Claire x Nikki Review August 2015


Claire x Nikki Mash Ups



August: Was both our birthdays (not on the same day)! :) YAAAAY! Sadly we didn’t get to celebrate together. Boooo! :( But I went to Liverpool for the first time ever! YAY! :)


birthday happenings

And on Sunday the fella and I went to a falconry in Thirsk! Don’t ask me where that is. I just hopped in the car and was taken there! All I know is that it’s in Northern England. And it was super cool! A massive vulture named Ethel swooped (really close!!!) over my head and I let an owl named Bandit sit on my hand. YAY!

Thirsk falconry

And there’s been some really great conversation on the blog recently! Thanks, everyone! We really love chatting about books and preferences and tips and book-related observations, and you always have such great stuff to add to the discussion!


Books Read

Sadly, because my August was pretty busy/distracted I didn’t really read much at all and barely made a dent in my Asian August plans. Crumbs… I guess I’ll just continue it into September!


*actually I borrowed all the single issues that make up the fifth volume of Saga from a friend

Out by Natsuo Kirino

Book of the Month

Miscellaneous Favourites:

unbreakable kimmy schmidt

TV: Yet another feminist comedy work: Netflix original series (co-created by Tina Fey), The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt! Now, it’s not on quite the same level as Parks & Recreation for me personally–it’s a little bit more slapstick–but it was definitely a really fun two day binge session devouring the first season. The theme song is super catchy and I will definitely be watching next season.

*Claire’s 5-Cents: I approve of this new addiction, it’s not as great as Parks & Rec but still hella funny*

Food: I finally tried making pancakes (from scratch!) again after a 6-year-long hiatus following the disaster of my first ever attempt to make pancakes and this time…they were perfect!


Website: I’ve been visiting daily since my decision to really get back into French. My French teacher is so great! She’s really friendly and patient(!). I’ve been doing one lesson a week for the past six weeks and now it looks like I will be starting regular chats with a language partner or two (which is free: you just set them up with people on the site whose target language is your native one and whose native language you are trying to learn). I’ve also been trying to write “notebook posts” (little texts in my target language) regularly and francophones correct them for free and have been super helpful in answering all the questions I have about the corrections. Likewise, I’ve been trying to answer people’s language questions about English and correct notebook posts from people trying to learn English. #CommunitySpirit!

App: But I haven’t fallen off the Japanese! I don’t think I mentioned it in a favourites round up (though it really is worth of it) but I learned hiragana and katakana using the Dr Moku’s mnemonics app for my phone which was great! Then someone on told me about the Human Japanese app and I’ve been loving that too! Although I already know a lot from Dr Moku about the kana, it’s been great at giving more background information and instruction on pronunciation with little in-text activities. If you’re also learning Japanese, I recommend both apps! :)



August has been a trying month for me. I made it to the final round for a job I really wanted but didn’t get it. I just completed (more like bombed, but Nikki will row me out about not being positive enough, so let’s go with completed) two interviews in Oxford and I haven’t heard from them yet and I’m refreshing my email like crazy and I- I just need to calm the hell down.

I’ve also moved out of my hell-hole room so, if I don’t get the jobs, well, at least I have a nice room in southwest London now? I’m renting a small room in a family home (they’re Caribbean, yay!) and it’s tight, but cosy. It’s certainly warm so no complaints! They have two cats and my goal is to make Oreo and Lou-Lou like me. Somehow. I’ve already been scratched by Lou-Lou though.

As Nikki mentioned, we both turned 26 in August and though I wanted to see her, I did have a good time. I went to Kent and visited a friend and we made so much food. One night we had curry and fries and I somehow managed to make a giant curry-roti-fries sandwich that was divine. So much weight gained, but so much good food! All in all, August was trying but it did go by quickly. Now, I just need to find a job (mine runs out as of next week Friday, so, errrrrr, I am panicking).


I hardly ever buy books these days ($$$), but I received The Sleeper & The Spindle and Yes Please from my Father and Grandmother. I bought Out (for super cheap I might add, sometimes second hand is all you need to be happy), and loving it.


OMG, was that my only post for August? I AM ASHAMED.

Books Read

I didn’t get to read very much this month, I was mostly working on job applications but I did manage to squeeze these 4 in. In other news: AWWWWW NIKKI SET THIS UP FOR ME GUYS! She went on my GoodReads and noted all of the books I read! AWWWWW.

Book of the Month

Out by Natsuo KirinoNikki and I share our Book of the Month! I loved Out, and though I admit I was terribly intimidated when she chose it, I am so glad she got me to read it because now I am trying to find other books by the same author. I think they’d be absolutely brilliant. I’ve even gotten a friend into them she’s asked to borrow the book and I know she doesn’t crack spines or tear pages, so she’s good.


