Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Can't Let Go by Jane Hill

Jane Hill is an English writer I sort of "discovered" earlier this year. I am fairly sure she is not read by a North American audience, as I can only find reviews on the British And not that many by the way. I kinda liked her two previous "crime" novels Grievous Angel and The Murder Ballad and reviewed them here and here. So if you go check those reviews out, I don't have to say again, that I really don't think they are crime novels as much as I think they are chick lit. Nothing wrong in that at all. They are probably a combination between the two.

Can't Let Go is build slightly different than Ms. Hill's previous novels. But they share at least one thing in common: they all have a somewhat bitter slash frustrated heroine in her mid 30'es. In this one, her name is Beth Stephens and she is a mousy teacher at a girl's school. Mousy she is and also an expert of blending in and not making any fuss about her own person. She is also paranoid and has been running away from her demons for the past 17 years. Because when she was 18, she killed a man and got away with it (not a spoiler, this is revealed on the front flap of the book). So Beth has spent her life since then hiding from.....? Thing is, she really doesn't know shy she is hiding. No one has ever come for her, nothing has ever happened since she killed a man and got away with it. We enter her life as she is on the verge of trying to get into a normal kind of life instead of a life filled with paranoia.

By sheer coincidence, she befriends the feisty stand up comedian Zoey and then the book begins to drag on and on and on. Beth begins receiving threatening notes and it looks like someone has finally figured out that Beth Stephens is not exactly the mousy teacher she has made herself into. But instead of taking up pace, the reader is dragged from one stand up joint to another with Zoey and Beth and are learning about how to do stand up while their friendship develops. Booooring.

The final pages are marginally interesting and I also liked the way things wrapped up, now that they sort of had to be wrapped up, but in conclusion, I really do not think that there was much of a story! I wasn't nearly as entertained as I had been with Jane Hill's previous novels. But I may still try her next one.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

The Complete Maus by Art Spiegelman

I have always read cartoons. Tintin, Lucky Luke, Asterix, Donald Duck etc. Not too many of the more "fancy" cartoons, where the storyline was aimed at the mature reader, but more likely the fun stuff which some may claim is drawn and written for kids (I know many who will agree they are also for grown ups though). As the graphic novel has gained more and more popularity, I became interested in seeing what it was all about, and heard from my brother that Maus by Art Spiegelman was a fantastic graphic novel, which had even won the Pullitzer Prize (in 1992). So I put it on my wishlist for Christmas and got it.

I began reading this chilling story on the eve of the 24th and finished it 4 days later. What a great read - a read I haven't been able to get out of my mind since then. I am relatively familiar with the history of World War II, The Holocaust, the KZ-camps etc, but not on a level where I am able to discuss the manueverings of politics and such things. But that wasn't a problem "understanding" Maus!

In short, Maus is about Vladek and Anja, Polish Jews. Vladek and Anja lives in Poland when the Second World War breaks out and we follow them, first as members of wealthy Jewish families, then living in a Jewish ghetto in Poland, their deportation to Auschwitz and at last their life in Queens, NYC. It is Art, their son born after the war in Stockholm, Sweden, who tells (draws) the story of his parents and their lives during WW II. Half of the story is also about Art's own life in our day and age and his problems with his ageing, nagging father Vladek, survivor of Holocaust, whom Art finds unbearable to be around for too long. Guilt is an underlying (and at places not underlying at all) theme through the whole story: Vladek's guilt of being a survivor, Art's guilt of not being able to stand his father and the guilt both Art and Vladek carries around because of Anja's suicide (this is not a spoiler, we know this from the beginning of the book). But Maus is also about love, it is not just about despair and horrendous things.

Is it wrong to say that I loved this story? It's rawness, the somewhat rough drawings, the absolute horror of the story and the humorous streak running through a lot of the pages? I don't know, but I did. I really loved it. Has also given me much to think about although what was describes wasn't news for me at all and despite the fact that the book has been out for 20 years or so. But if you haven't read it already, you should.

Read much more about Art Spiegelman here where I have also taken the image of Art Spiegelman as a Maus (Jew). The other Spiegelman image is from The Harvard Gazette.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Christmas Books

I am back home from my Christmas vacation and have been unpacking, checking mails, blogs and so on. As nice as it is to be away, it is also nice to be back home and put all the new things in their right place. I got wonderful gifts and was also lucky enough to receive three books for Christmas:

The Complete Maus by Art Spiegelman

Kitchen Heaven by Gordon Ramsay

Fast Food by Gordon Ramsay

I began reading Maus on the evening of the 24th and finished it last night. Will reveiew it later. And I have been leafing through the Gordon Ramsay books and am looking much forward to cook some of the wonderful recipes I have already seen in those books.

