A Year In Review

Before I had even entertained the idea of writing a blog, I began the year wanting to do more with my reading. I was determined to read harder, to challenge myself, to step outside my comfort zone. I set myself a Goodreads challenge, I planned to document each book I read and my aim was to read as widely as possible. I am so happy to reflect that not only did I complete my challenge but did so only 6 months in the year, increased my challenge and am well on the track to finishing that ahead of schedule. I  documented  as well as reviewed practically every book I read this year. I read so many different books from a variety of different genres, some I thought I would never touch or enjoy. In part I owe this to blogging/bookstagram. First of all having people interested in reading my blog (thank you, I appreciate you all). Second of all, all the amazing recommendations I have found on blogs, bookstagram, from personal recommendations and books received from subscriptions.

 

With your help and my determination I have discovered new authors I know I will come to cherish long into the future, Murakami and Tartt just to name a few. I have forayed into poetry, something I have never picked up of my own volition and fell in love with Rupi Kaur and Amanda Lovelace and am slowing familiarising myself with Walt Whitman. I have discovered series that are new favourites, Justin Cronin’s The Passage and V.E. Schwab’s A Darker Shade of Magic (hurry up February!). Non-fiction books have spoken to my soul and taught me lessons and perspective, When Breath Becomes Air and Redeemable will both be ones I revisit. Mysteries and thrillers have kept me entranced, Kate Morton and Michel Bussi in particular. Science Fiction has surprised me with memorable novels such as The Martian and Ready Player One becoming favourites. I have laughed (The Dressmaker), I have cried (Me Before You), I have been left speechless (A Little Life). I also have a TBR pile of 25 books and absolutely cannot purchase anymore books until the new year! I attended book signings and author talks, listened to book podcasts and fell in love with audiobooks.

 

It has truly been a memorable year and I just cannot wait to see what 2017 brings! Thank you all from the bottom of my heart.

 

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The Strange Library – Haruki Murakami

‘All I did was go to the library to borrow some books.’

The Strange Library I discovered in my local bookshop while perusing and I have found myself coming back to look at it over and over again since my recent obsession with Murakami’s work. What pulled me in with this novel was the intriguing cover and even more so the continued illustrated pages inside. This presents like a children’s story but is written by the king of bizarre yet fascinating fiction. I was interested enough to pick it up on the weekend and take it home with me. The narrator of The Strange Library finds himself wondering about taxes in the Ottoman Empire and heads to his local library to discover the answer. From there an old man takes him to the basement and his story spirals from there.

 

This story was a very short read, taking well less than half an hour to read cover to cover. The prose is short in length reading more like a fable or a novella and in some ways could be classified as a children’s book. What I discovered upon finishing this book was that the beautiful marbled inside cover and most of the figure diagrams throughout the book are from real books in the London Library. I love this tie to the real world and history of books that would rarely be opened in this day and age.

 

The story itself reads like an overactive child’s imagination. The old man who locks children in the basement labyrinth  of a library sounds like a nightmare you might have with equally bizarre characters that are a product of your imagination. The sheep man and the girl who talks with hands are fascinating characters and make you want to know more about them. The sheep man apparently appears in one of Murakami’s earlier novels which is now going on the list of books to be read. I love the continuation of ideas across his novels and after reading Kafka on the Shore only recently I find myself thinking about the labyrinth in the basement and how that word derives from intestines, which if you think about it is exactly how a maze looks. The idea of magical surreal goings on within a library appeals to my soul that loves books, over-stuffed arm chairs and old libraries.

 

This books will not be for everyone. It is short and sweet and not exactly a true novel. I, however, found it amusing and puzzling. Something I know I will return to another day when I have some time to spare and want something to ponder. It is something beautiful to sit and visually enjoy. Something that encourages my own imagination to wander. Something that gives me the often lost feeling of being a child and having these surreal ideas that seem entirely plausible at the time. I give The Strange Library three sheep in honour of the sheep man.

 

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You – Caroline Kepnes

I’ve had this book on my list of books to read for a good while and couldn’t resist picking it up last week when I found it out of place on a random shelf. I started it on the weekend when I was craving something easy to read that would hook me it. I certainly wasn’t wrong! I could not put this book down and read it all in one afternoon/evening. You tells the story of Joe. Joe works in a bookstore in New York when one day he meets Guinevere Beck and is immediately enamoured by her beauty and decent taste in literature. Joe isn’t like other guys, Joe is obsessive, manipulative and begins stalking Beck in order to find more about her.

This book was horrifying and revolting, yet like a car crash I just could not look away. Kepnes’ portrayal of a stalker is chilling to the core. The abject sexualisation of his thoughts give you shudders down your spine and the ease at which he discovers information and inserts himself into Beck’s life is creepy and makes me want to keep my windows shut (I’m a shocker at closing my blinds at night and enjoy fresh air in my room, much like Beck). This novel highlights just how easy it is to get people’s information these days and makes you second-guess your social media imprint. It is amazing what people can deduce from your Facebook/Instagram/Twitter accounts and even plain old Google. Some interesting concepts to ponder in this day and age.

