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cook*create*read: May 2015

Saturday, May 23, 2015

And the winner is!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Congratulations Ruth!  I have emailed you asking you to let me have your postal address so I can send off your prize!  I hope you enjoy the book and would love to hear what you thought of it :)

Thank you to everyone who entered!  Keep your eyes peeled for another giveaway coming next month!

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

On Reading Globally

Like many bookish people I come across on Twitter, Instagram or blogging, I have lately become more conscious of how diverse (or not) my reading is.  Recent analysis of my reading habits led me to discover that, to my shame, I do not read diversely at all.  The authors I choose are overwhelmingly American or British, with a fair smattering of South African thrown in for a little spice, and this was actually quite a surprise to me.  I thought I read a lot more international authors but it seems this is not the case.  

So all of this led me to a huge decision.  Over the next few years I intend to read a book by an author from every country in the world.  I have used the list of UN recognised countries, and added a few more (e.g. I've split UK into England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland), for a total of 202 countries.  That's a lot of books!  I don't want to be too ambitious with this, so I haven't set a deadline as such, but at a rate of 50ish books a year, I'd like to be done in 4 years.  I will also be reading other 'free choice' books in between all these international and translated books.

I have gone through the books I own, and these are all the physical books with international authors that I own.  I have a few more on my kindle.  Some countries are represented here more than once, and these are not necessarily the books I will be reading for each country (e.g. pretty sure I won't be reading that horrible copy (or any copy!) of War and Peace!), but it's my starting point.  

Before I had any real plan, I started reading Brixton Beach by Roma Tearne who is from Sri Lanka.  After some thought, I decided to concentrate on a continent at a time, so I will be working my way through Asia first.  With one exception.  I mentioned I was doing this challenge to a colleague at work who is from Kenya and she lent me a book, Dreams in a Time of War by Ngugi Wa Thiong'o.  The book belongs to a friend of hers, so I said I would read it next so she can give it back to her friend.

While tweeting about this challenge, Joy Isabella said she would be interested in doing the same thing, so she is joining me! Yay!  If anybody else would like to join in, please feel free to do so!  You don't have to follow the same plan as me, of course, you can do it however you like :)  Joy also found the blog of a reader who has completed this challenge .... which will be a great source of inspiration for when things get tough!

I have created a page on the blog, here, which I will keep updated with my progress, and of course I will be tweeting, instagramming and blogging about the challenge as well, so if you're interested in keeping up with my progress and shouting at me when I get distracted, please go ahead and follow me across any/all social media!  Links are in the sidebar.

Oh yes! I also had the idea of cooking a traditional dish from whichever country I am reading, so look out for some blog posts about that too!

And I am eager to hear about your recommendations from far flung countries, so please share as widely as you can and leave me comments or tweet me or whatever with your recommendations!

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Monday, May 18, 2015

Bout of Books 13 Roundup

Yay! I managed to do a fair amount reading during Bout of Books 13!  Not as much as I would like, but you know, life happens!

I finished 2 books:

  • I Let You Go by Clare Mackintosh - 4 stars - you can read my review here
  • Summertime (aka Under a Dark Summer Sky) by Vanessa Lafaye - 5 stars.  Seriously.  Loved it!

I started Brixton Beach by Roma Tearne (literally just the first chapter or so)

I listened to 41% of Kiss of Broken Glass by Madeleine Kuderick

I entered the haiku challenge and the favourite book challenge.

I commented on quite a few blogs, linked up with twitter peeps and participated in the twitter chat.

I didn't read This Is Not Your City.  Never mind!

This was so much fun.  Thank you to the organisers! Can't wait for Bout of Books 14 coming in August :)

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Review: I Let You Go by Clare Mackintosh

Wow.  Ok.  I have literally just finished this book and feel the need to review this right away!

This book starts slowly.  It took a little while until I was gripped by the story, and then it begins to trip along quite nicely, developing into a pretty good mystery at a steady pace.  And then .... WHOAH NELLY!!!  It took my breath away!  I had to put the book down, pick it up, re-read a section, put it down ... I did NOT see that coming!  Oh.  My.  Goodness.  Don't you just love it when a book surprises you?!

The story plays with your emotions.  At first you feel sadness and pity, then you feel anger, then you feel empathy, anger again, all with a background tension that builds up and up until BLAM! You've finished the book and you can't quite believe you've come to the end.

