Blog: Independent Bookshop Week 2015 || Bookshop Crawl + Book Haul

So, if by some chance you missed it, last week was Independent Bookshop Week 2015. It ran between the 20th and 27th of June and was a big celebration of all the independent bookshops in the UK. It is an event that encourages people to visit, and shop, at their local independent bookshop and just raise that awareness that they are there.

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Anyone that knows me knows that I love independent bookshops – I’m lucky in that where I live in the UK the independent bookseller hasn’t been killed off. Nearly every town on the outskirts of the city has an bookshop, even the city centre the independent shops withstand the pressures of the Waterstones within 100 metres (which I also love, even though it is a chain it still has that personal feel for me, which is why I visited it).

I was actually on holiday this year for IBW2015. I was hoping that being in a different part of the country I would be able to stumble upon new gems of bookshops and find something different to take home with me. This however wasn’t the case, it was rare to stumble upon a Waterstones never mind an independent shop! So this left me very disheartened and the image I had in my head of how my holiday and, consequently, my IBW2015 were going to go was shattered!

To remedy this sadness I felt, when I returned the first thing I did (after a long lay in) on Saturday was to hit Norwich City centre and go in to the two independent bookshops there (and Waterstones) and I ended up buying quite a bit (and not buying even more that I wanted to!)

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Review: The Remains of the Day – Kazuo Ishiguro

theremainsofthedayAfter The Buried Giant I wanted to give Ishiguro one more go. This is his highest rated book on goodreads, it was yellow (for rainbowthon!) and it seemed like a good book to read on holiday – so it ticked a lot of boxes I wanted it to! It was a good choice.

This is a very gentle book following the story of Stevens, a butler as he takes a much needed holiday in the English countryside at the behest of his employer. We visit the past as we meander through the country with him and see the world, and the people in it, through is eyes. We learn of his love, his loss, his devotion and ultimately, what an unreliable narrator he is. This book is a book of love and regret, the things that shape and define us, our loyalty and our memory. It was beautiful.

It is a very thoughtful book and is honestly one of the best books told from the first person POV that I have ever read. I can see why it won the Booker prize when it was written because it is a masterful piece of writing.

I think I would have been kinder to this in my rating had I not just read a book by Virginia Woolf right before it, a book that is striking in its similarity to this. The stream of consciousness, the theme of lost time – they were wonderful to read together. However I still happily gave this a 4/5 because it was just so beautifully written, it was one that I felt invested in. I think, had I have read this prior to To the Lighthouse I may have given it 5/5.

Review: To the Lighthouse – Virginia Woolf

tothelighthouseI picked this up as a holiday read – it was honestly the perfect thing to read, kicking back in the sun!

Virginia Woolf is an artist and words her medium. She is a genius and I cannot fully express my love for her. The few hours that I spend reading this book, so totally and utterly engrossed in this were some of the best of my holiday.

I really find it hard to let go of a novel by Woolf, it is always one that leaves me hanging; wanting to go back to the start. This will be one I revisit in the sunshine; be it this year or next either way I will read this again, more than once.

It was by no means an easy read. It required concentration and my full attention for 4 or 5 hours to read and fully appreciate but it was totally worth it. She forms sentences so beautifully and intricately that it was impossible to read this with any kind of distraction.

This book is split in to three parts. In the first, we meet the Ramsey family – very little happens, we just follow these characters, spending time in each of their heads and jumping around. It’s just wonderful. Over the course of the novel we follow the plot through several perspectives – men, women and children.

I really don’t feel I can do this book justice. I’m not an academic, at least not in English Literature. But I know a good book when I read one, I can appreciate the artistry and the genius behind it. Virginia Woolf is wonderful and this book is a 5/5 for me.

Review: The Shadow of the Wind – Carlos Ruiz Zafon

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The primary reason I picked this up is, on one of the websites I frequent we have a reading challenge which has one particular challenge which requires us to read an Author A-Z. This book, by Carlos Ruiz Zafon, counts towards my Z author. Also, I did begin this – with intention to finish – during the Rainbowthon!

