Posts Tagged ‘Scandinavia’

Best New Books of 2014: Janet L’s Picks

December 8, 2014

Winter is coming, with its cold days and long nights.  In other words, perfect reading weather.  It’s also the traditional time to look back and choose favorite reads of the past year.  If you are a fan of humor, mystery, travel, or food (not to mention good writing) I can highly recommend the following five books:

A Man Called OveA Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman
Neighborhood curmudgeon Ove is not amused when a lively young family moves in next door.  Imagine everyone’s surprise, especially Ove’s, when instead of the expected disaster, something wonderful results.  Fredrik Backman’s debut is an amazing mixture of comedy, pathos and social commentary.  Will appeal to almost everyone, especially fans of The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce and The No. 1 Ladies Detective series by Alexander McCall Smith.

The Bone OrchardThe Bone Orchard by Paul Doiron
Life would be much easier for Mike Bowditch if he could just keep his mouth shut, but then reading about him wouldn’t be so much fun.  No longer a game warden for the state of Maine, Mike finds himself drawn into a case when good friend and former mentor, Kathy Frost, is gunned down and critically injured.  One of my favorite mystery series; if you haven’t had the pleasure, begin with The Poacher’s Son.  Especially recommended for readers of the Alex McKnight series by Steve Hamilton, the Conway Sax series by Steve Ulfelder and the Anna Pigeon series by Nevada Barr.

Smoke Gets in Your EyesSmoke Gets In Your Eyes: And Other Lessons from the Crematory by Caitlin Doughty
Caitlin Doughty, founder of The Order of the Good Death, is a Los Angeles mortician.  She wrote this book to give people a behind the scenes look at funeral home. Death is a somber and scary subject, but Doughty handles it with humor and compassion. If she hoped this book would demystify death and make it more comfortable to contemplate, she succeeded with this reader.  Recommended for fans of Mary Roach and Sarah Vowell.

The Age of LicenseThe Age of License: A Travelogue by Lucy Knisley
Graphic artist Knisley shares the ups and downs of her book tour to Europe and Scandinavia.   Honest, charming, yet serious, this graphic novel will appeal to fans of travelogues and mouthwatering descriptions of food—and isn’t that almost everyone?

The Black HourThe Black Hour by Lori Rader-Day
Sociology professor Amelia Emmet has made violence the focus of her academic research.  When a student she has never seen before appears outside her office and shoots her, theory becomes all too horribly real.  Back on campus, Amelia attempts to resume her life.  Relying on painkillers, a cane, and her sardonic sense of humor, Amelia struggles to find the answer to the questions that haunts her:  Why?

Outrage by Arnaldur Indridason

April 3, 2013

Inspector Erlundur is away trying to resolve a personal problem while his associate, Elinborg, is left to handle a strange murder with few clues. There is one important clue left behind….the murder victim, Runolfur, is found with Rohypnol or the ‘date-rape’ drug in his possession. Elinborg’s partner, Sigurdur Oli, is involved with another case and can only give Elinborg peripheral assistance. And so starts Indridason’s fast-paced murder mystery…Outrage!

Elinborg’s persistent digging brings out a few vague clues and a lot of suspicions. Somehow the killing almost seems like a revenge killing of a possible stalker. Not only is Runolfur found with the drug in his possession but his toxins screen shows a high percentage of the drug in his system. There is also evidence that a woman might have been present in his apartment at the time of his death.

As Elinborg starts to create a picture of Runolfur, a case of a disappearing young woman from six years ago may also involve this victim. She has to re-familiarize herself with the Icelandic drug underworld and see if the clues also work their way back to the murder victim.

The book is part of the Inspector Erlundur series by Arnaldur Indridason but in this one his two main subordinates play the key roles. Elinborg is relentless in his pursuit of answers. None of his books have disappointed yet and I hope I have introduced this talented author to many new fans!

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Greatest Hits: Beowulf translated by Seamus Heaney

January 2, 2013

Join us the next five days and kick off the new year with the The Book-A-Day Blog’s most popular posts of 2012!

 

BeowulfAbout halfway through the first millennium C.E., the Geats were conquered by the Swedes, and to this day, their old land is part of Sweden. According to tradition (in this case part legend, part history), the last or next to last king of the Geats was Beowulf, a warrior who (probably) had a Geat mother, whilst his father (possibly) was Swedish.

 

The epic of Beowulf takes place in Scandinavia. The language of the story (West Saxon and Anglian dialects) has as much in common with the contemporary Scandinavian languages as with present-day English. Despite these facts, Beowulf is considered to be a part of the vast body of work known as English literature, and the story of Beowulf is perhaps the most beautiful and surely the most famous of all surviving Old English texts.

 

The narrative consists of two main parts. The first relates Beowulf’s travels to the land of the Danes where he fights the man-eating monster Grendel and his lake-dwelling mother. It is a bloody affair. Beowulf follows the tracks of blood that Grendel’s mother leaves behind; he then dives to the bottom of the lake, kills the mother, and keeps Grendel’s head as a trophy. After these epic encounters, he returns to his own land where he eventually becomes king and rules wisely.