TV: I’ve always been a fan of NCIS, but for
some reason I decided to rewatch the entire show in August and I am currently up to season 7. I love the banter between the characters and I sort of envy it actually. They are most definitely a family! Plus, Abby, oh Abby, she’s amazing.

Uhh, other than that there hasn’t been much going on this month, did get to visit Daunt Books in Bank the other day and expect a post on that soon! I am ashamed to say that I am super addicted to this game-app on my tablet, Restaurant Story 2 where I have become a whizz at making an omelette (why do I like these games so much?!).


How was your August?


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Review: The Sleeper & The Spindle

Book: The Sleeper and the Spindle by Neil Gaiman & Illustrated by Chris Riddell
Publisher: Bloomsbury, 2014
Genre: Graphic Novel (?), picture book (?), Fantasy
Source + Date Read
: My birthday present from my father! + Finished August 2015
Recommend: For fairy tale lovers with a twist.
Book Pro’s: Such amazing art and great prose.
Book Con’s: None. None.

Summary: A thrillingly reimagined fairy tale from the truly magical combination of author Neil Gaiman and illustrator Chris Riddell – weaving together a sort-of Snow White and an almost Sleeping Beauty with a thread of dark magic, which will hold readers spellbound from start to finish. On the eve of her wedding, a young queen sets out to rescue a princess from an enchantment. She casts aside her fine wedding clothes, takes her chain mail and her sword and follows her brave dwarf retainers into the tunnels under the mountain towards the sleeping kingdom. This queen will decide her own future – and the princess who needs rescuing is not quite what she seems. Twisting together the familiar and the new, this perfectly delicious, captivating and darkly funny tale shows its creators at the peak of their talents.

More Information: GoodReads

OK, so I have a proper confession: This is my first Neil Gaiman read, my first ever! And I must say, I’m glad that I started with this one as it was such a fantastic and beautiful read.

I’ve heard about this from a few other bloggers that gave it good reviews and I pretty much decided to purchase it for my Birthday. I saw it during YALC and had a chance to flip through it quickly and I thought it was just so beautiful (seriously, it’s gorgeous) and resolved to hint to my family that it would make a good birthday present. And the book gods heard me! Because I got it!

OK, so I’d recommend this book for any fairy tale fan. Gaiman writes in such a luscious and descriptive way, that even without the gorgeous illustrations, you can picture the prose’s progression. I was also quite impressed with the illustrations in general, I’m a bit picky here nad will forgo a good graphic novel if I don’t find the art appealing. What I like is that while intricate nad immensely detailed, the illustrations aren’t trying to be perfect. It’s also quite dark and every roll and wrinkle and bloodied thorn is drawn to immense realness. It’s real without being real, does that make any sense? Riddell isn’t going for hyperrealism but a twisted, almost Burton-esque illustration style with elongated figures and twisted features.

Plot-wise, I was following it till I got to the end when I was hit by an immense twist. Wow, it totally caught me off guard! It follows through and makes sense and I must say, I am immensely impressed with the protagonist: she is a mighty Queen that any reader should aspire to (she takes no BS and commands full control over her realm and life).

All in all, I’m a big fan of this book and would recommend it to any Gaiman lover or fairy tale fan.

Further Reading & Reviews:


Posted in Book Reviews, YA | Tagged , , , | 3 Comments

Claire & Nikki Book Club Review :: Out (アウト)

The Book Club:

“At the end of May I was feeling sort of “meh” about the Goodreads book clubs I’m part of. No offence meant to them at all! I like them. But they’re just so BIG that the books I’m particularly interested in don’t often (read: ever?) get picked and there doesn’t feel like there’s enough incentive to take part sometimes. I wanted something that was smaller so, even if I’m not super jazzed about every single book, I feel motivated to read each one because I knew the other member(s) of the book club are reading too and because of the discussion that will ensue.

SO, of course, I voice messaged Claire about it and we decided on a book within the hour!

How it works is that one of us will pick the book one month and the other will pick the book for the next month.”

This month was Nikki’s choice: Out (アウト) by Natsuo Kirino.


Out by Natsuo Kirino

Book: Out (アウト) by Natsuo Kirino
Publisher: Vintage, 2004 (first published 1997)
Genre: Crime/Thriller

Summary: Natsuo Kirino’s novel tells a story of random violence in the staid Tokyo suburbs, as a young mother who works a night shift making boxed lunches brutally strangles her deadbeat husband and then seeks the help of her co-workers to dispose of the body and cover up her crime. The ringleader of this cover-up, Masako Katori, emerges as the emotional heart of Out and as one of the shrewdest, most clear-eyed creations in recent fiction. Masako’s own search for a way out of the straitjacket of a dead-end life leads her, too, to take drastic action. The complex yet riveting narrative seamlessly combines a convincing glimpse into the grimy world of Japan’s yakuza with a brilliant portrayal of the psychology of a violent crime and the ensuing game of cat-and-mouse between seasoned detectives and a group of determined but inexperienced criminals. Kirino has mastered a Thelma and Louise kind of graveyard humor than illuminators her stunning evocation of the pressures and prejudices that drive women to extreme deeds and the friendship that bolsters them in the aftermath.
More Information: GoodReads

Nikki’s Thoughts & Rating:

*Spoilers are indicated like thisAny struck-through text from this point on is a spoiler.

