Sunday, 5 November 2017

The Odyssey by Homer

For my literature course I read The Odyssey by Homer. I must say that I dreaded it a little bit, but found it quite fresh and interesting. Not to mention very dramatic. The Odyssey is about Odysseus' troublesome journey back from the war in Troy, described in The Iliad. He upset Poseidon by blinding his son and was thus prevented from reaching his home.

After seven years of captivation by Calypso, Minerva persuaded her fellow gods that he should be let out of captivity and allowed to return home. Even so he had to fight for three years before he reached Ithaca, where his wife was 'under siege' by suitors. Once Odysseus were at home he killed off the suitors and reunited with his wife.

Well, that is a rather simple summary of the story. It is very dramatic and I am quite fascinated by the story as such. The involvement of the Greek gods in man's lives and how they control it. Even so, they also fight in between themselves. It was certainly different times and seems rather violent to us today. It is beautifully written and the stories of the various monsters, sirens and others wanting to prevent Odysseus from going home are classic.

Reading this kind of literature you can understand why they have survived. Beautiful prose, a variety of characters, exciting stories and a glimpse of life 2.500 years ago. Or even longer...!

Thursday, 2 November 2017

Mount TBR Reading Challenge 2018

It is time to start looking for challenges for 2018. That means it is also time to check out the results for the challenges for 2017. I am afraid I still miss a few books. Time is very busy now with my literature course, but it is very interesting, but it also means I am not always free to read the books I want.

Bev at My Reader's Block alerted me to the focus ahead. It is time for a new sign-up for this challenge, which is one of my favourite ones. It also takes away a few books from the TBR piles.
Just looking at my sign-up post for 2017, I thought I would be able to read more than the 51 books I read for 2016. Haha! Just shows you can not foresee how life will turn out. So far I have read 37 books this year. Will I make it to 48? I hope so.

Considering the challenge, and the pleasure when you reach your peak, I will go for Mt Ararat and 48 books this year as well. If I manage more, it is a great bonus.

Which peak will you aim for this year?

Thursday, 26 October 2017

2 x Vampire stories

I have never been very fond of vampire stories, nor watched all the classic films about them. However, that changed a few years ago when I read the absolute classic of vampire tales; Dracula by Bram Stoker. It was a surprisingly, vivid and interesting read, even after all these years.

Today the world of vampires has changed due to a number of modern accounts on them; Twilight, The Sookie Stackhouse series (True Blood) and Interview with the Vampire and many more. Not to talk about the various TV-series following in the wake.

According to the British Library, the first vampire in English literature came with Robert Southey's epic poem Thalaba de Destroyer. The vampire takes the form of Thalaba's bride Oneiza, who dies on their wedding day.

Her very lineaments, and such as death
Had changed them, livid cheeks, and lips of blue.
But in her eyes there dwelt
Brightness more terrible
Than all the loathsomeness of death.

It seems that Southey added a very detailed footnote where he recounts the vampire tales from continental Europe. It was probably the best, otherwise people would not have understood, I guess.

Thursday, 19 October 2017

The Reading Woman

Yesterday, on a very nice, sunny day here in Brussels, I went downtown. It does not happen that often. The trees are changing their colours so you could get quite some nice photos. Passing by the Museum of Art I went into their shop. I really love museum shops. They have so many beautiful things and if you are looking for presents it is perfect.

This time I found a present for myself. I don't know if I mentioned it before, but I am a fan of notebooks. I have therefore put a ban on myself, not to buy any more until I have used the ones I have. It is a little bit like books. I can't resist them when I see something I love. Yes, you are right. I did buy another one. Not a notebook but a calendar.

It is call The Reading Woman - 2018 Engagement calendar. The cover is beautiful, and the calendar is filled with paintings of women, not always reading. However, each painting come with a quote connected to books.

I will use this one to note what I am reading and when. It will also come in handy to plan my blog posts. I always try to be disciplined, but it somehow does not work. Could this be the solution? I don't know, but will certainly try. In the end there is a 2019 planner and Notes & Expenses for each month. I am not sure I want to put down the figures I spend on books, so I might just use it for notes.

Can't wait to use it. Do you have a special system how to plan your posts? A special notebook or calendar? I guess many people just use electronic devices, but I kind of like the idea of having a book in my hand, even if it is just a notebook!

Tuesday, 17 October 2017

The Brontës in Brussels by Helen MacEwan

As you might know, I am a fan of the Brontës. While living here in Brussels I came into contact with the Brussels Brontë Group. A group, founded by Helen MacEwan and some fellow enthusiasts. I did not have so much knowledge about the Brontës. Just that they grew up on the moors of Yorkshire and wrote wonderful, passionate novels.

