Thursday, 22 February 2018

Book review: after you'd gone

By Maggie O'Farrell
Published by Headline Review

Synopsis: A distraught young woman boards a train at King's Cross to return to her family in Scotland. Six hours later, she catches sight of something so terrible in a mirror at Waverley Station that she gets on the next train back to London.

AFTER YOU'D GONE follows Alice's mental journey through her own past, after a traffic accident has left her in a coma. A love story that is also a story of absence, and of how our choices can reverberate through the generations, it slowly draws us closer to a dark secret at a family's heart.

How did this book end up in my hands? This is another one of those books that have been moving home with me for a good few years so I don’t actually recall how it’s ended on the shelves.

Was it a page-turner? Not in the beginning but as I kept learning more and more about the women of the Raikes family, I could hardly put it down. I just needed to know what would happen to them and the people they loved (or didn’t love so much).

Having read the synopsis, did the book meet my expectations? The book exceeded my expectations. It delivers what anticipated in the synopsis and so much more too. There is more depth to this novel that it can be summarised on a back cover. I only found it a little slow to get into because the narration was initially jumping too frequently from one character to the other or back and forth in time.

Did I like the ending? I could think of three possible endings while I was reading the book and I wasn’t sure which one I should prefer. No problem! The writer came up with a fourth option and I loved it! This said, I should probably read the last paragraph again because I could hardly see the words through my tears. Happy tears, sad tears, hopeful tears and heartbroken tears. Have I already mentioned I loved it?

Did the book leave me with unanswered questions? The book leaves the readers with one massive unanswered question at the very end and that is was makes it so brilliant. I wouldn’t want it any other way!

Three words to describe it. Gripping. Moving. Heart-breaking.

Do I like the cover? Yes and no. Blue is my favourite colour and I love beaches so, yes, I do like it. However, I don’t see how it has anything to do with the story.

Have I read any other books by the same author? Yes, I’ve read The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox, My Lover’s Lover and The Hand That First Held Mine (my review here) – in that order. I loved all three of them.

Will I want to read other books by the same author? Yes, I can’t imagine not wanting to.

Will I be recommending this book? Yes, yes, yes. In particular if you enjoy books with women who are strong and vulnerable at the same time and in general in you like books that keep you on your toes until the very end.

Wednesday, 21 February 2018

My Rad Life - A Journal + Competition

A couple of weeks ago I was the lucky winner of a copy of My Rad Life. Calling this 'a journal' is way too modest so I will grab a marker and add 'a source of inspiration' on the cover! You might as well start as you mean to go on!

Written by Kate Schatz and skillfully illustrated by Miriam Klein Stahl, this beautiful journal published by Ten Speed Press is the perfect gift for women who know - or should know - how awesome they are!

Browsing the pages, you meet women you know and women you don't know - in the end, all women you will be happy to know and whose words will make you think, question, wonder, dream and so much more.
The colour scheme is vibrant and the pages, with their quotes and prompts, invite you to draw, doodle, write and pour your creativity between the covers in any way you want. There are blank pages to fill, lines to follow (or not, it's up to you!) and speech bubbles to give a voice to.
I can already see how this journal will help me get to know myself better and I am very happy to have a copy to offer to one of you, courtesy of PGUK. All you have to do is follow me on Twitter and retweet the competition post. Extra entries will be awarded to anyone who leaves a comment in the box below.

A winner will be chosen on March 12th. UK only. Good luck! 

My favourite quotes #3

With each passing year, and with each whimsical purchase, our libraries become more and more able to articulate who we are, whether we read the books or not.

Nick Hornby

What are your favourite quotes? Share them on Twitter or in the comments below!

Tuesday, 20 February 2018

My top 5 books in 2017

Am I too late to write a post about my top 5 books in 2017? 
I can't hear you so I'll just go ahead!

Without further ado, here are the books I loved last year:

1) The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga
Very simplistically, it could be described as a rag to riches story with the Indian caste system thrown in. Absolutely fascinating. I couldn't put it down. 

2) Big Brother by Lionel Shriver
This should really be in joint first place. Adoring sister helps obese brother get back on the right track. I drank every word of this book only to find myself chocking at the end. Only McEwan's Atonement has had this effect on me so far and that's another book I love!

3) Gloria by Kerry Young
This was a book group read and I spent the first 50 pages wondering how on earth I would be able to read the Jamaican dialect it was written in. I just wanted to correct grammar and spelling - and I'm not even an English native speaker. And then it happened: Gloria, her sister, the girls across the road, Pao... they all became real and I just wanted to keep reading to know what would happend to them. A captivating read.

4) All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
This is another book I struggled to get into as I thought that the initial chapters alternating between the stories of Marie-Laure in France and Werner in Germany were too short. I kept finding myself snatched away from the narration as soon as I was getting into it. Like it happened with Gloria, however, I soon became interested in learning how the war would affect their lives and how their paths might cross. Such a hopeful book.

5) Under the Banyan Tree and Other Stories by R. K. Narayan
This book was gifted to me before my honeymoon in India so I was particularly interested in it. As soon as I began reading, my heart was captured. This collection of short stories is exquisite and written in such beautiful English that it almost doesn't matter what the stories narrate. Except that the content, the settings and the characters that populate them are captivating too. It is in fifth place only because I prefer full-length novel to short stories.

Monday, 19 February 2018

Podcast review: Book Shambles S07E02

Today I started listening to my second episode ever of the podcast Book Shambles and only a few minutes in I thought 'Oh no!' as host Robin Ince and science fiction writer Andy Weir started discussing Doctor Who, Star Trek and Star Wars in what I - armed with my complete ignorance in such topics - considered too much detail.

