Monday, 29 June 2015

The Thing About Prague: Review

Author: Rachael Weiss
Genre: Travel, non-fiction
Pages: 377
Originally published in: 2014

Prague. A popular European party capital, a thing of beauty in the heart of Europe, a city based between the east and the west, boasting stunning architecture and rich history. Whatever you think of Prague, you probably wouldn’t mind reading a bit more into it, would you now?

As a person that loves reading about travelling, about people who change their lives forever by moving to a completely different country (hell, I did exactly that when I decided to leave it all and study abroad!), I thought The Thing About Prague would be the perfect pre-summer read for me. Yes, I did enjoy it and I read it quite quickly. No, it is not the best piece of travel writing and I did end up giving it only two stars on Goodreads (this still means “it was okay” so it’s not like it was that bad). Anyway, here is what I liked and what I didn’t about The Thing About Prague.

First of all, the book is written by Rachael Weiss (not to be mistaken with the actress) – an Australian mid-level administrator, who one day decided to leave her job and her home and move to Prague to write. However, the expectations that come with this initial plot summary are not entirely met. For instance, this is not the story of a woman who suddenly leaves it all to go somewhere completely anew: she actually has some Czech blood in her veins and when she makes the move to Prague, she conveniently has her father’s old flat to stay in, lounging around it for a few months. Prague is not exactly unknown to her either since Rachael has already spent some time there earlier and wrote a book on it, too – Me, Myself and Prague.

Without being too picky, in the long run this plot setup should not be such an issue – after all we cannot have it all, and there are plenty of other book that are about people who move into completely new places that are not connected to their family tree. So, let’s get to the good parts.

Rachael’s writing is funny and engaging. I always find it interesting to read those kind of books because they are telling genuine everyday stories – nothing too dramatic, yet immensely entertaining. Let’s blame our love for gossiping on this one – overhearing someone else's conversation if you will. And some of her stories are pretty good and easy to relay to, especially if you are coming from or have lived in Eastern Europe! That is to say, her book reminded me how alike we are over there: from the old socialist buildings, to the way people are so laid back about their work they would need a whole week to do something that should only take them a day. Personally, I caught myself smiling when Rachael was saying how the workers that had to fix the pipes in the bathroom said they will only take a day or two. Coming from Eastern Europe, I can assure you: it is never a day or two. Always add a few days on top. Always.

Also if you are someone who lives abroad, you might find this book pretty enjoyable (regardless of the country you reside in). Sentences such as “when you are an expat, you have no choice but to defend your country” certainly point at what we all have in common. By the way, you will notice how Rachael and her friends always refer to themselves as expats and never as immigrants. Fancy. (N.B expat, short for an expatriated person: = a person who is voluntarily absent from home or country; immigrant = a person who migrates to another country, usually for permanent residence).

Although I enjoyed reading The Thing About Prague, it did leave me feel a bit disappointed. I picked it up mainly because I wanted to read about Prague – you know, the city that is in the title of the book. To my disappointment, there was not much about the actual Prague – in terms of its aforementioned beautiful architecture and rich history, in terms of descriptions of places the locals go to eat/drink/party/shop/hang-around/anything. Instead, the book is mainly about Rachael trying to find a flat to buy (yes, to buy – not to rent) and to find a job, which, surprise, surprise!, is pretty hard for a person who only speaks English – not even a bit of Czech. A little mundane especially since she spends most of the time laying around in her dad’s flat – nothing wrong with this story, but not much of a travel writing? Also, she is very surprised to find out how expensive the nice flats by the river are … just because it is Central Europe does not mean that apartments are cheap as chips, you know?

And finally, what really got on my nerves and I just have to talk about it: her ignorance when it comes to European regulations. Sounds like a weird thing to get annoyed about? Bare with me, I will explain! I do realise that she is Australian and very far away from European issues and politics, but she is being well too self-centred when it comes to things that exist for a reason. For instance, she keeps complaining about the European Union making her life very hard – the poor expat that has to do all this paperwork and get all those documents in order to live in the Czech Republic legally. How dare they change their visa regulations? How dare they have any regulations? Don’t they know she is just a woman who can’t be bothered to deal with passports? And then she even goes on to express her annoyance at the Czech joining Schengen because it means more regulations and paperwork for her – are you kidding me? No, seriously, has she not made her research? All this time she spend in Prague and she did not get to know any of the politics and the international relations going on in Europe? Yes, I am sure they wanted to be a part of the EU and Schengen just to f*ck up the poor expat and that is that. (It’s annoying because she never acknowledges that there just might be some reason for the Czech joining all those unions…)

I can say a lot more about my issues with this but I will stop here. Forgetting my rant for a moment, The Thing About Prague is not such a bad book and it does provide some good insight into an immigrant’s life in the Czech Republic. A chapter during the end that involves a scary fellow expat who sounds like a cannibal is especially good and helps make the book worth it. Take Rachael Weiss’ words with a pinch of salt – it is not a boring book but it does not say that much about actual Prague as one might wish. 

