Tuesday, 30 August 2011

Book Review: Mina Drömmars Stad (City of My Dreams)

Mina_drommars_stadMina drömmars stad (City of My Dreams) by Per Anders Fogelström

Publisher: Albert Bonniers Förlag

Challenges: Nordic Challenge

Synopsis: Fifteen year old Henning is walking into Stockholm. The city lies before him with all its possibilities. The city however doesn’t quite live up to its promises.

My Thoughts: If you read this blog regularly you probably know by this time that I don’t do to well with assigned reading. I tend to resent them. This was one of my exceptions. I was assigned this book the summer between my junior and senior year in high school and I am pretty sure I read it from cover to cover, and then went out and bought the rest of the books in the series. It is that good.

It has one of the most compelling opening chapters I have ever read. I read this in Swedish, but it is translated into English by Jennifer Brown Baverstam. Fogelström in the opening of the book makes the city into a character in its own right. He paints a picture of the city as both a protector and an enemy. These are the last few lines of the opening chapter (my translation):

The City waited. For the fifteen year old boy who had yet not seen any of its glory – and for everyone else who sought it out.

It existed in their dreams and invited all possibilities.

But a young boy neither could nor wanted to see that most were dark, that joy and the possibilities of life were much fewer than those of sorrow and death.

The boy dreamed. The City waited.

Isn’t it evocative and foreboding? The story of young Henning and his family also tells the story of the growth of Stockholm. This is the first book in a series of five books that follow the family from 186o until 1968. This first book covers the period from 1860 until 1880 and is very much the story of the horrors of the industrial revolution. How the poor were used. And how this impacts on the individual. Young Henning has no family and at first no friends. He also has no education and no contacts. This means that he ends up with the hardest jobs there are. However the book also shows the love and friendship that grows even in the at first bleak life of the rented bed and work in the harbour. Somehow it is incredibly beautiful. And the end makes me cry every time.

Although this is a work of historical fiction there is a certain amount of realism. Fogelström presents a well researched book where actual events are incorporated into the book. One of the things I appreciate about this series is that the characters are never given an important part in the historical events of the time. Rather we see them through their eyes, the eyes of the normal person. That makes the books more real to me. One criticism of sorts is that the main characters are incredibly good. It can get a bit grating at times but at the same time makes an important point of not giving into your circumstances.


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, 29 August 2011

Book Review: Holiday in Death

Holiday in DeathHoliday in Death by J.D. Robb

Publisher: Piatkus

Category: Crime fiction

Challenges: Mystery and Suspense Challenge

My Thoughts: This is probably the wrong time of year to read this book. It is set around Christmas, in New York, in the year 2058. A happy, young woman is found strangled by a Christmas garland. Eve Dallas and her crack team (which now includes McNabb (yay)) are faced with a killer who has a time limit and very few concrete leads. Add to that the fact that Eve is just not quite back to full fitness after the last book and you have another romp through the In Death world.

Eve continues the growth that she started in the earlier books in this one. Although she is still not ready to admit that she needs to slow down until she drops, she is now willing to admit after she dropped that Roark taking care of her might not be the worst thing. In addition she realises that she needs some of the people who have somehow manage to worm their way into her life.

This isn’t one of my favourite In Death books but it is another solid addition to the series. If you like L&O: SVU then you will enjoy this book.


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.

Friday, 26 August 2011

Book Review: The Greater Journey [audiobook]

The Greater Journey 2The Greater Journey: Americans in Paris by David McCullough

Narrated by: Edward Hermann

Publisher: Simon & Schuster Audio

Category: Narrative Non-fiction

Synopsis: A chronicle of Americans in Paris from 1930 until 1900, touching on both the political, the medical and the artists. These individuals were inspired by what they saw and in turn inspired others in both the US and Paris.

My Thoughts: I didn’t love this book as much as I wanted to. I had many of the same problems as Colleen at My Love of Books. I did persist and finish the book because by the time I had the thought to quit there were some stories I was hoping that McCullough would tie up, which he did in a way.

