Tag Archives: Love Books

Travel-The-Globe Thursday: Topping & Company Booksellers, St. Andrews

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In August 2015 I did some travelling around Ireland, Scotland and England, and naturally, I visited all of the bookish places I possibly could in that time. Compared to Australia, Ireland and the UK have many, many, MANY more physical bookstores and it is a much bigger industry over there than it is here in Oz. Out of all the bookstores I visited (and that’s quite a lot!) my absolute favourite was Topping and Company Booksellers of St. Andrews in Scotland.

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My favourite thing about it is the fact that it looks EXACTLY like my ideal movie-style bookstore – wall to wall, floor to ceiling timber bookshelves, sliding bookshelf ladders (a book lovers dream!), comfy couches and chairs, little cosy nooks and just every surface covered in bookish goodness! I could have spent HOURS just basking in the glory of this gorgeous store!

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Another thing that really stood out was the genuine friendliness and helpfulness of the staff there. When I mentioned to one of the staff members that I work in a bookstore in Sydney, Australia, she told me how she got her start in bookstores in Sydney! She then proceeded to invite me to make myself comfortable on one of their couches and she went and got me a cup of tea and a plate of biscuits so I could sit back and enjoy the store (it all came out on a tray complete with matching teacup, saucer and teapot).

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One of my favourite things about bookstores in the UK generally, but especially at Topping and Company is the sheer number of signed editions of books! Compared to how many we get in bookstores in Australia, it was a little overwhelming trying to only pick a few to buy. As most authors – especially UK and US authors – tend to tour the UK when promoting their books, it stands to reason they would have more signed editions than us poor little forgotten bookstores in Australia.

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Topping and Company in St. Andrews still remains my favourite bookstore that I have ever visited.

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Must-Read Monday: The Watchmaker of Filigree Street by Natasha Pulley

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I love a good historical fiction novel as I find it a really interesting and engaging way to learn more about periods and people in history. While The Watchmaker of Filigree Street is an historical fiction novel, it is one with a difference. There is a touch of magic in this one, which really appealed to me.

The story takes place in Victorian London in the 1880s. We are introduced to Thaniel who one day inexplicably finds an intricately and beautifully made gold pocket watch in his small rented apartment. Fast-forward six months, and this pocket watch mysteriously and inexplicably saves him from a fatal bomb blast that completely destroys Scotland Yard. Wanting answers, Thaniel goes in search of the maker of the watch. He discovers its maker is Keita Mori, a solitary Japanese immigrant. He forms a close friendship with Mori, although Thaniel feels as though Mori is deliberately keeping something from him. When Thaniel meets Grace Carrow, an eccentric physicist, he starts to question his friendship with Mori.

This novel was an absolute beauty to read. The atmosphere the author creates really puts you right into the heart of the story, and she expertly blends real historical happenings with little bits of fantasy and magic. The biggest strengths in this novel are the two main characters, Thaniel and Mori. They end up not feeling like characters, but like real people from an age gone by. Thaniel starts out as the typical polite, proper Englishman, and Mori the quirky, odd foreigner. As the story progresses, and as their relationship develops, each of them reveals more of their character, and soon they start to change and affect one another. They jump off the page with their complexities and their personalities.

I listened to this novel as an audiobook, and it was definitely they best way I could have consumed this story as it made everything seem so much more alive and realistic, despite the magical element in the tale.

This novel felt like what a steampunk-style novel done right should look like. I normally do not enjoy reading steampunk, but this book was right up my alley. A light hand and restraint from the author definitely made this a trope-free, Victorian fiction novel that has quickly become one of my favourites. Ultimately an examination of how much chance, coincidence and luck play a part in our lives, this novel is charming, beautiful, profound and simply a joy to read.

Must-Read Monday: Mao’s Last Dancer by Li Cunxin

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In Mao’s Last Dancer Li Cunxin tells us the story of his life in China under the Communist regime of Chairman Mao. At a young age he is taken from his poor village and relocated to Beijing in order to study ballet as part of the Mao Cultural Revolution. As part of a cultural exchange trip, Li visits America in the late 1970s and begins to realise that the anti-American propaganda fed to them by the Chinese Communist Party may not in fact be true. He eventually defects to America – although not without drama – and later moves to and settles in Australia.

