31 Jan 2012

Review: "The Privileges" by Jonathan Dee

We've all been there I guess - fallen head over heels in lust with a book title, the cover art or a book image. I do it all the time, actually I think I am pretty bad when it comes to this. I will obsess about some little detail to the extent where I expect such impossible things from a book that it can't fail to fail.

Conscious of this, I was worried that I had put "The Privileges" by Jonathan Dee on a pedestal, setting it up for a fall and so when I turned the last page, I was quite surprised that it had lived up to my (great) expectations! 

The title itself is what did it for me in the beginning. It sounds like a high-end, intellectual version of the Manhattan from "Gossip Girl" and the cover is stunning in both its detail and simplicity. The golden and white colors drew me in. 

The story starts on a hot day in Pittsburgh where Adam and Cynthia are taking the plunge and getting married as the first couple in their circle of friends. They are only 22 years old and a golden couple with all of their lives and all life's possibilities ahead of them. The wedding itself takes up the first chapter and it is worth reading the book just for this one chapter. They are in love in a soulmate-meant-to-be way and though they both have messy families, they are so sure of each other and of their love. Fast-forward a few years and they are now living in New York. Cynthia is a stay-at-home mum almost succumbing to the mind-numbingness of being in her mid-twenties and stuck at home with two kids, April and Jonas. Adam is working his way up in finance - he is not the brightest or cleverest of men but his love for Cynthia and for their family fuels his fire to become a success. 
Cynthia is so closes to drowning in the domesticity that has taken over her life while her girlfriends are having careers and stilettos and martinis that it seems to waken some sleeping dragon in Adam who cooks up a scheme to give her the life style of her dreams. 

As you read one, their story unfolds. With each page they become richer and richer, going from a humble apartment to a life of privates schools, private clubs, even private jets. But even with this lifestyle comes pitfalls and worries that all the money in the world is no solution for. In sickness and in health, Adam and Cynthia and their love are the center in this tale of morals, values and ethics. The family is the foundation upon which they build their lives. 

I got so caught up in this story, especially in April and Jonas. I would have loved for Dee to follow them further, explore how and when these children become adults and what shapes their lives. Following the story of Cynthia and Adam as they obtain what most people can only dream of, yet live for the love that we are all searching for, was a real treat. A clever, beautiful gem of a book. 

Read it if: You like your books clever and well-written. If you like beautiful sentences. If you are not the type to become envious of immense wealth and true love. 

30 Jan 2012

Top Ten Tuesday: Books For the Book Club!

Today we are looking at the Top Ten Books That I Think Would Make Great Book Club Picks. If you are new to the Top Ten Tuesday concept head over to The Broke and The Bookish and explore.

10) "The Bröntes Went to Woolworths" by Rachel Ferguson
A short, sweet book that reminded me a lot of "Anne of Green Gables". The main question of this book is whether or not you can have too much imagination and whether dreaming can be dangerous.
Perfect for a January night discussion over a cup of tea.

9) "The Crimson Petal and the White" by Michel Faber
A different story to the Victorian novels you know. This one features a prostitute called Sugar who changes her life for several reasons, some of which are obvious and some that do no reveal themselves until the very last moment. A modern classic with lots to talk about.

8) "Lucky" by Alice Sebold
This one will probably be a difficult one to discuss so it should probably only be used in book clubs where you know each other well and where discussing difficult topics is not an issue. "Lucky" deals with rape that Sebold suffers as a teenager and with her fight to get her life back. For a non-fiction book club, this would be a great pick but it is not for the faint-hearted.

7) "Snobs" by Julian Fellowes 
This one is great for a book club because the main character Edith is someone who would probably divide people. Either you will think her a golddigging scheming woman with no morals or you will think her a product of her upbringing. It should be good for a heated discussion about values and morals.

6) "I Am Charlotte Simmons" by Tom Wolfe
This book deals with some of the really difficult parts of being a teenager: being an outsider, being new, not fitting in, being a geek, being a virgin, being poorer than the others. It is the story of village wonder Charlotte who wins a scholarship to an elite university where she is no longer a prodigy but a nobody.

5) "Valley of the Dolls" by Jacqueline Susann
This is another modern classic. Written in 1966 it is the predecessor of "Sex and the City", a book about young women struggling with love, careers and finding the right dresses in New York. A great book for a girls' book club.


