Tag Archives: West Sweden Tourist Board

Reading Retreats #2: The Weather Islands, Sweden

It is a general rule of thumb that when any of us go away, avid reader or not, we always make sure we have some reading time scheduled in on our holidays, yet we never think of having a holiday that is simply a reading retreat do we? I have to admit I find it hard to find a quiet space to read in my own home so wouldn’t it be great to have trips away that were just ‘reading retreats’? Be they somewhere without readers and authors and booky types or somewhere completely out of the way, surrounded in almost silence where you can just read and relax in the remoteness. In the case of the later I might have discovered the perfect place, The Weather Islands. The furthest islands West of Sweden yet within 40 minutes of a boat ride of the mainland.

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Väderöarna is a protected marine nature reserve where one passed you can only see the horizon for miles, no sign of life apart from seals, gulls and the odd dolphin on occasional summers. It actually feels like you are on the edge of the world. On it however there are some holiday cottages and the wonderful Väderöarna Vardshaus Inn, a wonderful guest house that sits right between two of the bays that interlinks Storo Island and Ramno Island. These buildings were all part of a community of pilots from the 1750’s until the 1960’s. These were set up with a lighthouse on the islands as the amount of ships that were wrecked in the area was endangering lives at sea but also putting off trade on the land. It is like walking straight into the past.

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As you can see from the above pictured, the beautiful view from my bedroom, the Island isn’t teaming with people, in fact there are only about 10 or 12 buildings most of which are summer homes and so the silence is incredible. Perfect for reading! However even I can’t solely read for a whole day when there are such natural wonders around but fret not there are three options available on the island when you need a break from a book. The first is hiking…

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Sweden has reinvigorated my love of hiking hugely and it is thanks to a trekking in Fjallbacka, Valo Island (more on that in a few weeks) and The Weather Islands. Not only is the scenery stunning…

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Where you have to play ‘spot the posts’ as wooden posts guide you through rocky terrain, marshes and a woodland that suddenly creeps up on you – being the adventurer again. The wildlife is incredible. I saw seals, Guillemots and lots and lots of toads which live in abundance as there are no predators (bar the occasional gull) on the island, they are honestly everywhere…

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You also couldn’t feel more like you were walking in a Cold Crime novel if you tried…

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There are also a few of my other favourite pastimes on the Weather Islands. There is marvellous swimming, in some of the clearest waters (which in summer get to over 20 degrees) I have ever splashed about in and also the quietest. I had an entire cove just to myself like a private swimming pool, though I have saved you from the horrors of me paddling. There is also an amazing restaurant on the island, part of the Inn, where I had one of the best prawn starters of my life, seriously…

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They also have a bar where guests of the Inn, folks from the summer houses and boats and a few toads can all sit together, chatter, read or just ‘be’ and watch one of the most spectacular sunsets I have ever seen in my life.

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Yes, I had a little weep as I have done before in Tel Aviv and Iceland when the beauty of the world hits you with a wallop (I have also since done this just down the road in Wales which I will share soon) and just leaves you speechless. A blissful place which for me was much more a ‘heaven in the sea’ than a ‘hell on earth’ which is what the folk of the past used to call it. A perfect reading retreat indeed.

Why is it that we go on holidays and schedule in time for reading yet we don’t just go away on a reading retreat? For example we schedule time by the pool or on a lounger on the beach if we are off somewhere hot, or we use the travel time as quality reading time. When I fly to America in a few days I am seeing the almost twenty four hour journey (three flights one long stop in Chicago) there as a day which I can dedicate to reading. (Forgetting the facts that I will have the panic sweats on the plane, possibly get sidetracked by a film or three, or be asleep – the latter being unlikely as I will be in a panic about being 30,000ft up in a tin can, though would be ideal as I have a horrid feeling I might be slightly over tired when I arrive in Asheville.) Should we not just take reading breaks away? If so where have you been that is a perfect reading retreat and where would you love to go?

This post is the fifth and final post in a week of Savidge Reads in Sweden after I was sent by the lovely people at the West Sweden Tourist Board to go on a cold crime adventure.

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Reading Retreats #1: Fjallbacka; Where Fact and Fiction Meet (Part II)

So after our first walk through the village of Fjallbacka the other day (which only lead up to lunchtime with much more to discover after) visiting some of the sites from Camilla Lackberg’s series of books I thought in the second instalment I would take you to a place that inspired her. I wanted to say that this is the place inspired the novel yet it might have just inspired the murder that opens it – why quibble though, it was inspiration behind The Preacher in some way.

