Ah, now this is exactly the sort of book I love to pick up. A creepy, energetic thriller with just the right balance of horror, intrigue and fantasy.
The beginning of the novel was similar to many haunted house stories – a young woman must visit an old house in the middle of nowhere. When she arrives, she discovers that it is decrepit, mouldy and its occupants decidedly odd. There are silent servants, lecherous men and a cousin who is acting anything but normal.
The protagonist is Noemi, a character that you can’t help rooting for. She is bright and fun and the perfect antithesis to the bleak surroundings, high in the mountains where the mist is a constant companion.
About halfway through, the plot veers away from that of a traditional haunted house tale and becomes something very different. It surprised me, but I loved it. The plot is imaginative and brave, and I am now looking up Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s other books (Gods of Jade and Shadow next, I think!)
Ah, what a joy this book was to read. I absorbed it slowly, savouring every word and getting to know the sweet characters within.
Still Life is the story of Ulysses, a soldier turned globe maker, and Evelyn, a delightfully witty art historian and lecturer. They are generations apart in age, but their respect for one another is one of the key themes in this book.
Set mostly in Florence, I enjoyed every single one of the hours I spent on an Italian terrace as I made my way through the story. We stay mainly with Ulysses, but also grow to know and love his rag tag group of friends who make the move from London to Italy with him.
The book begins in the Second World War, and spans decades. I eventually adored every character, with all their nuances – there was not one I disliked, and I grieved for them when I closed the last page.
There is great depth to Still Life, with many layers of meaning, but the one that struck me most of all was the fleeting nature of life. Of the snapshots that you remember as time follows its unrelenting path, and the memories and people you treasure along the way. Of the fact that, at the same time, you are tiny and insignificant in this universe and enormous and vital in someone else’s world.
Pick up this book, and fall in love.
You can get a copy here – it’s out on June 10th. Thank you to 4th Estate for sending me an advance review copy.
When I heard that a new book by Kazuo Ishiguro was being released, I was extremely excited. I love Never Let Me Go (you can read my review of that book here), and had very high hopes for Klara and the Sun. My excitement was just tinged with a hint of concern that perhaps it could not live up to those expectations.
Well, I am delighted to announce that it did. As always, the depth of detail in Ishiguro’s world was incredible. Klara and the Sun focuses on an artificially intelligent being who is sold as a companion to a child. I won’t say much more about the contents, because I don’t want to spoil it for anyone wanting to read it, but I was blown away by the insights into how an artificially intelligent robot might think. You are party to the learning process, as she becomes more socially aware following exposure to varying events. There are countless curiosities – what would a solar powered robot think of the sun? How would a robot’s programming affect what it thought about humans, their emotions and the hierarchy of problems they may have?
As with Never Let Me Go, you do not get any more information than Klara herself has. This naturally leaves many questions unanswered at the end of the book – which is frustrating but, equally, perfect.
I found the novel intensely moving, thought provoking and a genuinely delightful way to spend a weekend. Highly recommended.
I wasn’t able to head to any exciting book shops or restaurants or bars for my birthday this year (and I usually like to spend my birthday PROPERLY enjoying myself), so a little retail therapy was certainly on the cards.
I do love collecting books. The ones I bought will add to some of my favourites sets. I did want to purchase one other book that I’ve had my eye on for a while – Mexican Gothic. However, my process is that I purchase newer releases (read: anything that’s not a classic) second hand, and I then pass them on to friends and family when I’ve read them. Mexican Gothic seems to be too new at the moment for me to pick up a second hand copy online, so I’ll just have to wait.
So, here we go, my birthday books:
1. This Side of Paradise – F. Scott Fitzgerald
A beautiful Barnes and Noble leatherbound edition by one of my favourite authors. I love collecting these big, chunky books and I adore the quality- it’s exceptional.
One good thing does come from lockdown; reading more books. I thought I’d share with you the books I read in January and what I thought of them. A slight caveat to begin – I have been researching cults for some writing, and this dictated most of my choices! However, if you’re interested in cults then this could well be the reading month for you.
I finished 4 books which I was happy with; I generally try to get through one a week.
