Claire x Nikki Review September 2015

BitchinRundownClaire x Nikki Mash Ups




I’ve had a lot of “administrative” sort of things to take care of it feels (calling people, paying things, arranging stuff) and a lot of being here, there and everywhere. All that stuff coupled with being a bit stretched for money at the moment has reined in my adventuring a little bit. I don’t think I’ll have much time (or money) to squeeze in more London visits this year, but I’m definitely planning to use the heck out of my railcard and Virgin’s London deals more next year to visit Claire!!


Books Read

That looks like a lot, but 5/10 are comics and 4/10 were audiobooks which are easy enough to get through quickly (especially if you can listen to audiobooks all day at work like I do haha).

Let me know if you want any reviews for any of the books I read in September! ;)

Book of the Month

I know I’ve mentioned this one a billion times now, but it’s really worth it. Read my review to find out more about why it was not only my favourite for the month, but my favourite book I read this quarter.

Without You, There Is No Us

Miscellaneous Favourites:

TV(/YouTube): As you know, I’ve also been learning a little bit of Japanese on the side… Basically, it’s not my focus language right now, but I’ve been gathering pieces about it. And, in doing some research into foreigners’ experiences in Japan, I found the Abroad in Japan YouTube channel by Chris Broad which I’ve been REALLY enjoying.

He’s a British guy who has been living in Japan for 3 years and has been putting out videos about Japan. I really love his sense of humour which is quite typically British and I’d recommend giving the channel a watch. He seems like he’d be a fun guy to hang out with.

I also really enjoy Kemushi Chan (Loretta)’s channel which is also Japan-related.

And then there’s the documentary/interview series by Rachel & Jun about being Black in Japan. It’s very interesting*.

*But I do have a lot of big problems with Brittany(one of the interviewees)’s sweeping generalisations and essentially self-hating statements about black people which glaze carelessly over deeper societal problems about the way black people are seen and, indeed, further damaging stereotypes she is (seemingly unwittingly) spreading by speaking about a whole as if it amounts to only the worst parts of itself. I feel her words lack the context and explanation to be taken at face value. Worth noting.

There’s something about listening to/watching someone experience a foreign country and try to get immersed in it while simultaneously having to overcome the peculiarities of it that is really interesting to me. I guess the reason my focus has been more on people in Japan is that there is simply much more content (it seems) of people recording their experiences in Japan because it’s so different from the west.

I’ve got lots of language apps and podcasts that have been great favourite learning tools recently, but I’ve probably rambled on enough for now!



September has been… very emotional. More job interviews, more final rounds, more final “No’s”. I’m whining and bein moaney, I know. I just miss Nikki so much! I need her logic and wisdom to sort me out! I have, however, visited an inordinate amount of bookshops and against all of my good judgement, picked up 6 books which you’ll get to know in Wednesday’s post.


Books Read

I beat my GoodReads goal this month! I finished 70 of 70 books and because I did it so early, I up-ed it to 80, and I’ve read 79 now so, woot! On a roll!

  • Codex by Lev Grossman
  • The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova
  • Harry Potter & THe Deathly Hallows by J. K. Rowling
  • Semiotics: The Basics by Daniel Chandler
  • Everyday Sexism by Laura Bates
  • Perfume by Patrick Suskind
  • Yes Please! by Amy Poehler

I read so much! Well I had time to do so, I became jobless as of September 11th and I had 2 weeks to catch up on reading. I slept a lot too.

Book of the Month

This book is amazing, seriously. I’ve tried to read it at least twice before and I never managed to get into it. However, I must be severely influenced by a book’s cover because I stuck with it this time and I am thoroughly addicted to it.

This is a library copy and I’d like to get myself one quite soon.


TV: I caught up on Criminal Minds as well as NCIS this month and that’s nice. I’m not in the writing mood, I’m so sorry, I’ve got a job interview today and I’m panicked because it involves Qualitative work and I suck at that (even though that’s what I want to do for my profession, am I a glutton for pain or what). I’ve also started a new internship at a pretty competitive place and everyone is so nice and perfect, I feel short and dumpy and stupid (which, don’t roll your eyes at me, I know it’s all in my head).

Food: They’ve started selling Mince Pies again (YAYYYY!), I’ve since consumed over two 12 mince pie boxes in one week. Yup.


How was your September?


Posted in Bitchin' Rundown | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

2015 Quarterly Check-In #3 (Nikki)

Goodreads challenge

I’ve changed this one (yet again) from 75 to 90. I think I’m still figuring out how I read when left unchecked. Right now I’m at 85/90 books so I may well try for 100. I don’t know yet…. Maybe not. We’ll see.

Again, my original goal was to read 40 books. I have read 36 novella-to-novel-length books, 7 plays/poetry collections, 20 graphic novels, 10 middle-grade books, 7 picture books and 6 short stories.

(If you’re counting at home, there are a few single issue comics and a comic short that I counted and reviewed on Goodreads but that are not included in my personal spreadsheet stats…)

So far I’ve read 42% female authors (pretty much the same as the previous quarter and 8% down from my goal) with 50% male and 8% “other” (either both male and female creators or unknown, but authors who identify as neither would fit in this category too). I have read 30% authors of colour which is dead on track with my goal, but I was doing slightly better in the last quarter.

22% of my reading has been translated works. Like I said before, I wasn’t actually paying much attention to this and have continued not paying attention to it, so I think I’m doing pretty well in this area for not even trying.

The amount of books from my TBR has gone up from last quarter to 28%.

58% of my reading has been free either from the library or friends or eARCs.

