The Chalk Man – C. J. Tudor

image3In 1986, Eddie and his friends are just kids on the verge of adolescence. They spend their days biking around their sleepy English village and looking for any taste of excitement they can get. The chalk men are their secret code: little chalk stick figures they leave for one another as messages only they can understand. But then a mysterious chalk man leads them right to a dismembered body, and nothing is ever the same…

A murder mystery that switches back and forth from the 80s to 2016, following Eddie, his friends, and the happenings that shook up his small town in 1986. The Chalk Man has had a lot of hype and some really good reviews, and I loved the jacket and endpapers (I do judge a book by its cover).

image2I found ‘The Chalk Man’ enjoyable to read, and it gripped me enough to want to find out what happened next. There is a lot thrown in to 350 pages and so there was always something sinister going on. That said, there were also a lot of characters and I didn’t find myself drawn towards any of them, including Eddie as the protagonist who came across as a bit bland. The ‘chalk’ element also left a lot of questions unanswered and didn’t feature as prominently as I would have expected.

There were some chilling scenes when Eddie was lucid dreaming, and a few decent twists along the way.

A good crime read, and I know lots of people that have loved this one but I didn’t find it to be a pacy thriller.

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My Autumn Reads

I finished a few books during October and November this year, with the nights drawing in and the temptation to go outside dwindling…

Sapiens: Yuval Noah Harari 
23692271Sapiens is a vast exploration of historic events, scientific discoveries and grand ideas that have shaped the way that we live in this world today.

Touching upon an array of subjects – including agriculture, religion and anthropology – Harari leaves no stone unturned in his quest to describe the intricacies of modern society. Although it took me near enough 3 months to listen to the whole book on Audible, I found Sapiens to be an interesting and thought provoking read, with plenty of points to agree or disagree with. Harari’s book has received mixed reviews, but I have his next book Homo Deus on the shelf and it has been fast-tracked onto my TBR list.

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Artemis: Andy Weir
28239935After reading (and really enjoying) The Martian I was so excited to receive an advanced copy of Artemis, and I’d like to thank the publisher for sending it to me. Which is why I’m also sorry to conclude that I didn’t enjoy this novel nearly as much as I wanted to…

Andy Weir turns his hand to writing a feisty female protagonist and completely fails, with the book feeling more like it’s been written by a teenage boy (and that is doing teenage boys a disservice). Jazz swears a lot, jokes a lot and assumes that we don’t know a lot. There are a tonne of immature sounding sexual references littered throughout, and this makes for a jarring read.

All of Weir’s technical knowledge is absolutely clear in his writing, and as somebody who enjoys reading about space technology I really do like that aspect of his stories – but I believe that it has been completely overshadowed here and Weir was out of his depth with his characters.

I wouldn’t recommend this book, particularly to fans of The Martian – if it had a red pen taken to it, the unnecessary asides cut, and more thought had gone into the characters it could have been a decent read. I wouldn’t dismiss any of Weir’s future books, but I would definitely approach with caution!

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The Couple Next Door: Shari Lapena
29540038-2The scene in Lapena’s debut novel is set when a couple go to a party at their next door neighbours’ house, leaving their beloved baby at home asleep with the baby monitor. When the baby inevitably goes missing, what follows is a slightly confused but pacy enough drama that is easy to get into and quick to read.

With disappointing characters making unrealistic decisions and a few predictable ‘twists’, this book is not particularly memorable, but it has had mixed reviews and is worth a go for fans of psychological thrillers.

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Winter reads for me have been few and far between so far, as the pace ramps up at work for Christmas Holidays. I have a couple of novels on the go and I’m hoping to finish them very soon!

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A Life Discarded – Alexander Masters

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A Life Discarded is a biographical detective story. In 2001, 148 tattered and mould-covered notebooks were discovered lying among broken bricks in a skip on a building site in Cambridge. Tens of thousands of pages were filled to the edges with urgent handwriting. They were a small part of an intimate, anonymous diary, starting in 1952 and ending half a century later, a few weeks before the books were thrown out. Over five years, the award-winning biographer Alexander Masters uncovers the identity and real history of their author, with an astounding final revelation.

Witty, poignant, inspiring.. 

‘A Life Discarded’ begins with Alexander and his friends finding 148 journals discarded in a skip. From there on, Alexander attempts to unravel the mysterious writer of these journals – leading us into the oddly fascinating life of an entirely unremarkable person.

There are moments throughout Alexander’s work that are really astonishing, reminding us that at times the truth (and life) can be entirely unexpected.

A few previous reviews of this book mark Alexander down because his narrative surrounding the journals is often more appealing than the journal itself. I think that they have completely missed the point – his argument throughout is exactly that; works of fiction, newspaper articles, biographies, are all written for an audience and are supposed to be entertaining. The mundane ramblings of an ordinary person struggling through their life in their journals is not intended to be for an audience – and Alexander has done such a wonderful job of moulding the subject’s life into something that we can read and enjoy.

