Thursday, 26 February 2015

Noise: Book Review

Author: Brett Garcia Rose
Genre: Thriller
Pages: 197
Originally published in: 2014

“The world is an ugly place, and I can tell you now, I fit in just fine.”

Lily is the only person Leon has ever loved. The perfect big sister, she has always been nice to him ever since he first set foot in America, and in her home. Ten years after she disappeared, only leaving behind her a suicide note, Leon receives a postcard in her hand-writing. A postcard that takes him into cold, noisy New York, looking for his long-lost sister, hoping she is still alive.
However, what Leon finds there is so unsettling that it can turn even the nicest person into a cold-blooded murderer. Leon is not that nice anyway. He is also pretty experienced with fighting as he had to defend himself on the streets of Nigeria since a very early age. One more thing: this vengeful, frightening man, is also deaf.

Firstly, the story is pretty dark and some very heavy themes are concerned. So, if you cannot stomach subjects such as rape, human trafficking, and cold-blooded murders – this is not the book for you. For the rest, however, this is a pretty exciting, fast-paced thriller that tells a story of loss and vengeance.

A great thing about the book is that it reads like an action movie, told by the main character. Leon describes all his moves, thoughts and feelings in real-time as they happen – as action unravels before his eyes, it unravels for the reader as well. So, the New York we see is a cold, heartless, ruthless one, filled with empty souls and desperation, it is “desolate, grey and quite” and its people “nudged around like house pets.” Not only is this not the glamourous city-that-never-sleeps we are used to hearing about, but it is also the symbol of everything that is wrong with Western society:

“Humanity in constant battle, all its inhabitants rushing toward some invisible exit, never tiring of the trap. Cities are hell, and New York is the Grand Dame of them all.”

To Leon, who grew up on the street of Nigeria, urban life has nothing particularly tempting to offer him – on the contrary, a place full of people, it proposes him only coldness, distance and inhumanity instead of warmth and closeness: “everyone hurrying somewhere, merging with one another on the cold wet streets. Merging, and dismissing, as only urbanites can.”

Although this might not be a terribly new concept, there is something else about it – the fact that Leon is deaf. So, what Brett Garcia Rose does is selecting the familiar concept of the big city as an emotionless, empty place, and taking it to the next level by adding a deficit to his character – the type of deficit that puts a whole new filter on the city. This is why to Leon, and subsequently to the reader, New York is quite. Leon tries to feel the noise, the noise that he can very much see, but as much as he tries that is something he could never do: “New York City, dead of winter, everyone feeling punished by lives of their own making. I try to see the noise.” Making Leon, this full of rage young man, deaf is a brilliant decision in this context – he is not disabled in the true sense of the word as he is strong, fast, skilful, and knows not only how to defend himself, but above all how to attack. The brilliance is not in this. It is in the great juxtaposition that derives from this fact – a deaf man on a killing spree in one of the noisiest places on the planet. The uproar of the city is completely muted, and instead there is silence through which you can see New York for what it is. With the cloth of silence spreading above it, it is nothing more than a graveyard of empty souls.

As I said, the novel reads like an action thriller. That is, it has a bit of a “film script” feeling to it – Leon describes everything he does in a pretty straight-forward manner making it extremely easy not only to imagine, but to actually see the whole scene. To make myself even clearer, here is an example: “Just as he’s entering the outer door to the building, I plow into his midsection and push him face-first against a concrete wall, hard enough to daze him. I yank his arm behind him and pull until he stops struggling.”

To sum up, Noise makes for a very enjoyable read even though it touches on quite dark matters. But if you do not mind getting your hands a bit dirty, you should not have a problem with the explicit content. Very fast paced, never dragging for too long, yet offering a good character development, this is a thriller that is going to keep you interested. As for the rest of its plot, you will have to read the book to find out as I do not want to spoil anything else. 
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Saturday, 21 February 2015

Dreamy Date Night with a French Twist: Closs Maggiore

For our second anniversary my boyfriend surprised me with a lovely dinner at Clos Maggiore - a gorgeous restaurant offering contemporary French cuisine, situated in the heart of Covent Garden.

