The Woman in Cabin 10 **(*)

Lo Blacklock, a journalist who writes for a travel magazine, has just been given the assignment of a lifetime: a week on a luxury cruise with only a handful of cabins. The sky is clear, the waters calm, and the veneered, select guests jovial as the exclusive cruise ship, the Aurora, begins her voyage in the picturesque North Sea. At first, Lo’s stay is nothing but pleasant: the cabins are plush, the dinner parties are sparkling, and the guests are elegant. But as the week wears on, frigid winds whip the deck, gray skies fall, and Lo witnesses what she can only describe as a dark and terrifying nightmare: a woman being thrown overboard. The problem? All passengers remain accounted for—and so, the ship sails on as if nothing has happened, despite Lo’s desperate attempts to convey that something (or someone) has gone terribly, terribly wrong…

Books like Gone Girl and The Girl on the Train seemed to start a new trend in writing: the female protagonist has to be unstable/imperfect, and best so if these imperfections makes her surroundings question her mental stability. And I am okay with that – but it only works well, if the protagonist is actually someone you can root for …

Lo is a mess! A drunken, whining, half depressive mess! And after a break-in, a fight with the boyfriend and lack of sleep, a luxury cruise sounds like the best thing. But on board the cruise ship, Lo hears screaming and finds tracks of blood from the cabin next door – so why does everybody insist that nobody lived in Cabin 10? Did her stressed out mind start making up things – or is Lo the only one with the answers?

The story in itself is actually quite good, but Lo as a characters is just so utterly annoying that it destroys the book. The fact that the book took place on a ship added something, since the isolation and the developing group dynamics was a factor – but still I kept feeling like when you watch a reality TV-show: You don’t really know why you keep watching, but you still do.

The author seemed to have found some inspiration in Agatha Christie – and way to much inspiration from The Girl on The Train. But the plot is just a little bit to unbelievable, and I had the feeling of an author who just tried to hard (but at least Lo had a cat – so there is that :-)).

As decent psychological thrillers go, this will never make my favorite list – but if you find yourself on a beach with free books – and need a light reading – then go ahead.

The Chemist ***

Stephenie Meyer (yes, the one with the vampires), has wandered of to other genres, and this time takes a go at mystery/suspense. In connection with a book blogger event in Copenhagen, the very lovely people at Lindhardt & Ringhof sent me a copy – which I am very grateful for 🙂 (who doesn’t love free books)

She used to work for the U.S. government, but very few people ever knew that. An expert in her field, she was one of the darkest secrets of an agency so clandestine it doesn’t even have a name. And when they decided she was a liability, they came for her without warning.

I really like the fact, that Stephenie tries her talent at other genres (be honest: how much more vampire stuff can we gobble down), and I found the premise of the book very interesting.

Alex (lets just go with that name, for the sake of it) is on the run. When she worked for the agency, she was known as The Chemist – and for her ways to make people talk. Now the agency wants her dead, but Alex has more than a few tricks up her sleeve.

Now Alex and her special talents are needed to save a lot of people, and she grabs the chance to get her life back – while being forced to make some very unexpected alliances (including some very talented dogs).

I don’t think I have ever met a more paranoid character (who sleeps with a gas mask for Gods sake!), but her use of her chemical knowledge is defiantly interesting. The book was easy to read, but it really didn’t make me fall in love with it (like the insta love happening in the book – please stop that). I did like the dogs though 🙂

It was a page turner, but still somehow just not a great book. Don’t get me wrong: I liked it – I just did not love it. Freja also seemed like a plant was more to her liking:

While reading this book, I enjoyed cups of Jamaica Blue Mountain coffee – which was defiantly to my liking 🙂

 

 

 

Three sisters, Three Queens ***(*)

As some of you may know, the Tudor era is probably the most fascinating period of English history to me. And after attending a online course at Exeter University regarding history, culture and religion in the Tudor period, I have gained a more all round knowledge in this subject.

Being interested in the subject, I have of course devoured Philippa Gregory’s novels about Tudor and Plantagenet, and although her novels are fiction, they are still based on historical facts – and she never disappoints regarding bringing history to life.

The title refers to the three queens Katherine, Queen of England, Margaret, Queen of Scotland and Mary, Queen of France. The novel is a tale of the way the three women’s lives is entwined and the great influence Henry VIII has over their lives. Women of that time could be used as ponds in the political games, and Henry knew how to play the game.

Although the title may give another image, the book is centred about the narrator Margaret Tudor, a woman, who has mostly been overshadowed by her (in)famous brother. Raised to power, and knowing her value as a Tudor princess, she was married of to King James IV of Scotland – entering the marriage believing, that she would be the one to bring eternal peace between England and Scotland.

After the death of her husband, she is forced to fight for her self and her sons – them being the heirs to both the Scottish and English thrones. She has to choose the right allies that can both keep her country and her sons safe – but also not evoke the brutal anger of her brother. In this journey we get glimpses of the way the three queens always watch over each others every move, and how their advice to each other are always given in a political context – they were all raised knowing, that the wrong advice could mean death or exclusion from the court and power.

