Tuesday, 27 July 2010

The Summer Book

Title: The Summer Book

Author: Tove Jansson

Number of pages: 172

Started: 23 July 2010

Finished: 27 July 2010

Opening words:

It was an early, very warm morning in July, and it had rained during the night. The bare granite steamed, the moss and crevices were drenched with moisture, and all the colours everywhere had deepened. Below the veranda, all the vegetation in the morning shade was like a rainforest of lush, evil leaves and flowers, which she had to be careful not to break as she searched. She held one hand in front of her mouth and was constantly afraid of losing her balance.

"What are you doing?" asked little Sophia'

See the introduction and an extract here.

Plot summary:

An elderly artist and her six-year-old grand-daughter while away a summer together on a tiny island in the gulf of Finland. As the two learn to adjust to each other’s fears, whims and yearnings, a fierce yet understated love emerges – one that encompasses not only the summer inhabitants but the very island itself.

What I thought:

Tove Jansson is the author of the Moomin books, which are clearly aimed at children. The Summer Book is definitely a book for adults, but does in its own way have the same disarming charm of a children’s book. It is the tale of the relationship between a six year old and her grandmother as they spend their summer on a small island.

It is an easy read and you can just let if flow over you, although if you think more about the words you see the deeper levels of the book, and what the grandmother is trying to teach her granddaughter.

A good summer read.

Friday, 23 July 2010


Title: Unseen

Author: Mari Jungstedt

Number of pages: 368

Started: 15 July 2010

Finished: 23 July 2010

Opening words:


The evening was turning out better than expected. Of course she had been a little nervous earlier, because it had been a long time since they had all seen each other, but now her anxiety had eased. After an extra-strong welcome drink, white wine with the appetizer, several glasses of red with the entrée, and port with dessert, everyone at the table was in a lively mood. Kristian told another joke about his boss, and the hoots of laughter echoed off the walls in the old limestone house.

Outside the window, fields of grain were swaying, and the poppies were still a few weeks from blooming in the meadows. Beyond the fields, the sea could be glimpsed in the last glow of twilight.

Over Whitsuntide, Helena and Per had taken a few days off and driven to the cabin on Gotland. They usually got together with Helena’s childhood friends on one evening during the holiday. This year, the second day of Whitsun was the only time that was good for everybody, so that’s when they had agreed to meet.

It was unusually cold for the time of year, around fifty degrees. The wind was blowing hard, howling and whistling in the treetops.

Read a longer extract here.

Plot summary:

The first body they found was the dog. The poor creature's throat has been cut, and one paw severed completely. Then they found the body of the woman. She had been stabbed, again and again; she was naked, a piece of cloth had been stuffed into her mouth. The picturesque holiday island of Gotland is in the middle of a busy tourist season when the young woman is discovered murdered. Suspicion falls on her husband - the couple had been seen fighting the evening before. Inspector Anders Knutas is hoping it will be a straight-forward case; the local authorities are hoping so too, but more out of an interest in protecting the tourist trade than any desire to see justice served. Then another victim is discovered, again she is a young woman and she has been murdered in the same chilling manner. Inspector Knutas must face up to the horrifying prospect that there is a serial killer loose on the island. Knutas, aided by investigative journalist Johan Berg, begins to piece together the tragic history that unites the two victims, and alarmingly points to more murders to come. The killer remains unknown, moving freely, unseen, on the island. All that is clear is that the two victims are just the beginning, unless Knutas and Berg find the killer before he strikes again.

What I thought:

This was the second Swedish book that I read while I was on holiday. I was initially slightly irritated by this book based on something rather superficial – the lines were very spaced out and it used a slightly larger font than is normally used in a book. I rather suspected this was a deliberate ploy to make the book look rather longer than it was. However, once I had come to terms with this, the book turned out to be very good. It was another murder/ detective novel, but it drew the reader in right from the beginning and had some genuinely suspenseful moments.

It was very readable, but did rather add to my feeling that Sweden must be a very dangerous place to live if their novels are anything to go by.

