Friday, 30 December 2011


the Shining by Stephen King (1977)

 Jack Torrance is the winter caretaker of the Overlook hotel, high up in the Rocky Mountains, Colorado. He brings his wife, Wendy, and their 5 year old son, Danny and they will spend the winter in solitude. But Danny is not a normal boy, he can read minds and see the future, and he has very bad visions about the hotel.

Poor Danny and his visions! He tries to keep them to himself as his father really need this job so he won't start drinking again and his parents won't get divorced. When coming to the hotel he meets the cook who is leaving for the winter, and the cook explains to him how he has the shining and that the terrible things at the hotel can't hurt him because they're just images of the past.

I was surprised how complex the book is, there's a lot of background information on the characters and family drama, and the hotel's history is also interesting. But I also like how it doesn't explain everything, the events at the end are still a bit fuzzy, but there's no way I'm reading this book again.

I read a few Stephen King books in my youth and then I stopped because they really frightened me. Yet, I think the Shining is the most frightening of them all. I got a few nightmares thanks to this. And about ten times worse than the film adaptation. I need to see the film again, just to compare it to the book.

Wednesday, 28 December 2011

books you should read 2011

  • The Kindness of Women by J.G Ballard (1991)
  • City of the Beasts by Isabel Allende (2002)
  • Cold Skin by Albert Sánchez Piñol (2002)
  • Pandora in the Congo by Albert Sánchez Piñol (2005)
  • Miss Chopsticks by Xinran (2007)
  • Atlas of Remote Islands: 50 Islands I have not visited and never will by Judith Schalansky (2009)
  • Night Waking by Sarah Moss (2011)
  • A Kind of Intimacy by Jenn Ashworth (2009)
  • Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë (1847)
  • Paradise by Abdulrazak Gurnah (1994)
  • The Lost City of Z by David Grann (2009)
  • Nikolski by Nicolas Dickner (2005)
  • The Emerald Atlas by John Stephens (2011)
  • The Ritual by Adam Nevill (2011)
  • Harry Potter by J.K Rowling (1999-2007)
  • The Wandering Falcon by Jamil Ahmad (2011)
  • Buzz Aldrin, What Happened to You in All the Confusion by Johan Harstad (2005)
  • Catch-22 by Joseph Heller (1961)
  • The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway (1952)
  • The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides (2011)
  • Down the Rabbit Hole by Juan Pablo Villalobos
  • The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery (2006)
  • The Thing Around Your Neck by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (2009)
  • A House for Mr. Biswas by V.S Naipaul (1961)
  • The Dud Avocado by Elaine Dundy (1958)
  • The Sly Company of People who Care by Rahul Bhattacharya (2011)
  • New Finnish Grammar by Diego Marani (2000)
  • Dark Matter by Michelle Paver (2010)
  • The Shining by Stephen King (1977)

reading goals 2012

  • Read 50 or more books.
  • Complete Line's 1001 books 2012 challenge.  A lot of heavy books on that list!
  • Read something by Jane Austen, Virginia Woolf and start on the books about Sherlock Holmes. 
  • Read at least 5 non-fiction books.
  • Read more Nobel Prize winners and continue on the 1001 books lists (read 6% until now). Life long goals.
  • Continue working my way around the globe in books. 27 countries so far.
  • Own no more than 500 unread books, the number of unread books is currently 428. Which also means buying less books.

Monday, 26 December 2011


Dark Matter by Michelle Paver (2010)

"It's all over, I'm not going. I can't spend a year in the Arctic with that lot. They arrange to 'meet for a drink', then give me a grilling, and make it pretty clear what they think of a grammar-school boy with a London degree. Tomorrow I'll write and tell them where to put their sodding expedition."
Jack Miller is joining an expedition to Gruhuken, Spitsbergen in 1937. The expedition will consist of five men and they will spend a year in the Arctic. But the expedition has bad luck from the start, and only three men end up going. And the captain of the sealing boat they're hitching a ride with, refuses to go all the way to Gruhuken.

Yes! A ghost story from the High Arctic is exactly what I needed at the darkest time of the year. This book had me right from the start and I couldn't put it down. I'm glad I read this (and reading the Shining) in a house full of people and dogs instead of alone in my small apartment. 

I didn't just like the book because it was scary, I really enjoyed the historical background and the details from how to take meteorological readings and using a wireless to the description of the (fictional) Gruhuken. And the pictures from Svalbard! 

"Fear of the dark. Until I came here, I thought that was for children; that you grew out of it. But it never really goes away. It's always there underneath. The oldest fear of all. What's at the back of the cave?"

Sunday, 25 December 2011


A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens (1843)

Ebenezer Scrooge is a grumpy and greedy old man who doesn't believe in the Christmas spirit. Then one night, the ghost of his business partner, who has been dead for seven years, haunts him. And for the next three nights he is haunted by three spirits; Ghost of Christmas Past, Christmas Present and Christmas to Come.

My first Dickens! It was a quick read on my Kindle, and because I have heard/read/seen the story in many versions before, my heart wasn't really into it.

Friday, 23 December 2011


New Finnish Grammar by Diego Marani (2000)

"My name is Petri Friari, I live in no. 16 Kaiser-Wilhelmstrasse, Hamburg and I work as a neurologist at the city's university hospital.
I found this manuscript on 24 January 1946 in a trunk in the military hospital in Helsinki, together with a sailor's jacket, a handkerchief with the letters S.K. embroidered on it, three letters, a volume of the Kalevala and an empty bottle of koskenkorva."
An unconscious man is picked up in Trieste, Italy and taken on board a German hospital ship, where the doctor, Petri Friari, takes interest in the man with no recollection of who he is. Based on the name tag on his sailor's jacket, Sampo Karjalainen, he assumes that the man is Finnish and gets him a safe passage to Helsinki.
He is not getting much help from the doctors at the military hospital in Helsinki, but he meets a priest that helps him with learning Finnish, using the Kalevala to explain the Finns' unique position in the world. Meanwhile, the war is raging and Sampo gets to know a nurse, Ilma, but he is afraid to get involved with her until he knows whom he truly is.

This small and quiet book is one of the best I have read this year.


A Week in December by Sebastian Faulks  (2009)

Sophie Topping is going to throw a dinner for a dozen people and is working on the guest list, who to invite and more importantly; where to put them at the table?