Based on that simple fact, I went in to this with a very open mind. However, after a wee bit of investigation, I did then realise that it was a very highly rated book on goodreads. It has an average of 4.22 which is probably one of the highest rated books that I’ve picked up this year!

Once it got going, The Shadow of the Wind was an amazing book. The only way to describe it is an epic. It was somewhat reminiscent of The Historian in it’s plot, even though I haven’t read that book for a few years it still came to my mind as I was reading this. The plot was pretty damn good, a boy of 10 finds a book in The Cemetery of Forgotten Books by a long forgotten author and it piques his interest. We follow our protagonist, Daniel, over a number of years on his quest to find out more about the elusive author Julian Carax. The characters we meet along the way are absolutely wonderful on the whole; they’re rich, vibrant and most importantly, very real.

I think it was, ultimately, the characters that made this book. There were so many themes and it fits in to so many genres – mystery, suspense and romance to name a few. But it is Daniel and the parallels with Julian, I loved Fermin. I loved looking in to the history of all the characters and how everyone overlapped and interlinked. I really loved reading a book set in Spain – something I don’t think I’ve ever actually done! I wish I could have read this in Spanish to get the full richness, but my Spanish ends at counting to 10 and saying “water, please”!

My only issue was that I felt that maybe 200 pages in the middle could have been very easily condensed down to fewer than half that many. A lot of it seemed to drag to me and I did really struggle to get through a lot of the middle of the book. It was good but some of it seemed to send me to sleep! Once it got going again, I couldn’t put it down. I read the final 200 pages in about 3 hours or so.

I would very happily give this a 4/5 and I would definitely pick up more by him in the future!

Blog: Holidays and Reading

So, I’m currently on holiday. We’re in the South of England, the weather is glorious and I have a pile of books at my side. I have no motivation to read. Now, this is making me miserable, because I want to read but I just cannot find the motivation to read for more than 10 minutes. I have some amazing books sat there but my current reads seems to be hanging over me and I’m wondering if it may be worth putting it down for a couple of days and starting another book to just get that mojo back!

I had great aspirations of how I was going to read on holiday; I was going to combine reading and an audiobook on the journey (I read 10 pages, listened to none of my audiobook), I was going to read loads and I just haven’t really done much of anything. Does anyone else have this trouble when they get to somewhere new? They lose the motivation they had to read as much as they did?

Anyway, it’s beautiful where we are, we’re not at all far from Chesil Beach (we have a beautiful view of it!) I just feel a little glum that my motivation has disappeared! Primarily because after 15 years of being unable to, I am able to go swimming so I’m taking a bit of time out to do that – I didn’t realise how much I was going to love it!

So, where I hoped to update with a few review this week, I’m not sure that’s going to happen. Maybe once or twice if I’m lucky.

Anyway, just a small update. I’m going to go back to my room and cuddle up with Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse!

Caio for now!

Review: Sputnik Sweetheart – Haruki Murakami

sputnik-sweetheart1Ah. Murakami. It’s a long time since I’ve completely immersed myself in a Murakami – by that I mean it’s a long time since I found one of his novels so utterly readable. Murakami is a very hit and miss author for me, while I sometimes love his work there have been a number of books that I’ve read and really struggled through.

Sputnik Sweetheart was one of the more readable and approachable of Murakami’s work from what I’ve experienced. While not as packed full of his usual magical realism elements, it was still a good read once I got in to it.

We follow the story of Sumire, a young woman who falls in love with another woman – Miu. It’s told from the perspective of Sumire’s friend, who we only know as K. We follow the period of Sumire’s life in which she meets Miu and how their lives overlap and fall in to sync with each other, we follow them on a tour of Europe when something then happens to Sumire.