Much like Forty Autumns, one of the things that I think makes this a must-read is the fact that we don’t really know what life was like under these cruel regimes until you hear about it from a person who lived through it. We all know about these periods in history, and often study them in school, but you never really comprehend how it was until you read books like this one.

One of the themes that really struck a chord with me in this book was the struggle between individuality and conformity that Li experiences throughout his life. Often times, these struggles are illustrated through confronting scenes that Li witnesses, such as the public executions of counter–revolutionaries by firing squad. The turning point for Li is when he is initially denied permission to return to America to further improve his ballet training. He says “My beliefs were now completely altered after my experience with the ministry of culture and after having time to think about what I had seen in the West. Now I knew with absolute certainty, that I had been manipulated by Chairman Mao’s communist propaganda for many years.”

Having visited China myself, this book has had a particular impact on me. Even though things in China have vastly improved since Chairman Mao’s reign, there is still an element of terror, control and conformity imposed by the current Chinese Communist Party leaders. For example, when we visited Tiananmen Square, we were told not to mention anything about the 1989 Massacre when we were in the square because the government has cameras and microphones installed in order to deter any potential repeat of 1989. We were also told that if we mentioned it and were caught, we would likely be arrested, as the Chinese government still publicly maintain that the 1989 massacre never happened.

The book is emotional, heart-breaking, eye opening and inspiring. To have lived the life Li has, and to have ended up where he did is absolutely astounding. There were many times through my reading of the book where I got so angry at the treatment of the Chinese people by their leaders, and many more where I got goose bumps. This is one of the most evocative books I have ever read.

Sentimental Sunday: Murder on the Orient Express

Agatha Christie is undoubtedly the Queen of Crime. She wrote 66 detective novels, 14 short story collections, wrote the world’s longest-running play, and is listed in the Guinness Book of World Records as the best-selling novelist of all time. These are all monumental and incredibly significant achievements. And luckily for me, an Agatha Christie novel was my first introduction to the wonderful world of crime fiction.

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The Queen of Crime herself; Dame Agatha Christie

I remember when I was about 13 or 14 we were staying at my grandparents’ place down the South Coast of New South Wales. Every Saturday morning there is a market at Moruya, and like we did every time we were at my grandparents’ place, we visited the markets. Being a bookworm from a young age, I have always been drawn to the second-hand bookstalls at markets. This particular time, I remember my Mum picked up a thin, battered old book and showed it to me, saying that she had loved this author at my age. Seeing as the book was only $3, I bought it. That book was Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie. I had never really read books that weren’t specifically written for kids before, nor had I read a crime novel.

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Hercule Poirot as portrayed by David Suchet

At that age, I have to admit it did take me a little while to get used to the language of the books and the very proper way the characters speak – I mean, it was originally written in the 1930s! With Poirot being Belgian – not French, if you please! – I found the occasional French words and French phrases frustrating, as I didn’t understand them. And the strange abbreviations I hadn’t come across before; Mlle, M, and Mme! What were these strange combinations of letters! I eventually figured it all out and adjusted to the language, and could finally focus myself on the story being told.

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Murder on the Orient Express and the odd little character of Hercule Poirot absolutely blew me away! The attention to detail and precision of all the facts was astounding. All the red herrings, the twists and when you finally find out who the murderer is… wow! My mind was blown! I didn’t know that books like this existed! It absolutely revolutionised reading for me, and began my love of a good crime novel. Since being introduced to the Queen of Crime and her most famous detective, I have devoured many Hercule Poirot novels and continue to scour second-hand bookstalls at markets for more of these golden oldies.

Screen Version Saturday: The Book Thief

The Book Thief by Australian author Markus Zusak tells the story of Liesel, a girl who is sent to live with a foster family near Munich during the Second World War. With the guidance of her foster father, she learns to read and develops an intense love of books and stories. They become irresistible to her, and whenever the opportunity presents itself she steals books from around her small town. She shares her stories with Max, a Jewish man that her foster parents are hiding from the Nazis. The book itself was brilliant and has been a best seller all over the world. I especially loved the fact that the novel itself is told from the point of view of Death and not from the point of view of Liesel, the main character. This creates a sense of foreboding and darkness in the novel, balanced out by the innocence and guileless morality of Liesel.

