Thursday, July 26, 2012

Some Kind of Peace

By Camilla Grebe and Asa Traff
Translated by Paul Norlen
New York, Free Press, 2012
315 pages     Fiction

Some Kind of Peace explores the concept of peace and death. Life is so full of torment that it is only through death that peace can be found. 

Siri Bergman is a psychologist in private practice in Stockholm Sweden. As the details of Siri’s life emerge, it becomes clear that she is vulnerable in many ways. Her husband had died in a diving accident, and Siri hasn’t moved on from her overwhelming grief.  A young patient is murdered and left on the beach near Siri’s home. It is obvious that the young woman was killed as a warning to Siri, who has been having ominous things happen that have made her realize that someone is stalking her. Could it be a patient? A co-worker? With the help of a young policeman, her best friend Aina, and an older colleague, she begins to piece the clues together. The conclusion is abrupt, devastating, and surprising. 

Some Kind of Peace has a lot of the darkness of the Scandinavian mystery genre that has become so very popular in the past few years. The poem at the beginning of the book by poet Erik Blomberg is a foreshadowing of both the plot and the outcome. “Do not be afraid of darkness, for in darkness rests the light.” Although Siri’s patients have their own darkness, her grief and her inability to move beyond it makes her feel that she is not helping them appropriately. She doubts her own ability to treat their personality disorders. The therapy sessions have a ring of authenticity to them that comes from the author’s own psychotherapy training. We read the therapy sessions carefully wondering if indeed one of these patients may be the murderer. Additionally, we learn enough about Siri’s coworkers that we also wonder about them as well. Each has their own darkness.

Siri is not the usual mystery crime-solver, nor is she a usual victim. Her overwhelming grief overrides all her concerns and actions. The reader comes to appreciate her vulnerability and her need to heal in her own way. It becomes fairly obvious that her healing would have taken a lot longer if not for the murder, the stalking, and the help of a young policeman. It is not until the end that we come to an understanding of the reason for the prolonged grief and isolation. The title of the book, Some Kind of Peace, is appropriate because out of the chaos, Siri is able to begin to find the beginnings of her own peace. “Don’t be afraid of darkness; it holds the heart of light.”

Some Kind of Peace is very elegantly written by Grebe and Traff, sisters and co-authors. The plot alternates between Siri’s solitary and isolated life, her therapy sessions with a series of patients, the thoughts of the murderer, and the events leading up to Siri’s husband’s death. Labeling at the beginning of the chapters helps keep the plot pieces together. The translation is very well done by Paul Norlen; it is difficult to remember that this is a translated work. Some Kind of Peace is the first in a series and the first to be translated and published in the United States.

The Swedish mystery genre has become a favorite of mine. I read, of course, the entire Girl with the Dragon Tattoo series, and I have also read Camille Lackberg’s novels about the fishing village of Fjallbacka. You can links to those reviews following this blog posting. 

The team of Grebe and Traff is formidable. I was fascinated about how they work together. They claim that they have created a “third voice” that writes the novel. They discuss the plot together, each writes a bit and then they speak through email and phone calls. They rarely work together. My sister and I would love to write together, and I think that working remotely and linking up by email would be a good way to proceed.

We are at a summer cottage on Lake Michigan with a large portion of our extended family. It is a testament to the strength of this novel that I was able to read it in the midst of grandchildren running around, Euchre games being played, lots of beach time, and meals being planned and executed. I received the book from the publisher and can highly recommend it.

Some Kind of Peace has just been released in the United States and there are few reviews in English for it, nor could I find the authors’ English website.

Blog postings about Swedish mysteries:
Books by Steig Larsen:
Books by Camilla Lackberg:

Monday, July 16, 2012

Game of Secrets

by Dawn Tripp
New York, Random House, 2011
253 pages     Fiction

I was relieved when I read many of the reviews  that my problems with Game of Secrets weren’t mine alone. This should have been a quick read, but instead it dragged on for me for two weeks of falling asleep, getting bored, not caring. And I was really sorry about it, because the prose is so lovely that I wanted to relate to the book. Besides, I play Words with Friends (a scrabble-like game) every day and Scrabble is one of the lynch-pins in the plot. The Scrabble game is what first whetted my curiosity for the book. However, as one Good Reads reviewer says “The Scrabble game doesn't cut it for interest or metaphor.” And that is precisely what I felt.

