Saturday, 30 March 2013

Game of Thrones, family arms

join the realm, house finch, game of thrones, book, house shield, coat of arms, yellow and grey, funny

How awesome is this? I've seen a couple of others floating around the internet and some are really funny.     Make your own here.

Matt Bondurant- Lawless

If you're a fan of the film, the book won't disappoint.

The Plot: Set in prohibition era America, three brothers defy the law when corrupt officers try to get a cut of their illegal liquor trade. Based on a true story and written by the descendant of one of the Bondurant brothers.

Lawless is violent and brutal. I was expecting it to be as I'd seen the film, but the description of Forrest Bondurant getting his throat slit was graphic and disturbing. The narrative reflects the harshness of the era, poverty was common and men had to be ruthless and show 'true grit' to be able to provide for their families.

"Most Bondurant men, including Jack and his brothers, had that strange obsession of the terminally poor; the dreams of wadded sums of cash, of heavy lumps of change in your pocket, the small stacks that speak of dreams. They banked on the salvation of a few dollars" 

I felt like I got a real insight into the manufacturing of moonshine and bootlegging. Matt Bondurant manages to give an impression of how illegal alcohol would taste and smell. The code of silence and men's presumed right to act independently of the law was an integral part of bootlegging. There is a pervading logic to the book that, although they were breaking the law and were violent, the Bondurant's actions were in some way justified. The brothers did adhere to some kind of moral code, they distilled liquor to feed their families and reacted violently to protect themselves and loved ones. 

I liked the inclusion of Sherwood Anderson, a character who doesn't appear in the film. He is a writer doing research into the Bondurant Boys and other notorious bootleggers in Franklin County. The addition of Anderson helped contextualise the Boudurant's narrative, he witnessed the poverty that motivated the brothers. He also observes the glamour and fame that was, and still is, associated with successful moonshiners.

Myth and reputation are key themes in Lawless. Matt Bondurant developed the narrative from newspaper clippings, trial transcripts and family lore. It was very interesting how, in part, the reputation of the brothers was crafted by hearsay and rumour.

If you enjoyed Lawless I suggest you try Cormac McCarthy an American novelist who also writes about tough and desperate men facing difficult circumstances. 

"a book should be written so that it could be read aloud in a cornfield; only then would it be American and true"
- Matt Bondurant, Lawless  
"Reading, by its very nature, is an admission of defeat, a ritual of self-humiliation: it shows that you believe other lives are more interesting than yours." 
 - Matt Bondurant, Lawless 

Thursday, 28 March 2013

The British Museum & Mildred's

Today we visited The British Museum and Mildred's, a small vegetarian restaurant in Soho.

The British Museum, London, UK, visit, glass celling, day trip, tourist, architecture, visually striking, design, white, curved

Ok admittedly, this post has little to do with books or cuppas, though in my defense we did drink tea and there was a library in the museum.

Tuesday, 26 March 2013

Pretty Book Covers

I know you shouldn't judge a book by its cover and all that jazz. However, one of the advantages of still buying paperbacks and hardbacks, apposed to ebooks, is that they look pretty and make you appear smarter.

Plus it is a lot easier to pass judgement on someones reading tastes if you can see their bookshelf- I'm looking at you, owners of proudly displayed 50 Shades. Hide your shame.  

pretty, book covers, beautiful, awesome, good, paperback, hardbacks, photograph, illustrations, stack, pile of books, spines, appreciate

After the cut is a picture heavy post of some of my favourite book covers.

If you like these, or if you're interested in wasting a couple of hours staring at books, you should check out the book cover archive. They have a huge selection of well organised book covers for you to appreciate.

Sunday, 24 March 2013

Currently Reading

Kindle have a spring sale on at the moment, and though it's slim pickings I have downloaded a couple of bits that caught my interest. These goodies were all less than a pound:

  • Lawless, Matt Bondurant. I was a fan of the recent film adaptation, and as usually I think books are better I'm going to give this a go. 
  • The Little Friend, Donna Tart. I've read this before, but it was library copy so for 99p I thought I might as well download my own copy. It is a while since I read it, so I can't quite remember what happens, it's about a girl who's brother is murdered when they are both children. 
  • Alex, Adam J Nicolai. When I got this yesterday it was free, which is the only really reason I downloaded it really. From the product description it looks to be about a father grieving for his dead son.
Oh dear,  looks like I've gone for a bit of a theme. Two books on dead children, slightly macabre.

I also downloaded a free sample of A Lady cyclist's Guide to Kashgar, Suzanne Joinson. I've heard good things about it, but I wanted to give it a try myself before splurging a whole £4.99.   

