Wednesday, 7 December 2016

Full House Reading Challenge 2017

I love this Challenge hosted by Kathryn at Bookdate  and participated during 2016 (almost finished it, but not quite). As with most Challenges I join, I try to use them to lower the number of books on my TBR shelves. This is a perfect challenge to do that. My aim will therefore be to read as many books as possible from my own shelves. 
You will find the rules under the link above, but in short, you have to read one book from each category below. One can be changed if you so like. Here are the categories (for easy updating I choose to list them. I am not entirely sure how to update the chart):
Non fiction -  The Pursuit of Glory - The Five Revolutions that made Modern Europe 1648 - 1815 by Tim Banning     
On TBR for 2+ years -    Blondie by Joyce Carol Oates    
More than 500 pages - Buddenbrooks by Thomas Mann
Page Turner -
Middle Grade Book -
2017 published -
Published pre 2000 - An Instant of the Finger Post by Iain Pears (1997)
UK/European author - The Book of Disquiet by Fernando Pessoa (Portuguese)      
Back List book from fav. author - Shirley by Charlotte Brontë
Book from a list - 
Award Winner - The History of the Siege of Lisbon by Jose Saramago
Book about books -  All Roads Lead to Austen - A Yearlong Journey with Jane by Amy Elizabeth Smith       
Book from childhood -
Diversity book - Dr Luther and Mr Hyde by Per Svensson
Australian/NZ author -
Western -
USA/Canadian author - Lord John and the Hand of Devils by Diana Gabaldon
Not really for you - 
Attractive cover -
Borrowed -

The rest will be filled in as I start my reading year 2017. 
Do you like to participate in Challenges? Which is your favourite one or 

Tuesday, 6 December 2016

6 Degrees of Separation Meme

6 Degrees of Separation is a monthly meme hosted by Kate @Books Are My Favourite and Best.

This is my first entry with 6 Degrees of Separation. I find it interesting to follow a thread in what I read. One book leading to another, be it the same author, the same genre, the same theme or the same anything. A link is a way to discover new books, places and people.

The 3 December book is Revolutionary Road by Richard Yates. I have not read this book, neither seen the movie. But I always intended to, but the future will tell. From there I would use Road as the connecting word and go on to a new purchase; All Roads Lead to Austen - A yearlong Journey with Jane by Amy Elizabeth Smith. Austen is always interesting and this seems to be a new way to approach her. Naturally the connection is Austen so I choose Northanger Abbey which I recently read and just loved. It comes out as my second favourite Austen (after Pride and Prejudice of course).

The thread here is Abbey which make me think of the Knights Templar. Suitable since I have a book on my TBR shelves that fits in; The Rise and Fall of the Knights Templar by Gordon Napier. It is always an interesting topic. Connecting words this time are Rise/Fall which takes me to a classic; The Rise and Fall of the Roman Empire by Edward Gibbon. I have the book somewhere and have read at least half of it. Hmm, can't remember having seen it for a while so it might have got lost! Rome is the connecting word and leads to The Classic World - An Epic History of Greece and Rome by Robin Lane Fox. Another fiction book on my TBR shelves.

Monday, 5 December 2016

Book Festival

The yearly Book Festival took place here in Belgium from 1-4 December. I took the car and went over to Mechelen, a town, just outside of Brussels, on the way to Antwerp, where this festival normally takes place. As usual there were a lot of books, mainly in Dutch, but also some in French and English. Furthermore, they also offer hobby material for scrap booking, journaling etc. A little bit like Christmas in advance.

Although I should not buy too many new books, I just can not resist such an event. The books are cheap and you always find some classics and discover books you have never heard of before. Although I really restricted myself, I came away with eleven books! And interesting ones. Can't wait to read them. Here they are in no specific order, just the pile on my desk.

All Roads Lead to Austen - A yearlong Journey with Jane by Amy Elizabeth Smith

"With a suitcase full of Jane Austen novels en espanol, Amy Elizabeth Smith set off on a yearlong Latin American adventure: a traveling book club with Jane. In six unique, unforgettable countries, she gathered book-loving new friends - taxi drivers and teachers, poets and politicians - to read Emma, Sense and Sensibility, and Pride and Prejudice. " Well, having just read Sense and Sensibility I felt this book talking to me.