Being part of the group have, for me, opened up a whole new chapter in the history of the Brontës. The group has taken on numerous investigations in order to track the lives of Charlotte and Emily during their stay here in 1842-43 (Emily only the first year). For Charlotte it was a life changing experience. The life she lived here and her studies for the charismatic M. Heger gave her another output in life. She became infatuated with him and he entered into her literary characters.

Helen is the source of information concerning the sisters life here in Brussels. She has written several books related to their stay here. The Brontës in Brussels is a well written account of their reason for coming here, how they saw life, the people they met, the studies and how life was led in the Belgian capital in the mid of the 19th century. Most of all; how it effected Charlotte and changed her life. Most experts today acknowledge that without her stay here, she might not have written the novels she did.

It is an easy read, perfect also for those without too much knowledge of the sisters. Charlotte's novels The Professor and Villette take place in Brussels and Helen shows us references from the books and what inspired Charlotte in real life Brussels. It is a fantastic tour around the old and new parts of Brussels. Cultural happenings, traditional feasts, eating habits and much more. The book is like a bible for Brontë fans, just the right amount of background information, and written in a way that make you feel like you are walking with them, over the pebbled stones of Brussels.

The Brussels Brontë Groups arranges guided walks a couple of times a year. The walk is highlighted at the end of the book. It is easy to follow, cover the places Charlotte and Emily visited, all close to each other. Take the book with your a walk in the footsteps of the Brontës.

Other books by Helen: Down the Belliard Steps: Discovering the Brontës in Brussels, Winifred Gérin: Biographer of the Brontës. Soon to be published: Through Belgian Eyes: Charlotte Brontës Troubled Brussels Legacy. All of them add a little bit more to the life and inspiration of Charlotte.

Monday, 16 October 2017

Men Without Women by Haruki Murakami

This is my first book by the highly appreciated Haruki Murakami. It contains short stories of men and their relationship with women. Although I had a slight problem with the first story, or the way it was written (might have been the translation), it improved with each of the stories.

The stories are about different men from different parts of the society and their often troubled relationship with their women. Together, they show the different ways of love. One of my favourite was the one about a man who did not want to get married, and had a lot of different affairs. It was always him that ended the affairs. Then, one day, the thing happened, that I always think happens to most of us, he fell in love with his mistress. All of a sudden the situation was the reverse. He was the eager one and she withdrew. It lead to a total downfall for the man and ended in disaster.

This is just one of the extremes of the stories Murakami tells us. They are all told in a calm, matter of fact way, and it is almost like you see a movie, rather than read a text. The stories are very visible. Although it takes place in the Japanese society, I think the stories are universal. Love is a very complicating thing, no matter what happens.

I loved the book and am looking forward reading more by Murakami.

Thursday, 12 October 2017

The Poems of Catullus

A book from my TBR shelves came in handy for the literary course I am taking. The history of literature, starts, like so many other things, with the Greeks and the Romans. The Poems of Catullus has been on my shelves for several years, and finally, I read it. It is not entirely easy to interpret the poems, even with the very good introduction by the translator, Peter Whigham.

Here a few lines from the introduction.
"We know very little about Catullus's life: even the dates of his birth and death are uncertain. The likeliest figures are: born 84, died 54 B.C. His full name was Giaus Valerius Catullus. … He appears as one of the lovers of the notorious Clodia Metelli, and a leading figure - perhaps the leading figure - in the new movement in poetry. … In short, the tradition that he died of what our grandmothers called 'a broken heart' finds no support in the poems. It is based solely on the assumption that his love for Clodia was of the conventional type of romantic - i.e. 'fatal' - passion. But I believe that many of the poems point to an altogether different and more complicated state of mind. All we can say for certain about his death is, that like his birth, it happened."
In the poems Catullus calls Clodia for Lesbia. Here are three of my favourite poems. In the first one I recognise some lines from "The Outlander" TV-series (Season 2, episode 13). It is slightly different in the TV-series, it seems that version is based on a translation by Richard Crashaw, from the 17th century (suitable of course).  I found it beautiful when I heard it and so it is when you read it. This version probably more strictly translated.

Poem no. 5

         Live with me
& love me so
we'll laugh at all
the sour-faced strict-
ures of the wise.
This sun once set
will rise again
when our sun sets
follows night &
an and endless sleep.
Kiss me now a
thousand times &
now a hundred
more & then a 
thousand more again
till with so many
hundred thousand
kisses you & I
shall both lose count
nor any can
from envy of
so much of kissing
put his finger
on the number
of sweet kisses
you of me & 
I of you,
darling, have had.

Poem no. 49

Silver-tongued among the sons of Rome
the dead, the living & the yet unborn,
Catullus, least of poets, sends
Marcus Tullius his warmest thanks:

- as much the least of poets
as he a prince of lawyers.

Poem no. 87

No woman loved, in truth, Lesbia
               as you by me;
no love-faith found so true
               as mine in you.

This is the first time I read Catullus. Have you read any of his poems? Are you a fan?