The book follows the dinner guests and the people they surround themselves with the week before the dinner. You have, among other characters; the investment banker who does an inside trade, the East European football player who has just signed for a minor Premier League team, the successful immigrants with their own pickle company and their son who is co-planning a terrorist attack, the literature reviewer who dislike the contemporary books he has to review and the solicitor who falls for one of his clients; the girl who accidentally hit someone while driving the subway train.

I found this book to be a bit of a mess with all the characters and the fact that it never gets anywhere; it's just a week in a lot of different people's lives. While reading the book, I thought that Faulks is trying too hard with his characters; they are all stereotypes and he doesn't really succeed with his attempt to describe life here and now.

This is my second attempt to read something by Faulks, I read Engleby two years ago and I had the same feeling of disappointment then. Yet, Engleby is one of the books that most often pops in my mind from time to time. I will give Faulks a final try with Birdsong, eventually.

Sunday, 11 December 2011

reading goals 2011: how did it go?

My main goal was to read at least 50 books, something which I did some time this summer, I have readjusted this goal to 75 books and still have 4 to go.

The others were:

  • Read non-fiction, a genre I have ignored as I love fiction, but there is so much to learn from non-fiction books. Non-fiction books I own are King Leopold's Ghost by Adam Hochschild, Silent Spring by Rachel Carson, Three Cups of Tea by Greg Mortenson, Empires and Barbarians by P. Heather and A Carpet Ride to Khiva by C.A Alexander.
  • I have read some non-fiction, but none I mentioned. What I have read is How I Found Livingstone, Out of Africa, the Lost City of Z and my favourite book this year Atlas of Remote Islands: 50 islands I have not visited and never will. 
  • Read those classics. Many of them have been gathering dust on my bookshelf for years.
  • Some classics has been read, but not as many as planned. I have been stuck in the Karamazov Brothers since October and hopefully I will finish it before the year ends. Kindle and Project Gutenberg have made it easier for me to read the classics. I have really enjoyed some of them, especially Jane Eyre and Frankenstein, while not so much Buddenbrooks.
  • Read contemporary young adult fiction. I need to be able to recommend some books for my students to read. So far, Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli is the only book on my list.
  • I read Stargirl, City of the Beasts, the Emerald Atlas and reread Harry Potter. I tried to push the City of the Beasts and the other books in the series on some of my students but they found the language too difficult. The kids I teach this year is so obviously smarter so I have to try again.
  • Cross off some more books on the 1001 books you should read before you die list. Only 5% complete. The shame! Also work on my life-time goal; read something by every Nobel Prize laureate. 
  • I'm up to 6%! My main problem is that I do not just stick to one list, I use three various lists, but that's okay. I have also read some more Nobel Prize laureates; Ernest Hemingway (finally), Nadine Gordimer (possibly the worst book of the year), (along with) Thomas Mann.
  • Continue my journey around the world in literature. This year I covered 17 countries.
  • 27 countries so far, so 10 new countries this year. I'm satisfied with how diverse my reading is when it comes to various countries. 
  • Read indigenous authors, and especially from the Arctic.
  • Not achieved. But at least I bought some books.
  • Read the books I own instead of buying new ones. Almost half the books I own are unread, circa 200. 
  • The number of unread books is now over 400, so no. But I only read books I buy. 
I'm satisfied with almost reaching all my goals. I will make new ones for next year, but they will not be very different from these ones.  


Changed the domain (and name) from booksofmonika to booksandmonika.

Someday I will find a really hip name for my blog.

Two years of booklogging already :)


the Sly Company of People who Care by Rahul Bhattacharya (2011)

A young Indian journalist decides to live in Guyana for a year. Arriving in Georgetown, the capital of Guyana, he gets to know people with amazing backgrounds and names like Baby, da Jesus, Nasty and Action Jackson. 
From the streets of Georgetown where the rum flows and the parties are wild, he goes into the jungle with his acquaintance, Baby, where they dig for diamonds. But then the book suddenly changes completely in part two where it takes a look on the history and politics (or politricks) of Guyana. It continues with an illegal trip across the border to Brazil and an encounter with a girl that eventually leads the journalist to Venezuela.

Once I got familiar with the Guyanese slang (about 40 pages or so), I truly enjoyed this book. It is a wonderful portrait of a country I knew little about from before. This is also the second book I have recently read about Indian descendants in the West Indies. Although I loved A House for Mr Biswas by V.S Naipaul, I found this book to be a better portrait because it gives a more complex picture. One of the book's themes is racism, and the divide between the African and Indian descendants is clear and tense. There are some really good parts about it in the book, and I would have quoted them if they hadn't been so racist. 

The fact that a large part of the book is written in Guyanese slang made it clear to me how used I'm to Standard English and how I need to read/listen to other variations of English. Next year I will read Trainspotting by Irvine Welsh, and I'm looking forward to that with some fear as I gave up Glue years ago because of the strong Scottish language, I didn't understand much of what I read. 

I love the title and the cover of the book. And what's in between.

Friday, 2 December 2011


One Day by David Nicholls (2009)

Emma and Dexter. Dex and Em. Em and Dex. 

Their graduation turned into a drunken night where Emma took Dexter home and they spend the night making out, smoking cigarettes and talking. When they part the next day, they promise to be friends and the book follows them on the same date, 15th of July - St Swithin's Day, for the next twenty years.

I have been arguing for myself for a year now whether I should read it or not, but a friend gushed so much about it that I had to give it a try.  This book was not life-changing for me, I felt that I have read/seen it before. But it was exactly what I needed in these dark November days, so I have enjoyed reading it, although the plot was too easy to guess and it is so full of clichés. 

However, I'm really looking forward to seeing the film as the book is a good script for a romantic film and I adore Ann Hathaway. 

This book also reminded me a lot of the Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides, so if you have read One Day and liked it, I highly recommend the Marriage Plot. And if you're considering reading One Day, read the Marriage Plot instead.