Lord John and the Hand of Devils by Diana Gabaldon

"Diana Gabaldon delivers three tales of war, intrigue and espionage featuring the unforgettable Lord John Grey. In the heart of the eighteenth century, Lord John's world is one of mystery and menace; where allies have the power to destroy him with a single blow. As he ventures into an ominous unknown, his companions are haunted soldiers, sinister family secrets and lingering memories of a fiery-haired Scot named James Fraser. " A character from her books in the Outlander series who we meet here in a separate series.

Contemplating Adultery - The Secret Life of a Victorian Woman by Lotte and Joseph Hamburger

"In the early 1830s Sarah Austin, trapped in a loveless and dutiful mariiage, falls in love with a man she has never met - a German prince, author of the bestselling book she is translating into English. Their romance by letter becomes increasingly intimate as she eagerly confides the secrets of her inner life - her disappointment in marriage and her hunger for affection." Having just read Kate Summerscale's "The Private Diary of a Victorian Lady" it seemed fine to continue with another diary from the same time.

I love the cover and was thinking that it must be from a painting by the pre-Raphaelites. And right so; It is from 'The Day Dream' (1880) by Dante Gabriel Rossettti.

Friday, 2 December 2016

European Reading Challenge 2017

Rose City Reader is doing the European Reading Challenge again for 2017. I participated in 2015, I think, and it is also a great challenge. I will go for the five star (deluxe entourage) which means to read at least five books by different European authors or books set in different European countries.

Under the link above you will find the rules and link-up for this challenge. As for the other challenges I will aim at reducing my TBR shelves. Here are the five books I will read.

The Go-Between by J.P. Hartley (UK)
Goodbye to Berlin by Christopher Isherwood (Germany)
Nåden har ingen lag by Torgny Lindgren (Sweden)
Stalin, the Red Tsar by Simon Sebag Montefiore (Russia)
Pansarhjärta by Joe Nesbo (Norway)

I realise that I have mainly kept myself in Northern Europe. But, that is where I am from, and I take this opportunity to finish a couple of books that have been on my shelves a long time.

Thursday, 1 December 2016

Classic Spin #14 - review

Believe it or not, but for once I managed to finalise the book for the Classic Club spin, in due time as well. My number one was Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen. It has lived a quiet life on my TBR shelves for quite a few years. I love Austen, so there is really no excuse why I have shunned this one. Or is there? I always thought that it was considered one of her best books, without knowing exactly why. After having read it, it will end up as the one I like the least. I thought it was a really boring book, or as Shakespeare put it: "Much ado about nothing!"

The heroine was not very likeable, that is Marianne. Elinor, her sister was much more in my taste. In short, Mrs Dashwood becomes a widow, without much money to help her take care of the family. The brother is a total *%()" (you know what I mean), under influence of his terrible wife, and, although he has the means to support them he convinces himself that he has no obligation!?!? Mrs Dashwood is offered a cottage from a friend of theirs, pack up her things, takes her three daughters and moves to Devonshire. There they have a pleasant family life with friends and neighbours, until charming and dashing John Willoughby happens to pass by and enter the life of Marianne. Cupid was there very fast, obviously without thinking too much about it, and Marianne is lost in translation. However, before Mr Willoughby has to leave the area, he and Marianne are engaged.

lPenguin ClassicsNext we see the family with their friends in London.  Marianne is waiting for Willoughby to turn up. She writes him letters, but to no avail. He does visit them once, but at a time when they are out. Next we know Mr Willoughby is to be married to a heiress, throwing our dear Marianne into the depths of despair. In the meantime Elinor is in love with Edward Ferrars, her sister-in-law's brother. They met while Elinor and her mother and sisters stayed with her brother and sister-in-law. They both seem to care for each other, but not all men are as forward as Mr Willoughby, so nothing is really said. Elinor is a more sensible person than her sister, see the facts of life, and although unhappy, still manages to live her life.

