Thursday, 31 August 2017

The Last Kings of Norse America by Janey Westin and Robert Glen Johnson

I found this book in the museum of Njal's Saga in Iceland. An interesting account on the Vikings presence in North America. The sub-title is "Runestone Keys to a Lost Empire" and it makes for exciting reading. The authors explore a possible 14th century visit to North America on behalf of the Norwegian king Magnus. He sent his son Haakon VI as leader of the expedition and Johnson and Westin investigate available manuscripts and rune stones to follow in their foot steps as far as possible.

It is a fantastically, exciting journey they take us on. They start with an historical background on the situation in Scandinavia, Iceland and Greenland. As everywhere there were political turmoil and fight for power. The Norwegian had early ties with North America and the fur trade, but due to circumstances the trade had ceased. Now was the time to try to establish this lucrative business again.

The authors base their book on earlier research but have made a lot of new research, including new translations of the rune stones. There are two stones that they analyse; The Kensington stone and the Spirit Pond stone.

The Spirit Pond stone was discovered in 1971 by Walter Elliott who were out looking for arrowheads. Instead he found a strange, flat stone with markings on it. Elliott was excited about his find and tried to get it acknowledged. It is still controversial and there are people on both sides of the coin; is it a hoax or is it real. It does not look like a traditional rune stone and this might be the reason why it is controversial.

The Kensington stone was found on a forty-foot-high hill in 1898 when farmer Olof Ohman and his son were out clearing land in Kensington, Minnesota. It also had markings on it. Although the discovery was documented in detail at the time, the finding of the stone has led to a bitter 100-year-long controversy.

Sunday, 27 August 2017

Maigret Mystified by Georges Simenon

I have lately read som reviews of Maigret books. I remember the TV-series from when I was very young and I really liked them. The books never came my way though, and when I found one in a second hand shop, I quickly grabbed it.

This mystery was first published in 1932. Although the writing is old, it does not feel old fashioned. I quite enjoyed the story and the way he was solving the crime.

An industrialist, Raymond Couchet is shot dead in his office one evening. The office is situated in an apartment building, so more or less all of the people in the building are suspects. They are a bunch of extraordinary individuals, so it takes a sharp brain to disentangle the web.

At the murder scene he meets Couchet's mistress Nine who came to look for him when he did not turn up for their dinner. In the building lives Couchet's first wife and her new husband. Next to the room in the hotel where Nine stays, Couchet's son Roger (with his ex-wife) is lodging with his mistress. The second wife is waiting for the inheritance. And then there are those mad women peaking about the corridors. Not to talk about the ever present concierge who knows everything that is happening in the building.

Much to consider, but Maigret approaches the crime in his calm, collective manner and with a few questions here and there, follow up of leads he manages to solve the crime.

It is an easily read, rather thin book. In all its simplicity the culprit still eluded me to the very end. That always makes for a good read.

Wednesday, 23 August 2017

The Saga of Egil

Iceland is forever connected to The Sagas. They tell the story of the Vikings and the early settlers on this wild island. Our recent trip to Iceland was more of a natural experience and there was not so much time for the more historical, cultural theme. I managed to pick up a few books though.

The Saga of Egil is a short version of the original saga.  As is normal for the Icelandic sagas, a lot of terrible, violent things happens. Here is the story in short, taken from the Introduction to the book.

"The Saga of Egil was written in the 13th century, possibly by chronicler Snorri Sturluson. It is about the famous Viking-Poet Egil Skallagrimsson who lived three centuries earlier and left behind a lot of outstanding poetry. Egil, born in Iceland of refugees from Norway, participated with vengeance in the long and bitter feud his family fought against the Norwegian royal family, especially against Hing Harold Fairhair, King Eric Bloodaxe and Queen Gunnhild. Tall, strong and brutal, Egil was a mercenary in the army of Anglo-Saxon King Athelstan, also going on Viking raids and missions to parts of Sweden and Latvia. Avaricious and vain, but also sensitive and generous. Egil was a true individualist, not only challenging kings who tried to put down his family, but also the heathen gods when they deprived him of two sons, after which he lamented his loss in a moving poem. The author of this saga is not oblivious to Egil's comic traits, but he also admires this larger-than-life character. "

Egil Skallagrimsson lived in 910-990. The story is in line with other stories and tells a tale of a hard life in the wild scenery of Iceland. Being there I could easily look up the areas where the family arrived and where they settled. Makes it all the more interesting to read.