Wednesday, 14 July 2010

The Ice Princess

Title: The Ice Princess

Author: Camilla Lackberg

Number of pages: 393

Started: 7 July 2010

Finished: 14 July 2010

Opening words:

“ The house was desolate and empty. The cold penetrated every corner. A thin layer of ice had started to form in the bath tub. She had an eerie blue complexion. He thought she looked like a princess lying there. An Ice Princess. The floor he sat on was freezing cold, but it didn’t bother him. He stretched out his hand and touched her. The blood on her wrists had coagulated a long time ago. The love he felt for her had never been stronger. He caressed her arm, as he caressed the soul that had now left the body. He did not turn around when he left. This was not goodbye, they would meet again.”

Plot summary:

Returning to her hometown after the funeral of her parents, writer Erica Falck finds a community on the brink of tragedy. The death of her childhood friend, Alex, is just the beginning. Her wrists slashed, her body frozen in an ice cold bath, it seems that she has taken her own life. Erica conceives a memoir about the beautiful but remote Alex, one that will answer questions about their lost friendship. While her interest grows to an obsession, local detective Patrik Hedstrom is following his own suspicions about the case. But it is only when they start working together that the truth begins to emerge about the small town with a deeply disturbing past.

If you can read Swedish, Camilla Lackberg’s website is here.

To find out more about Scandinavian books and authors, you can visit Nordic Bookblog or Scandinavian Books.

What I thought:

I like to read books set in the country where I am on holiday, so I sought out some Swedish authors. It seems that the majority of Swedish authors who are translated into English are crime writers, including Camilla Lackberg. I read reviews of this book before I decided to read it, and they were mixed. So I wasn’t quite sure what I would make of this book. As it turned out, I thought it was pretty good. It was a decent plot and an easy read. It also had a (minor) theme in it that seems to occur in a number of books, domestic violence, and that makes me curious whether that tells us anything about the Swedes themselves. I certainly hope not.

My only obvious issue with this book was that it was set in a very cold and snowy winter in Sweden and when I was there it was very sunny, which made it slightly more difficult to feel the book was about he place where I was based at the time. But it was a good crime novel and I will be reading more of her books.

A small anecdote I liked about the author was that she became an author after her parents and husband signed her up to a writing course as a Christmas present. She went on to be Swedish Writer of the Year in 2005.

Tuesday, 6 July 2010

Plan for Chaos

Title: Plan For Chaos

Author: John Wyndham

Number of pages: 234

Started: 27 June 2010

Finished: 6 July 2010

Opening words:

Lois looked up from the switchboard as I went by.

“Oh, hey there!—Limey!” she said.

I turned back, reluctantly.

“Look,” I told her. “Didn’t somebody once call this a melting-pot? So on account of that, couldn’t you just let a guy do his melting quietly?”

She thought about it. Head a little on one side. Gold hair like sliding water across a cheek like young roses. Very effective.

“Takes time, doesn’t it?” she said. “I guess Limeys have a kinda high melting point.—Got more corners than most, too.”

“Like to see my passport?” I inquired.

She shook her head.

“I know: got an eagle on it. All the same, you talk Limey, you sorta think Limey. I guess you most likely kiss Limey, too.” She looked speculative.

“I go on trying,” I told her.

For more on Plan for Chaos, look here.

Plot summary:

In a city that could well be New York, a series of identical women are found dead in suspicious circumstances. Magazine photographer Johnny Farthing, who is reporting on the suspected murders, is chilled to discover that his fiancée looks identical to the victims too – and then she disappears. As his investigations spiral beyond his control, he finds himself at the heart of a sinister plot that uses cloning to revive the Nazi vision of a world-powerful master race… Part detective noir, part dystopic thriller, Plan for Chaos reveals the legendary science fiction novelist grappling with some of his most urgent and personal themes.

What I thought:

I am a big fan of John Wyndham, but even as such, I knew that this book was not likely to be one of his best. This book was a previously unpublished book that was written by John Wyndham at the same time as The Day of the Triffids (a brilliant book), but no publisher would take it. This did not bode well.

The start of the book was like reading a 1930s American detective novel (think Dashiel Hammett or similar), but it wasn’t entirely convincing. However, Wyndham seemed to quietly drop the poor American accents etc part way through the novel and instead focus on the plot a bit more.

I am not sure that I found the book convincing or anywhere near as engaging as his other novels. I am pleased that I read it, purely because it was written by Wyndham, but I can’t help feeling that his publishers might have been wise not to let this novel take away from the glory that is Triffids.