Would you be interested in reading The Thing About Prague? What good travel books have you read lately?
read more "The Thing About Prague: Review"

Monday, 22 June 2015

Sweet Overload: The Diner in Carnaby

There are not a lot of things that can get me quite as excited as a plate full of pancakes (one day I will dedicate a post to the other things that get a place on this list). So, obviously I had The Diner on my list of places to visit for quite some time. Those yummy instagram photos of huge burgers, chili cheese fries, french toasts, and stacks of pancakes, had me infinitely scrolling down and down and down my feed, getting hungrier with the progression of the pics, and more and more jealous of the people who got to eat those sublime portions of American-style comfort food.

My love for pancakes met its match in The Diner Soho one very sunny Spring afternoon in May - just in time for their new menu (this post has been long overdue obvs). So here is what me and the Boy ended up having.

First off the drinks: I opted for a Snickers Milkshake because I love a good Snickers and this is my all time favourite chocolate bar hands down. On a similar note, have you ever tried a divine scoop of Snickers ice cream? You should.

What I got was a traditional milkshake glass full of this chocolate/Nutella/peanut butter concoction plus a shaker filled with even more of this lovely drink. Needless to say I needed my boyfriend's help to finish that one as the sweetness overload was something I could not handle, especially not when I mixed it with....

Just look at those pancakes! American, flufy, sweet, gorgeous, buttermilk pancakes topped with maple syrup and whipped butter! If you don't know how obsessed I am with pancakes smothered in maple syrup than you know nothing, Jon Snow, because this has to be my most favourite breakfast thing in the entire wide world. And The Diner ones? They tasted like pure heaven - divine softness meets gentle sweetness and they have a crazy party in my mouth (okay enough of this, you can imagine how great the whole experience was).

If those pancakes are wrong, I do not wanna be right

What about the Boy? He was going to have the same but decided to opt for the Cholla French Toast  with custard, honey butter and maple syrup instead. I tried it, too, and I thought it was good as well although not nearly as good as the pancakes. He enjoyed it at first but then found it way too sweet and heavy and did not end up finishing it. Ultimately,  he regretted he did not get the pancakes. Well. tough luck, my darrrling!

Is it time for a cheeky little outfit pic? Here is what I wore for our casual diner-date ;)

Leather jacket Betty Barclay/Top Maison Scotch/Jeans Pepe Jeans/Nike Sky Hi/ Bag Michael Kors

Final thoughts? We are definitely going back to The Diner and I am keen to make it a regular thing. The prices are pretty good especially considering we are in London. Will definitely go back to try the burgers and the famous chili cheese fries, but I do not know how I will handle the temptation not to order pancakes again. Well, I guess next time I can actually share them as a dessert treat with the Boy - surely we can handle both burgers and a stack of pancakes? Will keep you posted on that one!

Have you been to The Diner yet? What is your favourite American style comfort food? Do let me know in the comment section below :)
read more "Sweet Overload: The Diner in Carnaby"

Sunday, 21 June 2015

Indiscretion: Review

Author: Hannah Fielding
Genre: Romance, fiction
Pages: 489
Originally published in: 2015

Who doesn’t love a bit of historical romance set in sunny Spain in the 1950s? I am definitely up for a bit of that, especially since I am going to Spain again later this summer… So, let’s get to it!

Indiscretion is the story of a young girl – Alexandra de Falla. Half-English, half-Spanish, Alexandra has spent the first 20 years of her life between London and Kent, living with her aunt. Even though it is the 50s and a woman is expected to be focused on marrying well and settling down, Alexandra is quite modern – she is a successful young writer, with a book or two behind her back, and she has also recently rejected a marriage proposal. However, there is something missing from her life and when her father finally comes to visit her in England and invites her to see her estranged Spanish family, she immediately jumps on the offer. Alexandra yearns to learn more about her Spanish roots, hoping to learn more about herself and to find a sense of belonging in the hot country, but what she discovers there is very different from what she expected. A big family, controlled by a strong mother figure and contrived by an even stronger sense of tradition, a spiteful stepmother, a jealous stepsister, and one notoriously handsome cousin, prove to be more than a handful. Is Alexandra ready to live in a country where the heat of the weather is almost as strong as the heat of the people?

This was a vibrant, passionate land: the heat, the colours, the flamboyance of the people, the wild and mythical feel of the mountainous scenery, even the spectacular rise and setting of the sun.

