Wednesday, 31 December 2014

The Best Books I read in 2014

2014 was a great year for me in almost every sense, including literary wise. Although this was the year I graduated from university and as a result spent the first months of it writing my dissertation, I still found plenty of time to read other books than the ones dedicated to French foreign policy. Without further ado, here are just five of the best books I read in 2014…

Marie Antoinette by Stefan Zweig
2014 will forever be the year that I finally reached for a book by the great Stefan Zweig. Although I have been intending to do so for quite some time, it was not till I went to the Conciergerie in Paris, that I decided it was time to read Zweig's book on France’s last queen. Zweig is a literary genius, who writes about real people, the way other authors write fiction – it is compelling, all consuming, vivid and addicting. As a history buff, I was well aware of a lot of the aspects from Marie Antoinette’s life, and still my interest in her story only grew bigger and bigger with every page. Zweig gives us a great portrayal of the Queen of France, probably the truest one we are ever going to get – beautifully written, this is a thorough study on the Austrian princess.

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

If there is one word to describe this one it would be addictive. Even though I was amongst the first ones to watch Gone Girl as it hit the cinemas, my interest in the book grew even bigger as I already knew the whole story. And rest assure that the film did not take anything away from the experience of reading it (well, I was spoilt for the ending, but that was a minor price to be paid). For everything else I think on Gone Girl, here is my full review.

The Girl at the Lion d’Or by Sebastian Faulks
Now this one is a beauty! Sebastian Faulks is a writer, loved by many as the author of Birdsong. However, I would definitely recommend to any romance lover with a preference for classics to give The Girl at the Lion d’Or a read as well. A palette of colourful characters, complimented by a masterful narrative, this is quintessentially one of the more believable love stories out there. Set in a little French village in the transitional time between the two world wars, The Girl at the Lion d’Or is one of those pieces of historical fiction that has the power to take you away from your own world and put you in a place you never knew you wanted to visit, but feels strangely compelling. More of my thoughts on it here.

The Wolf of Wall Street by Jordan Belfort
This one is probably the one I had most fun reading and if you have seen the movie by the same name, you will know why. However, The Wolf of Wall Street is so much more than just a humorous look at Jordan Belfort’s wealthy lifestyle. It is a very honest and detailed autobiography that tells you things about Jordan’s life that maybe you did not need to know, but that help painting a full picture of one self-destructive existence. Once again, money does not equal easy living or a happy, problem-free time. More on why I love the book, right here.

Curtain: Poirot’s Last Case by Agatha Christie
As an avid Agatha Christie reader, I was postponing reading that one for quite a while. After reading numerous of books, featuring the clever little Belgian detective, it is inevitable that one would grow to love the character and eventually find oneself being too attached to it. But sooner or later great things have to come to an end. Curtain is a great crime novel and, to me, one of Christie’s best as it still manages to fool you and surprise you at the end. Unsurprisingly, also one of the saddest ones – definitely the book that made me cry in 2014.
A full review coming soon.

Thank you for reading! Whoever you are, have a great New Year full of brilliant moments and even more brilliant books!

Mira x
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Wednesday, 10 December 2014

History of a Pleasure Seeker: Review

Author: Richard Mason
Genre: Fiction, Romance, Adult Fiction
Originally published in: 2011
Pages: 280

"There is no adventure in staying at the same place"

When you want to visit Amsterdam, you book a flight and you go there for the weekend. When you want to see Amsterdam as it was in 1907, during the Belle Époque - things get a bit trickier. The best solution I find to this wanderlust, is reaching for History of a Pleasure Seeker.

The story is about Piet Barol - a young man with humble beginnings, who leaves the Dutch province in order to be a tutor for the son of a wealthy family in Amsterdam. While residing in their mansion, Piet has the opportunity to observe everyone living there - from the servants, to the masters - quietly finding out everyone's secrets, seducing them one by one. His intelligence and his charisma prove to open a lot of doors - an ambitious young man at the dawn of the 20th century, Piet will use all his carefully manufactured qualities in order to succeed in life. Which, for him, means wealth and indulgence.

History of a Pleasure Seeker is wonderfully written by Richard Mason - marvellously witty, it is a combination of humour and erotica, making it a great read for both hot summer nights and chilly winter evenings. Have you ever thought that your usual period drama lacks a bit of sexuality? History of a Pleasure Seeker is the one for you then. It is both a period piece that gives a greatly detailed look into the Dutch society of the Belle Époque, and a deeply erotic story. The characters are developed to a very intimate level - by examining their sexuality, Mason paints a more thorough picture of their true natures. He reflects on the effects of sexual repression, the nature of desire and how one deals with it - as we keep reading, we see that Piet is a man of many pleasures, who is not afraid of experimenting in order to satisfy his wants.

“The adventures of adolescence had taught Piet Barol that he was extremely attractive to most women and to many men. He was old enough to be pragmatic about this advantage, young enough to be immodest, and experienced enough to suspect that it might be decisive in this, as in other circumstances.”

