Talking about books (when I have time to read for fun)

READ THE WORLD – The Gambia: Reading the Ceiling by Dayo Forster

On her eighteenth birthday, Ayodele has decided it is time to lose her virginity, but who will be the man she chooses? There’s Reuben, the safe option; Yuan, a schoolfriend with the potential for something more; and Frederick Adams, the father of her best friend. What she doesn’t know is that her choice will have a drastic effect on the rest of her life. Three men, three paths, one to Europe, university and heartache, one that will send her travelling around the globe, and the other will see her remain in Africa as a wife and mother in a polygamous marriage. Each will shape her life, but which will she choose?

Reading the Ceiling is told in three parts, each one starting on the night of Ayodele’s birthday and then spanning the next fifty or so years of her life. You get to see how one choice can shape Ayodele’s life but at the same time there are many things that are outside of her control. For instance, things that happen to characters around Ayodele, like tragic accidents or the choice of a university, generally happen no matter who she chose to sleep with.

The interesting thing was that while her choice set Ayodele on three very different paths, she herself was still the same person deep down, no matter where life took her. She’s headstrong with a good work ethic, she’s smart and capable of being both independent and in a relationship. She’s content being by herself or being with friends and she tends to clash with her mother no matter where life takes her.

Seeing Ayodele’s three different lives play out, I find it difficult to choose which one I feel was best for her, or which one showed her to be the happiest. It’s clever because all three lives had highs and lows, joy and sadness – just like anyone’s life.

Reading the Ceiling was a surprisingly quick read, especially as it spanned a woman’s lifetime three times over. I enjoyed seeing how life in The Gambia may or may not change over fifty years and seeing more of the various countries Ayodele lived in during her three lives. I also enjoyed seeing Ayodele grow as a person, and how her experiences shaped her and may have affected those around her.


READ THE WORLD – New Zealand: All Day at the Movies by Fiona Kidman

*I received a proof copy of this book from the publisher upon request it, in return for an honest review*

In 1952, war widow Irene Sandle travels to the tobacco fields of New Zealand in the hope of building a new and better life for her daughter Jessie. But this bold act of independence triggers a ripple effect whose repercussions resonate long after her death, forever shaping her children’s lives – for better or worse.

All Day at the Movies spans over sixty years and three generations, following Irene’s children Jessie, Belinda, Grant and Janice. The story spans their lives, romances, mistakes and their own children’s lives too, and slowly you begin to see the lasting impact of Irene’s choices. Some of the consequences of her actions are horrific but she was just as much a victim of circumstance as her children would be, and there’s no way she could have predicted what would happen to her children. At the time she, was doing what she thought was best for her and her daughter, struggling to survive any way she could.

Each chapter is like a snapshot in time, looking at where a member of the family or people adjacent to them are and how they’re doing. As the years jump forward, anywhere between one to ten years, you see how time has affected this family. These snapshots are an interesting way to tell these characters stories, and it does make All Day at the Movies a quick read, but it does sometimes make it harder to connect to these characters and who they encounter. For example, you might be following Belinda in one chapter and then not be with her till three chapters later and fifteen years have passed, her life may have changed a lot in that time and it’s through memories and conversations that you learn what’s happened in that time you’ve been away from her.

All Day at the Movies is well-written and features a lot of complicated characters. Some are downright unlikable, but many of them feel like real people who make mistakes but still try their best. There’s some characters who seem awful but when you learn more about them, you feel some sympathy for them, but the story never absolves them of their actions. This book allows characters to have layers and flaws without redeeming them, giving you a story about people who occupy shades of grey.

All Day at the Movies is about family, how people can drift a part but also can come back together if they try. It’s about how one act can shape a generation and how they in turn see their loved ones and their own value. It’s a story that can be uncomfortable and harsh, but one that also offers a sense of hope that things can get better. 4/5.

All Day at the Movies is released today, 8th March 2018.

READ THE WORLD – Switzerland: Heidi by Johanna Spyri

The edition of Heidi I read was translated by Elizabeth P. Stork.

The classic children’s story about a young orphan named Heidi who after growing up with her grandfather in the Alps, where she falls in love with the wide-open spaces, is sent to the city to be a friend for a sickly girl named Clara. Soon Heidi becomes homesick and wonders whether she’ll ever see the mountains and her grandfather again.

Heidi is a very bright, adventurous girl. She’s friendly and caring but she’s also determined. She’s an interesting heroine as you see how the people she meets and befriends shape her and her beliefs.

There’s a lot of lovely themes in Heidi of love and friendship. The familial love between Heidi and her grandfather is touching as he’s seen to be a gruff, unfriendly person by the villagers but the two of them understand one another and Heidi brings out his caring side. Her friendship with both Peter, a young goatherder, and Clara, a sickly girl in need of a friend, are heartfelt and believable.

The story is a bit too cutesy and sweet for my tastes and the way the characters talk is definitely a product of its time a it was written in the late 1800’s. Everyone is very enthusiastic about their emotions, especially if they’re positive about something, and it’s a bit much sometimes.