The stream-of-consciousness prose style intrigued me at first. Let me give you an example: “…and even in the dead winter, her favorite season, that certain honesty of winter, all things stripped back to being only what they are: even then, on those Saturdays of the most unkind weather, when the northeast gales drove in off the sea, and the cold flooded under the walls of the house that had not settled well—the wind in a high-pitched sudden whistle swelling up in the belly of the carpet by a gust.” Unfortunately, the prose doesn’t wear well, and after while, the reader wants to say, “Oh, for heaven’s sake, just get on with it.” The problem is that the characters who would be thinking such lyrical prose are not the characters that inhabit the book. These are small-town hard-bitten characters, and one wouldn’t expect profundity in their thoughts. The language is poetic and flows in beautiful, idyllic ways, but the characters are crass, and the beautiful prose is lost in their un-idyllic behavior. I wanted to like them because their inner thoughts are so beautiful, but sadly, their inner beauty isn’t matched by their outward actions. Several reviewers thought that the author was trying a bit too hard. 

I didn’t like any of the characters; I couldn’t identify with any of them. All the way through the book, I wanted to say, who cares? Also, there was a mystery, but by the time the mystery is solved, the writing has scrambled your brain to the extent that you couldn’t remember who did what or why. 

My readers know that I am a very tolerant reader, and I can usually find good in most of the books I read. Additionally, I am usually able to relate the story or the plot to some aspect of my life. I thought I could link up with the Scrabble game; that perhaps the Scrabble game would relate to the plot or the killer or something. Sadly, I could find no link. 

One reviewer said: “The author couldn't seem to decide what this book should be - murder mystery, family conflict, ties of one's hometown...or who the story should be about - Marne? Jane? Huck? And the great conflict between Marne and her Mom (Samuel) is poorly explained. Ultimately a jumble that adds up to not much.

So, dear readers, let me just write this off as two lost weeks. Now on to better things. 

Dawn Tripp is the author of two other well-regarded novels, Moon Tide and the Season of Open Water. Maybe you had better try one of those. Her website is:

Monday, July 9, 2012

Slimmer: The New Mediterranean Way to Lose Weight

 By Harry Papas
Nashville, Turner Publishing, 2012
244 pages    Non-Fiction

 Harry Papas is a Greek dietitian who has utilized the principles of the Mediterranean Diet to create a three cycle weight loss and life change eating plan. Slimmer is very clearly written, the diet plan seems doable, and the recipes are delightful.

Papas outlines the components of The Mediterranean Diet as:
·         Fresh fruits and vegetables
·         Lean protein
·         Whole grains
·         Dairy products
·         Olive oil

These are not new concepts but are very plainly laid out in Slimmer. Everything makes sense with this easy-to-follow eating plan. Each 21-day eating cycle is progressive and creative. My one difficulty with the plan is that each day has a menu, but there is no basic outline for the diet, and one has to deduce the components of each day from the menus. A list of daily requirements would have been helpful. There is an exchange list of fruit, but not for any of the other foods. 

 What makes this book different from other diet books are the delicious Mediterranean recipes. His mother owns a taverna on Cefalonia Island in Greece and many of the wonderful recipes come from her kitchen there. Most of the main course recipes utilize seafood, and since I am always looking for ways to cook fish and seafood, I was particularly pleased to a find recipe for Baked Fish and Vegetables Aegean Style (p. 126) and Easy Seafood Risotto (p. 128).

Papas closes Slimmer with the psychology that has guided his career helping people achieve their ideal weight.  His insights include ways in which to make changes in order to create a new relationship with food. One of the things that makes his plan more useable than some is that he acknowledges that small pleasures are part of the psychology of losing weight. This includes what he calls “happy moments,” a break in the day where you can eat something that will taste especially good to you. For me, that would be the ounce of dark chocolate. For my husband, it would be a small glass of wine. He also advocates occasional free days, which is a comforting thought. 

Here are two of the creative recipes from Slimmer:

Slimmer Greek Salad Pizza
  • 2 cups Mediterranean greens such as escarole, romaine and radicchio
  • 1/4 cup cherry or grape tomatoes
  • 1/4 cup sliced cucumber
  • 1/4 cup sliced green bell pepper
  • 2 tablespoons shaved red onion
  • 4 to 6 Kalamata olives
  • 2 ounces crumbled feta cheese
  • 2 teaspoons olive oil
  • A drizzle of balsamic vinegar
  • A pinch of dried oregano
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 2 individual pre-baked pizza crusts
  • 2 tablespoons marinara sauce
  1. For the salad, toss together the greens, tomatoes, cucumber, bell pepper and onion in a medium bowl.
  2. For the dressing, mix together the olive oil, balsamic vinegar, dried oregano, salt and pepper.
  3. Preheat the oven according to pizza crust directions. Place the crusts on a baking sheet and spread the marinara sauce on top. Chop the olives and sprinkle them over the sauce along with the crumbled feta.
  4. Bake according to package instructions, or until the cheese melts and the pizza is well heated and crisp on the edges, about 12 minutes. Remove from the oven and transfer to a serving dish.
  5. Toss the salad with the dressing and pile half on top of each cooked pizza. Serve immediately.

