29 Aug 2010

My sporadic reads

The last few days have beeen very very busy and so I have had precious little time to read. And it looks like the next couple of days will be just as busy so I will have to daydream about my dear books instead of reading.
Currently I am reading a selection of books, I choose which one to read depending on my mood as I can't seem to settle down on just one.

L.M. Montgomery: "Rainbow Valley"
Charles Highham: "Mrs. Simpson - the secret life of the Duchess of Windsor"
Amanda Craig: "Love in Idleness"

26 Aug 2010

"The Diary of a Provincial Lady" - Delightful country pursuits

The provincial lady lives in the English countryside, spending her days trying to negotiate with Cook and Madedemoiselle (daughter's governess/nanny), finding a new parlourmaid, avoiding visits from Lady B. and keeping account of the days in her diary.
On the surface this could seem like a dull account but rest assured that it is by no means so. Actually this book is really really funny. There is the provincial lady's own family: her husband Robert, a man of (very very) few words, her children Robin and Vicky, the sensitive and über-Gallic Mademoiselle and the servants who are the real rulers of the house.
The village where the provincial lady spends her days is also peopled with the most wonderful characters. The incredible condescending Lady B., Our Vicar and Our Vicar's wife, not to mention Mrs. Blenkinsop and her daughter Barbara.
This tale is so sweet, it is pure joy to follow the provincial lady as she ventures into London society - and into financial trouble with London dressmakers - and goes to France on a well-deserved break. She is such a lovely lady, somebody I would really love to share a cup of tea with.
Is this an outdated story, you may ask?
No it is not, actually it reminds me very much of Bridget Jones's diary with the exception that "The Diary of a Provincial Lady" is written better and captures the humour in everyday things much better. The themes are the same though: what to wear, whom to know and how to pay the bills. This is a mature, literary kind of chick lit that puts many of the modern chick lit novels in a bad light. It is a new little favourite of mine!

24 Aug 2010

Another Tuesday, another teaser

Another Tuesday, another teaser. This time it is from "The Diary of a Provinvial Lady" by E.M. Delafield:

"Read admirable, but profoundly discouraging article in Tide and Time relating to Bernard Shaw's women but applying to most of us. Realise - not for the first time - that intelligent women can perhaps best perform their duty towards their own sex by telling them the truth about themselves."

I love the the provincial lady, she is a wonderful companion on my morning bus trip into work!

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading at http://www.shouldbereading.wordpress.com. Anyone can play along! Just do the following:

- Grab your current read
- Open to a random page
- Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page
- BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)
- Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!

23 Aug 2010

"The Devil's Star" - starring Harry Hole

Have you met Harry Hole? He is a Norwegian crime investigator with alcohol problems, commitment issues and a seriously dry sense of humour. He is also the key figure in "The Devil's Star" by Jo Nesbo.
The book is set in Norway where Harry works as a criminal investigator in the homicide department of Oslo police force. He is suffering after the murder of his colleague Ellen, a murder that he blames on his other colleague Tom. This suspicion has become the driving force in Harry's life and has cost him his girlfriend, his sobriety and now it looks like it will cost him his job as well.
However, then Oslo is horrified by the brutal murder of a young women - the killer has cut off a finger and left a starshaped diamond. And when another young woman disappears Harry's immense investigation talent is needed to find the killer before he takes more lives.
Normally I don't read crime fiction but for Harry I make an exception. He is a fascinating man and I enjoy every moment spend trying to catch the bad guys with him. His dry sense of humour, he contempt for authorities and his ability to get into trouble makes him very good company.
"The Devil's Star" has been my first read in The Scandinavian Reading Challenge" and if you haven't met Harry yet, I suggest you look up Norwegian author Jo Nesbo at your local library.

22 Aug 2010

Hello Mr. Postman

Yesterday my dear postman brought a packet to the door with yet another book so here is a quick review of the treasure that have landed in my mailbox this week (many I tell you).

L.M. Montgomery: Anne of Ingleside

E.M. Delafield: The Diary of a Provincial Lady

Sarah Waters: Fingersmith

Amanda Craig: Love in Idleness

So lots to read this week! Wonderful :-)

20 Aug 2010

Which titles are you?