3) "The Privileges" by Jonathan Dee
Each chapter is like a little short story and there is lots to discuss. In these "Occupy" times, this book raises some interesting questions about wealth, capitalism and love.

2) "Purge" by Sofi Oksanen
If you don't know anything about the recent history of Estonia (which I don't), this book will give you something to think about. It raises significant questions about loyalty, love and the human nature and it is a must-read if you have any interest in eastern European countries or human trafficking.

1) "We Need to Talk About Kevin" by Lionel Shriver
This one is perfect for book club. The topic is nature versus nurture and Eva, the main character, will give alienate some and find the pity of others. It is a long book and could be difficult for some but it is also a must-read (if you ask me) and I would have loved to have shared the reading experience with others. Plus, you can follow up by watching the movie together.

18 Jan 2012

Review: "Story of My Life" by Jay McInerney

A few months ago I read a collection of short stories by Jay McInerney, "How It Ended", and I absolutely loved the style and the subject matter so I decided to try one of his novels. One of the great things about McInerney (apart from his cool name) is the fact the he has been quite a prolific writer so there is lots to choose from! In the end I went with "Story of My Life" based on what little I could read about it on the back of it and it turned out to be a great and very captivating choice!

The narrator is one very difficult young lady. Alison is a 20-year-old girl who makes Lindsay Lohan look like a saint by comparison. Living in New York, she fancies herself a bit of an actress but in reality she spends most of her time drunk or high or having sex or all three things more or less at the same time. She is a rich daddy's girl - only daddy has run off with a bimbo - and she is a train wreck. Her room mate Jeannie is a little bit better but the rest of Alison's friends, not to mention her sister, are just as bad as Alison and together they seem to finance a large part of the bars and clubs in 1980's New York.

When it comes to guys, Alison is blasé. She doesn't fall in love, she falls in lust and she has random sex. That is the range of her emotional commitment. When she falls in lust with (or is it love?) bond trader and Shakespeare lover Dean, she takes him with him on her ride through the excesses of New York where it is no surprise to her to enter a room where she has slept with all males present. Alison is the kind of girl that makes you want to send your daughters to convent school or move far far into the countryside. At twenty she has gotten herself into so much trouble that as a reader, I found it hard to imagine how she would ever survive to 25. We - the reader - never find out if she does, but following her in her quest for self-destruction up to her 21st birthday is fascinating. And in the end there is a twist that makes everything fall into place.

According to that trusted source Wikipedia, Alison Poole is based on a real woman whom McInerney dated and the fictional character Alision Poole appears in works by Bret Easton Ellis. Intriguing.

I loved this book. It is fast-paced and it forces you to focus on difficult questions and topics that are really important today. The extravagance and excess, the lack of parents. This girl could probably be one of the it-girls depicted in glossy magazines... The story is incredibly well-written and oh so funny. Hilarious. Alison is absolutely thick with little self-awareness and following her exploits is not for the faint-hearted. However, if you like a good laugh and a bit of drama, you should be okay.

Read it if: You like a book to both touch you and make you laugh. If you find yourself strangely attracted to stories about Lindsay Lohan, Paris Hilton and similar "graceful" young ladies...

17 Jan 2012

Review: "The Dinosaur Feather" by Sissel-Jo Gazan

I read this novel just after I moved to London from Copenhagen and it really really reminded me of the city that I had just left. If ever a thriller/crime fiction novel would give you a feeling for a place at a certain point in times, this is the one. From page one it captures Copenhagen in the 2000's. A wealthy university city where it is possible to study for years and dedicate oneself to pursuing a degree - even while being a single mother. Anna Bella is both a single mother and a student, trying to juggle writing her all-consuming thesis and caring for her cute daughter while still nursing a broken heart after her boyfriend left her.

Anna Bella is just a few weeks away from finalizing her thesis on the origin of the feather - is a bird really a modern-day dinosaur? - when her supervisor Lars Helland dies. A violent death. In his office. Suddenly the small department at the Institute of Biology at University of Copenhagen is turned upside-down and there is a split between the people who admired Helland and those who (like Anna Bella) found him a pain.
Onto the scene arrives police detective Soeren Marhauge who has his own demons to battle and who now have to try to find out what has happened and who has killed Lars Helland. In his investigation he has to try to coax information out of the surly Anna Bella who somehow seems to be in the midst of the investigation.

