Category Archives: General

Alex’s Picks – Psychological Thrillers

Web of AngelsIdenticalShutter IslandBefore I Go to SleepMisery

While I am all about the Chick Lit genre, every now and then I enjoy reading a book that makes my hair stand on end and keeps me at the edge of my seat. If you are one for Psychological Thrillers, here are my top picks:

Web of Angels by Lilian Nattel: A woman with Dissociative Identity Disorder looks for answers behind the suicide of a pregnant teenage girl, and what may be happening to her surviving younger sister.

Identical by Ellen Hopkins: An “All-American family” with a deep, dark secret.

Shutter Island by Dennis Lehane: A U.S Marshall tasked with capturing an escaped convict ends up questioning his own sanity.

Before I Go To Sleep by S.J Watson: A woman with amnesia wakes up every morning unable to remember her past. Leaving herself clues, she slowly pieces together her life and starts to doubt the people closest to her.

Misery by Stephen King: A crazed fan saves the life of her favourite author, then holds him captive.

Hygge

Signe JohansenLet’s talk a bit about hygge. (I’ve seen pronunciation keys ranging from hoo-guh to hue-guh to hoo-gah, but one source tells me emphatically that it’s not hoo-gah, and the Visit Denmark page tells me it’s hooga… it’s untranslatable enough into any one English word that we can’t even settle on how to pronounce it using English pronunciation rules! I’m going to go with Oxford dictionary’s pronunciation key, which tells me there are two ways of pronouncing it, somewhere between hue-guh and hju-geh, I believe, the “j” being a soft “y” type of J, if you know what I mean. And as for stress, I’m pretty sure it goes into the first syllable, but I’m not sure.) In fact, I think there’s even possibly a bit of confusion (or perhaps it’s on the part of the authors) as to the etymology of the word as well. Anyway.

I’m going to start off this post on hygge with How to Hygge: The Nordic Secrets to a Happy Life by Signe Johansen, pictured above, which is actually quite a departure from the other books that follow in this post. What I mean when I say that is, for a book on hygge, Johansen discusses a much wider range of topics than the others cover. Which is exactly the reason why I’m choosing to start with it, so I don’t lose your interest here by simply covering the hygge clichés you’ve probably already heard before. One thing Johansen stresses throughout the book is that you have to work for it: while hygge brings with it thoughts of relaxation and comfort rather than hard work, it’s definitely something to work towards in your everyday life rather than something you can create by just filling your home with Nordic furnishings (though that certainly helps).

You’ll find that this book is filled with recipes galore, from fika treats to salads to sandwiches and meals, and of course, boozy drinks to help with, as Johansen puts it, adjusting your attitude. But if you look beyond the recipes, a recurring theme is that if you exercise and get out to experience the great outdoors regardless of the weather, you will become the more content for it overall – and it is this contentedness that is, I think, at the heart of hygge. It’s not a striving for happiness, with happiness as the goal, so much as taking care of yourself and indulging in small pleasures, such as treating yourself to cake or chocolate, or taking some time during the day to enjoy fika with your coworkers, your family, and your friends. Fika sounds strikingly similar to afternoon tea to me, except without the highbrow feeling that “afternoon tea” immediately conjures up (at least when I think of it), and Johansen gives you a few recipes for what look like mouthwatering cardamom twists, a cherry bundt cake, and fried doughnuts, among many other such little treats, to get you started.

All in all, I found that while I didn’t exactly learn anything new (apart from the fact that I’m probably using much less cardamom in my cardamom bread than it actually requires, which would explain a few things), How to Hygge is a beautiful book filled with beautiful pictures, written in a casual, easy to read prose that really inspires you to make those small changes in order to live in way that encourages hygge to proliferate.