The book is an easy read and a page turner. If you love your romantic novel, you are definitely in for a treat – Indiscretion provides this mix of forbidden love, complications, beautiful people and heated arguments that no such book is full without. As most of the story is based in hot Spain, Indiscretion also makes for the perfect summer read that is bound to put you in the holiday mood (personally, it definitely made me look forward to my time in Madrid even more). There are also a lot of long descriptive paragraphs that really set the mood and create a good sense of the region, setting each scene quite nicely. 

Bright purple bougainvillea cascaded down walls and honey-scented jasmine spilled out of windowboxes, their aroma mingling with the distinctive salty tang of the sea, invading Alexandra’s senses.

It is probably important to point out that the story is dominated by quite a lot of superstition, gypsy curses, and foreshadowing, but this is Spain in the middle of the century after all! It is here where the colourful history of the country shines through – a lot of the characters give some nice insight into the history of the region, peppered with a few local legends that are definitely quite interesting. Anyway, the "superstitious part" of the book was my least favourite as it did not make a lot of sense to me...

On to the characters, Alexandra is definitely written as this young, well-educated, sophisticated, intelligent, beautiful and modern woman (she is basically perfect?). Coming from the nicest parts of London, with a suitcase full of tailored Yves Saint Laurent pieces, she is this independent girl that might be fascinated with Spanish traditions, but is not completely prepared for living within their rule. I have to say I did have a few issues with her character. Even though she is constantly referred to as being highly intelligent and very forward-thinking and independent, she did not really come across as such as the book progressed. Granted it is only the 1950s, but this woman bursts out crying on so many occasions at some point in the second half of the book she started crying every time Salvador (the love interest) confronted her! This definitely got on my nerves *a lot* – she was almost this damsel in distress that constantly needed saving. Not to mention she was really unprepared for the real world, something that might be due to her sheltered upper-class upbringing, but still… Leading on a man, who was obviously pretty violent is not a smart move, Alexandra! Yes, she was supposed to be quite naïve, but this is not an excuse for some of her actions. Frankly, she was acting as an immature teenage girl obsessed with the hot guy at school (I cannot put it more plainly).

And what about the main stallion? Salvador might have been a character that appealed to me when I was a teenager – tall, dark stranger with strong arms, beautiful eyes, and sun-kissed tan… just an all-round sexy Spanish man. However, this man was acting so ridiculously with his crazy superstitions that even his hotness could not save him in my eyes! Not only this, but he was quite frankly leading our heroine on and she was falling for him with such an ease that it was almost pitiful. Yes, he is this mysterious, sexy man that a lot of women dream about – but is it a good idea to fall in love with him? Not so much. Frankly, I think if Alexandra was this smart, strong woman she believed to be, she should have just slept with him once or twice, and then went on with her life (okay, it is the 50s, so maybe she could have just flirted a little and left it to that – mind you, even that would be considered brave and careless at the time, so I might be asking a bit too much from her). My point is, Katy Perry sang Hot and Cold for a man like Salvador! Jumping all over you with passionate kisses and embraces at one moment, ignoring you and sleeping with other women (but never with you) in the next. (Alexandra thinks this means that he loves her but he is scared because of those aforementioned superstitions and curses – because apparently a man cannot just feel attracted to you without being deeply in love?). Next, please!

Basically, I did enjoy reading Indiscretion – it is a nice, long romantic novel full of passion and intrigues, and this is definitely something I like reading about. It is very girly and admittedly a bit clichéd, but it is quite entertaining as well and the well-researched region compensates for the flaws of the plot. Granted the main heroine annoyed me and I could not quite connect with her due to her dubious decisions and drama-queen attitude, but the story as a whole was still quite addicting and I would recommend it to anyone who loves a bit of historical romance. The richness of the descriptions successfully sends the reader on a journey through sunny, passionate Spain, and makes him want to learn more about this heated culture.  But for god's sake, girls, do not fall for the guy who keeps awakening your emotions and then leaves you with nothing but a hot paella and a cold bed!

Thanks to the lovely Hannah Fielding for sending me a copy of her book in an exchange of an honest review! I enjoyed reading it enormously and could not put it down until I finished it!

Now tell me, would you be interested in reading Indiscretion?
read more "Indiscretion: Review"

Tuesday, 9 June 2015

Rise of the Iron Eagle by Roy A. Teel: Book Excerpt

Hello, my darlings! Hope you are having a good week. Today, I decided to try something new on the blog - something that could be perfect to take your mind off of work for a few short minutes during your coffee break. This is, an extract from a new suspenseful crime thriller.