This is both a very classic and a very different murder mystery. Classic because it features the tough girl and the damaged-goods police investigator - different because the scene is set the Institute of Biology and because there is a lot of focus on the discussion of the origin of the feather. It is a pretty different mix but it  really really works - at least it does for me.

I loved the parts that were all about dinosaurs and normally I am really not into that topic. Also I found myself warming to the difficult, taciturn Anna Bella, who is no charmer but who really just is trying to cope with all the demands of her life and to get over a nasty break-up. The background story on the detective Soeren was also really engaging and beliveable. Actually I think that the characters completely overshadowed the mystery part which is just how I like it.

Read it if: You love Scandinavian crime fiction. Or crime fiction with a twist. Or if you ever wonder if that seagull really is a dinosaur in disguise.

16 Jan 2012

Top Ten Tuesday: Books I Would Recommend to Readers Who Normally Don't Read Scandinavian Authors!

Wow that's a long title! So this week the topic is as stated in the title - books I would recommend to readers who don't normally read books by Scandinavian authors. Head over to The Broke and the Bookish to see what other bloggers have come up with - here we go:

10) "The Dinosaur Feather" by Sissel-Jo Gazan
A young mother and student at University of Copenhagen is writing her thesis on dinosaurs when she becomes embroiled in a mystery. A professor has died under strange circumstances and now everyone at the faculty are under suspicion.

9) "Otto is a Rhino" by Ole Lund Kirkegaard
One of the cutest children's book ever about a boy who draws a rhino that then comes to life. A classic.

8) "Ronia, The Robber's Daughter" by Astrid Lindgren
Lindgren is the original mother of girlpower. You probably know her famous "daughter" Pippe Longstocking who is so strong that she can lift a horse? Ronia is made of the same stuff and runs away from home to live in the forest, such a cool girl!

7) "The Exception" by Christian Jungersen
A nerve-rackingly mystery thriller about adult bullying. Very difficult to summarize but very easy to read in one go out of pure excitement.

6) "The Boys from St. Petri" by Bjarne Reuter
This is dark YA at its best! A group of young men take a stance during WWII and decide to fight the Germans by sabotaging the German war effort. Gripping. A classic history YA read and a must-read in most Danish schools.

5) "Popular Music from Vittula" by Mikael Niemi
This Sweden is so incredibly different from the Sweden that Stieg Larsson describes. This is a Sweden of folk tales, of magic, of saunas and drinking competitions, of midsummer nights and becoming a man. Give it a try, you won't regret it.

4) "The Half Brother" by Lars Saabye Christensen
I read this one right when it came out about ten years ago and really enjoyed it. It is about half brothers growing up in Oslo in the 1960's. It really touched me, I remember.

3) "Doghead" by Morten Ramsland
This one I haven't actually read myself but it was recommended so many times that I am going to include it anyway :-)

2) "Exile" by Jakob Ejersbo
This author died way to young. His writings have so much promise and the Tanzania trilogy of which "Exile" is the first have become huge successes in his native Denmark.

1) "Seven Gothic Tales" by Karen Blixen
A classic, a must read from one of the greatest Scandinavian authors ever.

So which books are you recommending this week?

12 Jan 2012

Review: "Linger" by Maggie Stiefvater

The other day I published the review of "Shiver" by Maggie Stiefvater, the first book in the Wolves of Mercy Falls trilogy. Today, time has come to review "Linger", the second book in the series. If you haven't read the "Shiver" and do not want spoilers, please do not read this review :-) I'm not afraid to admit that I read "Shiver" more or less in one go (had a few breaks to make tea and dinner and so on) but with "Linger", I did not have that luxury so instead I read it over a few days.

The story continues where "Shiver" left off. Sam is now a boy, this time forever. No longer does he have to fear the weather or the cold and he is slowly getting to grips with the implications that this has. Suddenly he has a future and he has to consider what he wants to go with his life - will he go to college? Will he pursue his passion for music? All he knows for certain is that he wants to be with Grace. She is everything to Sam. However, he also has to deal with the fact that being permanently human, he still has a responsibility for the other wolves and with the new wolves that Beck has created, this is a little more trouble than Sam wants.