The descriptions of both the mountains which Heidi loves so much and the city she finds so oppressive, are both vivid. You really do feel like your sitting on a mountainside with the way the colours and smells are described.

Heidi is a quick, easy read. It’s nice I’m able to now say I’ve read this classic children’s story, one that I knew next to nothing about as I hadn’t seen any of the various film and TV adaptations there’s been over the years, but it wasn’t a memorable read.


My IndieAthon TBR

Tomorrow the IndieAthon begins! This readathon was the brainchild of Lia from Lost in a Story, Marie from Lots of Livres, Eloise from Eloise Writes, Joel from Fictional Fates and Syd from Reading & Rambling. IndieAthon is a month long readathon in March where the aim is to read books that are self-published or from independent publishers. There’s a bingo card if you’d like an extra challenge and you can follow the IndieAthon Twitter account for more info.

I’ve got five books that I’d like to read during this readathon, which may be a surprise to some as I tend to set myself overambitious TBR’s but these five books are the only books from independent publishers I have close to hand right now.

The Hotel Tito by Ivana Bodrožić, published by Seven Stories Press, and So the Path Does Not Die by Pede Hollist, published by Jacaranda Books Art Music, are both recent purchases that I got on this years London Bookshop Crawl so it would be nice to read them as they’ve caught my interest so recently. I received All Day at the Movies by Fiona Kidman from the publisher, Gallic Books, to review. I’ve only just started it so this will be my first read of the readathon. Vengeance is Mine, All Others Pay Cash by Eka Kurniawan, published by Pushkin Press is a book I first picked up because of the striking cover. The fifth book isn’t pictured as it’s an ebook and that’s Reading the Ceiling by Dayo Forster, published by Dean Street Press.

At the end of last year, I posted about what Indie books I owned and wanted to read, but so far this year I don’t think I’ve read any books that are self-published or from independent publishers. The IndieAthon is the perfect opportunity to change that and to make a dent in my ever growing physical TBR.

Are you taking part in the IndieAthon? Do you think about who’s publishing the books you’re reading? I have to say I generally don’t. Following the #IndieAthon on Twitter looks like it’s going to be a good way to discover different independent publishers and learn more about indie books in general.


REVIEW: Zorro by Isabel Allende

A child of two worlds – the son of an aristocratic Spanish gentleman and a Shoshone warrior woman – young Diego de la Vega cannot bear to see the brutal injustices the helpless face in late-eighteenth-century California. And so, a hero – skilled in swordplay and acrobatics and with a persona formed from the Old World and the New – the legend known as Zorro is born.

My knowledge of the character Zorro solely comes from the films starring Antonio Banderas, especially The Mask of Zorro (1998) so this was a nice insight into the potential origin story of the masked vigilante. In the original stories, Zorro was already a hero for the downtrodden, so this book is more about the boy who would become Zorro.

I really enjoyed the historical setting of this book. It spans from 1790-1815 and takes place in both California and Barcelona. I knew little about the history and politics of late-eighteenth/early-nineteenth century California and Spain, especially how the California was a Spanish territory and what happened to the Native American who lived there. The book is rich in the historical details without it ever really taking away from Diego’s story.

I enjoyed Zorro more as it progressed because you first see how Diego’s parents meet and I wasn’t too interested in that, but once Diego is born and you start to follow his adventures and how he slowly begins to learn about the good and evil in the world it became more interesting to me. Diego’s relationship with Bernardo, a boy who is more like his brother than a friend, is great because they have an almost telepathic connection. How their friendship develops over time is wonderful because Bernardo acts as a foil for Diego’s exuberance and his schemes probably wouldn’t be a success without Bernardo’s input.

The action, when it happens, is exciting and the sword fights are thrilling. Zorro is a mixture of a lot of different genres, family drama, romance, and action and adventure. The story is of Diego’s first twenty years and he fits a lot into them and it’s interesting to see that as he evolves, he is becoming the hero we’ve heard of before.

Zorro is a well-written story about an adventurous young man who is a purveyor of justice, destined to become a legend. It’s always fascinating to read an origin story of an almost mythic character and Isabel Allende does a brilliant job with this one. 4/5.


London Bookshop Crawl 2018

This time last week the London Bookshop Crawl was just beginning. A weekend-long celebration of books and bookshops across London, there was event, guided bookshop crawls, book swaps and so much more with the dozens of bookshops taking part.

I only took part in the London Bookshop Crawl on the Saturday, but I still had an amazing time. I had gotten a ticket for the guided tour around Waterloo & Southbank and there I met fellow bookish people – both old (previous bookshop crawl participants I’d met on previous years) and new. The tour was led by Cathryn and she was very friendly and knowledgeable throughout the tour and brought a great energy to the group.

We met in Starbucks for coffee and sustenance, so we’d be ready for all the bookshops! Then it was off to Somerset House Bookshop. This shop was full of beautiful illustrated books, both for children and adults. There were so many cool books there, but I managed to restrain myself and just by the one – I Know a Woman by Kate Hodges and illustrated by Sarah Papworth. This book is all about famous and influential women throughout history and the connections they have with other women. I fell in love with the art style and how vibrant the illustrations are and I always like to learn more about women that history might have forgotten.