This was such a fun read! There were so many more threads involved than I expected and I loved seeing how they knotted together then watching it all unravel. There were unexpected twists when you thought you knew exactly what was going to happen, but didn’t. And there were turns when exactly what you feared and thought wouldn’t be allowed to happen (because if it did, how could there be so many pages left!!??) happened anyway.

The story is told in a multiple split narrative (all in third person if I remember correctly) and this works really well for the story. Sometimes people’s perspectives overlap a little bit chronologically but I didn’t find it disorienting at all.

I love the cultural insight into Japan. I love the feminist overtones. It goes deeper than what we usually witness from other famous (but male) Japanese writers by going against the “submissive Japanese women” stereotype and I’m all for subverting crappy gender stereotypes. And, most of all, I love all the female interactions. But especially the lady friendship between Masako and Yoshie. How can you not love that? I don’t know. I love them. Great duo. It’s funny because I never really got the sense the any of the characters were terribly close to each other before everything went down–just that Masako is pretty protective of Yayoi–but Masako and Yoshie have such a great respect for each other and I feel like their friendship grew over the course of the ordeal they go through.

However, for me, it isn’t perfect. I suspect my issues could be due to cultural misunderstanding…but I really don’t think so and here is why. The social commentary isn’t subtle. At all. And that’s what makes the ‘Stockholm syndrome’-esque episode that suddenly strikes strong-willed Masako seem so out of character and, frankly, it almost felt like it pandered to a weird problematic ideas about women and rape and so on. I did not like that. At all. It feels like she comes to her senses in the very very very end (like last paragraph of last page or something), but it made me uncomfortable to read. I wondered if that was a bit of pandering so it could be published in what seems like a society which can sometimes be pretty restrictive and very patriarchal.

Sadly, I also felt like the major problem had petered out a little and was maybe swept aside prematurely and the second obstacle (which would become the main climax) felt a little like a derail… But it was still interesting.

Be aware that there is a lot of blood and gore and sexual content. Some of it is problematic. That said, I would definitely recommend this book.

rating: ★★★★☆ (4.5 stars)

Nikki’s favourite line(s):

I’m half Japanese,’ he wanted to shout. ‘I’m a Japanese citizen.’ But to these people, anyone who didn’t share their facial features, who didn’t speak their language, just wasn’t one of them. In the end, he decided the Japanese as a whole tended to judge most things by their appearance; and the idea of fellowship, which his mother had taken for granted and which involved going beyond appearances, was something few people here were actually willing to follow up on. The day he realised that his face and physique would forever consign him to the status of a gaijin, Kazuo gave up on Japan.


When stones lying warm in the sun were turned over, they exposed the cold, damp earth underneath; and that was where Masako had burrowed deep. There was no trace of warmth in this dark earth, yet for a bug curled up tight in it, it was a peaceful and familiar world.

DividerClaire’s Thoughts & Rating:

So when I first got my hands on this, and also when Nikki told me what she had chosen, I was very confused and to be frank, a little bit irked. I’m not a huge fan of translated works, I had to read a ton of it during my IB degree so I’ve since avoided it. However, because Nikki bought The Long Song even though she has since gone on to dislike it, I bought it anyway. Warning, this book has gratuitous details of violence, sexual assault and rape, so massive trigger warnings.

Now, on to the book! It’s amazing. I give Nikki kudos for choosing an amazing novel. The best part of this are the characters, Masako is a cold, callous amazing person who is the product of years of apathy and disregard. She’s amazing, and not because she’s terrifying and does a ton of semi-bad stuff, but because she’s honest and blunt and resourceful. It felt good to read a book with people that are so fundamentally flawed and real and raw. Additionally, it raises a number of quandaries. I found myself questioning my notions of good and bad in this book, because everyone does things that are just so wrong but they do it with pure ignorance and yet purpose in their hearts. I don’t know if it is because the book is a translation, but everything is blunt. There isn’t the crazy fluffy writing you’d read in a Western thriller, it’s blunt and dirty and enthralling.

The only part that confused me was the ending, I both don’t like and yet do like it? Masako goes through some serious stuff and yet she cleaves to her attacker, she develops a sort of connection and that makes no darn sense.

Overall, I’d give this 4 hearts out of 5, and can I just say I’m surprised Nikki’s review is so short? But it’s amazing, yes, as usual.