The diaries teach us that it is too much to be inside anybody’s head. It is a horrible place.

It took me quite a long time to finish this biography despite it being a quick read; after every few pages I suddenly felt the urge to write in my own journal – and although I am not quite as dedicated to mine as the subject of this biography, it certainly helped me to get more words down onto paper.

This is a really enjoyable read – funny, entertaining and strangely suspenseful. And as Alex puts it himself:

It was as I was walking back, ecstatic, through the mud that I understood the reason I wanted to keep reading [THEIR] diary entries, even when they are agonisingly tedious. It is because they are true…

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‘A LIFE DISCARDED’ is out on the 5th of May 2016

All the Light we cannot See – Anthony Doerr

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Marie-Laure lives with her father in Paris near the Museum of Natural History, where he works as the master of its thousands of locks. When she is six, Marie-Laure goes blind and her father builds a perfect miniature of their neighborhood so she can memorize it by touch and navigate her way home. When she is twelve, the Nazis occupy Paris and father and daughter flee to the walled citadel of Saint-Malo, where Marie-Laure’s reclusive great-uncle lives in a tall house by the sea. With them they carry what might be the museum’s most valuable and dangerous jewel.

In a mining town in Germany, the orphan Werner grows up with his younger sister, enchanted by a crude radio they find. Werner becomes an expert at building and fixing these crucial new instruments, a talent that wins him a place at a brutal academy for Hitler Youth, then a special assignment to track the resistance. More and more aware of the human cost of his intelligence, Werner travels through the heart of the war and, finally, into Saint-Malo, where his story and Marie-Laure’s converge.

One of the most beautiful books I’ve ever read.

All the Light we cannot See is set during the course of World War 2. It follows Marie-Laure – a young blind girl living in Paris with her locksmith father; and Werner, a bright German orphan boy with a talent for fixing radios.

Marie-Laure and her father must flee to Saint Malo, where her great Uncle Etienne (another wonderful character) and his warm, no-nonsense housekeeper take them in and give them shelter. It is in Saint Malo that most of the story takes place, and where Marie-Laure and Werner’s lives briefly collide…

We come into existence as a single cell, smaller than a speck of dust. Much smaller. Divide. Multiply. Add and subtract. Matter changes hands, atoms flow in and out, molecules pivot, proteins stitch together, mitochondria send out their oxidative dictates; we begin as a microscopic electrical swarm. The lungs the brain the heart. Forty weeks later, six trillion cells get crushed in the vise of our mother’s birth canal and we howl. Then the world starts in on us. – p.468

Since I finished the last page of this book I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it. It is the most beautiful novel that I have read for as long as I can remember, the kind of story that you really do need to take your time over and soak up every last detail. Doerr’s prose is heart wrenching and heart warming at once, and it really brings to light the way that the war affected the lives of individual people from every background.

I can’t recommend this novel enough. It is long and winding and will make you question your own life, and the things that you take for granted on a day to day basis. All the Light we cannot See should be your next read.

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The Revenant – Michael Punke

27070929Based on a true story, The Revenant is an epic tale of revenge set in the Rocky Mountains, a remarkable tale of obsession and the lengths that one man will go to for retribution.

A TIP: Don’t read the blurb! (It tells half of the story)

There have been some really good reviews about the film ‘The Revenant’ starring Leonardo Dicaprio; and being the kind of person who likes to read the book first, I decided to give Punke’s novel a go.

The Revenant follows a group of fur traders across the American West in 1823. This was a time in which danger and conflict threatened everyone who dared to set foot on the vast plains and mountains in search of riches.

Despite the lack of diversity between the characters, the book is immediately absorbing, evolving into a linear tale with one plot and one protagonist. Simple and effective, plenty of tension, difficult to put down.

Perfect for adventure enthusiasts.

I’ve heard that the ending has been changed for the film, which makes a lot of sense. I was a little disappointed by the last few pages and it would be interesting to see the way that the movie version differs. I look forward to watching it.

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4-Star Field General from TowerLeather

I have always loved to document my life and travels, and have two large Moleskine notebooks with loads of extra pages added that include my journal entries from the age of 10. And so I felt a little guilty giving up half way through my second book to switch my journaling into something altogether more portable. I figured that I would write more if I could take the notebook with me, and my big black Moleskine hardly fit into my bag let alone my pocket – my love affair with small pocket cahiers and Field Notes has begun…

I’ve been looking at traveler’s notebooks for some time now. The idea appeals to me because I am a bibliophile with a passion for books and journals, and the more I can carry with me the better! Being hugely forgetful, I require a notebook with me at all times, and I never want to mix my illegible brain lists with the documenting of experiences and travels.

