Friday, 29 April 2011

Book Review: Ett UFO gör entré (A UFO makes an entrance)

Ett UFO gör entreEtt UFO gör entré (A UFO makes an entrance) by Jonas Gardell

Publisher: Norstedts

Category: Lit

Challenges: Nordic Challenge, What's in a Name, GLBT Challenge

Synopsis: Juha is growing up in a suburb to Stockholm at the end of the 1970s and at the start of the 1980s. He is on the cusp of being cool. He manages to keep this up by stealing liquor from his parents and giving to his friends. Juha is determined to never again be a nothing.

My Thoughts: I didn’t end up finishing this book. Not because it wasn’t good (it is definitely a good book), but because it was to painful.

Juha whom we first met in En komikers uppväxt (A Comedian Growing Up) is now a teenager and still as desperate to fit in. This means that he steals and lies and ignores his friend Jenny. Juha’s insecurities and fears are made so incredibly real in this book that they made me physically sick and brought me close to tears and ultimately that isn’t really what I want from a book right now.

I am also a bit of a prude at times and Juha’s teenage boy fascination with sex got to me. I think in a way because he was disrespectful to himself as much as to the people he so desperately wanted to have sex with.

I think this is a very realistic portrayal of growing up in the ‘70s and ‘80s in Sweden (I can’t say for sure since I don’t remember much of the ‘80s and wasn’t around in the 70s Smile with tongue out). But that makes the book that much harder to read. I can so easily picture Juha and his desire to be popular. To be someone. I can see Jenny’s self-loathing and want to tell her that she is worth something. That she is amazing. I want to thump their parents for being so self-involved and selfish that they don’t see how much their children are hurting.

In the end Gardell is an amazing writer but I just couldn’t handle this book right now. I spend far to much of my time with hormone crazy teenage boys* to read about one.

This is undoubtedly a book that is good to read WITH teenagers. It will lead to some very interesting and important discussions, but right now I can’t handle it.

*At one of the schools I teach at I have almost only boys who are slightly older than Juha is in this book. Whenever I read about what is going on in Juha’s head I see one of “my” boys admitting that he feels like shit. It hits a bit close to home right now.


Copyright ©2011 Zee from Notes from the North. This post was originally posted by Zee from Notes from the North. It should not be reproduced without express written permission.

Wednesday, 27 April 2011

Book Review: The Help [Audiobook]

the-helpThe Help by Kathryn Stockett

Narrated by: Jenna Lamia, Bahni Turpin, Octavia Spencer, Cassandra Campbell

Publisher: Whole Story Audio Books

Category: Lit

Synopsis: Old Miss Graduate Eugenia “Skeeter” Phelan returns to her hometown of Jackson, Mississippi somewhat adrift. She no longer fits in with her old friends, both because they are married and she is not and because she has a somewhat different view of the world. Together with two coloured women Aibileen and Minnie Skeeter ends up writing a book featuring the stories of the hired help in the white houses. The lives of these women and those about whom they write will never be quite the same again.

My thoughts: This book was a bit slow getting started but once it did I couldn’t turn it off.

I really enjoyed this view of the changing south in the 1960s. The voices and experiences of the women seemed truly real. In some respects I could really connect with Skeeter (although I have a very different relationship with my mother). Like her I have often felt awkward and different. As a teenager and in my early twenties I just didn’t fit. The way her searching is portrayed feels very real to me. The change in her was one of the most moving things to me.

In addition to this the voices of the other women in the story felt very true. Their hopes and fears and experiences felt so very real to me. What little I know of the time period I felt that the stories and experiences were really authentic. And that the relationship between the coloured women and the white women for whom they worked seemed like they could have happened.

There were times in the book where I giggled and times when I wanted to cry. There were also times when I really wanted to cringe. This was especially when I wanted to characters to just SAY something (Minnie and Miss Celia spring to mind here).

Overall I loved the message of everyone’s worth being equal. That the lines we draw between people are upheld by people and it is up to us to stop drawing these lines.

I’m having a really hard time writing this review because I loved the book but can’t actually quite articulate why. I guess it boils down to everything feeling authentic and to the likeability of the characters. That and the fact that the message didn’t feel heavy handed.

The Audio Production: I thought the audio production was really well done. I have in the past been really sceptical about books with multiple narrators but after The Help and Room have have begun to realise that multiple narrators can really help lift the book. In addition the multiple narrators really help at the start of the book when, at least I, need some reminders as to who is telling what story. I will also admit that I now have a southern voice running through my head.

