Confuzzledom

Just a place for me to gather my thoughts


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The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

I finished reading this book the other day and I loved it so, so, so much that I couldn’t be content with just writing a review on Good Reads… my blog needs one too!

The plot:
Essentially, this is a book about a circus – Le Cirque des Reves (which means “Circus of Dreams”). Except… it’s not really a circus. Not that kind of circus anyway. There are tents and some of them even have acrobats in them, but that’s as far as the similarities with a normal circus go. Plus, this circus is only open at night, closing its gates again at dawn. And anyway, the story isn’t really about the circus. Actually, it’s about two magicians competing against each other in a kind of game (that’s actually more of a… test? Battle of wits? Experiment?). Oh, I give up… summarising the plot is just too difficult!

My review:
In case you hadn’t gathered yet, I loved this book! It started off fairly slowly and I was torn between finding it interesting and being a bit put off by the pages and pages of description but not a lot of actual action. But gradually it sucked me in, until I got to the stage where I wished my commute to work was longer so I wouldn’t have to stop reading. I am aware that a lot of people won’t like The Night Circus – it’s like the Marmite of books, I think. Either you love it or you hate. Looking back, there isn’t really much of a plot and takes ages to figure out what’s actually going on (both for the reader and the magicians themselves!), but somehow, despite these failings, I fell in love with the characters and – more importantly – with the circus itslef. I desperately want there to be a real Cirque des Reves so I can go and visit it over and over again. I had to give it five stars on Good Reads because that’s all I’m allowed, but I want to give it a million stars.


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What I learned from “Swiss Watching” by Diccon Bewes

Swiss flag

With our move rapidly approaching, I thought it might be a good idea to learn a little more about Swiss culture (even if we end up on the other side of the border, I have a feeling we’ll be spending a lot of time in Basel…). I knew a traditional history book, filled with dates and facts, would just send me to sleep, so instead I picked up a copy of Swiss Watching: Inside Europe’s Landlocked Island by Diccon Bewes. What I mostly learned is that the Swiss (at least in the area we’ll be moving to) are basically German… except even more so. A few examples:

  • The trains are (almost) always on time… and in Switzerland it’s not just a stereotype!
  • If you ask people to go out for a meal, say for your birthday, be careful how you word things! If the Swiss get the impression that it’s an invitation, they will also expect you to pay for their meals! (I am aware that this is a thing in some circles in Germany, but luckily nobody I know enforces this “rule”)
  • The little red man must be obeyed at all costs! Mostly to set a good example to children (and even if you don’t see any children for miles around, one could be watching you from a nearby window). But are the Swiss as good at the death glare as little old German ladies, I wonder?
  • Swiss people like to spend their weekends hiking! (And just to prove my point about them basically being German, only yesterday Jan said to me “Once we move we can go hiking in the Swiss mountains!”. Uhh, okay dear…)
  • All the shops are closed on Sundays (except those that happen to be in train stations), and anything that might make the slightest bit of noise is verboten!

Other than that, I learned that people apparently think cuckoo clocks are Swiss (they’re actually from the Black Forest), velcro and toilet duck were both invented in Switzerland, the Swiss are (rightly!) extremely proud of their chocolate, nobody actually knows who the president of Switzerland is at any given time because it changes every year – and who can possibly keep track of that?! And finally, there’s a Röstigraben (literally rösti ditch) between the German-speaking and French/Italian-speaking regions of Switzerland. On the French/Italian side, they look down on their German-speaking countrypeople’s love of rösti (but why? How could anybody resist fried grated potatoes?) – so it’s a bit like the Weißwurstäquator (white sausage equator) in Germany.

Overall, I enjoyed the book – although the attempts at humour (sarcasm?) fell flat at times and felt a bit condescending. It certainly wasn’t a book of dry facts though, so I got what I was looking for and now feel as though I know a lot more about what to expect from Switzerland.