Well, for those of you who will read the book I will not reveal the ending. Only that it took a very long time, a lot of turns left and right, back and forth before everything was settled. Not exactly as you might expect, so there is  a little bit of a surprise in the end. However much I love Austen and her way of writing, which is also excellent here, it is just tooooooo many words this time. To much lingering on details which might not be so important. I am thinking that half the book, or at least one third, could have been cut out. Still, if you are an Austen fan you just have to read it. N'est pas?

I must admit that I read it as an e-book, although starting out in the paper book. But the text was so small, it was impossible for me to read it. There is one reason why the e-readers are good sometimes!

In the meantime, I have read Northanger Abbey for the Brontë Reading Group, and we will discuss it next week. I really liked that novel and it will come up on a stable second best after Pride and Prejudice. Is there anything that can beat that one? I don't think so, but I still have Mansfield Park to read. On third place so far is Persuasion, which I also like. Which is your favourite Jane Austen?

Wednesday, 30 November 2016

A 2017 Challenge - The Alphabet Soup Reading Challenge

Time for another challenge that popped up in my Feedly. It is the 2017 Alphabet Soup Reading Challenge hosted by Escape With Dollycas, which I have not done before. The idea is to read one book for each of the letters in the Alphabet. Go to link to see the rules. As always I try first hand to grab a book from my TBR shelves. Here is my initial list. Curious to see if I can fill up the whole list from these shelves? Since I am Swedish and we have three more letters than the English alphabet, I added them. Just for the fun of it. Hope it is ok.

A - Aldermans arvinge by Gabriella Håkansson
B - Buddenbrooks by Thomas Mann
C - Colombus, The Four Voyages by Laurence Berggren
D - Darwin's Sacred Cause, Race, Slavery and the quest for Human Origins by Adrian Desmond and James Moore
E - Eleanor, The Secret Queen by John Ashdown-Hill
F - Freedom by Jonathan Franzen
G - Gabriele d'Annunzio by Lucy Hughes-Hallett
H - Historien om Lissabons belägring by Jose Saramago
I -  If you Could See Me Now by Cecilia Ahern
J - Jorden runt på 80 dagar by Jules Verne
K - Krysalis by John Trenhaile
L - Lisbeth by Ragnhild Hallén
M - Moderspassion by Majgull Axelsson
N - Notorious by Janet Dailey
O - Ofredsår by Peter Englund
P - Påven Johanna by Donna Woolfolk Cross
R - Russka by Edward Rutherford
S - Sophie's World by Jostein Gaarder
T - The Tiger's Wife by Téa Obreht
U - Unsolved Mysteries of Amsterdam by Martijn J. Adelmund
V - Viskar ditt namn by Kristin Hannah
W - Women in Love by D.H. Lawrence
Å - Återvändaren by Butler & Öhrlund

Well, five letters missing, so have to look for them elsewhere. Otherwise, I am quite pleased that I could come up with almost all the books from my own shelves. Looking forward exchanging views with all the participants.

Tuesday, 29 November 2016

Mrs Robinson's Disgrace (The Private Diary of a Victorian Lady) by Kate Summerscale

Kate Summerscale is a journalist/author who specialises in books about real life events. Some years ago I read her The Suspicions of Mr Whicher or The Murder at Road Hill House, telling the story of a little boy being murdered in the midst of his family, in the mid 1800s. It was an interesting account on the police work and probably the first time that the private lives of the Victorian family concerned, was not so private anymore.

The title of this book teased me, and I was not aware of the actual theme of the book when I bought it. I figured it would be a daily account of a Victorian lady, which would give me a glimpse into her world. It was not exactly what I expected.

Mrs Robinson was married to Mr Robinson (of course) in her second and not entirely happy marriage. The husband was occupying himself with his business and often left his wife on her own. She did not really have anyone to confide in, so did so to her diary.

It is full of her daily life, her family, friends and her infatuations with different men. It is all very well, until she, several years later, becomes ill and her husband finds her diary. He takes it, reads it and immediately files for a divorce.

It seems that in the mid 1800s laws were changed and it was a little bit easier and affordable to get a divorce. However, this case was rare, since the husband used the diary of his wife as a means to prove that she had been unfaithful.