Sunday, 27 November 2011


the Dud Avocado by Elaine Dundy (1958)
""Cheer up, my little avocado" he said to me, pinching my hand. "You know, these American girls are just like avocados. What do you think, am I right, Max? Who ever even heard of an avocado sixty years ago? Yes, that's what we're growing nowadays". His avocado arrived and he looked at it lovingly. "The Typical American girl", he said, addressing it. "A hard centre with the tender meat all wrapped up in a shiny casing." He began eating it. "How I love them," he murmured greedily. "So green - so eternally green." He winked at me.
Sally Jay Gorce is an American girl with pink hair in Paris. Her uncle is sponsoring her for two years because she held her part of their agreement and got an education. She spends her days drinking in bars, dancing, taking up lovers and trying to get on the stage. She loses her passport after a wild night out and bombards Washington with letters in order to get a new one.

Elaine Dundy has written an amazing and witty portrait about a dazed and confused young girl in search of the meaning of life. The style reminded me of a lot of Patrick Hamilton, Jack Kerouac and a slightly less drunk Charles Bukowski. Were there any female beat writers?

Thursday, 24 November 2011


A House for Mr Biswas by V.S Naipaul (1961)

 "But bigger than them all was the house, his house. How terrible it would have been, at this time, to be without it: to have died among the Tulsis, amid the squalor of that large, disintegrating and indifferent family; to have left Shama and the children among them, in one room; or worse, to have lived without even attempting to lay claim to one's portion of the earth; to have lived and died as one had been born, unnecessary and unaccommodated."
Mr Biswas' mother was told to keep him away from water by the Hindu pundit whom told his future. Yet Mr Biswas seeks water which eventually leads to his father's death. Mr Biswas comes from a poor family, and he is sent to various jobs without much luck. He eventually gets a job painting signs for a rich family and he falls in love with one of their daughters.

Marrying the girl, Shama, means marrying the family. And the Tulsis are the in-laws from hell. Mr Biswas has to live with them and work for them for very little money and bad food. All he wants is to be able to build or buy a house for his family.

V.S Naipaul impressed me with a Bend in the River, and a House for Mr Biswas is also a great read. I really enjoyed reading about Indian descendants in Trinidad and Tobago. This book wasn't as comic as the cover made it to be, but it definitely put me in a good mood. I have already put more of his books on my wish list.

Wednesday, 16 November 2011


the Thing Around Your Neck by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (2009)

"At night, something would wrap itself around your neck, something that very nearly choked you before you fell asleep."
Twelve short stories, set in Nigeria and New York portrait contemporary Nigerian women, men and their struggles, whether it is because of their spouses (arranged marriages or not), troublesome brothers, religion,  same-sex attractions or war.

How can you say so much with so few words? I loved every story, but some stood out more than the others. Imitation is set in USA where a Nigerian housewife is living with her children while the husband works in Nigeria and only spends two months a year with his family. One day she gets a phone call from her best friend who says that her husband has a girlfriend living in their house in Lagos. What would you do in a situation like that?

In A Private Experience, a Christian woman and a Muslim woman have found shelter in an abandoned store during a violent mob destroys the market place where they both went with their relatives. And they have to trust each other despite the fact that the uprising is about religion.

I think this collection of novels is my favourite book by Adichie, having read Purple Hibiscus and Half of a Yellow Sun last year.
""Is it a good life, Daddy? Nkiru has taken to asking lately on the phone, with that faint, vaguely trembling American accent. It is not good or bad, I tell her. It is simply mine. And that is what matters."

Thursday, 10 November 2011


the Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery (2006)

Renée is the concierge at a fancy apartment building in Paris. She grew up in poverty and is satisfied with her easy job, although she is very clever and loves art - a secret she hides from the residents. Paloma is a 12 year old girl living in the apartment building. She is far too intelligent for her own good and contemplates suicide before she turns 13. When a Japanese gentleman moves into the building, their lives change.

It took a long time before I realised that the book was narrated by two persons and not just Renée as a girl and at present time. The story also seemed very dull in the beginning, but the last 100 pages or so were so good. I'm not sure if I liked the end or not, it did seem unfair that it ended the way it did.

The film version (also French) came out recently, and I have a feeling that it might be better than the book.

Wednesday, 26 October 2011


Down the Rabbit Hole by Juan Pablo Villalobos (2010)

"Some people say I'm precocious. They say it mainly because they think I know difficult words for a little boy. Some of the difficult words I know are: sordid, disastrous, immaculate, pathetic and devastating. There aren't really many people who say I'm precocious. The problem is I don't know that many people. I know maybe thirteen or fourteen people and four of them say I'm precocious."
  Tochtli is an only child, living with his father and some helpers in an enormous house far away from everyone. He has a private teacher that teaches him about the world. He collects hats and animals. His biggest wish is to get a Liberian pygmy hippopotamus.
Tochtli is starting to realise that something odd is going around in their house. Why are the four empty rooms in the house locked? And why is his father worried about the news showing corpses and body parts? And when he discovers that his father has been lying to him, he decides to go mute.

I laughed half-way through this book and then suddenly everything got very serious and I was close to tearing up. I spent a week getting through the 70-page long story, but it was because I wanted it to last. It is filled with humour and great sentences.
"When we run out of body parts we look up new ones in a book that has pictures of all of them, even the prostate and the medulla oblongata. Speaking of the brain, it's important to take off your hat before you put bullets in somebody's brain, so it doesn't get stained. Blood is really hard to get out. This is what Itzpapalotl, the maid who does the cleaning in our palace, always says".
This book is published by And Other Stories, which allows subscriptions for either 2 or 4 books a year. And after reading this book and having taken a look at the other books they have published, I will subscribe.

Tuesday, 25 October 2011


the Elephant's Journey by José Saramago (2008)
The elephant, Solomon, and his keeper, Subhro, are journeying from Lisbon to Vienna in the 1550s. Solomon is a gift from the Portuguese king to the Hapsburg archduke.

The journey of Solomon is a true story, but José Saramago has invented the details about the trip. I enjoyed parts of the books, there were even sentences I found hilarious. But most of the book is sadly boring descriptions about the journey. I would have wanted more fiction, maybe a few amazing conversations between the men taking part of the journey. 

A few years ago I read Blindness and loved it. And I think that's why I'm so disappointed by the Elephant's Journey.

Thursday, 20 October 2011


the Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides (2011)

 "To start with, look at all the books."
  (A book starting with describing a bookshelf ought to be good.)