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Mid-week confessions 2

I did this once, and then never again. But in the absence of anything else to talk about, it feels like a good time for the second post in this series. Today, I confess…

  • Most days I don’t eat breakfast at home because I would rather spend extra time in bed. Instead, I take a yoghurt to eat at work.
  • By yoghurt I mean the kind that comes with caramel and little pieces of chocolate to stir in… the ones that come in Lion, Mars and Twix varieties. Or I just take a chocolate pudding. A perfectly healthy, balance breakfast… or not.
  • Some days all I feel like eating for dinner is McCain’s Smiley Faces and chicken nuggets. Yes, I’m in my 30s…

    You're never too old for a smiley dinner!

    You’re never too old for a smiley dinner!

  • If I open a bar of chocolate, I can’t stop eating until it’s gone. All 100g of it…
  • Moving on from food… I already have a wish list of books I plan to buy for my future children. As in the children that aren’t even conceived yet! There’s nothing wrong with thinking ahead, right?
  • On a related note, ordering books via Amazon is far too easy. Must. Stop. Clicking… (GoodReads is not helping my book obsession either.)
  • Recently I went to buy a new pair of trainers (which I need) and came out with a handbag (which I did not). The bag was on sale, though so it could have been worse…

Phew. Now that I’ve got that off my chest, is there anything you would like to confess?


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2014 Winter Reading Challenge – month 2

I’m a day late with my check-in post because I’ve only just got back from Zurich. Another month of the winter reading challenge is over and I still haven’t completed it… mainly because I was waiting for my final book to arrive. I found it in my mailbox when I arrived home today though, so I’ll be done soon. On the meantime, here are the categories I managed to complete this month.

5 points: Freebie! Read any book that fits the general rules.
The Dead in Their Vaulted Arches by Alan Bradley – This is the sixth book in the Flavia de Luce series and so far I’ve loved them all. In some ways, this book felt like a filler, or a kind of bridge between past events and what’s to come. There seemed to be less happening than in previous books in the series. But I love Flavia so I gave it five stars anyway. My full review is here.

15 points: Read a book that was originally written in a language that is not your native language.
Die Nacht des Zorns by Fred Vargas (original French title: L’armée furieuse) – My boss gave me this book for my birthday in August so it was about time I read it! It’s a crime novel, but the quirky characters make it different to your usual crime/thriller. I guessed the twist before I got to the end, but I still enjoyed the story and will probably pick up another book in the series at some point. I gave this one four stars out of five. You can read my full review here.

15 points: Read a book written by a local author (either an author from your state if you live in the United States, or from your country if you live somewhere else).
Liebesfluch by Beatrix Gurian – I tried to read a book by a Karlsruhe author for this one, but when it turned out the one I had chosen only had 190 pages and I failed to find another one that interested me, I had to widen my search to all of Germany. Beatrix Gurian is the pen name of Beatrix Mannel, who was born in Darmstadt and now lives in Munich. Liebesfluch is a young-adult thriller novel. Sixteen-year-old Blue is overjoyed when she gets job as an Au pair in Germany. Okay, the Odenwald isn’t as exciting as her home city Las Vegas, but the twins are adorable and she’s excited to explore the village her grandmother came from. When she makes friends with Ju and Felix life seems perfect. But appearances can be deceiving and soon not only Blue but the twins lives are at risk…
This was another book that I really enjoyed. Each chapter started with an extract from a letter… but it wasn’t clear until the very end who the letter was from – or indeed to. Every time I thought I knew what was going on, the author managed to lead me in the wrong direction, but in the end everything did make sense. I also liked that the book was written mostly from the Au pair’s perspective – as a foreigner in Germany it was interesting to see things through similar eyes (although Blue is obviously much younger than me and I’ve never been an Au pair). Some parts were slightly less believable than others but overall the author did a good job. 4 stars.

That makes 35 points for this month. Added to last month’s 140, that gives me a total of 175 so far with one more category to go: “read a book from a genre you don’t usually read”, which is worth 25 points.


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Die Nacht des Zorns by Fred Vargas

I kind of feel like I’m showing off by using this book for the challenge, but I was trying to use books I already had as much as possible and this was the only one I hadn’t already read that fit the category “Read a book that was first released in a language that is not your native language”. It was originally written in French under the title L’armée furieuse, and I read it in German (the German version of the title translates to “the night of wrath” by the way). It was a birthday gift from my boss, which is why it was in German. If I buy translations myself it’s usually into English! The title of the English translation is The Ghost Riders of Ordebec, in case anyone is interested.