This is the kind of novel that heavily relies on its main character. And what a protagonist we have here! Piet is handsome, intelligent, ambitious and witty - he knows what he wants and seemingly, nothing will stop him on his way to getting it. The world of money and pleasures is his aim, and in pursuing it he becomes less and less apologetic. Even though you might question some of his decisions, there is something to admire in a man who is so strongly driven to achieve his goals.

The book is not for the fainthearted – if you are used to rosy romances, this is not the one for you. The matter of sex is a driving force for this novel, so there are more than one or two erotic scenes, and they are all described with quite the detail. This is what is so great and refreshing about it – just because the story is situated during sexually repressed times, long before the sexual revolution changed the way we talk about sex, it does not mean that people were not having it. And do not think that those moments are just thrown in the book in order to make it spicier or to provoke its readers – on the contrary, these erotic scenes will help you understand the characters more. Reading about it will give you a far better idea of who Piet, Jacobina and Maarten are. Some detail might make you feel uncomfortable, yes, but this is the kind of daring writing that I love – everything feels real: there is no sugar-coating, but no unnecessary brutalities either.

A great read, History of a Pleasure Seeker is the kind of novel that grips you from the start and holds your attention till the very end – it won’t take you a lot of time to finish this one. It is that enjoyable. 

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Tuesday, 9 December 2014

My favourite Christmas time moments: Books

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We are well into December now, so naturally I am all about the ice skating, mulled wine-drinking, Christmas-pudding-eating experience. But before I head into yet another Christmas market, I thought it would be a good idea to look into some of my favourite books and find festive inspiration in them. So, here I am browsing in my library for those special little chapters dedicated to Christmas or at least to some fun winter activity, re-reading the stories  that have the ultimate festive effect on me. Here are my favourites... (Spoiler alert: there isn't any evidence of a crazy, jazzy, champagne-filled Christmas party at Gatsby's on the pages of Fitzgerald's novel...) 

"Little Women" - Christmas time is all about the once you love most. About playing in the snow and being happy with what you've got

Not intending to copy Rachel Green, but Little Women is definitely a book I can keep re-reading and I won't get tired from it. Come Christmas and I suddenly find myself in the mood to watch the film again, too (well, that might have something to do with a certain Christian Bale). Personally, I think this is one of the best Christmas movies - not only is it based on a classic, but it is also so beautiful and full of good performances. 
Now, there are whole chapters dedicated to winter festivities involving the March sisters, but here is just a little bit of it - a passage showing a girl's excitement in a Christmas' morning; the joy of opening your presents however small they are, and the warmness of genuine sisterly love .

"Jo was the first to wake in the gray dawn of Christmas morning. No stockings hung at the fireplace, and for a moment she felt as much disappointed as she did long ago, when her little sock fell down because it was crammed so full of goodies. Then she remembered her mother's promise and, slipping her hand under her pillow, drew out a little crimson-covered book. She knew it very well, for it was that beautiful old story of the best life ever lived, and Jo felt that it was a true guidebook for any pilgrim going on a long journey. She woke Meg with a Merry Christmas, and bade her see what was under her pillow. A green-covered book appeared, with the same picture inside, and a few words written by their mother, which made their one present very precious in their eyes. Presently Beth and Amy woke to rummage and find their little books also, one dove-colored, the other blue, and all sat looking at and talking about them, while the east grew rosy with the coming day.
In spite of her small vanities, Margaret had a sweet and pious nature, which unconsciously influenced her sisters, especially Jo, who loved her very tenderly, and obeyed her because her advice was so gently given."

"Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone" - the one my generation grew up with. About true magic, true friendship and true invisibility cloaks. 

Is there any need to explain this one? As a person in their early twenties, I am one of the people who grew up with Harry Potter. Naturally, Harry's first special Christmas has a place in my heart - this was just the beginning of the adventure, and the books were getting better and better, but the Philosopher's Stone first gave us a glimpse into Hogwarts' festivities (and with that to ALL THE FOOD).
So, from there on, I would always look forward to chapters, dedicated to Christmas times in Hogwarts - the ultimate dream! Wouldn't you love to be a part of the Christmas Ball from the Goblet of Fire,? Wouldn't you love it to have a festive trip to Hogsmeade, eat all the candy in Honeydukes and then run quickly to warm up at The Three Broomsticks Inn? We both know you would lie, if you say no to that!

Christmas was coming. One morning in mid-December, Hogwarts woke to find itself covered in several feet of snow. The lake froze solid and the Weasley twins were punished for bewitching several snowballs so that they followed Quirrell around, bouncing off the back of his turban.” 

"After a meal of turkey sandwiches, crumpets, trifle, and Christmas cake, everyone felt too full and sleepy to do much before bed except sit and watch Percy chase Fred and George all over Gryffindor tower because they'd stolen his prefect badge."

"A Moveable Feast" - the one when you grow up. About everything. About life. About Paris. Just Hemingway...