What makes Clos Maggiore the perfect restaurant in my eyes, is the fact that it combines Italian and French style in a most satisfying fine dining symbiosis. Inspired by the French Provence and sunny Tuscany, the restaurant mixes the best of both worlds, resulting in an utterly gorgeous setting for your dinner. 

Apple blossoms and a glass rooftop? This place embodies the kind of romance you read about in books. You can easily imagine your favourite heroine finding her peace and quiet in a hidden between the blossoms table, sipping on a lovely Beaujolais, and dreaming of her man - a late-arriving Gatsby, or a proud count of Monte Cristo. 

However, even the most stylish of atmospheres cannot help if the food is not on par with it. And in this case, the food is spectacular. We opted for the Honey Glazed Breast of Goosnargh Duck, beautifully accompanied by roasted red plums, Endive Meunière, and a ruby port sauce. The result was simply orgasmic (there is no other way of putting it) - the duck was cooked to perfection, and it was quite easily the best one I have had (and this is my usual go-to main, so I have tried quite a few).

As for desserts, again we went for the same one, as none of us wanted to go for anything else but the perfection that was the Grand Cru Valrhona Milk Chocolate ‘Mille Feuille’ with Pecan Nut Ice Cream. Quite honestly, when it comes to French desserts, I am a sucker for a good Mille Feuille. This one was delicious - from the presentation to the final taste, everything on the plate was heavenly dancing together in the most harmonious of manners. My most favourite part of it though? The pecan nut ice cream - I would quite gladly just had a big bowl of that, and still be very satisfied with my dinner.

Another thing that makes Clos Maggiore unique is the wine list. Oh, the wine list! Boasting over 2,500 selections (2,500!), this looks more like a wine book. It has a wine for every taste and there is no way you wouldn't find the right one for you.

What did we have? Actually we went for cocktails this time (I know, we absolutely do have to return even if just to share a bottle of wine), and they were stunning! Old Fashioned for the Monsieur and a lovely mix of Prosecco and peach for me, and we were in seventh heaven! 

Clos Maggiore is a very good choice for a special occasion and I do recommend it if you want to splurge and indulge into a lovely dining experience, Especially if you want to go to the theatre afterwards, I cannot think of a better date night right now.

Thanks for reading, I hope you enjoyed this little lifestyle post. I do feel like a book blog does need a bit of the macaron side of life to it :)

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Saturday, 14 February 2015

10 Books for Every Valentine's Scenario

No matter if you are single or taken, engaged or emotionally unavailable, if you have a boyfriend or a cat, if you are in a serious (although quite unsustainable) relationship with a fictional character…Whatever your situation is, here are ten books that are going to get you through Valentine’s Day. Love it or loathe it, it is just one day of the year, and it is another excuse to spoil yourself or your loved ones with chocolates, sweets and presents. Here are ten books that are going to be perfect for your situation, whatever it is.

1.     If you are in love: Pride and Prejudice

Romantic books and especially period pieces make a perfect read if you are already happily and blissfully in love. Anything by Jane Austen might usually feel too optimistic (and to some people that means not realistic enough), but it is Valentine’s Day and you are in a happy relationship, so reading about other happy people being in love should be the ultimate romantic experience. I would go for a book that has your favourite romantic hero in it, as a girl with a major crush on Mr Darcy, I definitely recommend Pride and Prejudice (however, if we go out of the Austen domain, I would choose Mr Thornton, naturally).

2.     If you are single: The Intimate Adventures of a London Call Girl by Belle De Jour

Being single on Valentine’s should not be something to bring you down. This is a day for love in general. So, get out of your moody behaviour, stop making fun of the couples in love you see on your news feed, don’t start binge watching some soap that’s going to make you cry, and pick up one of Belle De Jour’s books instead. The original one, The Intimate Adventures of a London Call Girl, is the best one – Belle is funny, refreshingly honest and quite informative even. Not only is her book going to take your thoughts away from Valentine’s, but it is also going to entertain you so much, you will forget why you were moody at the first place.