• • •

10-10-10-10 challenge:

*I chosen not to put any books in more than one category even if they fit more than one. Links all go to my reviews.

TEN Works of Fiction by Female Authors: EXCEEDED

  1. Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie
  2. Wonder by RJ Palacio
  3. Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine
  4. The Raven Boys (The Raven Cycle #1) by Maggie Stiefvater
  5. Come Close by Sappho
  6. Ariel by Sylvia Plath
  7. The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker
  8. When Angels Speak of Love by bell hooks
  9. Liv Forever by Amy Talkington
  10. The Dream Thieves (The Raven Cycle #2) by Maggie Stiefvater
  11. Blue Lily, Lily Blue (The Raven Cycle #3) by Maggie Stiefvater

TEN Works of Fiction from Around the World: On track!

  1. A Wild Sheep Chase by Haruki Murakami [Asia]
  2. The Dhammapada by [anonymous] [Asia]
  3. Speaking of Śiva by [anonymous] [Asia]
  4. In the Miso Soup by Ryū Murakami [Asia]
  5. We Need New Names by NoViolet Bulawayo [Africa]
  6. Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World by Haruki Murakami [Asia]
  7. Out by Natsuo Kirino [Asia]

TEN Graphic Novels/Comics/Picture Books: SUPER EXCEEDED

  1. Saga vol 3 by Brian K Vaughan (author) & Fiona Staples (illustrator)
  2. Saga vol 4 by Brian K Vaughan (author) & Fiona Staples (illustrator)
  3. Red Sonja by Gail Simone (author) & Walter Geovanni (illustrator)
  4. Ms Marvel by G Willow Wilson (author) & Adrian Alphona (illustrator)
  5. Outcast, vol 1: A Darkness Surrounds Him by Robert Kirkman & Paul Azaceta (illustrator)
  6. Rat Queens, vol 1: Sass & Sorcery by Kurtis J Wiebe (author) & Roc Upchurch (illustrator)
  7. March: Book One by John Lewis (author), Andrew Aydin (author) & Nate Powell (illustrator)
  8. The Worrier’s Guide to Life by Gemma Correll (author/illustrator)
  9. Low by Rick Remender (author) & Greg Tocchini (illustrator)
  10. Embroideries by Marjane Satrapi (author/illustrator)
  11. Shadow Show: Stories in Celebration of Ray Bradbury by [various]
  12. Southern Cross #1 by Becky Cloonan (author) & Andy Belanger (illustrator)
  13. Sam and Dave Dig a Hole by Mac Barnett (author) & Jon Klassen (illustrator)
  14. Mr Tiger Goes Wild by Peter Brown (author/illustrator)
  15. The Day the Crayons Quit by Drew Daywalt (author) & Oliver Jeffers (illustrator)
  16. Akissi: Cat Invasion by Marguerite Abouet (author) & Mathieu Sapin (illustrator)
  17. Hug Machine by Scott Campbell
  18. A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to School… by Davide Cali & Benjamin Chaud
  19. Goliath by Tom Gauld (author/illustrator)
  20. Vacancy by Jen Lee (author/illustrator)
  21. The Little Gardener by Emily Hughes (author/illustrator)
  22. Aya of Yop City (Aya vol 2) by Marguerite Abouet (author) & Mathieu Sapin (illustrator)
  23. Saga vol 5 by Brian K Vaughan (author) & Fiona Staples (illustrator)
  24. East of West vol 1 by Jonathan Hickman (author) & Nick Dragotta (illustrator)
  25. East of West vol 2 by Jonathan Hickman (author) & Nick Dragotta (illustrator)
  26. East of West vol 3 by Jonathan Hickman (author) & Nick Dragotta (illustrator)
  27. Southern Cross #2 by Becky Cloonan (author) & Andy Belanger
  28. Southern Cross #3 by Becky Cloonan (author) & Andy Belanger

TEN Non-Fiction Books: EXCEEDED

  1. Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me (And Other Concerns) by Mindy Kaling
  2. Bone Black: Memories of Girlhood by bell hooks
  3. Letter to My Daughter by Maya Angelou
  4. Apology by Plato
  5. Homage to Catalonia by George Orwell
  6. Theory of Everything by Stephen Hawking
  7. Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell
  8. Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay
  9. The Communist Manifesto by Karl Marx & Friedrich Engels
  10. None of the Above by Rick Edwards
  11. The Myth of Sisyphus by Albert Camus
  12. Without You, There Is No Us by Suki Kim
  13. Yes Please by Amy Poehler

• • •

Somewhere along the way I decided to drop my 2015 Old & New Classics Challenge

It was making me feel lazy and uncomfortable with keeping myself in a certain kind of bubble that I naturally gravitate towards anyway. I felt guilty every time I thought to pick up something from this challenge knowing I was doing a disservice to my understanding of wider perspectives. And now that I’ve decisively dropped this challenge, I’ve picked up some more classics and my brain is totally happy about that because it works in mysterious ways.

To be fair, it could just be because this challenge was so restrictive in its specificity. It doesn’t work well for people like me. I need open categories, not pre-determined titles. Sheesh!

• • •

So far my favourite book this quarter has been Without You, There Is No Us by Suki Kim.

Without You, There Is No Us

This year is just speeding by!

Are you on track for all your reading goals (however official or unofficial they might be)?

What have been you bookish highlights so far?

Posted in Reading Challenges | Tagged | 1 Comment

Books That Opened Up A Genre (Claire Edition)

So I loved Nikki’s post so much that I decided to do my own version of it! I’ve done something similar in the past where I chronicled my favourite series when I was a youngster and teenager.


