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cook*create*read: February 2015

Monday, February 23, 2015

Review: After Dark by Haruki Murakami

After Dark by Haruki Murakami
Published by Vintage, 2008
Source:  gift

Author's Website:  Haruki Murakami

The back blurb:

Eyes mark the shape of the city.

The midnight hour approaches in an almost-empty diner.  Mari sips her coffee and reads a book, but soon her solitude is disturbed: a girl has been beaten up at the Alphaville hotel, and needs Mari's help.

Meanwhile Mari's beautiful sister Eri lies in a deep, heavy sleep that is 'too perfect, too pure' to be normal, it has lasted for two months.  But tonight, as the digital clock displays 00:00,  a hint of life flickers across the television screen, even though its plug has been pulled out.

Strange nocturnal happenings, or a trick of the night?

For me, this was a book of two halves.  I really enjoyed the story of Mari and Takahashi.  I loved the gradual growth in their relationship, the slight awkwardness and shyness, their uncertainty.  And I also really enjoyed the perspective the book was written from, how the reader watches the story unfold as if we are watching a movie.  However, Eri's side of the story was odd, no doubt about that, and this is more what I expected from Murakami.  Whether I like it or not, I'm not entirely sure.  I think this story was maybe a bit too short for me to get my head around, some things were never explained, and maybe this is the essence of Murakami, and maybe he and I are just not meant to be.

This story of two sisters was my first foray into the strange world of Haruki Murakami, and I suspect that I didn't quite grasp his full meaning with this.  But this has not put me off ... yet.  I own Norwegian Wood which I understand contains no magical realism, so that will be my next Murakami read.  I have long suspected that magical realism is not my thing, but for some reason I do so want it to BE my thing, so I will persevere!

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Monday, February 16, 2015

Review: The Boy Next Door by Irene Sabatini

The Boy Next Door by Irene Sabatini
Published by Sceptre, 2010
Source: bought

Author's Website:  Irene Sabatini

The back blurb:
Two days after I turned fourteen the son of our neighbour set his stepmother alight. Or so Lindiwe Bishop believes, though eighteen months later the charges against Ian McKenzie are dropped and he returns home, full of charm and swagger. 

Intrigued, Lindiwe strikes up a covert friendship with the mysterious white boy next door. As a bond grows between them, they cannot foreseee how severely it will be tested in the years ahead - by secrets and by a world that wants nothing more than to divide them. 

Vividly evoking Zimbabwe's slide from independence into chaos, THE BOY NEXT DOOR tells an engrossing tale about what it means to witness, change, love and remain whole when all around you is falling apart.

The Boy Next Door is a perfectly satisfactory novel set against the turmoil of a country going through massive political change.  The story begins with Lindiwe, an awkward black teenager who falls for a white boy of questionable character and follows her through different points in her life as she grows up in a time of great political discontent.

I grew up in South Africa and I enjoyed much of this story as it brought back a lot of memories for me.  However, I was never able to fully connect with the main characters, and while I certainly felt sympathy for them, I somehow didn't care enough about them.  The relationship between Lindiwe and Ian seemed a little forced, not very natural and I just didn't believe in them as a couple.  But maybe that was a reflection of the politic strife going on around them, I don't know.  

So while this did not live up to the great hope I had for it, it is still an enjoyable read and provides some insight into the history of Rhodesia/Zimbabwe.  I would recommend this for anyone interested in dipping their toe into this time period.  

Irene Sabatini won the 2010 Orange Award for New Writers with this debut novel.  Her latest novel, Peace and Conflict, was published in November 2014 and I will probably pick this up at some point.

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An A to Z Book Tag

I've been thinking about my blog and how I can get posting more regularly and have a few little tweaks and changes in the pipeline.  One of my aims is to blog more about books generally, not just reviews and monthly wraps ups, but something a little bit more personal.  So when I stumbled upon this tag via @ABookandTea on Twitter, I thought I would give it a go.  She did this tag in a post on her lovely blog and invited anyone to have a go if they fancied, so here goes!