3.     You have just gone through a divorce? The Paris Wife by Paula McLain

A divorce, or a nasty break-up, is never great, but it is even worse if you are presented with your first Valentine’s as a newly divorcee. Staying in with a book and a glass of wine might be more enjoyable than you thought, especially if you do it with The Paris Wife. The story about Hemingway’s first marriage is told from the perspective of his first wife, Hadley. Beautifully written and mesmerizing, this is a story about love that was not to be. However, a disastrous first marriage, does not mean that Hadley’s life did not get better after Earnest.   

4.     You are feeling lonely and a little bit lost, basically you begin to believe you will be forever alone: Breakfast at Tiffany’s by Truman Capote

The star of Breakfast at Tiffany’s, the charming Holly Golightly embraces her freedom as the independent woman she truly is. Forget about the film for a second and reach for the book as the plot is quite different to what you have seen on the screen. The movie is a masterpiece in its own terms, but if you are feeling rather lonely, the novel is your better option. Holly is a heart-breaker, a perplexer, a traveller, a tease, an inspiration. Because Holly Golightly does what she wants.

5.     If you just got engaged: Lunch in Paris by Elizabeth Bard

If you are happily engaged, there is one book I would definitely recommend and that is Elizabeth Bard’s Lunch in Paris. A delicious love story about American girl (Bard) who falls in love with a gorgeous Frenchman (Gwendal), moves in with him in Paris – “a heavy mix of blood sausages, pains aux chocolats and irregular verbs.” You not only get to read a real, and very romantic, love story, but you also get a few recipes along the way (there are three at the end of each chapter), making this one of the best recipe books, too!

6.     You just had your heart broken: Starter for Ten by David Nicholls

 A broken heart does not need dramatic tear-jerkers that are going to have you stuffing your face with Ben & Jerry’s and drowning your sorrow in cheap red wine. Say no to that cliché now, please, for your own good. Instead, pick up something funny and interesting enough to keep your mind away from that nasty heart-breaker. Enter Starter for Ten – a well-written book, full of humour that is bound to at least bring a smile to your face. Situated in 1985, the story is about Brian who has just started his first term at university and is looking forward to fulfilling one of his biggest dreams – appearing on quiz show University Challenge. Do yourself a favour and opt for this one – it will make you laugh and that is all you need right now.

7.     You hate men: The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexander Dumas

It could happen to anyone – you are just at this phase in your life when you, quite frankly, hate men. No judging here, each to their own. You probably cannot be bothered with Valentine’s anyway, so why don’t you spend it at home with a novel as humongous as The Count of Monte Cristo? You get bonus points for choosing a classic here. As you might already know, it is about Edmond Dantès, who is wrongly imprisoned for a crime he has not committed. Determined to escape and to bring the three men who plotted against him to destruction, Edmond is the ultimate romantic hero. Now, in this one, you get to see a lot of men getting what they deserved for all the wrongdoings in their life – you, being the ultimate man-hater, should love it. Who knows, you might even completely disagree with the Count’s ways, and hate him as a bonus, too?!  

8.     You suffer from unrequited love: The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton

Another classic on this list, The Age of Innocence is not about unrequited love, though I do recommend reading it if you are in this situation. The beautiful, blooming love between Newland Archer and Countess Ellen Olenska is deemed impossible from the beginning as Newland is set to marry her cousin May. On the border between surrendering to their passions and keeping their duties, these two are living in the unforgiving society of Old New York, where scandal is the biggest crime. It is a great novel that is going to take your mind off the object of your affections. However, it will also show you, that even if two people are in love with each other, that does not mean that everything will be cream and peaches.

9.     Happily married: Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy

You do not need an excuse to read this book but being happily married, you might enjoy it even more. “All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” A tragic love story, a brilliant novel, a spot on study of human nature, Anna Karenina has everything you will ever need to know about life. Anna Karenina is life. You will not be able to put it down or to let it go, its characters are going to haunt you as you slowly grow attached to them. Ultimately, you are going to care about each and every one of them. Why to read it now? Because why not.