I am really looking forward to seeing the movie, and not just because one of my all time favourite actresses has a role in it (Allison Janney).

The Help



Copyright ©2011 Zee from Notes from the North. This post was originally posted by Zee from Notes from the North. It should not be reproduced without express written permission.

Monday, 25 April 2011

Book Review: Herland

gilmanHerland by Charlotte Perkins Gilman

Publisher: Kindle Edition

Category: Classic

Challenges: A Year of Feminist Classics

Synopsis: Three young American men find a society consisting only of women. The women reproduce through pathogenesis and run an orderly country.

My Thoughts: I hate to say it but this book did absolutely nothing for me. It felt messy in the narrative flow. To many times the narrator started telling a story and then said that they would come back to it, which I suppose they did but without markers. It just felt like it left me hanging.

I know that the point was to show gender construction but I don’t think it did so in a convincing manner. By having a male narrator I felt that so many of issues of gender roles were missed. Or perhaps to highlighted (yes I realise that there is a contradiction here). I just didn’t feel, like I have with other books for the Year of Feminist Classics, that this book brought anything really new. It just continued highlight the perceived gender differences that have already been well established.

I did find it interesting that Gilman did highlight the fact that women can live together peacefully without the pettiness that the men expected. But at the same time I thought this was done in a rather heavy handed way. To much tell not enough show.

The most interesting passages for me where ones early on in the book where the narrator insisted that because it was “a CIVILIZED country (…) there must be men” (p9). I thought this was an interesting point of view from an historical perspective. Gilman is obviously trying to show how our society views women as uncivilized and chaotic, whereas men are clearly civilized. This is an interesting contrast to the fact that the men in the story, in a very Victorian fashion put woman on a pedestal. This further adds to the woman as an angel or a whore theory that was prevalent during Victorian times (even though this story was written somewhat later the views were still very much there).

It is also interesting to note the differing views of the copulating that are presented in the book. I think part of my apathy towards this book is embedded in the fact that once again women are shown to not want to engage in the physical act of intercourse for purposes other than producing a child. Although I know that I should put the book in its historical context I still find this annoying (and no I am definitely not talking about Terry and Alima, what he did was WRONG).

Ultimately I have to say that I much prefer “A Yellow Wallpaper” as a commentary on the treatment of women at the time.


Copyright ©2011 Zee from Notes from the North. This post was originally posted by Zee from Notes from the North. It should not be reproduced without express written permission.

Wednesday, 20 April 2011

Book Review: The Wee Free Men

The wee free menThe Wee Free Men by Terry Pratchett

Publisher: Harper Collins

Category: YA Fantasy

Synopsis: Tiffany Aching lives in the Chalk, Discworld where people don’t really hold with witches, but they are good with sheep. Tiffany is a no nonsense kind of girl who works in the dairy on the family farm as well as looking after her brother Wentworth. One day Wentworth is kidnapped by the Faerie Queen and it is up to Tiffany to save him. To help her she has the witch Miss Tick and the Nac Mac Feegles.

My Thoughts: Oh this book was just right for me when I read it. Just perfect. I was having some issues at work (things are looking better now but it was super frustrating before the school break) and the humour and warmth in this book was just what I needed. The Nac Mac Feegles were HILARIOUS. For me having lived in Scotland really helped understanding the Feegles because I could really hear them speak. I also already knew some of the Scots words that were used such as “bleather”.

Tiffany is also a very engaging and likeable heroine. And she is a heroine aimed at a slightly younger than me audience Open-mouthed smile for which Pratchett gets a whole load of bonus points (you know if he hadn’t already been a writer hero of mine Winking smile). Actually the whole book focuses on the power of women in society. The fact that women are powerful and knowledgeable (this becomes even more of a theme in the next book in the series). What is even more wonderful is that although Tiffany is smart and funny she is also flawed. She doesn’t much like her little brother (at the beginning of the book she uses him for bait for a monster). She can be a bit of a know it all (not Hermione style but still). And she is unsure and insecure at times. Like most children.

This book touches upon several somewhat sensitive topics, the loss of a loved one and the need to deal with that as well as being who you really are and why everyone is important. The first topic is presented very sensitively through Tiffany’s thoughts about her grandmother and her death. I have since read the next book in the series as well (review forthcoming) and I could really see how this book started setting up Tiffany’s growing realisation about what makes us who we are. She has to start understanding that the outside isn’t necessarily what is important. It is what we do with who we are that is important.

This is definitely a book that I will be giving to my niece and honorary niece when they get older. Tiffany is someone I want them to look up to.


