Friday, 5 February 2016

The German Woman by Paul Griner

The Content ReaderI found this book on a book fair, and I remember that one of you also gave a favourable review of the book on your blog. I finished it last week, but it takes a little bit of time before you have properly digested it.

The story is about Kate, an English nurse, who marries a German doctor just before World War I. The climate not being very good for Germans in England at the time, they leave and take up duty with the German army in a field hospital in Poland and Ukraine. Here is where the book starts and we follow the two of them during their travels back to Germany and the terrible times after the war. Inflation was high and every day was a fight just to find something to eat. We are in 1919.

Here the story switches to London in 1944 and we meet Claus, or Charles, a German/Irish/American living in London, working as a warden and patrolling the streets at night. During the day he has a government job in a cultural unit. What he really wants to do, is to make films. He seems also to have another job, as a spy. But for whom? The British? The Germans? Both?

One day he meets Kate, who is now back in England. They fall in love but it is complicated. She has been married to a German, speaks German fluently, and with whom is her loyalty? Do you have to have a loyalty somewhere? Can't you be loyal to two sides?
He let the comment about Americans go; his lineage was too complicated to explain. BUt he wanted to sting her too. ”You seem to have escaped the suffering.” he said.
Her face changed. ”You’re quite wrong there. I survived, but I never escaped.”
This is a very good novel in many aspects. Well written and well told. Sometimes maybe a little bit too many and long parts on the thoughts of Claus, but, at the same time, they give structure to the book and the overall message: There are no winners in a war, only losers.

The sufferings come out very well. Connected with our main protagonists it makes it so more real and we can feel with them, whether they are happy or sad.
”I can’t go back to what I was,” she’d said. ”That’s always been the case. After Horst died, I couldn’t inhabit my old life in Germany of my previous one in England, so I tried to make a new one in France. That didn’t work, so history washed me up here once again. I won’t go forward pretending that the past hasn’t happened, but I don’t want to dwell on it either.”
They are two lost persons who meet each other, fall in love and realise, with their different backgrounds, that life is not always easy to either live or describe.
”All of this had come out in bits and pieces on a long walk, and even now he wasn’t sure he had it properly ordered, as he never felt he could ask too much, nor did it help that she described some of it in German as her German was a dialect he had trouble understanding at times. Still, switching to German made sense. Putting it in another language was a way to put it in another life.”
As J.P. Hartley says at the start of his novel ”The Go-Between”: The past is another country, they do things differently there. Some things can only be told and understood in your own language. A translation looses some things on the way. Kate and Claus could communicate both in English and German and switched as seemed appropriate at the time and depending on the subject.

What I really liked about this book is that it does not take sides. For all sides in a war it is terrible, and Griner keeps his story focused on the people, and I think that is why it comes out as a very personal story, as story that we all can understand and be compassionate about. We don’t take sides. The love affaire is the centre of things and we just have to live with all the complications around.

The end is very surprising. However, thinking about it for some time, maybe this was the only possible ending. A highly recommended read, which lingers with you and make you think about the higher values in life, and how small our possibility is to influence the world around us.

Monday, 1 February 2016

Our Man in Havana by Graham Greene

The Content ReaderAnother low key spy thriller by Graham Greene. This time we meet Mr Wormold, a vacuum cleaner salesman, living in Havanna with his 17 year old daughter Milly. The wife/mother left several years ago with a lover and has not been heard of since. Mr Wormold is a very lonely man and does not let anyone into his life. He has his long time friend Dr Hasselbacher, but they only meet in bars or restaurants, and after all these years they still call each other by the surname. The other person in his life is a notorious police chief Captain Segura.

One day he is contacted by an MI6 agent who wants to recruit him to work for the agency. He is supposed, in his turn, to recruit other agents to help them getting more information on what is happening in Cuba. He is out of money and considering the cost of the horse that his daughter has bought, and the fee for the riding club, he is, against his better judgement, accepting the task. He has no idea how to get about the whole business, but is happy when the money is coming in, and his expenses are paid. To show that he is doing something, he is inventing his collaborators and is sending in fake reports.

Needless to say, these ’agents’ and his ’reports’ turns out to have a life of their own, and things are going terribly wrong. MI6 is sending more staff to help him cope with the intelligence he is collecting. They are  impressed by the information they receive from him.

An interesting read on an ordinary man, stumbling into events which he can no longer control. Graham Greene’s talent of telling stories of how ordinary men, and women, manage to cope in a world which is shadowed by deceits, lies and the question: ”Who can you trust?” makes an interesting read.

