Tuesday, 16 January 2018

The Mysteries of Beethoven's Hair by Russell Martin and Lydia Nibley

I found this book in the Book festival, and it is quite an interesting topic, of which I had never heard before. Since I love a real life mystery, it was a must for me. It seems that when Beethoven died in March 1827, the fifteen-year-old musical protégé Ferdinand Hiller was in Vienna, visiting the composer together with his instructor Johann Nepomuk Hummel. Hiller later wrote:
"He lay, weak and miserable, sighing deeply at intervals. Not a word fell from his lips; sweat stood out on his forehead. His handkerchief not being conveniently at hand, Hummel's wife took her fine cambric handkerchief and dried his face again and again. Never shall I forget the grateful glance with which his broken eyes looked upon her."
Three days later Beethoven died and a day later they went back to pay their respect.
"The two did not remain for long beside the coffin, but before they left, young Hiller asked his teacher if he could cut a lok of the master composer's hair. …Hummel quietly whispered yes to his student, and the two of them were moved by the deep sadness of the moment. Ferdinand Hiller took the scissors he had brought with him, lifted a small lock of Beethoven's long half-gray hair, pulled it away from his head, and cut it free."
This is the story of how the hair travelled through the Hiller family in Germany, through the Second World War and Denmark and ended up in the United States with two Beethoven enthusiasts, Dr Alfredo "Che" Guevara and Ira Brilliant. Circumstances made them find a note in Sotheby's catalogue about the sale of a lock of Beethoven's hair. They used part of it to make forensic tests to find out what ailed Beethoven.

Monday, 15 January 2018

The Hunting Season by Andrea Camilleri

According to information on the cover Camilleri is the author of the Inspector Montalbano series. The name sounds familiar to me, but I have not read any of these books, or seen the popular TV-series based on the books. This book caught my eye because of the cover, which I love. The back cover text intrigued me as well:
"'Tomorrow afternoon they're going to open a pharmacy in town,' Mimi said as he was carrying his master, chair and all, from the palazzo to the Circolo. But as he was covering him with the blanket, since it was late February and frosty, the old man made as if to speak.'No,' he said with such effort that he began to sweat, despite the cold. 'No, Mimi. Tomorrow hunting season opens.''What are you saying, sir? It's a pharmacy that's opening, and the pharmacist is that gentleman stranger who greets you every time he passes by.''No, Mimi, tomorrow hunting season opens. And I don't want to get shot…'"
It is Sicily in 1880 and a stranger arrives in Vigàta, and life will never be the same. The man, Fofo, opens a pharmacy and he soon becomes part of the local life, a man to whom everyone turns in trouble. He gets involved with the local nobility and nobody knows what to believe when one after the other of one of the families is being killed.

Friday, 12 January 2018

Book Beginnings on Fridays and The Friday 56

This week my book beginning and page 56 come from one of my favourite authors, Colm Tóibín. It is his novel The Empty Family. I have not yet read it, but like the beginning so it is just to grab it and start reading.

Book Beginnings on Fridays hosted by Rose City Reader

"The moon hangs low over Texas. The moon is my mother. She is full tonight, and brighter than the brightest neon; there are folds of red in her vast amber. Maybe she is a harvest moon, a Comanche moon. I have never seen a moon so low and so full of her own deep brightness. My mother is six years dead tonight, and Ireland is six hours away and you are asleep."

The Friday 56 hosted by Freda's Voice

"She found that the manager of the studio knew the publican, the owner of the bar where they would film. He lived near the bar and was a regular customer. When she asked the manager if he thought she could have one extra day preparing the bar, clearing it of almost everything and then re-creating it so that it could be filmed, he said that he did not think so."

Thursday, 11 January 2018

100 Best Non Fiction Ever

New year and new lists on best books ever written. This list I found in the Guardian and it lists 100 Best Non Fiction Ever. I am a list person so eagerly went through it to see if I had read any of them. I have only read three.

61. On Liberty by John Stuart Mill (1859)
 This fine, lucid writer captured the mood of the time with this spirited assertion of the English individual’s rights.