Copyright ©2011 Zee from Notes from the North. This post was originally posted by Zee from Notes from the North. It should not be reproduced without express written permission.

Monday, 18 April 2011

Book Review: One Was A Soldier

One was a soldierOne Was A Soldier by Julia Spencer-Fleming

Publisher: Minotaur Books

Category: Crime

Challenges: Mystery & Suspense, What’s in a Name

Synopsis: Five veterans meet in a therapy group in the small town of Millers Kill. All of them have wounds from the war, some visible, others less so. When one of them dies the others refuse to leave their fallen comrade behind and set out to find out the circumstances around the death. In the process the individuals begin to heal. The seventh book about Episcopal Priest Clare and her Police Chief Russ looks at some of the darker sides of war, both for those who have fought and for those who are left at home.

My Thoughts: I loved this book. Spencer-Fleming has once again managed to mix the social issues with characters that feel supremely real. The town of Millers Kill, NY feels real. The characters are presented warts and all.

As with most of the books in the series this book doesn’t have a straight chronology. The book starts in September with the first meeting of a therapy group for veterans. We are then taken back to June with the return of two of the members of the group, first Eric McCrae and then Clare’s return. We get to see both those physically damaged by war and those whose wounds are psychological. Although I know very little about the affects of war I felt that the portrayal of the characters wounds was very well done.

Personally I have always found Clare’s drinking to be a bit of a problem. To me she has been using it as a crutch even before she went to Iraq. I might be slightly oversensitive here as we have alcoholism in the family (my uncle celebrated 30 years sober this week!) and so the phrase “I need a drink because…” always sets off alarm bells in my head. Ever since the scene in I Shall Not Want where Clare and Russ meet at the liquor store I’ve had an uneasy feeling in my gut. I thought the book handled Clare’s own dawning realisation about how she was “Not fine at all”. Really well, but I do wish that Russ had pushed a bit more, especially since he has his own experience.

I’ve said it before, but I am going to point it out again, one of the things I like about these books is the fact that I can relate to the reality of Millers Kill. I currently live in a small town, so small that we in fact don’t even have our own police force. Although, here in Sweden we have very few people go into the military (we are at peace dontcha know*) but I could still relate to the need to get out. To leave the small town, that causes so many of the towns inhabitants to join up. I loved the fact that Spencer-Fleming highlighted the fact that these types of towns send a disproportionate amount of their inhabitants to the military. And that, we perhaps don’t recognize this enough.

In connection with the issues surrounding the reasons why so many people from towns like Millers Kill signing up to the armed forces comes the issues regarding the poor and the working poor and I really liked the way the book touches on these issues. This is especially evident in the scene at the soup kitchen where Spencer-Fleming, through Clare, enumerates the types of people who eat at the soup kitchen. Here it is very clear that it is not just the homeless but also the working poor who are in desperate need of services like this one.

As much as I love a good mystery for me that was really secondary to the characters in this book. The mystery didn’t actually engage me that much, I was much more interested in how it affected the different characters and their relationships. The mystery allows pretty much all the veterans to face their own problems in a way that I loved. Both through the fact that they confront each other (as in the case with Tally and Clare, and with Will and Clare, both who in some ways confront Clare about her drinking) and because it gives them something to focus on (as with Eric). There were also certain aspects of the solution that I found incredibly satisfying, especially in regards to the death, I won’t say more so I don’t spoil but…

Another aspect that I really appreciated was the humour in the book. It isn’t in your face but rather sneaks up on you here and there. I especially loved this passage:

Sarah pointed to Fergusson. “You are not Daphne from Scooby-Doo. We are not going to get into a purple van and ride around town looking  for a spooky old house.” (…) Will looked at her slyly. “What are you going to do, Sarah?” She shook her head. “I guess I’m going to put on an orange turtleneck and drive the van".”

I am guessing I am not the only reader who finds Clare’s insistence on getting into police business to mirror the Scooby gangs Open-mouthed smile.

There were some things at the end of the book not related to Russ and Clare that made me want to hit someone with a two-by-four (or as someone pointed out in the discussion at Julia Spencer-Fleming’s Readers Space a “clue-by-four” which I thought was hilarious).  This desire to hurt someone also makes me really want to read the next book. Soon.

One more thing. I have a confession. For the first time in years I a suffering from a very bad case of character crush. I don’t think I’ve had one as bad as this since my crush on Gilbert Blyth when I was a teenager. So I thought I would put it out there that I would totally nail Kevin Flynn if I could. Just saying Embarrassed smile.

