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cook*create*read: September 2014

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Review: The Final Empire by Brandon Sanderson

The Final Empire by Brandon Sanderson
Published by Gollancz (2009)
Source: Purchased

Read more about the author:  Brandon Sanderson official site 

The Blurb:
For a thousand years the ash fell.  For a thousand years, the Skaa slaved in misery and lived in fear.  For a thousand years, the Lord Ruler reigned with absolute power and ultimate terror, divinely invincible.  Every attempted revolt has failed miserably.

Yet somehow hope survives.  A new kind of uprising is being planned, one that depends on the cunning of a brilliant criminal mastermind and the courage of an unlikely heroine, a Skaa street urchin, who must learn to master Allomancy, the power of a mistborn.

What if the prophesied hero had failed to defeat the Dark Lord?  The answer will be found in the Mistborn trilogy, a saga of surprises that begins here.

The Mistborn is a much-hyped high fantasy trilogy from a hugely successful author who is very popular with the 'book tube' community.  Most people seem to love it, so I was eager to read, but had to wait for the epic fantasy mood to descend upon me!

I found the first book, The Final Empire, to be a bit of a roller coaster ride.  The first 100 or so pages are interesting and fast paced, and I immediately ordered the second in the series as I kind of knew I'd need to read it straight away.  But then the middle portion of the book dragged a little, and I had to force myself to pick up and actually read the book, so I was a little worried about the rest of the series.  But then it turned again, and the final third of the book gripped me and kept me turning the pages.

I really enjoyed the world this book is set in, and the magical system created by Sanderson is fascinating.  The characters were well written, interesting and diverse, and I loved the humour and banter they brought to the story.  The plot is fairly predictable but has some surprising turns and is overall engaging and interesting.  I think the middle third of book drops a level because Sanderson has so much to set up within the world and although this is well done, it's just not so fast paced.

By the end of the book, I was looking forward to the second in the trilogy (though I haven't picked it up yet).  I feel that this series falls into the 'trashy novel' area of the high fantasy genre, which is not a bad thing!  We all need a trashy read now and then, and this fills that spot perfectly!  Easy to read, interesting characters, fascinating world, but you don't really need to work the brain cells to keep up.

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Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Review: The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey

The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey
Published by Tinder Press, 9 October 2014
First Published 2011
Copy received for review from the publisher via bookbridgr.com

Read more about the author:  Eowyn Ivey official site

Alaska, the 1920s.  Jack and Mabel have staked everything on a fresh start in a remote homestead, but the wilderness is a stark place, and Mabel is haunted by the baby she lost many years before.  When a little girl appears mysteriously on their land, each is filled with wonder, but also foreboding - is she what she seems, and can they find room in their hearts for her?

Pulitzer Prize Finalist
Sunday Times Bestseller

Set in the 1920s, this book is just about as far from the decadent, glamorous 1920s of my imagination as it is possible to get.  A retelling of an old Russian fairytale, this is spellbindingly atmospheric.  The descriptions of the bleakly beautiful Alaskan countryside are mesmerising, and the hard labour involved in working the land is vividly brought to life. The characters are so wonderfully drawn, with their own quirks and personalities, and I wanted to meet each and every one of them in real life!  My favourite character was the wonderful, no-nonsense Esther who comes bustling into Mabel's life and opens her eyes to a whole new way of living.

Ivey's writing throughout the book is poetic and beautiful.  She tackles the themes of grief and loss in a sensitive and realistic way, countering this with hope and love in many forms.  There is a subtle magical thread throughout the book, lifting the story with fairytale qualities from what could otherwise have been really sad and quite depressing.  But Ivey makes this a wonderful, uplifting and hopeful book that is well deserving of its Pulitzer Prize Finalist tag.  4 stars

This book will shortly be re-published with a gorgeous new cover (seen above) which I think matches the writing within gorgeously.

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Saturday, September 20, 2014

Review: The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman

The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman
Published by Headline (2014)
First published 2013
Source: Purchased

Read more about the author: Neil Gaiman Office Site

The Blurb:
This is what he remembers, as he sits by the ocean at the end of the lane:

A dead man on the back seat of the car, 
and warm milk at the farmhouse; 
An ancient little girl, and an old woman who saw the moon being made;
A beautiful housekeeper with a monstrous smile;
And dark forces woken that were best left undisturbed.

They are memories hard to believe, waiting at the edges of things.  The recollections of a man who thought he was lost but is now, perhaps, remembering a time when he was saved ...