My biggest problem was the fact that he tried too focus on to many people. The story thus becomes fractured, especially when he refers back to people he has already talked about. This is especially tricky when you are listening to it in audio because you can’t go back and refresh your memory about whose who the same way you can in print. I also found the jumping from art, to medicine, to politics, and back to art to be very jarring.

I did have parts I really enjoyed, I especially liked the part aboutJohn Singer Sargent Daughters of Edward Darley Boit jssgallery dot org Mary Cassatt and John Singer Sargent. The impressionists have been some of my favourite painters ever since I was a little girl and for me hearing these peoples stories gave me some great insights. I would have preferred a focus on these two and perhaps some others of their contemporaries. The contrast between the private of Cassatt and the public of Singer Sargent was fascinating to me.

Mary Cassatt by ricci-art dot netI did like that there was a fairly even balance between men and women who were featured. I’ve already mentioned Mary Cassatt but McCullough also featured a female medical student, Elizabeth Blackwell, which I really appreciated. I also liked how this book tied with the book I had listened to before: At Home: A Short History of Private Life by Bill Bryson.

Overall I wouldn’t recommend this book as a “go out and buy right now”, but rather borrow it from the library to see if you enjoy it first. And perhaps only read portions as they interest you.

soundbytesAudio production: Edward Hermann does a fantastic job with this book. He has a great reading voice. I would listen to more books narrated by him.

I am not sure if I should comment on this here or not…but I will. I listened to the book on my iPhone using the Audible.com app and I am a bit sceptical. If I looked at the chapter list in the app there were a lot more chapters than there actually was in the book and this really bugged me. I wanted to know the chapters so that I could jump back. But this way it was difficult to get a grip over what was going on.


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.

Thursday, 25 August 2011

Book Review: The Tales of Beedle the Bard

Beedle the BardThe Tales of Beedle the Bard by J. K. Rowling

Publisher: Bloomsbury

Synopsis: The Tales of Beedle the Bard contains five richly diverse fairy tales, eachi with its own magical character, that will variously bring delight, laughter and the thrill of mortal peril.

Additional notes for each story penned by Professor Albus Dumbledore will be enjoyed by Muggles and wizards alike, as the Professor muses on the morals illuminated by the tales, and reveals snippets of information about life at Hogwarts” (taken from the back of the book because it was too good not to)

My Thoughts: This is the only Harry Potter book after Prisoner of Azkaban that I didn’t stalk the post box or wait in line at midnight for. I think that when it came out I was glutted for Potter. It was just to much to soon without being the real thing. But with the release of the final film where the book does play a large part I felt that I had to read it.

It was a very easy read, but I really appreciated the commentary around the different stories. Especially the part where Dumbledore comments on the banning of books. My current students are of the generation that grew up with Harry Potter (they were born in 1995) and I was already planning on talking about Banned Books Week and this book will provide me with an excellent introduction to the idea of book banning.

As far as the Potterverse this book doesn’t add anything earth shattering but it goes some way to rounding out both the final book and the life that wizards live. As with Fantastic Beasts & Where to Find Them and Quidditch Through the Ages this book donates parts of its profits to charity.


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, 22 August 2011

Book Reviews: Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them & Quidditch Through the Ages

fantastic beastsFantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them by Newt Scamander and J. K. Rowling

Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing PLC

Synopsis: Fantastic Beasts & Where to find them is written as if it was Harry Potter’s school book. It talks, as the name says, about the different beasts that exist in the magical world of J.K. Rowling.


Quidditch through the agesQuidditch Through the Ages by Kennilworthy Whisp and J. K. Rowling

Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing PLC

Synopsis: Quidditch Through the Ages describes the Wizarding game of Quidditch.

