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Book review

The Darkest Room – Johan Theorin

Imagine a bitterly cold Swedish winter, on the bleak treeless coastal island, in an old manor house built from the wood of a wrecked ship in which scores of sailors drowned, where one’s only neighbours are 2 lighthouses, one of which no longer works and is haunted. Is there any better location for a thriller/murder mystery?

Iceland

I’d not heard of this author before, but I have had more opportunity to read lately and picked up this Swedish novel, set on the very real Swedish island of Oland, in mythical locations. This is the world that the character, Joakim Westin has recently moved to, with his family of wife and two small children. The grand plans to renovate and rejuvunate the manor house is destroyed when shortly after their move, one of the family drowns not far from the house.

Joakim struggles to come to terms with the death, while others on the island become immersed in a struggle of their own. One is a young female police officer finding her feet in a new beat, and another is a young man involved in petty crimes, who becomes haunted by his the results of his misdemeanors. As Christmas approaches, a sageful relative of the police officer tells of an old Swedish folk tale where the dead come back to visit the living on the darkest night of the year. What does this mean for Joakim, and his family, isolated in the manor house during one of the worst blizzard’s of the decade?

Atmosphere by the bucketload is what you get from Theorin’s spine- tingling novel. Whilst it remains a murder mystery, those who like supernatural touches or ghostly happenings would get their kicks from the story. Theorin weaves a mystery into believable occurrences, yet manages to get the reader to sympathize with the bereaved man and remain hungry for the next chapter.

Theorin also gets into the head of the protaganist and takes the reader on a psychological journey of grief. Themes of retribution/karma also simmer under the surface when it becomes clear what happened to Ethel.

emotion

Despite a head splitting migraine, I was determined to finish the book, such was the effect this story had on me. Be warned….

The good: Dark windswept landscape expertly described. You are there in the blinding snow along with the characters.

The bad:   Would a father leave his children alone?

The ugly:  Depiction of alcoholic tarts…….

Rating out of 10: 9

igeland Sculpture Park, Oslo
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Harry does it again. The Redbreast Book Review

Norway

It is 1942: a Norwegian soldiers fighting on the Eastern front, on the German side, is killed. One of his comrades, injured in the same incident, falls in love with a Austrian nurse whilst recuperating.

57 years later, a Detective in Oslo with the unlikely name of Harry Hole is appointed to the Norwegian secret service, his brief is to monitor Neo-Nazi activity in Norway: a fairly mundane assignment that turns out to be anything but….

Norway Akerhus
Akershus fortress in Oslo where scenes in the book are set

 

With many parallels to recent world events and rising anti-multicultural sentiment, Nesbø’s, ‘The Redbreast‘, (which won the Glass Key, the Riverton and the Norwegian Book club Prize for the best ever Norwegian Crime Novel),  will take the reader both on a historic and also a contemporary journey.

Chillingly ironic and yet at times, familiar were some of the attitudes found amongst the more despicable characters in the book. It digs deep into the hearts and minds of those Norwegians who felt passionate enough to risk their lives, fighting alongside and for the Nazis, during the war. They believed in saving Norway from, what they saw, was the Bolshevik advance.

The Novel delves into their individual motives and how they might have felt on their return to Norway, when they discovered they had been labelled ‘traitors,’  shunned by their own society after war’s end; a topic rarely written about in the Western world.

 

statue

 

A different perspective can reveal things hitherto unseen, and at times, I was surprised I that Ifelt a little sympathy for these men, despite philosophically being poles apart from them.  It made me question the modern politic climate of Norway. The massacre on Utøya, Norway and now the terrorist attack on the mosque in Christchurch, New Zealand, which appears to have links to Utøya, made me wonder  if there might be some more citizens with these beliefs, hidden surreptitiously, under a guise of normality. Let’s hope not.

 

Oslo fjord
Oslo fjord

The Good: Following a hunch that several murders are linked, Harry pays a high personal price in the book, but still manages to find a little romance in all the horror. I found this an unlikely but interesting diversion, but it provides Hole with a clue vital in solving the mystery.

The Bad: Although we know the killer’s mind from the start (but not who he is), he remains carefully hidden through out the book, his actions being explained by a slightly unbelievable trip to a psychiatrist.

The Ugly: One wonders how many readers might feel sympathy for these “traitors” or even perversely idolize them as historic “warriors,” using this as justification for the Neo Nazi  “thuggish” behaviour. I am not sure.  Yet there is still the theme of redemption offered up to readers too, albeit in small amounts.

This was the first of the Harry Hole series to be translated into English, and since then, every book in the series has been translated and was a best seller.