On my morning blog-round I discovered this fun little meme at Bookgirl's Nightstand - http://www.bookgirl.net/ - and I can help myself...
The idea is to fill in the rest of the sentence with a title of a book read in the past year.

In school I was: Anne of Green Gables
- at least in my imagination.. (by L.M. Montgomery)

People might be surprised I’m: A Fraction of the Whole (by Steve Tolz)

I will never be: The 19th Wife(by David Ebershoff)

My fantasy job is: Cooler, Faster, More Expensive (by Peter York and Olivia Stewart-Liberty)

At the end of a long day I need: Guilty Pleasures (by Laurell K. Hamilton)

I hate it when: I Am Charlotte Simmons (by Tom Wolfe)

Wish I had: The Swimming Pool Library (by Alan Hollinghurst)

My family reunions are: An Education (by Lynn Barber)

At a party you’d find me with: The Three Musketeers (by Alexandre Dumas) or The Sopranos (by Alan Warner)

I’ve never been to: The Oregon Trail (by Francis Parkman)

A happy day includes: Friends, Lovers and Other Indiscretions - well skip lovers and my it friends and my boyfriend... (by Fiona Neill)

Motto I live by: Sense and Sensibility (by Jane Austen)

On my bucket list: Wedlock (by Wendy Moore)

In my next life, I want to be: The Brightest Star in the Sky - I admit, I haven't ret it yet but it will be landing in my mailbox very soon! (by Alan Warner)

Now it's your turn - fill it out and post a comment so that I can pop by your blog and read your answers!

"A Fraction of the Whole" - Tales of crime and coincidence

"A Fraction of the Whole" by Steve Tolz has taken me ages to get through. Well not ages but weeks. Not because it is more than 700 pages long but because it is packed with action and characters. So in order to get through it I had to take breaks now and then.
There are three key figures in this novel - the narrator Jasper Dean, his father Martin and his uncle Terry - and the life stories of all three are told. Uncle Terry becomes famous throughout Australia for a string of horrendous crimes and this affects the lives of Martin and Jasper. Martin, who has always lived in the shadow of his famous brother, cooks up his own philosophy of life and slowly becomes more and more deranged, leaving Jasper to fight for his sanity and his place in life.
This is very much a tale of men who do not seem to be able to fit into common society. It is as if they are uanble to play by the rules that "normal" people play by and this shapes their chaotic destinies.
The book was fascinating as it weaves together many many stories with great ability for storytelling. I may return to it someday and read it again - maybe even in one go - but it is not a book that has drawn me in and left me unable to put it down. But it has charm and is definitely worth reading.

19 Aug 2010

The Scandinavian Reading Challenge

I have now taken on my first challenge here in the blogosphere and I'm really excited about it! My first challenge will be The Scandinavian Reading Challenge hosted by The Black Sheep Dances http://www.theblacksheepdances.com - a really great blog about books.
The Scandinavian Reading Challenge is to read 6 books by Scandinavian authors by December 31, 2010. Should be possible. So here I go. My current ideas for Scandinavian readings are:

- Jo Nesbo: The Devil's Star (which I am currently reading)
- Christian Jungersen: The Exception
- Karen Blixen: Winter's Tales
- John Ajvide Lindkvist: Let the Right One In
- Astrid Lindgren: Pippi Longstocking
- Peter Hoegh: Miss Smilla's Feeling for Snow
- Hallgrimur Helgason: 101 Reykjavik

Knowing myself, I will probably deviate from the list though... I'm really not very good at sticking to lists but let's see how it goes!

18 Aug 2010

"Anne of Windy Willows" - A lady of letters

It was my sister who got me hooked on re-reading the entire series of Anne books again and I sure am glad she did. I won't be reviewing them all though but a few of them. L.M. Montgomery's prose is like a delicate lace of words, capturing the beauty of nature through the eyes of a girl who insists on her right to happiness and her right to see the world as a romantic place. Anne certainly is easy to love for her happiness is very catching.
In "Anne of the Island" which is chronologically before "Anne of Windy Willows", Anne goes to Redmond College to achieve a B.A. Her time at Redmond is four years during which she matures a lot. She makes a new set of friends and learns from them and she has to decide between her dreamman Roy Gardener and her real love Gilbert Blythe. It is a coming-of-age book about throwing off childish notions and really growing up and I found it both touching and relevant.
"Anne of Windy Willows" is mostly composed of letters from Anne to her darling Gilbert who is still at Redmond studying to become a doctor. While waiting for him to graduate so that they can marry, Anne takes up the principality of Summerside High School and this calls for her to step into the role as a responsible adult. It is a really cute book - sorry, but cute is the best word I can find to describe it. Cute in a feel-good way. Cute in the way that I finished it off last night under the cover of my duvet, having gone to bed early just to read about Anne.
So tonight, I will be starting on "Anne's House of Dreams".