63. The Life of Charlotte Brontë by Elizabeth Gaskell (1857)
Possibly Gaskell’s finest work – a bold portrait of a brilliant woman worn down by her father’s eccentricities and the death of her siblings.

83. The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire by Edward Gibbon (1776-1788)
Perhaps the greatest and certainly one of the most influential history books in the English language, in which Gibbon unfolds the narrative from the height of the Roman empire to the fall of Byzantium.

On the list there are 16 books that I would like to read:

8. Orientalism by Edward Said (1978)
This polemical masterpiece challenging western attitudes to the east is as topical today as it was on publication.

40. The Road to Oxiana by Robert Byron (1937)
 Much admired by Graham Greene and Evelyn Waugh, Byron’s dazzling, timeless account of a journey to Afghanistan is perhaps the greatest travel book of the 20th century.

45. A Room of One’s Own by Virginia Woolf (1929)
Woolf’s essay on women’s struggle for independence and creative opportunity is a landmark of feminist thought.

46. The Waste Land by TS Eliot (1922)
Eliot’s long poem, written in extremis, came to embody the spirit of the years following the first world war.

48. The Economic Consequences of the Peace by John Maynard Keynes (1919)
The great economist’s account of what went wrong at the Versailles conference after the first world war was polemical, passionate and prescient.

50. Eminent Victorians by Lytton Strachey (1918)
Strachey’s partisan, often inaccurate but brilliant demolitions of four great 19th-century Britons illustrates life in the Victorian period from different perspectives.

52. De Profundis by Oscar Wilde (1905)
There is a thrilling majesty to Oscar Wilde’s tormented tour de force written as he prepared for release from Reading jail.

56. Life on the Mississippi by Mark Twain (1883)

This memoir of Samuel Clemens’s time as a steamboat pilot provides insight into his best-known characters, as well as the writer he would become.

57. Travels With a Donkey in the Cévennes by Robert Louis Stevenson (1879)

The Scottish writer’s hike in the French mountains with a donkey is a pioneering classic in outdoor literature – and as influential as his fiction.

60. On the Origin of Species by Charles Darwin (1859)
Darwin’s revolutionary, humane and highly readable introduction to his theory of evolution is arguably the most important book of the Victorian era.

72. Confessions of an English Opium-Eater by Thomas De Quincey (1822)

An addiction memoir, by the celebrated and supremely talented contemporary of Coleridge and Wordsworth, outlining his life hooked on the the drug.

73. Tales from Shakespeare by Charles and Mary Lamb (1807)

A troubled brother-and-sister team produced one of the 19th century’s bestselling volumes and simplified the complexity of Shakespeare’s plays for younger audiences.

75. The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin by Benjamin Franklin (1793)
The US founding father’s life, drawn from four different manuscripts, combines the affairs of revolutionary America with his private struggles.

82. The Diary of Fanny Burney (1778)
Burney’s acutely observed memoirs open a window on the literary and courtly circles of late 18th-century England.

92. The Diary of Samuel Pepys by Samuel Pepys (1660)
A portrait of an extraordinary Englishman, whose scintillating firsthand accounts of Restoration England are recorded alongside his rampant sexual exploits.

99. The History of the World by Walter Raleigh (1614)
Raleigh’s most important prose work, close to 1m words in total, used ancient history as a sly commentary on present-day issues.

Well, let's see what is happening in the future. Although I am a little bit of a fan to Walter Raleigh, I am not sure if I manage to read his 1 million words in total!

What about you? Any interesting reads for you?

Tuesday, 9 January 2018

The End of the Affair by Graham Greene

I am trying to get use to listening to audio books. What is better than trying it out with a favourite author and a favourite narrator. This novel from Graham Greene is narrated, or as it says; performed by Colin Firth, and it is just such a pleasure to listen to his voice. I could probably listen to any book he is narrating.

