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cook*create*read: August 2014

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Review: The Driver's Seat by Muriel Spark

The Driver's Seat by Muriel Spark

Publisher: Penguin Classics (2006)

First Published: 1970

From Goodreads:
Described as 'a metaphysical shocker' at the time of its release, Muriel Sparks' The Driver's Seat is a taut psychological thriller, published with an introduction by John Lanchester in Penguin Modern Classics.

Lise has been driven to distraction by working in the same accountants' office for sixteen years. So she leaves everything behind her, transforms herself into a laughing, garishly-dressed temptress and flies abroad on the holiday of a lifetime. But her search for adventure, sex and new experiences takes on a far darker significance as she heads on a journey of self-destruction. Infinity and eternity attend Lise's last terrible day in an unnamed southern city, as she meets her fate. 

One of six novels to be nominated for a 'Lost Man Booker Prize', The Driver's Seat was adapted into a 1974 film, Identikit, starring Elizabeth Taylor.


It is quite hard to review this novella without giving anything away, but I will try!  At just over 100 pages, I flew through this in a couple of hours.  It is a cleverly woven tale of a woman bored to death by her mundane life, and is a dark and compelling tale.  The reader knows from the first couple of pages what the outcome will be for Lise, and the journey to the conclusion is at times as funny as it is tense.  And then you feel awful for laughing at this poor woman who clearly has issues.  A very clever tale, told so succinctly and tightly with not a single wasted word!

This was my first read of Muriel Spark's work and I will definitely be seeking out something else by her.  This was was shortlisted for the 'Lost Man Booker Prize' in 2010 and anyone who likes a tense psychological thriller would love it.



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Friday, August 29, 2014

#FridayReads

It's Friday!  Time to share what I'll be reading over the weekend.


I am currently reading The Final Empire by Brandon Sanderson.  I was really grabbed right from the beginning, but it has tailed off a little ... hopefully it picks up again soon as I ordered the next two in the trilogy before I'd reached 100 pages!

I'm also currently reading Bleak House by Charles Dickens (read about my 'read the classics' challenge here!), so I will be continuing with that for the foreseeable future!

Hopefully I will finish The Final Empire either today or tomorrow and then I will be picking up Paper Swans by Jessica Thompson, which I received for review from Hodder & Stoughton (thank you!).

(#Friday Reads was created by @TheBookMaven)

What are you reading this weekend? Leave a comment and let me know if I need to add more books to my wish list!

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Thursday, August 28, 2014

Bout of Books: Wrap Up

Oops! I forgot to post my wrap up for the Bout of Books readathon!



I started and finished 3 books: Dead Wrong by Cath Staincliffe, The Secret Scripture by Sebastian Barry and 0.4 by Mike Lancaster.

I finished 1 book I'd already started: Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri

I started and did not finish 1 other book: How To Be Good by Nick Hornby

I reached my goal of completing 3 books, so that is good!  I don't really think the readathon made me read more than I usually do, but it was fun to interact with other participants on twitter and find some new blogs to stalk!  Thank you to the organisers of this readathon, I will no doubt join in again!

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Sunday, August 24, 2014

Bout of Books Update: Day 6

Saturday was quite a busy day, so not a huge amount of reading done.  I managed to finish 0.4 by Mike Lancaster, which was a quick, easy read (quite eery and tense, but didn't really live up to the freakiness of the cover!) and then read another short story from The Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri.  I've been reading this book all month, in between other books, and have been really enjoying being able to dip in and out of this!

Pages Read Today: 85 pages of 0.4 (finished!) and 22 pages of The Interpreter of Maladies = 107 pages
Total Pages Read: 623
Total Books Read: 3

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Saturday, August 23, 2014

Review: Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

Publisher: Arrow Books (2012)

First Published:  2011

From Goodreads:

It's the year 2044, and the real world is an ugly place.

Like most of humanity, Wade Watts escapes his grim surroundings by spending his waking hours jacked into the OASIS, a sprawling virtual utopia that lets you be anything you want to be, a place where you can live and play and fall in love on any of ten thousand planets. 