17 Aug 2010

My first Teaser Tuesday!

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading at http://www.shouldbereading.wordpress.com/. Anyone can play along! Just do the following:

- Grab your current read
- Open to a random page
- Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page
- BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)
- Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!

Here is my first TUESDAY TEASER from "Anne of Windy Willows" by L.M. Montgomery:

I had a really lovely prowl about the graveyard the other night. I’m sure Rebecca Dew thinks my taste in walks frightfully morbid.”

15 Aug 2010

Stuck In A Book

Last night I was blog-hopping around reading what all you lovely people out there are posting and I came by a really cool blog, Stuck In A Book at www.stuck-in-a-book.blogspot.com. Simon who writes on Stuck In A Book writes some really cool posts with intersting stuff and I loved his pictures from Malvern in his latest post. Really lovely summer pictures. He does this list of 50 books that he thinks are really great but which too few people know. I for one didn't know many of the books so I started reading about them and got so inspired that I bought two of them straight away. So now I'm waiting for the nice mailman to deliver "Miss Hargreaves" by Frank Baker and "The Provincial Lady" by E.M. Delafield. Thanks for the recommendations Simon :-)

14 Aug 2010

"Wetlands" - provoking but not thought-provoking

A couple of months ago I was in Copenhagen airport waiting for a flight and in one of the kiosks, they had a sale of English hardbacks. Three books for the equivalent of ten British pounds and they had some interesting titles. One of the books I got is "Wetlands" by German author, a book that was hyped quite a lot when it came out in Germany and I expected it to be quite provoking.
The progtagonist Helen is in hospital because she has but herself. In the anus. I don't even want to comptemplate how that happens and there are several other topics in the book such as various kinds of sex and bodily functions. Helen is preoccupied with her body and how it works and she enjoys provoking her surroundings with her immodest apparel and behaviour.
I know this is meant to be shocking and liberating but honestly, I found it a big boring. Even embarrassing at times because it showcases a few of women as generally being prudish, Victorian creatures who are as natural as dolls. It becomes a bit much really. I mean, come on. Let's think back to the sixties and free love - we've kind of heard this stuff before.
So I'm ambiguous about this book. Some of its points, I like. The theme of being more comfortable with being natural is cool but it is just taken to a level where I ended up finding it boring and repetitive. And the story line is too weak to make up for the incessant dwelling on body odours and masturbation. Unless you want to see for yourself what the hype is about, don't bother reading it.

12 Aug 2010

"The Secret Life of a Slummy Mummy" - Bridget Jones meets Anne of Green Gables

This must be the fourth or fifth time I read the "The Secret Life of a Slummy Mummy" by Fiona Neill and though I am not normally a lover of chick lit, I love this book. Simply love it. It is a comforting as a hug or a cup of warm chocolate. Basically it is the story of Lucy Sweeney, wife of neurotic/perfectionistic architect Tom and mother of Sam, Joe and Fred. She is a stay-at-home mum who battles through mountains of spaghetti bolognese to be cooked and laundry to be washed. It is a constant battle and Lucy rarely wins. Instead she gets into a number of mishaps and scrapes, one more embarrassing than the other. Like dying her eyebrows black (a perfect Anne of Green Gables moment), breaking and entering into the home of Yummy Mummy No 1, dealing with bailiffs and not-so-secretly fancying Sexy Domesticated Dad who is a stay-at-home dad with the perfect organic life.
It is a wild rollercoaster ride of funny stories and great moments and I have to say that I love Lucy. Actually the whole story of Lucy began in The Times where Fiona Neill has a column about Slummy Mummy and her many (mis)adventures among the Alpha mums and Yummy Mummies of North London - and she is still there. So every now and then when I need a boost of smiling energy, I google slummy mummy and see what happens in Lucy's life.
Here a little something from a column from 2006 - it features in the book as well:
Spot Yummy Mummy No 1 on the pavement outside school on the first day of term. She is sporting that inverted panda look favoured by Easter skiers: white eyes set amid a deep brown tan.
'Good holiday?' I ask her after the drop-off.