I found some interesting parallels between the couple in You and the couple in Gone Girl, another favourite thriller of mine. Both parts of the couples in both books are somewhat abhorrent, all at different places on the spectrum, but you don’t necessarily feel a lot sympathy for any of the characters even if they are victims. Joe is psychotic, yet calmly and rationally so throughout most of the novel and Beck has her own host of issues. Both characters are fascinating to follow and I found myself caught up in their lives.

Kepnes’ writing kept me on the edge of my seat (well, my comfy, comfy bed) and I was disappointed for their story to end. Not to fear, Hidden Bodies, the continuation of Joe’s story is out now and ready for me to pick up when I have the chance. I am absolutely hooked on this character’s story and can’t wait to dive in to Hidden Bodies. This was most certainly my creepiest read of the year and would highly recommend this to anyone that wants a plausible psychological thriller from the unique perspective of the perpetrator. I give You four musical notes from Beck’s (and my brother’s) favourite movie – Pitch Perfect.

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Wine & Words Wednesday 14/12/16

Wine Wednesday has come around again all too quickly (0r not quick enough?). Christmas is getting closer and lets all celebrate with another week of wine and words. I have something different and unusual for you this week too. Considering it is now officially summer I decided it was high time I featured a South Australian white for you. This weeks white is from local Adelaide Hills winery Deviation Road. Deviation Road is situated only five minutes from Stirling (a great little town with a well-stocked independent and cute secondhand bookstore only metres from each other). A beautiful property owned by a husband wife winemaker team, their wines aim to preserve the purity of the fruit with minimal intervention. The wine I have for you today is their Pinot Gris which has a delicious silky taste that is definitely worth the foray into the hills. Their cellar door is picturesque and perfect for attending one of their regular Sunday sessions with their delectable wines served with pizzas or paella depending on the season.

 

I’m pairing this wine with a classic young adult novel from an absolute favourite of mine, Melina Marchetta. On The Jellicoe Road is a haunting novel slowly telling the story of Taylor, whose mother abandoned her on the Jellicoe Road, while she tries to understand how she came to be here, where her mother is all the while trying to make it through the territory wars unscathed. Taylor’s story is interspersed by memories of five kids living along the Jellicoe Road in the 80’s told by Hannah, who took her in after being abandoned. Why did I pair these two beauties? Well, most obviously they both refer to roads in the title. Both taking you on a journey, one with a beautiful story of love and friendship, another a delicious bouquet of bottled flavours. Deviation Road relating to Taylor on several levels including her journey to deviate from what is expected of her as leader of the territory wars, choosing to abandon the dramatised seriousness of the wars, choosing to take herself off the predictable path of schooling in Jellicoe to answer the burning questions of her childhood. What happened to her mother? Who is the boy in the tree? How do a bunch of kids in the 80’s relate to Hannah? If you are in the mood for something sentimental then this is the book for you.

 

Wait for a beautiful, sunny summer’s day, grab your favourite picnic blanket and set your self up in the sun. A bottle of Deviation Road and some delicious snacks (cheese and crackers anyone?) and this beauty of a book. Settle in and let yourself be absorbed into the story while your tastebuds are satisfied with this light summery wine. In the area? Even better, take your picnic blanket along to the winery and bask in the beauty of the Adelaide hills while enjoying the wine at the cellar door. Check out their wine flight and discover their tantalising sparking wines that are also on offer.

 

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Kafka on the Shore – Haruki Murakami

After reading numerous reviews praising this book I decided that this particular work of Murakami would be my hundredth read for the year, completing my Goodreads goal. Kafka on the Shore follows two parallel stories that at first seem unrelated but slowly converge and unravel as the novel progresses. The first is the story of Kafka Tamura, a fifteen year old school boy who runs away from home to escape his father and his oedipal prophecy. The second follows Nakata, an ageing simpleton who can communicate with cats, which he uses to reunite lost cats with their owners.

 

This is Murakami at his bizarre best. Even upon finishing the novel you have some understanding of the journey the novel takes you on but you are left feeling as though there is much more to pull from it. Secrets that will only be revealed after a few more reads of this novel. His work feel profound and touches on themes of philosophy, the self, nothingness and finding your purpose. There is much to be gained from this novel with plenty of food for thought to lead to some time for self-reflection. For this reason I’m glad that this was the final book for my 2016 reading challenge.

 

I found this book an easy read. The strange content that begin unrelated and slowly fits together to become a puzzle hooked me in and had me striving to understand. The typical Murakami themes and objects of focus like cats, music, books, sexuality all occur in this novel and it has been noted that Kafka on the Shore flows on from some of his earlier works, which are all making their way on to my TBR list. Having not even heard of Murakami at the beginning of the year I have now completed three of his novels and find myself more and more entranced by his words each time. Yes, his work is bizarre and is certainly not everyones cup of tea but I have found it compelling and unique. The blend of sensible and realistic characters, magical realism and strong underlying themes leaves me wanting more and more, perhaps in order just to understand a little more.