I am always fascinated by what can inspire an author and so, having been forewarned that it was quite a hike and I should take a bottle of water and a Mendelberg cake, I turned from Ingrid Berman Square (which I shared with you the other day) and headed to the start of Kungsklyftan, which leads you on a walk through and then over the mini-mountain of Vetteberget.

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Now when the lovely Emelie, of the West Sweden Tourist Board, said that all you had to do initially was walk up a few steps I think she might have made a small understatement as the first thing that greeted me after I had turned the corner was these wooden steps which lead you high off up into the wilderness.

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Having climbed those, had a quarter of my bottle of water and a third of my Mendelberg cake (which is a meringue bigger than most average human hands) to keep my fluids and sugar levels up I spotted that the previous steps had been a walk in the park, almost literally, as what lay ahead was stone steps in the most liberal sense of the word.

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Whilst climbing them I felt a real sense of adventure, especially as the walk was pretty much deserted. I was suddenly taken back to my youth when I was sent off ahead on walking holidays to ‘go and find the route’ up a mountain. There is also a wonderful sense of history of the place especially when you come to the level and are greeted by this…

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This is the path that goes over an old fault which was created by an earthquake in the ice age (yes I did wonder both if there might be one right then and what would happen and also if I might fall at any moment into the earths core – not that I am a drama queen at all) and as you can see amazingly three rocks go wedged by the ice and earthquake and all those tectonic shenanigans and have been wedged there ever since (and yes I did briefly worry that they might choose that minute to fall and flatten me) – isn’t it amazing?

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You can certainly see why Camilla Lackberg was haunted/fascinated/inspired by this place to stick a dead body down it, it does make a good place for someone to leave one that is at some point going to be found – as is the plan of the killer in The Preacher. It is a stunning place that at once feels rather out of this world and yet really grounds you to the earth and reminds you that you are on this big huge rock spinning through space. Before that made my head hurt I headed up a much steeper set of wooden steps to the top, and what a view awaited me…

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The whole of Fjallbacka (though this is only the old side as wordpress won’t let me upload panoramic photos) and the Islands that surround it lie before you, beautiful. I spent a wonderful forty minutes just looking at the view (and eating more Mendelberg) before the sun started to set and I knew it was time to head back down and onwards towards dinner.

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As everyone loves a food picture (oh come on you know they do) I thought I would share with you the amazing starter that arrived in the restaurant, which also luckily enough happened to be at my hotel – Stora Hotellet Bryggan which Lackberg used to base Erica’s parents home on in her books – where I got to watch this whilst I devoured more food and a cheeky cider or two.

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I am slightly obsessed with sunsets, I think they are one of the most beautiful natural daily occurrences ever, and this was one of the three up to that point that made me a bit breathless and weepy, you wait till we go to the Weather Islands in the next post though!

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Will all that it was time for this wanderer and adventurer to head to his bed, which aptly is where a sailor is once supposed to have laid his head after his adventures at sea and also aptly has a Victorian feel which is my favourite era, before more adventures (and several boat trips) awaited him next…

This post is the fourth post in a week of Savidge Reads in Sweden after I was sent by the lovely people at the West Sweden Tourist Board to go on a cold crime adventure.

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The Preacher – Camilla Lackberg

It is unusual for me to review two novels by the same author in succession but then it unusual for me to read several novels by the same author in quick succession. Or having, as some of you may like to call it, a binge read. However this is what I did with Camilla Lekberg’s first three novels whilst I was in the place that they were set, the stunning village of Fjallbacka. Having enjoyed The Ice Princess I was looking forward to The Preacher, I didn’t realise that in many ways they would be polar opposites of each other…

Harper Books, paperback, 2009, fiction, 432 pages, bought by my good self

When a young boy goes out to play one morning in Fjallbacka and discovers the body of a girl, Detective Patrik Hedstrom is called to investigate a murder cutting short his summer holiday at home with wife Erica. However things get more complicated, and Patrik’s holiday is cut short, when they discover a further two skeletons have been left under the body of the recent victim. Could these be the bodies of two girls who mysteriously disappeared back in the 1970’s which became linked to the Hult family? If so does that mean that they may have had the wrong man down for murder or that a member of the Hult family has been biding their time? Or do they have a new killer who is copying the murders of the 1970’s? As another girl goes missing, a killer needs to be uncovered quickly.

