Victoria Hislop: The Island (review)

Disclaimer: I read this novel in 2015 but even though I wrote the review at the time, never published it.

IMG_9115This year for our summer holiday, we went to Crete in Greece. A beautiful island. Our favorite part of the trip was the day we visited the small island Spinalonge close to Crete. Spinalonga has seen it’s part of history through the ages. The Venetians fortified the island in the 16th century and later, the Ottomans took over the island. But what interests me the most and the reason why we went to visit the island, was the fact that it was a leper colony from 1903 to 1957.

islandWhen we visited, our tour guide mentioned a novel taking place on Spinalonga. I managed to track down the novel in a store on Crete. Apparently, Victoria Hislop visited Spinalonga and was fascinated by the island and it’s history and got inspired to write a family saga where part of it takes place on Spinalonga.

The frame for the story is Alexis Fielding, a young woman whose Greek mother Sofia is withdrawn and never talks about her past. Alexis goes on vacation to Crete with her boyfriend, Sofia gives her a letter to one of her childhood friends and tells her to ask her about the past.

Alexis then learns about her great-grandmother Eleni who was a school teacher who became a leper and had to leave her husband and two daughters and go live on the island just across the water. Eleni builds a life for herself on the island and becomes part of the society which is thriving on the island.

Meanwhile, her two daughters choose very different paths. Anna is ambitious while Maria is more caring. Anna manages to get the son of the richest family in the area to marry her and while the marriage is not exactly a happy one, she finds ways to entertain herself. Her sister Maria stays home and watches their father.

But this is not a family destined for happy endings. And out of both love and tragedy, a little girl Sofia is born. A child who grows up and suddenly finds her world shattered and decides to leave her home and family for good. And only her daughter Alexis’ return to Crete, brings Sofia full circle and face to face with her past.

I think my favorite character was Giorgis, Eleni’s husband and Maria and Anna’s father. He was just a man who carried on despite adversity and when he lost his wife, he did his best to take care of his girls. He went to the island every day, ferrying goods and people to Spinalonga. He kept on going to the island and he did so while listening to his friends talking pejoratively about the lepers out of fear and stupidity.

But still, even though I enjoyed this character, overall the characters felt a bit flat. They felt one-sided and not all that developed. Anna was all just driven by her ambition and her needs and desires while Maria is all good and caring. There is not much development.

I really enjoyed parts of this novel. The storyline taking place on Spinalonga and detailing the lives of the people exiled to live here, was fascinating and interesting. Unfortunately, a lot of the novel didn’t take place here and the family drama became a bit too much. Add to this that the storyline framing the main story was a bit bland and predictable. I’m not sure that I would have enjoyed the novel as much if I hadn’t been to Spinalonga and seen the remains of the houses and streets where the lepers walked.

First line: Plaka, 1953. A cold wind whipped through the narrow streets of Plaka and the chill of the autumnal air encircled the woman, paralyzing her body and mind with a numbness that almost blocked her senses but could do nothing to alleviate her grief.

  • Title: The Island
  • Author: Victoria Hislop
  • Publisher: Headline Review
  • Year: 2005
  • Pages: 489 pages
  • Source: Own collection
  • Stars: 3 stars out of 5



