Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Some photos from our latest trip to Sweden

I haven't been posting a lot lately, and the main reason is that I've been on holidays with my kids in Sweden. It was a fantastic visit this year, and the weather was truly spectacular. Sweden experienced a heat-wave: 25-30 degrees Celsius (and more!) day after day after day. I don't think I've ever experienced such an extended period of hot weather while visiting my home country. At times, it was almost too much of a good thing, but hey: I'm not really complaining!

Writeups to follow, specifically on our visit to the amusement park Gröna Lund in Stockholm, but for now, here are some beautiful photos from our trip.

First up: a couple of beautiful kittens from our visit to the farm in Rismyrliden. These playful and friendly cuties kept my kids happy for quite a while.

And here are some gorgeous shots from around my parents' place in Burvik. It's truly one of my favourite places in the world.

Photos by me, and my husband Doug Haskins.

Monday, June 2, 2014

15 summer-reading tips for traveling parents (and young adults)

In a recent post, I listed some books that my kids have enjoyed recently, and other books I am planning to share with them soon. This time, I'm making a list of books for parents, and in some cases for young adult readers. These are all books that I have read and loved recently, and I hope you can find some good book tips here!

Whether you read hardcovers, paperbacks, or on a Kindle (which is how I do most of my reading these days), books are a wonderful thing to bring along when you're traveling with kids. And if you find yourself in a comfy chair, or on a sunny beach... well, a book can come in handy too.

The Warlord Chronicles, by Bernard Cornwell
The Winter King, Enemy of God, and Excalibur, are the three titles in this trilogy by prolific author Bernard Cornwell. This is his take on the King Arthur-story, and it is an excellent, and in many ways very original version of what might have happened. A real page-turner, and a great peek into life in ancient Britain as well.

The Iron King: Book 1 in "The Accursed Kings"-series, by Maurice Druon
Druon's books about the medieval French kings are solidly based in history, but they are also very much page-turner-fiction. I first started reading them because George R.R. Martin, the author of A Song of Ice and Fire (AKA Game of Thrones), recommended them and cited them as inspiration for his own stories. Murder, intrigue, love, war... it's all here. These are the titles available in English right now, with another (The Lily and the Lion) being released later this year.
  • The Iron King
  • The Strangled Queen
  • The Poisoned Crown
  • The Royal Succession
  • The She-Wolf

The Foundation Series, by Isaac Asimov
Asimov's books about The Foundation are classic science-fiction. There's rollicking space adventure, a Galactic empire, rebellion, space battles, alien planets, and a search for mankind's "mythical" origin-planet. I am a self-confessed sci-fi lover, and this series of books is always worth a read, or a re-read. The titles in the series are:
  • Prelude to Foundation
  • Forward the Foundation
  • Foundation
  • Foundation and Empire
  • Second Foundation
  • Foundation's Edge
  • Foundation and Earth

The Earthsea Quartet, by Ursula K. Le Guin
This year I re-read Ursula K. Le Guin's books about Earthsea. I loved these books as a teenager, and found that they have stood the test of time: the prose is still exceptionally beautiful, the stories are gripping, and the characters original and believable in the midst of dragons and magic. They are a great reading experience for both young adults and adults.

Red Shift, by Alan Garner
To quote the sales blurb: "Three separate stories, three utterly different lives, distant in time and yet strangely linked to a single place, the mysterious, looming outcrop known as Mow Cop, and a single object, the blunt head of a stone axe: all these come together in Alan Garner’s extraordinary Red Shift." This book by by Alan Garner is a twisting, trippy and hard-to-describe tale that winds through three different historical times, all set in the same place. It's a story that I first read in my teens, but it has stayed with me over the years. Fantasy/history/poetry... there are shades of all three in this story.

Life, by Keith Richards
This is one of the best memoirs I've ever read, regardless of rock'n'roll stardom. Keith Richards knows how to spin a tale, and his life story - from the post-war bomb-craters of Britain, to the heights of Rolling Stones' fame - is a page turner. There is lots here about his love of music, his relationship with Mick Jagger, and much more. This is a book I'd recommend to anyone, whether they're a fan of Keith's music or not.