And besides the whole mystery/thriller/psychological thing, the descriptions of the remote cottage near a little beach with crashing waves ... well, it had me looking on rightmoves for properties, I can tell you!  Please don't tell me I'm alone in sometimes fantasising about leaving everything behdin and running off to a little cottage near a lonely beach ... just me? ... Ok then, moving swiftly on!

This is one of those books that make you wonder how the author does it.  How does someone get inside the mind of a complete psycho so much so that they are able to portray them so convincingly like this?  I think the answer in this case is that Clare Mackintosh has experience as a police officer, and so her research is extensive and meaningful.  But strangely it is her portrayal of the police officers that irritated me and caused me to mark the book down a star.  DI Stevens seems a bit pathetic and weak, his relationship with Kate felt teenagerish and cliched and it seemed entirely unnecessary to the plot.

Despite this last point, this is a fabulous read, far surpassing the likes of Gone Girl and Girl on a Train in my opinion, and one I will be foisting upon all and sundry!

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Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Bout of Books Challenge: A Haiku!

Today's Bout of Books challenge is hosted by Kristina Horner.  Kristina has asked us to write a haiku based on the book we are reading!  I know a traditional haiku obeys strict rules about number of syllables per line, etc, but I'm a rule breaker (i.e. that's too hard!).

I'm currently reading I Let You Go by Clare Mackintosh.  Here's my haiku:

Tragedy.  Mystery.  Tension.
The beach provides welcome escape.
Something is coming.

A masterpiece, no?! :)

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Monday, May 11, 2015

A Bookish Survey

Today's Bout of Books challenge is run by WritingMyOwnFairyTale and is a fab little bookish survey!  I can never resist this kind of thing, so here we go:

1.  How do you organise your shelves?
I try to keep my books organised alphabetically, but my shelves are full up and I keep buying books.  So they tend to pile up randomly around the house, much to my husband's horror!

2.  What is one of your favourite books that is not in one of your favourite genres?
YA is not my favourite genre, although I do read YA occasionally.  I did really enjoy The Hunger Games trilogy, however, and would count this as one of my favourites.

3.  What is the last 5 star book you read?
*checks Goodreads*  It was The Road by Cormac McCarthy (which I've just posted a review for here!)

4. What books are you most excited to read during the read-a-thon?
I can't wait to get started with I Let You Go by Clare Mackintosh, and will be starting it this evening!

5.  What book do you recommend the most?
This would probably be Moloka'i by Alan Brennert.  I don't hear many people talking about this book, but it is such a wonderful read - I recommend it to anyone and everyone!

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Sunday, May 10, 2015

Review: The Road by Cormac McCarthy

I hesitate to review a classic like this, but here are the thoughts spilling from my mind.

After reading Station Eleven by Emily St John Mandel (review here), which, incidentally, recently won the Arthur C Clarke award, I asked on Goodreads for recommendations of non-YA apocalyptic or post-apocalyptic fiction.  (Nothing against YA, I hasten to add!)  The two recommendations that stood out to me (mainly because I hadn't already read them) were The Stand by Stephen King, and The Road by Cormac McCarthy.  As I had The Road sitting on my shelf, I went with that one.

I'd heard great things about this book, and as usual I had high expectations, with some reservations.  I was hesitant because I knew that the dialogue was not contained within speech marks.  A minor thing maybe, I know, but it tends to irritate me as I read.  I know not why!  I also thought, holy moly, how can a whole book about a man and a boy walking along a road be that interesting?!  Well.  I was very happy to be proved wrong on that count!

McCarthy's writing is beautiful and evokes the atmosphere of the destroyed world perfectly.  The story gripped and held me and I read this in two sittings.  For such a quick read, this book really packs a punch.  This sad and harrowing tale of the doggedness of the human spirit is not one to pick up of you're after a lighthearted read, but I urge you to pick it up when you're in the mood for something wonderful.  This is well deserving of my rare 5 stars and its' place on my favourites shelf.

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Bout of Books 13

Next week sees the return of the Bout of Books readathon!  I have attempted to take part in this one before, and decided now was as good a time as any to give it another go!