Summerscale moves between the diary notes and historical data of the time. We get a glimpse into the life and customs, as well as events happening around the trial. What is interesting is to see how judges, male of course, viewed women and women's sexuality at the time. There was a lot of developments within psychology, phrenology and sexuality going on in the mid 1800s, and Summerscale skilfully incorporates these developments into the overall story.

I found it quite fascinating, but at the same time a little bit sad. Mainly that a private account, that was not supposed to be read by anyone else, was used in a very public trial.  One can only imagine how it would have hurt her to have it all read out in the court room. I will not reveal either the outcome and more details of the diary. However, the verdict in the end is quite surprising. Maybe not the verdict as such, but the reasoning behind it.

An interesting tale of times gone by. Kate Summerscale has given us another historical account,  with great knowledge of the time and the customs and how the Victorian upper class lived their lives.

Sunday, 27 November 2016

What's in a Name - challenge 2017

We are nearing the end of the year and it is time to have a look at the results from the 2016 challenges. While doing this, I have noted that the 2017 challenges are building up, and, as usual, a lot of interesting ones. My main challenge this year was to lower my TBR shelves, and any challenge I joined would have to fit in to the various books on these shelves. It has worked out very well. So far I have read 44 books from these shelves, and I hope to be able to finish at least 50 this year. Six to go! There are still 206 minus 44 = 162 books on my shelves, but I am slowly getting there. The aim is another 50 for 2017.

I love all the challenges I am participating in this year. One which is already there to sign up for in 2017 is "What's in a Name" hosted by The Worm Hole. You find the criteria and link-up on the link. For 2016 I have three more books to read, and I just picked them out from my shelves in order not to forget. They are:

Light in August by William Faulkner
The Binding Chair by Kathryn Harrison
Under the Greenwood Tree by Thomas Hardy

The following criteria is set up for 2017 (my choices after the brackets).

A number in numbers - I have no title with numbers, so have to find. Otherwise I might use Nine Parts of Desire by Geraldine Brooks

A building - The Mill on the Floss by George Elliot

A title which has an ‘X’ somewhere in it - Kansler Axel Oxenstierna 1&2 by Gunnar Wetterberg

A compass direction - East of Eden by John Steinbeck (in a book with his collected works)

An item/items of cutlery - Nothing that fits, so have to find a book for here.

A title in which at least two words share the same first letter – alliteration! - The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield

Looking forward starting the new year with this challenge. Are you participating in any challenges next year?

Wednesday, 23 November 2016

Dansa på deadline (Dancing on deadline) by Alexander Rozental and Lina Wennersten

Dansa på deadline is a book about procrastination, written by psychologist (Alexander) and journalist (Lina). A very interesting book, especially if you are a master of procrastination! When I started the book, I was a little bit surprised. How come these people, which I do not know personally, have been writing a book about me? Everything I read could be directly related to my own life. After the first initial chock, I realised it probably means I am not the only procrastinator in the world.

The book is very well written. Very pedagogical and it speaks directly to you. After each chapter there are exercises and good advice to help you in the right direction. I have not yet done the exercises, but will do those which seem most applicable to myself.

Here are a few things to consider.
  • Impulsive persons have the biggest difficulties with procrastination. They have no patience or disciplin to wait for the reward. They choose the easiest and least satisfying tasks first and the more troublesome tasks at the end, when there is no more time to deal with them. We use self control to deal with impulsiveness. Self control makes us work towards the goal, even if it lingers in a rather far distant. Lack of self control makes you distracted and you probably turn to tasks that give you the reward sooner. Therefore the more complicated tasks, the more they are delayed until the very last minute. 
  • Lack of self confidence is another culprit and makes it more difficult for us to reach the goal we are aiming at. It goes hand in hand with self-efficacy, that is; confidence in your own ability to act towards a set target. Self confidence and self efficacy are developed depending on experiences during our childhood. To challenge ourselves will take us in the right direction. To set up goals and manage to fulfil will boost our self confidence.
  • It seems people doing sports normally are less prone to procrastination. This goes hand in hand with the fact that to be a good sportsman/woman you have to have discipline. 
  • For the more complicated tasks, and where there is a deadline, we do the first part of the task using 80% of total time. The other half is done during the last 20%. 
  • A good way to reach a satisfactory achievement is to set smaller goals along the way. If we see the very big mountain in the end, we tend to turn to other tasks more easily to fulfil and finish. If we just look ahead for the next 400 metres, it is easier to reach this level and from there take another small step. 
  • It is also important to take breaks from time to time. Take a 5 min break; take a small walk, get some coffee or tea or speak with a colleague. 