Claire’s Favourite Line:

“You know,” she murmured, “we’re all heading straight to hell.”
“Yes,” said Masako, giving her a bleak look. “It’s like riding downhill with no brakes.”
“You mean, there’s no way to stop?”
“No, you stop all right – when you crash.”


Have you read this book yet?

If you have, what did you think? If you haven’t, do you want to?

September’s Book Club choice is Claire’s and she chose…

Claire’s Note: Oh man… I feel like Nikki is going to hate me for this.

Claire’s Update (Tuesday, Septeber 1st, 2015): NOPE, NOPE, NOPE. I can’t find the book at the library and after I thought about it, this doesn’t seem like the type of book that Nikki might fully enjoy and after what I put her through in The Long Song, I have to make a good choice! So the new and improved Bitches With Books Book Club September 2015 pick is…

And I know for a fact Nikki is happy with this choice.


Posted in Book Reviews, Thriller | Tagged , , , , | 6 Comments

2015 Reading Challenges: Quarterly Check-In, August (Claire)

readingchallenges2015No need for a personal update (if you’ve been keeping up with our new end of month posts that is!), so I’ll dive right into the reading challenge bit. By the way, a link will take you to my review or the challenge page.

Non-Fiction Reading Challenge

Dilettante: 5 books

  1. The Brilliant History of Color in Art by Victoria Finlay
  2. Introducing Semiotics: A Graphic Guide by Paul Cobley

Claire’s 5-Cents: I’ve bought a bunch of nonfiction so I anticipate that I’ll complete this by the time December rolls in.

Women Challenge

Level 3: SUPER GIRL – read 16 to 20 books written by a woman author.

  1. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix by J. K. Rowling
  2. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince by J. K. Rowling
  3. The Sin Eater’s Daughter (The Sin Eater’s Daughter #1) by Malinda Salisbury
  4. The Buried Life (The Buried Life, #1) by Carrie Patel
  5. The Voyage of the Basilisk (Memoir by Lady Trent, #3) by Marie Brennan
  6. The Brilliant History of Color in Art by Victoria Finlay
  7. Uprooted by Naomi Novak
  8. Monstrous Beauty by Elizabeth Fama
  9. The Bees by Laline Paull
  10. The Bone Dragon by Alexia Casale
  11. Runemarks (Runemarks #1) by Joanne Harris
  12. A Darker Shade of Magic (A Darker Shade of Magic #1) by V. E. Schwab
  13. The Darkest Part of the Forest by Holly Black
  14. The Bone Season (Bone Season #1) by Samantha Shannon
  15. The Mime Order (Bone Season #2) by Samantha Shannon
  16. We Need New Names by NoViolet Bulawayo
  17. Daughter of Smoke & Bone (Daughter of Smoke & Bone #1) by Laini Taylor
  18. Days of Blood & Starlight (Daughter of Smoke & Bone #2) by Laini Taylor
  19. The Dragon Keeper (Rain Wild Chronicles #1) by Robin Hobb
  20. Dragon Haven (Rain Wild Chronicles #2) by Robin Hobb

Claire’s 5-Cents: BOOM! Done! And I’ve read an additional 3 that I didn’t list here! By the end of the year I anticipate that I’d easily half of my 75 target will be by women authors.

Diversity on the Shelf Challenge

Third Shelf: Read 13 – 18 books with POC protagonists or written by POC.

  1. Harrison Squared by Daryl Gregory
  2. We Need New Names by NoViolet Bulawayo

Claire’s 5-Cents: I repeat, I am really not doing well on this challenge and I am absolutely shocked that I’m not. Seriously, I’m shocked which is why taking this challenge is so necessary, it makes me realise that I’m not as aware of diversity gaps as I thought.

GoodReads Reading Challenge

Level: 75 Books

Completed: 70 books.

Claire’s 5-Cents: I’m so close, so very close and it will be good to finish it. Even though I’m trying to hit 70, I’d like to get to 100.

Dragons and Jetpacks Reading Challenge

Level: 30 books

Completed: 30 books.

Claire’s 5-Cents: I’ve read 30 sci-fi and fantasy books this year, yay!

Are you doing any challenges this year? How’s it going?


Posted in Reading Challenges | Tagged | 1 Comment

Claire & Nikki Book Club Review :: The Long Song

A bit about the Book Club:

Nicole: I feel like I should explain the Book Club a little bit before just jumping straight into this post. At the end of May I was feeling sort of “meh” about the Goodreads book clubs I’m part of. No offence meant to them at all! I like them. But they’re just so BIG that the books I’m particularly interested in don’t often (read: ever?) get picked and there doesn’t feel like there’s enough incentive to take part sometimes. I wanted something that was smaller so, even if I’m not super jazzed about every single book, I feel motivated to read each one because I knew the other member(s) of the book club are reading too and because of the discussion that will ensue.