This was the second Neil Gaiman novel I have attempted.  I say attempted, because I did not finish American Gods which I just could not get on with, so I was interested to see how I got on with his latest novel.  Neil Gaiman is such a popular (and prolific and genre-crossing!) author; his fans adore him and I've heard so much about his "beautiful writing" that I really wanted to appreciate it for myself.  And I am relieved and happy to report that Neil Gaiman redeemed himself in my eyes!

The Ocean at the End of the Lane is a wonderful grown up fairy tale.  It has sinister and fantastical elements that sweep you off into another world where everything is strange and nothing is as it seems.  It is fast paced and interesting, and I flew through the pages at a rapid rate (I burnt the dinner!).

Although this is a fantastical fairy tale, Gaiman's observations on 'real life' are astute and honest ...

"Adults follow paths.  Children explore.  Adults are content to walk the same way, hundreds of times, or thousands; perhaps it never occurs to adults to step off the paths, to creep beneath rhododendrons, to find the spaces between fences."

How true is that?  And how sad that as adults we lose that adventurous, exploring spirit.

And another:

"Lettie shrugged.  'Nobody looks like what they really are on the inside.  You don't.  I don't.  People are much more complicated than that.  It's true of everybody.' "
Sigh.  So true.

So, y'know, I loved this book.  Read it!

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Wednesday, September 17, 2014

10 books!

I was recently tagged in a Facebook post asking me to list 10 books that I've read and that have stayed with me through the years for some reason, so I thought I would turn my list into a blog post.  The books in the list came to me quite randomly and quickly with little thought, I just wrote down the titles that popped into my head first, so here goes!

Tess of the D'urbervilles - Thomas Hardy
I read this the year after I left school and I really loved it at the time.  From reviews I've heard recently, it seems to be a marmite book so I'd like to re-read it to see if I still feel the same way about it.  (5 stars)

Hamlet - William Shakespeare 
This was a set text in my final year at school, and we studied it for our final exams.  My best friend (who I'm still friends with) and I had such a laugh studying this (a bit strange, considering it's a tragedy!) and she is the first thing that pops into my mind whenever anyone mentions anything to do with Hamlet.  (5 stars)

Moloka'i - Alan Brennert
I read this books a couple of years ago and it has stayed with me ever since.  I rarely come across anyone else who has read it which makes me sad because I loved it so much.  A beautiful, sweeping historical fiction about leprosy, set in Hawaii.  If you haven't read it you really should pick it up!  I need to read more by Alan Brennert.  (5 stars)

An Act of Terror - Andre Brink 
This is another book I read soon after leaving school (in South Africa) that I feel I need to re-read.  At the time I was absolutely fascinated with this story about a plot to assassinate the president of South Africa and I remember it as being a tense, political thriller.  (5 stars)

Great Expectations - Charles Dickens 
Another classic we read in high school that has stayed with me.  I remember enjoying the story but I think we overdid the analysis and I'd like to try it again.  (3 stars)

The Handmaid's Tale - Margaret Attwood 
From what I recall, this was my first foray into dystopian literature, and it blew my mind. That's all I can say! (4 stars)

The Time Traveler's Wife - Audrey Niffenegger
This one took me a little while to get into, but once I was into it I did not want it to end.  Heartbreaking.  The movie is a pile of crap.  (5 stars)

Little Women - Louisa May Alcott 
One I read in school or just after finishing, and have re-read since.  Oh how I wanted to be Jo! Another heartbreaking read that has me in tears every time.  (5 stars)

To Kill A Mockingbird - Harper Lee 
Everyone should read this book.  That is all.  (5 stars)

Room - Emma Donoghue
And another heartbreaking read!  This one made me go cold.  So cleverly written.  (5 stars)

Have you read any of these? What 10 books have stayed with you through the years?  Let me know in the comments - I'd love to hear your choices!

Monday, September 08, 2014

Review: Someone Else's Skin by Sarah Hilary

Someone Else's Skin by Sarah Hilary
Published by Headline on 28 August 2014
Copy received for review from the publisher via bookbridgr.com

From Goodreads:
Some secrets keep you safe, others will destroy you... 

Detective Inspector Marnie Rome. Dependable; fierce; brilliant at her job; a rising star in the ranks. Everyone knows how Marnie fought to come back from the murder of her parents, but very few know what is going on below the surface. Because Marnie has secrets she won't share with anyone. 

But then so does everyone. Certainly those in the women's shelter Marnie and Detective Sergeant Noah Jake visit on that fateful day. The day when they arrive to interview a resident, only to find one of the women's husbands, who shouldn't have been there, lying stabbed on the floor. 

As Marnie and Noah investigate the crime further, events begin to spiral and the violence escalates. Everyone is keeping secrets, some for survival and some, they suspect, to disguise who they really are under their skin. 