The plot:
As the chief of police in Paris’s seventh arrondissement, Commissaire Adamsberg has no jurisdiction in Ordebec. Yet, he cannot ignore a widow’s plea. Her daughter Lina has seen a vision: ghostly horsemen who target the most nefarious characters in Normandy. With them were four men. According to the thousand-year-old legend, the vision means that the men will soon die a grisly death, and now one of them is missing. Despite initial scepticism, Adamsberg heads to Ordebec to see what’s happening. When the missing man turns up dead, he agrees to investigate and is soon embroiled in the mysteries of the village.

My review:
Apparently, this is the ninth book in the Commissaire Adamsberg series. So far, it’s the only one I’ve read, and I have to say straight off that one of the things that annoyed me about this book was all the footnotes pointing out in which previous novel I could read all about an event that was briefly mentioned. I checked the footnote every time in case it had something to say that was relevant to the plot, but nope… just another book title. Grr!

However, that said, I did really enjoy the book. I guessed the “twist” ending about halfway through, but it didn’t matter because by that time I’d fallen in love with the characters and wanted to read to the end. The plot was sometimes a bit far-fetched and, as I’ve mentioned, I guessed whodunnit before it was revealed, but it was a fun book to while away my commute with. One negative point is that I felt Fred Vargas tried to cram too much into the book – Adamsberg’s team was also investigating another murder alongside the Ordebec mystery and the two storylines together felt like a bit much for one book (although I’m sure it happens in real life). I’m now considering buying the first book in the series for some more background on Adamsberg and his quirky group of colleagues. 4 stars for this one.

Since I read this book in German, it also counts towards the German reading category of my 35 before 35 challenge.


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The Dead in Their Vaulted Arches by Alan Bradley

Somehow I managed to miss this book when it was first published. It was only when Amazon recommended the next book in the series (due for publication in January 2015) to me that I realised there had been one in between, and despite the fact that I’m only supposed to be spending money on Christmas gifts this month, I had to purchase a copy immediately. And of course I was unable to resist reading it the minute it arrived, which is how it ended up being my free book for the Semi-Charmed Winter Reading Challenge (worth 5 points).

The plot:
On a spring morning in 1951, almost twelve-year-old chemist and aspiring detective Flavia de Luce gathers with her family at the railway station, awaiting the return of her long-lost mother, Harriet. Yet upon the train’s arrival in the English village of Bishop’s Lacey, Flavia is approached by a tall stranger who whispers a cryptic message into her ear. Moments later he is dead, apparently pushed in front of the departing train by someone on the platform. Who was this man? What did his words mean? And were they meant for Flavia? Back at Buckshaw, Flavia once again puts her sleuthing skills to the test, and in the process finds out more about the history – and secrets – of the de Luce clan, and in particular her mother…

My review:

In some ways this book felt like a filler. Not much really happens in the way of ameteru detecting compared to the earlier books in the series – yes, there is another murder, but Flavia manages to refrain from doing much investigating. Instead, she confines her sleuthing to the secrets within Buckley Hall, which means we out more about the how and why of Harriet’s disappearance… and Flavia gets to ride in a plane! At the end of the book, we learn that Flavia will be going away, and I’m quite interested to see where the series takes us once she’s out in the big, wide world. There are only so many times someone can happen to stumble across a dead body in one small village before it starts seeming ridiculous, so I’m glad Bradley has decided to take things in a new direction. In a way, this is the least interesting book in the series so far – it feels like it was only there to make the transition between ameteur detecting at home and being away slightly less sudden, but Flavia is just as incorrigible as ever and I love her so it still gets all 5 stars from me (mostly because you can’t give 4.5 stars on Good Reads). It seemed like Flavia was maturing a lot in this book and I’m excited to read the seventh book in the series and see where life takes her next. This is a must-read for fans of the series. Everyone else should start at the beginning (with The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie) and decide for yourselves.