I enjoy reading Graham Greene's 'quiet' tales, which stays on a matter of fact way, even when they concern spies and world affairs. This novel is a story about love, obsession and jealousy, very strong feelings, and still, it is given to us through beautiful, quiet prose, that very well show us that a master is at work.  It is about an illicit love affair between the narrator (an author in the novel) Maurice Bendrix and Sarah Miles, the wife of his 'best' friend, civil servant Henry Miles. As the story develops religion tends to dramatise the affair even more. It is a novel asking for answers.

"A story has no beginning or end." This is how the book begins, a great beginning that says it all. It is told through the narration of Bendrix', writing a novel which takes the form of a diary. Later onwe get access to another diary, Sarah's and there Bendrix discovers the answers to all the questions he has tormented himself with. The novel is written in flash backs and therefore the first sentence of it has a double meaning. There is really no end to the story, or the inevitable end is also part of the beginning.

It seems that the book is based on a relationship Graham Greene had with Lady Catherine Walston, and many details in the book happened in Greene's life. However that is, it is a fantastic book, three main characters and some side characters that are so well portrayed, that it is a pleasure to read. It deals with the good and bad about love and when obsession takes over. In the end, it is not an easy matter.

The book is no. 71 on The Guardian's list och 100 best books from 2015.

Monday, 8 January 2018

The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton

The Miniaturist comes with a lot of good reviews, and as usual I am afraid that I will expect too much. Not so. This is a wonderfully written magical piece of historical fiction. Nella Oortman is married to a successful merchant trader in Amsterdam in 1686. He is a good catch for her and although she does not know him she has high hopes for the future. Once she arrives in Amsterdam to knock on the door of his house, her life changes for ever. And not in the way she expected it.

"On the step of her new husband's house, Nella Oortman lifts and drops the dolphin knocker, embarrassed by the thud. No one comes, though she is expected. The time was prearranged and letters ritten, her mother's paper so thin compared with Brandt's expensive vellum. No, she thinks, this is not the best of greetings, given the blink of a marriage ceremony the month before - no garlands, no betrothal cup, no wedding bed."

Johannes lives with his sister Marin in an elegant house, together with a black servant and a maid. They are all unique characters and it takes time for Nella to find out going ons in the house. As a wedding present she gets a miniature doll's house and through an advertisement she finds a miniaturist who creates wonderful pieces for the house. It is just that the pieces reflects the life in her real house.

In small pieces we get to know the secrets of the house together with Nella. It is much more complicated that what meats the eye. It gives a good description of the times, both as regards people, pictures of the city and the rules and policies of the time. When Nella sets out to find out who the miniaturist is and why the miniaturist knows so much about the family, she discovers more than she asked for. She grows adult fast and have to deal with unexpected events as regards her family.

An intriguing story that captures you from page one. It is beautifully written and the characterisation is well developed. The story takes you into hidden territories, love and friendship and it is a magical world that Jessie Burton has created. Could hardly put the book down.

Saturday, 6 January 2018

The Last Confession of Thomas Hawkins by Antonia Hodgson

The title The Devil in the Marshalsea has lately turned up here and there. It seemed to be a book for me; always interested in historical fiction. It was not until I grabbed The Last Confession of Thomas Hawkins from my book case that I realised the two were connected. "The Devil…" is the first in a series about Tom Hawkins, a young adventurer in London in the beginning of the 18th century. He is living with his fiancee Kitty Sparks and the two make a great couple. Both independent and going on with their lives as they like. They move as comfortably in high society as in the bourgeoisie and poorer, criminal parts of London.

Tom has a tendency to run into trouble. In this book he is in deep trouble as the first sentence of the books reveals. I used this sentence for a Book Beginnings on Friday.

"No one thought Tom Hawkins would hang. Not until the last moment."

In a weak moment he is promising the 'king of crime' in London to help the king's mistress, Henrietta Howard, out of her distress. That leads to a meeting with Queen Caroline and a mission that almost cost him his life. At the same time he is running into difficulties with a neighbour . He regrets having complained about his boring life.

The idea of the mission is based on the real Henrietta Howard and her brutal husband. In the end of the book Antonia Hodgson gives us the background. I really love books who are based on a real event, especially when the author is able to weave the real story into an interesting fictional story. Hodgson manages this with great skill.  The book was slightly slow in the beginning, but once things started to happen it was difficult to put it down.

