31 Oct 2010

NYRB Reading Challenge

Do you like a challenge? Then you absolutely must pop by The Literary Stew at http://theliterarystew.blogspot.com/2010/10/nyrb-reading-week-november-7-13.html who is cohosting a great challenge with Honey from Coffeespoons. The challenge is fairly simple: read a book from the NYBR list and write a review of it. There is a long long list of books so lots to choose from.
I will go for "The Enchanted April" by Elizabeth von Arnim and possibly also Cassandra at the Wedding by Dorothy Baker. Will you be joining? and if yes, what will you be reading?

Review: "Hush, hush" - Kiss kiss, bang bang

I've read so much about this book. As a Twilight-lover I have been on the lookout for some YA to satisfy my craving for teenage romance and I was quite sure that "Hush, Hush" by Becca Fitzpatrick would fit the bill. And it did actually.

The storyline is YA classic. Teenager Nora Grey lives with her mother who is never home and goes to the local high school where she hangs out with her best friend Vee. However, when she ends up sitting next to the next and slightly mysterious guy Patch Cipriano things suddenly begin happening. Patch knows things about her and he makes her feel insecure and unsafe. He stalks her, makes her feel uncomfortable and she is worried that someone (Patch?) is trying to kill her. The chemistry between Nora and Patch is undeniable and as the story moves forward, they come closer and closer.

I liked this story. It delivered what it promised, nothing more nothing less. It had no real depth and it was quite predictable but at the same time it satisfied my desire for a real YA novel. I enjoyed the banter and chemistry between the two main characters and most of all I enjoyed Nora. She has so much more spark and energy than Bella from Twilight. She is actually really cool - the kind of girl that I wouldn't mind hanging out with. She is a good friend, a brave girl who has a sense of humor.

If you liked Twilight, I think there is a 99% chance that you will like "Hush, hush".

29 Oct 2010

All I want for Christmas is... "A Good School"

This is a weekly meme that's hosted by A Tapestry of Words -www.atapestryofwords.blogspot.com - where every week up until Christmas, you choose a book that you would like to see under your tree! You also have to say why of course.

So this week I will be wishing for "A Good School" by Richard Yates. The story is set in a boarding school on the evning of America's entry into WWII and features a range of characters - from a nervous teenager to teacher's daugther with a schoolgirl crush. It has been called a masterpiece and I really really want to read it. So Santa, please put this one under the tree for me. What are you dreaming of finding under your tree?

26 Oct 2010

Teaser Tuesday: "Sect Child"

Today - this morning on the bus to work - I was reading a Swedish book called "Sektbarn", translated to English that would be "Sect Child". It is basically a book of interviews with adults who have grown up in different religious societies. Even though the author is very critical and focusing on the issues, I find it really interesting and I feel like I learn something about the different faith and belief systems. Here is a quote - translated by myself... sorry for any mistakes:

""I understand them", Sandra says, "I think it takes a stable life to handle the mental work it takes to remember all these assaults. Today I have a stable and very good life. Just six years ago I wouldn't have wanted to tell about my childhood.""

From the book "Sect Child - Chosen for Paradise" by Charlotte Essén

So go ahead and share your teasers!!

TEASER TUESDAYS asks you to:

Grab your current read.
Let the book fall open to a random page.
Share with us two “teaser” sentences from that page.
You also need to share the title of the book that you’re getting your “teaser” from … that way people can have some great book recommendations if they like the teaser you’ve given!
Please avoid spoilers!

25 Oct 2010

Review: "The 19th Wife" - Tales of the 19th Wives

I read "The 19th Wife" - or at least most of it - while on a flight from Iceland to the USA. Long flight = lots of time to read. And luckily the book was really good, enough to keep me occupied for most of the flight. It is a really good book, David Ebershoff really knows how to tell a story.

I have borrowed a summary of the plot from the author's web site http://www.ebershoff.com/ :

"It is 1875, and Ann Eliza Young has recently separated from her powerful husband, Brigham Young, prophet and leader of the Mormon Church. Expelled and an outcast, Ann Eliza embarks on a crusade to end polygamy in the United States. A rich account of a family’s polygamous history is revealed, including how a young woman became a plural wife.

Soon after Ann Eliza’s story begins, a second exquisite narrative unfolds–a tale of murder involving a polygamist family in present-day Utah. Jordan Scott, a young man who was thrown out of his fundamentalist sect years earlier, must reenter the world that cast him aside in order to discover the truth behind his father’s death.

And as Ann Eliza’s narrative intertwines with that of Jordan’s search, readers are pulled deeper into the mysteries of love and faith."