I recently read The Human Factor and I still have Travels With my Aunt on my TBR shelves. Other books by him that I would like to read are classics like; The Third Man, The Quiet American and Brighton Rock. However, he has written lots of other, I am sure, interesting novels.

Wednesday, 27 January 2016

Jude the Obscure by Thomas Hardy

This is the first book I finished in 2016. It is a classic and I read it for the Brontë Reading Group. This is a wonderful group of people, totally dedicated to the Brontës and 19th century English literature. The discussions are always lively, but never so lively as when we disagree on a book. Some people loved it and some did not. I belong to the latter category.

I love Thomas Hardy and I visited Dorchester last year. He  grew up there and stay there most of his life, except for some years in London. It is a lovely place and he has managed to introduce it, as a fictional area, in almost all of his books. Jude the Obscure is the last book he wrote. Actually, the critics were so harsh that he decided to write no more books. Instead he continued with his poetry and for this we have to be greatful. He managed to write himself into being one of the best English poets of all times.

My favourite books by him are The Mayor of Casterbridge and Far From the Madding Crowd.  I did not like so much Tess of the D’Urberville although it is a wonderful satire over the hypocrisies of the society at the time. Well, all his book are very well written satire of the times in which he lived. So also Jude the Obscure. It is not difficult to understand why it met with such uproar at the times. He writes about religion and marriage, and his protagonists, Jude and Sue are no religious people and are living together without being married. There are two divorces included and all the hypocrisies of the time find their way into the novel.

Personally, I do not understand any of the people, and thinking of it, do not even like them. They are all very peculiar and act in a way which I do not fully understand. The characters are all very vague and I could never really grasp their personalities. While Sue and Jude were living together, he wanted to marry her. But every time they set out to do it, she changed her mind. She went for this and then changed her mind, she went for that and changed her mind again. On top of it, Jude just bowed to her whims and did not either put his foot down or made a statement of one kind or the other.

He had very high expectations as a young man. He wanted to study but it was not possible because he was poor. He taught himself and would have made a master student if he had had the possibility to study. He spoke Latin and Greek, knew all the classics and so on. He met Arabella as a young man and she seduced him into marrying him. Once married she went off to Australia with her parents, just to come back some years later. Over there she married an Australian man who had now emigrated to England. That is why she asked for a divorce to officially marry this man again.

To entice him to marry her, she told him she was pregnant although she was not. So, in spite of the fact the he was in love with his cousin Sue, he did the honourable thing and married her. That was also the time he had to give up his dream of studying. Now he had to work to support a family. Once Arabella is gone, he contacts Sue again and spends time with her. She is working as a teacher and have found a mentor in an older professor. He falls in love with her and proposes to her. She accepts and sticks to her promise, although she is in love with Jude. One can easily say that this is a mess.

The novel is a satire of the times and on the favourite subjects of Hardy, religion and hypocrisy. He was obviously far ahead of his time when writing about lovers living together without being married. Hardy said that this was the book that was least based on his own life and experience, but his wife was afraid that people would think the story was taken from his own life. Having read a biography on him, I am bound to think that it is based on his own, rather unhappy life and marriage. In thinking so, the novel makes more sense.

The Content Reader
Max Gate, the house that Thomas Hardy built for himself. 
He was a trained architect
I found the novel rather slow, and the ending is far from a happy one. I found that Tess of d’Urberville was rather sad as well in the end. Maybe Hardy was right; there was no hope for poor people if they wanted to raise themselves above their class. It was a fight that did not end happily. It is all very sad.

Hardy is still one of my favourite writers of the time. He has the talent to write a good story, to highlight the problems in society. He was rather criticised during his life-time and it took him hard. However, if he could see into the future, I am sure he would be happy to see that his books are read more than 100 years later. 

Monday, 25 January 2016

Brussels Bookswapper's Club

If you are living in Brussels you might like to come to the monthly Bookswap organised by Karen.
It takes place on Wednesday 27 January, at 19.30.

JANUARY 19, 2016
January 2016 Bookswap special
The Club’s first Bookswap of 2016 will feature a Literary Showcase (first launched last year) with a new Belgian author, Françoise Knockaert, as special guest. Françoise will be presenting her début novel “Quand la solidarité change les couleurs de la vie. Du SEL sur le feu” – published last year. This is more than just an autobiography. It traces a journey of self-discovery, of change, of spiritual growth, greater awareness of the power of life fuelled by community spirit and the generosity of human beings, total strangers. It tells a tale of positive transformation sparked by a near catastrophic event (see FB page for more details.) Come and hear Françoise’s inspiring story!