One of these new wolves is Cole. A famous rock musician who screws up everything he touches, he has become a wolf to forget. For him it is the ultimate drug to heal his broken soul. Another person with a broken soul is Isabel. Meanwhile Grace is happy to have her Sam but as her parents are suddenly starting to take an interest in her life, their relationship becomes more and more difficult. To further complicate things, Grace's health is rapidly deteriorating and the doctors can't find anything wrong with her. The situation becomes more and more tense as "Linger" takes us deeper into the story of The Wolves of Mercy Falls.

 I really like "Linger" - not least because focus is less on Sam and Grace, who to be honest are not the most exciting characters ever and more on Isabel and Cole who are so much more interesting. These two are seriously damaged goods which is probably why they seem to attract each other and they damages make them interesting. I love the fiery Isabel who has opinions and is not afraid to voice them. This girl is cool. The Sam and Grace story on the other hand is really cute and the way they get into trouble with her parents should be something that many teens can relate to...

 All in all "Linger" is a great sequel and I thoroughly enjoyed it! Hope you will too.

 Read it if: You read "Shiver". Otherwise read that one first, then read some Rainer Maria Rilke and then read "Linger".

9 Jan 2012

Top Ten Tuesday: Please Write Another Book

Tuesday and time for Top Ten! This time it is "Top Ten Authors I Wish Would Write Another Book (debut authors, authors who seem to have taken a hiatus, OR for those who read classics authors you wish would have written another book before they passed". Thanks to The Broke and The Bookish for coming up with another great topic!! Without further ado and in no particular order: 10) Junot Diaz. "The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao" was a brilliant novel and I hope that this author will follow it up with another brilliant read. Soon!
9)Tom Wolfe. I wish he would write another novel in the style of "I am Charlotte Simmons" because even though he is male and was born in 1931, he does "little girl from the countryside goes to uni and longs for Diesel jeans" surprisingly well!
8)Marisha Pessl. I loved "Special Topics in Calamity Physics" - please write some more. Soon!
7)Alexandre Dumas. He created one of the best female baddies ever: Milady de Winter. I wish he had written another book telling the story of "The Three Musketeers" from her point of view.
6) Joe Hill. "Heartshaped Box" and "Horns" were both really amazing - I can't tell you what genre they are, somewhere in between thriller, mystery, fantasy and humour. So incredibly cool that you will have to read it to understand it.
5) Christian Jungersen. I really enjoyed the dark and dangerous "The Exception", it was so different and really one of the best mystery, thriller things I've read.
4)Alan Warner. And I am rather specific because I so wish he would write a follow-up to "The Sopranos" and "The Stars in the Bright Sky". Preferably five years after the events in the latter one take place, thanks.
3) Sofi Oksanen. "Purge" is an amazing book, it deals with such a difficult topic, topics actually, while telling an incredible story. Loved it!! Please write another book soon Sofi Oksanen!
2) Julian Fellowes. "Snobs", "Past Imperfect", "Downtown Abbey". What's not to love? Another book please :-)
1)Jane Austen. No need to explain I think, I love Jane Austen and she didn't write many books so another one would have made a lot of difference to all her fans. So what's your Top Ten? I can't wait to read it :-)

8 Jan 2012

Review: "Shiver" by Maggie Stiefvater

You must have heard about "Shiver". I am sure you have - at least if you are a YA-liking kind of reader because it has been all over the blogs. For that very reason I held off reading it. I don't know, I just get really stubborn sometimes. "If everybody else likes it, I am going to skip it."-thing. Which is really stupid because if all you people like it, the chances that I will like it as well are so much bigger. Really, sometimes I exhaust myself...

But before Christmas I (luckily) gave in and bought both "Shiver" and "Linger", the sequel. I got them at a really good price (secondhand) and thought that if I like "Shiver", I would be glad to have "Linger" lingering around. This turned out to be a wise decision because even though "Shiver" is all about wolves (a subject that I have been off ever since "Twilight"), it is actually a really good YA book.

The story goes like this. Grace Brisbane is living in a little Minnesota town with her parents who are always absent. Even when they are home (rarely), they are emotionally absent and it falls to Grace to take care of things such as cooking dinner and making sure she does her own homework. They have no idea what happens in her life and that is probably good because Grace is honestly quite a strange girl. She is a bit of a loner who has only two friends at school and in the winter time she spends all of her free hours looking at the wolves at the edge of the forest. When she was a little girl, she was attacked and almost killed by them and ever since then, they have held a special place in her heart. Strangely, you might say. One of them, a wolf with beautiful almost human eyes, she almost sees as a friend and she dreams of following him into the woods.


Obviously (if you ask me) it turns out that the wolf is really a werewolf - or at least it is a boy, Sam, who during the winter is caught in the body of a wolf. When Grace saves his life after he is shot, it is love at first sight. And trouble at first kiss. And so begins the trilogy of The Wolves of Mercy Falls.

The good things about this book are many and I will only number a few here:

1) Grace is easy to sympathize with. As a main character she is quite good.
2) It has a lot humor and I love that about it! So many YA books are too busy being just serious or just fun. This one hits all the right notes when it comes to balancing humor and seriousness.
3) The love story part is much more realistic than other YA books (here I am thinking about Twilight in particular...)
4) Grace's parents really caught my interest and had me angered. They are so uncaring and it makes for an interesting side-story.
5) Some of the minor characters are really fantastic. My particular favourite is Isabel!
6) The poetry of Rainer Maria Rilke features. If you haven't read anything by Rilke, you need to do so asap. Off to Amazon you go.

There are also a few not-so-good things, the ones I found most annoying were:

1) Grace is rather boring... She has no real interests apart from wolves and maths and she is not a really very good friend. She is a leeettle beet socially akward.
2) Sam. A little bit whiny at times. Would like him more man and less... boy.
3) Olivia. As minor character goes, she is a pretty annoying one. She should either have been left out or had been given more personality. She ends up a bit cardboard-ish.
4) Sam's poetry is too much for me. Skipped it all, it was just too too much.

Read it if: You love paranormal romance. You always hurry straight to the wolves when you visit the local zoo. You like a good comfort-read with no big surprises but lots of little ones.

2 Jan 2012

Review: "Lady of Quality" by Georgette Heyer

It has almost become a bit of Christmas tradition for me, going to bed with a Georgette Heyer Regency novel and not turning off the light until the last page is turned. A bad habit actually and one that I cannot recommend as it means reading until the early hours (unless you go to bed early, which I never do...) and missing the morning more or less entirely. However, it is also incredibly satisfying. I feel so safe and comfortable and essentially book-happy when I lie there, snuggled under the duvets in the room where I was a girl and read what is (again) essentially safe and comfortable books. One of the great things about Georgette Heyer's Regency novel (in my opinion) is that there are no surprises. Well maybe a few but none that really matter. From the first page you know who the heroine is, who the stiff-upper-lip types are and who the heroine will end up marrying. For love. Though he is usually very well-to-do and very well-dressed. What's not to like? This is as comforting as a large glass of red wine in front of a cosy fire on a rainy night, people.

Anyway, I was in bed sans the red wine but very much avec the Georgette Heyer novel this Christmas - the novel of choice being "Lady of Quality". This was the last Regency novel by the highly productive Heyer and it was published in 1972 but the Regency feeling is all there. From the horses to the boots to the drinks and food. It is pure historical bliss. Not that I am a historian, mind you, but I have read a fair few regency novels...

The heroine is Annis Wychwood who at the ripe old age of 26 has accepted her spinsterhood fate. I know. Crazy to think that you were officially off the shelf at 26 but quite lucky for the dear Annis as this means she is considered old and matronly enough to run her own household. This may sound like a lot of work but it definitely beats living with her stuffy older brother and his lovely but slightly dim wife. So off she has gone to Bath, Annis, to set up home - and having a considerable fortune, this is not a problem. With her, she has taken a chaperone, a rather annoying creature who by the virtue of being her cousin has secured the difficult position of keeping Annis on the straight and narrow road of propriety.

All the propriety and sensibility begins to unravel when Annis takes it upon herself to save a young and very dramatic young heiress who is fleeing a meddling family. However, soon in the footsteps of the heiress follow her uncle, the infamous rake Oliver Carleton. Oh yes, a rake has arrived on the scene and I have to say that the battle of words between these two (lasting for several pages) is pure, enjoyable Heyer. They argue so skillfully that it made me want to join a class - imagine being able to fight so masterfully with one elegant repartee after another?!

The rest of the story, you will have to read for yourself but trust me when I say that it is great. Pure Regency classic.

Read it if: You like you heroines opinionated and your heroes rakish. You prefer Ratafia wine to a normal "house red" and always carry smelling-salts in your purse.