SO, of course, I voice messaged Claire about it and we decided on a book within the hour!

How it works is that one of us will pick the book one month and the other will pick the book for the next month.

DividerThis Last month (July), was Claire’s choice: The Long Song by Andrea Levy.

Nikki and I had the same version for once!

Book: The Long Song by Andrea Levy
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2010
Genre: Literary Fiction/ Caribbean

Summary: You do not know me yet. My son Thomas, who is publishing this book, tells me, it is customary at this place in a novel to give the reader a little taste of the story that is held within these pages. As your storyteller, I am to convey that this tale is set in Jamaica during the last turbulent years of slavery and the early years of freedom that followed. July is a slave girl who lives upon a sugar plantation named Amity and it is her life that is the subject of this tale. She was there when the Baptist War raged in 1831, and she was present when slavery was declared no more. My son says I must convey how the story tells also of July’s mama Kitty, of the negroes that worked the plantation land, of Caroline Mortimer the white woman who owned the plantation and many more persons besides – far too many for me to list here. But what befalls them all is carefully chronicled upon these pages for you to peruse. Perhaps, my son suggests, I might write that it is a thrilling journey through that time in the company of people who lived it. All this he wishes me to pen so the reader can decide if this is a novel they might care to consider. Cha, I tell my son, what fuss-fuss. Come, let them just read it for themselves
More Information: GoodReads

Claire’s Thoughts & Rating:

OK, so I chose this for July and the review is quite late, yes but let me first say that I expected a bit more from this book.

I’m a big fan of Caribbean literature and I’ve heard many great things from this author, some might be more familiar with her other works: Small Island or Fruit of the Lemon, and I know she has a bit of a fan following in the UK. Small Island and A Long Song have both been made into tv series/ films so, as you get the point, it’s popular.

Let me first start with what I did like: the book doesn’t shy away from horror or discomfort. I am a fan of July and her brief moments are those that I cherish the most in the book. Levy is obviously a very good writer and she is unafraid and bold, I have to admire that in a book that details the cruelty and injustice of slavery. It isn’t an easy topic and Levy doesn’t play shy, you have to respect that! (Nikki, agree? eh?).

Now, unfortunately, I will start with what I didn’t enjoy so much. First was the inclusion of Jamaican dialect, it sounded forced and unconvincing. I don’t say this as someone who grew up hearing dialect, but reading it in my head it sounded massively stilted. When author Stacey Ann Chin does it (a biography that I have reviewed in the past), it flowed and was melodic, indeed, Jamaican creole is massively melodic and emotional and intuitive (it is so sing-songy). It just didn’t work for me. I’m not sure how Nikki felt about it so I am massively interested in hearing her thoughts on this!

Second, it’s just not the most engaging or quick read. I know I picked this book, mostly because I felt like I needed to broaden my literary horizons this year (as you’ll see in next week’s post when I chart my progress in my challenges, they’ve pretty much been all fantasy books by men, a few women and predominately Anglo). I don’t think I thought enough about it, I’m a quick reader and I couldn’t enjoy it quickly and Nikki, who isn’t a quick reader, might find it too slow as well! We’ll see (I don’t read her reviews till they come out, so I can have the pleasure of gasping and commenting, mwuahaha).

Claire’s favourite line(s):

“Laugh as much as you breathe and love as long as you live”


Nicole’s Thoughts & Rating:

MAJOR DISCLAIMER: This is all going to sound REALLY harsh, but I don’t hate the book. I just didn’t like it. And in my efforts to be accurate about my feelings, I think this is probably going to sound like a really intense barrage of hatred because I don’t have any good points to pull out… But I didn’t hate it and I hold no grudges against it.

Oooookay. I was looking forward to this book because I want to read more Caribbean books because I haven’t really read many. But I do have some reservations that are difficult to put into words.

This was a tough read for me. So tough that (and I feel horrible about this) I just could not finish it… But it was not all a loss! As with many books that I disliked, I learned a lot of things about my tastes and critique often brings out interesting discussion.

First, let’s take a look at the first set of notes I made while I was reading:

long song notes

20 pages of reiteration UPON reiteration UPON reiteration UPON reiteration…..

We weren’t off to the best start, so let’s just jump straight in the deep end.

I really hate the way this book is written. If you can’t break the fourth wall well (few can), then don’t. Just don’t. I hate when books constantly address to reader: So, reader, you will have to forgive my long boring story because… It immediately takes me out of the story. She describes her writing the story and talking to her son or whatever and stories within stories are also not my favourite…I think they can be done okay, but it’s hard to please me on either of those fronts.

