Monday, 29 June 2015

Book Review: Something to Hide by Deborah Moggach

I'm not a particulary fast reader but I sped through Deborah Moggach's latest novel Something to Hide* in two days, which is pretty spectacular for me. I wasn't even trying to finish it which I think probably shows the ease in which Moggach's writing manages to capture my attention. Obviously as the name of the book suggests the characters are all involved in a series of secrets which all connect to each other in various ways. Some more closely than others.

There's Petra the sixty something year old divorcee who lives in England and has just started a love affair with her best friends' husband of thirty five years; Lorrie, a Texan army wife and mother of two who has just lost their family's life savings through an internet scam and Li Jing, who doesn't know what her husband does for a job outside of their Beijing apartment, she just knows she's relieved to find out that her husband's infertility and not hers is to blame for their lack of a child. Linking all of these stories is the setting of Oreya, West Africa where Petra's lover works and Jing's husband has business connections to the dark business of the ivory trade.

Despite the multiple storylines Something to Hide is an easy and interesting read and one that had me ploughing through it in just a few hours. I enjoy the way Moggach has an eccentric cast of characters who are all far from perfect and Something to Hide is a fascinating exploration of the lengths we go to protect others from our secrets. The only downside to this novel is the split storytelling does take away from developing any emotional connection between the reader and the characters. Although it makes for a quick and enjoyable plot and I was never quite sure which direction the story was going to end up in I also felt like sometimes Moggach only allowed a glossing over some of the characters situations. The story of middle aged philanderer Petra was given the most page time but it would have been great to have a similar insight into Lorrie's story especially as her answer to covering up her losing their life savings is extremely mad-cap.

All in all Something to Hide was a really enjoyable, funny and a bit mad in parts read that I think would be perfect for those looking for a light and easy story to get hooked into.

*Thank you to NetGalley for giving me an advanced copy of Something to Hide in exchange for an honest review!

Sunday, 28 June 2015

The Bedside Table Stack #8

This month's Bedside Table Stack includes four fantastic reads that I managed to plow through at record speed. If you're looking for easy summer reads that offer a little more depth than your average book I can recommend all of the following.

Saving Grace by Jane Green. I had never read anything by Jane Green before and was really impressed with this novel. Grace's husband is a famous novelist with an equally famous temper. When their family assistant quits Grace struggles to keep her family and household together. Their saving grace comes in the form of Beth an organisational queen who quickly makes herself indispensable to both Grace and her writer husband. But as wonderful as Beth appears to be, Grace can't help hide her suspicions over some of Beth's behaviour and is she crazy or is Beth trying to steal her life?

A Place Called Here by Cecelia Ahern. Sandy Shortt has been obsessed with finding things that have gone missing. Whether it's her lost socks or a misplaced pen, ever since at ten years old a childhood classmate disappears, Sandy has been on a mission to find the lost and misplaced. When Jack Ruttle contacts Sandy to help him solve the disappearance of his brother he is shocked when it appears Sandy has gone missing too. Sandy stumbles upon the place where lost things goes and suddenly finds she desperately wants to find her own way home.

The Girl You Left Behind by Jojo Moyes. In 1916 a French artist Edouard Lefevre leaves his wife to fight at the Front. Left behind in their village Sophie's beautiful portrait painted by her husband is noticed by the new Kommandant. In a bid to save her husband from the workers camps, Sophie will risk everything to be reunited with her husband. A century on Sophie's portrait is gifted to Liv by her late husband, but the paintings history throws Liv's life and any chance of new love into contention.

Time and Time Again by Ben Elton. Hugh Stanton, ex-soldier and adventurer has been chosen for a daring and mad assignment to stop a single bullet and end a century of death and destruction. Travelling back to 1914, Hugh must stop the Great War from beginning if he has any hope of changing history for the better.

Monday, 15 June 2015

My Favourite Pairings in Literature

You and me are more than friends ~ we're like a really small gang.

I have this quote pinned on one of my Pinterest board's because that's how I feel about some of my closest friends to be around! It got me thinking though, who are your favourite literary pairings that are more mishcievious trouble than romantic pairings?

