, open minded people and a love for the city where they lived.
”The Dutch provinces were for a long time relatively complacent components of the empire. Dutch people had no national identity as such - they related not to a sense of ”being Dutch” but rather to their province, seeing themselves as Hollanders or Zeelanders of Friesians. They were pious and hardworking; they contributed a large percentage of the taxes that kept the empire afloat, and in return they received protection.  
In another sense, however, the situation of the Low Countries ensured that they would develop in a crucially different way from the rest of Europe  - a difference that would lead eventually to violent and world-historic upheaval. One of the defining elements of medieval Europe was the top-down structure of society, called the manorial system, which had a lord who oversaw an estate and peasants who worked the land and paid rent in the form of labor or produce. The lord provided protection and served as the court of law for his peasants, so that the manor was a complete economic and political unit. And the lord, in turn, owed fealty to both a greater lord and to the Church. 
The Dutch provinces did not become manorial, and the reason as with nearly everything else, related to water. Since much of the land was reclaimed from the sea or bogs, neither Church nor nobility could claim to own it. It was created by communities (hence the Dutch saying ”God made the earth, but the Dutch made Holland”). Residents banded together to form water boards that were responsible for the complex, nonstop task of maintaining polders (reclaimed boards - waterschappen - are still very much a part of Dutch life and have exerted an enormous influence on the culture, in particular on the peculiar combination of individualism and communalism that helps define Dutchness.” 
A story about Amsterdam is also the story of its most successful enterprise; The Dutch East India Company. It was founded by a couple of successful businessmen, but was also sanctioned by the government of the day. It was a huge company and transported silk, spices and other exotic commodities from the East to Europe. This was one of the first share holding companies in the world. Although the Tulipomania that stirred the Dutch society in the 1630s and made people rich of poor from one day to the next, was the first sign of a stock market enterprise. The grandeur, richness, liberalisation and the possibilities for all people to find work, would probably not have been possible without the Company.

The Content Reader
A waterway in Amsterdam
Shorto gives us a varied story of the history of the city, its people, its liberalism and its religious freedom, that was far ahead of any place in the world at the time. Many great names in history, philosophy, art, science and other areas were either born here, have lived here or have passed by the city at certain times; Rembrandt the painter, Spinoza the philosopher, John Locke who had to leave England took refuge in Amsterdam and ”During and after his five years in Amsterdam and travels to other Dutch cities, where he would be influenced and encouraged by the international cast of thinkers he met there, he would write and publish what would become three hallmark texts of the Enlightenment, on democratic government, tolerance, and epistemology, books that would earn him the unofficial title of father of classical liberalism and that would shape modern political thought, especially in England and the United States.” Many of the ideas on liberalism practised in Amsterdam went on to be the base for our modern democracies.

The Content Reader
Rembrandt's famous "Night Watch" at the Rijksmuseum
The 17th century was ”The Golden Age” of Holland. Everything seemed possible and was successful. However, already in the end of the century times changed. The ’Golden Age’ was a fascinating time, and visiting Amsterdam and its museums today, it is still there and gives us a hint of the grandeur of the city as it once was.

There are many more interesting eras and people in this history of Amsterdam. We still see the influence of the history in today's Netherlands. I think it also gives us a better understanding of the liberal, present day Dutch! Read it and see for yourself.

The Content Reader

Russell Shorto has written other books, of which one is 'The Island at the Center of the World'
The Epic Story of Dutch Manhattan, and the Founding Colony that Shaped America. There is a part of the Amsterdam book that tells the story of a young couple who emigrated to America to create a new life. They were among the first Dutch people to settle in America.