*disclaimer: I am in no way affiliated with Amazon, and all books have been purchased by me, with my own money

Saturday, 23 March 2013


It is far too cold to leave the house, so my plan for the rest of the day is to get tucked up in a blanket, crack on with a new book and eat suitably snowy looking, homemade lime cheesecake.
The recipe for the cheesecake can be found in Nigella Lawson's Domestic Goddess recipe book

Eowyn Ivey- The Snow Child

If you live in England, and have either looked out the window or been on facebook you’ll have undoubtedly noticed it’s snowing. So here is a weather-appropriate review of Eowyn Ivey’s The Snow Child.

The Plot: Alaska in the 1920’s is wild and desolate, winters are harsh and lives are difficult. Jack and Mabel have come to this barren place to stake their financial and emotional wellbeing on an isolated homestead. Mabel cannot forget the baby she lost some years previously, and when a young girl, Faina, appears on their land, the maternal instinct she feels towards this unusual child is overwhelming.  

Inspired by Arthur Ransome’s retelling of a Russian folktale Little Daughter of the Snow, Eowyn Ivey’s retains an ethereal fairytale feeling. There is something ‘other’ about Fain, she is mysterious and it is ambiguous whether she is a fairytale snow maiden as Mabel believes, or a half-feral orphan.

The landscape is a hugely important to the novel, and the imagery is vivid. Rural Alaska is bleak and harsh, it amplifies the loneliness Mabel feels, and the barren land is symbolic of her childless situation. Mabel’s sadness and vulnerability is sensitively written and her possessiveness toward Fain is understandable.

Parental and maternal bonds are a key theme of The Snow Child. The consequences of the death of Mabel and Jack’s child are keenly felt. They are both terrified that they will lose another child, so the love they give Fain is suffocating and restricting.

Fain remains just as enigmatic to the reader as she is to her adoptive parents. Some readers may find this frustrating, but I thought it was essential to her character that her past and motivation remain unknown. To be in keeping with fairytale tradition there needs to be an element of the uncanny. Fairytales are often dark and foreboding, and so is The Snow Child.  

The Snow Child is enchanting, and, on a day like today, an atmospheric read.  

Friday, 22 March 2013

Madeline Miller- The Song of Achilles

Madeline Miller offers a fresh perspective on Homer’s epic poem, The Iliad, by refocusing the story on love and friendship, rather than war. In a time when gods intervene with mortals’ lives, and heroes cement their legends on the battlefield, The Song of Achilles is a captivating story about the enduring love of Achilles and Patroclus. If you haven’t read this book, you really should.

The Plot: Exiled as a child Patroclus is sent to the court of King Peleus. There he is befriended by Peleus’ son, the demigod Achilles.  Whilst been trained in the arts of war and medicine, the companionship between Patroclus and Achilles grows into a touching, romantic relationship. However, their happiness is soon threatened by the outbreak of the Trojan War. Destined to be Aristos Achaion (best of the Greeks), Achilles is compelled to join the fight and secure his place in history.

I’ve always found mythology fascinating, so The Song of Achilles was right up my street. It was also the winner of The Orange Prize in 2012 which is usually a reliable indication of a good read. If you’re thinking of reading Homer’s classics this book is a really good introduction to the epic. Miller really humanises Achilles, he is not simply a ruthless warrior, but is also loyal, compassionate and tender.  

Patroclus and Achilles’ relationship is told in a beautiful and moving way, and I’ll admit this book had me in tears a few times.  It is really refreshing to read a well received, bestselling novel that has a complex, caring homosexual relationship at its centre.   

Thursday, 21 March 2013

Time for Tea

perfect t-shirt for drinkers of tea
Sorry for the slightly blurry photo- but I wanted to show you my v. appropriate t-shirt. If you fancy treating yourself it can be bought here

Chris Pavone- The Expats

I bought The Expats on a whim, as it was only 20p on amazon kindle. It's not my usual thing and I didn't have high expectations because of the bargain price, but I was pleasantly surprised and thoroughly enjoyed it. The Expats is a good, solid debut from Chris Pavone.

The Plot:   CIA agent Kate Moore quits her job and moves to Luxembourg with her young family as her husband is offered a new, well paid banking job. Kate initially views the move as a new start, a chance to be more honest to her husband (he is unaware that she was a CIA agent) and to distance herself from the guilt she feels after an undercover operation went wrong. However, soon Kate's past begins to intrude on her present. She is suspicious, paranoid and convinced that government agencies are either spying on her or her husband. She is distrustful of her fellow expats, and uncertain if her new friend Julia is all she seems.    