And like most of humanity, Wade dreams of being the one to discover the ultimate lottery ticket that lies concealed within this virtual world. For somewhere inside this giant networked playground, OASIS creator James Halliday has hidden a series of fiendish puzzles that will yield massive fortune — and remarkable power — to whoever can unlock them. 

For years, millions have struggled fruitlessly to attain this prize, knowing only that Halliday's riddles are based in the pop culture he loved — that of the late twentieth century. And for years, millions have found in this quest another means of escape, retreating into happy, obsessive study of Halliday's icons. Like many of his contemporaries, Wade is as comfortable debating the finer points of John Hughes's oeuvre, playing Pac-Man, or reciting Devo lyrics as he is scrounging power to run his OASIS rig. 

And then Wade stumbles upon the first puzzle. 

Suddenly the whole world is watching, and thousands of competitors join the hunt — among them certain powerful players who are willing to commit very real murder to beat Wade to this prize. Now the only way for Wade to survive and preserve everything he knows is to win. But to do so, he may have to leave behind his oh-so-perfect virtual existence and face up to life — and love — in the real world he's always been so desperate to escape. 

A world at stake. 
A quest for the ultimate prize. 
Are you ready?


Two things:  I am a child of the '80s - I was actually born in 1972, the same year as Halliday, the creator of the Oasis in Ready Player One.  Second thing: I am not a "gamer".  I probably would be if I was any good at computer games, but I am completely useless.  I am amazed by the creativity and imagination that goes into these games though - my son has a Playstation 4 and the graphics are truly amazing!   So what I'm trying to say is, yes, I identified with the whole 80's aspect of this book but not so much with the gaming aspect, and it truly didn't matter!

Ready Player One is a a great novel, whether you were lived through the 80s, are an avid gamer or have never picked up a joystick in your life.  I think it probably did help that I understood and identified with all the 80s references, which brought back a lot of fun memories, but the characters and storyline are so engaging that I don't think it matters when you were born.

I really loved the characters in this book and could totally understand why anyone would want to escape to the Oasis in the world described.  I particularly loved how the female characters were portrayed - girls have a reputation for being pretty useless at games and I'm sure this must irk the girl gamers out there! But in Ready Player One the girls are kick-ass strong characters who can certainly show the boys a thing or two!  All the characters have been through some pretty tough times in an austere world-gone-wrong, in an all too believable future!

This was a definite 5 star read for me right the way through .... until the end where I felt let down hugely by Mr Cline!  No spoilers, but I really wanted things to turn out a little differently from what I thought was the predictable ending, but that is my only tiny quibble.  

I would recommend this book to pretty much anyone!  If you like adventure stories and stories about people overcoming adversity, give this one a go!


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Bout of Books Updates: Days 4 and 5

Oops! Didn't get round to updating yesterday!

Thursday Summary:
Pages Read: 51
Total Pages Read: 409
Books finished:  1
Currently reading: The Secret Scripture by Sebastian Barry

Friday Summary:
Pages Read:  105 of The Secret Scripture by Sebastian Barry - finished! And 82 pages of 0.4 by Mike Lancaster = 187 pages
Total Pages Read:  516 pages
Books Finished:  2
Currently reading:  0.4 by Mike Lancaster

How's this for a freaky cover?!




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Thursday, August 21, 2014

Bout of Books Update: Day 3

Wednesday was a busy day, so I didn't get a ton of reading done.  I'm still going with The Secret Scripture, which is dragging a bit at the moment, but hoping it will pick up again soon!