'Les Arcs, with friends,' she says. 'Fantastic snow. How about you?'

'Les Mendips,' I say in a French accent. 'With my parents. There was a fresh cover over Easter.'

'I haven't heard of that resort. Is it in Bulgaria?' she asks.

'It's a bit farther west,' I say vaguely.

'Off piste? Tricky runs?' she asks, using verbal shorthand to indicate the imminent closure of our incipient discussion on the merits of ski resorts. Sure enough I see a herd of yummy mummies with identical tans waving at her from the other side of the road.

I think of the tense hour spent roaming small villages in the Avon Valley after I simultaneously forgot to tell Husband on a Short Fuse to turn off the M4 and then discovered that a key page covering said villages was missing from our road map.

'Dramatic,' I say. 'We covered a lot of ground.' Including arguments about 1) why our clothes were packed in plastic bags instead of suitcases, 2) how despite the plethora of plastic bags in the boot, there were none available for episodes of car sickness, and 3) on what grounds we ever considered ourselves compatible enough for marriage.

Cool cover for Margaret Atwood

The other day, I had a browse in my local bookstore and found out that the Margaret Atwood novels have been given new and really funky, cool covers. To those of you who haven't seen them, here are some of them.

11 Aug 2010

"Lady Oracle" - no oracle for me

I randomly picked out a Margaret Atwood novel - "Alias Grace" - in my local bookstore at Christmas time and since them I have been reading an Atwood novel every now and then. So one day the time came to read "Lady Oracle" which I was really excited about for two reasons:
1) The title. I think it sounds so cool
2) A large chunk of the novel takes place in Italy and London, two of my favourite places.

The plot of the novel is quite inventive - as always with Margaret Atwood's novels. Joan Forster, the key figure, is an anti-heroine. She used to be a chubby child, a fat teenager who was left by her mother to cope with an emotionally retaded father and morphed into an elegant woman with no self esteem. Every time Joan is met with a difficult situation, she mimics her mother and runs off.
The running off seems to be what decides the directions that her life goes into, even which man she marries. In the end - this is where the story begins - she stages her own death and runs off to Italy.
Now the plot is good, I like the stories of her childhood and how she comes to write romance novel. It is a good story but Joan herself is annoying. She is frustratingly unable to take a decision and do something with her life and it ruins the book for me. I simply cannot like her and therefore cannot empathise with her story and it means that I disconnected from it. Have you had this experience with this book or another novel?

10 Aug 2010

"Anne of Green Gables" - the perfect tween read!

I was ten years old when my parents bought me my first "Anne of Green Gables" book by L.M. Montgomery and I wanted it because my best friends older sister was infatuated by Anne. I vividly recall her walking around wearing a red curly wig and daydreaming about fairies.
Later that summer I was the one doing the daydreaming and when I reread "Anne of Green Gables" last week, I remembered why. It is impossible, I daresay, not to love Anne.
For those of you who have not yet read about Anne and her many scrapes, here is a short summary. Anne Shirley is an 11-year-old orphan who by mistake turns up on the doorstep (almost) at Green Gables, the home of Matthew and Marilla Cuthbert, two elderly siblings. Though they really wanted a boy to help out on the farm they go ahead and adopt the free-thinking, hapless Anne who are accidentprone and who gets herself into a great many embarrassing adventures such as serving wine instead of cordial and dying her red hair green.
Anne is basically a good person, she means well in everything she does and it is a pleasure to follow her adventures as she grows from an unloved child into a young, accomplished woman. There are eight more books in the "Anne" series and over the name few weeks you will be able to read about them here.

"Anne of Green Gables" is the perfect tween read because it is an utterly comforting book: No you are not to only one to worry about your looks, yes all girls want a bosom friend and yes boys at that age really are a different species. Growing up with Anne was amazing and I will definitely give my goddaughter the books about her as soon as she is old enough to read!

