Tuesday, 30 September 2014

The Silkworm By Robert Galbraith

Ex-soldier turned private detective Cormoran Strike returns in Galbraith's follow-up novel to The Cuckoo's Calling. The Silkworm is a tightly woven novel which picks up with Strike and his eager-to-please assistant Robin shortly after their success with closing the murder of model Luna Landry.

When novelist Owen Quine goes missing his distraught wife calls Strike to investigate into his disappearance and bring him home. The author has a flair for dramatics and often goes missing for weeks at a time but as the days pass by, Quine's disappearance starts to look like something much more serious and sinister has happened. As Strike digs deeper he discovers Quine's last piece of work before his disappearance was a manuscript featuring grotesque characters, parodies of the writers, agents and publishers he knew. The manuscript would have been the talk of the literary world had it been published. When Quine's body is found, murdered in such a way that points to only a handful of suspects Strike must discover who had the most to gain from keeping Quine's manuscript out of the spotlight.

The return of Strike and Robin has been something I have been looking forward to after reading The Cuckoo's Calling and with The Silkworm Galbraith seems to have really found his feet as detective/crime writer. Galbraith plays his cards close to his chest throughout the story, as Strike and Robin investigate Quine's murder. Even as the pool of suspects starts to thin, Galbraith keeps the reader on their toes until the final moments.

While there is still something reminiscent of Rowling's writing throughout the novel - it's not a gritty crime novel -  it's the weaving of a plot that is as tight as a drum that I can get behind. When I first read The Cuckoo's Calling I had to admit that I found the character of Strike to be a little bit of a cliche - the damaged detective/lone wolf type that I have read many times before, but in The Silkworm as his character is developed and explored more I have really come to enjoy reading.

Thursday, 25 September 2014

The Baking Post: Berry and Ricotta Slice

It's been a while since I got my baking on but this past weekend I had a sudden urge to put something delicious-tasting together to take to a friend's house for after dinner. I was actually looking for the recipe of a blueberry and ricotta log that Dome cafe does but after I failed to come up with a recipe online I Googled berry and ricotta slice and found this recipe.

It's super easy to make and turned out pretty much perfectly, which isn't always the case with my baking ventures (it may have something to do with my tendency to never check whether I have all the ingredients before starting and then subsequently substituting ingredients for other-things-in-the-pantry instead). This time I actually pre-planned, shopped and followed the recipe to the letter, and I'm so glad because it turned out to be one of the nicest things I've possibly ever made.

The ricotta makes it not as sweet as other cream cheese laden slices and the berries (I used mixed rather than just blueberries) means it totally ticks one of the 'servings of fruit' for the day box. Ahem, maybe not but it tastes amazing so who cares? 

This recipe is courtesy of the Corner Cafe.


Tuesday, 23 September 2014

Recent Reads: A Love a Like and a Leave

It's not usual that I can get through three books in a couple of weeks, but with a recent holiday to Borneo a few weeks ago there was ample time for beach-side relaxing, post-rainforest-walk chill time and the dreaded eight hour airport layover that gave me plenty of time to read. Below are three very different books that left me with three very different impressions.

The Darkest Hour by Barbara Kingsolver. This book was more a let down from an expectations point of view. Having really enjoyed The Poisionwood Bible and The Lacuna, The Darkest Hour really fell flat for me. The book is told from two character's points of view, the first being Lucy Standish an art historian and gallery owner who has been given a grant to write a book on female war artist Evelyn Lucas, and the second being Evelyn Lucas during her years painting the Battle of Britain. It wasn't so much the tragically sad story of Evelyn Lucas or the convenient modern love story involving Lucy Standish the made me dislike this book. The plot got into weird territory with the modern story where the painting Lucy Standish owns by Evelyn Lucas starts haunting her. Usually I love books that bind supernatural or magic and realism but unfortunately this book didn't convince me.

The History of Love by Nicola Krauss. An intriguing story about two people who are connected to the story this book is named after. The story goes that The History of Love was written by a Polish Jew who escaped Europe during the war and moved to Brazil to write a little known novel. Narrated by two characters - Polish immigrant Leo Gurnsky and 14-year old American teenager Alma both have lives shaped by their connections to the book, The History of Love. I found this an odd novel that although I enoyed it the story didn't really come together until the very end. The story jumps from one narration to the next without connecting the two narrating characters until the very end. Krauss' writing style is eccentric and I found this to be a short and interesting burst of a novel.