It’s an interesting look at passion and the borderline with obsession. It was an interesting look at sexual fluidity and desire. But there was something lacking, some of this felt rushed and some felt that it wasn’t giving me all it could. The ending was just “boom and I’m done” and that frustrated me somewhat because, as always, Murakami left the ending up to interpretation for the reader rather than closing it all nicely and putting a bow on it!

This was a very passive narration which I think really fitted the story well. It was fluid and easy to read, it was quick to read. It just left me feeling a little empty. I think with Murakami, instant impressions are not a fair representation of his work because often I have to settle down and think about what I’ve actually read and process it fully. Sometimes my impressions are improved, or in the case of Hard Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World, my initial impressions are generous!

My main thought with this book is that I really need to go and read 1Q84 again because this reminded me of it so much! Mainly the focus on the moon which was a really big focus in 1Q84.

So, ultimately this is one of the better of Murakami’s books I’ve read but still left me wanting more. First impressions give this a 3/5!

Review: Heidi – Johanna Spyri

heidiThis book has been on my radar for a long while and, this edition is one that I just couldn’t resist! As it is a beautiful shade of green it was a perfect pick for the ‘green’ section of the rainbow read-a-thon which is happening this week!

So, Heidi if you didn’t know is a children’s classic and is one of the most loved children’s books in Switzerland! This is just the most wonderfully optimistic children’s books I’ve read. I absolutely devoured this in only a couple of hours because it was just so lovely.

The story follows Heidi, who at the start of this novel is 5 and is sent up a mountain to live with her grandfather – a hermit who noone really likes. In the fashion of books of this era, our little protagonist brings out the best in the old man, and he brings out the best in her. Her life up the mountain, with her grandfather, the goats and the goatherd – Peter – is idyllic. The first half is her exploring this life and falling in to it and some of it is just beautiful; descriptions of sunsets and mountaintops that are so rich I felt I was there.

The second half is following Heidi after she’s taken from the mountain to live in Frankfurt to be a companion to a young disabled girl. She deals with homesickness but she also finds friendship and faith. I don’t often like books with a religious overtone, however this book the Christianity was done with such grace and understanding it didn’t feel preachy (unlike Little Women!)

The ending of this book is just one that gave me the warm fuzzies, it’s the only way I can describe it. This book was just a delightful read and one I can see myself rereading in the future! I’d happily give this a 4/5 – it’s not my favourite children’s novel but it’s definitely up there!

Readathon: Rainbow Read-a-Thon

Ahhh! Another read-a-thon. Yes, I am crazy. Yes, I did only just finish my previous read-a-thon TBR but what can I say? I’m a glutton for punishment! But I couldn’t, absolutely could not, pass up the chance to make a pretty rainbow TBR.

So, the premise of this is to create a rainbow for your TBR – 6 books with rainbow spines (red, orange, yellow, green, blue and purple), I could have done the alternate 4 books (two of which contain two of the requisite colours) but I’m crazy. The original video can be found here which contains all the information! Now, I think 6 books in a week is a bit ambitious and pretty much impossible how I am reading right now, however I’d like to get a bulk of them read at the very least and then take the remainder with me on holiday next week!

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So I think this is a very pretty rainbow. I could have made loads of bookish rainbows. It would have kept me occupied for hours. Now, on to the books.

Starting from the top we have the red book, Sputnik Sweetheart by Haruki Murakami. This is one I’ve wanted to read for a while and actually started once or twice but never actually got more than 10 pages in. It’s not too long at 229 pages so I feel it’s an achievable one!

Orange is an author I’ve heard a lot about recently – just mentions here and there, but enough to pique my interest to the point I bought The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon. I know very little about this book, I picked it up for the author alone, so I’m hoping to be blown away!

Yellow is another by Kazuo Ishiguro, and it’s the one I’ve heard the best things about. The Remains of the Day is apparently his best work, at least that’s what I’ve heard from most people I respect the opinions of.

Green is one I’ve actually already read today! Heidi is a children’s book by Johanna Spyri and I absolutely adored it (and the beautiful Puffin in Bloom edition of it!) It was a quick read, I devoured it in only a couple of hours and was just what I needed to get going in this readathon!

