Tuesday, 25 October 2011

Book Review: Karin Larsson och blommorna i Sundborn (Karin Larsson and the flowers at Sundborn)

Karin Larsson och blommorna i SundbornKarin Larsson och blommorna i Sundborn (Karin Larsson and the flowers at Sundborn) by Christina Högardh-Ihr

Publisher: Prisma

Category: Non-fiction

Challenges: Nordic Challenge

My Thoughts: Growing up I had two favourite painters: Claud Monet (thanks to Linnea in Monet’s Garden  by Christina Björk) and Carl Larsson (thanks to the book Spadarvet by Carl Larsson himself). I remember the first time I saw some original Carl Larssons, and not the reproductions that every house in Sweden has. It was in 1992 and I was 11 years old. The art museum in Gothenburgh were having a big exhibit and my parents took me. We got to see a very controversial painting called “Midvinterblot”. At the time it was owned by a private Japanese collector, now however it is hanging where it was commissioned to hang, at the National Gallery in Stockholm. Back in ‘92 I was awestruck. However the book I am going to review today isn’t about Carl, but rather his wife, Karin, who was also a very talented artist. Once she met and married Carl she changed her artistic focus towards the home. Karin became a talented textile designer, as well as an interior decorator. The home she created in Sundborn village is intimately connected to the Scandinavian design. As a matter of fact, some of Karin’s designs can be found in that temple of Swedish design, IKEA Open-mouthed smile(or at least they look very much alike)


The picture to the right here is one, if not the, most famous of Carl Larsson’s paintings. It shows one of the rooms at Lilla Hyttnäs, the name of the house that the Larssons made into their home. The painting also features the thing that the book I’ve read is about: Karin’s flowers. I enjoy flowers, but I really don’t have a green molecule in my body. I love looking at them but I can’t make them grow and I don’t know all that many different types. But the story is also very much about Karin. And Karin loved her flowers. This is evident both from how Lilla Hyttnäs looks now, from her own textiles and from Carl’s paintings. Paintings that , as Högardh-Ihr points out, often feature different flowers and plants.

This book does full justice to the life at the Larsson family home. The book is peppered with pictures, reproductions and extracts from letters to and from Karin. I don’t live that far from Sundborn village and have been there a couple of times over the last few years (and am always happy to go back) and I really enjoyed learning even more about this place and the woman who built it. The guides at the house are always really knowledgeable and happy to answer questions, and I know I will have some next time I go. The house itself is somewhat of a rabbit warren, where the Larssons built on more space as the family grew. And every single room has unique decorations, paintings by Carl and textiles by Karin. Karin also designed furniture, amongst other things a rocking chair that is very like one that you could buy at IKEA. Although to us today it might seem like Karin gave up on her own dreams of becoming an artist, but I really don’t think she did. She put her artist soul into the home. This home was always open to friends and family. Karin worked hard to decorate the house, make it warm and welcoming, and functional. And in doing so she broadened her artistic talents. Through the home she came into contact with weaving and textiles, something she hadn’t touched before. She grew up in a well to do home and had before marriage not been involved in cooking, now she became an adventurous cook who tried ingredients that wouldn’t make it into most Swedish kitchens for another 50 or 60 years.

The book is a very nice introduction to Karin, it isn’t that meaty in itself, but it gives some really excellent starting points for further study of both Karin and Carl.


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, 21 October 2011

Book Review: The Hunger Games [audiobook]

The Hunger GamesThe Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

Narrated by Carolyn McCormick

Publisher: Scholastic Audio

Category: Dystopian YA

Challenges: R.I.P. VI Challenge

Synopsis: 16 year old Katniss Everdeen lives in District 12, Panem. Every year each of the 12 districts have to send two tributes to the Capital to take part in the Hunger Games. The Hunger Games are a fight to death for the entertainment of the inhabitants of Capital. At the annual Reaping Katniss younger sister’s name is called. Katniss, who has done everything in her power to limit Prim’s chance of being called, volunteers to go in her stead. The other Tribute from District 12 is Peeta Mellark, a young boy who has loved Katniss for many years. And so begins the 74th Hunger Games.

My Thoughts: Oh. My. God. Why did I wait so bloody long to “read” this book?????!!!!!!! It is awesome!!! I’ve been listening to it every chance I’ve gotten over the last few days. Stupid work coming between me and my listening!

This book is so perfectly balanced between the scary-monsters, scary-psychological, scary-being-a-teen-is-just-plain-scary. Katniss for all she is the primary breadwinner in her family, is so very much a teenager.