Written by Roy A. Teel, Rise of the Iron Eagle is just the first book from the Iron Eagle crime novel series. Based in Los Angeles,  it's main characters are Sheriff's Homicide Detective Jim O'Brian and FBI Profiler Special Agent Steve Hoffman. Their newest case concerns a serial killer who is preying on other serial killers - some known by law enforcement, others well off radar. Sounds like somethng up your street? You can read the excerpt after the jump!
read more "Rise of the Iron Eagle by Roy A. Teel: Book Excerpt"

Sunday, 7 June 2015

Dead Money Run: Review (and a Look at the Series)

Author: J. Frank James
Genre: Crime Fiction, Thriller, Mystery
Pages: 293
Originally published in: 2013

A fast-paced thriller packed with action, Dead Money Run follows Lou Malloy as he has just been released after spending 15 years in prison for stealing $15 million from an Indian casino. However, even after so many years, the money he stole still remain hidden somewhere – and only he knows where, making him a target for a plethora of shady characters. Not only does Lou need to keep his money (and his wellbeing), but also he strives to find the people responsible for his sister’s death. On this dangerous journey of a man who is both a chaser and a chased one, Lou strikes an unlikely ally in the face of young Hilary Kelly – herself an enigma with a few secrets up her sleeve, she joins Lou from early on in his mission to vengeance.

The writing is easy to follow as all the actions are described from Lou’s point of view, making the whole story pretty straight-forward. However, this also means that all the events are perceived through his prism only and this is exactly what the reader gets from the story. Put in this context, it is no surprising that this is not a complicated thriller full of twists, grand philosophical statements, or complex characters. This does work when you consider that everything is perceived through Malloy’s eyes and through his eyes only. So, you can hardly expect him to spend time thinking or paying attention of anything else but his current situation – which is dealing with mobsters and coming to terms with his sister’s death (the circumstances of which remain unclear for quite a while). Considering this, the novel has to be written in plain language – the language of Lou Malloy as he has just left prison and is spending his newly found freedom on the run.

The author, J. Frank James has an extensive background in law which undoubtedly helps in his writing ventures – and it is obvious when reading Dead Money Run that he knows what he is talking about (as it often happens, it is in the details). The authentic nature of the book is what makes it come to life – while going through the pages, it is easy for the reader to plainly see every action described as if it were before his eyes. Ultimately, it has the feeling of an action-packed crime movie – strongly reminding me of Noise, which had a similar structure.

I was kindly send the prequel to the book, too, which at only 52 pages, gives a good origins story to the character of Lou Malloy, so I recommend if you decide on reading Dead Money Run, you do familiarize yourself with Lou Malloy: The Run Begins, too. Truth is, this is just a part of a series, dedicated to Lou Malloy’s adventures, also consisting of Only Two Cats, Blue Cat in Paradise, Rainbow Games, Two Birds to Kill, Last Flamingo, and Finders, Keepers.

As for The Run Begins, it gives Lou a good introduction as it sees him as a young 18-year-old boy, with ambition in his eyes, but wrong decisions in his mind. How did Lou end up in prison for 15 years? In 52 pages, James manages to explain his motifs and what drove him to commit a crime that would mark his life forever.

If you want to find out more about J. Frank James, you can visit his website or follow him on Goodreads.

I was kindly sent Dead Money Run and The Run Begins in an exchange of my honest review from the lovely Kelsey from Book Publicity Services.
read more "Dead Money Run: Review (and a Look at the Series)"

Monday, 1 June 2015

May Lifestyle Favourites

May was a bit of a hectic month for me as I have been pretty busy at work, and not to mention at home, too, as me and the Boy are house-hunting at the moment, since we need to move out by the end of June. Needless to say, days are stressful! However, there are still a lot of things I enjoyed in May, and for every stressful day, there were two lovely ones. So, in a true blogger's fashion, here are my May lifestyle favourites!


My Naked 3 palette has been my best friend ever since I picked it up last summer from Paris (from the Sephora on Champs-Élysées , right on my birthday, of course). My favourite palette hands down  - so versatile that it can work in every situation; great pigmentation, good value for money. Basically, I am not telling you anything new here, the Naked palettes have been praised by many. This May, I have used mine on every occasion so it is featured in my monthly favourites for a reason!

The Book (s)

I am going to mention two books: Markus Zusak's The Book Thief and Hannah Fielding's Indiscretion. Those two are definitely the books that I have enjoyed the most reading in the past month. I have already expressed in my review for The Book Thief why I enjoyed it, and later this week I am going to publish by thoughts on Indiscretion as well, so stay tuned.  Both books are page turners, though for quite different reasons. While The Book Thief is a gripping tale about life in Nazi Germany, Hannah Fielding's book tells a passionate story about a young woman whose life changes completely as she travels to Spain. I haven't read a romance novel in a while, so this was definitely a welcome distraction before bed and I cannot wait to tell you more about it!