The Silkworm by Robert Galbraith. If you have read my post on Dennis Lehane, you might have already figured that I like my crime books to be a little bit dark and gritty (you'll never catch me reading horror so this is as close as I come to scaring myself). While the Cormoran Stike are much more, shall we say pleasant to read, I still really enjoyed reading this as a detective novel. Galbraith has perfected the art of leaving a tiny trail of breadcrumbs throughout the book so that the final chapters stitch everything up nicely. I'll have a full review coming up later this week so stay tuned for that! Follow my blog with Bloglovin

Wednesday, 17 September 2014

The Reading Rut

When it comes to picking books to read I usually stick to the tried and true. I'm heavy on popular fiction and historical fiction titles. It's usually the top 100 book lists that have me scrolling through looking for any must reads to add to my list or if a cover looks suitably historical enough then its enough to have me picking it off the shelves and wanting to give it a whirl (yes I am a terrible judge of book covers, I know, I know how the saying goes but sometimes the really good books have the really good covers!)

While there is nothing wrong per say with sticking to favourite categories and staying within the safety net of reading easy and pleasing books, there have been more than a few times recently where I have felt in a real rut with what I've picked up - recently there was the historical novel that reminded me so much of Downton Abbey that I couldn't quite make it past the first chapter. I also have an annoying habit of hating to leave a book unfinished, so even if it's really uninspiring I'll usually plug away at it for weeks when really my mind is wandering off the page, making up grocery lists or thinking about what colour to paint the hallway rather than paying any attention to what is going on beneath my nose.

I've made it a bit of my reading mission to start reading titles and genres that I usually wouldn't pick up. I want to read more of the Classics, try something set in a futuristic or fantastical universe and delve into the world of Young Adult fiction a bit more. I can't guarantee they will become genres that I reach for time and time again, but perhaps I can make it through them without idly planning my grocery list.

Do you ever find yourself in a rut with reading or have any good ideas for how to get out of it?


Monday, 15 September 2014

The September Bookshelf

September is a massive month for new release books as publishers release some of the best books of the year at this time. So, I've done my research and come up with a short list of the titles I'll be reaching for at the end of this month.

Funny Girl by Nick Hornby. Pop culture, '60s youth, fame and old age pepper Hornby's latest novel. Sophie Straw has left her old life behind and reinvented herself to become a comedy star and darling of British television during the swinging 60s. The cast and crew are living the high life until life starts to imitate art a little too closely.

Us by David Nicholls. A romantic comedy exploring parenting, marriage and relationships. If there is one thing harder than finding the right person to marry, it might just be keeping a marriage alive. Douglas Peterson's son is about to leave home for University and his wife Connie is planning on leaving him not long after. Douglas plans a grand tour of Europe during the summer holidays in the hopes of repairing his relationship with his son and winning back the love of his wife.

Not That Kind of Girl by Lena Dunham. The Girls star, writer and director shares stories on life, love, sex and making it in the business world in this heartbreakingly honest and funny account. I'm intrigued to read about the real Lena Dunham after laughing, crying and cringing over Hannah's behaviour in Girls.

The Drop by Dennis Lehane. You all know my love for Lehane's novels and this complex crime/romance story certainly sounds like it's going to deliver. A lonely bartender looking to do a good dead rescues an abused puppy from the street and meets a damaged woman looking for something to believe in. As their relationship grows, they cross paths with a cast of eccentric and dangerous characters. 

The Paying Guests by Sarah Waters. It wouldn't be a complete book list without some historical fiction thrown in. 1922 Britain is still tense after years of recovering from the Great War. In a quite villa in South London a widow Mrs Wray and her spinster daughter are obliged to take in lodgers. But the new tenants shake up the lives of everyone in the Wray household to alarming affect.

The Taxidermists Daughter by Kate Mosse. Murder, suspicion, secrets and stuffed birds are woven into this story set in Sussex, 1912. The taxidermist's daughter, 22-year-old Constantia Gifford lives with her father in a decaying house a once world-famous museum of taxidermy. But there are many mysteries surrounding the events that lead to the museum's closure. When a woman is murdered in the town Connie struggles to find the truth to both the murder and what lies at the heart of her father's workshop.

Each and Every One by Rachel English. A family drama perfect for the boomerang generation or anyone who has relied on their parents for too long. For the Shine family's four adult children life has always been pretty good. Their parents hard work has allowed luxuries into their lives that their parents never had. But when post-recession the money stops flowing as it once did, the Shine children must finally learn what it means to be a grown up and stand on their own two feet.

Two More Pints by Roddy Doyle. I'm a huge fan of The Commitments (which Doyle wrote) and this short but funny read sounds perfect for when I'm in need of a laugh or two. Featuring two Irish friends who meet regularly in a Dublin pub to ponder and solve the ways of the world, this is the follow up to Doyle's Two Pints. This time it's Beckham's tattoos, a naked Kate Middleton, the financial crisis, Jimmy Savile and horsemeat burgers that all get a look in.

What books are you most looking forward to being released this month?

Friday, 12 September 2014

Authors to Note: Marian Keyes

Last month I brought you a favourite crime author and this month I've decided to profile an author from an entirely different genre; one of my favourite chick-lit writers. I have to admit my hate for the naming of this genre as it sort of implies airy fairy women's stories about love and shopping and not much else, but I know that you know there are so many absolute gems of this genre to read.