Blue is Surfacing by Margaret Atwood. Again, this is one I picked up because of the author rather than the plot of the book. It’s not too long and I’m actually looking forward to getting in to this one.

Finally, we have the book I’m most looking forward to but probably going to put off to last and that is The Paying Guests by Sarah Waters. I love Sarah Waters and this came out in paperback last week and I genuinely cannot wait to read it (I put off buying in order to have matching editions of her books). But I’m going to be patient as I think this might be a good one to take on holiday with me Friday!

So that’s my ambitious TBR for the week (15th-21st!) As I said, it’s unlikely I’ll finish all of these this week but I’m good with that. I just wanted to make a pretty rainbow, truth be known! Let me know if you have read any of the above books or if you’re taking part!

Thanks for reading!

Review: The Picture of Dorian Gray – Oscar Wilde

dorian grayWithout doubt one of the most intriguing books I’ve read. I didn’t know very much about this going in to it, for some reason it’s a book that has sort of flown under my radar for a long time.

This is one of the best character studies I’ve read. This is a gothic, psychological look at how vanity can affect a person and how obsessed with material possessions and looks society was (and still is!) It’s a lot darker than I had thought it would be and I was grateful of it.

To summarise the plot; Dorian Gray is a handsome young man who is interested in rather superfluous things – appearance, beauty, image and his youth. Upon getting his portrait painted by a friend, Basil, he expresses a desire that he could remain youthful and the portrait could carry his marks of life, ageing in his place. Well, we can all guess where this goes from there!

I wish that there was more focus on the spiral that this takes and less focus on society and rather pompous dialogue but nonetheless, this was overall a wonderful read.

It is very hard to put this book in to words, just the writing alone is outstanding. Some sentences were, in my opinion, far too long and some was a bit pompous or seemed out of place from the plan plot. But damn, it was just such beautiful imagery and there are some absolutely beautiful passages that I had to read more than once to just appreciate fully. Oscar Wilde was a genius. I can’t even pick a quote as my favourite because there are just so many beautiful passages that I could pick. Instead, check out the Goodreads Quotes Page for this book because you’ll definitely want to read it then!

I thought long and hard while reading this what to rate it. I knew it was amazing, but in the end it’s not a book I’d hurry to reread and some bits I did have to slog through. Ultimately, 4/5

Review: The Gracekeepers – Kirsty Logan

gracekeepersThis book is beautiful. Inside and out. I’ve taken my time to compose this review – and decide on my final rating.

I could very have easily read this book in one sitting but it was one I actually wanted to savour. The prose in this novel is just absolutely gorgeous and the world building that Kirsty has done here is just masterful. This story wouldn’t have been nearly as good if it wasn’t for her use of language; it really captured the magic of the mysterious circus ship.

In the end, after listening to a clip of Kirsty reading this, I couldn’t resist buying the audiobook and I seriously, seriously recommend it. It added a whole new level to it and allowed me to savour it for longer! It definitely added a little more magic to the story – it was a very passive narration, it was slow and gentle but powerful all the same.

This is an old fashioned story in my opinion. It’s based on Scottish folklore and myth but is a modern fairytale twist on several bits of the history. We follow, mainly, North and Callanish and their experiences as a bear girl in a floating circus and a Gracekeeper respectively. Their paths inevitably cross and it changes both of their lives for the better. I won’t give too much away because I feel this is definitely a story that needs to be read!

I struggled getting a rating for this one because I really loved it, I really wanted to give it 5 stars but… the ending was a little hurried in my opinion. It was a fitting, wonderful ending but it felt rushed. The last quarter I couldn’t put down whatsoever, the combination of circumstance and great characters made this so difficult to put down and I just felt bereft when it was actually over. So, on a lot more thought I decided to stick with the initial 4/5. READ THIS. It’s beautiful. It’s definitely one of my favourite books of the year!