The Food

Foodwise, this has been a month of extremes (as per usual). Although I am trying to stay healthy, there is still the occasional junk food, especially when you did not have time to go food shopping, so you absolutely needed to order Dominos/Pizza Hutt. Pictured above, we have a yummy sweet potato, avocado, quinoa and Bulgarian white cheese salad - my usual go to lunch meal. Right next to it is a lovely example of a greasy, yet totally delicious Pizza Hutt order, made late at night (the later, the better - am I right?).

The Drink

A massive fan of overpriced chains such as Starbucks and Costa, this May I have mostly spent my hard earned money in Nero. My drink of choice? This absolutely gorgeous Banana&Caramel Frappe which earns its place on my May favourites list due to its creamy sweetness and lovely aroma. However, Nero does have quite a nice selection, so I do try to spread it out a little and go for different flavours every time.

The Film

It seems like Converse were my shoes of choice, creeping up in a second pic in a row!

You might be aware that I am also a freelance journalist. As a culture writer for a London based website, I do get to go to press views of films before they were released to the public. This month two films stood out for me and lucky for you they are both going to be released in June, so you can go and watch them. First one is Slow West with my darling Michael Fassbender (full review of the film here), and second one is Spy with Melissa McCarthy, Jude Law, Rose Byrne and Jason Statham. While the former offers a refreshing spin on the western, the later is a laugh-out-loud comedy that is going to entertain you from start to finish. I can recommend both of those films - Slow West boast stunning cinematography and great performances, while Spy is the female-led action comedy of the year we all needed. 

It's your turn now: what did you enjoy the most in May?

read more "May Lifestyle Favourites"

Sunday, 31 May 2015

Weekly Inspiration: Pretty Mug Cakes

Is it weird to feel inspired by a cake in a mug?  Whatever your answer is, this week's inspirational post includes some dreamy looking cakes that are filling up some equally as dreamy teacups in a gorgeous dance of sweet softness and delicate china. 

This way for delicious, sugary bijoux... 

Do you like mug cakes? Personally, I do not use microwaves so I can only admire them from afar, but I have tried a few good ones! If you would like to try some of those, follow the links down bellow for recipes to most of them :)

read more "Weekly Inspiration: Pretty Mug Cakes"

Tuesday, 26 May 2015

The Book Thief: Review

Author: Markus Zusak
Genre: Fiction, historical fiction, young adult
Pages: 560
Originally published in: 2005

By now the majority of us have heard about The Book Thief and a big chunk of people have already reviewed it, too.  An instant bestseller, followed up by the usual adaptation for the big screen, The Book Thief is still enjoying a massive worldwide following…

He stood a few metres from the step and spoke with great conviction, great joy.
‘Alles is Scheisse,’ he announced. All is shit.*

First of all, I will have to start with the fact that the book is narrated by Death. But of course you already know that as this is the first thing every review on The Book Thief starts up with. Also, the book is centred on a young German girl – Liesel Meminger – who is being separated from her mother and sent to a foster family in Molching, Germany. The year is 1939 and Europe is at war, while Liesel gets used to living with the Hubermanns, consisting of Rosa Hubermann, whose main characteristic is that her favourite two words are Saumensch and Saukerl (they literary stand for the German words for female pig and male pig, but are basically curse words, so you catch the drift); and of Hans Hubermann, the loving accordionist. Anything else you need to know plotwise? As Death conveniently points out at the beginning of the book: “Death will visit the book thief three times.” To be honest, considering these are war times, you could be surprised s/he did not visit her more (dark humour, I apologise).

All in all, The Book Thief follows how Liesel settles in her new home in Molching during the Second World War, but it also reflects on the way people were living during that dark period in human history. So, apart from the usual adventures in which young adult heroes get involved in (such as Liesel and her best friend Rudy Steiner stealing apples), there are also scenes including fanatical Germans and hiding Jews. Of course, a main point to the book is how Liesel turns into a book thief and why she turns into one.

Usually I am not into young adult literature. Maybe because I do not like my books to come with an age-specific sticker on them, but mostly due to the fact that YA doesn’t have the same appeal to me any longer (I mean, when you can dive deep into Dostoevsky, why wasting time with vampires and confused teenagers?). However, The Book Thief is one of those books that do not really carry that same “age-specific” feeling to them and can be enjoyed without thinking of it as a YA.

“In years to come, he would be a giver of bread, not a stealer – proof again of the contradictory human being. So much good, so much evil. Just add water.”