 

The second part of the story narrates the hero’s battle against a third foe – a fire-spewing dragon. Beyond this, the hero’s death awaits, and then – well known to the scribes of Beowulf – the invading Swedes and the end of Geatic independence. It is easy, then, to view Beowulf as a glorious memory of distant times, but the tale has much more to offer.

 

Beowulf is steeped in Norse myths, legends, and sagas (that is, historic accounts), and it provides a vivid picture of the life and value system of the Germanic tribes of the north. At the same time, the epic manages to blend all this with newly arrived Biblical elements (thus Grendel and his mother are descendants of Cain), and consequently Beowulf is a mix of the pagan past and the new Semitic times.

 

For a long, long time, Beowulf was considered inaccessible to the English-speaking world, as no decent, contemporary English version of the tale existed. Then (after spending decades with the poem) Nobel Prize winning poet Seamus Heaney decided to translate the text. His version is deeply influenced by the directness of the narrative (which strongly resembles the wonderful Icelandic sagas), and, as Heaney puts it, there is “an undiluted quality about the Beowulf poet’s sense of the world which gives his lines immense emotional credibility [with] the cadence and force of earned wisdom.”

 

Beowulf has been praised as a forerunner to J.R.R. Tolkien and the whole fantasy genre, but its value can first and foremost be found in the text itself – not as an inspiration for later story tellers, but as a classic and commanding tale that transcends time.

 

Find and reserve this book in our catalog.

Beowulf translated by Seamus Heaney

July 26, 2012

About halfway through the first millennium C.E., the Geats were conquered by the Swedes, and to this day, their old land is part of Sweden. According to tradition (in this case part legend, part history), the last or next to last king of the Geats was Beowulf, a warrior who (probably) had a Geat mother, whilst his father (possibly) was Swedish.

The epic of Beowulf takes place in Scandinavia. The language of the story (West Saxon and Anglian dialects) has as much in common with the contemporary Scandinavian languages as with present-day English. Despite these facts, Beowulf is considered to be a part of the vast body of work known as English literature, and the story of Beowulf is perhaps the most beautiful and surely the most famous of all surviving Old English texts.

The narrative consists of two main parts. The first relates Beowulf’s travels to the land of the Danes where he fights the man-eating monster Grendel and his lake-dwelling mother. It is a bloody affair. Beowulf follows the tracks of blood that Grendel’s mother leaves behind; he then dives to the bottom of the lake, kills the mother, and keeps Grendel’s head as a trophy. After these epic encounters, he returns to his own land where he eventually becomes king and rules wisely.

The second part of the story narrates the hero’s battle against a third foe – a fire-spewing dragon. Beyond this, the hero’s death awaits, and then – well known to the scribes of Beowulf – the invading Swedes and the end of Geatic independence. It is easy, then, to view Beowulf as a glorious memory of distant times, but the tale has much more to offer.

Beowulf is steeped in Norse myths, legends, and sagas (that is, historic accounts), and it provides a vivid picture of the life and value system of the Germanic tribes of the north. At the same time, the epic manages to blend all this with newly arrived Biblical elements (thus Grendel and his mother are descendants of Cain), and consequently Beowulf is a mix of the pagan past and the new Semitic times.

For a long, long time, Beowulf was considered inaccessible to the English-speaking world, as no decent, contemporary English version of the tale existed. Then (after spending decades with the poem) Nobel Prize winning poet Seamus Heaney decided to translate the text. His version is deeply influenced by the directness of the narrative (which strongly resembles the wonderful Icelandic sagas), and, as Heaney puts it, there is “an undiluted quality about the Beowulf poet’s sense of the world which gives his lines immense emotional credibility [with] the cadence and force of earned wisdom.”

Beowulf has been praised as a forerunner to J.R.R. Tolkien and the whole fantasy genre, but its value can first and foremost be found in the text itself – not as an inspiration for later story tellers, but as a classic and commanding tale that transcends time.

Find and reserve this book in our catalog.

The Great Enigma by Tomas Tranströmer

May 16, 2012

Haiku is one of the best-known poetic forms on earth. The Japanese seventeen syllable haiku has been around since the 1600s, today there are about 780 haiku magazines in Japan, and Japanese schoolchildren learn early on how to use as few words as possible when describing events – the task of minimizing a narrative to just a few keywords becomes a game with signs that captivates the young.

In 2011, the society that is in charge of the Nobel Prize in literature – for the first time ever – brought up the presence of haiku in an author’s output when announcing the winner of the award. Unsurprisingly, the poet, Tomas Tranströmer, was not Japanese but Swedish, for haiku poems are today written all over the world.

Tomas Tranströmer was attracted to haiku early on in his career, but it wasn’t until after his stroke in 1990 that he once again embraced the form. And the majority of Tranströmer’s work is not haiku – in the world of poetry he is known as a master of metaphor, and metaphor has no place in traditional haiku. However, Tranströmer’s poetry has always been bare, elegant, precise, and serene, and when he returned to haiku it was as if the poet had come home again.