Perhaps it’s a bit early talking about this, considering the days are still long and the weather is still warm, but as we’ve now learned from How to Hygge, it’s more a lifestyle that allows ease of hygge than a feeling we can simply purchase the ingredients for. Not that hygge should only be found in the dead of winter! But I think the ability to find and indulge in the little pleasures in life is probably all the more appreciated amongst what appears to be a dead world.* Maybe it’s a bit meta, but I think we should probably feel hygge for the moments that are hygge.

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Adult Summer Reading: Electrifying Thrillers

The category “Electrifying Thrillers” covers a whole host of scenarios from works of political intrigue to psychological thrillers to spy novels.

Let’s start with something very different namely “Slade House” by David Mitchell. It could be referred to as a horror thriller.  The author, probably best known for the novel “Cloud Atlas”, says he tries to make his writings very different from each other.  And boy, is this book different.

Slade HouseTo say things in Slade House aren’t what they appear to be would be a vast understatement. Every nine years, someone is lured down Slade Alley where they swing open the garden gate and enter the world of Slade House.  It makes no sense that this large garden and even larger house exist in this small place, but there they are.  Enter the house and rooms morph before your eyes and ghostly voices are heard in the wall.  What was there a moment ago shrinks to nothingness and people shape-shift before your eyes. Even Detective Inspector Gordon Edmonds of the Thames Valley Police is no match for the sinister siblings that haunt the house, feasting off those that dare to enter this other world.  All they require for eternal life is the occasional food source.  Edmonds has come to investigate the first disappearances, a mother and son who disappeared nine years previously.  And then nine years later, a university club dubbed the Paranormal Society can’t resist the temptation to follow up on the disappearances of the boy, his mother and the detective inspector.

The twins, possessing psychic powers, had perfected the “lacuna”, a small space immune to time and thus immune to aging. A nine-year pattern, perhaps destined to continue eternally.  Then Dr. Iris Marinus-Fenby, a horologist, a maker of clocks, shows up to challenge their repeated pattern of evil.

At times, the story can be confusing and you might struggle with some of the unfamiliar British slang, but it’s worth it.  Author David Mitchell successfully creates a mood of foreboding and dread. There will be times you want to scream “don’t go up those stairs” and other times when you know it is too late for the characters, that they have chosen a path that will lead to their inevitable doom.

Now let’s have a look at a more classic thriller. It is March,1941 and Paris is an occupied city. Mathieu and his French resistance cell rescue downed airmen and smuggle them across the border into Spain.  In “A Hero of France”, Alan Furst successful creates a mood of high tension as the resistance members use subterfuge, disguises and safe houses to move the airmen across France.  Whenever they approach security checks, you may find yourself holding your breath, hoping this one doesn’t end badly.

A Hero of France

The book provides a good look into the workings of a resistance cell, such as how they fund their operations, sometimes needing to work with shady individuals. It also shows how they communicate, employing young men and women as bicycle couriers.  Their youth provides a cover as they are less likely to be stopped by the authorities.  Yet at any time, a resistance member may hear the paralyzing phrase “show me your papers”.

There are breaks in the action whenever Mathieu returns to his lodgings, receiving a happy greeting from Mariana, the hotel’s Belgian Shepherd, and an even warmer greeting from his girlfriend Joelle. Joelle is unaware of his work for the resistance and to protect her, Mathieu would like to keep it that way.

Senior Inspector Otto Broehm of the Hamburg Police is selected to oversee the French effort to destroy the escape lines. It is his job to recruit informants to infiltrate the resistance cell.  Looking for prisoners willing to do so in exchange for a reduced sentence, Broehm finds Stephan Kusar, a liar of the first order.  It is a skill that will serve him well as he attempts to infiltrate Mathieu’s cell.

Mathieu is always faced with the question of who to trust, who might fold under pressure and who might be a spy. And now Mathieu is given his biggest assignment.  British intelligence plans to parachute in two operatives from the Free French troops based in England.  Matthieu’s cell must recover the operatives and their large cache of equipment and hide them from the Germans. It is the wrong time to have a spy in their midst.

As a good espionage story should be, the novel is infused with tension and suspense and keeps you turning the pages.