Anyway, on to the specifics.  There are quite a lot of things that make The Book Thief a good novel and it is easy to see why it became a bestseller. Personally, I think its main advantage is that it paints a fuller picture of the life of the Germans in Nazi Germany. Do not get me wrong, it is not a historical piece that gives you all the proper details of Germans’ daily lives. As a fictional piece it has definitely benefited from Zusak’s imagination. What I am trying to say is that it is nice to read about well-known events from a different perspective.

Usually WWII novels focus on the more obvious victims – the Jews on the run, the occupied French, the soldiers in Stalingrad, the separated love-birds, etc. As a result, the other victims – those who are largely seen as the oppressors – only get to be the bad guys, save for a few characters here and there who happen to be hiding people on the run. In The Book Thief the main characters are German – breathing, living Germans whose lives were not made easy just because they were living in the Fuhrer’s state. The book manages to illustrate what an important decision people were making by joining the NSDAP – looking at it from afar we are used to seeing everything back then in black and white. As the book shows all the consequences that come by not supporting the party, it becomes clear that whatever people decided for themselves, it was a very conscious decision indeed.

This is mostly in the adult world of The Book Thief but the little thief group Liesel and Rudy join makes up for a good case study on the German nation back in the day, too. As the group needs a new leader to follow, once the old one has left, and no one, as an individual, has what it takes to take the place of a leader, it becomes clear that they are a microcosm of the state: “They liked to be told, and Victor Chemmel liked to be the teller.” Victor on the other hand possesses of the charisma a leader needs, much like the infamous leader of Germany: “…he also possessed a certain charisma, a kind of ‘follow me.’” Looking at those children, it feels like one is looking at their parents and at their choices. After all, this is a well summed up description of how the collective mind tends to work.

Finally, the books. This is where my disappointment came and slapped me in the face. I do not want to spoil anything for you but Liesel does not end up stealing an awful lot of books! Given the fact that this is the title of the novel, I expected more – I was looking forward to finding out what kinds of books she was stealing, what she was learning from them, and of course finding out if I have read any of the mentioned books. I was looking forward to the adventure, to the tons of books The Thief was stealing, the appetite he had for them – I was expecting a book after a book after a book. Instead I got a Liesel that kept rereading the same three books over and over again (and no, I haven’t read The Grave Diggers Handbook, thank you very much).

I loved Markus Zusak’s writing style and I loved the story. The characters I loved also. What I did not love is how Death had to go around, hitting me with massive spoilers in the face. Yes, I get it, I know this is a narrative tool and it is nothing new under the sun. But come on, what happened to the good old surprise ending? Having a narrator who likes to tell you or foreshadow everything way in advance, is not exactly my cup of tea, and I think if Zusak stayed away from this, The Book Thief’s ending would have had an even greater impact on its readers.  Having said that, I did enjoy the book immensely and I read it quite fast as I found it pretty addicting. Lovely read, will recommend. 

Have you read The Book Thief yourself? Hope you enjoyed my review, I tried to change it up a bit so it is different from every other review on the book, by focusing on a few key points. Let me know what you think!

*You did not expect this quote, did you?
read more "The Book Thief: Review "

Tuesday, 19 May 2015

Rodin: Book Review

When I visited Musée Rodin on a warm spring day last year, I instantly fell in love. I knew that would be the kind of place I would like, but I did not know it was going to turn into one of my favourite museums in Paris (and as we know, there is quite a big competition in this artful city). Truth is, Hôtel Biron is simply stunning, surrounded by gorgeous gardens perfect for strolls in the sun while admiring one man’s undisputable genius.

Although it is undisputable today, Rodin’s genius was not always recognised – on the contrary, some of his work, including his Monument to Victor Hugo raised quite a lot of eyebrows and proved to be among the more controversial sculptures of the time. Indeed, there is a lot more to his work than the eternal embrace in The Kiss.

“Instinct and personal genius were what conducted to the originality which placed his work above and outside its time.”

Author: Bernard Champigneulle
Genre: Art, Non-fiction, Biography
Pages: 288
Originally published in: 1999

Bernard Champigneulle’s Rodin is a well-written and very informative book on the sculptor – it studies his life from early childhood to his final days, reflecting on his relationships with women, family, friends, and other influential figures of the time. From who commissioned some of his most famous works to who hated them and criticized them, this is a great read for anyone who wants to learn more about Rodin.

Make no mistake, Champigneulle’s book is not a novel, or a dramatized retelling of a famous person’s story. This is non-fiction, part of the World of Art series of illustrated books on art and therefore it provides quite a lot of detail into the sculptor’s life – both in the atelier and outside of it, as everything played some part in his working process (isn’t that true for all creators?). However, this does not mean that Rodin is a dry textbook that cannot be enjoyed by anyone who is not after an art degree. It is a great book as long as you are someone interested in sculpture, art in general, influential figures of the 19th-20th century, artists who used to work in Paris, European artists, and so on, you get the idea.