Madeleine is graduating from Brown and has been suffering from a bad break-up with Leonard. After a rough night she wakes up late for breakfast with her parents. They run into one of her best friends, Mitchell, whom Madeleine hasn't talked to in months due to a fight. Mitchell has been in love with Madeleine for years. And then, just as she's leaving for the graduation, a phone call from a friend of Leonard saying that he's in the psychiatric ward makes Madeleine run straight to the hospital. Let the drama begin!

I think this is the book I have been most looking forward to this autumn. And it didn't disappoint, well, maybe just a little bit at the end. It is, however, not as great as Middlesex, which I need to reread as soon as possible.

I'm trying to decide what I like best about this book, but it's impossible. Mitchell might be my favourite character, but it's a close race.

This is a great book from a great author.

Saturday, 8 October 2011


the Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway (1952)

An old man hasn't caught a fish in 84 days when he heads out alone. The man gets a giant merlin on the line, and he struggles with the fish for days while the fish drags him further from Havana.

How is it possible to write such a great story about something as dull as an old fisherman? The struggle with the fish is really exciting and I kept wondering what would happen to the story if the fish swam off and the old man had to give up. And what would happen to the man if he was successful?

It is a short story, merely a 100 pages long and because the struggle was so exciting it took a little over an hour to read. And I'm glad that I finally got around to read Hemingway. I will definitely read his other works - but right now there are so many other books that I feel I need to read right now.

Friday, 7 October 2011


Catch-22 by Joseph Heller (1961)

"There was only one catch and that was Catch-22, which specified that a concern for one's safety in the face of dangers that were real and immediate was the process of a rational mind. Orr was crazy and could be grounded. All he had to do was ask; and as soon as he did, he would no longer be crazy and would have to fly more missions. Orr would be crazy to fly more missions and sane if he didn't, but if he was sane he had to fly them. If he flew them he was crazy and didn't have to; but if he didn't want to he was sane and had to. Yossarian was moved very deeply by the absolute simplicity of this clause of Catch-22 and let out a respectful whistle.

"That's some catch, that Catch-22," he observed."
Yossarian does everything he can to avoid having to fly another mission. He has been in and out of the hospital with real injuries and fake diseases. He has been asking everyone he knows if they could ground him, but no success. His (and others') attempts to get out of flying get more desperate as the war increases.

Yossarian is stationed on a fictional island outside Italy during World War II. The number of flights they have to fly increases every time they have reached the limit and no one, despite how crazy they are, is sent home. And the fear of flying increases as they watch planes being shot down.

How is it possible to write so witty about something so serious as war? Because the book is witty. The situations and conversations they get into as they try to get out of flying are absurd. The characters are spot-on and although I mixed the characters all the time, they really made the book. I also loved the scenes where they were chasing for whores in Rome.

On the other hand, I really struggled with this book. I don't think I have ever read so slowly as reading Catch-22. And I don't know why. It is really frustrating to read a book of 519 pages when you feel you're never getting anywhere with it.

Some of the teachers at work are using Catch-22 as a catch-phrase (and if the students ask what it means they answer read the book. I have also seen it being used in various newspapers and articles and it feels good to finally know what it means!

Sunday, 25 September 2011


Decline and Fall by Evelyn Waugh (1928)

  "'That's all,' said the Doctor. 'I have certified you as capable of undergoing the usual descriptions of punishment as specified below, to wit, restraint of handcuffs, leg-chains, cross-irons, body-belt, canvas dress, close confinement, No 1. diet, No 2. diet, birch-rod and cat-o'-nine-tails. Any complaint?'
'But must I have all these at once?' asked Paul, rather dismayed.
'You will if you ask impertinent questions. Look after that man, officer; he's obviously a troublesome character."

Paul Pennyfeather is kicked out of Oxford after an incident which left him being seen without his trousers. He then gets a job as a schoolmaster at a private school in Wales where he'll meet the people who will mean most to him throughout his life. 

The story of Paul starts with a fall and then throughout life he ends up in one difficult spot after the other, but never complaining. The characters he meets are hilarious, and they are the real reason this is a great book. Evelyn Waugh is an author that I will definitely read more from.

Friday, 23 September 2011

Tuesday, 20 September 2011


Requiem for a Dream by Hubert Selby Jr (1979)

"And so the city became even more savage with the passing of each day, with the taking of each step, the breathing of each breath. From time to time a body would fall from a window and before the blood had a chance to seep through the clothing hands were going through his pockets to see what might be found to help them through another moment of being suspended in Hell"
 Harry, his girlfriend Marion and their friend Tyrone are heroin addicts. Harry and Tyrone get money from delivering newspapers and pawning Harry's mother's television set. Marion is spending the money her parents give her for her shrink on a variation of drugs. Tyrone and Harry also try to sell drugs, but they always end up using more than they sell.

Harry's mother, Sara, receives a phone call with a promise to be on tv. She decides to start dieting, but it's hard when the food is so tempting and comforting. She sees a doctor who gives her diet pills, she is to take four a day, each with a different colour.

As the days turn to weeks and weeks to months, the situation for all four is getting worse. Harry, Tyrone and Marion is suffering because of the drug drought and high prizes and Sara is suffering from paranoia and other side effects from the drugs, and is eventually given Valium. 
It is definitely not a happy read, the four are doomed from the start and Hubert Selby Jr does a splendid job describing the downfall. The only issue I had with the book is that a great deal of it is written in Bronx slang which made it harder to read and the teacher in me wanted to find a red pen and mark all the spelling and grammar errors! 

Having seen the film more than once, I actually prefer it to the book. It could be because the film has a few happy moments while the book is very bleak. I also like that the book is so timeless, it didn't feel like it is over 30 years ago since it was written.

Friday, 9 September 2011


"It takes vast willpower, luck, and skill to be the first. But it takes a gigantic heart to be number two."
Mattias is happy with his life in 1999; he has a girlfriend, they have been together for 12 years and he works as a gardener and he has a few good friends. And he is going with his best friend's band to the Faeroe Islands. He is completely satisfied with being a nobody, a number two; just like Buzz Aldrin, his hero. But then, shortly before the trip, he loses his job and the girl leaves him for an other man. The next thing Mattias remembers is waking up in the middle of the road in the middle of nowhere on the Faeroes in soaking rain.

Havstein is the man who saves Mattias. He brings him to his home, which is also a half-way house with four patients. And here Mattias really melts down before slowly starting to recover. The people in the half-way house have all had their own rocky way from and to sanity. 

