Review: Slow Boat, by Hideo Furukawa

Boku has an uneasy preoccupation with dreams – and with making and losing lovers. And when he first runs away from Tokyo, his dreams and his reality gradually start to shift and overlap. This is a story of three failed escapes – and the loss of three girlfriends in the process. The first girlfriend is taken away, the second runs away, and the third is sent away by Boku himself.

A startling tale about the anguished battle to escape oneself, this structurally complex and fascinating novella is both a homage to Haruki Murakami and a stunning piece of magical realism.


What a lovely, unusual, weird little book this was!

I started the story a little disoriented; it took me a couple of chapters to settle into the fluid motion of the storytelling. Essentially an account of his life from childhood to adulthood by way of nine different ‘boats’ or significant events, out narrator Boku tells the story from his present day in 2002, following three failed attempts to leave Tokyo.

“This is my botched Tokyo Exodus, the chronicle of my failures.”

Furukawa plays with language beautifully throughout the book; highlighting the limitations of Japanese and flitting between ideas and scenes with a smoothly sporadic rhythm. The city of Tokyo and its sprawling boundaries is a character in itself, a constant foe that foils Boku’s plans; and he hates the city in return.

Over the course of his three failed escapes, he loses three girlfriends, all of whom have tried and succeeded in escaping something or somewhere. Boku, as well as never making reference to his own name; doesn’t name a one of them either. They are ‘the girl’ or ‘my girlfriend’, each a memory of something else that Tokyo has taken from him.

Boku’s relationship with dreams and the way they define his life are a significant part of his chronicle. A recurring dream sequence, which he visits several times, each from a slightly different angle; reminded me very strongly of a scene from The Angel’s Game by Carlos Ruiz Rafón – fantastical, languid, moving as if through water.

At the end of the book, Furukawa pays homage to Haruki Murakami and his tribute to him through Slow Boat. Fans of Murakami will certainly enjoy this quirky offering!

slow boat

Review: These Dividing Walls, by Fran Cooper

One Parisian summer
A building of separate lives
All that divides them will soon collapse… 

In a forgotten corner of Paris stands a building.

Within its walls, people talk and kiss, laugh and cry; some are glad to sit alone, while others wish they did not. A woman with silver-blonde hair opens her bookshop downstairs, an old man feeds the sparrows on his windowsill, and a young mother wills the morning to hold itself at bay. Though each of their walls touches someone else’s, the neighbours they pass in the courtyard remain strangers.

Into this courtyard arrives Edward. Still bearing the sweat of a channel crossing, he takes his place in an attic room to wait out his grief.

But in distant corners of the city, as Paris is pulled taut with summer heat, there are those who meet with a darker purpose. As the feverish metropolis is brought to boiling point, secrets will rise and walls will crumble both within and without Number 37…


These Dividing Walls is the debut novel from Fran Cooper. The story follows the inter-woven stories of the residents of Number 37, on a street in the suburbs of Paris.

What’s The Story?

Edward arrives at number 37 a grieving, lost Englishman. In an attempt to get past the sudden death of his sister, a friend has loaned him use of her apartment in Paris. As he settles into life in the apartment block, he comes to meet many other residents, each dealing with their own personal issues and hiding their own secrets.

The Review

I found this book very refreshing in that it portrays the good, the bad, and the ugly of Parisian society (and indeed society the world over). When you pick up a book set in Paris; you instinctively expect shiny arrondissements, la rive gauche, sophisticated and put-together protagonists and a rosy sheen on the French capital. What the reader actually gets in These Dividing Walls is a presentation of the normal, everyday Parisians on the outskirts of the city; away from the dazzling lights of the Eiffel Tower and the Champs Elysées.

Between them, the residents of Number 37 represent a cross-section of the sentiments, struggles and everyday trials of husbands and wives, parents and children. There are some very likeable characters, like Frédérique, the aunt of Edward’s apartment-owning friend who lives in a stunning and spacious ground floor home in the same building; working every so often in her art book shop. She brings Edward out of his solitude, recognising in him the same loss she feels in her own soul; and together they help each other to heal. In young mum Anaïs, Cooper sensitively but accurately depicts the overwhelming sea of emotions that accompanies postnatal depression; as she struggles through a life with three small children, a shell of her former self.

The underlying theme which runs throughout the book, affecting all of the characters; is that of xenophobia in an age of increased immigration, and the way this affects lives. An air of fear and anger sits over the Paris of These Dividing Walls, fuelled and exploited by far-right dissidents; denied and ignored by the richer arrondissements; and we see the characters deal with this situation in different ways. Some of the residents, who have arrived bitter and twisted into their older age; ooze spite and venom in the face of that which is different to them, others beat them down with open-minded acceptance that yes; bad things happen, but no; the actions of the few do not represent the beliefs of the many.

The rumbling undercurrent of rebellion comes to a head at the end of the book, when all the residents find themselves drawn in some way into the events taking over the city.

There is no neat wrap-up at the end of These Dividing Walls, which is another point I very much liked about this book. The final message is that, through grief, betrayal, terror; life continues forward – for the residents, as well as for us.


These Dividing Walls is a fantastic and contemporary debut from Fran Cooper, due for publication on 4th May.

With thanks to NetGalley and Hodder & Stoughton for the ARC.