It's So Easy: and other lies, by Duff McKagan
Biographies by rock'n'roll legends must include tales of debauchery, and this one does but that's not the main focus of the story. Written by the bassplayer for Guns N' Roses, this is a very well-told story about working your way up to the top of rock'n'roll, while simultaneously destroying yourself with drugs and fast-living. The redemption is that he does emerge on the other side, alive. And along the way, there's a lot of inside-stories from the Seattle music scene, as well as Guns N' Roses behind the scenes. If you have any interest in the music of the late 80s and early 90s, this is a must-read.

World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War, by Max Brooks
I found this book very hard to put down, and while I liked the movie based on the book, the book is indeed a very different kind of story. Yes, it's about mankind surviving (with difficulty) a zombie-infection, but there's a lot of depth and humanity in the stories here. Each chapter is a short story, with a different person talking about what happened to them during this "near-Armageddon". It's very well-written, and easy to read.

Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption - by Laura Hillenbrand
This story about a man who survived years of starvation and torture as a prisoner of war during World War 2 is an extremely gripping true story. It's made even better because it doesn't just speak about his captivity, but how his life was affected by that captivity, and how he eventually manages to overcome the pain and darkness it left him with.

Cloud Atlas: A Novel, by David Mitchell
A real mind-twister of a story, this book weaves together storylines about several different people in several different times: past, present, and future. The essence of the story is about how we affect people around us, and how we are shaped by the past and can influence the future by how we choose to act. It's science fiction-ish, with real heart and soul and poetry.

Bossypants, by Tina Fey
"From her youthful days as a vicious nerd to her tour of duty on Saturday Night Live; from her passionately halfhearted pursuit of physical beauty to her life as a mother eating things off the floor; from her one-sided college romance to her nearly fatal honeymoon..." Yep, Tina Fey made me laugh out loud (literally) throughout this book. It's insightful, hilariously funny, and piercingly truthful.

A Tale of Two Cities, by Charles Dickens
Without a doubt this is my favourite Dickens' story. (Well, this and A Christmas Carol!) Adventure, love, mystery, French Revolution, secrets, lies... Dickens doesn't get much better than this.

Song of Ice & Fire, by George R.R. Martin
George R.R. Martin's massive, raw, and often shockingly brutal fantasy-tale is a real marvel. It might not be for everyone - the unflinching brutality and the way characters you care about tend to die turns some people off - but there's a real power and originality in Martin's writing that is extremely engaging. Now, if he'd only finish writing the next installment already....Titles in this series so far:
  • A Game of Thrones
  • A Clash of Kings
  • A Storm of Swords
  • A Feast for Crows
  • A Dance with Dragons

The Count of Monte Cristo, by Alexandre Dumas
In my opinion, Alexandre Dumas' classic tale of revenge is one of the best revenge stories ever told. It's a sprawling and rich story, with so much tragedy, heartbreak, love, sorrow and redemption that it's enough to take your breath away. I've re-read this book a few times, and it always reminds me that some classics are classics for a very good reason.

The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, by Douglas Adams
Funny, hilarious, and absolutely gloriously original - Douglas Adams' take on science fiction, science, and the universe is a modern classic. This is a book for adults that young adults might also find irresistible. The "trilogy of four books" makes for great reading anytime, anywhere.

Friday, May 30, 2014

13 book tips from, and for, my traveling kids

Slowly but surely my family is gearing up to travel later in June. To-do-lists are right around the corner, the kids are wondering which stuffed animals they will be squashing into their hand-luggage this year, and this year for the first time, we are making plans for who will look after our dog while we're away.

Books are very important in my family, when we're traveling and when we're at home. These days, I don't leave home without several books for my kids and myself loaded on my Kindle. Here are some of the titles that my children have enjoyed lately, and some that I want to check out with them in the near future.