Pages read: 40 (but we had fun visiting my brother and his dog at the seaside!)
Total pages read so far: 398


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Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Review (ish!): The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton

The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton

Publisher: Granta (2013)

First Published: 2013

Winner: Man Booker Prize 2013

From Goodreads:
It is 1866, and young Walter Moody has come to make his fortune upon the New Zealand goldfields. On the stormy night of his arrival, he stumbles across a tense gathering of twelve local men who have met in secret to discuss a series of unexplained events: A wealthy man has vanished, a prostitute has tried to end her life, and an enormous fortune has been discovered in the home of a luckless drunk. Moody is soon drawn into the mystery: a network of fates and fortunes that is as complex and exquisitely ornate as the night sky.

Richly evoking a mid-nineteenth-century world of shipping, banking, and gold rush boom and bus, The Luminaries is a brilliantly constructed, fiendishly clever ghost story and a gripping page-turner.

_________________________________

I received this book for Christmas, in that bundle from The Book People that I've spoken about before.  As it won the Man Booker Prize in 2013, and it was sitting on my shelf, I felt obliged to read it so decided to take the plunge during my 6 week summer holiday, when I knew I would have the time needed to tackle this tome!

I really enjoyed the setting of the story.  The town described in the novel sounded bleak, grim and depressing and the backdrop of the gold mines was very interesting to me.  Unfortunately this was only a small part of the book, and I would have liked to read more about this aspect (I will be looking out for other books about this era).  

The characters were numerous and many were quite similar so it was a little tricky to differentiate between them and follow who was who throughout the meandering tale.  The plot is very convoluted and confusing and really slow paced - Part 1 seemed to drag on interminably, but I was looking forward to subsequent parts as I believed that the pace would pick up a little.  Sadly this was not really the case, and the whole thing was just a drag.  Additionally, the whole astronomy angle that I'd heard much talk of was completely lost on me!  I nearly gave up several times, but willed myself to carry on.

The writing is, of course, beautiful, and I can completely understand why Eleanor Catton won the Man Booker Prize with this novel.  It reads like a classic and will undoubtedly be viewed as one in years to come.  Unfortunately I just did not connect with the characters or plot line in the story, resulting in a bored 2 star rating.  I do have Ms Catton's other novel, The Rehearsal, on my self, which is of a much friendlier size, so I will definitely give that a go at some point.

Great writing, just not for me!



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Bout of Books Update: Day 2

On Day 2 of Bout of Books, I gave up on How To Be Good by Nick Hornby (I will give it another shot at some point) and picked up The Secret Scripture by Sebastian Barry.


This took a little while to get into, but I'm now enjoying it although it is definitely not a jolly read!

Summary:
Pages read today: 115
Total pages read: 358
Total number of books read so far: 1
New blogs commented on today: 4

How was your day 2?

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Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Bout of Books Update: Day 1

Day 1 of the Bout of Books Readathon is done!  I had a pretty good reading day.  I managed to read one whole book :)


Cath Staincliffe is my go-to author for readathons - her books are pretty short, always gripping and fast paced!

I also read around 25 pages of How To Be Good by Nick Hornby ... though this one is not really grabbing me at the moment and I might put it down and pick something else up instead.

Summary
Total pages read:  218 (Dead Wrong) + 25 (How To Be Good) = 243 pages
Total books read: 1
Participated in 1 Twitter chat
Commented on 3 blogs


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Sunday, August 17, 2014

Bout of Books 11.0 TBR

History tells me that I'm useless when it comes to TBRs.  I never ever stick to what I set out to read, and sometimes having a TBR puts me off reading entirely and sends me into a slump.  But I can't resist making lists and planning reads, so these are the books I'm planning to read for the Bout of Books 11.0 next week!


I know I won't get through all of them, but the plan is to read at least 3 books!  I'll be tweeting my progress (follow me! @iluvsneakers) and maybe taking part in a challenge or two and getting to know some other participants on twitter and through their blogs.  I'll also post updates here on the blog to track my progress!