Book 1 – In Order to Live – Yeonmi Park
What a great way to start a new year’s reading journey. This book was simply astonishing. It documents the true story of Yeonmi Park’s escape from North Korea, and what happened to her afterwards. This book will stay with me for a very, very long time. The chapters sharing her life as a child in North Korea were awful, but unsurprising- full of hunger, illness and an impossible political system. It was what occurred after she escaped over the border with her mother that truly shocked me. I think, like many, I had heard of North Korean defectors and assumed that, once they were free, they were safe. I was wrong on both counts. Yeonmi Park and her mother were neither free nor safe as undocumented refugees in China. I won’t share what happened to them here, but I urge you to pick up this book and read her harrowing, inspirational journey yourself.
My second book of the month was Survivor by Chuck Palahniuk. Keeping in with the cult theme, this is a fast-paced and wild yarn about the last survivor of a suicide cult. As you would expect from Palahniuk, this story investigates the darkest corners of the human condition whilst remaining completely character-focused and utterly readable. I enjoyed it, it had some seriously quotable phrases, but I already find it slipping from my memory. It’s not a book that hit me, you know?
Sometimes you need some pure escapism. I’ve watched the series multiple times and enjoy it. My husband gave me the full box set of the books for Christmas and I thought I’d get stuck in. The series follows this first book very faithfully, so it was an easy read. It was lovely (if that is the correct word to describe a book like this…) to revisit these characters and I spent several happy hours in Westeros. I won’t explain what it’s about because, well, I’m sure you already know.
Ok, I was very divided by this one. The book is a series of interviews conducted by Murakami with survivors of the Tokyo underground terrorist attacks in 1995. The interviews themselves were fascinating. The layout, with different people who experienced the same attack and their contradictory memories, was great. Murakami’s input, however, was jarring. In the introduction, he laid out his efforts to contact survivors. He noted that many women declined, and said that this was probably because the men in their families wouldn’t want them to be interviewed. Of course, I found that angering. Then, prior to an interview with a woman, he described (in great detail) her attractiveness, how men would like her and how she was young enough to be his daughter. The men he clearly admired were described in terms of being controlling, in charge of their families. I understand that a lot of time has passed since this book was written, but I found his attitude towards women to be awful, and it completely distracted from the content of the book.
If you still somehow want a copy, you can get one here!
There you are – my January reads! Have you read any of these? Did you enjoy them?
Looking ahead to February, I have a few exciting books on my radar, but I may well read less (due to the very exciting fact that my debut novel The Hellion is being released in a few short weeks…!)
“Her body refused to turn around; something was holding her there in the bedroom doorway. But she wasn’t dreaming. You don’t feel pain in dreams.“
It is no secret that I am a fan of weird and wonderful short stories (and occasionally enjoy getting my quill out to write some of my own), and the joy of stumbling across a collection which is as good as this one is almost indescribable.
Things We Lost In The Fire is…there’s no other word for it, it’s terrifying. These are modern day, gothic horror stories set in the slums of Buenos Aires. Each is fast-paced, twisting and turning with terror building with each line.
I tend to judge the success of horror stories by the weirdness of my dreams after reading – and based on the disturbed sleep I had, this collection is a winner.
One of my favourites was The Neighbor’s Courtyard, a terrifically creepy yarn which reminded me, with its obsession, of The Yellow Wallpaper. But all of the stories are very good, and all very different.
You know that excitement when you read a book you love, will remember forever, and that you know you won’t stop recommending to people, probably ever? Yep. This is one of them. I’m sad that I can’t experience the joy of reading it for the first time again.
You can find Things We Lost In The Fire here and the book tracker bookmarks here.
Oh, how I love a fairy tale retelling. They are so deeply immersive and, when well-written, pick you up and spirit you away to another world.
Orfeia is a retelling of the Orpheus myth (a quick recap – Orpheus’ wife Eurydice died and Orpheus went to the underworld to beg for her life. The gods allowed her release as long as Orpheus did not look back at her as they travelled back to the land of the living. Unable to do so, Orpheus looked back and Eurydice was gone forever). Orfeia draws on the themes of death and grief, but focuses instead on a mother and her daughter.
As with all of Harris’ work, the story is beautifully told. Magic weaves through it and you question dreams and reality. I rushed through the book in a few sittings, swept away by the enchanting tale, and it would be perfect for a chilly autumn evening- by the fire with a glass of wine.
The book is illustrated by Bonnie Helen Hawkins (who also illustrated A Pocketful of Crows and The Blue Salt Road) and the beautiful drawings bring Harris’ words to life.
You can find Orfeia here and the book tracker bookmarks here.