So what we have here is basically a blend of historical fiction about the mormon church and a murder mystery. The historical part is narrated by Ann Eliza Young, a real-life figure, the mystery part is narracted by contruction worker Jordan Scott whose past lies in a church which has broken off from the Mormon church and continued a very oldfashioned religious doctrine. Both parts of the plot had plenty of suspense to keep me reading, it was such a good book. The 19th wife are two persons - Ann Eliza Young is the 19th wife Brigham Young and Jordan's mother is the 19th wife in her household.

Jordan had me fascinated. he was expelled from his church, his family, his life, as a teenager for holding his stepsister's hand and since then he has had to fight his way through life. He is a tough bloke with a soft side and at times I really felt protective of him. However, when his mother is arrested for murder, he heads back to face his past and try to clear his mother's name.

I knew very little about the Mormon church and I did feel like I learnt something about the story of the church. It was really interesting. How the polygamous marriages work are difficult for me to understand but it is fascinating to read about. And to make it even better, the book is well-written, has a great language and really manages to make the characters come to life.

22 Oct 2010

"The Flight from the Enchanter" - a flight of fancy

I have become really quite enchanted with Iris Murdoch and yesterday I finished her slim novel "The Flight from the Enchanter" from 1956. It is a story that revolves around Mischa Fox, the enchanter, a secretive figure who has strange relations to all the other character in the story.

It all starts out with Annette Cockeyne, a young wild-at-heart girl, deciding to leave her finishing school,indulging in a last swing from the chandelier before embarking on a session in the school of life. She stays with her mothers friend Rosa Keepe, a gentlewoman working in a factory who has a complicated relationship to two Polish brothers and a motherly role to her brother Hunter. Other people in the story are the useless John Rainborough, the sneaky Calvin Blick, the seamstress Nina and the eccentric possibly very rich Camilla Wingfield.

The central characters - at least in my interpretation - are Rosa and Anette. They are both women who shrug of the expectations of conventional society. Rosa by working in a factory and having a secretive and difficult relationship to two Polish refugees who have gained a certain power over her. Annette by leaving her finishing school and trying to learning about life on her own - getting into quite an amount of scrapes in the process. Annette made me feel protective of her, she is so unable to cope on her own and her shallow thoughts lead to pretty bad decisions. She is like a child playing grown-up, whereas Rosa has left all of her childhood behind immersing herself in grim reality. And somehow losing herself in the process. It is somehow a disturbing read but also really enchanting. Mischa - the man of impossible power - is enchanting. He seems charismatic and actually nice - however, his right-hand-man Calvin Blick is really creepy, a nasty piece of work.

It is a magical story. The language, the prose, the style of Iris Murdoch is enchanting. I really loved reading the story and found myself really liking Rosa Keepe and her early-feminist ways. A little gem of a book.

21 Oct 2010

Review: "Black Swan Green" - Teenage Blues from Worcestershire

I found "Black Swan Green" in charity shop and was immediately attrached to the beautiful green cover. I love the colours of it and would have bought it just for that - however, I am pleased to say that it comes with a really beautiful story inside written by the author David Mitchell whom some of you may know from "Cloud Atlas".

Black Swan Green is the name of the Worcestershire village where Jason Taylor lives with his mum, dad and older sister - and the hangman, as he calls his stutter to put a persona on this impairing speech issue. We follow Jason through thick and thin as he grows from boy to teenager in a year that really pushes him to the breaking point on several fronts.

The book is like several little stories about Jason and his family - I particularly like the chapter where his aunt, uncle and three posh cousins visit from London. The aunt and Jason's mum are sisters, supporting each other, but the dad and the uncle have a thinly veiled competition going on. They have "friendly" disagreements and one is more ridiculous than the other. And then there is the cool cousin Hugo who nicks cigarettes and singlehandedly group pressures Jason into smoking them.
Jason is one of those kids, who is neither cool nor a nerd, he just is. Normal, really. However, within the year that is portrayed he experiences quite severe bullying but gets back with a vengenance. It is a funny, sweet story of adolescent dramas - dramas that most of us remember.

This book didn't have me spellbound. It was not unputdownable. But it was really, really good and very funny. A bittersweet reminder of adolescence but also a great story about surviving bullying, the first kiss, ridiculous parents, stuttering and being an aspiring poet.

19 Oct 2010

Teaser Tuesday: "The Flight from the Enchanter"

So it's been a while since I have done a Teaser Tuesday but today, I will do one.

TEASER TUESDAYS asks you to:

Grab your current read.
Let the book fall open to a random page.
Share with us two “teaser” sentences from that page.
You also need to share the title of the book that you’re getting your “teaser” from … that way people can have some great book recommendations if they like the teaser you’ve given!
Please avoid spoilers!