As usual, the doors open as of 18h30 for our monthly exchange of books, DVDs, CDs and audio cassettes in a multitude of languages, for all ages and tastes. Early birds will have a chance to browse among our many books and check the “catch of the day” tables before grabbing a welcome drink or bite to eat at the friendly restaurant downstairs. The books will remain on display for those of you who cannot come early. Depending primarily on the weather, I hope to introduce Françoise somewhere between 19h30 and 20h00 and questions are more than welcome from the floor in French and English. Fingers crossed, we’ll also have the pleasure of hearing some live music and singing – so join me and make this a special evening to kick off another year of bookswapping in Brussels – the 6th in Boitsfort!

Le Chapelier fou (1st floor)
190 chaussée de la Hulpe 190
1170 Brussels
02 660 6686
Kids: 16.00-18.30
Adults: 18.30-21.00

the life-changing magic of tidying by Marie Kondo

I got hold of this popular book the other week. Many of you have read it and it has got good reviews.
I am always in for good advice how to tidy up at home, so I did not think twice when I saw it in the book store. Of course, thinking of my TBR shelves and her advice to get rid of most of your books, maybe it was not such a good idea to buy it? And, when she starts talking about throwing out books...hmm!

Well, her philosophy is not that bad. She means that we should enjoy the things we have, and, if we have too many things, we don't have time to enjoy them all. Furthermore, you don't always know what you have in all your cupboards and drawers. Her motto is; just have the necessary things that give you joy and give them a place of their own in your home. Thank them for what they are doing for you and you will have a harmonious home.

Very good indeed. There seemed a little bit of repetition through the book, but I think it gives you the idea what she really means and how she goes about her life. She started tidying when she was only five years old and she has continued ever since. Now she has made it her business and she advices people how to de-clutter their houses. It seems she is quite successful, and has happy clients.

Why not I thought. I start right away, while I have her advices fresh in my mind. I don't think I can ever de-clutter as much as she wants, and I somehow imagine all her clients living in a deserted flat or house with nothing inside. But I guess it is not all that bad.

I started out with two book cases in the TV room, while watching Australian Open in tennis. Always good to do multi tasking...right? You should really start with your clothes. It seems it is important in which order you do the things, but...I started with the books. Not bad as a first exercise, since I got rid of more than half of the dvd:s and about 100 books! Yes, I did not believe it. I have a lot of these big books with pictures on various subjects like art, travel, films etc. To be honest, I don't look in them that often, so they had to go. I saved some for sentimental reasons, those who reminds me of the different countries I have been living in. It seems that once you start to be practical about your books, you can throw them out. Some of them I will take to the Bookswapping day on Wednesday. Here is how it looked, before (före) and after (efter).

It might not look revolutionary, but I moved quite a lot of books  from the library to here. This will definitely make it easier to go through the four book cases there (maybe tomorrow?).

By this time I was really warmed up so I also attacked one of my two wardrobes. I took out all the clothes, lingerie and everything else inside, put it on the bed...

...which was filled up completely. From there some things went to the bin and in the end, 2 bags will go to the clothes collecting station.  Was I pleased? Yes indeed. Her advice to roll  the clothes and put them vertically, rather than folding them and put them in piles, was a good advice. Although it did not work very well for me, since I have no drawers, just shelves, and most of the clothes did not stand up by themselves. I laid them side by side instead. It was not perfect, but will have to do for now. Maybe in the future I will buy small boxes and put them in. Unbelievably there was now so much space in the wardrobe, and I could easily fit in the things...and there is still space left! Another positive thing is that you have an overview of what you have when everything is visible. Pullovers, t-shirts and such things lying at the bottom of the pile tend to be forgotten.

I had socks, pantyhoses and tights in three different boxes, and now they all (almost) fitted into this one. I could not believe how many sport socks I have. Someone seeing them must think I am a professional sport person!

 What a magic day it was with the KonMarie Method!

Wednesday, 20 January 2016


I felt like being creative today and make some book marks. Recently, when I emptied an old handbag I found these old boarding cards, you know the small end that you got to keep when entering a plane. I have used them as bookmarks in the past and now I thought I could use some of my scrap booking paper and make them look a little bit nicer.

Well, here is the result


The Content Reader


The Content Reader

12 new bookmarks that I can keep or give away. Considering how many books I read at the same time I might need them all!