10.  Playing the field, no strings attached: Lady Chatterley’s Lover by D.H. Lawrence

There is certainly nothing wrong with playing the field, especially not in this day and age. However, you might not be in the mood for dating on Valentine’s Day of all days, so staying in with a book as hot and scandalous as Lady Chatterley’s Lover should be able to compensate for your staying in. What’s the big deal with the novel famous for scandalizing people with its explicit sex scenes and daring language? Read it and find out for yourself. 
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Thursday, 12 February 2015

What I Have Been Up To: London

I decided to share with you what I have been up to in the past couple of weeks as a lot of the things are culture related. Thus, making them perfect to share on here... After all you can never be bored in London, right?

Rubens and His Legacy: Van Dyck to Cézanne at the Royal Academy 

I had the opportunity to visit a lovely Blogger's Evening at the Royal Academy that included a short lecture on Rubens before entering the exhibition. Basically, it turned into the perfect Friday night for me and my boyfriend as museums do work as perfect dating spots. 

I cannot recommend Rubens and His Legacy enough! It has to be the best exhibition in London right now so do not hesitate and visit it (you have a chance till the 10th of April 2015). The exhibition explores the great impact that Rubens has had on contemporary art by showcasing his work next to works of subsequent generations of artists. So, you not only get to see some of Rubens' best, but also works by Renoir, Cezanne, Gainsborough, even by Picasso and Warhol. You can read my review on it here.

Personally, I love classical art and it is exhibitions like this ones that I enjoy the most. Italian Renaissance,  French Baroque and Romanticism are among my favourites, and as Rubens' style is so obviously influenced by the great Italian masters - he quickly turned into one of my favourite artists. Rubens and His Legacy also gives a great perspective into exactly what an influential figure Rubens was (and still is) in the world of art. 

Now go, go, go! 

Magnificent Obsessions: The Artist as Collector at the Barbican

This is another very good exhibition that is quite unique! The idea behind it is to show what 14 different artists have collected through the years - by showcasing their personal collections next to pieces of their own art work, the viewer can draw interesting new connections. For instance, you get to see Warhol's collection of cookie jars - a symbol of domesticity that can be found reflected in his work.

The exhibition is at the Barbican and it is going to be there until April. Will insert a link to my review once it is up.

Marlene Dumas: The Image as Burden at Tate Modern

If you asked me, this is another must! Marlene Dumas' loud social commentary feels very current as her work reflects on issues that could be found in the mass media. One of the most interesting rooms, called Magdalenas, reflects on the way women are represented in British media, and the contrast between Naomi Campbel's and Princess Diana's pictures talks quite clearly.

Full review here and you can see the exhibition at Tate Modern until the 10th of May 2015.

History is Now: 7 Artists Take on Britain at Hayward Gallery

In this one, seven artists have been invited to curate exhibitions, looking at particular period of cultural history from 1945 to the present day. The artworks shown are rather versatile just as the covered topics: celebrity culture and mass media, 'mad-cow' disease, protest movements, feminism, the Cold War. The last 70 years have been quite eventful, so there are a lot of aspects that have had their impact on British culture as we know it today. Including more than 250 different objects, History is Now is another great exhibition that I can recommend visiting as each of its seven rooms raise different questions.

I have reviewed this one as well, right here. You can see it at Hayward Gallery at the Southbank Centre until the 26th of April, 2015.

Lastly: Definitely go and watch Kingsman: The Secret Service if you still haven't. Unmissable entertainment. I promise!

So, what about you? Do tell me what you have been up to this week!

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Saturday, 7 February 2015

The Miniaturist: Review

Author: Jessie Burton
Genre: Historical Fiction, Mystery, Adult Fiction
Pages: 424
Originally published in: 2014

“True love was a flower in the gut, its petals unfurling inside out. You would risk all for love – blissful, never without its drops of dismay.”