So here we go, today's teaser is from "The Flight from the Enchanter" by Iris Murdoch.

"Rosa had been very fond of Marcia Cockeyne when they had been at school together in Switzerland, and leter when they shared a flat in London, and she did her best to be fond of Annette, not without some success. This was the easier, since Anette had never yet occupied very much of Rosa's attention."

17 Oct 2010

"The Exception" - an exceptional novel

It was my mum and dad who recommended "The Exception" by Danish author Christian Jungersen. So if you are part if the Scandinavian Reading Challenge, you have to read this review because this book is amazing. It is really really good.
The story line is quite complex and the story is told from the view points of four women, Anne-Lise, Iben, Malene and Camilla. The four women work at Danish Centre for Information about Genocide and one day two of them receive death threats.

As the story unfolds it becomes clear, the much more is happening beneath the surface and that these women are not who they appear to be. Iben is the dedicated academic who has devoted her life to work and her best friend, the man-eater Malene who from a very young age has suffered from crippling arthritis. Camilla is the quiet mother from the suburbs and Anne-Lise is the new woman in the office. As we get further into the story, it becomes very clear that the office atmosphere is rotting from a severe case of adult bullying. Events become more and more disturbing and what starts out as "mere" verbal bullying turns into criminal actions and life-threathening circumstances.

The book also focuses a lot on the nature of evil and the story is spiced with scientific facts and tales from the world of psychology. So not only is this a really disturbing and disturbingly good story about bullying and the evil inside all humans but also a great way to learn more about the way we perceive evil.

It is hard to tell more about the actual story without giving too much away. However, I really recommend this book. It is very very good and very exciting and it also made me think a lot about the way in which we can bully without actually really doing anything. Sometimes doing absolutely nothing - i.e. ignoring someone - is the worst form of bullying. Just like "We Need to Talk about Kevin" by Lionel Shriver, this is a book that is scary on so many levels that it is hard to sum it up - so therefore: just read it!

13 Oct 2010

The Graduate" - tough lessons in the school of life

Mrs. Robinson is a bit of a cultural legend and as I have never managed to see the film "The Graduate", I thought I would give the book a go and get to meet the famous lady. That was how I ended up reading "The Graduate" by Charles Webb.
The book and the drama all start at Mr. and Mrs. Braddock's party to celebrate the graduation of their pride and joy, their only son Benjamin. Only Benjamin does not want to take part in the party and be a good boy and polite to his parents friends. Inside him a psychological drama of epic proportions are taking place and he is fighting to figure out what to do with his life.
Devoid of a solution to this questions, he spends the the following weeks sleeping, drinking and embarking on an affair with his parents' friend Mrs. Robinson.
Needless to say, this is the road to even more mental struggles and Benjamin becomes even more pressured by his own mind, when he is forced into going on a date with Elaine Robinson, the teenager daugther of the Robinsons.

The book is quite short and I would have preferred it more detailed. I never really got to like Benjamin, found him a bit annoying actually and I didn't understand his emotional swings from confusion to quick, spontaneous decision. Also Mrs. Robinson and her daughter remained half-hidden to me, never really coming to life.
The story line is interesting though, it is very much about rebelling against conventional society and refusing to fit in. A great theme that is not explored deeply enough. However, it has a historical authencity. It was written in 1963 and I felt like this historical period of time was very apparent in the book and I really enjoyed that.

All in all a good read - and apparently there is a sequel called "Home School".

9 Oct 2010

Review: "The Book and the Brotherhood" - The effect of a common enemy

What is it about? Somebody asked me when I had just begun reading the 700-something pages long "The Book and the Brotherhood" by Iris Murdoch. I had no answer, really, because the book cannot be summed up in a few words or a sentence - firstly because it is long, secondly because there is a lot of action in this book but it is not the action that matters, rather all the things that take place around the action. The book focuses on a group of people who have been friends since they went to university at Oxford.
Gerard lost his beloved friend Sinclair at a young age and now he is best friends with his sister Rose who is not-so-secretly in love with him. Jenkin is their friend and is secretly in love with Rose but dare not say anything as he knows how she feels about Gerard. Duncan and Jean are a married couple who are in the centre of the circle and on the outskirt of the circle are Gulliver and Lily who stick together since outsiders they are and Pat and Gideon, the pushy brother and sister-in-law of Gerard, and Pat's sister Violet, depressed and financially desolate and her daughter Tamar. They all interact happily until that night of the ball at Oxford where Lily shows up with Crimond. Their common enemy. And Crimond swoops down like a predator and snares away Jean from her marriage and leaves the circle to slow fall into pieces.
Years ago they all regarded Crimond as a genius, someone to be supported and protected so they banded together and decided to fund Crimond writing a book. The book of all time and of all ideas. The book that would be his legacy. However, when they fell out with Crimond they could not stop funding the book and now that he has taken away Jean, the book become the centre of all that is happening to them.
There are many interlinking stories to follow. The story of young Tamar who is regarded as an angel by them all but who has to drop out of Oxford to support her mother. Of Lily and Gulliver who struggle to find their places in life and in society. The story of Rose who has never recovered from the loss of her brother and the story of Gerard who hasn't recovered either. Crimond plays a part in all these stories.
It is a wonderful book. I loved the fact that it was so long because it meant that I got to spend lots of time with it. And every time I pulled it out of my bag on the bus or picked it up to read, it was like meeting an old friend. I really bonded with the characters and got to like them. Especially Rose and Tamar. Rose seems like such a wonderful woman, so much personality and character. I really wish she was real and hated putting the book down when it ended. It is a beautiful book and I have already bought another book by Iris Murdoch that I look forward to reading.