Load them on your e-reader or other electronic device, buy them as a paperback, or as a fancy hard-cover. There's just nothing like sharing a good story with your kids.

The Hobbit, by J.R.R. Tolkien
Both my kids (7 and 11 years old now) really enjoyed Tolkien's classic tale about Bilbo Baggins and his adventures with Elves, Dwarves, and the dragon Smaug. The movie is everywhere these days, and I do love Peter Jackson's take on Middle-earth, but the original is still the best.

The Harry Potter-series, by J.K. Rowling
My daughter got absolutely hooked on the Harry Potter-universe, and we spent most of last year and the beginning of this year reading our way through Harry's quest to defeat Voldemort, and make it through school! The later books do get darker in tone, but the Potter-verse is a very captivating world for kids to explore.

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, by L. Frank Baum 
This classic is my son's favourite book. He loves the movie as well. Just a straight-up excellent read for kids and adults.

Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH, by Robert C. O'Brien
This is a wonderful tale about some very unusual rats, and how they end up helping mrs Frisby move house, and save her family. It was made into a Disney movie as well, but the book is much superior, at least in my opinion.

Comet in Moominland (and other Moomin-books) by Tove Jansson
Finland's Tove Jansson created a very special world in her stories about the Moomin-family and their life in Moomin-valley. I haven't read these books to my kids yet, but they received them as presents earlier this year, and I've been saving them for summer reading.

Adventure Time Comic Book, Volume 1
And I thought Spongbob was weird! If you haven't explored the strange, twisted, twisting, and absolutely unique world of the TV-show Adventure Time you are in for a treat (though you might just wonder if you're awake or dreaming!). It might not be for everyone, but my kids are in love with Finn and Jake, Princess Bubblegum, Gunther the evil penguin, the Ice King, Treetrunks, and the rest of the gang. (Yes, there's a reason our puppy was named Jake!). This cartoon-version was a hit with my son.

The Chronicles of Narnia, by C.S. Lewis
Another classic, and one that is a real joy to share with kids. My daughter especially loves "The Magician's Nephew", but the entire series makes for a wonderful reading experience.

Ronia, the Robber's Daughter, by Astrid Lindgren
This is a wonderful tale by Sweden's Astrid Lindgren, and my mother started reading it to the kids last summer. It's all about Ronja, who grows up in the wild woods, populated by robbers and strange, dangerous, as well as wonderful creatures. Lindgren is without a doubt the most popular author in Sweden, and her books are well worth exploring wherever you live in the world.

Why Do Horses Neigh? , by Joan Holub
Non-fiction books do have their place as well, and I find that the kids usually really like reading these kinds of books themselves. Both can now read, which is wonderful, and easy-to-read non-fiction makes for excellent practice. 

Beezus and Ramona, by Beverly Cleary
This book, written in 1955, is absolutely delightful and at times hilariously funny. Ramona is the quintessential trouble-making little sister, and Beezus is her suffering older sister. The stories about their trials and tribulations are so close to real life, and have a real ring of truth.

Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, by Lewis Carroll
This is yet another classic story that never, ever gets old. Wonderfully crazy, kooky and weird, it still holds up as a captivating and thoroughly entertaining fantasy-romp.

Howl's Moving Castle, by Diana Wynne Jones
My kids already loved Hayao Miyazaki's movie version of this story, but the books is a masterpiece in its own way. The story and characters are different than in Miyazaki's adaptation, but I think that the differences just makes the reading more interesting (my kids agreed). Sophie's adventures after she's cursed by the witch of the Waste, her encounter with the wizard Howl and the fire demon Calcifer make for a great story to read aloud.

Dr, Seuss-stories, by Dr. Seuss
Nobody rhymes things better than dr Seuss, and kids just really seem to love his quirky stories and characters. Great for new readers, and a lot of fun to read to the kids as well. I'm picking up one of the collections for my Kindle this year, though I haven't decided which one. I know my kids love The Sleep Book, The Lorax, Horton Hears A Who, The Sneetches, and many more of his classic stories.