Marian Keyes manages to take a blimmin' whopper of a subject matter - say alcoholism, infidelity, bereavement and not only shape heart warming stories around them, she somehow manages to make these subjects relatable, realistic and completely un-daunting to explore not to mention that her books are ridiculously hilarious and will make you snort with laughter one minute and want to cry the next.

My favourite book from Marian Keyes is Rachel's Holiday. Good-times girl Rachel's hard partying ways catch up with her when she finds herself forcibly checked into a rehab centre after a near overdose. Despite the heavy subject matter, this is both a funny and touching story as Rachel faces her demons.

I would thoroughly recommend checking out the Welsh family series of books which chronicle four Irish sisters (each book is a different sisters story); Watermelon, Rachel's Holiday, Angel and Anybody Out There. This Charming Man, The Other Side of the Story and Sushi For Beginners are also some of my favourites of hers.

For an author who writes predominantly in the chick-lit genre her books will delight both fans of the genre and (i'm sure) those that wouldn't pick up a pink book cover with a barge pole. Not only do her books have heart and tackle some pretty serious subject matters they are also a lot of fun to read.


Monday, 8 September 2014

Little Details #1

Because sometimes it's the little details in life that can make you smile. Here is what is making my Monday a little bit brighter.

1. Cheap and cheerful flowers to celebrate the beginning of Spring! Also discovering that a tall water glass makes a good vase when no other options are appropriate.

2. New magazines to peruse including a totally inspiring find - Renegade Collective, which also has the swoon-worthy Ryan Gosling on the front cover (I'll admit that it was entirely his face that made me pick this up in the first place). Plus the latest Elle to get me into the mood of Spring fashion and beauty, not that I need any inspiring or convincing to buy things.

3. Lighting my favourite candle on a decidedly un-Springy wet and wild day and filling the air with the scents of apple and mimosa.

4. Duty free makeup purchases which make ridiculously expensive foundations kinda affordable. (If your idea of affordable is living on beans on toast for the next two weeks, don't mind if I do.) Also wearing said purchase (Chanel Vitalumiere foundation) and discovering that beans on toast for the next two weeks is totally worth it.

Happy Monday! What little details are making your day brighter?

Thursday, 4 September 2014

The Historical Fiction Bookshelf

Historical fiction is one of my favourite genres to read. There's something about being immersed into the past that just captures my imagination like few other genres. I blame my inner history nerd - I love learning about all the little details that made up peoples' lives way back when. . Whether the storylines contain queens and castles, sufferagettes or flapper dresses, there is a place on my bookshelf for all of them. If you are a lover of this genre take a peak at my favourite historical novels and the periods their characters inhabit.

The Tea Rose by Jennifer Donnelly. Well I do love a good turn of the century historical novel and The Tea Rose does not disappoint. A fast paced and truly epic novel set in East London in the late 1880s. Donnelly captures the lives of working class London, from crowded street markets to the foggy dark and dangerous streets of Whitechaple to the London docks and banks of the river Thames in this rags to riches tale.

Outlander by Diana Gabaldon. Claire Randall and her husband celebrate the post-war months with a trip to Inverness, Scotland to explore the history of the area and, rekindle their ailing relationship. But history has other ideas as Claire's visit to an ancient stone circle sees her transported back in time. Scotland in 1784 is not a welcoming place for an Englishwoman as Claire finds herself in the midst of the Scottish uprising.

The Other Boleyn Girl by Phillippa Gregory. Mary Boleyn arrives in King Henry VIII's court as a young girl and quickly finds favour with the King. Her place as the future Queen seems certain but over time However, as Henry's interest wanes Mary's ambitious sister Anne overshadows her and is willing to do whatever it takes to make herself Queen.

Girl With A Pearl Earring by Tracy Chevalier. Johanne Vermeer's beautiful painting is brought to life in this tale of the master painter and his humble muse. Chevalier explores the everyday domesticities of Dutch life in the Vermeer household during the 1660s. The arrival of a young servant girl causes domestic tension in the Vermeer household as Johanne becomes increasingly enchanted by her beauty.

Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden. Nitta Sayuri is plucked from her humble fishing village and sold to a renown Geisha house. This beautifully written novel brings to life the dying world of the Japanese Geisha where appearances are everything. Though Nitta's life appears to be glamorous it is really a facade, for what she truly wants is to fall in love.

The Given Day by Dennis Lehane. Boston post-world war one is grappling with the Spanish influenza. The local police force haven't enough men to cope with the sick and dying arriving into Port. To top it off workers are unioninsing, threatening to strike and demanding better working conditions. Danny Coughlin the son of the chief of police is sent undercover with the intention of placating the union members but soon finds himself questioning what he was sent in to do.

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