Tuesday, 22 August 2017

Rupture by Ragnar Jónasson

As you, who follow me, know, I am a great fan of Icelandic author Arnaldur Indridason. Now I have made the acquaintance with another Icelandic crime writer, Ragnar Jónasson. It is a meeting that will lead to more, of this I am sure.

As with Indridason, Jónasson works on two levels. One old story that never got an ending and one contemporary murder mystery to solve. I think this is what I really love with these two authors. Their ability to totally engage the reader in an interesting, old story, which most of the time has a very tragic course.  I find that these cold cases sometimes are more interesting than the contemporary story, but in the end they do complement each other.
"1955. Two young couples move to the uninhabited, isolated fjord of Hedingsfjördur. Their stay ends abruptly when one of the women meets her death in mysterious circumstances. The case is never solved. Fifty years later an old photograph comes to light, and it becomes clear that the couples may not have been alone on the fjord after all..."
That is the background story, and possible crime, that policeman Ari Thór is asked to investigate by the son of one of the couples. Thór becomes intrigued by the story and works on it when he has time. He is on duty in a city in the north of Iceland who has been put into quarantine due to an unfortunate death, caused by a dangerous virus. Nobody is out and about and there is not that much to do. A perfect time to look into something that can take away the dreary thoughts of the present time.

Friday, 18 August 2017

Book Beginnings on Fridays and Friday 56

Rose City Reader, is hosting Book beginnings on Fridays. She says:


Please join me every Friday to share the first sentence (or so) of the book you are reading, along with your initial thoughts about the sentence, impressions of the book, or anything else the opener inspires. Please remember to include the title of the book and the author’s name.


Freda’s voice is hosting Friday 56 and the rules are:

*Grab a book, any book.
*Turn to page 56 or 56% in your eReader
(If you have to improvise, that's ok.)
 *Find any sentence, (or few, just don't spoil it)
*Post it.
*Add your (url) post below in Linky. Add the post url, not your blog url.
*It's that simple.


My book this week is "Brazzaville Beach" by William Boyd

Book Beginnings on Fridays

"I live on Brazzaville Beach. Brazzaville Beach on the edje of Africa. This is where I have washed up, you might say, deposited myself like a spar of driftwood, lodged and fixed in the warm sand for a while, just above the high tide mark."

Friday 56 (56% through my e-reader)

"Bogdan said that the first really bad sign was when John started working piecemeal, almost at random, on other topics - irrational numbers, tiling, topology - 'Even the dread world of physics attracted him for a week or two,' Bogdan said, with a sarcastic smile."

My review of Brazzaville Beach.

Monday, 14 August 2017

Bookmark Monday

I am joining Guiltless Reading for Bookmarks Monday meme. I have been travelling in Iceland for two weeks and I found some really nice bookmarks.


Three with pictures of the wonderful Icelandic nature as seen here.



 Two from Icelandic historical sagas.



I think they are from a tapestry they are creating, something like the Bayeux tapestry. You can see it as the work progress in the Njal's Saga Center in Hvolsvollur in the south of Iceland. Great museum. Here is a picture of what the tapestry will look like.


Sunday, 13 August 2017

Something I've Been Meaning to Tell You by Alice Munro

Finally, I got around to read something of Alice Munro. As a Nobel Literature Laureate she is easy accessible to everyone, which, I find, is not always the case with the Laureates. Alice Munro writes short stories, which is not really my cup of tea, although I read them from time to time. This is a time when it was really worth it.

From the back of the cover the Observer notes: "Read not more than one of her stories a day, and allow them to work their spell: they are made to last". I can agree to that, although I read half the book before I left for my holiday and half of it when I came back. Her stories are about life, often included middle aged or older aged people, and they all tell something about life. Our inner thoughts, how the world change around us, or something that happened in their youth and which has affected their whole life.