A.  Author You've Read the Most Books From
I had to check my Goodreads for this, but I should've known really!  It is Patricia Cornwell.  I've read 14 of her Kay Scarpetta novels.  I loved the first 10 in the series, but then it tailed off a little for me.  I've not read her latest few, but I think I might delve into this forensic world again.

B.  Best Sequel Ever!
This is a tricky one.  Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins was a great sequel.

C.  Currently Reading
I've just started The Murder Bag by Tony Parsons.  I'm only a few chapters in, but it's good so far!

D.  Drink of Choice While Reading
Diet Coke.  Or Coffee.  Rarely tea.

E.  E-reader or Physical Book
I have a Kindle which is loaded with books, but I'm ashamed to say I rarely pick it up.  One of my reading goals for 2015 is to read at least one book a month from my Kindle ... so far I've failed miserably!

F.  Fiction Character You Probably Would've Dated in High School
Ok, well, I was a total wallflower in school, shy and awkward, but if I could've I would've dated Ron Weasley!

G.  Glad You Gave This Book A Chance
Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone by JK Rowling.  I was a fully fledged adult with a small baby when this was first published, and I saw it as a children's book, but I'm so glad I picked it up!

H.  A Hidden Gem Book

Moloka'i by Alan Brennert.  I read this book a few years ago and I loved it so much, and yet I don't hear it talked about much, if at all.  It is a beautiful historical fiction set in Hawaii, focusing on a family struck by leprosy.  It is fabulous and I recommend it to everyone I meet!

I.  Important Moment in your Reading Life
Probably discovering Goodreads.  I love keeping track of the books I've read and the books I own.

J.  Just Finished
Last night I finished Fear the Dark by Chris Mooney.  I'm on a bit of a crime thriller spree at the moment!

K.  Kinds of Books You Won't Read
YA Romance.  No thank you!

L.  Longest Book You've Ever Read
... checking Goodreads again (see why I love it so much?!) ... The Passage by Justin Cronin at 963 pages.  I love big books!  The Passage was a great read, though I've yet to pick up the sequel, The Twelve.

M.  Major Book Hangover
I'm not really sure what this means, but if it means a book that killed your reading habit for a while, it is (on checking Goodreads) The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey.  I'm not sure why, but after finishing this book, which was beautiful and heartbreaking, I didn't read another book for 3 months!  I'm not sure if it was the book's fault, or if it's my cyclical reading habit that's to blame ...

N.  Number of Bookcases you Own
I have two bookcases in the bedroom (much to hubby's annoyance) both of which are 'double parked' and overflowing, along with a pile of books on the floor.  Downstairs in the living room I have two shelves on a unit with my Penguin Modern Classics and red spine Vintage Classics, and two shelves of cookery books in another unit.

O.  One Book You've Read Multiple Times
Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone by JK Rowling.  Actually, the whole of the Harry Potter series.

P.  Preferred Place to Read
My new reclining armchair!

Q.  Quote that Inspires You
"It is our choices, Harry, that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities." Albus  Dumbledore in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets by JK Rowling.

R.  Reading Regret
I don't really have any reading regrets.  I wish Goodreads had been around when I was younger so I had a fuller history of the books I've read.

S.  Series You've Started and Needed to Finish
Sorry, boring answer, the Harry Potter series of course.

T.  Three of Your All Time Favourite Books

U.  Unapologetic Fangirl
Not sure if this means for an author of a character, so I'm going with character.  I unapologetically claim undying love for DI Tom Thorne in the books by Mark Billingham.  And Ron Weasley.

V.  Very Excited for This Release
Go Set A Watchman by Harper Lee.  Who isn't excited for this one?!

W.  Worst Bookish Habit
Hubby would say leaving piles of books lying around the house!  Others might say my spine-breaking habit.  I don't think any bookish habit is a bad one!

X.  X Marks the Spot; Pick the 27th Book on Your Shelf
HHhH by Laurent Binet - Hitler, World War II, fiction but with real characters.  I haven't read it yet.