 

I thoroughly enjoyed the blend of characters in this novel. They are quite different to those that I have discovered in the two novels I have previously read. Kafka Tamura  and Nakata are two very different characters, both of which you find yourself sympathising with in their two distinct troubles. The supporting characters, Oshima, Hoshino and Miss Saeki are unique and intriguing also. All a pleasure to read about and each memorable in their own way.

 

This is perhaps my favourite Murakami novel so far (although I have many more to experience) leading me only to want more. In fact, I picked up a copy of The Strange Library yesterday and plan to pick it up immediately, just to continue my Murakami obsession. If bizarre philosophical novels blended with magical realism are you thing, I do recommend picking up Kafka on the Shore immediately and give this novel four of Nakata’s cat friends.

 

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Half A King – Joe Abercrombie

I came across Half A King on recommendation on bookstagram recently and was intrigued by the description. Half A King follows Prince Yarvi, the prince with half a hand, who finds himself having to step up after his father, the King and his brother are murdered. Being king isn’t what Yarvi wanted and soon enough he finds himself tangled in a web that only he can escape from. This is the first book in the Shattered Sea series.

 

At first I was a little disappointed in the novel, with the first twist feeling rather predictable in my opinion. However, I stuck with it and found myself following the story of Yarvi. Pleasantly I found that the plot improved from there on out and I found myself caught up in Yarvi’s struggle for the throne. The story is written quite simply and isn’t a particularly complex story. A simple fantasy novel that has nods to the middle ages and viking themes. I found my interest grew as the story developed and am looking forward to continuing with the series.

 

The characters were a surprising highlight. Yarvi is your stock standard intelligent but certainly not brawny protagonist feeling as though he doesn’t fit in in his cunning and strong family. His character undergoes quite a lot of development in this novel. My real pleasure lies in the surrounding characters. The villains are great, his raggedy band of supporters are endearing and there are sufficient surprises within these characters. There is also a lot of range left for the future tales.

 

This novel isn’t quite what I was initially hoping for, I was ready for another grand epic fantasy series (seriously, any suggestions from fellow fantasy lovers are welcome!). This novel was much simpler and easier to read than I anticipated. That being said I also found it incredibly enjoyable and fast-paced to read. If you are after a new fantasy series in the young adult spectrum, this is a great start. I give Half A King three lengths of slaves chains, throwing a curve ball at our hero.

 

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Wine & Words Wednesday 07/12/16

Wine & Words Wednesday here again, and not a moment too soon! Bottle is cracked and raring to go. I suppose now that it is officially summer and all I should move along to white but I’m holding on to my red another week. What red is it this week I hear you ask? Well, I’m glad you asked because it is a great one. Hither & Yon are a small sustainable winery located in McLaren Vale, South  Australia. They actually sell off the larger part of the grapes they grow and keep a small select amount to make their wines. Each of their wines are simple, ready to drink table wines. Made to be drunk now in the company of good friends and good food. Their cellar door is located in the picturesque town of Willunga and it is the cellar door dreams are made of. The building was originally a butchers shop and retains the original slate floor. The decor is quirky, comfortable and gorgeous. My favourite part as a book lover had to be the open upper level that is lined with stunning old books. A book lovers dream! Their labels are unique, each with a customised ampersand. Artists are approached to design the ampersand representing each wine and do so after reading the tasting notes and getting a feel for the wine. The wine I am discussing today is their 2014 Shiraz Cabernet Sauvignon. This is a delectable wine and one I couldn’t resist picking up despite an overflowing wine rack.

 

I’m going with the flow of their labelling while picking a companion book for this one. The artist develops the design from the tasting notes. This label is a blend of soft pinks, reds and purples, reflecting the attractive deep colour of the wine itself, the hints of summer berries in the palate and the aroma of cherries. The vibe I pick up from this is definitely something girly, something fun, yet vulnerable and soft. Perusing my shelves it leads me straight to one of the (very few) chick lit novels I own, yet a favourite nonetheless. In Her Shoes by Jennifer Weiner is the story of two sisters, Rose and Maggie. Complete polar opposites: Rose is an uptight lawyer with her life together, Maggie is a free-spirit used to getting by with her looks but lacking any real responsibility. The only thing they seem to have in common is the same size feet (which Maggie takes for granted, stealing Roses shoes every chance she gets). While actions tear their relationship apart, eventually they find their way back to each other and realise they have more in common than they know. This is a feel-good book that sucks you in and leave you feeling warm and fuzzy. A great read, with a not-terrible movie to boot. Although if you have seen the movie their is much more to be gained from the book.

 

Warm days are coming, so take a drive down south to Willunga, maybe make a day of it? Visit the farmers markets first on a Saturday morning, stock up on some amazing produce. Enjoy the tasting at the cellar door and then once you have made your decision, sneak next door to The 3 Three Monkeys and grab yourself a delicious burger (I do recommend the mushroom burger), sit in their garden with you book in hand and just enjoy the beautiful surroundings. Good food, good wine and a good book. What could be better? Lets be honest, not a lot.

 

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