I finally got around to listening to this book because it came up in a discussion at work the other week. We were talking about ordering books for English and some of my colleagues wanted suggestions for books. I suggested The Giver  and this lead to a discussion if our students could handle the themes (don’t let me get into this discussion ever again, I might actually pop a vein). The discussion climaxed in me pointing out that “kids these days” WANT to read dystopian novel. They LIKE dystopian novels. They can HANDLE dystopian novels. And I presented The Hunger Games as exhibit A. Since I hadn’t read it myself my colleague took over the baton at this point, and I realized that I had to read it. I am now even more convinced that this is a book we need to buy in for the school. A book we can definitely discuss in class (and since the first movie is out later this year we can actually also in years to come watch it, which was one of my colleagues requirements).

I think that our students will be able to identify with Katniss. Although we don’t have any Hunger Games here I think they can identify with her lack of power. Although our students have a choice in what they study in school, it is limited. We expect them to make choices but we don’t really give them any choices in their choices. They can definitely identify with the general level of powerlessness that Katniss feels. I think they can also identify with the theme of trust in the book. Who can you trust? Our students aren’t required to kill each other, but I’m sure some days, for them, high school feels much like the Arena. In addition Katniss has no idea who she is or who she wants to be. We are now two months into the term and I still have kids changing programs/classes almost daily. They just don’t know.

I have a love/hate relationship with Katniss. On the one hand she strikes me as incredibly admirable. She takes care of not just her sister but also others in the Seam. She is resourceful. At the same time she is a whinny teenager, and I spend my days with them Winking smile. Yes there are some mitigating circumstances. I would probably also whine a bit if I was sent to die. However, I also don’t like the way she treats Peeta. She is sooooo suspicious. She cannot believe that someone would love her. And that is sad. And it makes me wonder what life would be like in that society. Or actually in any society where you cannot trust anyone. And perhaps that is the scariest part of the book. The total lack of trust that the citizens of Panem have for one and another.

From a suspense perspective this book was very well written. I don’t know how many times I thought “just one more chapter” and “BUT YOU CAN’T END IT THERE I REALLY REALLY NEED TO SLEEP NOW!” Collins seems to leave every single chapter on an incredible cliffhanger.

soundbytesI think the “just one more chapter” feel was enhanced by listening to it in audio. Carolyn McCormick captures Katniss fear and frustration very well and she manages to leave the cliffhangers with an audible cue that keeps causing me to hold my breath. And disregard my bedtime. The voice takes some getting used to, but I think this is true for any book you read. However the voice was believable.

I highly highly highly recommend 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, 14 October 2011

Book Review: Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand [audiobook]

Major Pettigrew's Last StandMajor Pettigrew’s Last Stand by Helen Simonson

Narrated by Peter Altschuler

Publisher: Random House Audio

Category: Lit

Synopsis: The Major leads a quiet life valuing the proper things that Englishmen have lived by for generations: honor, duty, decorum, and a properly brewed cup of tea. But then his brother's death sparks an unexpected friendship with Mrs. Jasmina Ali, the Pakistani shopkeeper from the village. Drawn together by their shared love of literature and the loss of their respective spouses, the Major and Mrs. Ali soon find their friendship blossoming into something more. But village society insists on embracing him as the quintessential local and her as the permanent foreigner. Can their relationship survive the risks one takes when pursuing happiness in the face of culture and tradition? (Synopsis from www.helensimonson.com)

My Thoughts: Every review I’ve read of this book has been glowing. Everyone seems to love it. Maybe I had my hopes up to much but I was a bit disappointed. I was bored. I figured out the twists and turns long before they happened. That said, towards the end of the book I did like it.

Ultimately for me this book is about people. Meeting people. Moving on. And that despite the fact that we may be from different cultures we aren’t necessarily that different. It is also about life in a small town (something I am ALL to familiar with).

I’m not one who needs a whole lot of action in my books, to tell the truth I often skim the actual ACTION scenes in the In Death books. Or at least they don’t stick with me. But this book was just a little bit slow for me. To much of Major Pettigrew thinking and not enough of him actually acting on his thoughts. And I think this is what was frustrating for me. I get that he is a “stiff upper lip British gentleman” one who might not want to or be used to acting on feelings. But sometimes I just wanted to shake him. I don’t like having to shake my main characters.