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Saturday, August 16, 2014

Review: A Tale For The Time Being by Ruth Ozeki

A Tale For The Time Being by Ruth Ozeki

Publisher: Canongate (2013)

First Published: 2013

From Goodreads:

Ruth Ozeki's third novel, shortlisted for The Man Booker Prize 2013. 
In Tokyo, sixteen-year-old Nao has decided there’s only one escape from her aching loneliness and her classmates’ bullying. But before she ends it all, Nao plans to document the life of her great-grandmother, a Buddhist nun who’s lived more than a century. A diary is Nao’s only solace—and will touch lives in a ways she can scarcely imagine.

Across the Pacific, we meet Ruth, a novelist living on a remote island who discovers a collection of artifacts washed ashore in a Hello Kitty lunchbox—possibly debris from the devastating 2011 tsunami. As the mystery of its contents unfolds, Ruth is pulled into the past, into Nao’s drama and her unknown fate, and forward into her own future.

Full of Ozeki’s signature humour and deeply engaged with the relationship between writer and reader, past and present, fact and fiction, quantum physics, history, and myth, A Tale for the Time Being is a brilliantly inventive, beguiling story of our shared humanity and the search for home.

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*sigh*  I'm not sure how to review this book.  I seem to find it more difficult to talk about books I love than books I didn't enjoy so much, and I really loved this book.  

A Tale for The Time Being is a novel that sweeps through time and place, across generations and across subject matter.  Within its' pages we learn a little about Proust, Zen Buddhism, quantum physics, modern Japanese culture, environmentalism ... just little touches that whet your appetite and leave you yearning for more.  The dual narrative works so well here, as we follow the typically teenage Nao with her teenage angst, her mood swings and teenage strops, and the adult Ruth, struggling with her own issues within her marriage, family and work.  

Perhaps the novel's only downfall for me was that I wanted to know more about my favourite character, Nao's grandmother, the 104 year old buddhist nun Jiko.  I mean, come on! Who wouldn't want to read an entire novel about a 104 year old Japanese buddhist nun named Jiko?!  I wanted more!  

This novel gained Ruth Ozeki a Man Booker Prize shortlist spot in 2013.  Having also read The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton which won the Man Booker Prize that year, I know which one is my favourite!  Ruth Ozeki is an author I had not heard of before this novel, but I will absolutely be seeking out more of her work.

(Just as a side note, I received a set of the Man Booker Prize shortlisted books for Christmas.  They came from The Book People and cost just £25 for the six books.  I was so excited to discover that I had a first edition of A Tale For The Time Being! Happiness is! :))

It goes without saying, this was a rare 5 star read for me!



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Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Review: Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

Publisherd:  Phoenix (Orion Books) 2013

First Published: 2012

From Goodreads:

On a warm summer morning in North Carthage, Missouri, it is Nick and Amy Dunne’s fifth wedding anniversary. Presents are being wrapped and reservations are being made when Nick’s clever and beautiful wife disappears. Husband-of-the-Year Nick isn’t doing himself any favors with cringe-worthy daydreams about the slope and shape of his wife’s head, but passages from Amy's diary reveal the alpha-girl perfectionist could have put anyone dangerously on edge. Under mounting pressure from the police and the media—as well as Amy’s fiercely doting parents—the town golden boy parades an endless series of lies, deceits, and inappropriate behavior. Nick is oddly evasive, and he’s definitely bitter—but is he really a killer?

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I think it's fair to say this is one of the most hyped books of recent years.  At one point you could not watch a booktube video or read a book blog without hearing mention of this book.  And it is probably for this reason that I put off reading it for quite some time.  I stumbled upon a copy of it in a secondhand bookshop and was quite excited to see it there, so I snapped it up.  And then it sat on my shelf for a good few months.  Then I heard it was being made into a film, so I decided the time had come to see whether this book lived up to all the hype for me.

Unfortunately, this novel was a huge disappointment.  At first I forced myself to keep going because I knew there was a 'big twist' half way through, and when I got to the twist I had to force myself to keep going to the end.  I generally tend to put a book down if it is not grabbing me, but with all the megahype surrounding this one I kept telling myself that it must get better.  It didn't.  