This is perfect easy-reading, ideal for a beach book as it is tense and well plotted. To begin with, it is unclear whether Kate is deluded, or right to be suspicious of her husband, his business and her new friends. Pavone is very effective at contrasting the monotony of being a stay-at-home mum with the excitement of Kate’s investigations into her husband’s dodgy dealings. Kate is both a Jason Bourne-esque former agent and a bored wife and mother, and I liked that these character traits weren’t mutually exclusive. I enjoyed the combination of domestic drama and spy thriller.

The action moves between Paris, Luxembourg and Washington and switches between past and present, which adds to the suspense. Luxembourg is well described, and though I’ve never been, Pavone made me feel like I have. As a former expat, I can relate to the claustrophobia that Kate feels within the expat community. People are united by a shared nationality rather than shared interests, a phenomenon that Julia takes advantage of to good effect.    

The Expats is an unexpected gem, and I am considering reading other similar spy-thrillers as I enjoyed this so much. Has anyone got any recommendations? 

Wednesday, 20 March 2013

" Men and women must be educated, in a great degree, by the opinions and manners of the society they live in"
- Mary Wollstonecraft, A Vindication of the Rights of Women  

Julian Barnes- The Sense of an Ending

This review  has taken me a surprisingly long time to do, considering The Sense of an Ending  is only 150 pages long and could have feasibly been read within 3 or 4 hours. It’s been slow going because although I enjoyed the book, I didn’t feel desperate to reach the end as it is not plot-driven. It is more the sort of book that you read a few pages, put it down and think about them. Also it’s beautifully written, Julian Barnes has a lovely, lyrical style so I wanted to read slowly and pay attention to his particular choice of words and phrase.
"You get towards the end of life- no, not life itself, but of something else: the end of any likelihood of change in that life. You are allowed a long moment of pause, time enough to ask the question: what else have I done wrong?"

The Plot:  Tony Webster re-examines relationships and friendships from his school days after receiving an unexpected legacy from an old acquaintance. It is a novel about remorse, morality and memory. Of how people are guilty of editing past experiences and falsify their remembered behaviour, partly because of shame and partly because memory is fallible.  Trigger warning- the novel mentions suicide.

The Sense of Ending is above all things fantastically well written. Barnes captures the mix of arrogance and insecurity the younger Tony and his clique feel perfectly. There is even a poetic quality in Barnes’ descriptions of the grubbier, seedier aspects of growing up and first sexual experiences.

There is also a lot of truth in what Barnes has to say about memory. People’s recollections are often imperfect, and with help from the distancing effect of time, people are likely to remember events in a way that shows them in a more favourable light.

I’d recommend The Sense of an Ending, to readers interested in philosophy and psychology. It suits reflective readers who like to consider big questions. I wouldn’t really recommend the book to people who enjoy action-driven books, as not a lot happens in terms of plot, and it has a quite slow pace.

If you liked this book I’d suggest reading Donna Tart, The Secret History.  

Monday, 18 March 2013

Queer Lit

I'm not claiming to be an expert and this list is not extensive, but I've put together a small list of books that have LGBT* protagonists that I have read and can recommend:-

Do you have any suggestions to add to this list? 

Sunday, 17 March 2013

Anglesey Abbey

We braved the rain today and visited Anglesey Abby, a Jacobean house owned by the National Trust.  It has impeccably maintained gardens, and although the interior is a bit fusty and grandma-ish, the library is pretty impressive.

Jacobean, House, library, Anglesey Abbey, National Trust, UK, history, property, visit, library, vintage, books, bookshelf, leather, Punch
the books look good, but most of them I wouldn't want to read - A History of  Eton and loads of Punch  annuals
Jacobean, House, library, Anglesey Abbey, National Trust, UK, history, property, visit, library, vintage, books, bookshelf, leather, Queen Mary, read, sit, armchair

The grounds were the best bit, though it was too wet to go round all of it and parts of it are still a bit dead.
real life weirwood,Jacobean, House, library, Anglesey Abbey, National Trust, UK, history, property, visit, garden, weirwood, dead, silver birch, A song of Ice and Fire, GoT, black and white, Game of thrones, set
The silver birch reminded me of a Weirwood in  A Song of Ice and Fire  
 We finished up our visit with a cup of tea. The cafe isn't the best, it has no character and looks like a school canteen. Never mind, more importantly the sandwiches were tasty and they had a good selection of gluten-free cake.
Jacobean, House, library, Anglesey Abbey, National Trust, UK, history, property, visit, eat, sandwich, Wimpole egg, organic, cafe,
Wimpole egg and lettuce 
Jacobean, House, library, Anglesey Abbey, National Trust, UK, history, property, visit, teapot, cafe, pour, tea, cup, silver, water, white mug

Saturday, 16 March 2013

New Kindle

Ooooh! my new kindle has arrived early, nice surprise   

kindle, cracked screen, broken, warranty, damaged, grey, gray, customer service,
Pretty obvious: left-new, right-old

Kindle technical fault?