It is mid-October, 1686, when eighteen-year-old Nella Oortman arrives in Amsterdam to begin her new life as the wife of wealthy merchant Johannes Brandt. However, instead of an exciting fresh start next to a loving husband, she is presented with a big, dark house in the middle of the city – her husband absent, and his sister acting as the already established lady of the house. As she gets as a wedding gift from Johannes a cabinet-sized replica of their home, Nella begins feeling more and more as a child and less as the woman, she was ready to become. Her only hope for a change in her lonely days is to focus on decorating her new cabinet. So, she gets in touch with a mysterious miniaturist, paying him to make her just a few tiny figures. However, soon Nella realises she is going to get a lot more than she originally bargained for, and as the miniatures keep coming, so do the surprises from her new family.

The Miniaturist is a brilliant debut novel from Jessie Burton and sets the standards really high for her upcoming work. Beautifully written and with an exquisite attention to detail, this is a book that has the power to haunt you until you get to its end. The characters are very well-written and excellently developed throughout the novel, and as the narrative unravels, so do the character’s deep secrets.

As far as historical fictions go, this is one of the better ones. With the ease of an experienced novelist, Burton takes you from your modern daily life and quickly shoves you in the middle of 17th century Amsterdam. Her descriptions are so detailed, yet effortless, that you can easily keep up with the story without feeling the burden of an old-fashioned or confusing language. She sets the mood from the start, each description utterly understandable, making you feel as if this old Amsterdam is part of your world, and you can almost smell the freshly baked olie-koecken, almost feel the chilliness of the cold Dutch wind.

What sets apart The Miniaturist from other books of the genre, are the rich comparisons that definitely have the potential to turn into a trademark of Burton’s style in the future. Here are just a few examples: “A few drops fall from the spout, spreading in the cloth like Virgin Islands on a map.” “The waters are gold and crisped to perfection and the rosewater mingles with the warming ginger.” “The sky is a deep river of indigo, the stars pricked like lights in its flowing stream.”

There is some very traditional feeling to the whole novel that derives from the approach taken with the writing. Truth is, a lot of traditional symbolism can be found in The Miniaturist. For instance, the long-established opposition of darkness and light in classical literature has found its rightful place on the pages of this novel, too. When Nella and Cornelia go to the maid’s old orphanage, its building is in a narrow, dark alley, away from the busy, lively street immediately setting the tone of her sad, lonely childhood. This is then, put in an opposition to the liveliness and noisiness of the streets of Amsterdam, where “light” represents happiness and easy life: “the noise of the shoppers in the Kalverstraat is now muffed by the tight walls of the passage,” “but the maid is already walking back up the passage, towards life and light and noise.”

Further in the book, when Nella is disappointed by Johannes’ lack of interest in her and his coldness, she longs for the light outside: “Night has fallen fully. She looks at the lights of the smaller boats, and feels completely alone.” Here, the fall of the night, and with that of darkness, coincides with the “night” in Nella’s own marriage. She is in one of the bigger, more luxurious boats. However, the small light from those smaller boats speak of liveliness, of warmth, and of love. None of which is present where Nella is, resulting in a complete sense of loneliness.

An important theme to historical fiction based at the same time period is usually sexual repression. Indeed, in The Miniaturist this is an issue that has an impact on all its characters. From the very beginning of the book there is some unmistakable, though indescribable as well, sexual tension. Ultimately, unfulfilled desires reign over all characters. Even though that might not be the main focus to the book, it is there through the whole novel, behind every little accidental noise, or escaped gaze. In the end, it is definitely what has its effects on the whole story.

“Madame says love is best a phantom than reality, better in the chase than caught.”