Wednesday, 11 October 2017

Swedish Crime Novels

Continuing my crime novel streak, I want to share two great crime stories from Sweden. One is Spring Tide by Cilla & Rolf Börjlind and the other is Tjockare än vatten (Thicker Than Water, my translation) by Carin Gerhardsen. Both are of the kind, difficult to put down. That is why you read until 1 a.m in the morning, just to finish it.

Spring Tide was spoken of quite a lot in Sweden some years ago. It has a different set-up of characters from other novels, and this is the first in a series involving Olivia, a trainee at the police academy and Tom, a former police inspector, now home-less. Olivia is given a cold case to look at during the summer holidays. It concerns the murder of a woman in 1990 on an island on the west coast of Sweden. The case was never solved, and the identity of the woman was never found.

Olivia gets involved in the case, and starts her own investigation. At the same time people involved in the actions years ago are feeling nervous and unexpected things happen. It is a fascinating story, good characterisation and many side stories. In the beginning you don't know why they are there. They don't seem to have anything to do with the main case. But, as the story evolves it all comes together. It is exciting, scaring and you hear a lot of sounds around you, lying alone in the dark, reading! Huuh! The ending is unexpected to say the least.

The other crime story I read Thicker Than Water is part of a series about a team of policemen and women in Stockholm. Also here we find several side stories, which come together in the end. However, not as you expect. Tragedy follow the main characters, a sister and brother who become orphans at a young age, when their mother dies in a drowning accident. People seem to drown in their surroundings. Are they accidents or murders? Many years later a case with cats that are drowned hits Stockholm. The team realises that it might not be what it seems. This is one of these books where you think you know the culprit as you read along. In the end it is a total surprise! Love it.

Now being into crime novels, I feel like continuing. Alas, no more such books here and I have a mission to finish a few books from my TBR shelves. Not to talk about my studies, where I will have to read a lot of books outside my natural choice. It does not mean it is a bad idea. It makes you go outside your comfort zone.

What about you? Are you into crime novels? Or crime novels with a mixture of other novels?

Tuesday, 10 October 2017

2 x Indridason

I have spent a couple of weeks in Sweden, seeing my son and friends, decorating the flat and doing some studies. The last was more of an emergency call, since I had misread the dead-line! Well, know I have caught up again.

Looking at my TBR shelves in Sweden (yes, these shelves exists both in Belgium and Sweden!) I discovered to my great pleasure,  two unread books by Arnaldur Indridason.  Nordic crime writers are very popular these days. For one reason or the other, I don't read so many crime novels. However, having found some unread on my shelves, I went all crime fiction during these weeks. I start with one of my very favourite author.

Artic Chill and Reykjavik Nights by Arnaldur Indridason. As usual, interesting cold case stories mixed with a murder mystery.

In Arctic Chill a dark-skinned young boy is found dead and his Thai half-brother is missing. Is it a racial murder? Or a paedophile murder? Or did the boy see something he shouldn't see? The options are many and Erlendur and his team find tension in the boy's surrounding. As usual there is a lot of tragedy connected to the people surrounding the case. At the same time Erlendur faces shadows from his past.

In Reykjavik Nights I found, to my surprise, a young Erlendur, just having started working for the police and doing night patrols. Checking the book on the internet, I saw that there actually are four books in a "Young Inspector Erlendur" series. Here he is solving a case with a murdered home-less begger and a missing wife. He is not yet and inspector and pursues the case on his spare time.  We can see the future inspector and his special way of approaching a murder case, already here. A different case, but not less interesting.

As always Indridason makes you guess until the very end. I really love his books, and they have a lot of interesting, touching stories of ordinary people. Many of them from the dark side of society. His characterisations are very good and you always get a dose of the Icelandic scenery! What is not to love?

Have you read anything by him? Do you like the books?

Sunday, 8 October 2017

Mount TBR Reading Challenge - check point #3

October is here and time for another check point for our mountaineering efforts. Bev at My Reader's Block has called upon us to tell you where we are. So far I have read 35 books from my TBR shelves. Well, it is really some more, but for this challenge it has to be books which were on the shelves before 1 January 2017.

On 1 July, I had read 23 books, and now I am at 35 books. That is just one book short of climbing Mt Vancouver. It is 4,812 m to the top, and I am on 4,678 m. Another book and another 135 meters and I am there!

Bev has given us a few tasks to complete, based on the books we have read. Here we go!

  • Who has been your favourite character so far? And tell us why, if you like.
I think I go for a family, the Buddenbrooks. Thomas Mann manages to fully engage us in the members of this family and their rise and fall. A fantastic book.

  • Which book (read so far) has been on your TBR mountain the longest? Was it worth the wait? Or is it possible you should have tackled it back when you first put it on the pile? Or tossed it off the edge without reading it all?