The 2013 film, starring Sophie Nélisse, Geoffrey Rush and Emily Watson, was welcomed with a very split response from critics. Regardless, I really enjoyed the film version. This was another book-to-film adaptation that I think was done really well. Geoffrey Rush was excellent in the role of Liesel’s foster father and, in my opinion, stole the show. I thought Liesel’s foster mother in the books came across as rougher, more forbidding and more disgruntled than she did in the film. In the film I thought she seemed positively cuddly in comparison to her book character. The character of Death still narrates the film, but I felt he doesn’t have the same presence in the film that he has in the book. These are minor issues that I have with the film, and it is still a great adaptation of the book. I loved both the book and film for the fact that while the setting of Germany during WWII was important in the telling of the story, it wasn’t the central storyline itself, which is unusual for stories set in this historical period. I highly recommend everyone see this film.

 

Rating: Book screen-shot-2017-01-07-at-1-24-07-pm/ Movie screen-shot-2017-01-07-at-1-24-14-pm

Fun Fact Friday: Location of Hogwarts

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Did you know that if Hogwarts were to actually exist, it would be located in the Scottish Highlands?

J.K. Rowling has said before that she has always imagined Hogwarts to be in Scotland, but that’s a big area! Based on little tidbits of information from the various Harry Potter novels, along with the fact that we know the Hogwarts Express travels north and it takes almost a whole day to get to the school via train, the math checks out and the Scottish Highlands is the only logical location for the famous school. There is a full, detailed working of this information found here.

 

 

Travel-The-Globe Thursday: Hobbiton

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Hobbiton had to be one of the most unique and unusual bookish locations in world. It was custom built for Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings movie trilogy, and was then re-used (with some modifications and additions) in the Hobbit movie trilogy. This essentially makes it a permanent, 12-acre, open-air movie set.

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There are many cute little Hobbit holes throughout the site, each decorated with its own exterior décor and detailed furnishings, however the main attraction for fans of the movies is undoubtedly Bag End, home to Bilbo and Frodo Baggins. Complete with its “no admittance except on party business” sign, this was definitely one of the highlights for me when I visited the site. While you don’t get to walk into any of the Hobbit holes (mainly because there is nothing behind the doors!), walking around and looking at them is enough to satisfy even the most hardcore of Tolkien fans.

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If you do a guided tour, you end the tour at The Green Dragon Inn where you can treat yourself to a mug of ale. There is an open fireplace and some fantastic armchairs inside, and a lovely, festive beer garden area outside where you can relax and take in the sights of Hobbiton over the lake.

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I absolutely loved my visit to Hobbiton, and would definitely do it again next time I’m in New Zealand! It felt just like being in the fictional world of The Shire that you read about in Tolkien’s books, and the attention to details throughout the site is impeccable. Although the guided tours are expensive, I would highly recommend doing one so that you get all the information about the site, and all of the interesting stories and trivia that go along with that.

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Wishlist Wednesday: Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor

This book will be the first in a new duology from best-selling author Laini Taylor. I absolutely ADORED her Daughter of Smoke and Bone series, so naturally I am very excited about new material from her.

One of the things I loved most about Laini Taylor’s Daughter of Smoke and Bone series was the way she writes and her use of language. It is so beautiful to read, and her descriptions are very vivid and very realistic (when it came to the real world locations!).

Much like The Song Rising, Strange the Dreamer had a delayed publication date. It was originally slated for a September 2016 release, but it then got pushed back to March 2017, the reasons for which are outlined here. Naturally, as soon as someone says I can have something and then makes me wait even longer for it, the more I want that item!