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2014 Winter Reading Challenge – Month 1

It’s the first day of December today (how did that happen?!), which means it’s also time for the first monthly check in for the Semi-Charmed 2014 Winter Reading Challenge. You’ve probably already noticed that I’ve reviewd a few of the books I’ve read, but this post is the place for a roundup of the categories I’ve completed so far. And points, of course. Points are important!

10 points: Read a book written by an author who has published at least 10 books.
Coastliners by Joanne Harris – Joanne Harris has written 16 novels (plus 3 cookbooks). I always enjoy her novels, so I knew I would like this on as well. It’s not as good as The Lollipop Shoes or Blue-eyed Boy though, so I’m giving it 4 stars.

10 points: Read a book of short stories
St. Lucy’s Home for for Girls Raised by Wolves by Karen Russell – I was originally going to read Different Seasons by Stephen King for this, but I was worried a book of four novellas might not quite count as short stories, so I chose this one instead. All the stories in this book are set on the same strange island, and all are surreal/not quite normal. I really enjoyed some of the stories, a few just confused me – it seemed like they ended too soon. 4 stars, because the good ones were really, really good but I can’t justify giving 5 for stars when a few of the stories bored me.

10 points: Read a book with a food in the title
The Chocolate War by Robert Cormier – I’ve already written a full review of this one, so I won’t say too much here. it’s shocking and disturbing and well worth a read – not only for the teens it’s aimed at. 5 stars (rounded up from 4.5).

15 points: Read the first book in a series that is new to you.
The Various by Steve Augarde – I’ve already reviewed this one as well. It’s basically a children’s fantasy adventure along the lines of Enid Blyton’s Enchanted Wood/Faraway Tree series, but more modern and much better written. A full 5 stars for this one – I LOVED it!

20 points: Read a “bookish book” (in which books play an important role).
The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Schaffer and Annie Barrows – Hey… it looks like I’ve already written a review for this one, too. I’m on a role here! Another book that I really enjoyed… 5 stars.

20 points: Read a book with a direction in the title.
Into the Beautiful North by Luis Alberto Urrea – Ah, no review for this one yet ;-) This is the story of nineteen year-old Nayeli who works at the taco shop in her Mexican village and dreams about her father, who journeyed to “the beautiful North” – the United States – to find work. When it dawns on her that almost all the men have left, Nayeli decides to go North herself and recruit some men who are willing to come back to the village with her. I found this story really interesting, mostly because I know nothing about Mexico and life there. It was also interesting to read about crossing the border (illegally) from the perspective of the person trying to cross. Some parts of the story were a bit far-fetched and my Spanish unfortunately isn’t good enough to understand all the Spanish interjections that cropped up (and not all of them were explained!), but overall this was a pretty good read. 4 stars.

25 points: Read a book with a song lyric in the title.
A Room with a View by E.M. Forster – Part 1 of this book is the story of Lucy Honeychurch, a young English woman visiting Italy for the first time with her older cousin as chaperone. While out there, she meets two young men, one totally unsuitable for her and one who she has been acquainted with for years. In part two, she gets engaged to one of the two men, but then has to decide which of the two to actually marry. I had mixed feelings about this book. I found the first half of the book fairly boring (with one or two more interesting moments), and half the time I wanted to slap Lucy (the main character), but then in the second half things picked up and towards the end I really enjoyed reading this. By the way, if you pick up the version of this book with a foreword/description of the novel, do not read it! The one in my copy contained a major spoiler for the plot. I’m giving this one 3 stars.

30 points: Read two books with a different meal in each title
The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul by Douglas Adams – You can read my full review here, but basically there are Norse gods, exploding check-in desks and a strangely intelligent eagle… what’s not to love? Five stars for this one.
Lunch Money by Andrew Clements – I mostly found this book boring, although it did have some funny moments.Admittedly it is a children’s book, and 10-12 year olds might like it, but it was not to my personal taste. My full (although not much longer than this) review is here. Three stars.

And that’s all I’ve read so far. If I’ve calculated correctly, that leaves me on 140 points so far. It would have been more, but the book I read for my local author turned out to only have 190 pages so it’s back to the drawing board with that one!

Finally, here’s the song that the lyric “a room with a view” was taken from. It’s by Danish singer Tina Dico and bears the same name (I hope this works…).

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