I think it has to be "The World Around in 80 Days" by Jules Verne. Probably should have read it then. Although the idea behind it is great, the prose as such was a little bit static. This is the only book by him I have read, and it seems he is not famous for his characterisation, but more for his ideas. Good enough. 

  • Choose 1-4 titles from your stacks and using a word from the title, do an image search. Post the first all-eyes-friendly picture associated with that word. 
Unsolved Mysteries of Amsterdam

That was all from me on this quest for Mt Vancouver. Hopefully, see you on Mt Ararat or Kilimanjaro at the end of the year!


Saturday, 7 October 2017

6 Degrees of Separation

I don't know where the time goes. Reading your blog posts I realise it is time again for a 6 Degrees of Separation, hosted by Books Are My Favourite And Best. This month starts with the book Like Water for Chocolate by Laura Esquivel. I have not heard about the book and thus, not read it. "Earthy, magical, and utterly charming, this tale of family life in turn-of-the-century Mexico blends poignant romance and bittersweet wit. " Sounds like an interesting read, just what I like. It will be added to my to read list.

Being about cooking, my first thought goes to The Dinner by Herman Koch.  It is about a family
drama where two brothers with their wives meet up for dinner to discuss what their sons have been up to. A drama slowly evolves and it keeps you in suspense to the very end, what the sons have really done.

Thinking of family dramas I opt for The Go-Between by L.P. Harley and one of my favourite books. Leo is invited to his best friend Marcus' manor house and during the summer he is the go-between for Marcus' sister and her lover. The act has unexpected consequences.

Friday, 22 September 2017

Picnic at Hanging Rock by Joan Lindsey

For Full House Reading Challenge hosted by Kathryn at Book Date, I had to read a book by an Australian/New Zealand author. Having just read a blog post from Brona's Books  about Top Ten Tuesday Aussie writers I found a reference to Picnic at Hanging Rock by Joan Lindsay. This is a typical story that attracts me. A mystery never solved. Although, in a perfect world, there wold be an answer in the end.

The backdrop story is a group of young, female pupils, that made an excursion on Valentine's day in 1900 to Hanging Rock. Four of them and a teacher ventured up the rock. One of them did not follow the others and came screaming back without remembering very much. The others three and the teacher went missing. A week later one of the girls is found. She neither remembers anything of  what had happened to her.

From this tale Joan Lindsay has written an account of what might have happened. Were they snatched by aliens? Did they fall into a time zone? Was it a case of female hysteria? Or did they just fall down into a crevice? Even after all these years nobody knows.

The novel is a fascinating read and difficult to put down. Lindsay manages to balance her story without taking part for anyone solution over the other. It is well written, the mystery is hanging all over the novel, including a nasty school mistress. I went on to watch the film by Peter Wier, just after having finished the book.

Looking into the story a little bit more it seems that Lindsay's novel is a work of fiction, based on actual events. Although she includes newspaper articles in the end of the novel, the events she describes are not all part of real events.  This was a little bit of a setback for me, since I though she had researched the matter very well. For all we know, she might have, but still choose to make it a novel of fiction. Whatever is the case, it is a great read.

Sunday, 17 September 2017

Careless People by Sarah Churchwell

Careless People tells the true story behind what inspired F. Scott Fitzgerald to write The Great Gatsby. Churchwell has written a fantastic story of the Jazz Age and the people who were the forerunners. In the middle of the circle is Zelda and Scott Fitzgerald, their lives, friends and work.

Parallell to Fitzgerald's lives, Churchwell has read newspapers and books of the time and highlights what was going on in America in the 20s. One big thing is the Hall-Mills murder mystery which was never solved. We follow the development of New York, people moving out to Long Island, constructions, inventions, dramas, prohibition and much more. It is a lively, charming tale of a time when people seemed not to have any bigger troubles. But, there is always a snake in paradise.

Churchwell shows us how many things that was happening in America at the time, in their lives and with their friends, entered into The Great Gatsby. There are numerous references to similarities in the book and happenings at the time. Fitzgerald was set to write a classic and according to himself The Great Gatsby was it. It did not sell very well during his own lifetime, and it was only after his death that it was more highly appreciated, not to talk about almost 100 years later.

It is a charming tale, and Churchwell also manages to describe the life the two Fitzgeralds lived, their time in France and the inevitable fall from the peak years. The times are very well described, the details sometimes a little bit too much, but it gives the reader an insight into what made the Jazz Age such a charming time. Maybe a belief that you were living on the edge and life was a party. For some but not for everyone.

Friday, 15 September 2017

Bookbeginnings on Friday and The Friday 56

Rose City Reader, is hosting Book beginnings on Friday. She says:

Please join me every Friday to share the first sentence (or so) of the book you are reading, along with your initial thoughts about the sentence, impressions of the book, or anything else the opener inspires. Please remember to include the title of the book and the author’s name.