I think we can await more books about Tom Hawkins and I am looking forward to the next one in the series.

Friday, 5 January 2018

Book Beginnings on Fridays and The Friday 56

This week my book beginning and page 56 come from The Bugatti Queen by Miranda Seymour. I  very much enjoyed her biography of Robert Graves and look forward reading this during 2018. It is about Hélène Delangle who in the life of 1920s Paris, caught the attention of Ettore Bugatti and motor-racing. Sounds intriguing.

Book beginnings hosted by Rose City Reader

"She had kept the gloves because they reminded her of the way in which one of her most charming lovers, Philippe de Rothschild, had introduced himself to her. "

The Friday 56 (57) hosted by Freda's Voice

"She had no modesty; when he suggested that her role as a Greek nymph might be more convincing if the took the sequinned bandeau off her breasts, she pulled her skirt off as well and went through the rest of the rehearsal in her knickers. "

Thursday, 4 January 2018

Challenges and Memes 2018

Another year, another challenges. I will continue with some of the challenges that I participated in during last year, and there will be some new, I am sure. Probably join some during the year as they turn up.

I hope to be more organised in my reading this year, but a lot depends on my TBR shelves. There just have to be less books there in the end of the year. I also aim to read more new books this year. It seems that most of the books I read have been written a few years back. Looking at the three books I considered the best last year, were written in 1901, 1953 and 2002. The last one has to be counted as rather new, I guess!

I have divided challenges and memes under two labels this year. They will be easier accessible this way. My Challenges are:

Mount TBR Reading Challenge
Full House Reading Challenge
European Reading Challenge
Alphabet Soup Reading Challenge
Where Are You Reading Challenge
Cloak & Dagger Challenge
2 x 18 Reading Challenge
52 Books in 52 Weeks

The Memes are:

Book Beginnings on Fridays
The Friday 56
6 Degrees of Separation
Bookmarks Monday
The Classics Club

I do not post every week on the memes, but try to participate as often as I can. I love these memes and it is interesting to see what the rest of you come up with.

Have an interesting and challenging year.

Outcome of Challenges 2017

I joined quite a few challenges in 2017.I only managed to fulfil a few of them and they are:

The European Reading Challenge hosted by Rose City Reader. I read five books from different European countries.

The Go-Betwen by J.P. Hartley (UK), The Temporary Gentleman by Sebastian Barry (Ireland),
Buddenbrooks by Thomas Mann (Germany), Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare (Italy),
Unsolved Mysteries of Amsterdam by Martijn H. Adelmund (the Netherlands).

Full House Reading Challenge 2017 hosted by Kathryn at Book Date.  I managed to read the whole card!

Read 52 books in 52 weeks hosted by Robin of my Two BlessingsI missed one week during my holiday, but otherwise I managed.

Twenty Books of Summer hosted by Cathy at Cathy 746 Books. I opted for 10 books but read 13, so a bonus there!

Then there were some where I did not make it all the way through.

Mount the TBR Reading Challenge hosted by Bev at My Reader's Block. I opted for 48 books to climb Mt Ararat, but only managed 42 books! Meaning I climed Mt. Vancouver at least.

Back to the Classics hosted by Karen @ Books and Chocolate. I managed 9 out of 12.

What's in a Name hosted by The Worm Hole. I managed books with; A number, A building, A title which at least two words start with the same letter. Missed out on; A title with X in it, A compass direction, An item of cutlery.

The Alphabet Soup Reading Challenge hosted by Escape with Dollycas. I did not manage to read titles starting on I, Q, X, Y and Z.

Keyword Reading Challenge hosted by Claudia at My Soul Called Life. I only managed January - April and nothing for the rest of the year.

Where Are You Reading hosted by Book Dragon's Lair. I did not manage to find places for D, E, K, N, O, T, U, X, Y and Z.

Overall, I am quite happy with the challenges, although to have managed them all would have been great. I will join some of the also for 2018 and I hope for a better reading year.