Now, if Marnie is going to find the truth she will have to face her own demons head on. Because the time has come for secrets to be revealed...

First of all, let it be known that I am a huge fan of the Crime Fiction drama.  If I could only read one genre for the rest of my life, I would probably choose Crime Fiction.  So it was with some excitement that I received this novel for review, the first in what will hopefully be a long and thrilling series by Sarah Hilary!

It is quite difficult to say much about this book without giving away the plot.  It is a gritty and cruel piece of fiction with a believable twist (take note Gone Girl fans!) that I did not see coming.  The women in the refuge are a sad and desperate group screaming out for your empathy.  DI Rome herself is a woman struggling to come to terms with a tragic past and at times I just wanted to give her a hug (though I'm not sure she would appreciate it!).   My one little niggle is something silly ... it really annoys me when police officers go off on their own, putting themselves into situations you just know are not going to end well.  Don't they ever learn?!

The book contains some fairly graphic and descriptively gruesome violent scenes, but this just adds to the grittiness of the novel.  Several different plot lines weave together to create an intriguing and memorable debut and I am waiting impatiently for the second instalment in this series.  Hurry up Sarah Hilary! A glowing 4 stars.

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Saturday, September 06, 2014

Review: The Shock of the Fall by Nathan Filer

The Shock of the Fall by Nathan Filer

Publisher:  The Borough Press (Harper Collins) (2014)

First Published:  2013

From Goodreads:
‘I’ll tell you what happened because it will be a good way to introduce my brother. His name’s Simon. I think you’re going to like him. I really do. But in a couple of pages he’ll be dead. And he was never the same after that.’

There are books you can’t stop reading, which keep you up all night.

There are books which let us into the hidden parts of life and make them vividly real.

There are books which, because of the sheer skill with which every word is chosen, linger in your mind for days.

The Shock of the Fall is all of these books.

The Shock of the Fall is an extraordinary portrait of one man’s descent into mental illness. It is a brave and groundbreaking novel from one of the most exciting new voices in fiction.


This book had been sitting on my shelf for quite a few months before I finally got round to reading it.  There was a lot of hype surrounding it when it won the Costa Book Award, and I was reluctant to read it for fear of being let down.  Thankfully, my fears were unfounded.

The story follows the life of Matthew, a man who suffers from schizophrenia following the death of his brother, which he may or may not have had a hand in.  I really enjoyed the use of  different fonts, letters and drawings throughout the book - I think this gave the book a disjointed and confusing feel which reflected the state of Matthew's mind wonderfully.  Along with this, the book flips backwards and forwards between the past and the present as Matthew remembers what happened to his brother.  

Although this book deals with some serious issues - grief, death, guilt, mental ill health - it does so in such a sensitive and realistic way, and still manages to remain ultimately uplifting and wonderful.  This is a story that will stay in my mind for a long time to come.

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Friday, September 05, 2014

Friday Reads

This weekend I shall be continuing with Bleak House. I'm around 100 pages in now, and really enjoying it. 

I'll also be reading Daughter by Jane Shemilt, a story about the family of a teenage girl who goes missing. Good stuff so far! 

What are your weekend reading plans? 


Tuesday, September 02, 2014

Review: Paper Swans by Jessica Thompson

Paper Swans by Jessica Thompson
Published by Coronet (Hodder & Stoughton) 2014
Received for review via bookbridgr.com

Ben Lawrence seems to have it all - the hot job, the flashy car, and the luxurious apartment.  But there is tragedy hidden in his past.

The events of that day have stopped him truly getting close to anyone.  He made a promise that love was the price he would pay for his mistakes.

When Effy Jones - a bright, ambitious charity founder - walks into Tower 100 one autumn day, little do they know that their lives are about to be turned upside down.

Paper Swans tells of how true love conquers all, and when everything is broken one person can help mend the pieces.  


First of all, can we just appreciate the beauty of this book cover?!  It's shallow, I know.  The picture truly does not do this book justice - it is gorgeous!

Ok, so that's out of the way ... I read this book after The Final Empire by Brandon Sanderson, and I was in the mood for something light and fluffy.  And that is exactly what I got.  I wouldn't say that 'chick lit' is one of my favourite genres, but every now and then a light fun read is what is needed.  This books fills that spot nicely, although I did have some issues with it.

The main characters in this story both have flaws.  One is suffering from mental illness as a result of a tragic 'mystery' from his past (which really isn't that much of a mystery, to be honest) and the other is a workaholic, dedicating her life to a charitable cause.  But everything just seems a bit too perfect, in spite of their difficulties - Ben is hugely successful in his career, rolling in money, gorgeous looking, adored by women everywhere and Effy is beautiful, successful in her charitable endeavours, loved by everyone who meets her.  It all just felt a little bit too easy and perfect, and this was not helped by a several ridiculous coincidences within the story.