The book is set out in chronological order so it follows Rodin’s rising without making needless time jumps and getting ahead of itself and of its readers – something that is quite helpful for a first time reader of anything on Rodin. Furthermore, this is the time to point out that Champigneulle’s book makes for a perfect first read on the sculptor – it provides enough insight into his life to be enough on its own, but it also manages to put a good start to the conversation: it gets the subject out there and invites you to read more into it, to further your knowledge. The book covers some intriguing episodes of Rodin's public life that are full of drama and competition, but it is his love life that probably intrigues most people - indeed, there is time for the great love of his life in this one, too.

As Bernard Champigneulle was the vice president of the Association de Critiques d’Art, it feels like he is just the right person to start you on a journey in art history. He does comment quite a lot on the subjects he discusses and is not afraid to express his opinion on various characters who made an appearance in Rodin’s life – this might feel out of place in other art books, but not in this one as his opinions are not forced but rather feel like gentle remarks and suggestions.

Anyway, apart from the author’s comments, descriptions and retellings, the book is also full of illustrations and pictures of Rodin’s work as well as some of his correspondence – I have always found a biography is not full without a peek into the subject’s letters. After all, how can you get a proper idea of that person otherwise? Isn’t it in their letters where we often find something about them? In the way they refer to others, in the way they talk about what they love, in Rodin’s case – in the way they talk about their creations?

“It needs to be said, and said loudly. This work, which people have laughed at and tried to make fun of because they cannot destroy it, is the end product of my entire life and the very hub of my aesthetic. I was a changed man from the day I first conceived it. I developed along radical lines, forging links between the great traditions of the past and my own time – links which grow stronger with every passing day.”

…As we walked out of Musée Rodin and into its gift shop, I was still haunted by Rodin’s world – its gentle simplicity found in a lovers’ kiss and its quiet genius lingering in every small detail of each and every bust. Oh joy, there is at least one book that has an English Edition sticker on it! I am still working on my French, until then I walk away with this translated copy of Rodin, into the freshly washed by the rain streets of Paris, and with a heart full of happiness that I am bringing a part of this eternal peace with me.

read more "Rodin: Book Review"

Wednesday, 13 May 2015

My Guilty Pleasure Books

I love the classics. Actually, me and the classics are getting along famously, and if you have been spying on me on Goodreads you would have noticed that my 5 star ratings are generally saved for a good ol’ classic. However, I do enjoy a good chick lit, sickly-sweet romance, or a mainstream thriller every once in a while – truth is, I am not such a massive snob after all. Throughout the years I have found out that mainstream literature can actually be good – it does not have to be the next 1984 in order to be hugely enjoyable. In this context, here are some of my favourite guilty pleasure reads – contemporary titles that might lack Hemingway’s brilliant writing style, or Tolstoy’s lively descriptions, but have some life into them; they are books that are going to make you smile.

The Food of Love Cookery School by Nicky Pellegrino

What a delicious read that one was! Mouth-watering Sicilian pastries, divine pasta covered in fresh ingredients, chocolate on and in everything and anything, and all of that for no extra calories. Nicky Pellegrino is probably among my favourite authors of the chick lit genre. She does not take herself too seriously, writes about what she knows and loves, and her books are winning from it. Granted the writing could be polished, of course it can, but the stories! Oh, I have only read two* of her books but their stories have definitely managed to stay with me – not just because they happen to be situated is sunny Italy, but because their characters seems so real, you can almost hear them breathe.

The Food of Love Cookery School is a delicious book following four extremely different women as they embark on a cooking holiday in Sicily. The chef that is leading the course? A handsome, charming Sicilian man with a dash of mystery attached to his persona. The characters are terribly engaging and the food descriptions are going to make you want to leave your flat and go to Sicily right now. Seriously, why wouldn’t you want to read that book?

*The second book I read of hers was When in Rome.

How to Marry a Marquis by Julia Quinn

I love period drama, okay? And I don’t know if you are aware but Jane Austen has only written that many books, and after you read a bit of Thomas Hardy and Elizabeth Gaskell, you are ready to get your hands on something a bit more cheerful for a change! Enter Julia Quinn.