The characters were awful.  I don't have a problem with unlikable characters, characters you love to hate, but these ones I just hated.  Whiney, selfish, self absorbed, arrogant, spoilt - no redeeming features whatsoever.  The one character I did find quite interesting, Nick's father, did not get enough air time.  And the whole plot was just ridiculous and improbable.  The reactions of the main characters just did not seem real and the whole thing just fell flat for me. 

I do think that this might work better on film, and feel that it was perhaps written with a screenplay in mind.  I will probably watch the film when it reaches it DVD, but I won't rush out to see it at the cinema.

Once again, a case of an overhyped book not living up to it's promise for me.  2 stars, simply because I finished it.  I have another of Gillian Flynn's books on my shelf - Sharp Objects - and I'm sure I will give that a go at some point in the future, but it certainly is not high up on my TBR list!



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Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Bout of Books?!

As I'm still on summer break from work until September (lucky me, I know!) I've decided to give Bout of Books another go!  This is the 11th Bout of Books, but will be my second attempt - I don't think I got very far last time though!

The Bout of Books read-a-thon is organized by Amanda @ On a Book Bender and Kelly @ Reading the Paranormal. It is a week long read-a-thon that begins 12:01am Monday, August 18th and runs through Sunday, August 24th in whatever time zone you are in. Bout of Books is low-pressure, and the only reading competition is between you and your usual number of books read in a week. There are challenges, giveaways, and a grand prize, but all of these are completely optional. For all Bout of Books 11 information and updates, be sure to visit the Bout of Books blog. - From the Bout of Books team


If you want to join in, check out the sign up post here!

Time to get thinking about what I shall be reading!



Saturday, August 09, 2014

Review: Under A Silent Moon by Elizabeth Haynes

Under a Silent Moon by Elizabeth Haynes

Publisher: Sphere (2014)

First Published: 2013

From Goodreads:
The start of a thrilling new crime series featuring Detective Inspector Louisa Smith from a sensational, authentic crime fiction voice. 

In the crisp, early morning hours, the police are called to a suspected murder at a farm outside a small English village. A beautiful young woman has been found dead, blood all over the cottage she lives in. At the same time, police respond to a reported female suicide, where a car has fallen into a local quarry. 

As DCI Louisa Smith and her team gather the evidence, they discover a link between these two women, a link which has sealed their dreadful fate one cold night, under a silent moon. 

An unsettling and compulsively readable novel that will keep you gripped until the very last page.



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Let me begin by saying that I have loved every book Elizabeth Haynes has written so far.  She is most definitely one of my favourite authors and she is a master of the psychological thriller.

Under a Silent Moon is not a psychological thriller.  This is police procedural novel following two deaths in a small English village with requisite quirky characters, but don't be fooled into thinking this is a cosy mystery!  With her background as a police analyst, Ms Haynes has written a superb novel here.  She certainly knows her stuff and lays little bread crumbs of clues along the way, some which definitely led me up the garden path!  The plot is nicely woven in amongst the lives of the likeable characters, and keeps you guessing right to the end with everything neatly tidied up and no loose ends.  Just how I like it.

So although this is a departure from her (outstanding) psychological thrillers, I was not let down at all by this book and am looking forward to a fabulous new English detective series!



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Saturday, August 02, 2014

Review: The Never List by Koethi Zan

The Never List by Koethi Zan

Published by Vintage Books

First Published in 2013

From Goodreads:
NEVER GO OUT ALONE AFTER DARK

For years, Sarah and Jennifer kept the Never List: a list of things to be avoided at all costs.

NEVER GET IN THE CAR

But one night, they broke their own rules - with horrifying consequences.

NEVER TAKE RISKS

Sarah has spent ten years trying to forget her terrifying ordeal. But it seems the killer has not forgotten her.

NEVER TRUST ANYONE

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So best friends Sarah and Jennifer draw up a list of things they should never do, but despite this they end up being abducted anyway.  The story follows Sarah as she looks into the life of Jack Derber, her kidnapper who is up for parole, 10 years after she escapes from his basement. 