Mystery & Thriller

 In the Miso Soup 20629795

I blame my Dad for getting me into this genre. Actually, I think you might find that my Dad & Mum are to blame for much of my bookish addictions these days. I received my first Nancy Drew novel at 9 and I’ve been hooked since, even now at 26 I frequently reread the books based on that sassy mystery detective.

I soon graduated to historical mysteries, or thrillers with some sort of academic intrigue, my mother got me Carrie as well as my first Dan Brown and they are such easy reads for me! I will always cherish this genre and always looking for the next read here. I tend to prefer historical mysteries and thrillers rather than contemporary works though.


Out by Natsuo Kirino In the Miso Soup 20629795

My father is a big history buff but he nurtured my love of fiction rather than nonfiction. This obsession was tarted with my Art Teacher when I did the IB in Canada and he lent me Color and it’s been seriously, downhill ever since. I never conceived that microhistory was a thing but it’s amazing to suss out the history and culture that surrounds something as simple or mundane as color, or sugar. The tough part about this genre is finding books that I want to read in it, there have been new works recently, such as a history of maps or salt, but has anyone else read something in this genre that you’d recommend? It’d love to find something new to read!


Lemony Snicket23302416Witches Don't Do Backflips

I’ve spoken about this in a few past posts as well but my obsession with Fantasy was started by my father. I was living in Barbados and lonely and he picked me up a copy of Harry Potter and I’ve never, ever, put it down since. I quickly graduated to other fantasy works, and I remember Eragon standing out to me the most here because when my Father gave it to me as a gift, I was all snooty thinking, I don’t read Dragon books. Pah. Lies.

There are so many other books in this genre that got me hooked, such as Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit, as well as Elizabeth Kostova’s The Historian (which I am rereading now), but Harry Potter, Interview with a Vampire and Eragon got me into the different subgrenres in Fantasy fiction. I am now a full-fledged lover of magic, sexy historical vampires and roaring dragons. In fact, if I have to rank genres from most favourite to least favourite, Fantasy is #1 I believe, with historical thrillers maybe falling in at #2.

Young Adult

Out by Natsuo Kirino In the Miso Soup 20629795

I didn’t get into YA till I was 22. I remember that distinctly because I had just moved back to The Bahamas, I had my first job and I had received my first kindle and pow, my world was opened up. I actually credit GoodReads for getting me into this genre, I didn’t know it existed till I saw the number of novels listed on the website.

I credit Holly Black and John Green’s Looking for Alaska for getting me into this genre. Granted, a number of the YA novels I like are Fantasy oriented rather than contemporary focused but they’re still amazing. It’s been 4 years later and I am still interested in YA but I will admit that I have fallen out of love with the genre a little bit since- it’s a very saturated field and I find it a tad hard to find books that I really like here. I’ve read Fangirl and besides a few Fantasy YA (such as Ash and Hunter by Malinda Lo, who is hands down, one of my favourite authors) books, I haven’t picked up a YA in a while.

Manga & Graphic Novels

15995747The Dream Thieves, Maggie Stiefvater, urban fantasy, YABlue Lily, Lily Blue

I only have myself to blame here. I picked up my first manga at 13 when I was visiting Florida with my family and didn’t look inside, I just thought it was a Sailor Moon book but when I opened it I was surprised, it had pictures! It was like a comic! I quickly graduated to other books, especially by CLAMP (I love them), such as Magic Knight Rayearth and Chobits.

Now, I didn’t get into graphic novels until… 2 years ago. Actually, I was at YALC and walking around with Rinn and she stopped at a stall and I saw Saga, heard it was good and picked it up. Now I am a huge fan of graphic novels and always trying to find others to pick up.

LGBTQ Fiction

15995747The Dream Thieves, Maggie Stiefvater, urban fantasy, YABlue Lily, Lily Blue

So, picture this, you’re a gat teenager living in a homophobic country. I didn’t have a computer so you don’t have an outlet there and good luck finding anything queer in a library. So a lot of the books that I read as a teenager in this genre were given to be via stealth, through the small gay community that I knew of in high school or friends. I wasn’t out so I didn’t want my family to know what I was reading, so the more normal a book looked the better.

That being said, the above 3 novels got me hooked into this genre. Even as a teenager I found that I wasn’t into reading books with the tortured protagonist who fell in love with a girl or was thrown out of their homes, that was and is still, too much a of a reality for me and the people that I know so I prefer to read historical LGBTQ books or fantasy oriented tomes (For that I really can’t recommend Ash and Hunter by Malinda Lo enough, seriously). I am always, however, pleasantly surprised when I read “normal” books with LGBTQ characters included, so authors, come on, get some diversity going!

“World” Fiction

Out by Natsuo Kirino In the Miso Soup 20629795

I’ve read quite a bit of Caribbean fiction due to my studies in high school so I’ve been familiar with Naipaul for some time. However, reading The God of Small Things cemented my interest in cultural fiction, or basically, novels set somewhere that isn’t Western Europe or the US (I think it’s ridiculous that this gets called “World Fiction” but that’s going to be a nother discussion post…). This genre has always been popular and stable but I’ve found it has becoming increasingly in the public eye- have you read a book in this genre that you particularly enjoy?

The Black Experience

Out by Natsuo Kirino In the Miso Soup 20629795

I didn’t know what to call this genre so I name it with some trepidation. I was fortunate to read a number of books in high school centered on evaluating the black experience in contemporary society. In high school, with a Caribbean focus being instilled, this centered around reading a number of books by Jamaica Kincaid who I am a huge fan of. Seriously, I’d cry if I met her.