I also have to just come out and say, once and for all: I’m not into slavery stories. It’s not because I find them shocking or anything. I find them boring. I know the stories. I can image all manner of slave story possibilities. I have yet to come across one that surprised me at all in any way. I’m under no misconceptions about it not being as tough as it was. I know about the rapes. I know about the house slaves. I know about the passers. I know about the hard trials in the fields. I know about the black slave masters and overseers. I know about the torture punishments. I know about the splitting up of families. I know about the squalid living conditions. I know about the “people treated worse than vermin” aspects of things. Find me a slavery story that has something new to show me and I will give you a unicorn swimming in a leprechaun’s bowl of gold coins. That said, I think it’s clear there are a lot of people out there who are obviouslypainfully unaware of the things that happened during those times. I think it’s hard as f*ck to get a slavery story right and this one didn’t do it for me. (I can’t actually think of a book or film or anything that has…)

I felt the violent slavery bits in this elicited no emotion in me. It all felt detached and just for show. I felt like I was being patronised. I don’t know how to fix this.

I thought the writing overall was poor and the fake ‘old timey’ talk was cringey and clumsy. I don’t know how many times she said the word “upon”, but I can tell you now that I read a lot of classics from actual “old times” and I can’t recall coming across the word “upon” even once. It feels out of place. Anachronistic. Inauthentic. Forced.

Sort of related to the “upon” thing: I have no idea what was going on with the way everyone spoke! What? I don’t know. It was like some of the sentence was in sort of a non-Caribbean person’s idea of a Caribbean accent and the rest was written normally… It makes for choppy, awkward speech.

And that’s how I feel about the book on the whole; it just felt inauthentic and forced. I think it works better as a comedy than anything else. But even then, it was too flat and slow and stilted because of the constant fourth-wall-breaking and narrator talking-to-her-son gimmick to hold my attention.

I’m a fairly slow reader and, while I don’t actually mind slow stories, it can’t be a painful read. I will not be picking up any more of Ms Levy’s books. She and I just…we’re not meant for each other.

Despite all my qualms with it, this book was nominated for a Man Booker Prize in 2010. I hope that wasn’t just a token nomination (though I sure don’t understand it otherwise…), but it’s worth knowing that there are literary bodies out there who think much more highly of this book than I do. You might love it.

Rating: ★☆☆☆☆

Nicole’s Favourite Line:



Have you read this book?

If you have, what did you think? If you haven’t, do you want to?

Posted in Book Reviews, Caribbean, Historical Fiction | Tagged , , , | 9 Comments

Holiday Reading


illustration by Tom Gauld

I’m not going on holiday this summer (booo) and, although I don’t think too much about what I bring, I like to bring some good books along. It’s usually just one of the many books I’m currently reading. But I guess I tend to lean on faster-paced contemporary reads instead of my usual classics and heavier reads. Non-fiction of the pop-science/pop-psychology variety is always a hit with me too. Just anything you can dip in and out of easily in between your holiday activities or for reading in a long go while in transport. Last time I was on vacation I sped through RJ Palacio’s Wonder (wiping my eyes as inconspicuously as possible). Right now I’m reading Out by Natsuo Kirino.

What types of books do you like to take on holiday?

Do you have any recommendations?

Posted in Discussions | Tagged , , | 14 Comments

Books in Translation

large Google Translate FP Wide
Disclaimer: I’m talking about books translated into English, but the same things apply to books translated from/to any language.

When I’m reading, I usually don’t notice the writing style unless it is awkward or incredibly fluid. The latter usually only stands out to me if the story fell flat because I couldn’t help but keep reading for some reason! Otherwise, I think really good writing often goes unnoticed for me unless I consciously think about it. As it should! I think writing style, unless it’s doing something unusual, like design, shouldn’t be obtrusive or really noticed… (Maybe that’s controversial? I don’t know. What do you guys think about that?)

But every time I read a book in translation whose writing style I love/hate, I think…should I be praising/criticising the author for those smooth/awkward sentences and beautiful/nonsensical metaphors…or the translator?

Haruki Murakami is fluent in English and, apparently, he proofreads and approves all English translations of his books. To me, that means I can praise or slate the writing style all I want knowing that the author was not only intimately involved in the process, but also put his final seal on it basically saying “Yes! That’s what I was saying and that’s how I intended to say it.”

But what about non-English-speaking authors who can’t provide that kind of quality control? Should I blame them if their book was badly written or the translator? (Well, there doesn’t have to be any “blame” at all, but I’ll probably mention it when reviewing if I think the writing is noticeably great or horrible…Who made it that way?) After all, there are so many ways to translate something. For example, it could be:

  • A direct/word-for-word/literal translation
  • A translation of the overall mood/feel where events aren’t always completely true to the original..almost translating the culture into English equivalents too
  • A modern translation (or older books/or classics) using contemporary terms for older/antiquated language

None of these translations are better or worse than any others. But if you’re reading a conversation that seems stiff and awkward, is it because the source material was that way or because the translator did a bad job? Is it really a translator’s job to cover up an author’s bad writing? How much creative license does a translator really have? When translating for an audience with a different culture, how many changes are needed? Should nothing be changed at all and the audience just be expected to look into the culture rather than the translator finding an acceptable cultural equivalent??