This book is also about so much more than Mattias and the people in the half-way house. It is about astronauts and Buzz Aldrin and the past forty years. Johan Harstad has written such a beautiful portrait of the Faeroes that it has become almost a character itself. I fell in love with the islands. I also cried a good deal while reading, not sure why, but it is sad in a simple and beautiful way.

Read it!

Saturday, 3 September 2011


the Wandering Falcon by Jamil Ahmad (2011)

"'Sahib', he spoke after a while. 'You have asked me a question I have not been asked for a long time now.' His eyes started crinkling and all of a sudden he was laughing. Heavy, gusty laughter filled the room. Then he spoke. 'It is true, I am neither a Mashud nor a Wazir. But I can tell you as little about who I am as I can about who I shall be. Think of Tor Baz as your hunting falcon. That should be enough.'
Tor Baz was left in the desert alone on the after his parents were killed by the tribe his mother ran away from. During the next years he will be raised by many, always moving around in the area divided between Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iran. He moves along the tribes but no one gets close to him.

Each chapter is a story in itself, sometimes with the falcon, Tor Baz, or not. There are no dates, but some stories are set before the countries' independence and some after. I usually get confused when a book moves back and forth in time, but because the chapters are so different from each other, all with a very good and informed beginning, it was easy to keep up.

Ahmad offers a fascinating insight to a very complex area. All the different tribes have their own code of honour and problems, and life is hard no matter what side you are on.

I'm also very impressed that this is the first book written by a man in his very late seventies.

Monday, 29 August 2011


How I Found Livingstone by Henry M. Stanley (1872)

"I would have run to him, only I was a coward in the presence of such a mob - would have embraced him, but that I did not know how he would receive me; so I did what moral cowardice and false pride suggested was the best thing - walked deliberately to him, took off my hat, and said: "Dr. Livingstone, I presume?""
Henry M. Stanley was hired to find Dr. Livingstone who had been missing in Central Africa for years. He sets off from Zanzibar with a large party of men, horses and donkeys, and much cloth and beads to trade with the various Arab sheiks and natives along the way. But the horses aren't made for the tough African conditions, the men desert or die of illness and trading with a hundred different tribes is not easy. Yet he succeeds, and locates Livingstone close to Lake Tanganyika just nine months after departing.

I have been asking myself why I chose to read this particular book now while reading. I seem to have been stuck in a explorers' theme, both fictional and non-fictional. I think this is the first book that I wish had fewer details, I have a feeling that I know every nook and cranny of his route, yet I had to read wikipedia to zoom out. Still, it is an interesting read, I learnt a lot about the Arab slave trade which I stumbled upon first in Paradise by Abdulrazak Gurnah, and then Out of Africa by Karen Blixen. And the description of the various tribes and races are not so horrible as could be expected at that time, but still not impressive.

The big question now is what to read next? I'm really enjoying the Wandering Falcon by Jamil Ahmad, but I need something less serious to read as well. Any suggestions?

Friday, 26 August 2011


the Opium Clerk by Kunal Basu (2001)

Hiran is born in 1857, the same year as his father dies, and his mother moves them to Calcutta. There, he spends his early years reading palms and attending a religious school, while learning culture from his anglophile uncle. When he is kicked out of the religious school, he starts learning English at the mission school until his mother can't afford his eduction. Then, by luck, he gets a job at the Auction House as a clerk. The Auction House deals with opium, and Hiran quickly learns a lot about the trade. His boss, Mr. Crabbe, takes a liking to him, and Hiran will join him in Canton.

I have been enjoying this book, reading a few pages in bed slowly before falling asleep. The language is beautiful. Hiran's tale is wonderful, but left me somewhat confused at times – when real life and dreams mixed.

My favourite part, however, didn't involve Hiran at all, but his adopted son, Douglas. At one point he takes over the story and Hiran is left behind. The shift is so abrupt that it could have been a new book, although it still deals with the opium trade.

This is one of those books that I really wish was great, but then lacks something. And I never quite seem to get those books that mix real life and dreams.

Tuesday, 16 August 2011

fifty-three, fifty-two, fifty-one, fifty: poirot

Lord Edgware Dies (1933)

Lady Edgware, a famous actress who left her husband years ago, asks Hercule Poirot for assistance. She wants a divorce so badly that she utters that she will even murder him. And then the murder happens, and witnesses say they saw lady Edgware at the scene, but she has an alibi.

The ABC Murders (1936)

Hercule Poirot receives a letter warning him of a murder in a town called Andover. After the murder happens, he receives another one, warning of another murder in the town of Bexhill-on-Sea. Will Hercule Poirot catch the murderer before it's too late?

Dumb Witness (1937)

Poirot receives a letter from an old lady who believes she has had a narrow escape from death. When Poirot and Captain Hastings go to investigate, they learn that the lady passed away months ago. The lady has also changed her will just before dying, and everything went to her companion and not her relatives.

Curtain: Poirot's Last Case (1975)

Captain Hastings and Hercule Poirot, now a cripple and on his deathbed, have returned to Styles to solve a final mystery together.

These four stories can be found in the Complete Battles of Hastings volume 2 omnibus.

Having read the last of the Poirot stories, I feel kind of sad. Hercule Poirot (and Captain Hastings) has been a great companion for a long time. I am still shocked over how things ended in Curtain, but at the same time that's the first time Agatha has disappointed me.

I have been trying to compose a list over my favourite Poirot stories, but that has proven to be impossible; I seem to get a new favourite every time.

Friday, 5 August 2011

forty-nine, forty-one, forty: poirot

the Mysterious Affair at Styles (1920)

Hastings is visiting an old friend, John Cavendish, at Styles. While he's there, the old lady of the house is murdered; poisoned behind locked doors. Everyone in the household believes it is her husband who killed her, but he has an alibi. So who in the family killed her? Luckily, Hercule Poirot, a Belgian refugee and famous detective, is in the village and he takes the case.