Mostly, I am putting this book on my wishlist because it has intrigued me. The title itself had grabbed me; Is ‘Strange’ a name? Is it just an artistic, incomplete sentence? What meaning does the title hold to the story? And then there is the plot summary on Goodreads:

Strange the Dreamer is the story of:

the aftermath of a war between gods and men
a mysterious city stripped of its name
a mythic hero with blood on his hands
a young librarian with a singular dream
a girl every bit as perilous as she is imperiled
alchemy and blood candy, nightmares and godspawn, moths and monsters, friendship and treachery, love and carnage.

Welcome to Weep.

 

WELL! If that isn’t mysteriously tantalising enough to grab your interest, then I don’t know what is. Personally, the addition of a librarian just increased my interest! This sounds to me like more fabulous YA fantasy goodness!

 

The Australian publication date for Strange the Dreamer is 28th March 2017.

Must-Read Monday: Nevernight by Jay Kristoff

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It is going to take all my willpower and skills to give a relatively succinct synopsis of this book.

So, here it goes…

With her family torn apart by the powers that be, Mia Corvere is alone and afraid with only her gift of talking to the shadows to keep her company. It is this gift that leads her to a retired killer who takes her in and teaches her his trade. Years later, Mia has vowed vengeance for her family and she becomes an apprentice with the Red Church – the deadliest, most devious group of assassins that exist. She and her fellow students are put to the test, all of them vying for the ultimate honour of becoming a Blade of the Church. But soon someone in their midst starts killing off the apprentices, and Mia discovers that finding a murderer in an institution filled with assassins is not an easy task.

Wowza! Where do I even start? As a fan of fantasy novels, I absolutely LOVED this book! This novel is definitely in my favourite of all that I read in 2016. Kristoff’s attention to detail in his world building transports you into the universe he has created, so much so that at times I completely forgot I was reading a novel. His characterisation is likewise just as brilliant, complex and well thought out as his world building. Kristoff presents us with a fantastic cast of individual personalities taking part in the story, some of which you love, some of which you hate and some of which you underestimate!

While the main character is of young adult age, and struggled with/experiences issues and emotions typical of a young adult, I would definitely NOT class this book as a ‘young adult’ fiction novel. This novel has an abundance of coarse language – f-words are frequent and c-bombs make many notable appearances. It also contains several rather explicit and descriptive sex scenes. And of course, there is all the blood, stabbing, killing and general violence.

That’s not to say that I think we should censor the reading habits of teens or that I don’t think young adults should read this. However, since the publication and worldwide success of the ‘Illuminae’ series – a series Kristoff co-authored that is targeted at young adults and therefore means many of his fans are of young adult age – I do think it is worth mentioning that there are definitely adult themes and adult language present in this novel. As always when choosing a novel to read, regardless of the reader’s age, it depends on the individual reader and what they do and don’t like in a book.

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Think Harry Potter but sexier, and with assassins. And vengeance. And stabbing. And death. Lots and lots of stabbing and death. #stabstabstab

New Year, New Blog

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2016 was a bad blog year for me.

I published exactly zero blog posts.

I could make excuses and say I was busy with work (I was) and busy with uni (I was), but really, I just didn’t have the same drive and excitement for it that I had when I first started blogging.

So, after a self-imposed 12 month hiatus, I am pleased to announce that I AM BACK!

I have a new, demanding blog schedule and a new way of doing things. The plan (fingers crossed!) is to post once a day according to a daily theme. At the moment, that looks a little something like this:

Must-Read Monday

This one is pretty self-explanatory. Every Monday I will aim to post a review of a book that I think is a ‘must-read’.

Top Ten Tuesday

Every Tuesday I will blog some kind list featuring the Top Ten of something bookish.

Wishlist Wednesday

On Wednesdays the plan is to blog about a few books that are yet to be released, but that I am really looking forward to.

Travel-the-Globe Thursday

Thursdays we will look at international places and locations that have a bookish aspect to them.

Fun Fact Friday

Every Friday I will aim to regale you with a random bookish fact.

Screen Version Saturday

On Saturdays we will look at and compare a book and its movie or TV adaptation.

Sentimental Sunday

A look back on books that I loved as a child or that have changed my life in some way.

So, that’s the plan!
I may not be successful (posting every day for a year is a BIG ask!), but at least I have a goal and I am going to try my best to get there.

Hopefully you’ll join me for the journey!