I also thought that the actions of many of the characters were far to stereotypical to actually be believable. The fact that the golf club dance went the way it did wasn’t exactly a surprise and that was frustrating for me. Why didn’t they see it?! Why didn’t they prevent it long before it went the way it went? Yeah frustrated is the way I felt.

All that said, I felt that the characterization of the main characters was spot on. Although I worked with elderly Swedish gentlemen, and not British ones, I still recognized him. He felt very familiar, not because he was a stereotype, but because he was real. And so was Mrs Ali. They felt like real people, which is why I continued to listen to the book, even when I felt frustrated. In addition there were some instances where I laughed out loud. Absolute belly laughs, it was a good thing that I listened to most of this book in the car driving so that no one else could hear me.

soundbytesI also enjoyed the narration of this story. Altschuler had the voice down pat. It was as if he was Pettigrew. And the secondary characters were also well done (no annoying accents, my pet peeve). Despite this not being a favourite of mine, I can’t exactly say I wouldn’t recommend it, just to someone who has a slightly different taste to mine.


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, 10 October 2011

Book Review: New York to Dallas

New York to DallasNew York to Dallas by J.D. Robb

Publisher: Putnam (Penguin)

Category: Crime

Challenges: Mystery and Suspense Challenge, R.I.P. VI Challenge

Synopsis: One of Eve’s first collars manages to escape prison and he fixates on Eve and one of his last victims. Eve must face her past in order to put the criminal back behind bars.

My Thoughts: Eve faces a great deal in this book, she is forced to face a lot of very horrible memories, but as a result I think we see a growth in her that I have missed a bit in the past few books. Yes she has come to accept certain things in the last few books but in this one I think she finally has to face part of her past that she has managed to block out before.

This book definitely focuses on Eve and Roark. The Perp draws the two of them away from New York and they leave their team behind to tie up the investigation there. This does add a certain new dynamic to the book. Personally I really missed Peabody, Feeney, McNabb and the other characters that always add a bit of humanity to the books. Although the secondary characters that are included in this book are interesting I don’t have the same relationship to them as I do to the regular cast. And after having recently read Loyalty in Death where one of the secondary characters I started caring about gets killed off I‘m a bit vary of liking secondary characters in these books right now.

This book deals with how we move on from when something horrible has happened to us, and although I have never been trough anything truly horrible I can understand the victims in this book (Eve included) and how they choose to move on. Even though they choose very different paths. I think many of us choose to hide from things that happen to us in the past, but this book shows us that we cannot always hide, and sometimes it is infinitely more healthy to face what happened to us and then make the best of it all.

Overall this book make me very curious as to where Robb intends to take us in the next few books. There are certain things in this book that make me very curious.


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, 9 October 2011

TSS: Tomas Tranströmer wins the Noble Prize

The Sunday Salon.com

TranströmerI’m sure no one in the bookworld has missed that the winner of the Nobel Prize for literature was announced on Thursday. Here in Sweden the fact that the winner is Tomas Tranströmer has been greeted with a great deal of joy. The last Swedish winners, Harry Martinson and  Eyvind Johnson were seen as controversial as they were members of the Swedish Academy and were at the time fairly unknown outside of Sweden. Tranströmer on the other hand is well known* and much loved across the world. Although we admittedly have a lot of Nobel Laureates in literature if one sees to our population, it has been a while since we had one and people here are comparing it to Sweden winning a gold medal in football (soccer) one of our “national sports”. It is THAT big here.

I have to admit that I don’t know him well. I know I’ve read some of his poetry at one time or another but I don’t read a whole lot of Swedish poetry and it has been over 10 years since I studied it at school. That said what I have read in the papers over the past few days has had me go out and order his collected works of poetry and the latest biography, which came out earlier this year. I tried buying them in my local indie book shop but by the time I made it there at about 3:30 (on my way back to work from the bus station after a trip with my seniors) they had sold out of pretty much everything they had by him, plus nothing was orderable. The collected works is being reprinted as it is gone at the publishers. This means that the poems I have read over the last few days have really captured me. My favourite so far is one called “Ensamheten” (Loneliness). In the first part it talks about a car accident on a cold February night. As someone who has been in car accidents in winter (although not in February and not at night) I could definitely see and feel the poem.  And I am looking forward to reading more of him once I get my new books.

Have you read any of Tranströmers poetry?

(*within the world of poetry lovers at least)


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.