Next, we had a walk across to the other side of the Thames to go to the National Theatre Bookshop. Naturally, there were a lot of plays and books about drama and theatre criticism but there were also some more generally fiction books and some interesting gifts too.

Then we had a little bit of a walk to The Bookshop Theatre which had an eclectic mix of plays and political and philosophical theory books. It had a mixture of new and second-hand books which was nice. There I bought an illustrated Folio Society edition of Othello by Shakespeare. I’ve not read Othello before and know very little about it, but my best friend said she’s taught it for A-Level and both she and the kids in her class really enjoy it.

Just around the corner from The Bookshop Theatre (or least that’s how it felt to me) was Travelling Through… and this was my favourite new-to-me bookshop on the crawl. It’s got a great selection of books from around the world from international authors as well as some second-hand books and a cute café downstairs. The staff were very nice and friendly too. There I bought three books that will be perfect for my Read the World ProjectDust by Yvonne Adhiambo Owuro my read for Kenya and actually a book I had my eye on before the bookshop crawl, everything else were impulse buys, Allah is Not Obliged by Ahmadou Kourouma, a book for Côte d’Ivoire, and So the Path Does Not Die by Pede Hollist which will probably be my read for Sierra Leone. I will definitely be visiting Travelling Through… again next time I’m in that part of London.

The next and final stop on the guided tour was to The Feminist Library – a place I would’ve loved to visit because it sounded like it stocks just my sort of books, but I was meeting the aforementioned best friend for a late lunch. I said goodbye to my fellow crawlers and vowed to go to The Feminist Library soon.

But I had time to visit one more bookshop as I was meeting my bestie at Daunt Books in Marleybone. I first visited Daunt on last years bookshop crawl and I have been back multiple times since, so as I was in London I just had to go there. In Daunt I bought two more books I could use for my Read the World Project, The Hotel Tito by Ivana Bodrožić, potentially my read for Croatia, and A Fortune Foretold by Agneta Pleijel, a book I first picked up because of the texture of the cover was so unusual and now it’s likely to be my pick for Sweden.

And that was me done for the London Bookshop Crawl 2018. Five bookshops, four of which were new to me, and seven shiny new books brought home. I had a wonderful time on the crawl, talking all things books and giving and receiving recommendations. My feet and shoulders (from a heavy backpack) were definitely sore by the time I got home but it was worth it.

This was the third year of the London bookshop crawl and I love how much it has grown in such a short space of time. If you’re interested in the bookshop crawl check out the website and there’s due to be two Summer Bookshop Crawls, one in York and another in Canterbury, so if you’re interested in either of them make sure you follow the Twitter account and sign up for updates via the website.

Until February 2019 and the next London Bookshop Crawl! I better get reading!


READ THE WORLD – Singapore: Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan

When Rachel Chu agrees to spend the summer in Singapore with her boyfriend Nicholas Young, she has no idea what she’s going to face. She’s looking forward to spending time with Nick’s family until she’s faced with private jets, expensive cars and luxury mansions. Rachel is thrown into a world of extravagance and dynastic superiority and nothing could prepare her for Eleanor – Nick’s formidable mother with very strong feelings about who’s the right, or wrong, girl for her son.

Crazy Rich Asians is a lot of fun. It’s over the top and ridiculous a lot of the time but the way it’s written pulls you into these characters lives and their antics. While Rachel and Nick and their relationship is at the heart of this story, you meet a lot of other characters and each chapter is from a different character’s perspective. This makes it interesting as you have Rachel, who’s American born Chinese and while she has a good education and career, is not used to the lavish lifestyle and the way all these people who have grown up in and live in Singapore think about money. It gives you both the outsider and the insider perspective.

I really sympathised with Rachel a lot. While Nick is lovely he’s also very naïve about the wealth he comes from and does nothing to forewarn Rachel about what the world he grew up in is like or talk to his parents about how serious he is about her. Rachel’s left floundering for a lot of the story as she must contend with spiteful and jealous people, mostly women, who believe she’s just after Nick’s fortune.

A lot of the other characters, on the other hand, are unlikable. They’re rude, thoughtless and self-serving but that’s what everyone is like in this upper-class society is painted as. It was heard to connect with a lot of them because so many of them were nasty but were apparently being that way for the sake of the family. Eleanor especially was an interesting yet seemingly heartless woman.

Crazy Rich Asians does have a lot to say on class, immigrants, different types of Asians – those who are from mainland China, those who were educated in England or Australia, and those who have stayed in Singapore for most of their lives. Characters all have different relationships with money and many of them are so far removed from the “real world” that their outbursts over having the right designers or private jet is often unbelievable.

The ending of Crazy Rich Asians does seem a bit rushed, especially after a good portion of the book was building up to one moment. However, it is the first book in a trilogy so perhaps the messy ending is made a bit neater in the sequel. A sequel I’m not sure if I’m desperate to read, as a lot of these characters were just not relatable or even nice people – I don’t think I can survive in their world for long periods of time. 3/5.