A couple of days ago my kindle broke, about a third of the screen went a blank, dark grey.  I think it must be some kind of technical fault, because I hadn’t dropped it or rested anything heavy on the screen. This is the second time this has happened, my first kindle broke just before Christmas, but because it was past its warranty and I had had it over a year I didn’t mind too much. I think most people accept that there is quite a short life span on electronic equipment.

Luckily, my most recent kindle was still under warranty (it was a Christmas present) so I contacted Amazon for a replacement. I can’t fault Amazon’s customer service. The person I spoke to was lovely, and she had no qualms about sending me a new one.  I contacted them on Friday and my replacement should be delivered Monday. I’ve been really impressed with Amazon’s policy on this but also a little bit concerned, because if they replace damaged kindles without question, does this mean the problem I had is a common, known fault?
"We live with such easy assumptions, don't we? For instance, that memory equals events plus time. But it's all much odder than this. Who was it said that memory is what we thought we'd forgotten?"
-Julian Barnes, The Sense of an Ending 
"but what you end up remembering isn't always the same as what you have witnessed' 
-  Julian Barnes, The Sense of an Ending 

Currently Reading

I usually have a couple of books on the go at the same time, because I find I want a different type of book at a different time of day. For example; during the early morning commute I want escapism, in the afternoon my concentration levels are at their highest, so I want a more challenging read and then just before bed I want a lighter novel that is interesting, but not so good I have to pull an all-nighter. 

I’m currently working my way through the following:-
books, stack, pile, reading, fireplace, fire, spines, pretty, snuggle
  1. The Sense of an Ending, Julian Barnes. I’m really enjoying this. It’s pretty slim and I’m nearly finished, so I’ll be posting a full review soon.  Just briefly, it is a novella about memory, how people’s perceptions of events are distorted.
  2. The Iliad, Homer. I’ve set myself a challenge to read and more importantly understand The Iliad and The Odyssey. It’s not going well and I’ve been neglecting it recently, probably because I’m viewing it as a duty. 
  3. The Song of Achilles, Madeline Miller. This is a re-read, I loved it the first time round and I’ve finally got it back off my sister so I’m revisiting it. This book is reason I’m struggling through The Iliad, it explores the relationship between Patroclus and Achilles so I want to read the original material it is based on. 

What are you currently reading? Do you think I should persevere with Homer?

Friday, 15 March 2013

“You can never get a cup of tea large enough or a book long enough to suit me.”
- C.S. Lewis  

Capital- John Lanchester

So, the first book up for review is Capital by John Lancaster. It’s a bit of a shame that this is the first one, as this book was so disappointing.
The Plot: The residents of an affluent London street receive anonymous postcards with an intriguing message “We want what you have”.
Captial, review, John Lanchester, Oyster card, map, paperback book, book cover, UK, England, read
Lancaster is a previous recipient of the Whitbread Award and Capital has been well received by the press, but I found it very average. It is not necessarily a bad read, it is just not very memorable and the characters are clich├ęd. The Polish man is a builder, the banker is a wanker and the Muslim family have links to terrorism. In my opinion, it is lazy writing to rely this heavily on stereotypes.  Each chapter focuses of one of the residents of Pepys road, but because of the writing style is doesn't feel like each character has an individual and distinctive voice. 
I didn’t  care who was sending the postcards or why, it seemed to be just a flimsy plot device to connect the characters. Am I meant to ask myself do I want what the characters have? Because the answer is a really obvious no.
The novel does have some good points. I liked the chapters that focused on Quentina, a Zimbabwean refugee traffic warden. Her story raised interesting questions about seeking asylum and working illegally. It would have been better if Lancaster had devoted an entire book to Quentina instead of the unappealing caricatures of Britain’s middle class.

Have you read it? What did you think?
Buy it here

Cream tea

sweet tooth, sugar, cup of tea, tiptree tea rooms, hand, teapot, mug, white
A mug of milky, sugary tea ...
scones, butter, jam, tiptree, baking, British, cup of tea, cream, treat baking
scones smothered in butter, jam and cream 
    = absolute heaven
all that's missing is a good book!  Enjoyed at Tiptree Tea Rooms
"A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies" said Jojen, "The man who never reads lives only one"
- George R.R. Martin, A Dance with Dragons 

Book & a Cuppa- up and running!

bookshelf, cup of tea, lucky cat, rocking chair, billy bookcase, mug, frame, red, paperback reading