Holiday Reading

Each year at this time, there are some hard decisions to make. When going on holiday, one of course have to bring a book – or several. I agonized over this for days before I finally decided on which three to bring.
holidayreadingThese two are the ones that I actually got to read during the week we spent on the beautiful Spanish island of Mallorca. Now, I’m not one for spending too much time on a beach or next to a pool but the good thing about it is, that you do get some time to read. And luckily I brought these two amazing books – or rather this one long book split into two – and I loved them. I just finished them today so I will try to write reviews soon(-ish).
I also brought NOS4R2 by Joe Hill with me but didn’t have time to start reading it.
When spending time on the beach, I did notice that a lot of people were reading. The beach is the place where a lot of people read – more than people do in other places, or at least it seems so to me but then I don’t use a lot of public transportation (unfortunately). And after all the talk about the book being dead, I was happy to see that books were still the main go-to for people on the beach. Books or magazines. Things that doesn’t break when you get sand in them. Now I’m not coming out against e-books – I love my Kindle – but I still really liked to see people reading and people reading books.
And as you can see from the above picture, even though I try to keep sand out of my stuff, I still got sand – and a small fly – in my books…
Even though I was really impressed with the quality of books in the various tourist and beach shops, I didn’t buy any books for myself. We did however pick up a wonderful children’s book for the girls.
CuevasDelDrachThe last day we visited the amazing Cuevas del Drach. These caves are huge and beautiful and within the caves is one of the largest subterranean lakes in the world. When we exited the caves, we were completely awed by what we had seen and had to get this book about two children visiting the caves together with their grandparents and meeting the dragon living in the caves, Drach.
61pBtbFe4nL._SX258_BO1,204,203,200_The book is called Mariona & Max in the Caves of Drach. I love the idea of creating children’s book based on real places like this and I have enjoyed reading this book for the girls and talking to them about what we experienced on our trip. Especially since I haven’t found any books written by people from Mallorca, taking place on Mallorca or something similar. So we settled for this and it’s such a nice book.
According to the back cover, this book is part of a collection of books introducing kids to various places around the island – however, I haven’t been able to find any information about other books.
Anyway, that was my vacation experience and my holiday reading. What are you reading this summer?

Book shopping in Copenhagen

As part of our vacation activities this year, my boyfriend/fiancé and I took a day trip to Copenhagen – mainly to buy books. My favorite Danish bookshop is located på Rådhuspladsen in Copenhagen and the reason that I love it is, that it stocks all the new contemporary fiction – in English. I am of course talking aboutPolitikens Boghal which is one of the few places in Denmark where you have a great selection of fiction written in English. And since that’s what I read the most, of course this is my favorite bookshop.

So I bought 7 books in Politikens. 6 fiction, one non fiction. Most of these were already on my wish list and I’m excited about all of them.


  • Lev Grossman: The Magician King (The Magicians #2). The second volume in this fantasy series, inspired heavily by Harry Potter and Narnia.
  • Ramona Ausubel: No One is Here Except All of Us. A sort of 1001 Nights set in a tiny Jewish village in Romania in WWII.
  • Carlos Ruiz Zafon: The Prisoner of Heaven (The Cemetery of Forgotten Books #3). The final installment in this trilogy. The first one was amazing. I plan on reading all three together – hopefully soon.
  • Christos Tsiolkas: The Slap. What happens when a father slaps a child who is not his own? Simple premise – but I expect a lot from this Booker shortlisted novel.
  • John Lanchester: The Capital. I bought this book mainly because it takes place in London during the recession. An entire street in London with very different people, yet all receive a card in the mail with the same message on: We Want What You Have.
  • Tom Perrotta: The Leftovers. What happens after a rapture like event has removed millions of people from earth? How do the leftovers react and go about their lives, rebuilding societies etc?
  • Nicholas Joll (ed.): Philosophy & The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. I read The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy so many times as a teenager. I plan on reading it again soon – and this will be a wonderful companion read.

Close to Politikens, you can find a small bookstore in a cellar, FantaskFantask is the place to go if you wish to buy comics, graphic novels and fantasy.


  • L. Jagi Lamplighter: Prospero Lost. A fantasy version of Shakespeare’s The Tempest. Beautiful cover!
  • Terry Pratchett: Snuff. The newest paperback in the Discworld series. Can’t wait!
  • Neil Gaiman: The Doll’s House (Sandman #2). I am pretty sure I read the Sandman series years ago – now I’m slowly buying them for myself.

And finally, we also visited a sale. Again, very close to Politikens, there’s a huge – and I think permanent – book sale called Vangsgaards Bogudsalg. I mostly picked up some coloring books and picture books for the girls but I did pick up a couple of books for myself too – one of these unfortunately in Norwegian…!


  • Alan Moore: From Hell. Alan Moore’s take on Jack the Ripper. I’ve been wanting to read this book for years. But it sucks that I somehow ended up with a copy in Norwegian!
  • Jasper Fforde: Shades of Grey. I really like the one Thursday Next book I’ve read and the idea of your ability to see colors determining your place in society sounds intriguing.

So 12 books all in all did I carry back home in the train. Quite a good haul, I think. I’m looking forward to reading them!