Murder on the Links (1923)

(read in 2010, so copy and paste)
Hercule Poirot receives a telegraph from France asking for urgent help as a man believes he is in grave danger. But Poirot and Hastings arrive too late, the man is already murdered, a grave has been dug but the body is laying outside of it, and his wife was found tied and gagged in bed. A letter indicating blackmail is found, there is a mistress, and clues suggest that South Americans are involved. There is also a famous French detective on the case and the two famous detectives are not very fond of each other. And then a stranger is found murdered in a shed on the property.

the Big Four (1927)
Hercule Poirot is convinced that an international gang of four members is behind all evil in the world. He is on the right track, but the gang is too smart for him and he and Hastings often find themselves in great peril. And then the gang manages the impossible; to kill Hercule Poirot.

Peril at End House (1932)

Hercule Poirot and Captain Hastings are on a holiday when they meet a young woman who has had a few near-death accidents in the past few days. Poirot is convinced that the woman is in immediate danger, but despite their close watch over the girl, her cousin is murdered by mistake at a party. What will the murderer do when he realises his mistake?

It's been wonderful reading about Hercule Poirot from Captain Hastings' narrative. Captain Hastings is not half as clever as Poirot, but his narrative is a delight to read. The Big Four is so different from any other Poirot story, more like James Bond really.

All four stories are found in the Complete Battles of Hastings volume One omnibus.

Monday, 1 August 2011

forty-two - forty-eight: harry potter

Harry Potter by J.K Rowling

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (1999), Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (2000), Harry Potter and the Order of Phoenix (2003), Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (2005), Hary Potter and the Deathly Hallows (2007)

Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone is the first book I read in English. I had to borrow it in English at the library because the waiting list on the Norwegian version was too long. And since then I have preferred to read in English. I don't know how many times I have read Harry Potter. I used to reread the books when the new one came out, and I know for sure that the last time I reread the series was in 2008.

While rereading the books now, I tried to figure out which book I like the most. It is a hard one. I know it's not the two first ones, because they are too short. I think I have settled on Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, because of the introduction of new characters, Hogsmeade and the Marauder's Map. But both Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire and Harry Potter and the Order of Phoenix could also be my favourite.

I realised how little I care for Harry Potter's fight with Lord Voldemort, and how much I love the setting of the books. I love Hogwarts (the lessons, its history and the castle itself), Diagon Alley and Hogsmeade. I have never really been fond of Harry himself, I prefer the other characters in the books, and especially Hermione and Dumbledore. And I found myself wanting more on the background history of everything in the books. Because of my thirsting for more, I will register at Pottermore, which is kind of creepy when you're 28.

I never got the pleasure to read the books as a kid myself, I was probably fifteen or sixteen when I read the first book. I will therefore never know what it's like to let myself be completely captured by the books. But I guess it would be equal to what it was like to read the Chronicles of Narnia; explore the old closet in my grandparents house and hope that it will lead to a secret world, to play out various characters with your friends in the forest on a moonlit winter night.

I do not care much for the films, and I still haven't seen the final one. I don't think they could ever do justice to the books. But I wouldn't mind a tv series about everyday life at Hogwarts.

Thursday, 14 July 2011

thirty-nine, thirty-eight, thirty-five, thirty-four: poirot

"'Do you know, Poirot, I almost wish sometimes that you would commit a murder.'
'Mon cher!'
'Yes, I'd like to see just how you'd set about it.'
'My dear Japp, if I committed a murder you would ot have the least chance of seeing - how I set about it! You would not even be aware, probably, that a murder had been committed.'
Japp laughed good-humouredly and affectionately.
'Cocky little devil, aren't you?' he said indulgently.
the Murder of Roger Ackroyd by Agatha Christie (1926)

Roger Ackroyd, the wealthy owner of Fernly Park is found murdered in his study. His niece asks Poirot, a retired detective to take the case and he agrees. And with the help of the small village's doctor's narrative, he solves it.

the Murder on the Orient Express (1934)

Hercule Poirot is travelling on the Orient Express when he is awoken from sleep by some strange noises in the compartment next to him. The man in the compartment is found murdered, stabbed 12 times, the next morning. As the train is stuck in a snow storm, no police can get aboard and the murderer must still be on the train.

the Murder in the Mews (1937)
A woman is found dead in her bedroom, and while it looks like a suicide, Inspector Japp is not so sure, so he asks Poirot for help. Did Barbara Allen kill herself or was it murder?

Hercule Poirot's Christmas (1939)
Mr Lee gathers his family in his house for Christmas, he hasn't seen some of his sons for years as they have fallen out. And also, his only grandchild, Pilar, will come from Spain. Once the whole family is together, tension sparks and Mr Lee announces that he needs to change his will. But shortly after dinner, Mr Lee is murdered in his locked room and the murderer has vanished. And then it is time to call in Mr Poirot.

It has been almost a year since I last read any Agatha Christie and it is such a pleasure to do nothing all day but read wonderful stories with my favourite Belgian detective (or the only Belgian detective I know). Murder on the Orient Express became an instant favourite, but then I read Hercule Poirot's Christmas, and I think I liked that one even better. And as always, I never guess the murderer.

These three novels and one short story was found in the Perfect Murders omnibus. Now I only have seven wonderful unread Hercule Poirot stories left.

Wednesday, 13 July 2011


the Most Beautiful Woman in Town and Other Stories by Charles Bukowski (1983)

This book is filled with short stories, and they all include at least one sexual act.

Charles Bukowski is one of my favourite dirty old men, but this collection of short stories takes it one step too far. Necrophilia, paedophilia, rape and murder is never pleasant to read about, but having to read it from the doer's perspective was terrible. And I'm glad I have read all the good stuff from Bukowski before this book.

Read his novels instead of this.

Monday, 11 July 2011


Out of Africa by Karen Blixen (Isak Dinesen) (1937)

"I had a farm in Africa at the foot of the Ngong Hills..."

Karen Blixen lived on a farm in Africa for almost twenty years. She came out to live with her husband, but they divorced in 1925 and Karen was the owner of the farm for the remaining years. She tells about the daily life on the farm and its many squatters and their guests.

Although it is a biography, it is never personal. It rather focuses on the farm, instead of Karen's personal life, which I think is a pity. I was lucky to find a short biography attached to the copy I bought at a market in Oslo, and she certainly lived a fascinating life, and I would love to read more about it.

I really enjoyed reading about the farm and the joys and hardships of the people who were involved. She writes with great insight and it is a joy to read about the landscape and wild life surrounding the farm. This is the way I wish an other book about an African farm was written (the Conservationist by Nadine Gordimer). But one chapter in the book annoyed me - instead of following the pattern of the other chapters, this one was full of short stories in no chronological order and many seemed written down just to be remembered and had little to do with the rest of the book. I skimmed many of them as I saw no point in them being there in the first place.