Sunday, 17 January 2016

Ketchup reading!

If you have looked at my reading for January you will discover that there are no books on the list so far! Having read 16 books in December it does stress me a little bit. In moments like this I go for ’ketchup reading’. You know the ketchup glass bottles. You can’t squees them so you have to hit the bottom to get the ketchup out. You hit and hit and nothing comes. And…oops! There it comes all at once!
The Content Reader

That is why I call my present state for ketchup reading. I am reading, not only one book at the time (as usual), both several. I guess that mean that all of a sudden I will have finished not one book but several. Let’s see what I am reading for the moment.

  • Jude the Obscure by Thomas Hardy (for Brontë Reading Group and we meet on Monday so have to finish soon)
  • Jailbird by Kurt Vonnegut (for another reading group who meet on Wednesday, but I will probably not be able to finish it so might not go)
  • The Prague Cemetery by Umberto Eco (Eco is not an easy read and I can only read small sections at the time)
  • Mrs Jordan’s Profession by Claire Tomalin (about actress Dora Jordan, mistress of the Duke of Clarence, later King William IV, with whom she had 7 children). Claire Tomalin is always a pleasure to read!
  • the life-changing magic of tidying by Maria Kondo (how to declutter your life and live happily ever after!)
  • Our Man in Havanna by Graham Greene (a classic novel).
  • The Almost Nearly Perfect People - Behind the myth of the Scandinavian utopia by Michael Booth (being Scandinavian myself it is always interesting with an outsiders view of your own area. Michael Booth is a journalist, married with a Danish and living in Denmark. Hilarious sometimes and I LOL!)
  • Selected Works of Alexander Pushkin (after reading a historical fiction about him (The Fourth King by Glen Petrie) I had to read some of his poems. Luckily I had such a book on my TBR shelves).

Here are eight books that I am currently changing between. I could probably find some more if I look further away from my bed table, but at least these are close at hand. I hope it means that I can finish them all before the end of the month! Hmm, we’ll see.

How are you doing with your reading in the beginning of the new year. It seems to me that most of you got off with a blast and have already read quite a few books. Well done!

Wednesday, 13 January 2016

Monthly reading in 2015

The Content Reader
Enjoying a good book on the beach
in Es Trenc, Mallorca
End of the year and looking on the reading statistics for 2015. As already mentioned I read 121 books this year, which is more than I have read during a year, since I started to blog. Looking at the number of books per month, it looks like this:

January: 7
February: 7
March: 8
April: 13
May: 14
June: 6
July: 9
August: 4
September: 9
October: 14
November: 14
December: 16

That shows that the autumn and winter months, at least in the end of the year, see more reading. Maybe because of bad weather and the fact that it is nice to cuddle up in the sofa corner and read a book. However, this should also have been the case for the first three months, but is not. Probably had other more pressing things to do. March and April saw a burst in reading, maybe me sitting outside in the sun and enjoying a good bok?

Summer is always busy with different things. My son being home from his studies in Sweden and then preparations for changing city for the autumn studies. End of August and beginning of September was spent in Sweden, so slightly less read than.

Well, all in all it was a good year for reading. I hope you are satisfied with your reading.

Sunday, 10 January 2016

Challenges in 2016

I will not join a lot of challenges for this year. It seems I am not able to keep up with other reading obligations. And as one fellow blogger said: as soon as you promise to read a book, it seems it is not that attractive! It is better to go to the shelves and grab a book depending on your present mood.

The main challenge as always is my TBR shelves. The aim is to lover them. However, I get tempted by the various challenges and they are great fun. I will therefore join one if it is compatible with my overall aim to lower the number of books on my TBR shelves.

Paris in July is a must of course. Hosted by Tea and Thyme, it is my favourite challenge of the year. You get to know so much about Paris from participants, finding new reads, places to visit, things to eat etc. Really looking forward to this one.

Well, that is in principal all there is to my challenges this year. I anticipate a lot of reading though being part of two book clubs. Furthermore, I am now writing reviews and articles for a Swedish web paper on literature and culture. Meaning, I have to spend more time in producing something more professional. Looking forward to this challenge.

What’s in a Name

The Content ReaderI have already joined one challenge, since it is compatible with my overall aim.  Wormhole  is hosting What's in a Name, aiming at reading 6 books in 2016.  I managed to find books from my shelves that fit into the theme of each one.  Looking forward to exchange views with the participants.