Bookshopping in Paris (part 4)

Finally, the last installment in this short book shopping guide to Paris. On our last day, we visited the most commercial book store – which was also the store where I bought the greatest number of books. I do feel a bit bad about this since I prefer supporting the smaller bookstores which aren’t part of a chain but it just happened that this bookstore had a lot of books that I wanted. Also, this was the last bookstore so I knew I had to get everything I wanted here or I wouldn’t get it.


The bookstore I’m talking about is the WH Smith which is situated beautifully on the Place de la Concorde. I didn’t take any pictures of the outside since it’s exterior isn’t as interesting as the other shops (or more correctly, I was carrying a lot of books and just forgot…). I picked up 10 books in this store … and I could have bought even more but it was getting a bit hard carrying my stack as well as looking at more books.

Diana Gabaldon: Dragonfly in Amber (Outlander 2)

I read the first of the Outlander series in 2010 and although I liked it, I never got around to picking up the next volume. I’ve heard a lot of people talk about how much they love these books so I figured I needed to read a bit further in the series and see if the like will grow to love.

Robin Hobb: The Assassin’s Trilogy

My best friend Henrik has talked about this for years. He always says that I’m going to love it – but that I will bawl my eyes out because there’s parts of it that I’ll find very very sad. I hate reading about anything that hurts animals and there’s some of that in these books. At the same time, there’s amazing bonding between animals and humans and I hope that will overshadow the sad parts.

Jennifer Egan: A Visit from the Goon Squad

Winner of the 2011 Pullitzer Prize for fiction. I heard Jennifer Egan read a part of this book on the New York Times Book Review Podcast. She read a chapter where a woman is a public relation advisor for a dictator. She advises him to wear a light blue knitted cap – but he wears it the wrong way and everybody thinks he’s dying of cancer and it’s a mess. When she gets him to wear it the right way, everyone suddenly thinks he’s adorable and he gets the Nobel Peace Prize … It was so funny to hear and I can’t wait to read this!

Howard Jacobson: The Finkler Question

Winner of the 2010 Booker Prize. I kind of have an idea about wanting to read the Booker Prize winners. So far, I’m not doing very good on that. But first step is to get the book and now I have this one, last years winner. It sounds kind of funny so I think it’ll be a good read. I really liked Skippy Dies by Paul Murray that was on the long list that year so hopefully, this will be even better.

A.S. Byatt: Possession

I’ve written before about how A.S. Byatt intimidates me (here). But after having finished one of her novels and having watched the movie version of Possession, I wanted to read it even more so here it is.

Gabriel Garcia Marquez: One Hundred Years of Solitude

I’ve read Love in the Time of Cholera by Marquez and loved it, and this should be just as good or even better. I almost got Memories of my Melancholy Whores instead but I think I’m going to be glad that I picked this one.

Patrick Rothfuss: The Name of the Wind

I’m just so excited about this trilogy. The second volume was one of my most anticipated of the year, even though I haven’t read the first one …! I so think it sounds so so good. It doesn’t hurt either that this edition looks so amazing!

Joyce Carol Oates: We were the Mulvaney’s

Well, JCO is one of my all-time favorite authors. I just love her. I think this was the second novel I read by her (the first being Blonde). It’s been several years and I really want to re-read it.

So there you have it. This was the last Paris update. So the books featured in these 4 posts are some of the books you’ll get to see reviews of on the blog in the future. I think I did pretty good on my book shopping – at least I’m very happy with the books that came home with me. Of course, I could have easily bought more…

Bookshopping in Paris (part 3)

The same day as we visited The Village Voice, we also visited Abbey Bookshop – one of those secondhand bookshops where the books have taken over every available shelf or table long, long ago and now are everywhere, stacked on the floor and on the tables so you hardly dare breathe in there… Some of the shelves were already broken and more will most definitely break soon! The homepage describes it very well: “Looking at the groaning, jam-packed shelves and shaky stacks of books in the narrow store and crowded bookcases in the medieval basement, the new visitor could well wonder if there is any method to the inviting madness.” Yes, the new visitor definitely did that – and the new visitor never discovered a basement … Probably because the stairs were concealed by stacks and stacks of books … The owner is very helpful and friendly and my boyfriend did pick up an interesting non-fiction about the knights templar as well as another book. I, on the other hand, was so overwhelmed that I couldn’t even find one book to buy …