Did you get any books for Christmas?

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Going on Christmas Holiday

I am about to head out the door and go to my parent's place. I am going to stay there over Christmas and am going down there today to help out with the last preparations. They do have an internet connection and I hope I will be able to check in, because there are several days now where I have missed reading the Blog Advent posts plus checking out the bloggers in my blogroll. But IF I do not find the time to check in, I want to wish you all a MERRY CHRISTMAS here from Denmark.

The image was shot today in the New Carlsberg Glyptotek, which is a museum in Copenhagen where they have had fun this December putting red Christmas-hats on some of the sculptures ;-)

A Christmas Spirit Award

I have gotten a Christmas Spirit Award from Kailana. Kailana is co-hosting this year's Blog Advent Tour, which have brought me much joy and Christmas-spirit all month. I am going to list 5 things I love about Christmas, but will have to return later, as I am on my way out the door in half an hour. But I will be back.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

A little change

I just had to change the look of the blog. Not sure it is going to stay like this, but I got fed up with the narrow post-column which made my posts look strange. I was not happy with that. I did like the colors though, but for now I will go with this minimal look. I did try Wordpress once (I had my Danish blog there for half a year) and I never got used to that. When I begin the Blog Improvement Project I hope to get some new ideas as to how the blog is going to look.

The image is from the photostream of flickr-user joannebk. Joanne also has a blog.

Books for Christmas

This year I have bought quite a lot of books as gifts for Christmas. Not all the books are gifts from myself. I also help out my parents with their gifts. Hopefully none of the people who will receive those books will read here. At least not until after Christmas ;o)

For my mother's two god-sons (they are 20 and 23) I bought:

Nordkraft by Jacob Ejersbo. That is Danish modern classic and bestseller and it has not been translated into English. Some years ago it was turned into a movie, which is one of the best movies made in my opinion. Very strong. The author passed away a this summer at the age of 40. The image of Jacob Ejersbo is from the Danish Facebook group made in his honor after his death.
For my brother I got a book by the German historian Joachim C. Fest. He writes about Nazi Germany. I got the book in Danish, much of his work is translated into English though.

My brother is also getting the two volume work about one of Denmark's most notorious criminal gangs, who operated in the mid 1980'es. They were called Blekingegade Banden (The Blekinge Street Gang) and one of the reasons they have become so (in)famous is that they killed a young police officer during a robbery and while they were caught, no one in the gang has ever admitted who it was who actually killed the young policeman. There were a lot of politics involved in their case as well and the books about this gang are huge bestsellers here in Denmark. The volumes are written by Danish author Peter Oevig Knudsen.

My sister is getting yet another Danish book called Submarino written by the Danish author Jonas T. Bengtsson. That book, which I haven't read myself, is about two brothers and their not so fantastic lives. It is supposed to be rather tough reading.

Well, that was a little about the books I bought as gifts. Did you buy any?

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Blog Improvement Project

Kim from Sophisticated Dorkiness is hosting a great project for the coming year. A blog improvement project. Now I am not a professional blogger in any way. I am not in it for the money, for the free books or anything "serious" at all. I enjoy reading and I enjoy jotting down a few thoughts about books and book-related things. I don't know a thing professionally about literature - or blogging. Nor do I aspire to become a pro.
But I am still intrigued about Kim's project and would love to explore what else can be done with a blog. As I was getting some Christmas gifts online, I also glanced at a couple of blogging-books and was just about to buy one or two. But I didn't, but I did feel the interest tugging at me and my wallet ;o)
So I have signed up and hopefully will be able to participate in as many weeks as possible. I am going to have a rather busy winter and early spring, but around late April - beginning of May my schedule should be more or less free. I am looking forward to this, which is going to be both interesting and fun.
Have a look at the post about how it is going to work if you think you could be interested as well.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Books for the Dewey Reading Challenge

I spent a lot of time yesterday browsing Dewey's archives. What a lot of good books and good thoughts to be found there. Just another reminder of how much Dewey will be missed. She really managed to write a lot of great posts not to mention reading a lot of books. For the challenge in her honor (read more about it here) I have decided to go with option # 1, which is about finding a book Dewey mentioned or reviewed since she began her blog, meaning that I have picked a book from the years 2003-2008.
2003: The Other Boleyn Girl by Philippa Gregory
2005: Property by Valerie Martin
2006: Outlander by Diana Gabaldon
2007: Tintin and the Secret of the Unicorn (actually, this will be two books, as Secret of the Unicorn is part one of two. The second one is called Red Rackham's Treasure)
2008: The Color Purple by Alice Walker
I can't wait to get started. What about you? Have you decided which books to read yet?

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Dewey's Books

Dewey, who was the mastermind behind The Hidden Side of a Leaf and things like Weekly Geeks, sadly passed away shortly before Thanksgiving. In her honor and memory Chris from Stuff as Dreams are Made on and Robin from A Fondness of Reading has set up a reading challenge, which they are inviting bloggers to join. I didn't get to know Dewey as well as I would have liked, because I only participated in a few Weekly Geek-challenges, but I enjoyed them a lot and found Dewey's blog to be very interesting. I am sad she has passed away and I will join this challenge, even though I am trying not to sign up for too much. But the rules are quite easy and if you are interested in joining or learning more, I suggest you check it out here on the blog set up for the challenge: Dewey's Books. There are two ways to join the challenge:
1. Pick one book from each of the 6 years that Dewey has archives of. You can access her archives by clicking on the archive link in the sidebar of her website. It’s a dropdown menu. For instance, you would read one book that she reviewed in 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, and 2008 for a total of six books.
2. The other option is to read 5 books that Dewey reviewed. These can be from any year and I’m guessing that each of us has at least 5 books on our TBR list because of Dewey!
I will return shortly with a new post explaining which way I will join the challenge. I hope you will join as well in honor of Dewey.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Life Support by Tess Gerritsen

Just finished Life Support by Tess Gerritsen this evening. I read my first Tess Gerritsen 4 years back and reviewed it on Amazon. It was book # 2 in her Jane Rizzoli-series and it was called The Apprentice. I wasn't impressed. Later on I picked up a couple of other Gerritsen-books and found that I enjoyed them. So it didn't take long to pick up Life Support and get reading. The story is about ER doc Toby Harper and about how a normal and perhaps a little boring life can deteriorate in a matter of weeks, which is was happens to Toby when she stumbles across a conspiracy involving a luxurious retirement home, young prostitutes and her own mother, suffering from Alzherimer's. One slow night in the ER, Toby receives an elderly man who is naked and confused and found wandering the streets of Boston. Before Toby can diagnose him, he has disappeared into thin air and no matter what Toby and her staff do, he remains missing. Toby cannot get him out of her head and finds out that he was a resident in the luxurious retirement home Brant Hill. Soon she smells something fishy going on in the Brant Hill retirement home and she begins her own investigations, going against the wish of several colleagues and doctors from Brant Hill. Then unpleasant things begin to happen to Toby herself, and in a matter of a few weeks, she doesn't know whom to trust and whom not to trust. All in all this is a pretty good plot and the book is also relatively well written. BUT! I like a medical thriller as much as the next girl, but this one wasn't fast paced at all. It was also too easy to guess the plot and the character development was lacking. It was hard to find any sympathy with the main characters who just felt one-dimensional and slightly annoying. Still, Life Support is an easily read and entertaining little medical thriller, but I am sure Tess Gerritsen can do much better than this.

Sunday Salon December 7.

I haven't really been finishing any books for a while now. I am reading a lot of non-fiction which has to do with my thesis, but I already blogged about some of those books in an earlier Sunday Salon. I am still not done with the thriller I mentioned in this Sunday Salon, and while I quite like it, I just can't seem to get into it. Now it is just a matter of finishing it. Last weekend I visited my parents. They live way out in the country-side and my sister and I went there for some pre-Christmas joy and to relax a bit. I was supposed to study while there, but as both my parents are avid readers and because I could not get into the real study-mood, I found one of my mother's old paperbacks, Life Support by Tess Gerritsen. I have read several of Tess Gerritsen's books, and some I liked, some were not very good. This one is an okay read, but just like the other book I am reading, I have a hard time really getting into it. I only have a few pages left, so I think I will be done reading it tonight. To conclude it all, I do not think I have had the most interesting reading-week this past week ;o)

Monday, December 01, 2008

Blog Advent Tour 2008: December 2.