I know that science fiction embraces many subgenres. I even like some of them. I probably like more than some but I have never learnt how to define them. For example, last year I read Make Room! Make Room! by Harry Harrison. How would you classify that? Speculative fiction, dystopian fiction, climate fiction, apocalyptic fiction? I have no idea but I did enjoy it.

It is silly but when I hear the words 'science fiction' my mind immediately conjures up aliens and intergalactic battles - and I don't particularly like either of those.

I decided to keep listening to the episode anyway - as I was also chopping leeks and potatoes for dinner and I didn't want to stop - and am I glad I did! 

What I didn't know is that Andy Weir wrote The Martian, which later became the successful film of the same name starring Matt Damon. That was a lightbulb moment because I did surprisingly like the film and - based on one  of the booklover's commandments - I dare say that the book is probably even better.

I am not in rush to read The Martian - as I know how it ends - but I added to my wish list Weir's latest novel, Artemis. The concept is interesting (= tourism more than anything will inspire moon travel) and the development of the lead character (= who was not a lead character to begin with) tickled my curiosity.

All in all, a great episode of Book Shambles, which you can listen to by clicking on the link below:

Bonus question: do you know what a crime caper novel is? Hats off to you if you do. I had to ask Wikipedia!

Saturday, 17 February 2018

Book review: Wavewalker

By Stella Duffy
Published by Serpent’s Tail

Synopsis: Saz has been hired by a mystery employer, the Wavewalker, to investigate the activities of Dr Maxwell North, an internationally acclaimed therapist, healer and guru. She starts by experiencing ‘The Process’ at a meeting in London, then insinuates herself into North’s life and home, not realising the extent to which North will go to protect the dark secrets of his past. Starting in ‘70s San Francisco, then crashing into her own ‘90s London life, the investigation propels Saz into dangerous territory and a highly combustible conclusion.
How did this book end up in my hands? I bought this book many years ago. I’m ashamed to say I can’t even remember when I bought it but long enough ago to have followed me through many house moves.
Was it a page-turner? Yes, every twist in the plot was completely unexpected – right to the very end.

Having read the synopsis, did the book meet my expectations? Yes. The story was well developed, the characters engaging and the different locations added an interesting touch to an already interesting detective story. I am not a fan, however, of the numerous sex scenes, which I didn’t find necessary to the plot. I am all for giving visibility to lesbians in film and literature but it felt forced sometimes, a little like a caricature.

Did I like the ending? I don’t want to give too much away but – despite it not being a pleasant ending per se – it was indeed fitting to the story.

Did the book leave me with unanswered questions? No, once you reach the last page all loose ends are nicely tied up and the story comes to a satisfactory conclusion.

Three words to describe it. Uneasy. Compelling. Humorous.

Do I like the cover? This cover makes me feel uneasy every time I look at it but that’s what it is supposed to do so I can’t say it’s not served its purpose.

Have I read any other books by the same author? I have read the first book in the Saz Martin series, Calendar Girl, which I also greatly enjoyed.

Will I want to read other books by the same author? Yes. The third book in the Saz Martin series, Beneath the Blonde, is waiting on my shelves. I do like to take a break from book series though so I won’t be reading it too soon.

Will I be recommending this book? Yes, definitely. Saz is a very likeable character and, while being an engaging crime book, I like the humorous voice in which it is narrated.

Friday, 16 February 2018

Books through my lens #24

Tectonic Model (Flow) - Takahiro Iwasaki's installation in the Japan Pavilion at the Venice Art Biennale 2017

Thursday, 15 February 2018


A few days ago, I woke up to a light dusting of snow outside my window. It was gone a few hours later but it lingered enough for me to reach out for my copy of Snow by Maxence Fermine.

This is a book I first read a long time ago. I was still living in Italy at the time (hence the Italian edition of the book) and I loved it so much that it was among the very few books that moved to England with me back in 2005.

I haven't read it again since that first time and I think that now might be a good time to do that because - as I looked it up on Goodreads - I was shocked to see it received a rating of 3.74 out of 5 stars!

That must be a mistake... I remember a beautifully poetic and evocative book narrating a fragile story of searching and loving. If I had to rate it as I remember it, 5 stars wouldn't be enough.

I will be coming back to this before the year is over. In the meantime, I'd love to hear your views on this book if you've read it or are reading it.

Wednesday, 14 February 2018

Valentine's Day book review: Committed

Happy Valentine's Day, book lovers!

Today I am recommending a book that I enjoyed reading last year in the run-up to my wedding: Committed by Elizabeth Gilbert.

I found this lovely second-hand paperback in the cosy Berliner Büchertisch while I was in Berlin for a friend's wedding.

Having loved Eat Pray Love, I knew the moment I saw this book that it was going to come back to England with me so the fact that the title incorporated 'A Love Story' didn't seal the deal. I have however seen that replaced with 'A Sceptic Makes Peace with Marriage' in other editions and I am not sure that I would have felt the same enthusiasm if that version had landed in my hands instead.

Whether you're in love, in love with the idea of being in love, single, courting, engaged, married, divorced or what not, I would whole-heartedly recommend you read this collection of honest introspection and well-pondered reflections on the meaning of marriage.

I knew before I bought this book that the marriage she was preparing for had already ended but this knowledge didn't diminish the magic that Elizabeth Gilbert is able to conjure up when she puts pen to paper.

Tuesday, 13 February 2018

My favourite quotes #2

The truly cultured are capable of owning thousands of unread books without losing their composure or their desire for more. 

Gabriel Zaid

What do you think of this quote? I personally like it because it's a perfect excuse to keep buying books!

What are your favourite quotes? Share them on Twitter or in the comments below!