Maybe this one is not very festive. Maybe it is just very honest - just like Hemingway himself. In A Moveable Feast, Hemingway writes a very poignant, very real and honest description of one winter in Schruns, with his first wife Hadley and their little boy, Bumby. A marriage that is coming to its end. A winter resort that possess of beauty which cannot help mend something that is already destroyed. "When there is three of us instead of just the two, it was the cold and the weather that finally drove us out of Paris in the winter time." 
The whole wine and dine experience at the Taube Hotel might be lovely, the snow might be the crispiest, the skiing might be gorgeous, the writing might be going just fine - the perfect place does not always come at the perfect time. This happy winter story is the last one for Ernest and Hadley.

"I remember the smell of the pines and the sleeping on the mattresses of beech leaves in the woodcutters' hats and the skiing through the forest following the tracks of hares and of foxes. In the high mountains above the tree line I remember following the track of a fox until I came in sight of him and watching him stand with his forefoot raised and then go on carefully to stop and then pounce, and the whiteness and the clutter of a ptarmigan bursting out of the snow ad flying away and over the ridge."

Hope you enjoyed this post, I definitely feel a bit more festive!

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Monday, 8 December 2014

5 Best: Book Accessories

A good book accessory is to a reader, what a MAC brush is to a girl - makes the whole experience more convenient. And by book accessories I mean all those little things that are there to enhance one's reading time - pretty bookmarks, little booklights and all sorts of different gadgets. 

Since Christmas is upon us, those also make great budget buys and you should definitely consider adding them to your shopping list. Especially if you are thinking what to get a book lover - those cute little accessories make the perfect stocking fillers. Stationary makes perfect gifts, people!

Pretty bookmarks

As an avid reader, I have to say a nice bookmark can change the whole reading experience! I always pick up some of the free ones that you could find in the likes of Waterstones and Foyles, in my local library, or even at the cinema (you would be surprised at how many cash tills you can find a block of free bookmarks).
However, if you decide to actually pay for one of those, then your choices are getting even wider. For example, for the history addicts there are these kings and queens bookmarks, while for the Harry Potter fans there are these gorgeous Hogwarts bookmarks.
If you want to get a child into reading (or you already know one that is a bookworm) - try getting them one of those cute, furry book-tails - they come in different animals and are simply adorable.
If you want to go a step further: you love gadgets and you often read foreign literature - there are bilingual electronic dictionary bookmarks, too! 

Little booklights

Now those are seriously cute and even more seriously practical. Mainly because it doesn't matter where you are and what time of the day you choose to be reading (to be honest, in England right now, any time past 3pm requires some sort of artificial lightning! That is unless you are a bat and you can see in the dark, in which case, no, you don't really need that booklight, do you?). When I saw those tiny booklights in Waterstones, I knew they would be my best friend!


It is a truth universally acknowledged that if you possess of a lot of books, bookends you will need. This is why, in a true Christmas spirit you should get your book lover some fancy bookends for those big bookshelves of his/hers. For some great choice, check out KnobCreekMetalArts on Etsy - among my personal favourites are this Swan one and this Brilliant one!

Reading Journal

Reading journals are a must for serious book readers - or at least for the ones who are very organised and like to keep track of everything they read. This would be a perfect gift all year round, but especially for Christmas as the beginning of the new year makes a great start to a new journal. This one from The Literary Gift Company is perfect as it has sections for rating and reviewing the book, as well as "Reading Trees" to fill in. Here is a more classic one and here is another lovely Book Lover's Journal.

Kindle Covers

Now, books come in all shapes and sizes, and a lot of the book lovers of today choose to read from a tablet. A perfect gift for such a person is a cover - one that looks a lot like an actual book for the traditionalists, or maybe a floral leather one for the girly readers. Really, when it comes to those, the internet is your oyster - there is plenty of choice for those who are looking. To help you further here are three more : a Terry Pratchett one, a Wuthering Heights one, a Kate Spade one. And endless pages of pretty kindle cases here.

Hope you enjoyed this post! I do like making lists, but this week I will be back with my more book-specific posts and reviews.

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Sunday, 7 December 2014

Five Inspirational Christmas Quotes

Keeping it festive, here are 5 quotes about Christmas that are sure going to get you in the Christmas mood! 

“It is a fair, even-handed, noble adjustment of things, that while there is infection in disease and sorrow, there is nothing in the world so irresistibly contagious as laughter and good humour.” 
~ Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol 

“When we recall Christmas past, we usually find that the simplest things - not the great occasions - give off the greatest glow of happiness.”
~ Bob Hope

“Christmas is not a time nor a season, but a state of mind. To cherish peace and goodwill, to be plenteous in mercy, is to have the real spirit of Christmas.” 
~ Calvin Coolidge

“One can never have enough socks," said Dumbledore. "Another Christmas has come and gone and I didn't get a single pair. People will insist on giving me books.”
~ J.K.Rowling, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone

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