I have the great honor of being one of the bloggers posting for the Blog Advent Tour on December 2. The complete list of posters can be found with Marg from Reading Adventures and Kailana from The Written World and I definitely think you should check it out.

Some of you will know that I am a Dane living in Copenhagen, and while there are some non-speaking English or non-European bloggers out there I thought I'd post about a typical Danish Christmas. But before I do that I will post a little about our Advent-tradition. In Denmark (as well as other countries) we have a special Advent-wreath. It can be made of metal, straw, dough, clay and many other materials, but traditionally it is made of the same kind of tree as a Christmas tree (and I cannot remember the English name for that kinda tree on top of my head right now. HELP). The wreath has 4 candles and the first Sunday in Advent (which was this past Sunday), you light one candle. Next Sunday you light two and so forth. I do not have an Advent-wreath myself, but my parents always have one. The image is from a Dutch site, so I guess they also have this tradition i Holland at least.
In Denmark we celebrate Christmas on the evening of the 24th. We live in a dark place when it is winter, but a few days before Christmas, the almanac shows that it is the Winter Solstice and from that day on, the days are getting longer again. So, Christmas used to be a pagan Winter Solstice Celebration. The image below is from my own photo-collection and is shot last year on the morning after Winter Solstice the 23rd of December outside my parent's place. They do not live in Copenhagen.
Being from a family of non-practising Protestants, we do not go to church for Christmas, but there are always at least one Christmas mass in almost each and every church in Denmark. Everybody seems to think that even though they don't go to church the rest of the year, they go for Christmas (personally I think it is a wee bit hypocritical, but that is something for another post and I myself is probably also a hypocrite in many other ways regarding Christmas). The image below of the village church at my parent's place was shot some years ago a few days after Christmas. Unfortunately, we never really have a white Christmas in Denmark. We rarely have snow until January. But that year it did snow heavily a few days after the 24th. At the point where I shot the image, the blizzard hadn't hit yet. The little church is almost (but not quite) Medieval.
Chrismas dinner in Denmark is traditionally roast duck, roast goose or pork-roast. Some families serve two of the dishes, for instance both a roast duck and a pork-roast. The roast/bird is served with apples and plums, which has been used as stuffing (in the bird), potatoes and gravy and pickled red cabbage. After dinner we have a special almond and rice pudding, wherein there is one whole almond hidden. The person who finds the whole almond wins a little present, which is often chocolate, a marcipane-pig or a trinket. In families with kids, it is tradition to make sure that there are as many whole almonds as there are small kids and then making sure that the kids each get a whole almond so no kids end up crying. Last year we decided to skip the whole bird and served roasted duck-breasts instead. And we made the stuffing with onion, apple and bacon which we placed underneath the breasts when they were put in the oven. That is what is on my plate below.
After dinner we sing carols and psalms while walking around the tree and then it is time for presents. We put the presents either underneath the tree or beside the tree. In our family we always put the presents beside the tree. The look of the traditional Danish Christmas tree is a look we got from Germany little more than 100 years ago. Many families add their own touch of course and over the years the traditional things to hang on the tree has changed and developed. We used to have real candles on our tree, but after my mother sort of got allergic to the smoke from candles, we switched to artificial lights. I still think that real candles on the tree is how it should be though.
The tree has a star on top, which I hope you can see, symbolizing the leading star of the Three Wise Men.
We decorate the tree with birds, glass balls, paper drums, stars, lights, flags and many other kinds of decorations. The kid in the picture is my nephew August searching for candy, which is traditonally hidden in some of the decoration. You hide (guess it is not really hidden, as everyone knows where to find it from about age 1) the candy in small pouches which can be shaped like hearts among other things.
Last image is our nativity-scene (I think that is what it is called in English) which is at least 40 years old and lots of things has gone missing over the years. There used to be some more animals and also, the angels surrounding the scene are not originally from the set. But I guess we have the most important persons as we still have Baby Jesus, Virgin Mary, Joseph and the Three Wise Men.

Blog Advent Tour 2008 - check it out

Marg from Reading Adventures and Kailana from The Written World are hosting this great Advent Tour. I am to post tomorrow and really can't wait, so I just wanted to post this note and urge you to check it out. It is a great way to travel around the blogosphere, find new blogs and people and to get into the Holiday-spirit, no matter what way you celebrate. The first posts are already up and they were all very inspiring and putting me in the mood for the upcoming Holidays.