7 Oct 2010

"Diana Mosley" - All for Love

Anne de Courcy has the gift of making history come alive on the pages of a book and she certainly uses this gift in her biography of Diana Mosley née Mitford. Diana was one of the famous Mitford sisters, part of the British acristocracy and part of a family who impacted their time. She was one of six sisters and shared her childhood home with the writer Decca Mitford, her sister Debo, now the Duchess of Devonshire, the writer Nancy Mitford plus Pamela and Unity Mitford.
Diana was acknowledged for being the most beautiful of the Mitford sister and aged just 18 she made a spectacular marriage to Bryan Guinness. However, only four years after - now a mum of two - she left Bryan for Oswals Mosley, the infamous fascist leader. Diana's abandoning the marriage made headlines, not only because left a seemingly great marriage but also because she left to become a mistress of married man with a bit of a reputation. The love affair with Mosley was to define Diana's life. Her love for him overcame everything and shaped her adult life, as she followed him into fascism becoming a close friend of Hitler and spending several years in Holloway prison.
The book tells Diana's story well, not hiding her nazi-sympathies and not defending them either. It is hard to understand how a girl from a good family ends up being more or less an enemy of the country, especially since her sister Decca who she was very close to in childhood became a devoted supporter to the communist case.
De Courcy does not ask any questions about why Diana's life went in the direction it went and she neither critises nor sympathises - mostly she just chronicles the facts. Her focus is very much on the intense love story of Diana and Mosley which is indeed a fascinating tale but I wish that she had dared diving deeper into the difficult and unpleasant questions such as how she could leave her two boys with Guinness to pursue her love of Mosley and whi she never questioned nazi Germany.

After four years, she left him for the fascist leader, Oswald Mosley, and set herself up as Mosley's mistress - a course of action that horrified her family and scandalised society. In 1933 she took her sister Unity to Germany; soon both had met the new German leader, Adolf Hitler. Diana became so close to him that when she and Mosley married in 1936 the ceremony took place in the Goebbels drawing room and Hitler was guest of honour. She continued to visit Hitler until a month before the outbreak of war; and afterwards, for many, years, refused to believe in the reality of the Holocaust. This gripping book is a portrait of both an extraordinary individual and the strange, terrible world of political extremism in the 1930s. But if you don't know the story of Diana Mitford, this biography is a good place to start - or if you want to know about all the Mitford sisters, try "The Mitford Girls" by Mary S. Lovell.

5 Oct 2010

New additions to my library

Lately I have been book shopping more than normally and this has resulted in quite a pile of books to read on the bus every morning/afternoon. Here are my newest additions to my ever-expanding library:

Black Swan Green by David Mitchell

The Imitable Jeeves by P.G. Wodehouse

Fat Is a Feminist Issue by Susie Orbach

The Post-Birthday World by Lionel Shriver

Rape - A Love Story by Joyce Carol Oates

"The Green Beauty Bible" - Beauty without beastly ingredients

So this one, I think, is mainly for the ladies. It is a big, happy hardback book about reforming the wicked ways of your bathroom cupboard and going green on beauty products. It is not a book of recipies for how to make your own products but more of a tool on how to understand what is actually in the products that we use to make ourselves prettier.
It is written by Sarah Stacey and Josephine Fairley who have been concerned with this for years and who have tried and tested many many of the products out on the market and who have a great knowledge of the market and the chemicals that are best avoided if you want to go green.
There are two separate parts of the book - there are the factual knowledge and then there are "Tried and Tested" sections of products where the authors and a panel of testers give their opinions on specific products. I actually really enjoyed these "Tried and Tested" parts but I think what I found most valuable were the practical pieces of advise about for example herbs and plants.
A lot like an extended version of a womens magazine.