“But this is a women’s war, just as much as it is the men’s, and the poet will look upon their pain – the pain of the women who have always been relegated to the edges of the story, victims of men, survivors of men, slaves of men – and he will tell it, or he will tell nothing at all.”
There are good retellings of Greek myths and legends – The Song of Achilles, for example. There are good feminist retellings – Circe and The Penelopiad. And there are (I’m sorry to say it) not so good feminist retellings, such as The Silence of the Girls. With A Thousand Ships, we thankfully have a feminist retelling which falls into good – if not excellent- category.
The book follows a mostly chronological story of the Trojan War and Odysseus’ (and other ‘heroes’) various meanderings afterwards, told solely through the eyes of the women involved. Some are well known to fans of the immensely popular recent novels, others were new to me.
A Thousand Ships flits between many of the women involved in and affected by the war, and I have read several views that suggest the book was the worse because of this. I found the opposite- perhaps it’s down to my lack of focus at the moment but I loved gaining a wider perspective through multiple viewpoints.
I gave this book 9/10. Will it win the Women’s Prize? Probably not. It may not be as in-depth and focused as some people would prefer, but it was the perfect read for me at this time. If you want to escape into the world of Greek myths and legends, this is the book for you. And on that note, if you have any other recommendations for myths and legends retellings, pop them in the comments!
I don’t know about you, but since the pandemic started I’ve spent a lot more time in my kitchen. Homemade food is not only good for the body, it’s good for the soul too and cooking never fails to calm me. I’ve used cookery as therapy for as long as I can remember. Whether it’s a quick, whipped together meal or a long, slow cook, the preparation of food has a power that is often overlooked in our usual fast paced world.
My first foray into blogging was a food blog. On What To Have For Dinner Tonight, I shared my favourite recipes. For me, cooking is and always has been cathartic.
If you’re just beginning your cookery journey, or are looking for some inspiration to shake things up, here are my favourite cookery books to bring some fresh ideas.
1. Greenfeast – Nigel Slater
Nigel Slater’s food philosophy is very similar to my own. Good ingredients, treated well to create delicious meals. His recent offerings are two vegetarian books, one focusing on ingredients in season in spring and summer, the other autumn and winter. These books celebrate vegetables, and make their delicious, varied flavours sing. Even the most dedicated meat eater will enjoy these!
You can find Spring, Summer here and Autumn, Winter here.
2. Persiana – Sabrina Ghayour
If you are hankering for travel abroad, these recipes will transport you to the Middle East. Persiana is packed full of fragrant, moreish recipes which can bring some sunshine into your life. From meaty meals to light salads to sweet desserts, there is something for everyone here.
3. 15 Minute Meals – Jamie Oliver
People love to hate Jamie Oliver, and both this book and his preceding 30 minute meals book received a lot of criticism about how long the recipes actually take to make. And yes, in real life these recipes do take more than 15 minutes (although I tidy up as I go, and factor that into the time). Despite this, the book is packed full of easy, quick and delicious meals which the whole family will enjoy. You can find it here.
4. SIMPLE – Yotam Ottolenghi
Although cook books which include delightfully complex recipes are great to have around for one-off occasions, SIMPLE has an enormous amount of utility. These are the sort of meals that you won’t just cook once – you’ll make them weekly, add them to your repertoire and enjoy them over and over again. The recipes are simple in various ways – time taken, or amount of pots used, or ingredients, or you can make them ahead of time. If you’re looking for a way to build your skills and become a better cook for the future, have a look here.
I hope you enjoy these books and the recipes they include. Share your favourite cook book in the comments!
“Somehow it went from too soon to too late, without the right moment in between.”
If you had the power to erase your worst memories, would you? The Binding explores this question and the moral and ethical dilemmas involved, and it does so beautifully.
There is a wonderful depth to Collins’ writing as she unwinds her themes. If it were possible to remove memories, would it be done for good, or for ill? All the while, a tragic love story unfolds between Emmett Farmer and Lucian Darnay, one a poor apprentice, the other rich and privileged. The love story was gorgeously written, and added another level to this already intriguing idea.
The books in Collins’ story are dangerous – they contain human memories, just as our own books do, but these are memories that the owner wanted to be hidden, secreted away from the originator themselves.
The Binding is set in a time which has many similarities with 19th century England, and this dark, gloomy setting works perfectly for the story.
I truly enjoyed this book, and highly recommend it.