A country - The Knight Templar in Britain by Evelyn Lord (hope Britain is ok?)
An item of clothing - The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins (hope this ok as well, white hinting at a robe?)
An item of furniture -  The Binding Chair by Kathy Harrison
A profession - Alkemistens dotter (The Alchemist's Daughter) by Carl-Michael Edenborg
A month of the year - Light in August by William Faulkner
A title with the word 'tree' in it - Under the Greenwood Tree by Thomas Hardy

Vintage Scavenger Hunt

The Content Reader
This challenge is hosted by My Reader’s Block.  ”Your mission, should you choose to accept it, will be to find as many objects on the scavenger hunt list as possible on the covers of the mystery books you read (for the list go to link above). As has been the case for Vintage Bingo you may play along in either the Golden or Silver Mystery Eras (or, for the more adventurous, both).”

Since I have decided only to accept Challenges if they are compatible with lowering my TBR shelves, I have to see what I have as regards suitable covers. Will come back with a list, either for Gold or for Silver. I enroll here only on a whim and knowing that I really do not have that many mystery or thriller books. Let’s see what I can do. It sounds great nevertheless, so I could not resist.

The Classic Club

The Content ReaderI will continue with The Classic Club although the results from my point of view are appalling. More discipling for 2016 please! Still have a few to catch up, and they are on my shelves so no excuse anymore! You find my list here: Classic list.

My 500 Words

The Content ReaderI have joined a writing challenge hosted by Jeff Goin. The aim is to write 500 words a day for 31 days. Just to get your writing going and coming into a routine.  The writing can be anything you choose as long as you write at least 500 words a day. This blog post for example is a little bit more than 500 words, so - voilà - my goal for today achieved. I want to use it also for other kind of writings.

Some of my challenges for this year. I will try to be more organised, disciplined and focused this year. I have great expectations for this year. Just have to wait until the end of the year to see what I have achieved and if I am pleased with the outcome!

Looking forward mingling with you through challenges, blog posts and comments. Thank you for a wonderful 2015 and looking forward seeing you all in 2016!

Saturday, 9 January 2016

Forget Me Not by Marjorie Bowen

The Content ReaderI downloaded this book of historical fiction since I liked the summary of the story. I see now, when I am about to write a review, that it was first published in 1932! This is quite a surprise since it feels very fresh and I was sure it was a new book.

I finished it some weeks ago, and it gave me a very mixed impression so I really had to think about it for a while. It is not the quite easy, half romantic historical fiction I thought it was. It was quite something else.

It starts when Mary Showler elopes with a young noble man to get married. However, somehow, when they end up in an inn for the night, she realises that he never intended to marry her at all. She is a girl from a French noble family which was impoverished when Napoleon fell from power, and she is now working as a teacher in a school in England. Once she realises that he does not want to marry her she leaves him to go back to the school. Too late to have her job back she supports herself as a governess. She changes work frequently since she normally gives the mother in the family unpleasant vibes, although the children always love her. Now, she gets the opportunity to go back to France to work in an aristocratic family.
But Mrs. Coombe Wade felt a certain responsibility that urged her to make further enquiries.’An exceptional person is required - there are five children and the mother can do nothing, social obligations, you know, and ill health, then the establishment is really magnificent! One requires someone with authority-’’Mademoiselle Debelleyme has that - she is very good with servants, a wonderful gift for keeping order and discipline - with children, too - she really takes all the trouble off one’s shoulders!’
Mary Showler has changed her name back to Debelleyme, and as such she comes to the Duke and Duchesse du Boccage. She takes hold of the household which is in array due to the lack of management by the duchesse and she makes herself at home and takes care of everything in the household. The Duke is happy to have a functioning house and someone to deal with the children. However, soon the Duchesse sees that the little power she had is gone and her estranged relationship with her husband is even more estranged, when he tends to spend more time with his children under the auspices of the governess.

I will not reveal more of the plot here. However, it is a very strange story and I don’t really know what to make of it. Most characters are unsympathetic, and the character of the ’heroine’ Mlle Debelleyme turns out to be not that nice. Or is she? This is the question? Is she as manipulative as it seems, or is she just very honest? She has had to take care of herself from a very young age, and she is trying to find a place in the world. It is not easy for a woman on her own in those days.

The story takes a turn and a turn again. I don’t want to reveal it here since it would spoil the story if you want to read it. However, if someone is reading it I would love to discuss the actions of Mlle Debelleyme. All in all a fascinating read with characters not that easy to understand or love.