And just like in the poetry of the Japanese haiku masters, nature plays a major part in Tranströmer’s poetry. Nature, of course, uses many different dresses, but to Tranströmer it is always holy and divine: “The darkening leaves/ in autumn are as precious/ as the Dead Sea Scrolls.”

The Japanese term “mono no aware” is often (lamely) translated as “sadness,” but it is more correct to understand it as an awareness of impermanence, or the transient nature of all things. This is a recurring theme in Tranströmer’s verse. In “Snow Is Falling,” he says, “The funerals keep coming/ more and more of them/ like the traffic signs/ as we approach a town./ Thousands of people gazing/ in the land of long shadows.” Which may seem bleak, but Tranströmer is too sophisticated to be categorized as either gloomy or bright, and the poem reaches this conclusion, “A bridge builds itself/ slowly/ straight out into space.”

Death itself may be the end. Then again, it may not. In the prose poem “Answers to Letters,” the poet speaks of a place, possibly New York City, which is beyond death, “One day I will answer. One day when I am dead and can finally concentrate. Or at least as far away from here that I can find myself again. When I’m walking, newly arrived, in the big city, on 125th Street, in the wind on the street of dancing garbage. I who love to stray off and vanish in the crowd, a letter T in the endless mass of text.”

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The Keeper of Lost Causes by Jussi Adler-Olsen

September 7, 2011

Carl Morck is damaged goods.  He’s just returned to work after a shooting that killed and maimed fellow officers.  Carl knows he’s no longer himself, “the experienced criminal investigator who lived and breathed for his work”.  His colleagues know it too.  He shows up late, insults them, refuses to return phone calls and lets his desk degenerate into chaos.

Carl’s boss, Marcus Jacobsen, likes Carl but is tired of the morale problems he’s creating.  His dilemma is to come up with a solution that won’t bring the union down on him.  Then a member of the Denmark Party successfully passes an amendment to the legislation funding police services.  A new department will be set up to handle “cases deserving special scrutiny.”  Never mind that no one in the police understands what that means, what Jacobsen understands is that Carl Morck would be the perfect person to head the newly formed Department Q.

The next thing Carl knows, he’s sitting alone in a newly painted basement office.  But no amount of paint can hide the fact that he’s been sidelined.  Carl’s okay with that; he can smoke, surf the internet and generally kill time until it’s time to go home.  But then he discovers that the money allocated to Department Q is being siphoned off to pay for more homicide teams.  Homicide teams in offices with great views he’s not invited to join—and anger begins to pull Carl out of his funk.

Just to get up everyone’s nose, he negotiates for an assistant and is assigned the enthusiastic, genial Assad.  The energetic Assad doesn’t understand that Carl isn’t planning to do anything.  He organizes the case files and brings to Carl’s attention the case of Merete Lynggaard, a prominent politician who disappeared without a trace five years ago.  Everyone assumes she’s dead, but Carl Morck’s not so sure.  The facts of the case don’t add up.  And Carl Morck is surprised to find himself using his skills again, even if everyone else in homicide thinks his interest in this case is the final proof he’s a lost cause.

Another solid Scandinavian thriller, this time from Danish writer Jussi Adler-Olsen.  Carl Morck is an interesting albeit grumpy character, and Assad is the perfect foil.  Real tension builds as they begin to realize the Lynggaard case should never have been abandoned.  Add this series to the ever growing list of books that will appeal to readers of Stieg Larsson.  Highly recommended.

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Three Seconds by Anders Roslund & Börge Hellström

August 25, 2011

Some of the best Crime Fiction today is coming out of the Scandinavian countries ! And this book is a very good example of that…..co-written by Anders Roslund & Borge Hellstrom . The book is a page turner with the action quickly switching back and forth among the leading characters. The main protagonist , Piet Hoffmann is a little different than you may be accustomed to……a small time criminal with some special talents.

Piet has spent time in a Swedish prison and on his release he has established a security firm. It seems that a number of criminals trying to stay on the ‘straight and narrow’ use their acquired skills to establish ‘legitimate’ businesses. Several members of the Swedish intelligence service are aware of Piet and the contacts that he may have with criminal elements throughout Eastern Europe. It appears that each country may have it’s own version of a ‘Mafia’ , dealing mostly in illegal drugs.

Piet is now married … he has a wife Zofia and two young sons, Rasmus and Hugo. But his knowledge is important to some intelligent agents, especially Erik Wilson. Erik is planning an undercover ‘ sting ‘ which would include having Piet placed in a Swedish prison as a  hardened criminal with the intent of ferreting out information that will allow the Swedish intelligence to stop the Polish Mafia from invading Sweden. But before all the pieces can be put in play, a murder occurs where Piet is a witness and this is going to complicate the situation to the nth degree. A dogged Swedish detective, Ewert Grens has found out enough information to send him in the direction of Piet. And please remember one other small detail……anyone in prison who finds out Piet is a ‘snitch’ will find a way to kill him !!

Please enjoy a terrific summer read….’ Three Seconds ‘ by Roslund & Hellstrom !

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