Being biracial and of ambiguous ethnic appearance, and having a very strong black mother, I’ve always had an interest in this genre and my sort of… liminal space in it. Another book I’d recommend here is Caucasia by Danzy Senna. I find it difficult to find books in this genre as well but I am glad to see that it has increased in its awareness in the past few years. Books like The Help have even entered mainstream literature with Toni Morrison ana classical writer in herself.

So! This is an extensive list but are there any books that championed your interest in a particular genre?

What books have been gateways into whole genres for you?


Posted in Lists | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 10 Comments

Review :: Without You, There Is No Us

A review of Suki Kim’s Without You, There Is No Us


SUMMARYWithout You, There Is No Us

A haunting memoir of teaching English to the sons of North Korea’s ruling class during the last six months of Kim Jong-il’s reign.

Without You, There Is No Us offers a moving and incalculably rare glimpse of life in the world’s most unknowable country, and at the privileged young men she calls “soldiers and slaves”.

• • •

Suki Kim has had an incredibly rare and largely serendipitous experience investigating the young North Korean elite. The fact that she is of South Korean heritage afforded her the ability to get closer to the students and have them open up to her more than they probably would have otherwise, and there are certain public events she was able to attend because of her race and ethnicity. It seems that speaking the language was also helpful on several occasions.

I found Kim’s account of North Korea so much more interesting than most others that I’ve heard or seen. Her experiences as a Korean-American have provided interesting comparisons to what she encountered in North Korea (which was obviously still new and bizarre to her in many ways). Her perspective seems less removed than the white Westerners that go to North Korea who sometimes tend to treat it as an almost morbidly entertaining oddity (like a kind of disaster tourism)…which it is, but I feel Kim shows more compassion/humanity in her approach.


It’s interesting too to see how certain world powers (carelessly) affect other countries in major ways and I learned a little bit about the history of the conflict between the Koreas as well as their relation to certain other countries (namely the USA, China, Russia and Japan). I have lots of questions still that may not be answered for a very long time (if at all…). Some questions I had about the ethics of the endeavour as a whole seem to have been addressed on Kim’s website.

This is the year I first got into memoir and, although they are often interesting, there’s also a sort of emptiness in them too… A distance. Because no matter how well someone tries to put their life across to you, it is impossible to really know it. This feels especially true when reading (or listening to, as I did) this story because there are so many secrets held from the author and so much weighty significance and understanding in her own unique connection to North Korea and what it’s withholding from her. It seems impossible to know and, as this is real life and not a story, there are no definitive answers to be found. I’m not sure I can explain exactly what I mean, but it added to the cloudy, mysterious environment of North Korea and helped build the feeling of isolation and secrets hidden in plain sight.


And, all the while, there is a sadness knowing that all these things terrible things are happening right now and will continue happening and we don’t know how or when it will end or how many more will suffer in that time. There are glimmers of hope, but they are small. There is a clear view of a conflicted people held hostage by a complex web of lies and violence on a national scale. (Though I imagine those who are never allowed to talk to the public–the starving masses–are in little doubt that the regime is terrible.) When you see these people’s lives, it’s hard not to wonder about if the roles were reversed. There are questions about how little rumblings build into big blankets of oppression. How much of it is cultural and how much of it can befall any society? How far are we from something similar? Would we be cognisant enough to stop it before it embedded itself into our psyches?


Kim’s website has some photos and other bonus information to supplement the book which it is definitely worth checking out. I would have liked an epilogue with a follow up about (what little could be ascertained about) PUST’s faculty and students and the University’s status in general. I went to the PUST website which seems to be down or on hiatus maybe. Unfortunately, since I do not speak Korean, could not tell what it said.

I listened to the audiobook which was perfectly performed by Janet Song. I highly recommend giving this fascinating story a listen/read. And it’s best not to skip the Author’s Notes at the end.

rating: ★★★★★
genre: journalistic memoir
publisher: Random House Audio
source: library
date read: 16 September 2015
recommend for: those curious about North Korea
pros: engrossing, cultural learnings to be had, great audio performance
cons: I would have liked a follow up about PUST (its status/faculty/students)


Posted in Book Reviews, Dystopian, International, NonFiction | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

Literary Listings: Bookish Food

Claire: We’ve all read that book where they describe whatever they are eating and it sounds so good that you’re immediately hungry and have to have it? Yah, well Nikki and I are going to try and celebrate some of our foodie favourites in fiction today! In doing research for this entry I came across the blog, Fictional Food, where the blogger notes her experiences with food in fantasy and a few dystopian novels. I’d recommend checking her blog out!

Literary Listings: Bookish Food


Okay! This is a weird one for me because I generally dismiss food in books. I don’t like reading food descriptions because they make me hungry which is very distracting when reading (it’s hard to read and eat unless you’re listening to an audiobook). So it’s taken me a while to think about some, but here they are:

1. Alice in Wonderland

eate cookies drink me

From a book I haven’t actually read…yet(!) but everyone knows the story of, are the “eat me” cookies. And, of course, I’d wash them down with the Drink Me potion. I bought the book at my local secondhand bookshop, and it’s on my “this year..!? TBR”. I don’t know if the book describes them at all (I’m only assuming they actually exist in the book…!), but the Disney film has them (and when has Disney ever led us astray by butchering any famous stories, eh??) ;) haha

2. Matilda


OK! This food I remember well since it was integral to one of the scenes in the story and it sounded soooo good. The rich, delicious, moist, perfect, massive chocolate cake that Bruce Bogtrotter is made to eat.

3. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

gillyweed yosushi

This is a weird one because I know it’s not described very deliciously, but I’m curious about gillyweed in the same way I was curious about that green slimy plant thing at Yo! Sushi (it turned out to be seaweed). In fact, my curiosity about the capabilities it allows pale in comparison to my curiosity about its taste alone. I. Am. Curious.

4. Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone

harry potter cauldron cakes

I didn’t actually want to do two Harry Potter picks, but my sweet tooth is hankerin’, so here we are. The idea of Cauldron Cakes makes me think of those 5-minute, microwave cakes (which, by the way, I have tried and ended up with a disaster-in-a-mug…would not recommend). But I feel like if they were done right, they could be lovely (the same could probably be said for the failed mug-cake experiment actually). I’m just imagining all the different flavours they might come in too! Chocolate fudge (of course), lemon poppyseed, red velvet, coconut, peach, carrot…the list goes on and on!

All this fictional food has given me an idea for a possible challenge to read 10 books with food in the titles…But maybe next year :)



The foodie moments that stick out to me the most are from my favourite fantasy novels, when I couldn’t possible replicate or actually cook what they’re describing but I can still fantasize right?

1. Cauldron Cakes & Butterbeer- Harry Potter by J. K. Rowling

Yes, yes, yes and all the yeses to all of the Harry Potter food. Bless Rowling for her imagination because Butterbeer is something I need in my life right now. A few friends and I tried to make our own alcoholic version once, it didn’t come out too bad but we got smashed (we dissolved butterscotch candy into vanilla vodka and mixed it with cream soda, again, totally smashed). I can’t wait to go to Harry Potter world and get some!

Also, Cauldron Cakes are also amazing and though mentioned briefly, you only need say the word cake and I am there.


The legendary butterbeer.

2. Lembas & Miruvor- The Lord of the Rings by J. R. R. Tolkien

I’ve written a post in the past where I imagined what a modern version of Miruvor tasted like but the actual version mentioned in the book. It’s described by Tolkien Gateway as such:

Miruvórë was the nectar of the Valar made from Yavanna’s flowers, poured during their festivals in Valinor. In her lament, Galadriel recalled that “The years have passed like swift draughts of the sweet mead”.

It was supposed to make the drinker feel warm and invigorated. So, where can I get some? Cause I need it, badly (because… winter is coming).

Also, Lembas bread sounded nice, making you full with a single bite (and that’s all good for you Legolas) but I’d be like a hobbit and scarf down 3 or 4 before I’d feel any sensation of fullness.

Lembas Bread


3. Mulled Wine- Game of Thrones by G. R. R. Martin

Look, I know what mulled wine is now but when I first read the books in 2011 I had no idea what mulled wine was. I’d never spent a winter in a cold place and wasn’t too interested in drinking something hot while at the beach at home in The Bahamas for Christmas.

So what did I do when I came to the UK? Oh man, the first Winter festival I came across I went and bought some and fell completely in love. I even purchased a goblet and found a seat by a fire in a pub and felt all fancy and Winterfell-like. I just needed a direwolf by my feet and I’d be fearsome and amazing. I am still a big fan of the mulled wine and when I spent Christmas by Nikki in 2013, I bought some and we dined together. Amazing.

4. Turkish Delight- The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C. S. Lewis

I feel like I’ve talked about this before, have I talked about this before? But again, the reason why this makes it onto the list because as a child I only ever imagined what Turkish Delight could taste like when I read about it. It isn’t something you’ll ever find in The Bahamas, so I thought it must be so good, so sinfully sweet if you’d be willing to sell out your family and friends for a taste of it.

I still remember the first time I had it, it was good (though I don’t think I’d sell out my family for it, a huge piece of cake maybe, but this? Nah bruh) and so so sweet. It tasted like roses too- is that typical? Showing my ignorance again!

Do you have any foodie favourites? Are there moments when you’ve just had to have whatever the character was eating?


Posted in Lists | Tagged , , | 11 Comments

Books That Opened Up A Genre

I thought this Goodreads article was interesting and it got me thinking about books that got me interested in a new genre.


The first book that got me hooked on the Golden Age of Detective Fiction (I was already well acquainted with TV shows/movies based on Golden Age mystery novels) was Murder Must Advertise

Murder Must AdvertiseMurder on the Orient Express 9899381 3144727 181133 5956658

My mum introduced me to this genre. I would watch old mysteries with her as a kid and she let me borrow her copy of Murder Must Advertise. I like the book exchange I have with my parents. I actually introduced her to one of her beloved series: Harry Potter…even though I never ended up finishing the series and she did! hah

The first book I ever finished in the genre of Popular Economics…(which I group with pop-psych and pop-sci) was Freakonomics


I also share books with my dad! But usually of the non-fiction variety. My dad had been telling me about Freakonomics ages before I’d actually pick it up. He’d given it to my gran (his mum) who never cared for it much (and told him so) and I found it in a box from her attic. I was curious—I’d heard it was good and it sounded right up my alley anyway—so I asked my gran if I could borrow it (she told me to just keep it) and I loved it! The unusual trail of information that winds in unexpected but very logical ways is fascinating. Then I introduced my dad to Malcolm Gladwell who he can’t get enough of. Win win situations for everybody! YAY!