She is a modern author yet she chooses to write about Regency England. To tell the truth, her books do have some historical inaccuracies, so if this is the thing that makes you really angry – stay away from those books. However, I am one of those people and I do not mind it in this case since Quinn’s books are not really based on true characters or anything; instead they offer a different way to view the time period. Which brings me to…

Thanks God, for the sex scenes! I am sorry but can we stop pretending as if people back in the days were not having sex? I know it wasn’t exactly Austen’s style to describe how Mr Darcy was satisfying Elizabeth (and I do not expect it from her to write about that at all), but it is really nice for a change to read a romantic book set in Regency England, which includes its characters indulging into some intercourse!

Anyway…How to Marry a Marquis follows Elizabeth Hotchkiss as she stumbles upon a book by the same name in her employer's library. Since Elizabeth is rather poor she decides to follow some of the advice in the book in order to marry rich. Then, there is James Sidwell, Marquis of Riverdale, who offers to help Elizabeth find herself a husband…

Apparently How to Marry a Marquis is the second book of Agents of the Crown series but the story works on its own. Another book of Quinn’s I have read is It’s in His Kiss and it’s an alright read although not very memorable. 

Eating with the Angels by Sarah-Kate Lynch

FOOD! Enough said.

Well okay, the plot is centred on Connie Farrell, a New York restaurant critic, who is on her way to Venice for the second honeymoon of a lifetime. There's only one problem - Tom, her high school sweetheart and husband of ten years, is not sitting next to her.

The plot is quite predictable, but yet again, the food is what makes it for me, and if you are the same, you are probably going to enjoy Eating with the Angles, too. After all the main character is a restaurant critic, so the food descriptions are even better!

The Art of French Kissing by Kristin Harmel

I have mentioned that one before and I do consider The Artof French Kissing to be one of the better chick lit titles. It is set in Paris because obviously…

A good-looking American girl loses her fiancé, her job and her place in the matter of a couple of days, so she jumps at the opportunity to visit an old friend who lives in Paris. There, she is included in her small PR company, handling a new big French rock star. Parisian sights, French charmers and mindless fun – this one is perfect to take to the beach with you and get lost in its predictable plot while sipping on an iced cold mojito.

The Intimate Adventures of a London Call Girl by Belle De Jour

Now that is a book I love rereading as it makes me laugh. A lot. Belle has a marvellous sense of humour making her books a real treat. Moreover, she is brutally honest – something I love and have learnt to truly appreciate in an author.

I watched Secret Diary of a Call Girl with Billie Piper years ago and loved it – a funny British series based on Belle’s books that despite being centred on a call girl, does not make you cringe…well not most of the time anyway. Basically, ever since I watched the show I wanted to read the books, and when I finally did it, I instantly knew what all the fuss was about. When I am blue and need something to put me in a good mood? Belle it is.

Angels and Demons by Dan Brown

Guilty pleasure book indeed! Over the years a lot has been said about Dan Brown and his mainstream novels. Everything has been criticized – from his writing style, to his unbelievable stories to his unbelievable characters. This is by no means ground-breaking literature.

Yet, Angels and Demons is a book I absolutely loved reading! Let me tell you a story…

So, I was still at high school – 17 or 18, I am not that sure – and Angels and Demons [the film] was going to be out in a matter of months. Having seen The Da Vinci Code previously (who did not see that one?), I was really looking forward to the new film but wanted to read the book first in a true snobbish bookworm kind of fashion. (Note: the films are not good at all, but I don’t mind a bit of Tom Hanks running around solving mysteries) There I was picking up Angels and Demons, reading it before and after school. What happened next? I read it really fast because it is one of the most addicting books ever – a true page turner, a fast-paced thriller, and a story that needed to be finished and finished fast.

This is what makes Dan Brown’s books so popular that they fly off the shelves the moment they hit them – they are truly addictive, like a very strong cocktail that needs to be finished before the waitress comes around and takes it from your grip (well something like that, you know what I mean). And of course the mystery – always a popular topic, something out there, something you want to read about but you haven’t even began yet.

Finally, as I was reading Angles and Demons I became suspiciously good in Physics. True story.

Well this turned into a very personal and revealing post at the end, didn't it? What are your guilty pleasure reads? Do tell...I cannot judge...anymore.
read more "My Guilty Pleasure Books"

Sunday, 10 May 2015

Weekly Inspiration: Literary Cakes

I know I am not the only one who needs some pretty visuals every once in awhile when I lack inspiration. To me, looking at gorgeous cakes (and instragrammable food in general) has the power to improve my mood, heighten my spirits and put me in the right frame of mind to do my work/be creative/start writing. If you are the same, here are some absolutely stunning cakes that were inspired by books...(for more reading inspiration here is my previous inspirational post)

Cakespiration of the Week Starts Here:

Ok, just one more Alice one...

Have you had a book-inspired cake for your birthday?

Picture sources: one, two, three, four, five, six and seven :)
read more "Weekly Inspiration: Literary Cakes"