The second bookstore we made it to this, our second day in Paris, was Tea and Tattered Pages. Again, this is a secondhand bookshop and it seemed to have a lot of well-used and/or well-loved novels – especially romance fiction, it seemed to me. The owner was a kind, elderly lady with a gorgeous orange cat. There is really a lot of books in this store and contrary to Abbey Bookshop, these books are actually sorted in categories so it’s easier to browse. Neither of us bought anything though – but we both like our books to be worn out by ourselves … If you don’t mind that, this is a really great store!

Book shopping in Paris (part 2)

On this our first whole day in Paris, we made it to three book stores. The first of these was Village Voice. I had really looked forward to this store and knew it was one of the stores I wanted to go to. And it really is a good store. So many great fiction novels – especially contemporary.

I really think this is a great store and if you happened to live in Paris for a while, this would probably be the go-to store. Not only does it have all the new books and also a bit more of literary fiction than some stores, it also has a lot of great events happening. At least they look great on the website. Still, I only bought two books here  – although they have some books that I kind of wish I had bought too now … as well as I wish I had bought the Granta (Theme: 10 years after 9-11).

Lionel Shriver: We Need to Talk About Kevin

I’ve been wanting to read this book for so so long so when I saw it, I picked it up immediately. This is a book about a high school shooting with the main focus on the mother who never really wanted to be a mother and now have to come to terms with what role she played in his act. At least that’s what I think it’s about – we’ll see when I get to read it what it’s really about.

Amy Waldman: The Submission

I heard about this on the New York Times Book Review podcast and it sounded very interesting. It’s about 9-11 but not really. After a terrorist attack, a jury have to decide what memorial to build. After choosing the best one, they open the envelope and realize the architect is an American Muslim – and that kicks off a heated debate. I can’t wait to read this – I hope it will have a lot of insights into the America of today.

If you think you’ve read about these books before, it’s because I made a mistake and thought I had bought these two at Shakespeare & Co. So I’ve corrected the first Book Shopping in Paris post with the 4 books I bought at Shakesspeare & Co. so please check it out as well.

Book shopping in Paris (part 1)

Okay, I’ve edited this post since I messed up and posted about the wrong books … So here’s the corrected post with the books I really bought at Shakespeare & Co.

So I’ve just spent a few days in Paris and somehow I persuaded my boyfriend (now fiancee) to go to several bookstores – 5 in all – and I ended up bringing 16 books home. So look forward to short reviews of these 5 stores. And of course, I’m going to talk about the books I’ve bought!!

So on our day in Paris, we arrived late in the city, checked into the hotel and then went out for dinner. Afterwards, I was really happy to realize that Shakespeare & Co. was still open so that was our first book stop. I’ve visited Shakespeare and Co. before and it is really a great store. Lots and lots of books. Shakespeare and Co. has a lot of history and is always worth a visit. It’s very close to Notre Dame and the Seine and has a beautiful location.

So which books did I pick up in this great store? I picked up 4 books at this store.

Tetsu Saiwai: The 14th Dalai Lama

I have read a bit of a series of Mangas about Buddha and really loved it. So when I saw this Manga about the current Dalai Lama, I was instantly hooked.

Ali Smith: There but for the

I heard about this recently and really liked the idea. A man comes to a dinner party – and ends up locking himself in a room in the house for months (It’s inspired by a 1939 Broadway show The Man Who Came to Dinner). I read a few paragraphs in it before buying and the writing is what really sold me on it.

Paul Murray: Skippy Dies

I’ve heard a lot about this book on The Guardian Books Podcast and it has been heavily promoted on the Goodreads page as well. A supposedly funny book about growing up in an Irish boarding school.

Jeffrey Eugenides: The Marriage Plot

I’ve read Middlesex a while ago and really liked it so I have been looking forward to this new book from Eugenides. It sounds really interesting – he takes the marriage plot idea from authors like Jane Austen and then gives it a modern twist. I really need to get around to reading The Virgin Suicides as well.