Freda’s voice is hosting Friday 56 and the rules are:

*Grab a book, any book.

*Turn to page 56 or 56% in your eReader
(If you have to improvise, that's ok.)
 *Find any sentence, (or few, just don't spoil it)
*Post it.
*Add your (url) post below in Linky. Add the post url, not your blog url.
*It's that simple.

My book this week is "Careless People" by Sarah Churchwell


"At 10 a.m. on 3 May 1924, armed with seventeen pieces of luggage and a full set of Encyclopedia Britannica, F. Scott Fitzgerald, his wife Zelda and their two-year-old daughter Scottie departed from Pier 58 on the North River in New York for Cherbourg, France, on board the SS Minnewaska."

Friday 56

" Knowing where their money comes from tells a great deal more about their character than knowing where their families come from. The American east-coast aristocracy saw itself as fitting into the mould of European aristocracy. But what it took the Europeans centuries to accrue, families like the Morgans and the Harrimans did in a generation, sufficient time in America's rapidly cycling class system. The difference between old and new money is, after all, purely relative: it just depends on when you start counting."

Monday, 11 September 2017

Back to the Classics

If  you have had a look at my reading recently, you might notice that there are some plays that have entered into the general reading of novels. I have started a correspondence  university course in literature on-line, with a university in Sweden. I really felt that it was time for me to know more about literature, how to analyse and review. And how fantastic is it not, to be able to study something which you are really interested in. Just for your own sake.

The very first task was to read A Doll's House by Henrik Ibsen and King Oedipus by Sofokles. That is, to see how a tragedy and drama are built up. As the saying goes; "It goes back to the Greeks", Aristotle in this case. His Poetics set the scene what a play should contain and how it should be performed.

Sunday, 10 September 2017

Prague Fatale by Philip Kerr

This is the second book by Philip Kerr that I read, and the second book about chief inspector Bernie Gunther. Checking through his books it seems Kerr does not write in a chronological order. The Quiet Flame, which I read several years ago, obviously before I started blogging in 2012, since I cannot find it among my reads. Remember liking it a lot though. The series of books is quite different, following a detective working during the Nazi time. The Quiet Flame is set in 1950 when he emigrates to Argentina. Prague Fatale takes place in 1941-42 in Berlin and Prague.

While trying to solve a crime in Berlin, where it seems, not everyone is interested in a thorough investigation, Gunther is called to Prague to work as a body guard to his old boss, Reinhard Heydrich. Unwillingly, he ventures on this mission with his mistress Arianne, which he met during his latest investigation in Berlin.

Friday, 8 September 2017

Bookbeginnings on Friday and Friday 56

Rose City Reader, is hosting Book beginnings on Friday. She says:

Please join me every Friday to share the first sentence (or so) of the book you are reading, along with your initial thoughts about the sentence, impressions of the book, or anything else the opener inspires. Please remember to include the title of the book and the author’s name.

Freda’s voice is hosting Friday 56 and the rules are: 

*Grab a book, any book.
*Turn to page 56 or 56% in your eReader
(If you have to improvise, that's ok.)
 *Find any sentence, (or few, just don't spoil it)
*Post it.
*Add your (url) post below in Linky. Add the post url, not your blog url.
*It's that simple.

My book this week is "Prague Fatale" by Philip Kerr

Book beginnings on Friday
"September 1941
The thought of suicide is a real comfort to me: sometimes it's the only way I can get through a sleepless night."

Friday 56
"A science graduate from the University in The Hague, Vranken had been quickly eliminated from Lüdtke's inquiry when his alibi checked out; but, hardly wanting to rely on this alone - after all, his alibi relied on other foreign workers - he had been at pains to adduce evidence of his good character, and to this end he had offered the name of a German whom he'd met before the war, in The Hague."

Review of the book will follow.

Monday, 4 September 2017

Six Degrees of Separation

Another month and another chain. I am joining Books Are My Favourite And Best for another six degrees. This month the chain starts with Wild Swans by Jung Chang. I read it many years ago, and loved it. It is a family saga that spans three female generations in China.

I love family sagas so I go from here to The Empress of South America by Nigel Cawthorne. It is the story of a middle class Irish girl who went to Paris and ended up the wife of the emperor of Paraguay. It is a true story of how two, evil people made a whole country their private family business. Quite intriguing and chocking.

From royalty to royalty I go to Mrs Jordan's Profession, by Claire Tomalin. It is a biography about the Anglo-Irish actress, courtesan and mistress of the future King William IV of UK. They had ten illegitimate children together. Fascinating story about a fascinating woman far ahead of her time.

My 20 Books of Summer

Cathy at Cathy 746 Books hosted her annual challenge of 20 Books of Summer. It was up to
participants to choose 10, 15 or 20 books from our TBR shelves to read between 1 June and 3 September 2017. A great challenge to lower the number of books on your shelves.

I did not write a list but just choose what I was feeling like at the time. When I make a list I tend to read everything except the titles on the list! Yes, that's me. I opted for 10 books since I also tend to over estimate my capacity, it was summer and this year a lot of holidays for me.

I am therefor rather pleased that I managed to read 13 books from my shelves. The books cover different genres and are rather easy reads, which is totally suitable for the warmer months of the year. Here is the list and links when there is a review.

  1. Chopra, Deepak - Self Power - Spiritual Solutions to Life's Greatest Challenges
  2. Indridason, Arnaldur - Den som glömmer (Kamp Knox)
  3. The Spy - Paulo Coelho
  4. Bryson, Bill - Notes from a Small Island
  5. Muir, Kate - left Bank
  6. Shreve, Anita - Eden Close
  7. Shreve, Anita - Sea Glass
  8. Isherwood, Christopher - Goodbye to Berlin
  9. Munro Alice - Something I've Been Meaning to Tell You 
  10. Jónasson, Ragnar - Rupture
  11. Simenon, Georges - Maigret Mystified
  12. Johnson, Robert G. & Westin, Janey - The Last Kings of Norse America
  13. Kerr, Philip - Prague Fatale

Great challenge and I hope to return for next year!

Thursday, 31 August 2017

The Last Kings of Norse America by Janey Westin and Robert Glen Johnson

I found this book in the museum of Njal's Saga in Iceland. An interesting account on the Vikings presence in North America. The sub-title is "Runestone Keys to a Lost Empire" and it makes for exciting reading. The authors explore a possible 14th century visit to North America on behalf of the Norwegian king Magnus. He sent his son Haakon VI as leader of the expedition and Johnson and Westin investigate available manuscripts and rune stones to follow in their foot steps as far as possible.

It is a fantastically, exciting journey they take us on. They start with an historical background on the situation in Scandinavia, Iceland and Greenland. As everywhere there were political turmoil and fight for power. The Norwegian had early ties with North America and the fur trade, but due to circumstances the trade had ceased. Now was the time to try to establish this lucrative business again.

The authors base their book on earlier research but have made a lot of new research, including new translations of the rune stones. There are two stones that they analyse; The Kensington stone and the Spirit Pond stone.

The Spirit Pond stone was discovered in 1971 by Walter Elliott who were out looking for arrowheads. Instead he found a strange, flat stone with markings on it. Elliott was excited about his find and tried to get it acknowledged. It is still controversial and there are people on both sides of the coin; is it a hoax or is it real. It does not look like a traditional rune stone and this might be the reason why it is controversial.

The Kensington stone was found on a forty-foot-high hill in 1898 when farmer Olof Ohman and his son were out clearing land in Kensington, Minnesota. It also had markings on it. Although the discovery was documented in detail at the time, the finding of the stone has led to a bitter 100-year-long controversy.

Sunday, 27 August 2017

Maigret Mystified by Georges Simenon

I have lately read som reviews of Maigret books. I remember the TV-series from when I was very young and I really liked them. The books never came my way though, and when I found one in a second hand shop, I quickly grabbed it.

This mystery was first published in 1932. Although the writing is old, it does not feel old fashioned. I quite enjoyed the story and the way he was solving the crime.

An industrialist, Raymond Couchet is shot dead in his office one evening. The office is situated in an apartment building, so more or less all of the people in the building are suspects. They are a bunch of extraordinary individuals, so it takes a sharp brain to disentangle the web.

At the murder scene he meets Couchet's mistress Nine who came to look for him when he did not turn up for their dinner. In the building lives Couchet's first wife and her new husband. Next to the room in the hotel where Nine stays, Couchet's son Roger (with his ex-wife) is lodging with his mistress. The second wife is waiting for the inheritance. And then there are those mad women peaking about the corridors. Not to talk about the ever present concierge who knows everything that is happening in the building.

Much to consider, but Maigret approaches the crime in his calm, collective manner and with a few questions here and there, follow up of leads he manages to solve the crime.

It is an easily read, rather thin book. In all its simplicity the culprit still eluded me to the very end. That always makes for a good read.

Wednesday, 23 August 2017

The Saga of Egil

Iceland is forever connected to The Sagas. They tell the story of the Vikings and the early settlers on this wild island. Our recent trip to Iceland was more of a natural experience and there was not so much time for the more historical, cultural theme. I managed to pick up a few books though.

The Saga of Egil is a short version of the original saga.  As is normal for the Icelandic sagas, a lot of terrible, violent things happens. Here is the story in short, taken from the Introduction to the book.

"The Saga of Egil was written in the 13th century, possibly by chronicler Snorri Sturluson. It is about the famous Viking-Poet Egil Skallagrimsson who lived three centuries earlier and left behind a lot of outstanding poetry. Egil, born in Iceland of refugees from Norway, participated with vengeance in the long and bitter feud his family fought against the Norwegian royal family, especially against Hing Harold Fairhair, King Eric Bloodaxe and Queen Gunnhild. Tall, strong and brutal, Egil was a mercenary in the army of Anglo-Saxon King Athelstan, also going on Viking raids and missions to parts of Sweden and Latvia. Avaricious and vain, but also sensitive and generous. Egil was a true individualist, not only challenging kings who tried to put down his family, but also the heathen gods when they deprived him of two sons, after which he lamented his loss in a moving poem. The author of this saga is not oblivious to Egil's comic traits, but he also admires this larger-than-life character. "

Egil Skallagrimsson lived in 910-990. The story is in line with other stories and tells a tale of a hard life in the wild scenery of Iceland. Being there I could easily look up the areas where the family arrived and where they settled. Makes it all the more interesting to read.

Tuesday, 22 August 2017

Rupture by Ragnar Jónasson

As you, who follow me, know, I am a great fan of Icelandic author Arnaldur Indridason. Now I have made the acquaintance with another Icelandic crime writer, Ragnar Jónasson. It is a meeting that will lead to more, of this I am sure.

As with Indridason, Jónasson works on two levels. One old story that never got an ending and one contemporary murder mystery to solve. I think this is what I really love with these two authors. Their ability to totally engage the reader in an interesting, old story, which most of the time has a very tragic course.  I find that these cold cases sometimes are more interesting than the contemporary story, but in the end they do complement each other.
"1955. Two young couples move to the uninhabited, isolated fjord of Hedingsfjördur. Their stay ends abruptly when one of the women meets her death in mysterious circumstances. The case is never solved. Fifty years later an old photograph comes to light, and it becomes clear that the couples may not have been alone on the fjord after all..."
That is the background story, and possible crime, that policeman Ari Thór is asked to investigate by the son of one of the couples. Thór becomes intrigued by the story and works on it when he has time. He is on duty in a city in the north of Iceland who has been put into quarantine due to an unfortunate death, caused by a dangerous virus. Nobody is out and about and there is not that much to do. A perfect time to look into something that can take away the dreary thoughts of the present time.

Friday, 18 August 2017

Book Beginnings on Fridays and Friday 56

Rose City Reader, is hosting Book beginnings on Fridays. She says:

Please join me every Friday to share the first sentence (or so) of the book you are reading, along with your initial thoughts about the sentence, impressions of the book, or anything else the opener inspires. Please remember to include the title of the book and the author’s name.

Freda’s voice is hosting Friday 56 and the rules are:

*Grab a book, any book.
*Turn to page 56 or 56% in your eReader
(If you have to improvise, that's ok.)
 *Find any sentence, (or few, just don't spoil it)
*Post it.
*Add your (url) post below in Linky. Add the post url, not your blog url.
*It's that simple.

My book this week is "Brazzaville Beach" by William Boyd

Book Beginnings on Fridays

"I live on Brazzaville Beach. Brazzaville Beach on the edje of Africa. This is where I have washed up, you might say, deposited myself like a spar of driftwood, lodged and fixed in the warm sand for a while, just above the high tide mark."

Friday 56 (56% through my e-reader)

"Bogdan said that the first really bad sign was when John started working piecemeal, almost at random, on other topics - irrational numbers, tiling, topology - 'Even the dread world of physics attracted him for a week or two,' Bogdan said, with a sarcastic smile."

My review of Brazzaville Beach.

Monday, 14 August 2017

Bookmark Monday

I am joining Guiltless Reading for Bookmarks Monday meme. I have been travelling in Iceland for two weeks and I found some really nice bookmarks.

Three with pictures of the wonderful Icelandic nature as seen here.

 Two from Icelandic historical sagas.

I think they are from a tapestry they are creating, something like the Bayeux tapestry. You can see it as the work progress in the Njal's Saga Center in Hvolsvollur in the south of Iceland. Great museum. Here is a picture of what the tapestry will look like.

Sunday, 13 August 2017

Something I've Been Meaning to Tell You by Alice Munro

Finally, I got around to read something of Alice Munro. As a Nobel Literature Laureate she is easy accessible to everyone, which, I find, is not always the case with the Laureates. Alice Munro writes short stories, which is not really my cup of tea, although I read them from time to time. This is a time when it was really worth it.

From the back of the cover the Observer notes: "Read not more than one of her stories a day, and allow them to work their spell: they are made to last". I can agree to that, although I read half the book before I left for my holiday and half of it when I came back. Her stories are about life, often included middle aged or older aged people, and they all tell something about life. Our inner thoughts, how the world change around us, or something that happened in their youth and which has affected their whole life.