And that’s where my research into the Midori travelers notebook began. I loved the idea of carrying multiple inserts in one journal, but didn’t like the fact that you were very limited as to how many inserts you could carry and where you could buy the inserts from. Outside of the official Midori branding and custom made Etsy inserts, there weren’t many other places to go, and even the passport size didn’t really appeal to me. I looked into custom made leather covers instead and stumbled upon TowerLeather on Etsy.image2-2

The 4-Star Field General  instantly appealed. The Field Notes size of this traveler’s notebook is perfect for me, as it also fits the Moleskine pocket cahiers that I already had stashed on my shelves, and the paper in Field Notes is usually really good quality and fountain pen friendly. I loved the look of the dark brown leather and the fact that it didn’t seem quite as basically cut as some of the other traveler’s notebooks I had looked at.

When the Field General arrived I wasn’t disappointed. The leather is a rich dark brown, thick but pliable and smells amazing. The black elastic is just tight enough, neatly attached and the gold ring bindings give it a little edge over some other products I have researched. I love the neat stitching around the edges, another detail that is quite often missed on other similar covers. The biggest plus however, is that it holds four inserts rather than the usual two or three. Plenty of room for planning and also adding your own personal touches.

image3The 4-Star Field General that I purchased included a pocket in the front and back, very handy for storing postage stamps and tickets that you might need for your travels, and it also comes with a Field Notes insert to get you started. I loved this in particular, as it confirmed my need to buy into the obsession; I instantly found myself forking out for the Snow Blind set for an upcoming ski trip at the end of the month.

My set up currently involves a zipper pocket and card holder on the first elastic (‘Passport’ size from PaperGeekCo £3.22), my notes and reminders on the second, a monthly calendar and contact numbers on the third (decorated by my little sister) and my daily journal on the fourth. The inserts sit neatly inside and you can add more if you wish, but they start to stick out a little if you do. In addition to this I bought planner clips from Paperchase for £2 to use as page markers, and had spare card featuring a duck print that I love and had to include too.

The Field General cost me £52.62 including shipping, which is a LOT for what is essentially a shell that you need to fill yourself; but I can guarantee you this is up there with the best quality craftsmanship you’ll come across when it comes to traveler’s notebooks, and you’re not going to want to leave the house without it!!!

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My Brilliant Friend – Elena Ferrante

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A modern masterpiece from one of Italy’s most acclaimed authors, My Brilliant Friend is a rich, intense, and generous-hearted story about two friends, Elena and Lila. Ferrante’s inimitable style lends itself perfectly to a meticulous portrait of these two women that is also the story of a nation and a touching meditation on the nature of friendship.

A stark, honest exploration of friendship in 50’s Naples

Elena Greco is endlessly fascinated by her friend Lila, the daughter of a shoemaker and a flame that everybody else in their rundown area of Naples also seems drawn to. ‘My Brilliant Friend’ explores the lives of these two girls growing up in the midst of violence, where women are valued mostly for their housework and child-bearing capabilities above all else; where families and gangs have a ‘get them before they get us’ mentality. The violence and squabbling is relentless throughout, and is practised by pretty much everybody living in the neighbourhood. Men beat their wives, girls throw rocks at boys, brothers punch sisters – life is a constant battle to settle scores or show who is boss.

As Elena and Lila grow up, their paths take different routes. Elena manages to secure her place in school and continues to study, whereas Lila (who excels the other students in every way) has to leave school in order to help her family at home. Still Elena’s life is entwined with Lila’s and they remain inseparable. The twist at the very end was brilliant and I will definitely be picking up book 2 to read on holiday in Italy.

Ferrante’s style is very honest. There are no frivolities and she doesn’t waste time on lengthy prose or description. Despite ‘My Brilliant Friend’ being almost exclusively character-driven rather than plot-driven, there never seems to be a lull in the flow of the book. Ferrante throws numerous characters together but it never seems to be too much. It’s a real pleasure to read and the perfect work of summertime escapism.

‘My Brilliant Friend’ is the first of the Neapolitan series by the elusive Elena Ferrante, who can only be speculated over as she remains a mystery to the media and readers alike. She doesn’t partake in face to face interviews, instead writing to few journalists via letters. Some have suggested that Ferrante could be a male writer, but her letters have once or twice eluded to her being a mother. Whatever the mystery, the first book in this saga is a wonderful read and I would recommend it as one to add to your TBR list this summer.

The fourth and final book in the Neapolitan series will be out in September 2015.

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(Reading copy kindly given to me in exchange for honest feedback by Turnaround Publishing)

The Narrow Road to the Deep North – Richard Flanagan

18803672A novel of the cruelty of war, and tenuousness of life and the impossibility of love.