Recommended for those who like Nordic Noir/Scandi Detective fiction and have not yet read Harry Hole.

StPA’s Rating: 7/10

 

 

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Three Seconds – To the Dark Side

It is a strange feeling when you start to feel support for a villain, even if it is just a fictional character. If  on reading this post, you’re thinking that sounds a tad like the so-called, ‘Stockholm Syndrome,’ you’d be right, – because I have just finished reading Three Seconds, a Swedish crime novel, set in Stockholm, an offering from writers Anders Roslund and Borge Hellstrom.

city hall stockholm
Stockholm in Winter

Being set in Sweden, with vignettes in Denmark and Poland, was enough to pique my interest in the story, but that increased tenfold when I began reading about Ewert Grens, the ageing Swedish detective. He is the kind who stubbornly refuses to give up on unsolved cases, and the plot contrasts him with another character, Piet Hoffman, a man with a secret life, who risks everything he loves every single day. As I read on, I thought, ‘Could these men ever be free of the choices they’d made?’

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The book makes you think and such is the skill of the authors that the reader might even find him/herself, as I did, admiring the villain, who is known to you from the start. No matter how murky his world becomes, no matter how much deception or corruption this character engages in, the reader is, surreptitiously, drawn to the ‘wrong’ side of the moral and legal fence, rather than championing the side of the police hero, who solves the crime.

I began to admire the criminal’s intellect, his fortitude and his cunning, to the point that I even began to secretly wish for him to ‘to come out on top,’  to be free, to beat the odds, yet knowing that he couldn’t possibly ever win. It was then that I thought, “How could I be siding with criminality?”

On reflection, I think, it is because the villain in this story is so human. He is just like any of us, a man faulted with good and bad feelings, a man with mixed emotions. A man who shows tenderness, and hardened self-control, but also one that faced some tough choices in navigating a duplicitous existence in the criminal underworld. Yes, that is why he has my sympathy.

Freedom is a package deal – with it comes responsibilities and consequences” – Anonymous

And so the plot continues until the final reveal and ‘twist,’ that arrives almost in the very last sentence! You are on the edge of your seat until the last. Wow… my kind of writing!!!

The inclusion of a final appendix of ‘notes,’ felt as if the authors wanted to answer the questions I already had spinning around in my head. That’s a unique and welcome surprise in a crime novel, especially considering the plot is not completely fictional! Knowing that gave me so much more to Ponder About.

Winner of the Swedish Crime Novel of the Year for 2009, Three Seconds dominated the Swedish best Sellers list for 18 months and was translated into English, in 2010.

Highly Recommended.  Forestwood’s Rating: 9/10

Stockholm, Sweden
Stockholm, Sweden

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Book review, Community, History & Traditions

I Die but the Memory lives on By Henning Mankell – Book review and Memory Book project

I Die but the Memory lives on By Henning Mankell

The World Aids Crisis and the Memory Book Project

Henning Mankell is best known as an iconic murder mystery writer from Sweden, who penned the famous Kurt Wallander stories, translated into many languages, Swedish and british TV series,  and this is a public figure, but not in the way politicians are. However he has been noted for the social and moral questions raised by his fiction. He devotes much of his time to work with Aids charities.blog pictures 121

In 2002, Mankell travelled to Uganda and met many families affected by the Aids epidemic. He meets Aida, a girl growing up in Uganda where Aids kills people from 15 to 20 years old to those in their early fifties. Soon her parents will die. She will become a mother to her siblings. She is 12 years old.  In many parts of Africa, the old people have to look after their grandchildren when the parents are no longer alive. Then when they die, the children are orphans. “Children who have to be one another’s parents have a pretty distorted start in life. They slip up.” Aids in Africa, is an epidemic and illness that is very much treatable in the Western world, where medicine is affordable and obtainable.  In the third world, Aids is not under control, and many die from starvation as there is not enough manpower to keep agriculture going, but we in the privileged Western world know nothing of what is happening there.

In this book, we meet a family in Uganda who is facing this crisis. Henning is deeply affected by the things he sees around him. This story is real and is about real people. Memory Books could make a difference to these children, who grow up without parents. When the official reports have been filed away, these home-made books, will record memories, thoughts and histories of those who died too soon. Through a combination of words and drawings, we can hear the stories of where one came from, what they did, thought and things they can teach their young so that a legacy will remain.  Imagine how it would feel to not know anything about your family, where they came from, their values, beliefs, who they were, and then to be given  a book that gives you a glimpse into their lives.