Obviously the answers will all change depending on the circumstances under which the book is being published and there’s no across the board answer… But these are things I sometimes wonder about when reading books in translation…

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Asian August

It dawned on me today that, by pure chance, I have a lot of books from the Asian region that I am currently reading or have lined up to read soon, so I figured I might make August “Asian August” where I just focus on books from that area.

So here’s a look at the books I’m planning to finish/read this month.

Currently Reading:

please look after mother

“This is the stunning, deeply moving story of a family’s search for their mother, who goes missing one afternoon amid the crowds of the Seoul Station subway.

Told through the piercing voices and urgent perspectives of a daughter, son, husband, and mother, Please Look After Mother* is at once an authentic picture of contemporary life in Korea and a universal story of family love.”

*Please Look After Mom in America.

Republic of Korea

54% finished


Out by Natsuo Kirino“[Out] tells a story of random violence in the staid Tokyo suburbs, as a young mother who works a night shift making boxed lunches brutally strangles her deadbeat husband and then seeks the help of her co-workers to dispose of the body and cover up her crime.The ringleader of this cover-up, Masako Katori, emerges as the emotional heart of Out and as one of the shrewdest, most clear-eyed creations in recent fiction. Masako’s own search for a way out of the straitjacket of a dead-end life leads her, too, to take drastic action.
The complex yet riveting narrative seamlessly combines a convincing glimpse into the grimy world of Japan’s yakuza with a brilliant portrayal of the psychology of a violent crime and the ensuing game of cat-and-mouse between seasoned detectives and a group of determined but inexperienced criminals. Kirino has mastered a Thelma and Louise kind of graveyard humour than illuminators her stunning evocation of the pressures and prejudices that drive women to extreme deeds and the friendship that bolsters them in the aftermath.”


20% finished

Botchan by Natsume Sōseki

Botchan, a hilarious tale about a young man’s rebellion against “the system” in a country school, is a classic of its kind. Among Japanese readers both young and old it has enjoyed a timeless popularity.

The setting is Japan’s deep south, where the author himself spent some time teaching English in a boys’ school. Into this conservative world, with its social proprieties and established pecking order, breezes Botchan, down from the big city, with scant respect for either his elders or his noisy young charges; and the result is a chain of collisions large and small.”


24% finished

potential TBR (more a list of options than a definitive list of “will reads”):

Kafka on the Shore by Haruki MurakamiKafka on the Shore is the latest novel by Japan’s leading literary novelist, who developed a world-wide cult reputation with Norwegian Wood. In Kafka on the Shore, Murakami continues with his remarkable combination of profound insight into humankind with a totally credible touch of the fantastical – a unique tour de force.

The teenager Kafka Tamura goes on the run and holes up in a strange library in a small country town. Concurrently, Nakata, a finder of lost cats, goes on a puzzling odyssey across Japan. Only gradually do we find how these stories interweave.”


23 Things They Don't Tell You About Capitalism“If you’ve wondered how we did not see the economic collapse coming, Ha-Joon Chang knows the answer: We didn’t ask what they didn’t tell us about capitalism. This is a lighthearted book with a serious purpose: to question the assumptions behind the dogma and sheer hype that the dominant school of neoliberal economists-the apostles of the freemarket-have spun since the Age of Reagan.
Chang, the author of the international bestseller “Bad Samaritans,” is one of the world’s most respected economists, a voice of sanity-and wit-in the tradition of John Kenneth Galbraith and Joseph Stiglitz. 23 Things They Don’t Tell You About Capitalism equips readers with an understanding of how global capitalism works-and doesn’t. In his final chapter, “How to Rebuild the World,” Chang offers a vision of how we can shape capitalism to humane ends, instead of becoming slaves of the market.”

Republic of Korea

The Guest Cat by Takashi Hiraide“A couple in their thirties live in a small rented cottage in a quiet part of Tokyo. They work at home as freelance writers. They no longer have very much to say to one another.

One day a cat invites itself into their small kitchen. She is a beautiful creature. She leaves, but the next day comes again, and then again and again. New, small joys accompany the cat; the days have more light and colour. Life suddenly seems to have more promise for the husband and wife; they go walking together, talk and share stories of the cat and its little ways, play in the nearby garden. But then something happens that will change everything again.”