My favourite would have to be Pooh Bear and Piglet. I'm talking old school Winnie the Pooh by A.A.Milne here, with handrawn illustrations. This is one of my favourite childhood books but the friendship between these two never ceases to make my heart want to burst with love for both of them. Poor Pooh Bear always getting into trouble due to his love for a bite of sweet honey, he would be nothing without the green-jumpered (yes, remember pre-Diney Piglet's cute green jumper?!) friend. And Piglet could always draw strength from his friendship with Pooh, inspiring him to be braver than he ever felt.

For downright mischievousness I would have to pick Fred and George Weasley. Throughout Harry Potter they brought all of the laughs and never ceased to be causing trouble. What made it even better was their spectacular expulsion from Hogwarts and the fact that they only went on to bigger and better (and more explosive) things.

I would also have to include Kitty and Lydia Bennett from Pride and Prejudice in this group, if only for the fact that Miss Austen proves that some girls have been boy crazy for centuries. Kitty is one of my favourite characters from P&P and I really think she wouldn't be out of place in a modern day chick-lit novel as the funny best friend character. Meanwhile Lydia does what any good sister (or member of a really small gang) would do and keeps Kitty's elopement a secret.

Who are your favourite mischievous twosomes?

Sunday, 14 June 2015

Reasons to Read: Chick Lit

Despite the fact that I hate the name of this genre some of my most favourite books are of the Chick-Lit variety. Here are some of the reasons that make this genre great:

They can be fun and a bit silly. Reading books that make me feel good are a guaranteed way to pick me up out of a down mood. If I'm tired, stressed or just feel like reading something that's guaranteed to be fun, there are so many chick-lit books that are a great pick-me up thanks to the hilarious escapades of the main characters.

They can touch on serious issues with a light hand. Some of my favourite chick-lit books actually deal with pretty heavy subject matters. From alcoholism and family dramas to topics such as euthanasia, sometimes humour and a light touch can bring these issues to light in a easy-to-digest kind of way.

The characters are relatable. And it has to be said often make me feel a tiny bit better about my own embarrassing moments in life. There is a bit of Bridget Jones in all of us and sometimes it is just nice to read about characters who don't have their shit together and their lives sorted out either.

They celebrate friendships. Ever noticed how important friendships are in Chick-Lit novels? Yeah it's often the girl/guy relationship that is the main goal but I love how many novels have an eccentric and slightly crazy group of friends supporting our main character.

It's an unashamedly sparklier version of reality. For those moments when I just want to be whisked away into a more shiny, sparkly, happy or glamorous version of reality, Chick-Lit novels will win every time. Part of the fun of reading fiction of any kind is the escapism value and Chick-Lit usually brings this in spades.

My Favourites: Bridget Jones' Diary by Helen Fielding, Me Before You by Jojo Moyes and Rachel's Holiday by Marian Keyes.

Thursday, 11 June 2015

Buying Books For The Sake Of It

If there is one thing that book blogging has opened my eyes to, it's the share numbers of books published each month. This is undoubtedly a good thing and with the rise of indie and self-publishing there has never been a better time to be a writer and a reader. But with so many books on the market how do you go about picking the ones that truly sparkle and excite us as readers?

I've fallen into thinking the 'more is better' approach is something I need to keep up with especially since having my own blog and feeling a need to keep it updated with new book reviews all the time, but I think it's important to remember that owning lots of books has nothing to do with how great you are as a blogger or how passionate you are as a reader. There is no prerequisite for having a passion for something and whether you buy, borrow or or blog for books it doesn't matter whether you have a bookshelf made up of one or one hundred titles.

Before I left New Zealand and packed up my belongings I realised how many books I owned that would either never be read, finished or picked up again, and it just seemed like such a waste to own things that end up unused. Getting a bookshelf full of much loved titles isn't exactly easy and there are always going to be totally dud books we've spent money on that don't live up to expectations but I think there are lots of ways we can still enjoy being readers and not feel like we have to own every single copy we want to read.