In conclusion I want to say that I think everyone should read this series, and if you are you should also check out the free e-book Letters to a Soldier as well as the Readers Space for extra material. All the books in the series would make excellent books for book group as they deal with so much more than the straight up mystery that one often gets from other books in the genre. I have managed to recommend the series several time already this week Smile.

*I find the Swedish insistence on our neutrality to be a sham considering we are in both Afghanistan and Libya, as well as having taken part in IFORs work in former Yugoslavia.

Previous books in the series:

In the Bleak Midwinter

A Fountain Filled With Blood

Out of the Deep I Cry

To Darkness and To Death

All Mortal Flesh

I Shall Not Want


Copyright ©2011 Zee from Notes from the North. This post was originally posted by Zee from Notes from the North. It should not be reproduced without express written permission.

Sunday, 3 April 2011

TSS: 1st Quarter Round Up & Nordic Challenge Winner

The Sunday

First off the winner of the 1st Quarter Nordic Challenge. Drum roll please!

First Q Nordic Challenge

The winner is entry 42:

Bernadette from Reactions to Reading with her review of 1222 by Anne Holt.

Bernadette if you could contact me and specify which bundle you want and what address you want it sent to, my e-mail is in the about section above.

I have one of Holt’s books sitting on my shelf that I will be reading later this year. It is one of the books I got at Bok & Bibliotek Fair in Gothenburgh. I got to meet Holt and she signed my book for me. She was super nice!

The 2nd Quarter Review page is up

Nordic Challenge Tips

If you are looking for some tips for books that fulfil this challenge I want to recommend one of the books from March’s Year of Feminist Classics. I read A Doll’s House  and thought it was fantastic. Several of the participants also read other plays by Ibsen and I am seriously considering doing so myself.

Zoe from Playing by the Book has continued her fantastic series about children’s books from around Europe which I blogged about here. Here are the links to the different countries:

The Swedish links feature some of my all time favourite children’s books and authors.

1st Quarter Round Up

Months-January6 by magic_artImage Credit

Belgarath the Sorcerer by David Eddings

The Unstrung Harp; or, Mr Earbrass Writes a Novel by Edward Gorey

A Vindication of the Rights of Women by Mary Wollstonecraft

Medea by Euripides

Months-February8 by magic_artImage Credit

Anne’s House of Dreams by L. M. Montgomery

Underbara dagar framför oss by Henrik Berggren

Rainbow Valley by L. M. Montgomery

Treachery in Death by J.D. Robb

Rilla of Ingleside by L. M. Montgomery

Months-March14 by magic_artImage Credit

Room by Emma Donoghue

A Doll’s House by Henrik Ibsen

The Wee Free Men by Terry Pratchett (still to be reviewed)

A Hat Full of Sky by Terry Pratchett (still to be reviewed)

“The Waste Land” by T.S. Elliot

In the Bleak Midwinter by Julia Spencer-Fleming (reviewed last year)

There are quite a few re-reads in there I’ll admit, the first quarter has been a period of change for me. I’ve started two new jobs while still balancing grad school. I am now taking a break from grad school for a while to concentrate on getting used to teaching. I’m hoping to get some more reading done in the next few months.

I am still working on War & Peace as well as re-reading the Clare Fergusson/Russ Van Alstyne books by Julia Spencer-Fleming in anticipation of the release of One Was A Soldier on the 12th. I am so super excited by that book! I can’t wait to find out what happens to all the characters I love so much. If you haven’t seen it yet, she is discussing some of her favourite scenes from the previous books in a countdown for the new book. I am also trying to write some non-review posts as well as to get caught up on my reviews.


Copyright ©2011 Zee from Notes from the North. This post was originally posted by Zee from Notes from the North. It should not be reproduced without express written permission.

Saturday, 2 April 2011

Nordic Challenge 2nd Quarter Reviews (April-June)

Nordic Challenge 2011
Here is the post to link your reviews for the second quarter of 2011 (April-June). Please provide a link to the review not just your blog. Entries that just link to the blog will be deleted.

Since I know people who will be joining this challenge read a wide variety of books I have decided to offer 4 different bundles for the winner to choose from. The bundles will be announced with the winning entry.

I will draw the winner using one of the first days in July. Please check back in July to see if you have won. I will attempt to contact you directly if you have contact information on your blog. If the winner has not replied back to me by July 30th I will pick a new winner.

Copyright ©2011 Zee from Notes from the North. This post was originally posted by Zee from Notes from the North. It should not be reproduced without express written permission.