As I mentioned above The Preacher interestingly is like a polar opposite of The Ice Princess. Here I should note that I don’t mean that it is a bad novel as I enjoyed the first, I enjoyed this one equally. However Lackberg seems to have turned everything on its head for her second novel. First of all there is the fact that we were previously in Fjallbacka in the depths of winter, the snow was thick on the ground adding a cold and icy edge to the book. This time however we are in the dead heat of summer. Fjallbacka is sweltering, much to the Erica’s dismay as she is eight months pregnant, yet this cleverly brings the tense balmy heat which can be just as hard to deal with as the severe cold and seems to bring out the madness in people.

The second, and probably biggest, change is that our focus has completely switched from Erica to Patrik. In The Ice Princess we followed Erica as she tried to find out the mysteries behind her friend Alex’s death as an amateur investigator with a personal link to it all. In The Preacher we have a novel that is much more of a police procedural as we follow Patrik and his team and their investigation.

He began writing down notes about how he was going to handle the investigation into the Tanja case.  First, contact the German police authorities, which he had been about to do when he was interrupted by the call from Tord Pedersen. Then he had to talk with Liese again, and finally he thought he’d get Gosta to drive out to the campground with him and ask around. See whether Tanja might have spoken to anyone there. Or perhaps it would be better to ask Patrik to assign that task to Gosta. In this investigation Patrik, not Martin, had the authority to give orders to Gosta. And things had a tendency to go much more smoothly if protocol was followed to the letter.

This adds two new dynamics though as we get a new cast of characters, like the brilliant Annika who keeps it all together and the more complex Martin and Gosta. We also get a detective who has a happy home life which is unusual in the genre, they are normally angry drunks in their spare time. It also adds some light relief and comedy into the mix as Erica and Patrik keep getting deluged by unwanted guests who make themselves less and less welcome.

These light moments are needed as The Preacher is a very dark book. Without giving away any spoilers the Hult family have many secrets in their past and are not a happy bunch and the more we are given insight into their family life the darker things can get. We also have a continuation of the story of Erica’s sister, Anna, who has left her aggressive bullying husband and is now in a new relationship, but will this be any better? There is also of course the murders at the heart of the novel the mystery of them and also as importantly the emotions they bring up. Lackberg looks at how people are affected by the present murder and also that of a cold case, how does it affect those who have never been able to say a proper farewell when that final farewell comes?

She also throws in a rather brilliant and thought provoking strand as another girl goes missing. We follow the story of Jenny’s parents after her disappearance and as they have to wait to see if she will be discovered alive or be the latest victim of a cruel and torturing killer. This adds a real poignancy to The Preacher and really takes us into the lives of a family who are being torn apart by someone else’s cruelty. It is a side that we don’t always see in thrillers and gives both Lackberg and The Preacher a certain edge in the genre.

Seventeen years flickered quickly past like in some sort of internal film. Kerstin felt the weight of Jenny’s little new born body in her arms. Unconsciously she formed her arms into a cradle. The baby grew and after a while everything seemed to go so fast. Much too fast. Why had they spent so much of their precious time bickering and squabbling? If only she had known what was going to happen, she wouldn’t have said a single mean word to Jenny. Sitting at the table with a hole in her heart, she swore that if everything ended well, she would never raise her voice to her daughter again.

All in all the second in Lackberg’s series is a smart police procedural that delivers on dark thrills as it does on an emotional level. I also liked the ending, which does do what you might think – always a clever move. Lackberg is building a great cast of characters in a wonderful setting that I want to get to know better and follow further. I am hoping we get a little bit more Erica as we continue the series as I warmed to her so much in the first. Either way, I am looking forward to returning to Fjallbacka again.

This post is the third in a week of Savidge Reads in Sweden after I was sent by the lovely people at the West Sweden Tourist Board to go on a cold crime adventure.

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The Ice Princess – Camilla Lackberg

In preparation for my trip to Sweden I thought that it was time for me to read some Camilla Lackberg, especially as in essence Camilla was the reason that I was being sent off to her homeland of Fjallbacka by the lovely people at West Sweden tourism. Well believe you me I had many an offer to lend me a copy of The Ice Princess (you have to start at the beginning of a series don’t you?) because it turned out Camilla has a lot of fans in my office, which shouldn’t be a surprise as she has sold over 9,000,000 copies of her books. I have always meant to read her novels, partly because people like Gav have raved so much about her, yet been hesitant to start a new series of crime novels (as I think I am addicted to about five already, aren’t we all?) Fortunately Lackberg’s novels do stand out from the crowd…

Harper Books, paperback, 2008, fiction, 400 pages, borrowed from my mate Barb

Upon her return to her hometown following the death of her parents, Erica Falck begins to feel that death and tragedy might be following her when her childhood friend Alex is found dead in the bath with her wrists slashed. Erica and Alex’s friendship had however waned after Alex suddenly stopped speaking to her before leaving in her pre-teens. The bonds have not been forgotten by Alex’s parents who, as Erica is a semi-successful writer of biographies and has become a small celebrity in Fjallbacka, ask her to write about their daughter.