Y.  Your Latest Book Purchase
Second Life by SJ Watson.  I enjoyed his first novel, Before I Go To Sleep and hope this one is just as good.

Z.  Zzz ... Book That Made You Fall Asleep
Controversial, I know, but I thought Gone Girl was a big pile of poop.  I usually don't carry on with a book if it's not grabbing me after 50 or so pages, but I persevered with this one because of the hype and I hope it would get better.  It didn't!

So there you go!  A little peek into some of my bookish thoughts and habits!  I'm not going to tag anyone specifically, but if you want to, go ahead and do this tag!  Leave a link in the comments so I can check out your answers!

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Saturday, February 14, 2015

Judging a book by it's cover!

I'm terrible at doing this - impulse cover buys are a regular thing for me.  So when I saw The Book Magpie's meme about judging a book by it's cover I knew I had to join in.

This week's theme is pink and hearts.  On perusing my shelves, I realised I am definitely not a pink book reader!  I could only find one, but what a beauty it is.

The Somnambulist by Essie Fox.  I bought this gorgeous hardcover edition in the Waterstones sale quite a few years back, when the Waterstones sale used to be amazing.  I paid a single solitary £1 for this beauty of a book!  But guess what ... I haven't read it yet!  I will.  I WILL!

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Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Review: Wolf Winter by Cecilia Ekback

Wolf Winter by Cecilia Ekback
Published by Hodder & Stoughton 2015
Source:  bookbridgr.com for review

Author's Website:  Cecilia Ekback

There are six homesteads on Blackasen Mountain.

A day's journey away lies the empty town. It comes to life just once, in winter, when the Church summons her people through the snows. Then, even the oldest enemies will gather.

But now it is summer, and new settlers are come.

It is their two young daughters who find the dead man, not half an hour's walk from their cottage.

The father is away. And whether stubborn, or stupid, or scared for her girls, the mother will not let it rest.

To the wife who is not concerned when her husband does not come home for three days; to the man who laughs when he hears his brother is dead; to the priest who doesn't care; she asks and asks her questions, digging at the secrets of the mountain.

They say a wolf made those wounds. But what wild animal cuts a body so clean?

Ok, shallow stuff out of the way first.  Beautiful cover, yes?!  It is gorgeous, and reflects the atmosphere of this story perfectly!

Set in the harsh, unforgiving landscape of Swedish Lapland in 1717, this historical fiction/ murder mystery/coming of age story starts quite slowly, gradually building, gradually pulling you in until its' icy cold fingers have you firmly in its grip.  It is mysterious and mystical, intriguing and atmospheric.  The bleak and foreboding landscape is masterfully described and the clever twists in the story will keep you guessing to the end.  

It did take me a little while to get into the story, but I am so glad that I persevered.  A slow burning read with an underlying current of sinister tension and suspense, coupled with memorable and interesting characters, this story will stay with me for a long time.  Thank you to bookbridgr.com for the chance to read and review this book! I will be recommending it to everyone I meet!

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Sunday, February 08, 2015

January Wrapped Up!

A little late, but here's how I got on in January!

I read a total of 6 books, which I'm kind of pleased with.  These were read almost pretty much in the first 3 weeks of January, after which I fell into a kind of slump and didn't read anything at all, so I could definitely do better!

As for the challenges I set myself, I did pretty well this month!  I read a classic, a male author, a female author, a non-UK/USA author, a prize winner (Elizabeth is Missing was voted the Costa First Novel winner just after I read it, so I'm cheating a little but I'm saying it counts :)) and a non-fiction book.  I didn't read anything on my kindle ...

Duds of the month, with 3 stars each, were The Boy Next Door by Irene Sabatini and After Dark by Haruki Murakami.  They were both just ok, nothing earth shattering.

Elizabeth is Missing by Emma Healey (review here), Gone by Rebecca Muddiman (review here) and Mind Over Fatter by Anna Richardson each got 4 stars.

My top read of the month was One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest by Ken Kesey.  I loved this heartbreaker so much! A definite 5 star read.

I'm a bit behind with reviews, surprise surprise!

What was your top read for January?

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