I'm looking forward to watching the film version of this once I'm united with my tv again.

Thursday, 7 July 2011


the Ritual by Adam Nevill (2011)

"And on the second day things did not get better. The rain fell hard and cold, the white sun never broke through the low grey cloud, and they were lost. But it was the dead thing they found hanging from a tree that changed the trip beyond recognition."
Four English men in their late 30s, Luke, Hutch, Dom and Phil, are trekking in a remote area of Swedish Lapland. They decide to take a short-cut because of the bad condition two of the men are in. Then they find a large animal slaughtered in the worst way and hung high up in a tree. Not long after they come to an old abandoned building where they decide to spend the night. They quickly realise that the building has been used for some kind of ancient worship.

When Luke wakes up the next day after a very strange dream, he discovers that his friends have all been sleepwalking and all of them are in a state of shock. But this is just the beginning of the horror that only one of them will survive.

The beginning of the book didn't impress me, but that was mainly because of horrible writing style. But it definitely gets better throughout the book. I really liked the twist when the story was most exciting, and I was also relieved because I couldn't take one more minute of terror. This book would be perfect for the big screen. I will save Apartment 16 by Adam Nevill for the next time I want to be frightened again. But that won't be any time in the near future as I'm sure I have enough nightmare material for a year now.

I will end this with two things from the second part of the book which was my favourite:

1. A Norwegian black metal band.

2. "Hearts torn out for the sun God in Mexico. Wretches ritually strangled and buried with their masters in ancient Britain. Simple people accused of witchcraft, pressed under stones and set alight in pyres of dry kindling. Commuters gassed in the Tokyo subway. Passengers flown through the side of buildings in jets full of fuel.
If only we could all stand up. All of us who have died unjustly for the Gods of the insane. There would be so many of us"

Tuesday, 5 July 2011


the Emerald Atlas by John Stephens (2011)

-->Kate, Michael and Emma were abandoned by their parents on Christmas's Eve almost 10 years ago and have ever since been moved from orphanage to orphanage. But this is not an ordinary orphanage as they are the only kids there. While exploring the enormous old house they come upon a book hidden in a secret room beneath the house. And with the book they can travel in time using photographs.
Once I started reading, I couldn't put it down. The prologue reminded me a lot of Harry Potter, but that was the only thing that reminded me distinctly of one certain book. It is indeed a mixture of all popular fantasy books for young readers, but that is not a bad thing. Stephens has created his own magic world with a lot of interesting creatures. While reading I was laughing out loud, holding my breath and wondering how it all would end.
I will definitely be pimping this book to the kids once school starts again, and I hope book two is out soon!


Frankenstein by Mary Shelley (1818)

A ship rescues a man drifting on ice in the Arctic. The captain writes home to his sister to tell her the strange tale of the man named Frankenstein. Frankenstein claims that he gave life to a horrible manlike monster who killed several of his family members because he refused to make a mate to the monster.
I have spent my whole life believing that the monster was named Frankenstein and now I know the truth. It took me forever to read the book, probably because I didn't find the narrative of Frankenstein interesting at all until the first murder happened. And I finally started to enjoy the story when the monster started to speak. His story was far more interesting than Frankenstein's, although I must question the way he learnt to read and write without being discovered, considering his size and all. Frankenstein certainly didn't get any sympathy from me, but neither did the monster.
I haven't seen any film adaptions of Frankenstein yet, and I doubt I will ever dare to do it on my own either as I imagine them being scarier than the book.


Nikolski by Nicolas Dickner (2005)

"My name is unimportant.
It all started in September 1989, at about seven in the morning."
The first and unnamed narrator is cleaning his mother's house after she passed away and discovers the Nikolski-compass, a compass that points at Nikolski in the Aleutian islands instead of north, the only memorabilia after his father. The second narrator, Noah, has spent his whole life in a car with his mother travelling around Canada's midwest. His father left and spent his life on the sea, and the last postcard they got from him was sent from Nikolski. Noah leaves his mother and moves to Montreal to study archaeology. Joyce Doucette, the third narrator, grows up on an island on the Atlantic coast hearing her grandfather's tales of their ancestors who were pirates and runs away to Montreal while she's still in high school. There she starts working in a fish shop and steals old, broken computers at night.
This was for me the perfect portrait of modern Canada. The book goes from coast to coast and through generations of both natives and immigrants. So many places, facts and fiction squeezed into one small book. I loved the names of the chapters. The three narrators are all in the same small neighbourhood at the same time, will their paths cross? And will they discover that they are related?
Another thing that amazed me with this book was its design (fishes!) and the print it was set in. That is one experience that you won't get when reading an e-book.
Nicolas Dickner is an author I definitely want to read more from.

Sunday, 26 June 2011


The Conservationist by Nadine Gordimer (1974)

A black man is found dead on Mehring's farm and none of his boys know who the man is. Because he is black, the police doesn't care and they bury the body right there because they can't take it with him.

The start of the book was easy to follow, then it all got in to a blur. Someone's thoughts are all over the book, I was guessing it was the farmer, but then at the end I was no longer sure and I can't remember the last time I read a book that made me this confused. And I don't like reading books that I do not get, but because this was a part of Ann Helen's reading circle, I didn't throw it away, although I should have.

Nadine Gordimer won the Nobel Prize in 1991 and she was brave for writing about the apartheid at the time it was going on and many of her books were banned in South Africa. The apartheid is present in this book as well as it deals with the relationship between the white farmer, his black workers and the Indian shop owner nearby. And the setting and the first part of the book are interesting, but there's no continuity in the story and it is too full of someone's bloody thoughts and memories for my liking. But at least I can cross another Nobel Prize winner off my list. I also have July's People in my bookshelf, but I won't be picking that one up in the near future.


The Lost City of Z by David Grann (2009)A Tale of Deadly Obsession in the Amazon

"Now, as I examined my creased map, none of that mattered. I looked up at the tangle of trees and creepers around me, and at the biting flies and mosquitoes that left streaks of blood on my skin. I had lost my guide. I was out of food and water. Putting the map back in my pocket, I pressed forward, trying to find my way out, as branches snapped in my face. Then I saw something moving in the trees. "Who's there" I called. There was no reply. A figure flitted among the branches, and then another. They were coming closer, and for the first time I asked myself, What the hell am I doing here?"