Personally I think library's are so under utilised and are a great way to read new authors and try new genre's with zero commitment. Plus your doing your community a favour by helping using a service that benefits everyone including those that can't afford to buy copies of their favourite books. Added to that the price of e-books and there are heaps of ways to explore new authors without having to always part with your cash. Swapping books with friends, advanced review copies and book blogger reviews are all great ways to find new books and authors that perhaps then become staples on our bookshelves.

Do you ever get caught up in buying books just for the sake of it?

Wednesday, 10 June 2015

A Mouthwatering Read: The 100 Foot Journey

The 100 Foot Journey by Richard C Morais is one of the most enjoyable books I've read this year. To be fair, having already seen the movie by the same name last year I knew it was going to be good, but even knowing the plot didn't spoil what the book had to offer. Morais' writing sparkles and he managed to cram an amazing amount of storyline into one book while still making The 100 Foot Journey an easy book to digest.

The story is narrated by Hassan, an Indian adolescent who grows up in a family dedicated to food. With an entrepreneurial and somewhat larger-than-life Father, Hassan moves from their crowded village to the drab streets of England and onto the beautiful valleys of Lumiere in France after the tragic death of his mother. It is in this small village that the family set up there cheap and cheerful Indian restaurant. Across the road Madame Mallory the formidable owner of a two-stared Michelin restaurant and protector of all that is French is not happy with her new neighbours, and so begins a culinary war between the two households. Fortunately even Madam Mallory can see that Hassan's gift for cooking is worthy training at her establishment and Hassan's journey to becoming one of the most sought after chef's in France really begins.

Morais prose is light and funny and I loved how much he managed to squeeze into Hassan's journey as we follow him from India, to England and from his small village of Lumiere onto the bright lights of becoming one of the best chefs in Paris. The 100 Foot Journey was truly an enjoyable read and one where not only the food and flavours of the cooking come to life on the page but also the descriptions of the cities and towns Hassan is living in too. I thoroughly recommend picking up this book and then following up with the movie version because that is equally as entertaining!

Monday, 8 June 2015

The Fiction Books You Need To Read This June

June seems to be an amazing month for excellent book releases. I've managed to whittle my favourite picks down to just a handful of titles that are taking my fancy:

Emmy and Oliver by Robin Benway. From the reviews I have read so far this Young Adult book is a lot deeper than it's romance-looking cover depicts. Emmy and Oliver were going to be best friends forever. That was until Oliver's dad kidnapped him and kept him on the run for ten years. When Oliver reappears back into his hometown Emmy wants to pick up their relationship where they left off. But Oliver's confusion over his Dad and discovering he was actually kidnapped has messed a lot of things up, and Emmy's parents, fearful for their daughters safety since Oliver's disappearance seem unable to let Emmy live her life.

The Little Paris Bookshop by Nina George. Sweet book covers aside I love the sound of this book! Monsier Perdu prescribes books to his customers to help ail all sorts of problems in their lives. But the only person he can't seem to mend is himself. Still pining for a lost lover, Perdu was left with a solo letter which remains unopened. When Perdu finally summonds the courage to read her final words, he hauls anchor on his floating bookshop and begins an adventure to make peace with his loss and finally discover the end of his story.

Tiny Little Thing by Beatriz Williams. Christina "Tiny" Hardcastle is getting ready to marry a man destined for greatness. A power couple courting the cameras in the dawning age of television politics, husband Frank has his sights on a senators seat. But as the political season begins an unwelcome guest appears in Tiny's life - her volatile sister armed with an envelope of secrets and backup in the form of Frank's cousin an intimidating Vietnam-war hero. Tiny struggles to hold onto her perfect facade but soon discovers she's not the only one in her marriage keeping secrets.

The Book of Speculation by Erika Swyler. When reclusive librarian Simon Watson receives an unusual package in the post it sparks a need to discover the truths about his family history. The package is a book which depicts the name of his grandmother and a series of mysterious drownings by women in their family, always on the same date. When Simon's sister returns home after six years with barely a phone call during that time, Simon fears she too could suffer some ill fate on July 24.