My Thoughts: These are Harry Potter books that I rarely read but always make me laugh when I do. They were perfect for the charity they were written for: Comic Relief, because they offer just that, some comic relief. I read them during what was a very tough summer workwise (psychological warfare was mentioned several times) and for the two or so hours it took me to read they helped keep that at bay.

Fantastic Beasts & Where to Find Them is written as Harry’s school book and has humoristic comments in the margin, like many school books do (I teach high school, I see many comments in the margin). The book itself is funny at times but it is really the comments that are the highlight of the book.

Quidditch Through the Ages is less funny (although I giggle at times) but it does provide an insight into the wizarding game that one does not get from the “regular” Potter books. It also clearly shows that Rowling had thought through her universe very thoroughly.

These books are not necessary to understand the Potterverse but they certainly add a bit of flavour to them, and while us Potterphiles sit around waiting for our Pottermore e-mails these books can provide a nice fix.


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.

Friday, 19 August 2011

Book Review: At Home: A Short History of Private Life [Audiobook]

At HomeAt Home: A Short History of Private Life by Bill Bryson

Narrated By: Bill Bryson

Publisher: AudioGO Ltd.

Category: Narrative Non-Fiction

Synopsis: Bill Bryson takes the reader on a journey through the house and the history of our homes.

My Thoughts: I am a bit of a history nerd. I prefer social history to military (my high school history teacher would have a FIT if she heard that) so this book hit all the right buttons for me on the surface.

And for the most part I really liked it. Like most Bryson books it is hysterically funny in places, and there is certainly a lot of interesting historical nuggets. However, the book also had some problems. The focus of the book is most definitely on the UK and the US. This might not be a problem for some but for me it became a bit repetitive and boring. In addition the idea of using Bryson’s own house as a starting point is at first a smart one, but after a while it becomes clear that there are certain limitations to this approach. The layout of the house is somewhat strange and there are rooms that either don’t exist in other houses or look very different in some houses. This means that some chapters feel somewhat disjointed and not very interesting. The chapter on the basement becomes not so much about the basement as it is a chapter on architecture, and while this is interesting I would have liked to hear what people actually USED their basement for, and this was only sparsely commented on.

All this said, at no point did I want to put the book down. I think that for a history buff it is definitely a must add to the home library. It touches on some of the most important people in history, such as Tomas Jefferson and George Washington as well as famous architects and engineers such as Isambard Kingdom Brunel as well as events that shaped how we live today.

Overall the book seems factually quite accurate and I did learn quite a bit from it. It is a book I will probably add in hardcopy to my history library. I would like to read it and take notes. I listened to large portions of it while driving at it is hard then to make notes to remember both for reviews and for future information.

soundbytesAudio production: Bill Bryson narrates his own book and does so very well. It really feels like he is sitting there telling the story himself, to me. I don’t recall having any real issues with any part of the audio production. I thought it was well done and easy to listen 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.

Friday, 12 August 2011

Unexpected break!

anne of green gables walking

I’m sorry the blog has been so INCREDIBLY quiet lately. My poor laptop has been feeling poorly for a while now and one day a few weeks ago it finally went and died on me. Thankfully I have an awesome IT-guy (aka Dad) who hooked the laptop up to some sort of life support and managed to extract the content of my hard drive and then install it in a new laptop. Therefore all I have lost is time, and I haven’t actually lost that either, as I have managed to read/listen to quite a few books in the the computer was at the Spa. So look for some reviews after the weekend.

In other news I have started back at my teaching job and it has been a drama filled week and I am exhausted. Hopefully things will settle down now that the students come back (my new motto in life is: “it will all work out in the end”).


I am aiming for a  book filled, quiet autumn….yeah I believe in Santa Clause and the Easter Bunny too Open-mouthed smile. I am excited about BBAW and I am hoping to get into some serious blogging, with Banned Book Week hopefully featuring in my teaching as well as in my blogging. As well as some stuff for the Nordic Challenge (with a fun announcement coming there). I’m really looking forward to it all 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.