Baked Fish and Vegetables Aegean Style

Have your fishmonger fillet your snapper or use a boneless, skinless cod or scrod fillet in this aromatic dish that will take you to the Aegean coast in no time. A variation of the dish beloved by diners at the Taverna.
2 teaspoons olive oil
8 oz red snapper fish (3 or 4 medium-size fillets)
1 medium garlic clove, roughly chopped
Salt and pepper to taste
1/2 medium onion, thinly sliced
1/2 red bell pepper, seeded and thinly sliced
1/2 medium zucchini, cut into 1/2-inch circles
3 baby carrots, thinly sliced
2 plum tomatoes, roughly chopped
1/4 cup dry white wine
Finely chopped fresh parsley to serve

  1. Preheat the oven to 350° F. Drizzle the olive oil in the bottom of a medium-size casserole with a lid. Place the fish in a single layer on the bottom, sprinkle the garlic, salt, and pepper over, and place the onion, pepper, zucchini, carrots, and tomatoes evenly over and around. Sprinkle again with salt and pepper, and drizzle the white wine over all.
  2. Cover and bake in the oven, occasionally stirring the vegetables to cook evenly, being careful not to break apart the fish, until they are tender and the fish is cooked through, about 1 hour.
  3. Before serving sprinkle with the chopped parsley.
Makes 2 servings

Harry Papas website:

Monday, July 2, 2012

The Meryl Streep Movie Club

By Mia March
New York, Gallery Books, 2012
325 pages     Fiction
The Short List

My summer beach reads are usually mysteries. At one point in my life, all I read was mysteries. For many women, however, the beach read of choice is generally “chick lit.” The Meryl Streep Movie Club falls into that category. 

My husband asked me what “chick lit” was when I mentioned that I was reading The Meryl Streep Movie Club. I told him these details: two teenage girls, June and Isabel, lose their parents in a car accident along with their uncle, the father of their cousin, Kat. Their Aunt Lollie who runs an inn in Maine raises all three girls. When the book begins they are all three called home for an important announcement. One woman has just dumped a cheating husband, one woman is looking for the father of her 7-year-old son, and the third woman is debating whether she loves her long-time best friend. That, I said, is chick-lit in a nutshell. Even the aunt, Lolly, has her secrets.

The intriguing literary device utilized in The Meryl Streep Movie Club is that the three women and Lolly watch movies every Friday night at the inn. This is Meryl Streep month, and the choices of movies mirror in several ways the dilemmas the women are facing. They watch Mama Mia, Kramer vs. Kramer, It’s Complicated, The Bridges of Madison County, Heartburn, Defending Your Life, Postcards from the Edge, and Out of Africa. Typical to women watching DVDs, there are lots of comments during the movies, as the women find that they are relating their life situations to the situation Meryl Streep faces in the movies.

The reviewer in the Book Reporter sums up her review in this way: “THE MERYL STREEP MOVIE CLUB has plenty of tidy endings—enough to make any big-time Hollywood producer happy—but  it also takes a realistic approach to the dilemmas facing Isabel, June and Kat, not to mention Lolly herself. March's debut novel is a romantic, heartfelt read, one that will likely be pulled out of beach bags from California to the coast of Maine this summer season.”

When I received this book from the publisher, I decided that watching Meryl Streep movies sounded like a really good idea. I think that she is the greatest living American actress, particularly in her ability to play people other than herself. I absolutely loved her in The Devil Wears Prada and Julie and Julia, and although I haven’t seen The Iron Lady yet, I know that she is marvelous in that one as well. I ordered Out of Africa from Netflix, and while I was waiting, I watched Woody Allen’s Manhattan, which I believe is one of her first movies. Then I watched Kramer vs. Kramer, which is the first movie that I remember knowing who Meryl Streep was. When Out of Africa arrived, I made my husband watch it with me. His comment was “Well this movie doesn’t go anywhere but it is extremely compelling. I thought I’d get up and leave, but I really liked it.” What’s my favorite Meryl Streep movie? I think I would have to say either Sophie’s Choice or Adaptation; Sophie’s Choice for the magnificent character and Adaptation for the way in which she brought credibility to a basically quirky movie. (As an aside, I love quirky movies.)

In the case of The Meryl Streep Movie Club, however, I need to say that the literary device was better than the actual book. In other words, the movie(s) was better than the book. Read the book on the beach and then have your own Meryl Streep movie month.

The author has another movie-related summer book coming out in 2013. It involves another famous actor, Colin Firth, and it is called Finding Colin Firth. I love Colin Firth. Want to join me in a Colin Firth movie marathon?

Here is a really good summary of the book in Kirkus Reviews:
Mia March’s website: