Monthly Archives: May 2010

The Uppsala English Bookshop #2

The Uppsala English Bookshop

The Uppsala English Bookshop

The Uppsala English Bookshop

The UEB finally got its bookwitch inspection this time round. It is a lovely little shop, and quite a contrast to the light and possibly over-sanitised chain shops you get in Sweden. Non-matching shelves in several small rooms, in a higgledy piggledy English sort of style. A little dark, and with a member of staff greeting customers as they enter.

The groaning tables had none of the 3 for 2 piles, but offered a large variety of books, that all managed to look interesting. Your witch looked at the children’s corner with some care. Very good selection. Much of it predictable, but the fact that it’s there at all, in a language other than the country’s own is remarkable. Along with all the latest paperbacks there were old classics, and more than you tend to see in your standard UK shop.

Extra brownie points awarded for the copy of Adrian McKinty’s The Lighthouse Land which I found. I have not seen that in a shop previously.

Philip Pullman had his own little stand with most of his books, and the Sally Lockhart range in the new black and white woodcut covers. (I want!) Terry Pratchett had his own corner, too, so these people know what matters.

Uppsala English Bookshop

Uppsala shelves

Book storage on Uppsala floor


While your witch is ‘on the road’, there will be some book interiors from wherever she goes. This here is Son’s Uppsala book collection, with no previous styling done before the camera snapped. At least there is less dust than there would have been at Bookwitch Towers. There is an Icelandic flavour to it, but when I asked if he’d now get round to reading Arnaldur in the original, I was laughed at. Though he did get out a children’s book and read a little to me.

Uppsala bookshelf

Uppsala bookshelf

His UCL neighbour here in Uppsala uses his bookshelf for storing shoes on.

Icelandic children's book

Bookwitch bites #11

We hurriedly required a zombie free book for Daughter to read. In the middle of the night. Historical was requested, so in the end we plumped for Mary Hoffman’s Stravaganza, which Daughter had not read, despite repeated suggestions. They may not do a lot for the exam results, but the books have sort of melted away in her hands. I suspect she likes them.

Speaking of Mary, her old literary magazine Armadillo has undergone a substantial facelift. Do go and have a look. Even I am impressed, and that’s hard to achieve.

‘If you ever get offered that book about Kaye Webb,’ said the Resident IT Consultant one day last week, ‘it’d be very interesting to read’. Since a copy of So Much To Tell by Valerie Grove was already sitting in the living room, I had to break it to him gently that his request had come true instantly. After which it took several minutes before he carried the biography about the Puffin lady off in one hand and a mug of tea in the other. They seem to have got on well together.

After my walk round Uppsala with Son on Friday afternoon (we had to walk off lunch, to make room for tea and cake), I did a quick foray into Akademibokhandeln to see what they had to offer. Nice end aisle display of Meg Rosoff’s Just in Case, Swedish paperback version. And, around twenty copies of that embargoed book I hinted at last week. It’s still embargoed, so I can’t tell you what they are engaged in selling prematurely.

Someone had decorated the headrest of the seat in front of me on the plane on Thursday with Moomin stickers. One sticker featured the Groke. Let’s just hope that no one with a Groke phobia sits there. Or could that explain the rather bumpy descent into Arlanda?

And Candy Gourlay has been making a short video for her new book Tall Story. Is there nothing she can’t do?

Me and You

Me and You is a fiendishly clever take on Goldilocks. I’ve never been too keen on all that fussing the bears get up to when they discover their porridge and their chairs, not to mention the beds.

But this, this is more fun. We’ve never thought too much about where Goldilocks came from, or where she ran back to, have we? At least I haven’t. I’ve concentrated on the porridge and the sleeping, which are both very attractive things.

Now the children’s laureate Anthony Browne has come up with the background to Goldilocks the girl. She has her own house, even if not as nice as the bear house. She has her own mummy. She is just temporarily displaced, which is how she comes to sample the bears’ living standard.

This book has two sets of pictures. There are the traditional pictures of the bears, complete with captions, on the right hand page. On the left we get several smaller pictures of Goldilocks in realistic cartoon style, but without words. Very beautiful.

And I can tell you that Daddy Bear is a coward.

You and Me by Anthony Browne

(Apologies for the photo quality, but I really wanted to show a page rather than the cover.)

The Prince of Mist

When I first leafed through The Prince of Mist, I was struck by the non-Spanishness of the characters’ names. I even went so far as to ask the publisher if they had been translated in the translation. They haven’t, it seems, though they didn’t know, so had to check it for me.

I actively want my foreign, translated books to taste of the place they came from. So I’m wondering why Carlos Ruiz Zafón decided to go so ‘neutral’ in The Prince of Mist. He is a big name in the book world now, and with translations left, right and centre, blandness might make sense. But he wasn’t big then. It’s nearly twenty years since he wrote this book, and it’s only published here now, after his success with a number of adult books.

The setting is also strangely neutral. I’m assuming it has to be the northwest of Spain, but it doesn’t feel like it. It doesn’t feel like anything, much. The careless reader might see it as England. Maybe it is. Am I fussy, in wanting to know? Sometimes vague and neutral works. Here I would really like to be able to visualise better.

And it’s timeless. Apart from any pun imagined, because it features a watchmaker, and the clocks go funny, I need a sense of time, too. Yes, I know it’s set in WWII. Doesn’t feel like it.

The Prince of Mist is a book of horror. Creepy cat moves in with Max’s family when they relocate to the seaside. Near the new house he finds a garden full of creepy statues, and one of them is a clown. It’s thundery the whole time. There is an old man with a secret, and the house they live in has a ‘past’. Parents and younger sister are removed by something fairly unlikely, leaving Max and older sister Alicia alone.

For me this plot doesn’t work. It’s fantasy, so doesn’t have to. But it still doesn’t. On the other hand, the Resident IT Consultant, who grabbed the book first, thinks highly of it. I feel it reads like the first novel that it is. Point of view keeps changing in a wobbly fashion. And other than being freaked out by the cat, I had no interest in the characters.

Light reading at bedtime

It felt unexpectedly heavy, that unexpected weight on my feet, as I slid into bed, late. Well, attempted to slide, anyway. I’m so very kind and caring (even if I do say so myself) that I do not put the light on if I’m last into bed. I try to have a calm and organised bedroom, but it doesn’t always work out so well.

So as I discovered this unexpected lump on top of where my feet should go, I felt with my hand in the dark, and encountered a book. Of course. The Resident IT Consultant is under the impression that any horizontal area is an OK place to leave a book. Or ten. I have tried to suggest that encountering the unexpected in the dark may make me scream. Not because I’m scared. Because I prefer the duvet to be the only cover at night.

But then I consider the bad effects of waking people up in the middle of the night, so keep my screaming to the absolute minimum. Fuming to myself, I lifted the book off my bed and dumped it on the floor, avoiding the temptation to fling it. Far.

As I got up in the morning and could see again, I looked at the evidence of the curious incident in the night time. The Colossal Book of Mathematics, no less. No wonder it felt uncomfortable.

Some people…

But it does seem like the perfect bedtime reading. It’d send me to sleep in a minute.

Gotland murders

You can’t read this book. Sorry. But my earlier suggestion that people learn Swedish in order to read untranslated Swedish crime is still valid. Annika Bryn, whose blog I have mentioned here before, as well as her friendship with Stieg Larsson, is also a crime writer.

I performed a minor service for Annika a while ago, and she sent me a reward in the shape of her third novel, which I’ve now read. And I honestly don’t know why she isn’t one of the Nordic crime writers filling up British and American bookshops.

Annika’s detective is policewoman Margareta Davidsson, who normally does her detecting in Stockholm. In Morden i Buttle (The Murders in Buttle) she has come to recuperate on Gotland, the large island east of Öland. That may be part of the reason I just couldn’t stop thinking of Johan Theorin while reading. There are other similarities. Annika also has a historical puzzle that somehow is connected to the modern day murders. And there are unspeakable things happening to children.

Annika Bryn, Morden i Buttle

Margareta’s recuperating doesn’t go too well when she finds a dead girl outside her borrowed cottage in the middle of Gotland, in the village of Buttle. She had noticed a man she felt uneasy about on the ferry the previous day, and she’s sure he has something to do with the dead body. The local police don’t believe her theories. And when her Stockholm colleague Kent turns up out of the blue, things get complicated.

There is, as I said, an older mystery too, from the 19th century. A young unmarried mother who died far too early, catches Margareta’s attention. I really would have loved to read about this girl with a less unhappy ending, but then her story wouldn’t have fitted in with Margareta’s new murder victim.

This is a suitably bleak and violent tale to fit in with other recent Scandinavian crime writing. I just wish it would stand a chance of being translated.