Tuesday, 4 October 2011

Book Review: Judgment in Death

judgment in deathJudgment in Death by J.D. Robb

Publisher: Berkley Books

Category: Crime

Challenges: Mystery and Suspense Challenge, R.I.P. VI Challenge

Synopsis: The body of a dead cop is found in one of Roark’s clubs. Eve must work out if the victim died because he was a cop or because someone is after Roark. All while the waters are muddied by IAB.

My Thoughts: Judgment in Death is actually a very sad story about grief and betrayal and what it can do to people.  The victim in the story is ultimately an innocent pawn in a much bigger game, a game with multiple players and not all of them aware of each other.This is a story of corruption and love.

Because of these themes this book leaves me feeling a bit sad. Both for the characters in the book and for the idea that this could happen in our society as well. One of the major Swedish papers has recently been running a series of articles regarding issues within the police in Sweden. Not corruption in the way it is portrayed in Judgment in Death with criminals paying off police officers, but rather systemic issues. But I have to ask myself, can the two not be connected? If we accept that the police count inactive cases as solved, where will it lead?

As far as this book is concerned I have to hope that we have more police officers like Eve and her team.


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, 3 October 2011

Book Review: Witness in Death

Witness in DeathWitness in Death by J.D. Robb

Publisher: Berkley Books

Category: Crime

Challenges: Mystery and Suspense Challenge, R.I.P. VI

Synopsis: A man is killed on stage during a performance with hundreds of witnesses, Lieutenant Eve Dallas included. Yet  the question of guilt is not so clear cut.

My Thoughts: Despite the dangers of using a cliché I will say that this book is a delicious romp in the world of theatre. No one is quite what they seem. Actors take any chance to try out a role. No one liked the deceased and everyone has some previous connection to others in the cast.

The play being produced is Agatha Christie’s Witness for the Prosecution and, while I’m not a fan of Christie, this book has that cozy murder mystery that her books evoke. No one particularly likes the deceased. And although there is the element of sexual crimes we have come to expect from a murder where Dallas is primary, somehow it fails to have quite the SVU feel that I normally get from the books.

On the whole this is one of the In Death books that I feel you can really cozy up with when the weather outside is frightful and just enjoy.


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, 2 October 2011

TSS: 3rd Quarter Winner of the Nordic Challenge and 3rd Quarter Reading Round-Up

The Sunday Salon.com

First lets have a drum roll please!!!

Nordic Challenge 2011

The winner of the 3rd Quarter Nordic Challenge is:

3rd Quarter Winner

CSI: Librarian

With her review of Mind’s Eye by Håkan Nesser.

Congratulations and please get in touch with me to let me know which bundle you want.

3rd Quarter Reading Round-Up

So the 3rd Quarter of 2011 saw a lot of changes for me. I am now working full-time and I have finally moved out of my parents house. At times these changes interfered with my reading, but on the whole I am pretty pleased with my reading, even if it has mostly been re-reading.

Months-July6 by magic_artIcon by Magic_Art

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by J.K. Rowling (audiobook reviewed in 2010)

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by J.K. Rowling

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix by J.K. Rowling (audiobook reviewed in 2009)

At Home: A Short History of Private Life by Bill Bryson [audiobook]

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince by J.K. Rowling (audiobook reviewed in 2009)

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J.K. Rowling (audiobook reviewed in 2009)

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

Quidditch Through the Ages by J.K. Rowling

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them by J.K. Rowling

Months-August5bymagic_artIcon by Magic_Art

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

The Greater Journey: Americans in Paris by David McCullough [audiobook]

Holiday in Death by J.D. Robb

Conspiracy in Death by J.D. Robb

Months-September6bymagic_artIcon by Magic_Art

Loyalty in Death by J.D. Robb

New York to Dallas by J.D. Robb (review forthcoming)

Witness in Death by J.D. Robb (review forthcoming)

Maybe This Time by Alois Hotchnig

Judgment in Death by J.D. Robb (review forthcoming)

Betrayal in Death by J.D. Robb (review forthcoming)


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.

Nordic Challenge 4th Quarter Reviews (October-December)

Nordic Challenge 2011
Here is the post to link your reviews for the fourth quarter of 2011 (October-December). 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:

Classics bundle; Children’s bundle; Mystery bundle; Fiction bundle.

Please note that you can pick ONE of the above bundles. The books included in the bundle depends on availability at the time (and if you have read the books before Open-mouthed smile)

I will draw the winner using Random.org one of the first days in January 2012. Please check back in January 2012 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 January 30th, 2012 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.