This book was well written, though sometimes a little formulaic, and at times it felt the author was trying a little too hard to be funny and on trend.  Due to the mental illness aspect of the plot, I couldn't help but compare this to The Shock of the Fall by Nathan Filer which I read recently, and unfortunately Paper Swans pales in comparison to Filer's book. But I think I am wrong to compare the two - Paper Swans is primarily a love story rather than a novel about mental illness.

Having said all this, I did not dislike this book.  It is a nice, light read, a sweet story in which love conquers all.  It is ultimately uplifting and positive and I think it will appeal to fans of Katie Fforde and Jill Mansell.  A perfectly acceptable 3 stars from me.

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Monday, September 01, 2014

August Wrap-Up

Well, August was a pretty good reading month for me!  Having the whole month off work certainly helped me to reach a reading total of 10 books, which I think means I am out of my reading slump :).

Here's some quick thoughts ...

Already reviewed:

The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton - beautiful writing, but too long-winded and slow paced for me - 2 stars.  Read my review here.

The Driver's Seat by Muriel Spark - a compelling, tragic tale, wonderfully written - 4 stars.  Read my review here.

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline - loved this, but the ending let me down - 4 stars.  Read my review here.

Reviews of these coming soon:

Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri - loved this collection of short stories, my first experience of Jhumpa Lahiri - 4 stars

Dead Wrong by Cath Staincliffe - tight, fast paced, quick read - 4 stars

The Secret Scripture by Sebastian Barry - a sad an tragic look at mental illness in the 1950s-1960s - 4 stars

The Shock of the Fall by Nathan Filer - another fascinating story about mental illness, following a man suffering with schizophrenia after the death of his brother - 5 stars!

The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman - my second attempt at Neil Gaiman, and I really enjoyed this one (I had to give up on his American Gods).  A great story with a fairytale feel - 5 stars

0.4 by Mike Lancaster - a young adult novel, a sci-fi futuristic story about what could become of the human race.  An interesting and quick read - 3 stars

The Final Empire by Brandon Sanderson - epic high fantasy.  A solid start to the Mistborn Trilogy, and I'm looking forward to reading the next instalment - 4 stars

Phew!  Some good reads this month, but the star of August for me was The Shock of the Fall.  My review of this will be up on the blog tomorrow.

We also watched a few films in August, with a little less success unfortunately!

First up, Dave and I went to the cinema to see The Inbetweeners 2

I don't know about you, but I really have to be in the mood to watch this kind of infantile, juvenile humour.  Luckily I was in that mood and I did enjoy this - though not as much as my immature husband! I thought his head was going to explode in the cinema at one point, he was trying to contain his laughter so much.  I gave this 7/10 and it got an 8/10 from Dave.

One rainy afternoon, the boys went to watch Arsenal at the Emirates Stadium, and me and my girlie watched Pretty In Pink.

I loved this film when it first came out in '80s, and I really wanted my 15 year old daughter to like it too.  I hadn't seen it for many years and was hoping it wouldn't be too dated!  I wasn't disappointed - I loved it just as much as always, and fell in love with Andrew McCarthy all over again!  This got 9/10 from me and a perfectly acceptable 8/10 from my daughter!

Dave and I watched Under the Skin on Sky On Demand.

This was one weird film.  It was on some list of the best films of the year so far that I found somewhere (can't find it now so maybe I just made it up :)).   I've since found out that it is based on a book, and that the book is much better than the film so I might give that a go at some point.  The film is just weird.  I just didn't get it.  3/10 from me, 4/10 from Dave (an extra point for Scarlett Jahansson *eyeroll*)

We then watched Paranormal Activity 4.

I don't know why I do this to myself.  I enjoy horror films, but the Paranormal Activity films scare the pants off me, and this was no exception.  They just feel so realistic and plausible and I'm on the edge of my seat throughout the film, waiting for something to happen.  This one wasn't quite as good as the previous films, some things were left unexplained which I found very unsatisfactory! But overall, it was good - 7/10 from both Dave and I.

And finally, we watched Cabin Fever: Patient Zero

This was such a disappointment!  The storyline sounded interesting (and topical) - flesh eating virus wipes out the population of an entire island - but it just did not deliver.  Gratuitous gore and hideousness and weak acting resulted in 1/10 from me and 3/10 from Dave!

So that was August!  What were your August highlights? Let me know in the comments below!