The Miniaturist is about all the difficulties that come with life in a country as religious as the Netherlands in the 17th century. About the lives of the rich merchants, about selling sugar, and about the mysterious miniatures that suspiciously resemble real people with the greatest of details. However, apart from being a brilliant mystery, The Miniaturist is also about love. Nella comes to Amsterdam ready to love her husband and be loved in return. She often questions herself about the meaning of being a woman, and how much of it is connected to being loved or inlove.  With the progress of the story, it turns out she was not the only character longing for love, but she is the safest one. For the rest of them are quite ready to go great distances for love.
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Sunday, 1 February 2015

Hercule Poirot: From Start to Finish

As an avid reader of Agatha Christie, I just had to pick up one of her most famous novels The Mysterious Affair at Styles. Then later on, my boyfriend got me Curtain: Poirot’s Last Case – a book I have deliberately skipped as I wanted to postpone reading *his* last book for as long as I could. However, sooner or later I had to face it, and I preferred to know how it all ends, anyway.
I thought it would be best to write a post dedicated to both of those books as they make up a whole circle, starting with Christie’s first novel starring the little Belgian detective, and going all the way to his last case.

“Everything must be taken into account. If the fact will not fit the theory---let the theory go.”

The Mysterious Affair at Styles is a masterpiece – great writing combined with a superb twist, this is Agatha still at her beginning. In her very first novel, Agatha Christie introduces some of her most infamous characters: Hercule Poirot, Hastings and Inspector Japp. A dynamic trio that will go on to solve a lot more mysteries together (Poirot will do most of the solving of course, and Hastings will do most of the confusion). Here, Agatha Christie also presents another element that often occurs in her stories – strychnine poisoning.

 As for the Affair at Styles in particular, the mystery is around Emily Inglethorp’s murder. Everyone’s main suspect is her younger husband, Alfred, but of course her household is full of people, so naturally deep down everyone could be suspicious of everyone. There are her two stepsons, John and Lawrence Cavendish, John’s wife Mary, young Cynthia Murdoch, and Emily’s companion Evelyn Howard. At the time of the murder, Hastings also stays in the Styles manor as a guest to his old friend John, while Hercule Poirot enters the scene as Belgian refugee (the book is set during World War I).
The story grabs you from the very first page as usually with a Christie novel – the clues keep coming and Hastings keeps getting excited after each one of them. Of course, Poirot is always a step ahead everyone else. Keep reading, the murderer might surprise you.

“Everyone is a potential murderer-in everyone there arises from time to time the wish to kill-though not the will to kill.”

In my opinion, Curtain is even better. By this time, Christie is already a very well-known author, her writing is more confident and her style has turned into an epitome of her name. A signature murder mystery, this one raises a lot of questions about the mind of a murderer, grips the reader, and makes him question everything he has read so far. Every chapter brings new possibilities, for every person, indeed, could be a murderer.  

In his last ever case, Hercule Poirot is back at Styles. So is Hastings. And to both of them the house is full of memories – not just memories of a murder, but memories of their younger years and with that of their younger selves. If there is one strong feeling about this book it is that of nostalgia, and nothing strikes the reader quite as hard as Hastings’ very last description of his old friend that starts like this: “Nothing is so sad, in my opinion, as the devastation wrought by age. My poor friend. I have described him many times. Now to convey to you the difference….”

The guests staying at Styles are, yet again, quite a versatile bunch. This time round we have Norton, Mr Allerton, Miss Cole, Doctor Franklin and his wife Barbara, Nurse Craven, Colonel Luttrell and his wife Daisy, Boyd-Carrington, and to top it off even Hasting’s daughter, Judith. But what brought us to Styles one more time? Poirot called on Hastings as he believes that one of the people staying in the house is an experienced, five-time murderer. What we do not know is which one, and as the murders start, the question needs to get its answer fast.

As I previously said, Curtain gets pretty nostalgic as Hastings reminiscences his live, his times with Poirot, and their old cases. Soon the nostalgia and melancholy grow into a generally sad feeling. Poirot’s last case is among the saddest Agatha Christie books – especially if you have grown to be quite attached to her Belgian detective. Quite honestly, Curtain is simply heart breaking…

I do recommend reading both of those books but make sure you read Curtain after you have read quite some number of Poirot’s other cases as it is better to have some general idea of his character and his previous work. After all, you have to meet Hercule first before you ever get the chance to say goodbye to him. 
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