(the pictures are from the Anne of Green Gables tv-seris)

9 Aug 2010

"The Lost Life of Eva Braun" - Loving a Monster

Did you ever wonder how a normal German girl could fall head over heels in love with Adolf Hitler? A man who put Europe through a war so full of horros that I can even find the words to desbribe it. I wondered. So I decided to read "The Lost Life of Eva Braun" in an attempt to understand. I don't know if I got any closer to understanding that but the story of Eva Braun who met Hitler, already a prominent politician, when she was only 19 years old, is an interesting tale. Her life was by no means easy.
For thirteen years she was the dictator's girlfriend. Most of these years she was a well-kept secret, and only in the last few days of her life did she reach her one major goal in life: becoming Mrs. Hitler. How a perfectly normal, intelligent, well-bred woman could narrow the scope of her life into serving a man whose crimes were many and horrible is so difficult to understand. But the book gives an interesting insight into the psyche of the woman behind the man and if you are interested in Second World War, the book is a great read.

It's a cover up!

Don't judge a book by its cover and all that... I know but how often are you attracted to a book just because something about the cover is really pretty/ugly/different/cool? I know that I often pick up a book just because I'm drawn in by the cover. So here are a few of my favourite covers:

Marisha Pessl: "Special Topics in Calamity Physics"

Margaret Atwood: "The Blind Assassin"

Evelyn Waugh: "Black Mischief"

Chuck Palahniuk: "Snuff"

F. Scott Fitzgerald: "Tales of the Jazz Age"

Which covers are your favourites?

6 Aug 2010

"A Company of Liars" - Truth Will Out

There are so many novels about medieval times but to be honest, I only enjoy a small amount of them. Many of them are either too focused on war or too focused on love and chivalry - or maybe I'm just not that easy to please. So when I was lent "A Company of Liars" written by Karen Maitland I didn't really know what to expect but actually, it was really quite good.

A lone camelot is travelling through medieval England, fleeing the plague and making a living by selling fake relics to naive people at fairs and gatherings. A series of incidents leads to him being joined by several other travellers and toghether they try to avoid the dangers of the road while keeping free of plague-ridden villages. But the people of the travelling party are not at all what they appear to be as it is slowly revealed. A magician with an embalmed merchild, a pregnant woman and her husband, two musicians, a midwife, a story-teller, an old camelot and a strange-looking child. They are all hiding something, however, one of them has a secret that is darker and more vicious than the secrets of all of the others.

I liked it, I really did. I liked the fact that it was not too easy to guess the secrets and how they would impact the travellers. It kept me on my toes guessing and following the plot as it was all unveiled.
If you like "The Owl Killers" by Karen Maitland or "Pillars of the Earth" by Ken Follett, you will probably like "A Company of Liars" as well. It paints a picture of the medieval times which is believable yet easy to understand and it's explanation the role of religion in village life is really interesting.

"A Vicious Circle" - What Comes Around Goes Around

I picked "A Vicious Circle" a bit randomly thinking that it sounded interesting and I have to say that I was pleasantly surprised. Now, I am a bit of an anglophile and I really love London so that face that the novel takes place in London in the 1990's is a definite plus in my book.

"A Vicious Circle" is the story of a group of Oxbridge graduates in their 20's and 30's who all have ambitions to do with the media world. Mostly they just want to make it, whatever "it" is. However, it is not all smooth sailing.
Mary Quinn (who is really the key figure) is an Irish waitress in a relationship with the ambitious journalist Mark Crawley, wants nothing more of life than to be married happily. At least that is until Mark leaves her for the heiress Amelia de Monde - then Mary wants revenge. Mark wants to climb the social ladder and his colleague and friend Ivo Sponge (famous for making a "Sponge lunge" on the ladies whenever he catches a chance at it) wants Mark's job by whatever means he can get it. And then there is Grace, a singly mum of 20 years living in a run down council estate with her little boy Billy and whose biggest ambition is to survive. Into this mix comes a young doctor who really just wants the best for his fellow human beings and a struggling author.

All these characters are interlinked and their paths collide again and again. Fortunes are made and lost, love blosoms and dries out again and ambitions are ruthlessly hunted.

I really liked the book - as in liked it so much that I found it hard to put it down.
While many of the characters are not really that likeable and some are actually downright annoying, they are all fascinating in their own way.

If you like "Starter For Ten" by David Nicholls, there's a good chance that you will also like "A Vicious Circle".