The stories are engaging, real and the characters she creates on only a few pages are incredible. You are right into them from the first line of each story. The stories makes you think about life, what it is and how we live it. Worth reading and reflecting. These stories are some of her earlier one and was published in 1974 for the first time. I am sure this is not the last time that I read Alice Munro, and I would be curious to read some of her later stories.

Have you read anything by her? What do you think?

Saturday, 12 August 2017

Brazzaville Beach by William Boyd

This book came by recommendation by my brother-in-law, who is a big fan of William Boyd. After this initial meeting with him, I am looking forward reading more books, and I do have another one of his books in my book case, Waiting for Sunrise.
"What cannot be avoided, must be welcomed, as Amilcar had told me."
Brazzaville Beach was written in 1990, and is narrated by Hope Clearwater, a scientist. There are several stories in the novel; Hope in the present time, where we find her studying chimpanzees in Grosso Arvore in Congo. We are presented to her fellow researchers; Eugen Mallabar who is the leader and the acknowledged expert on chimpanzees, with several books to his name. He is working on his final book on the peaceful chimpanzee, when Hope discovers something that does not add up to his conclusions; Ian and Roberta Vail, who are more or less her friends and Anton Hauser that she dislikes. The whole camp seem to be full of conflicts and the behaviour of the scientists can be compared to the behaviour of the chimpanzees; there are conflicts in both camps.
"So let me ask you this: the more you know,  the more you learn - does it make you fell better?'
I don't understand.'
'All these things you know - does it make you happy? A better person?'
'It's got nothing to do with happiness.'
He shook his head, sadly. 'The pursuit of knowledge is the road to hell.'
Parallell we get Hope's story of her marriage to John Clearwater, a mathematician with ambitions  of making his name on his subject. It takes him over the edge and the marriage fails.

The various chapters are introduced by descriptions of chaos theory. The theories can be applied to Hope's life, her actions, other people's actions but also on the chimpanzees.

As the scientists are working in their isolated area they seem isolated from the world. The only connection is when one of them, once every two weeks, goes into the city to buy supplies. As the tension in the camp and the tension among the chimpanzees escalates, Hope is captured by the domestic tension of Congo. Her lover, an Egyptian pilot, goes missing as Hope goes missing as well. She manages quite well to keep her logical mind set on survival. Has she learned from the chimpanzees or it is just her scientific approach to any happening in her life?
"It seems to me that there are statements about the world and our lives that have no need of formal proof procedures."
William Boyd weaves a spider web of conflicts by humans and animals. How they interact, how to find oneself when the world is knocking on the door. What is important and what is not important. It is a thrilling novel. There are much more in the novel, than I have revealed here. I don't want to spoil the story. Boyd spent his first years in Africa, and many of his novels take place there. He is obviously familiar with the surroundings and it makes for good reading. Can't wait to read another one of his books.
"The unexamined life is not worth living"

Thursday, 10 August 2017

6 Degrees of Separation - Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

To celebrate the bicentenary of Jane Austen's death, host to 6 Degrees of Separation, Books are My Favourite and Best starts this month with one of her most popular books; Pride and Prejudice. It also happens to be my favourite book by Austen.

My chain starts with my second favourite book of hers which is Northanger Abbey. It has a Gothic theme, which reminded me of The Mysteries of Udolpho by Ann Radcliffe, who was, more or less, contemporary with Jane Austen. This is a Gothic tale in all its glory. I somehow liked it, although it is rather long and could have been shortened.

Checking in from Iceland

It has been far too quiet on this blog the last couple of weeks, which is because we have been touring Iceland. We have been camping and driving around the whole island. I thought there would be time to read a lot (I did download extra e-books just for the occasion), but we had full days from morning to late evening. I did read a short Icelandic saga The Saga of Egil and a big part of Williams Boyd's Brazzaville Beach. That was it.


The reason being that Iceland had so much to show and we had a great time. Our son is studying geology, so he had prepared an itinerary that was very ambitious. We drove around most of the island, camped and saw so many spectacular things. Iceland is fantastic, magic and blessed with most of the wonders of nature. It was one of my best trips ever.


This is just to say that I am back in rainy Brussels and will catch up with you, to see what you have been up to this summer. See you soon!

Monday, 24 July 2017

Paris in July, 2017 - A trip to Normandie, part 3

After having spent a couple of days in Guernsey and Jersey it was time to head back home. We
choose the inland route and drove through a beautiful, sometimes hilly, scenery, stopped for a coffee or cider in small villages along the way. This is the cider area, and it is really good.

We did take off slightly to visit the village of Camembert. One would think that this is a big place full of tourists trying out this wonderful cheese. Not at all. It is a tiny village with about 8 houses of which one is the hotel de ville and the other is the tourist information. Which was on lunch break when we arrived! Luckily, they opened ten minutes later and we had a degustation de Camembert with the local cider to it. Very good, so we could not refrain from buying a few cheeses, some cider and Calvados which is also famous in this area.

Degustation de Camemberts