I was given a book about my Danish family stretching back to 1620, and I think this is the greatest gift I have ever received. I have an identity and I have pride in knowing who I am. This book illuminates the importance of not only these books, but also the problem that the African continent will face in coming years.

A tragic but hopeful book.

This book was received via the book swap site: Bookmooch, however, I will leave it as a gift to someone in my area via the Book Crossing Project. See more here:

Book mooch: http://bookmooch.com/

Book crossing: http://www.bookcrossing.com/

The good: Memory books will live on

The bad: Epidemic where millions will die unnecessarily

The ugly: The western world largely ignores this problem.

We can make a difference… Ponder about that today…..

Charities supporting work with Aids in Africa:

PLAN www.plan-international.org

FFP (Fondation Femme Plus) (Congo)

Jamaica Aids Support

BIDII (Kenya)

EMPOWER ( Education Means Protection of Women Engaged in Recreation)

MEMORY BOOK TEMPLATE

Now to go an make a Memory book of my own..

Including pages on:
This Memory Book is for……………………….

and has been written by………………………..

Information about your Mother :

Family Name………………………………………..

First Names………………………………………….

Nicknames……………………………………………

Date of Birth…………………………………………

Place of Birth………………………………………..

Your Mother’s Story  ( in brief) More added further down –

Our Family Home –

Important Friends –

Special Memories –

Information about your Relatives –

Family Traditions and Special Events –

Sepcial to Me –

Thoughts on Life and Things I Believe in –

My Likes and Dislikes –

Special Interests/Talents –

What I do in my Free Time –

My Health –

My Working Life –

My Education –

About My Childhood and Where I Grew Up –

Information about your Father –

People who are Special to You –

My Hopes for Your Future –

My Favourite Memories of You –

Your Likes and Dislikes –

Your Interests –

____________________________________________________________________________________________

Environment

Recycling Books – The Book Cafe/Book Mooch/Book Club

Today I traded in about ten of my good quality used books, at a Second hand book store ( that doubles as a nice cafe) and received enough store credit to purchase two more books.  There is a really nice atmosphere in this shop. It is unlike the dusty musty stores of yesteryear and has an assortment of new books as well. The cafe section allow you to browse the second hand books as you enjoy your light meal and coffee

What do you do with all your “read” books?  Do they gather mould and dust on your shelves? Do they end up in the thrift shop bins?

Here are several ideas for a better destination of your unwanted books:

1. Book moochhttp://bookmooch.com/

This is essentially a trading club. You have to list at least 6 books you wish to give away, to get started and then you can request people to send you books that they have listed. Be careful to check the language the book is written in, as this is an international group and your may end up with a title in German, and you wanted Spanish! Can also be a bit costly as you have to bear the cost of postage to send your books, but not to receive! Extra points are earned ( which can be used to mooch more books) by sending internationally.  The site is linked to Amazon in case you really want to buy the book asap. You can also donate your points to charity, if you like.

2. Used Book Store

Take or trade in at a recycling book store, like the Book cafe in Brisbane, Australia.  You can trade in used good quality books for a store credit on their second hand lines. You can return the ones you bought on credit for further credit if  you like. A great way to save trees, but also for retailers to make some money and share the wondeful things that books are….

3.New Book Swap/Club

Start a book club with your friends. Gather about 10 books and about 5 friends. Rotate the books amongst each of you, by placing or sending to each person’s letter box,  when each person has finished with them. Keep rotating until you have read all five of the titles. Have a meet up once or twice a year at a nice inexpensive restaurant to discuss how you liked or disliked each book.

4. Book Crossing

Leave at a counter in a shopping centre or Doctors’ surgery or library for someone to find. There is an international program where you can track your book. To do this, register your book at Book Crossing http://www.bookcrossing.com/ and download a free label, for  your book. As well as identifying it for tracking, it also gives directions so that the book’s movements can be tracked around your city or perhaps, even the world. The idea is for your to release your book to the ‘wild’ by leaving your labeled book on a park bench on a summer day, in a train station, on the table in your favorite coffee shop — anywhere it’s likely to be caught by another delighted reader. Then visit the website to read about your book’s new adventures!

5. Charity/ Thrift shop or library. The underprivileged or refugee centres love books. And it can be a source of income for those who have no other means.

If you are in the US, some might include:

Books for Africa  http://www.booksforafrica.org/books-computers/donate-books.html

It costs 50 American cents to send a book to Africa, so this is a consideration.

Books for prisoners     http://www.bookstoprisoners.net/

Mainly non- fiction books. Good chance to rehabilitate offenders with new knowledge and constructive use of their time.

Where will you much loved books end up? Something to ponder about…..