A series that made me want to get further into Middle-Grade was A Series of Unfortunate Events

Lemony Snicket23302416Witches Don't Do Backflips

Middle-grade books are always a good pick for a light feel-good reading experience (usually) with morals and happy endings. Now that I think about it, this is a series my dad introduced me to that isn’t non-fiction. He got me a few books from A Series of Unfortunate Events when I was in primary school, but I never finished them. I’m slowly getting back on the case though. I’ve listened to books 1-4 on audiobook and really love it. Thank you, library. I’d like to own all the audiobooks at some point, though. Having read other middle-grade books like Wonder and fondly remembering series like Adventures of the Bailey School Kids makes me want to get back into the fun, low-stakes adventures that the middle-grade category (because it’s not really a genre) provides.

The first book that got me into High Fantasy was The Hobbit and then Sabriel reminded me of that sort of fantastic adventure approached with an admirable practicalness.


Now, I don’t read a ton of high fantasy…though my reading spreadsheet tells me a read much more fantasy than I’d previously thought..! But I am someone who values pragmatism quite highly. Maybe that’s obvious by my interest in non-flashy mysteries and non-fiction… But I also love really fun, beautiful, lived-in fantasy worlds! So when you marry practical characters with well-fleshed out world and solid storytelling…well, I’m sold. The Hobbit was my initial introduction to high fantasy literature and Sabriel recently rekindled my desire to read more of it.

John Steinbeck is a genre, right? Yes, he is. And Of Mice and Men lead me there.

Of Mice and Men the moon is down

OK! So when I first read The Pearl in high school, I thought it was okay, but I was overall fairly indifferent. I picked up Of Mice and Men because it was slim and the cover was pretty……and then I fell so hard in love. Dang! I love the straightforward, deceptively simple way Steinbeck writes and the heavy meaning hidden just beneath the surface. It feels raw and authentic and sombre and plain and beautiful and ordinary and deep and everything all at once. But I’m going to stop before my fangirling starts getting out of hand. I’m excited to read more from him. I’ve even bought special cute tissues for when the inevitable waterworks start :’) Oh man!


I always thought of Urban Fantasy as kind of cheesy until I read started reading The Raven Boys series by Maggie Stievfater.

15995747The Dream Thieves, Maggie Stiefvater, urban fantasy, YABlue Lily, Lily Blue

I thought this would be one of those ‘guilty pleasure’ genres where it’s kind of dumb, but easy to read and sort of entertaining for a bit (like Liv, Forever which I don’t recommend unless you don’t mind wasting some time on something very silly which I sometimes do…). But no! This is my kind of urban fantasy. The world feels very old…and interesting…but it’s modern. I’m not sure how to explain the essence of this, but I’m totally digging it and I wish it were easier to find this kind of thing. And, if you saw my review of the first book, this book restored some of my confidence in YA as a category. It’s not half-assed and cheap. Stievfater’s storytelling and characters(!) are so good. If I finish the fourth book when it comes out next year, that will be the first series I’ve ever finished in my whole life. Crazy, right?


The first story that got me into Modern Fairytales was Leigh Bardugo’s The Witch of Duva

BookByItsCoverNikki2little knife

…followed by The Too-Clever Fox and Little Knife which just made me want more! I read an excerpt from The Grisha series and I wasn’t feeling it. That isn’t to say I didn’t like it, just that it wasn’t quite what I was after. What I want is a book of 100 fairytale-ish stories from Leigh Bardugo in the style of her shorts. Is that too much to ask? OK. I’ll settle for 99 stories. It’s old-worldly, it’s fanciful, it’s feminist. I’m here for that.


I never thought I was that into Contemporary Crime/Thriller novels, but Natsuo Kirino changed my mind with Out.

Out by Natsuo Kirino In the Miso Soup 20629795

Like I mentioned before, I’ve always been more of a Golden Age Mystery kind of lady. I never felt like gritty contemporary stuff was my thing. I thought it got a bit self-indulgent and mired in dated description that went on too long. But, while Out was longer than the average quick GAM novel, its fast-pace wasn’t jarring and where GAM novels play on my charm/quaintness receptors, Out’s characters and twists and turns hooked me. I have a strong feeling part of the appeal is its being Japanese. The stories have an added element of passively learning about somewhere else that makes it feel aaaaalmost slightly like an urban fantasy…if you know what I mean? Similar novels I’ve read (though not liked as much to varying degrees..) have been In the Miso SoupA Wild Sheep Chase and Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World (all by two different Murakamis ha).


What books have been gateways into whole genres for you?

Posted in Lists | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Book By Its Cover: Classics

Nikki: Do you judge books by their covers? I…must confess… I do. I can’t help it; I’m a visual person! That’s not to say I won’t read a book with a tacky cover… It just means I will search high and low for an alternate cover or make my own cover for it or cover it with a blank sheet of paper with only the name of the book written on it because I would rather look at a blank white cover than a tacky one.

Anyway, Claire and I decided to get bitchy about book covers, but we’re not outing bad ones. So let’s all take a minute to get shallow and consider the way our favourite (and not-so-favourite) stories are visually presented.


And funnily enough, I just found this (super addictive!) game the other day about judging book covers and EVERY SINGLE TIME I’m told I’m, like, Super McJudgey Pants to the Max.. But that’s not fair really. Just because I can admit that a book has a crappy cover doesn’t mean I automatically think it’ll be poop. Ultimately, I prise stories above covers! …But I will definitely search for the least terrible cover if I’m going to read the book…I like to be accurate about my editions on Goodreads and I don’t want the covers fuglying up my Read list too much.