The blurbs on my edition of this book promise something gripping and terrifying.  Elle Magazine state it is "as gripping as Gone Girl" (side note: I had not read Gone Girl when I picked this book up ... If I had I would definitely not have bothered with this because of this comparison!) and Tess Gerritsen, an author I love, states it is one of the scariest thrillers she has ever read.  So I had really high hopes.

Overall, this book did not deliver on its promise.  Now that I have read Gone Girl, I can safely say that the Never List rates much higher in my opinion, but it was definitely not as dark and creepy as I was expecting.  There is no doubt that Jack Derber is cruel and sadistic.  The story is cleverly written in a way that the cruelty and abuse is alluded to and left to your imagination rather than explicit descriptions.  The reader cannot help but feel sympathy with the abducted girls, but Sarah, who suffers from PTSD, does seem to have an amazing ability to overcome her symptoms when the need arises and puts herself in some very unlikely situations.

After reading this book, I gave it 4 stars but on writing this review and thinking more about it, I think I would give it 3 stars.  It is an interesting story, fairly well written with a pacy plot and a good twist.  I would recommend this to those that enjoy a good mystery/thriller, but don't expect anything too dark or creepy!



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Friday, August 01, 2014

July Wrap-Up

After a bit of a reading slump, I was back to it in July, reading a total of 7 books, and the majority of them were really good!


Full reviews of all these books will be coming soon, but for now here are my star ratings and quick thoughts!

The Never List by Koethi Zan.  This didn't quite live up to the dark psychological thriller it was touted as.  Some parts were pretty gruesome and horrific and the plot was pacy with a good couple of twists.  4 stars.

Under A Silent Moon by Elizabeth Haynes, one of my favourite authors.  Fast-paced action with some quirky village characters thrown in, this is a quick read that delivers on its' promise!  4 stars.

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn  Ugh.  I had to force myself to finish this book.  What the hell is all the hype about?!  I do think this might be better as a film, so I might eventually get round to watching it ... 2 stars, simply because I finished it!

A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki:  Absolutely loved this, well deserving of its' Man Booker Prize shortlisting!  5 stars :)

Bilgewater by Jane Gardam: I really enjoyed this under-hyped book.  At just 200 pages, a wonderful coming of age story with quirky, eccentric English characters.  4 stars

Stone Cold Red Hot by Cath Staincliffe: fast paced, non-stop action in this mystery tale!  4 stars

We Were Liars by E Lockhart: A much-hyped young adult novel.  I was pleasantly surprised and the ending brought me out in physical goosebumps! 4 stars

We also watched 4 DVDs this month.  Here's a quick roundup:

About Time (2013)
Starring: Rachel McAdams and Domhnall Gleeson
Written and Directed by: Richard Curtis

I really enjoyed this sweet, funny, touching tale about time travel and making the most of each moment.

A solid 8/10


Midnight in Paris (2011)
Starring: Rachel McAdams and Owen Wilson
Written and Directed by: Woody Allen

I generally love Woody Allen films, and this one didn't disappointment.  Another tale of time travel, lots of fun with well known figures from the 1920s.  I did feel it was just a touch too long, and I kind of lost interest a little in the middle, but picked up again towards the end.  7/10




30 Minutes or Less (2011)
Starring: Jessie Eisenberger, Danny McBride
Written by:  Michael Dilberti
Directed by: Ruben Fleischer

Meh.  A couple of shining moments, but overall this was a bit weak on plot and pretty far fetched.  Nothing to write home about!

4/10






Non-Stop (2014)
Starring:  Liam Neeson, Julianne Moore
Directed by:  Jaume Collet-Serra

I wasn't expecting a whole lot from this one, but it was surprisingly ok.  Some tense moments, kept me guessing, but would have benefitted from a bit more (any!) eye-candy! (yes, call me shallow :))

7/10




Highlight of the month for me was A Tale For The Time Being by Ruth Ozeki, no contest!

What did you read or watch in July? Leave me a comment and let me know!