Never heard of Bout of Books?  Here's what the organisers have to say:

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, May 11th and runs through Sunday, May 17th in whatever time zone you are in. Bout of Books is low-pressure. There are challenges, giveaways, and a grand prize, but all of these are completely optional. For all Bout of Books 13 information and updates, be sure to visit the Bout of Books blog. - From the Bout of Books team

Here are my reading plans:

Other Plans:
  • Tweet my progress at least once a day (follow me @iluvsneakers)
  • Enter any challenges or giveaways that take my fancy
  • Follow the #boutofbooks and interact with people on twitter daily
  • Comment on 3 participating blogs a day
  • Make some new friends :)
I will be working (part-time) throughout the week, and these are pretty ambitious plans for me, but I'm excited to give it a go!

If you're participating, let me know and we can chat!

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Wednesday, May 06, 2015

How does your garden grow?

In my case, not very well! Every couple of years I decide to try to grow some vegetables at home. One year I even went as far as getting an allotment! That was a complete disaster and I think I visited the plot a total of 3 times in the entire year. Not one of my better ideas! In my defense the plot was horribly overgrown and covered in weeds, it was horrifically hard work to even clear a tiny patch, and no-one wanted to help me. So I gave that up. But it didn't stop me wanting to grow my own, even though I have a terrible history with plants. I regularly buy potted herbs from the supermarket, only to forget to water them and they end up drying out on the kitchen window sill and landing in the bin. I bought an orchid because they are so beautiful, but that lasted only a few weeks. I am having some success with not killing cacti, though!

 Anyway, this year I've decided to give it another go. I'm starting small and not too ambitious. Our garden is quite tiny, so I have decided containers are the way to go. We have one of those plastic greenhouse thingies, and I have sown some seeds! By the summer we will have a wonderful homegrown selection of cherry tomatoes, various lettuce, beetroot and runner beans! Keep an eye on my instagram account for regular updates on the growth of my seedlings and keep your green fingers crossed for me!

 Do you grow your own veges? Do you have any tips for me? Let me know in the comments section - because let's be honest, I need all the help I can get!

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Sunday, May 03, 2015

Review: Station Eleven by Emily St John Mandel

I think Station Eleven by Emily St John Mandel was one of the most hyped books of the last quarter of 2014.  Every one and his dog seemed to be reading and mostly loving this book, which didn't bode well for me.  I tend not to enjoy the super hyped up books and end up bitterly disappointed.  And so I put off picking this one up for quite some time.

For those of you who've been living under a rock, this book is set mostly in a post apocalyptic world that has been wiped out by a killer flu virus.  All the more scary because it is so plausible.  The timeline flits between three time periods - several years before the apocalypse, 'day zero' and the days immediately after the flu virus hits and 20 years into the future.

The parts of the story that were set before the killer virus were the least enjoyable for me.  I found the characters here to be spoiled, boring, selfish and one dimensional and the storylines predictable and flat.

The post apocalyptic sections were far more enjoyable, with some beautifully written sections.  Here is one example - this goes on for quite a few paragraphs, but this is just an excerpt:

No more screens shining in the half-light as people raise their phones above the crowd to take photographs of concert stages.  No more concert stages lit by candy-coloured halogens, no more electronica, punk, electric guitars. No more pharmaceuticals.  No more certainty of surviving a scratch on one's hand, a cut on a finger while chopping vegetables for dinner, a dog bite. No more flight.  No more towns glimpsed from the sky through airplane windows, points of glimmering light; no more looking down from thirty thousand feet and imagining the lives lit up by those lights at that moment.
Can you imagine it?  It sends a shiver up my spine.

Overall, although it did not quite live up to the hype for me, I did enjoy this story.  The writing was often beautiful, the characters mostly likable and empathy-inducing and the entire premise believable and frightening.   I would recommend this to anyone wanting to dive into the apocalyptic genre.  I think this is a good starting point due to the mix of timelines, and I gave it a highly acceptable 3 stars.

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Saturday, May 02, 2015

A celebratory giveaway!

In celebration of my shiny swanky new look blog, I thought I would host a little giveaway.  If you would like to win a lightly used (read by one careful lady owner ;)) ARC of Gone by Rebecca Muddiman, please enter below!  You can read my review of this book here - I really enjoyed it and gave it 4 stars.

(Unfortunately, due to postage prices, this giveaway is only open to UK readers.  Sorry :()

Rebecca Muddiman lives with her boyfriend who also writes crime novels.  They have named their house "Murder Cottage"!  Enter via the Rafflecopter thingummy below, and tell me what you would call your house (or your holiday home in Barbados ;))

Can't wait to hear your names!  (Mine would probably be The Messy Nest!) Good luck!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

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