But, it’s actually incredibly hard for me to choose favourite classics covers. Classics have been around sooo long, they’ve had a lot of time to accumulate some GORGEOUS edition covers. So to really narrow this list right down, I’m going to prioritise the ones with cover editions that I physically own (and, preferably, books I love). I regret to inform you that probably nothing here will surprise you…


1. The Moon is Down by John Steinbeck

I really love this book. It was a quick read and the story behind its use as allied propaganda was interesting. I’ve been a little exhausted with World War 2 stories recently. It doesn’t always feel like there’s anything new to give to the stories (even flipping it around to the enemy’s perspective is pretty played out). But this story was still an enjoyable little read because that’s what Steinbeck does.

Now, the cover is what drew me to the book when I first saw it in Waterstones. It’s all very simple, but it captures a certain mood very well for me. And, in person, the un-glossed, slightly rough texture of the cover just works.

illustration by Jim Stoddart


2. Ariel by Sylvia Plath

I am not a ‘poems-person’ (if there is such a thing). And I didn’t know anything about Plath until after I’d read The Bell Jar (somewhat arbitrarily) and fell in like with it. I was moved by Plath’s knowing. Her ability to describe a feeling just right.

When I first saw this cover–again, on a fateful day in Waterstones!–got curious about her poetry. Let me reiterate, not because of what I’d heard about it really. But because I saw this cover. I thought: dang. Better check out what’s in thaaaat. Because I’m a sucker for limited colour and overlay/screen-printed effects used well. I won’t pretend to have understood all of the poems right the way through, but I really loved many of them.

illustration by Sarah Young


3.Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck

Oh! What’s this? Another Steinbeck? Yeah, whatever, guys. You need to read to believe. He good.

Okay. You know the drill! I was in Waterstones…again(!) when I saw this cover having previously known actually nothing about the book. (Damn you, Waterstones! You precious, precious book palace that I will never stop supporting unless you get involved in terrible unethical corporate crap!) It’s now occurring to me how often I’ve been clueless about major popular classics and just read them without knowing about the hype and fallen in love with them. I think that’s great! But also I’m concerned with how clueless I can be….hmmmmm But that’s a worry for another time.

I’m also seeing a trend in the type of covers that strike my fancy. Again: limited colour. siiigh. It’s just so classy (and also sometimes fun), dang it!

illustration by Jim Stoddart


4. Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie

Okay so, despite its crazy popularity, this was definitely not my favourite Christie mystery. It’s a bit too zany and farfetched for me, but the journey was really fun (…which is more than the guy who was murdered on the Orient Express can say. BaZing!).

The cover, on the other hand, I really like. I was tempted to put my (limited colour, screenprint-lookin’) cover of Toward Zero, but this is my favourite mystery cover so far. There’s just so much atmosphere! I love it.

cover design (it’s actually a photo!) by Ghost Design


5. A Series of Unfortunate Events by Lemony Snicket

I think it would be fair to call this series a classic at this point. I love Brett Helquist’s illustrations for each book and I think they really capture a lot of the fun, off kilter, but very immersive world in with the story takes place.

It’s maybe not a series for everyone, but if you like ordered silliness (or weird logic?)–think pun/word humour–with a backdrop of enjoyable eeriness and dismay, this might be for you!


So the way that I attacked this post, is I chose 5 classics that I quite admire or like (which, I will be frank, is not many as I am generally not a fan of this genre) and chose one of my favourite covers for it.

BookByItsCoverAsh11. Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys

I tried my best to find out who designed and did this cover but I couldn’t, and I don’t have my copy with me in the UK, so if someone figures it out I’d love to note them down and give them credit.

Wide Sargasso Sea is hands down, my favourite book of all time. The copy I had in school was battered and quite ugly to be frank but when i saw this in the store I fell in love with it all over again. It’s simple but fits with a recurring style I’ve seen in Caribbean novels. It doesn’t scream classic but it does scream pick me up, well I’m biased but I think it does. The entire book is enigmatic and the woman in the front fits that.

BookByItsCoverAsh22. Dracula by Bram Stroker

This cover is part of Penguin’s hardback Clothbound Classics series and designed by Coralie Bickford-Smith.

This entire series just makes me curl my toes and smile. As I said earlier, I am generally not a fan of the classics but I’ve wanted to pick up every single version I’ve ever seen in stores. There is something so elegant, fun and simple about every single cover. This one is naturally darker and I am intrigued by the flowers they chose for this but it suits it quite well.

You miiiight see more from this series here.

BookByItsCoverAsh33. Black Beauty by Anna Sewell

This cover is part of the Penguin Threads initiative and done by Jillian Tamaki, who is one of Nikki’s favourite artists and I’ve been fortunate to see in person. I didn’t speak to her but was just awed by her smile alone.

I love the idea of adding some flair to a classic cover through embroidery- I am a big fan of the medium and it is good to see it getting the artistic credit that it is due. The other covers in this series are also amazing. What I like about this particular one is you can feel the energy, even though it’s a 2D horse, I can see him moving and how better than to catch an eye than an embroidered horse?

BookByItsCoverAsh44. The Hobbit by J. R. R. Tolkien

This is the Special Collector’s edition in Hardback and I want it so badly. Every time I go into a book shop I just hold it and whisper one day. Again, I also have no idea who designed this cover so if someone knows, please do tell me!

Besides that, come on, what’s not to love? I love this whole series and though I have a copy already (painted by Alan Lee) but I want this one too! I’m starting to notice a preference for minimalist, highly-designed covers. I know this isn’t everyone’s cup of tea so I am interested in hearing whether you like this or not.