The stories are engaging, real and the characters she creates on only a few pages are incredible. You are right into them from the first line of each story. The stories makes you think about life, what it is and how we live it. Worth reading and reflecting. These stories are some of her earlier one and was published in 1974 for the first time. I am sure this is not the last time that I read Alice Munro, and I would be curious to read some of her later stories.

Have you read anything by her? What do you think?

Saturday, 12 August 2017

Brazzaville Beach by William Boyd

This book came by recommendation by my brother-in-law, who is a big fan of William Boyd. After this initial meeting with him, I am looking forward reading more books, and I do have another one of his books in my book case, Waiting for Sunrise.
"What cannot be avoided, must be welcomed, as Amilcar had told me."
Brazzaville Beach was written in 1990, and is narrated by Hope Clearwater, a scientist. There are several stories in the novel; Hope in the present time, where we find her studying chimpanzees in Grosso Arvore in Congo. We are presented to her fellow researchers; Eugen Mallabar who is the leader and the acknowledged expert on chimpanzees, with several books to his name. He is working on his final book on the peaceful chimpanzee, when Hope discovers something that does not add up to his conclusions; Ian and Roberta Vail, who are more or less her friends and Anton Hauser that she dislikes. The whole camp seem to be full of conflicts and the behaviour of the scientists can be compared to the behaviour of the chimpanzees; there are conflicts in both camps.
"So let me ask you this: the more you know,  the more you learn - does it make you fell better?'
I don't understand.'
'All these things you know - does it make you happy? A better person?'
'It's got nothing to do with happiness.'
He shook his head, sadly. 'The pursuit of knowledge is the road to hell.'
Parallell we get Hope's story of her marriage to John Clearwater, a mathematician with ambitions  of making his name on his subject. It takes him over the edge and the marriage fails.

The various chapters are introduced by descriptions of chaos theory. The theories can be applied to Hope's life, her actions, other people's actions but also on the chimpanzees.

As the scientists are working in their isolated area they seem isolated from the world. The only connection is when one of them, once every two weeks, goes into the city to buy supplies. As the tension in the camp and the tension among the chimpanzees escalates, Hope is captured by the domestic tension of Congo. Her lover, an Egyptian pilot, goes missing as Hope goes missing as well. She manages quite well to keep her logical mind set on survival. Has she learned from the chimpanzees or it is just her scientific approach to any happening in her life?
"It seems to me that there are statements about the world and our lives that have no need of formal proof procedures."
William Boyd weaves a spider web of conflicts by humans and animals. How they interact, how to find oneself when the world is knocking on the door. What is important and what is not important. It is a thrilling novel. There are much more in the novel, than I have revealed here. I don't want to spoil the story. Boyd spent his first years in Africa, and many of his novels take place there. He is obviously familiar with the surroundings and it makes for good reading. Can't wait to read another one of his books.
"The unexamined life is not worth living"

Thursday, 10 August 2017

6 Degrees of Separation - Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen




To celebrate the bicentenary of Jane Austen's death, host to 6 Degrees of Separation, Books are My Favourite and Best starts this month with one of her most popular books; Pride and Prejudice. It also happens to be my favourite book by Austen.




My chain starts with my second favourite book of hers which is Northanger Abbey. It has a Gothic theme, which reminded me of The Mysteries of Udolpho by Ann Radcliffe, who was, more or less, contemporary with Jane Austen. This is a Gothic tale in all its glory. I somehow liked it, although it is rather long and could have been shortened.

Checking in from Iceland

It has been far too quiet on this blog the last couple of weeks, which is because we have been touring Iceland. We have been camping and driving around the whole island. I thought there would be time to read a lot (I did download extra e-books just for the occasion), but we had full days from morning to late evening. I did read a short Icelandic saga The Saga of Egil and a big part of Williams Boyd's Brazzaville Beach. That was it.

Icebergs!

The reason being that Iceland had so much to show and we had a great time. Our son is studying geology, so he had prepared an itinerary that was very ambitious. We drove around most of the island, camped and saw so many spectacular things. Iceland is fantastic, magic and blessed with most of the wonders of nature. It was one of my best trips ever.

Kirkjufellsfoss

This is just to say that I am back in rainy Brussels and will catch up with you, to see what you have been up to this summer. See you soon!