In doing so Erica starts to discover that the perfect life Alex had created wasn’t all that she made people believe and that there were many secrets in her past. It soon dawns on Erica that Alex may not have committed suicide at all, but who would want to kill her? Subsequently local detective in charge of the case Patrik Hedstrom is coming to the same conclusion and it looks like something from Alex’s past has returned to haunt her, but what and why?

It was eerie stepping into the shadowy house. Her fear of the dark made it hard for her to breathe, and she forced herself to take some deep breaths to calm her nerves. She thankfully remembered the torch in her coat pocket and said a silent prayer that the batteries were good. They were. The light from the torch made her feel a bit calmer.

You might be thinking this sounds very like a lot of other thrillers, be they cold crime or not, out there however Lackberg does several things that make this different. Firstly she invests heavily in her characters, Erica and Patrik come fully formed off the page foibles and all. Erica is restless with a longing for her homeland yet a desire to escape it and a small yearning to settle down despite herself, there is also the complicated relationship with her sister who she has become slightly estranged from due to her violent abusive husband. Patrik too is at a cross roads in his life after a failed marriage but guess what, he is actually a decent guy – no signs of being a bastard in the office or having a drink problem insight, which we see so often in this genre.

It would be true to say that The Ice Princess is not a thriller which has a plot which whizzes you into a page turning frenzy, yet we don’t always want that do we? It has a slower pace and uses other ways to grip the reader. After all there are other things that keep you reading on as the plot slowly twists and turns when more is brought to light about Alex and the mysteries surrounding both her life and death. The biggest being the town of Fjallbacka, where the mystery is set, and the people who inhabit it – obviously the fictional ones.

As we learn more about the village Fjallbacka itself becomes one of the main characters as Lackberg slowly builds its streets and its people, and the cast of peripheral characters and their stories within the stories are marvellous. Characters such as the lonely old woman who collects Santa’s and shows them off in her house so children come to visit her or a man so caught up in OCD that he dare not leave the house add to the layers of the setting and the book itself. These also add layers in terms of themes for the book be it loneliness, people stuck in unhappy marriages, grief and in the case of Erica’s sister the very big theme of domestic violence which often is harder to read than the murders as they start to rise.

Lackberg also throws the love story between Erica and Patrik into The Ice Princess. Now before I get accused of spoilers we learn very swiftly that Patrik and Erica know each other from their youths and he had a mammoth crush on her, so its hinted at from the off. I was really worried as I was thinking it was going to be really saccharine, in fact it is wonderfully developed and adds lightness to the book which does get darker and darker. If that wasn’t enough there is more. As someone who loves books and reading about them or the writing process there is also an interesting theme in The Ice Princess as Erica goes from writing her biographies to writing what might be her first novel. As the book continues we almost follow an author fictionally writing about writing, which gives the book another dynamic in a way.

At first, when she’d thought that Alex’s death was suicide, she’d considered writing a book to answer the question ‘why?’ It would have been more of a biography. Now the material was increasingly taking the shape of a crime novel, a genre to which she’d never felt particularly attracted. It was people – their relationships and psychological motivations – that she was interested in; she thought that was something most crime novels had to give up in favour of bloody murders and cold shivers running down the spine.

So all in all if you like your crime thrillers to be more than just twist after twist after page turning twist then I would recommend you give The Ice Princess a whirl. It is one of those crime novels that not only has a mystery, and indeed a rather grim and horrendous one, at its heart but also looks at the way a murder affects the characters and the place around it with multiple layers and facets. It seems I might have a new crime series to regularly dip in and out of.

In truth I have already read the first three, more on those soon, and if that wasn’t enough in my next post I will be taking you on a tour of the town of Fjallbacka and some of its murder sites. I really do spoil you rotten don’t I? In the meantime though who else had read The Ice Princess and Lackberg’s series and what have you made of them?

This post is the first in a week of Savidge Reads in Sweden after I was sent by the lovely people at the West Sweden Tourist Board to go on a cold crime adventure.

 

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