Percy Harrison Fawcett was a famous explorer of the Amazon, and he disappeared in the jungle with his son and his son's friend in 1925 when he was looking for an ancient city called Z. Fawcett became even more famous after his death, many disappeared into the Amazon when trying to find him and people even established cults devoted to him.

David Grann tells the excellent tale of the explorer's life and his disappearance, but also about his own adventures into the Amazon 80 years after Fawcett. He hopes to find more clues about the disappearance and the city Fawcett was looking for.

I loved this book. David Grann has done an excellent job researching Fawcett and the Amazon. It is a thrilling adventure and I really felt the jungle while reading. As I read it on my Kindle, I highlighted parts of the text because I really liked what I read.

"The electric lights went out in Manaus," the historian Robin Furneaux wrote. "The opera house was silent and the jewels which had filled it were gone... Vampire bats circled the chandeliers of the broken palaces and spiders scurried across their floors."

Wednesday, 22 June 2011


Paradise by Abdulrazak Gurnah (1994)

"The boy first. His name was Yusuf, and he left his home suddenly during his twelfth year. He remembered it was the season of the drought, when every day was the same as the last. Unexpected flowers bloomed and died. Strange insects scuttled from under rocks and writhed to their deaths in the burning light. The sun made distant trees tremble in the air and made the houses shudder and heave for breath. Clouds of dust puffed up at every tramping footfall and a hard-edged stillness lay over the daylight hours. Precise moments like that came back of the season."

Yusuf grew up on the East African coast. The man who Yusuf has
called his uncle lets him travel with him on his next journey. What Yusuf doesn't know is that the man is a rich merchant and Yusuf is taken to settle his father debts. Yusuf starts working in a small shop somewhere by the sea, and then he gets to travel with the merchant to the interior regions to trade with the savages.

The story is set right before World War I or World War II, I'm guessing because of the increasing activity of German settlers. I'm also guessing that the story is set in Tanzania or Kenya because of the vague geographical clues. It is rich with details about the complex mix of people and culture in Africa, the traders are descendants of Arabic and Indian settlers and they bring with them Islam to the noble savages. The savages have their superstitions and traditions, and the book is full of stories about jinns and other strange creatures. And then there is the strange myths about the Europeans.

This book is great and beautiful. Some parts of it reminded me of A Bend in the River by VS Naipaul, but that is probably because it somewhat has the same setting. I recommend both. And I'm looking forward to read By the Sea by Gurnah.

Monday, 13 June 2011

To celebrate that I have bought an apartment and survived the first year of teaching (unless I fail at the finish line this week), I have ordered myself 30 new books. Which is crazy when you look at the list of unread books I have. But I always stumble upon a book or five that I really want to read and buying books online is so easy. I'm quite pleased that I bought books from every continent except Australia.

I have no idea which books I will read this summer, but I have two glorious months of reading ahead of me. Just need to get done with the move and school first.

Tuesday, 7 June 2011


When We Were Orphans by Kazuo Ishiguro (2000)

Christopher grew up in the International Settlement in Shanghai in the 1910s. His father suddenly disappears one day, and not long after, his mother also disappears, leaving Christopher as an orphan. He is shipped off to England where he eventually becomes a famous detective. He goes back to Shanghai on the brink of the Japanese invasion in 1937 to solve the case of his missing parents.

After spent weeks reading crime novels, I wanted to read something entirely different. My sister had disorganised my bookshelf at home completely, so the only book I could find that I hadn't read yet, was this. I sighed when I read the back cover, but decided to give it a try on the airport. And I'm glad I did. It is not a crime novel, more like figuring out the past.

It took me a while before I got into the story, but then I really did. And although the story never amazed me, it's been haunting me all day. I can't really put my finger on why, though. Maybe it is the lost opportunities of love, or the sadness of the orphans, both Christopher and Jennifer, the orphaned girl he takes care of.

It was great to revisit the setting of Shanghai during the Japanese invasion, having previously done so in Empire of the Sun by J.G. Ballard. I definitely want to read more novels set in this time, so if you know any, let me know.

Friday, 3 June 2011


Ravnene by Vidar Sundstøl (2011)

Lance Hansen finally solves the murder by Lake Superior. But while he is looking for the solution, his family is in a lot of trouble and especially his 17 year old niece, Chrissy.

It is hard to say something about this book without spoiling what has happened in the previous two. So this is just a post to mark that I have read it.

Read the trilogy, it is good.

Thursday, 2 June 2011


Blue Lightning by Ann Cleeves (2010)

Jimmy Perez and his fiancée, Fran, are visiting his parents at Fair Isle, the most remote of the Shetland islands. But his holiday is cancelled when an ornithologist is found murdered at the bird research centre. And the murderer has to be one of the other visitors to the centre. The case is complicated by the stormy weather which means no aeroplanes and boats can reach the island so Perez is alone with the case.

Who'd knew bird-watching could be so exciting and full of intrigues? And for once I actually guessed the murderer and the reason for it and who the next victims would be. I loved the reference to Agatha Christie, because the whole setting definitely reminded me of Poirot.

But this is the first time a thriller has made me tear up. I could say a lot about the reason why, but that would certainly spoil it, so no. Is this the final book about Shetland and Jimmy Perez? I'm torn between hoping no and hoping yes. But I will definitely read more Ann Cleeves.

Tuesday, 31 May 2011


Red Bones by Ann Cleeves (2009)

Sandy Wilson, one of the Shetland's policemen, pays a visit to his grandmother, only to find her shot outside her house. The Fiscal rules it as an accident, shot by one of Sandy's relatives who had been hunting rabbits. But Jimmy Perez is not too sure if it was an accident and starts looking into it. And then one of the archaeologists who has been working on a dig by the grandmother's house is found in the pit with her wrists slit. A suicide or a murder?

The murder investigation never seems to get anywhere, but that didn't worry me at all as I really got into the characters and the story. And I like the mix between archaeology and crime. It is a pity that it were my two favourite characters that were murdered.

I like how the books get better, I hope the fourth book, Blue Lightening will be as amazing as this one.

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