A good example of conflicting interest, is when Margaret wants the support of her sister regarding the annulment of her marriage – and Katherine for very good reasons (Anne Boleyn anyone), has to fight this wish.

This is the first book I have read, that tells of the England-Scotland relationship as seen from the Scottish side, and this new look was very fascinating.  To be honest, this was not the best of her books, but Philippa Gregory once again blends history and fiction in a way, that makes history come to life – and inspires to find new knowledge on the subject.

More on Philippa Gregory

Don’t tell the groom *** (*)

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“Every woman should feel like a princess on her wedding day; It’s practically a law”

Once in a while, I buy a book simply based on the cover – and this is one of these books (Just admit it – you have done it too :-)). And once in a while, all you need is a true chick lit; a light, fluffy read to leave you smiling – and this is it.

Penny is getting married (well, she will be once Mark proposes), and to get her dream wedding she is going to add to the wedding fund by playing online bingo – which doesn’t exactly go as as planned. Horrified to discover that she spend a lot more than she thought, Penny now has to find a way to plan the perfect wedding – on a budget and without the groom finding out.

We now follow Penny through a funny, enjoyable and romantic travel around dresses, locations, invitations and weddings, where creativity and resources are of the essential.

The book is not just another romantic comedy, but also a story about what is really important in life, addictions, owning up to your problems and doing what it takes to make things right.

Anna Bell makes the words and story flow easily, and you can not help falling in love with the characters – this book is perfect for both a beach read or curling up on a rainy day.

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The girl on the Train ****

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“It’s ridiculous, when I think about it. How did I find myself here? I wonder where it started, my decline; I wonder at what point I could have halted it. Where did I take the wrong turn?”

With this book, Paula Hawkins succeeded in writhing a debut novel that will keep you suspended from beginning to end. And with a debut like this, I expect many great reading experiences from her in the future.

EVERY DAY THE SAME
Rachel takes the same commuter train every morning and night. Every day she rattles down the track, flashes past a stretch of cozy suburban homes, and stops at the signal that allows her to daily watch the same couple breakfasting on their deck. She’s even started to feel like she knows them. Jess and Jason, she calls them. Their life—as she sees it—is perfect. Not unlike the life she recently lost. (Goodreads).

On her daily train ride Rachel passes her old neighborhood and her previous home. Further down the street lives the couple Rachel fantasies about. Their perfect life, their perfect marriage, their perfect love –  so different from Rachel’s own experiences. But as w all know, everybody has their secrets – and a lot can be hidden beneath the surface.

The story unfolds through the eyes of three women: Rachel, Anna ans Megan – each one with their own hidden agenda and each one a suspect as the story progresses. Lies, manipulations and infidelity ties these three women together in a highly addictive tale. The characters are complex and flawed, especially Rachel with her depression and alcohol related problems giving her frequent black outs – has she just witnessed a murder, or is it just a fiction of her imagination?

The book is a bit slow in the beginning, but soon you will find yourself enthralled in a haunting, psychological thriller, where everybody is a suspect and you are kept guessing til the very end.

The book has been made in to a movie, premiering later this year.

 

Britt-Marie was here ****

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It really is poor taste to be found dead only because of the smell. That is why 63 year old Britt-Marie, who just left her cheating husband, is getting a job. Because if you have  job, people will miss you if you do not show up for work – and if you are dead, you will be found before the smell gets to bad.

This is my second book by Fredrik Bachman (the first one being A man called Ove), and he is quickly becoming one of my favorite authors.

Britt-Marie ends up in the small town of Borg – and the town newer knew what hit it. Britt-Marie has very specific rules for life and how cultivated people should do things (how can you respect a person with the wrong order in their utensils draw), and at first she is not really a likable person.

Britt-Maries serious lack of social skills puts her in the most hilarious situations and the generation gap between her and the teenagers of Borg makes for laugh out loud funny reading.

Although the book is mostly funny, it also contains a lot of depth as Britt-Marie and Borg grows together.  Never did Britt-Marie suspect that her going to Borg would be the start of a life changing journey, where she discovers that she is so much more than Kents wife – that she is a value in herself.

It is about never giving up, never being to old to find love and bonding with a rat (you need Snickers for that).

More on Fredrik Backman

 

 

The underground girls of Kabul *** (*)

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I would happily be anything in this world – just not a woman. I could be a parrot. I could be a sheep. I could be a dear. I could be a sparrow living in a tree – just not an afghan woman.

The Swedish journalist Jenny Nordberg traveled through Afghanistan to reveal the story of Bacha Posh: the girls disguised as boys.