Summer Secrets by Jane Green. With two hotly anticipated novels in 2015, Jane Green delivers another stand out story. In 1998 Catherine Coombs, a hard partying journalist, discovers the identity of her father whom she never knew. The news sends her into a spiral which causes her to destroy some of the only friendships that have ever felt real to her. Sixteen years on and Cat has finally got her life together again. She returns to Nantucket to her once-family home keen to reconnect with a community that cast her out.

The Cherry Harvest by Lucy Sanna. With WWII raging in Europe the Christiansen family struggle to keep their farm alive. When their cherry harvest is under threat, Charlotte persuades the local authorities to let German war prisoners to help her pick their fruit. But when her husband befriends one of the prisoners, a teacher whom they ask to tutor their daughter, the lines between prisoner and family and German and American start to become complicated for the whole family.

Sunday, 7 June 2015

DNF Review: The Lion's Mouth by Anne Holt

I hate to give negative book reviews but you know when a book beomes too tedious to even finish that it's not going to be a good 'un. I had such high hopes for The Lion's Mouth by Anne Holt but unfortunately it just didn't deliver and after a couple of weeks of trudging through I decided to abandon reading althogether. So, while I can't actually give a proper review I thought instead I'll just tell you where and why the story lost me.

When the Prime Minister of Norway is found shot dead in her office the investigating police officers must move quickly to solve the case. Whether terrorism or a revenge killer, her death shakes the Norwegian public to its core and solving the case will expose scandals and secrets that must be kept from the Norwegian people.

There were two standouts that made this book a miss for me. I like my crime books to involve a lot of action, and by that I don't necessarily mean screaching car chases and officers pointing their guns at suspects on every page but there has to be some forward movement in the investigating of the case that piques my interest. In this respect The Lion's Mouth felt less like a crime novel and more a dull political novel. In 150 pages barely anything of note in relation to the Prime Ministers killing actually happened. The police barely talked to any suspects and the main character of the book (as suggested by the blurb) Hanne Wilhelmson had only just been introduced. There just seemed to be scene after scene of people talking, barely any of which seemed to be interesting or relevant to the case. I even got to the point where I was skimming each page quickly just incase something of actual interst  or importance was going to happen.

The second thing that helped the pace crawl to the pace of a snail was the introduction of many many characters who didn't seem to add anything of interest to the story. Now, since I haven't finished the book they could all be vitally important to the solving of the case, but at almost halfway through the book I still couldn't tell why there were so many boring conversations happening between politicians that only served to slow the story. There is an interesting story line which includes a journalist called Little Letvik who is getting information from an unknown source to publish stories regarding the Prime Minister. Unfortunatly this spark of interest is bogged down by other characters and storylines that are very slow to reveal anything to the reader.

Needless to say I didn't find The Lion's Mouth to be a crime novel that grabbed my attention or inspire me to finish the whole thing. Who knows, perhaps the second half of the novel is where all the action and plot lines start to become interesting, but with so many good books waiting for me to read there are other crime novels that I would deem much more worthy of attention.

Thursday, 4 June 2015

Looking For Inspiration

When it comes to looking for new books to read I have a variety of places I like to look in the hope something shiny and exciting will jump out at me. From book blogs, magazine book reviews and simply scrolling through Goodreads and online sites like The Book Depository, I'll take 'em all. But you want to know my number one place to look for inspiration from? Top 100 book lists! I love a good list and there's nothing better to me than finding out what makes other people's must reads lists. I'm not ashamed to admit I have a pretty generic or 'popular' taste in reading material (so if you like your books a little more obscure it might not be the best place to take inspiration from) and I also love knowing how many of the most popular books I've read are - #nerdalert.

The Whitcoulls Top 100 book list is one I've looked at year after year (even now I'm living in a country without a Whitcoulls store but I still like to take a nosy at what titles are making the top of the list.) The Book Depository also has a great list of top 100 titles that might take your fancy too!
I'd love to know what your favourite places to seek out new books are from? Let me know if you find any inspiring reads from Top 100 lists!