Twenty Fragments of a Ravenous Youth“Twenty-one year old Fenfang Wang has traveled one thousand eight hundred miles to seek her fortune in contemporary urban Beijing, and has no desire to return to the drudgery of the sweet potato fields back home. However, Fenfang is ill-prepared for what greets her: a Communist regime that has outworn its welcome, a city under rampant destruction and slap-dash development, and a sexist attitude seemingly more in keeping with her peasant upbringing than the country’s progressive capital. Yet Fenfang is determined to live a modern life. With courage and purpose, she forges ahead, and soon lands a job as a film extra. While playing roles like ‘woman-walking-over-the-bridge’ and ‘waitress-wiping-a-table’ help her eke out a meagre living, Fenfang comes under the spell of two unsuitable young men, keeps her cupboard stocked with UFO noodles, and after mastering the fever and tumult of the city, ultimately finds her true independence in the one place she never expected.

At once wry and moving, Twenty Fragments of a Ravenous Youth gives us a clear-eyed glimpse into the precarious and fragile state of China’s new identity and asserts Xiaolu Guo as her generation’s voice of modern China.”


The Woman Warrior by Maxine Hong Kingston“With an introduction by Xiaolu Guo A classic memoir set during the Chinese revolution of the 1940s and inspired by folklore, providing a unique insight into the life of an immigrant in America. When we Chinese girls listened to the adults talking-story, we learned that we failed if we grew up to be but wives or slaves. We could be heroines, swordswomen. Throughout her childhood, Maxine Hong Kingston listened to her mother’s mesmerising tales of a China where girls are worthless, tradition is exalted and only a strong, wily woman can scratch her way upwards. Growing up in a changing America, surrounded by Chinese myth and memory, this is her story of two cultures and one trenchant, lyrical journey into womanhood. Complex and beautiful, angry and adoring, Maxine Hong Kingston’s The Woman Warrior is a seminal piece of writing about emigration and identity. It won the National Book Critics Circle Award in 1976 and is widely hailed as a feminist classic.”


So that’s what’s hopefully on the cards for me this month! I doubt I’ll get to all of them and I suspect—with my reading personality—I will bounce about elsewhere too… But I’m hoping to get to at least a few of these because they all sound right up my alley.

In related and slightly bizarre news, I’ve started learning Japanese! It took me a long time to decide between learning Japanese or Korean (the Korean writing system is so simple and also beautiful), but in the end I (sort of arbitrarily) decided to go for Japanese. I wouldn’t say I have any particular vested interest in Japan and I actually can’t think of a single (non-anime) Japanese film that I like/remember in contrast with the many South Korean films I’ve loved… BUT Japan won out for whatever reason and now I’ve started down this road and I’m gonna damn well just keep right on truckin’! hahah

I’ve actually been dedicating more time to refreshing my French recently with the help of a language website called italki* where you can get feedback on your writing from native speakers and you can get lessons from professional teachers and it’s been going really well. I had my first italki French speaking lesson last week Friday with a really great French teacher. It made me realise how much spoken French I can actually understand with little effort even at average speed, but also how terrible I am with speaking! I get super nervous and clam up and the words don’t come to me and I stumble over my grammar and it’s just a blinding hot mess. BUT that’s what lessons are for! I’ve always leaned heavily on writing and reading (…as in real life to some extent) but I want to be able to function well in all aspects of normal French conversation. It was through italki that I somehow started to think it might be interesting to learn an asian language… So here I am learning Japanese!

If anyone is interested, I found this really great resource called Dr Moku’s mnemonics which is great for learning hiragana and katakana (two of the three writing systems you need to get started with Japanese if you plan to be able to read and/or write anything). I was super intimidated at first because each of those has so many characters. In fact, I was considering skipping the writing systems altogether and just dealing with romanji (Japanese words written in the latin alphabet) and only speaking and listening which would be a whole new experience with language learning for me and might have been an interesting approach to take. But then I watched a YouTube video where someone mentioned Dr Moku and how easy it made learning the writing systems and I thought I’d just give it a shot.

I ended up able to identify all the hiragana basic characters and their modified forms (which takes you up to a total of 61 characters) in about two hours of super casual in-and-out ‘study’ with the app on my phone. FANTASTIC! I think katakana’s going to be more difficult because it’s basically the same sounds but with different symbols so I’ll tackle that next week after spending this week just redoing more and more hiragana drills I think. All the while, I’ll be trying to remember more kanji (apparently at about 2000 characters is when you start to become really functional and I’m at about 11. Oy vey!). But I’m not on any time limit and, weirdly, I don’t actually particularly care about fluency in Japanese at the end of all this. I mean, that’d be really cool too, but I just wanted a fun language challenge that I don’t have any plans to necessarily use. (I’m also dabbling in German on the side.)


Let me know if you are interested in reading any of the books I listed above this month. Maybe we can have a read-along or discuss thoughts later!

*If you decide to try italki and use my referral link we’ll both get 100 ITC (which is enough for a free trial lesson from most teachers – both community and professional).

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