In a war torn country, where men are considered gods, it does not matter how much land you own or how much money you have – if you do not have sons, you are nothing and pitied for it. To be without sons brings great dishonor and shame to a family and hence there is a hidden practice of allowing a daughter to become a boy for a time, while society turns a blind eye to the practice. The girl-turned-boy gives her family more freedom or more income if she can work. It becomes a way for poor girls to support their families. According to superstition, the custom also can have the magical effect of allowing a real son to be born to the family.

Jenny Nordberg explores this practice through interviews with the girls and their families, and on the way explains Afghanistan’s history, culture and traditions in detail. To be disguised as boys brings a huge amount of freedom and possibilities to the girls, and all of them agree that being able to live as boys is a joy. But is also creates psychological and physical problems when the girls hit puberty and are forced to return to the restricted lives of girls.

I do not support the idea of a patriarch society, but the book gave me a certain understanding as to why the families chose as they did, because having a son really makes a difference in Afghanistan. Some of the women also stated, that growing up as boys has given them a lot of strength and power, that they would never have experienced if they had grown up as girls.

The book also looks into the different regimes of Afghanistan an how the western world thinks they can change the ways of the country overnight. The problem is, that they never take into consideration the culture of the country, and since they never reveal the hidden parts they have never succeeded in making any real change.

The interviews with the girls and their families were the most interesting in my opinion, but the book also contains lots of insight from psychologist and scientist which of course is necessary to get the full picture – but while reading their statements I could not help wonder: What do they really know about being women of Kabul?

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A thousand splendid suns *****

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“A society has no chance of success, if its women are uneducated.”

As a woman living in Denmark, it is not often I think about the amount of freedom that I have – it is just something I take for granted. I am, of course, aware that there are women in other countries that do not experience the same amount of freedom, but with this book Khaled Hosseini made the picture of oppression real and much more clear to me.

As with The Kite Runner this book is set in Afghanistan and spans over the period from the Soviet invasion till the rule of the Taliban. It is a tale of tragic history and the use of religion as a mean of controlling people, but also about courage and the strong bonds between women.

We follow the lives of two women, Mariam and Laila. Their backgrounds could not be more different, but circumstances joins their lives and fates as wives of Rasheed. Their struggle to find hope in a world where women are valued less than livestock, where oppression is an everyday thing and where the Taliban decides the fate of man, really makes an enthralling journey through the life and culture of Afghanistan.

Following the two women through the hardship, and seeing how they form a strong bond, is heartbreaking but also heartwarming, as their mutual strength sees them growing into courages women with hopes and dreams for the future.

Forget everything you think you know about Afghanistan and let Hosseini paint you a picture of the lives of real people – and when you are done, look around you and be grateful for the life you have.

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The Automobile Club of Egypt ****

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If you are looking for a fast paced thriller, this is not the book for you. If, on the other hand, you are looking for a book with great character development, a book to get lost in and a book that maybe learns you a thing or two – well, then you found it.

The book takes place in Egypt in the period between World War II and the Egyptian Revolution of 1952. Abd el-Aziz Gaafar, head of the Gaafar family, is forced to uproot the family to Cairo and take a job at the automobile club – a bastion of European privilege to which Egyptians, other than the Royal family, are admitted only as servants.

We see the world unfold through the eyes of the four Gaafar children as a social commentary to a part of history that should not be forgotten. Kamel and Saleha represent the modern outlook and the changing feelings that are arising in the people – tired of the british rule and suppression of the egyptian people. Said and Mahmud represent the more traditional role, where everything is about doing what is best only for you.

Using the club as center stage, Al Aswany paints a picture of this important time of egyptian history with enormous political and social changes, of racism and violence and what can happen is you push people to far.

The story unfolds in a slow pace, and there are defiantly chapters that I could have lived without, but all in all it is a story with great character development, political history and insight to the egyptian people.

Alaa Al-Aswany on Facebook

 

All the light we cannot see *****

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“You know the greatest lesson of history? It’s that history is whatever the victors say it is”.

This book was lend to me by my neighbor, and I must say that her taste in books is very different from mine – and thank God for that – for otherwise I would have missed out on this gem.

The story evolves around our two main characters: german boy Werner and french girl Marie-Laure.

Werner is an orphan, living in a mining town of the 1930’s Germany. Werners talent for fixing electronic things grants him a place at a brutal Hitler Youth academy – here starts his realization that maybe not everything is as it should be –  but he is already on his way to the war.

Marie-Laure is living in Paris, and turned blind at the age of 6. Her days revolves around her fathers work at The Museum of Natural History and getting to know the city through the perfect miniature her father build her. Her world is uprooted, when they are forced to flee Paris during the occupation.

While reading this book, I was reminded of a string of dna in the way Anthony Doerr succeeded in intertwining the fates of Werner and Marie-Laure. It is a tale of childhood, hopes and dreams shattered by war, and the descriptions of places and sounds are so vivid and full of detail that the novel feels very visual.

The book is captivating and deeply moving – I defiantly recommend a read.

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