5. Anne of Green Gables by L.M. MontgomeryBookByItsCoverAsh6

This copy is published by Aladdin Classics series through Simon and Schuster and again, I can’t find out who did it! This struggle to give credit to artists and designers is immensely frustrating and has opened my eye to the bias in book covers- yes the book cover is amazing, but come on guys we have to give credit when we can. So pleassse, if someone owns this copy can you crack it open for me and note who did it.

Again, I like this copy because of its simplicity but integrated use of artistic mediums, such as this paper cut design. It’s understate and elegant, and definitely a version I want to purchase for my personal library.

Are there any book covers that speak to you? Illustrators or designers that make your favourite books rock?


Posted in Lists | Tagged , , , | 3 Comments

Series Review: Rain Wild Chronicles

Series: Rain Wild Chronicles
Publisher: Voyager, 2009-2011
Genre: Fantasy, Dragons!
Series Rating:
Source + Date Read: Library + June to July 2015
Recommend: For dragon lovers and fantasy buffs.
Series Pro’s: A truly epic tail set in a fascinating world.
Series Con’s: So much whining.
Favourite Line: “Death fed life.”
Blurb: Too much time has passed since the powerful dragon Tintaglia helped the people of the Trader cities stave off an invasion of their enemies. The Traders have forgotten their promises, weary of the labor and expense of tending earthbound dragons who were hatched weak and deformed by a river turned toxic. If neglected, the creatures will rampage–or die–so it is decreed that they must move farther upriver toward Kelsingra, the mythical homeland whose location is locked deep within the dragons’ uncertain ancestral memories.


Dragon KeeperHalfHeart:

I adored this first installment of the Rail Wild Chronicles. It was my first introduction to Robin Hobb and her writing style and if I could do it again, I might start with a few of her other series (apparently this follows from the The Tawny Man Series?) but I still massively enjoyed this world. There is something about her writing style, it’s so detailed and to the point. I appreciate this when so much literature tries to be excessively flowery and overly dramatic- Hobb relies on the her setting and her characters to fill the novel with drama and tension, not excessive adjectives.

I quite enjoyed this world of dragons, though I could have done without their extreme vanity and high and mighty airs. Seriously, I wouldn’t have been a good keeper to Sintara, I’d have clocked her one. I’d rather a dragon like Mercor, who has his vain qualities but was overall, much more logical and sensible.

In addition to the dragons, I greatly enjoyed Hobb’s characters. The touched Rain Wilders, their scales and claws were fascinating to me. I suffer from scalp psoriasis and it made me smile to think of it as scales, rather than well… an inflammatory skin problem. Each character brought something to the table and it was freeing to read about a diversity of people.

Dragon Haven:

Here, the characters and their dragons are truly fleshed out. I enjoyed this second installation in this epic series- especially the personal and emotional growth depicted in each character. To be honest, Sedric grew the most for me here- I didn’t enjoy his elitist mentality in the previous book (something Alise was rather quick to abandon thankfully) and though he had deplorable excuses for some pretty bad actions, he showed genuine remorse! Genuine! And I anticipate that he will only grow more into his personality and new found connection. Plus, Repelda is awesome. I love her, I love how the previously “dumb” dragons are the ones that I think show the most consideration now (well, not Spit, I like him but he’s a testy little bugger).

Hobb doesn’t shy away from diversity either. It’s a bit of a gripe for me in fantasy when everyone is not only heterosexual but also white and I was glad to get a bit of an injection here.

City Of Dragons:

You know what, I didn’t enjoy this one as much as the previous books? I think it’s because the author started to include a few more perspectives and tones, which is fine, but it isn’t exactly my cup of tea. Actually, I really don’t like it when there is more than one narrator in a book and I found myself skipping the chapters for narrators that I didn’t like. I know that they were meant to include new perspectives to the novel- views from Chalced or Tantaglia’s pain- but I really couldn’t give a darn about them! I just wanted to know how my core group were doing- Alise, Sintara, Mercor, etc.What I didn’t understand was this fascination with mating- the dragons yes- but everyone competing to find a lover was a tad confusing. They’re teenagers and I know that they are alone and have the chance of finally finding love and pleasure, but a whole chapter on which person to choose? That love triangle was massively unnecessary. Also what is Silver? I took it for a mercury-like thing.

This book was also the shortest of the bunch and I’m note entirely sure why, I think she could have combined the 3rd and 4th books to make a giant finale.

Blood of Dragons:

The epic battle concludes! Such a great finish. Again the multiple narrators were annoying but Hobb manages to tie enough loose ends but leave other plot lines open so that the reader feels pretty satisfied with how things turned out.

Of course the secret of Kelsingra could not be contained and I found myself gripped with fear for my favourites! Namely, Sedric, Alise, Thymara (who finally learned to whine a bit less and take things in stride, I really do like her but she annoyed me in the third book).

My only concern for this conclusion and it might have been my bias, I might have read it wrong, so I am really, really hoping that someone has read this series and can clarify it for me. But were the big bad Chalceds all of a “darker” hue and the “good” characters (well goodish, no one from the various towns or Rain Wilds are depicted as especially bright or morally sound) all of a lighter hue? I might have misinterpreted this so I won’t write about it too much, but did anyone else get that impression?


Overall, this series is excellent and I am very much interested in getting other books written by Robin Hobb. Somehow. My local library only had this series so I need to find a way to get the others!

Further Reading & Reviews:



Posted in Book Reviews, SFF | Tagged , , | 1 Comment