The Book Depository - 100 Best Books Ever List
Whitcoulls - Top 100
The BBC Book List Challenge

Wednesday, 3 June 2015

May In Review: Self Publishing & French Themed Pajamas

June is here which means the first month of winter is about to begin! This last month has been a good one for me with lots of interesting and new experiences to keep me busy. Here is what I have been loving during the month of May:

New thoughts, new ideas: At the end of the month I went to a two day conference for work, and while the majority of what I learnt was specific to my job, there were some fantastic speakers who talked about the importance of goal setting and self reflection that I thought was important for both our personal and professional lives. Sometimes we have ideas or dreams that seem too big or too out of reach to even consider as a reality, but taking a large project and turning it into lots of tiny goals can help us to achieve these dreams. I also like the idea of taking stock of our achievements at the end of the working week. Too often we think about all the things we have to do and forget to take time to acknowledge all that we've already achieved!

Self publishing: Last month I signed up to a self-publishing course and have finally found some time to sit down and have a listen. I'm only about a third of the way through but already have found some really good, helpful and practical advice on how to think about self publishing a book. The course is all online and you have access to it forever which makes it really worthwhile. Self published author Anna Scanlon takes us through the self publishing process and I find it really valuable that she has both self published and been partly through the traditional publishing method herself. I really recommend if you are thinking about publishing your own book or have a self published book already that is struggling to get promoted or sell.

Shopping for winter and island getaways: My shopping bag has had an odd mix of snugly woolen jumpers and tropical print bikinis as we are getting ready for a friends Bali wedding. With the cooling of temperatures I've also been looking for a cute but snuggly set of pyjamas and I have to say this pair from Peter Alexander has stolen my heart.

At the Movies: I've not been a massive cinema goer for the last couple of years but there are quite a few brilliant movies out that I'll be queuing up for. We saw Mad Max: Fury Road last week and I thoroughly enjoyed every action packed second (doesn't hurt that the babeish Tom Hardy stars as Mad Max either.) Also, how good does Jurassic World look? and of course I have to see Pitch Perfect 2 as it's predecessor is one of my favourite feel-good films!

What have you been up to during the month of May?

Monday, 1 June 2015

Authors to Note: Nick Hornby

This month for my 'Author' spotlight I thought I would focus on an author who has written one of my most favourite novels - High Fidelity - but who is also an author I haven't explored much outside of this one novel. The more I've read or heard about Nick Hornby's books the more I've added to my TBR book list. Here are my picks which I'll be adding and hopefully reading very soon:

High Fidelity: One of my favourite and probably most-read books in my collection. High Fidelity is as much a book about great music as it is about relationships. Failing record-store owner Rob explores his record collection and his past relationships after a breakup with his current girlfriend. Hilarious to read, Rob is both arrogant and hopelessly immature yet Nick Hornby has that knack of making us want to befriend him anyway.

About A Boy: I adore the movie starring Hugh Grant so I'm sure the novel will be just as good if not better. If there is one thing that I think Nick Hornby is fantastic at it's taking flawed and somewhat arsehole-ish characters and making them not only relatable but likeable. This is the tale of an unlikely friendship between perpetual man-child Will and Marcus a 12-year-old who probably couldn't get any less cool.

Long Way Down: Martin, JJ, Jess and Maureen are four very different individuals with one thing in common. They meet - unmeaningly - on the rooftop of a London building on New Years Eve, each with a plan to kill themselves. Instead of going through with their intentions, they make a pact to help each other through the next six months and if nothing has improved in their lives they'll then take the final plunge from the rooftop. Touching, funny and moving, this novel explores what has lead these four lost souls into considering ending their lives and the power of hope and friendship.

Funny Girl: Set in the 1960s Sophie Straw has successfully made the transition from Blackpool beauty queen to nationally adored comedy star. But when the scripts start to become too much like real life each member of their cast and crew will face a decision to stay with the show or move on. For Sophie, television fame is all she has ever dreamed of and a return to the streets of Blackpool would be unthinkable, but will the future have Sophie's name up in lights?
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