Richard Flanagan’s story — of Dorrigo Evans, an Australian doctor haunted by a love affair with his uncle’s wife — journeys from the caves of Tasmanian trappers in the early twentieth century to a crumbling pre-war beachside hotel, from a Thai jungle prison to a Japanese snow festival, from the Changi gallows to a chance meeting of lovers on the Sydney Harbour Bridge.

Taking its title from 17th-century haiku poet Basho’s travel journal, The Narrow Road To The Deep North is about the impossibility of love. At its heart is one day in a Japanese slave labour camp in August 1943. As the day builds to its horrific climax, Dorrigo Evans battles and fails in his quest to save the lives of his fellow POWs, a man is killed for no reason, and a love story unfolds.

The most beautiful and intensely harrowing novel to come out of 2013.

Richard Flanagan, weaving together the personal and professional life of Australian surgeon Dorrigo Evans, brings us a dark and touching insight into the horrors of the Burma Death Railway.

Written in the style of a war hero reminiscing about his past, Dorrigo finds himself in the midst of the second world war, caught up in a forbidden affair with his uncle’s headstrong wife. He visits her rather than his own fiancee whenever he has leave, and begins to become absorbed in his love for Amy above most other things. The novel takes a dramatic turn when two years later Dorrigo is captured by the Japanese as a Prisoner of War working on the Burma Death Railway. He is expected to lead a large group of fellow prisoners as they work on building the railway to impossible deadlines and in impossible conditions. Dorrigo is forced to get ever more work out of his fellow captives, even as they are dying around him of exhaustion, starvation and cholera; and he finds himself setting up and running a makeshift hospital for the camp alongside his other duties to his men.

Flanagan writes with a beauty that brings the horrors of the POW camp and the characters that suffer there to life. There are many symbolic gestures laced throughout the narrative – handwritten letters, red camellias and pencil sketches that resonate long after the book has finished, and the link to poetry from the start brings endless depth to the prose. The grit and gore of the Prisoner of War camp is followed by severe emptiness as Flanagan explores the emotions of both the prisoners and the Japanese soldiers after the war is over. Here he expertly sets out the contrast between the two lives – when the men begin to realise that nothing they ever experience will be as intense or meaningful again.

Flanagan’s novel becomes all the more poignant when we find out that it was written in tribute to his father, an Australian prisoner of war who survived his experiences on the Burma Death Railway. His father sadly passed away on the day that Flanagan finished writing his book.

‘The Narrow Road to the Deep North’ was well deserving of the Man Booker Prize last year and is now out in paperback, although there is something quite pleasing about the hardback edition.

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Review also posted on Urbanista UK

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I Am Malala – Malala Yousafzai with Christina Lamb

17851885When the Taliban took control of the Swat Valley in Pakistan, one girl spoke out. Malala Yousafzai refused to be silenced and fought for her right to an education.

On Tuesday, October 9, 2012, when she was fifteen, she almost paid the ultimate price. She was shot in the head at point-blank range while riding the bus home from school, and few expected her to survive.

Instead, Malala’s miraculous recovery has taken her on an extraordinary journey from a remote valley in northern Pakistan to the halls of the United Nations in New York. At sixteen, she has become a global symbol of peaceful protest and the youngest-ever Nobel Peace Prize laureate.

I Am Malala is the remarkable tale of a family uprooted by global terrorism, of the fight for girls’ education, of a father who, himself a school owner, championed and encouraged his daughter to write and attend school, and of brave parents who have a fierce love for their daughter in a society that prizes sons.

A true inspiration…

This book has taught me so much about Pakistan and the conflict that the country has faced and continues to do battle with. It also taught me a lot about the Muslim community in Pakistan, and squashed some of the myths that fly back and forth between the people that do not know any better.

Malala herself comes across as young, strong willed and opinionated. Her morals and values are completely justified and positive, as she consistently articulates the importance of education for both boys and girls clearly. She not only fights for the rights of women in her own country, but for the equality of people all over the world. A really fascinating young lady who has been greatly influenced by her father of whom she thinks very highly.

Some critics seem to think that Malala is all talk and no action. This is simply not true, and even if it was, I think it would be almost irrelevant. Somebody with this kind of passion needed to stand up and shout about what was happening, bring the issue onto the bookshelves of ordinary people all over the world – and Malala did it. Ironically, the fact that she was shot in the face by the Taliban only served to give her a higher platform to stand on and oppose them from.

Malala’s charity funding helps small communities to build the foundations for schooling and education for uneducated children. She invests her own money into that as well as campaigning for others to do the same. Visit www.malala.org to learn more.

Malala deserved the Nobel peace prize. I truly believe that this book should be read by all.

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