The book contains a lot of interesting research, statistics and advice how to get around procrastinating. It is easy to grasp, and while it is in Swedish, I am sure there are many books out there in English tackling the problem. A lot of the research come from US universities. I hope, with the help of the exercises and all the good advice, I will be able to find a good routine so I can put procrastination behind me.  Having said that; you can imagine my procrastination before finalising this post!

What about you? Are you prone to procrastination? Or are you digging straight into a difficult task, plan it accordingly and finish it a little bit ahead of the deadline?

Tuesday, 22 November 2016

Charles Dickens - Compassion and Contradiction by Karen Kenyon

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way – in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.
This is the opening line from one of Charles Dickens most famous books, A Tale of Two Cities. Charles Dickens is considered one of the greatest novelists during the Victorian era. Almost all of his books are famous and has created unforgettable characters, whose names are used, still today, by artists and alike. He was considered a genius already in his life time. Numerous are the biographies written about him. A couple of years ago I readCharles Dickens: A Life by Claire Tomalin. An excellent, and detailed, account of his life, his work and his times. It is highly recommended. However, if you want to read a shorter account of his very active life, I can recommend Karen Kenyon's Charles Dickens: Compassion and Contradiction publish as an e-book by The Odyssey Press/Endeavour Press.

Karen Kenyon is an American teacher in writing and author of poetry, essays, interviews and travel articles. She has written a well researched, very compassionate, vivid account of the life, works and times of Charles Dickens. Nothing is missing. With compassion she takes us through his traumatic childhood, which was to stay with him all his life, and gave him his social conscience, always present in his literary work.  He was an avid walker, and walked for hours around London's poor areas, watching and noticing people around him and the life they led. Later on he visualised them in his novels.

His compassion led him to write news articles and he even created newspapers who dealt with many of the social problems of the day. Most of his life, he was under a lot of stress to complete his stories, often first printed as weekly instalments in the newspapers, before they were printed as a book. This was a new way of reaching out to the poor people, who could buy a paper, but could not afford books. He was immensely popular. Due to a very strict disciplin, which he kept all his life, there was nevertheless  time for his friends and people in need. He seems to have been working all the time.

So, where do the contradictions come in? One part of his life that he failed in, is his family. In 1836, 24 years old, and having already started writing the Pickwick Papers, he married Catherine Hogarth, daughter of the editor of the Evening Chronicle.  They were two different kind of people and with the years they became more estranged. Catherine's love for Dickens however, lasted a life time. His went away as the number of children grew! They had 10 children and somehow, it seems, he blamed Catherine for the number of children! Their family life was turbulent. Catherine suffered from depressions, and especially post natal depressions, of which Dickens had no understanding or patience. Most of their life Catherine's sisters lived with them to help her with the big family, of which she was not able to cope. Where Dickens had compassion and an interest to do good as concerned his friends and the poor people of the day, he had no compassion with his own family. In 1858 the couple separated, and most of the children stayed with Dickens. At this time he had also met Ellen Ternan, an actress, which he fell in love with. The art of their relationship is still somewhat unclear.

Dickens led a turbulent life in private as well as in his official role of the master, genius author. His involvement in the social problems of the day, gave him the base he needed in creating immortal characters and stories. Kenyon, takes us through Dickens literary life and weaves his private life, compassions and contradictions into it. It is a wonderful tale, of a unique character, who, with his charisma and pure energy, managed to live his life fully. Kenyon, successfully, tells his story with all the energy he himself put into his life. The biography almost feels like a roller coaster, where you follow him through the different parts of his life, almost without thinking or breathing. It is difficult to put down this book. A fascinating book about a fascinating character.

Thank you to The Odyssey Press/Endeavour Press for a review copy of the book. The views above are my personal ones.