Review: The President’s Gardens, by Muhsin Al-Ramli

Today, I am reviewing The President’s Gardens, by Muhsin Al-Ramli (translated by Luke Leafgren). It’s a stunning and moving portrait of 3 friends and their lives through the Iraqi conflicts of the 1980s to early 2000s.

What’s it about?

Here is the publisher’s blurb for the book:

On the third day of Ramadan, the village wakes to find the severed heads of nine of its sons stacked in banana crates by the bus stop. One of them belonged to one of the most wanted men in Iraq, known to his friends as Ibrahim the Fated. How did this good and humble man earn the enmity of so many? What did he do to deserve such a death? 

The answer lies in his lifelong friendship with Abdullah Kafka and Tariq the Befuddled, who each have their own remarkable stories to tell.

It lies on the scarred, irradiated battlefields of the Gulf War and in the ashes of a revolution strangled in its cradle. 

It lies in the steadfast love of his wife and the festering scorn of his daughter. 

And, above all, it lies behind the locked gates of The President’s Gardens, buried alongside the countless victims of a pitiless reign of terror.

The Story                                                                                               

The President’s Gardens follows the lives of three friends from childhood, through conflict and war, up to the Iraq War from 2003. Ibrahim ‘The Fated’, Abdullah ‘Kafka’ and Tariq ‘The Befuddled’ meet as toddlers and become the best of friends, always together; until they are separated by the Iraq-Iran war of 1980. When they are finally all brought together once again, the impact of the years of conflict have changed them forever.

The book opens with an early morning scene in which a shepherd, Isma’il, discovers the heads of 9 of the village men in banana crates in the main street; one of these men being Ibrahim. From that point, the book returns back to the three friends’ childhood, and tracks the story back to that day.

The Review

There is a LOT to love about The President’s Gardens. It is a powerful, powerful book.

Lots of details, characters and events are thrown at the reader over the first few chapters, which are then re-visited and explained over the course of the book. I did find it difficult to keep track for a while – to the point that I wished I had written myself notes on who was who – but after a while the story settles down into an easier to follow narrative.

Al-Ramli’s descriptions and portrayals of Iraqi life are detailed and intricate. The closeness and havoc of village life and relationships are presented in sharp contrast to the opulent, indulgent grandeur of Baghdad and the Presidential palaces of the second half of the book. There is an obvious scorning of the excessive wealth of the President and those in power around him; with a whole pages dedicated to a monologue describing the vast palaces with golden taps and door handles, cars, gardens, swimming pools and portraits.

The overwhelming and all-destroying spectre of war is a constant in this book, and shapes the characters of the 3 protagonists in different ways. Al-Ramli does not shy away from graphic depictions of the treatment of enemy soldiers and prisoners of war, and there were several points where I had to look away from the page for a moment before I could continue reading. However, there are also some truly beautiful moments in the book – Ibrahim’s final day with his wife, for example; is incredibly emotive and reminiscent of a couple in the first throes of love, as opposed to a long-married husband and wife.

The characters of the three protagonists are all very different. The backbone of the story; Ibrahim accepts everything that happens around him – the war, his losses, the turn of events that brings him to his death – as fate, and the way things must be. This is how he gets through his life, and the cruel twists of his fate that it continually throws at him.

Abdullah is given to seeing the worst in every situation, and after his time in the war loses all interest in everyday life, longing only for peace.

Tariq, spared the horrors of battle as a religious leader and teacher, becomes adept at working situations to his own advantage. Although of the three he has the least presence in the book, he is the catalyst for more than one significant event or turning point, which has major implications for his friends.

The book brings itself back to the events of the opening chapter to finish, picking up with Tariq, Abdullah, and Ibrahim’s daughter Quisma; and their actions following Ibrahim’s death. The story ends with a ‘to be continued’ which I was not expecting and not at all ready for – the reader’s investment in the characters becomes absolute, and I was really hoping to know how things ended up for the 2 remaining friends. Here’s hoping that the sequel can follow very very soon.

The President’s Gardens is published on April 20th by Quercus Books, and is available to order on Amazon now.

Many thanks to Quercus Books / MacLehose Press and Net Galley for the ARC.

the presidents gardens book cover

About the Author

Muhsin Al-Ramli is an Iraqi writer, poet, academic and translator, born in the village of Sudara in northern Iraq in 1967. He has lived in Madrid since 1995. The President’s Gardens was longlisted for the I.P.A.F. (known as the ‘Arabic Booker’) in 2010. Al-Ramli was a tank commander in the Iraqi army during the Gulf War, a period of life which has greatly informed his writing. His brother, the writer Hassan Mutlak, was hanged in 1990 for an attempted coup d’état.

Review: Me Before You, By Jojo Moyes

I am pretty sure that this is a book that needs little introduction. Despite all the hype around the book and the film – or perhaps because of it – Me Before You was never really on my reading list. When my husband bought me After You (the sequel) as last year’s Jolabokaflod book; I thought I’d better get hold of the original first and see what all the fuss was about.

The Story

Me Before You is the story of Louisa Clark, a 26-year old, recently redundant ex-waitress who accepts the position of carer for a young quadriplegic man, Will Traynor. What starts off as a somewhat rocky relationship gradually develops into something that will change both their lives.

The book opens with a snapshot of Will’s life before the motorbike accident which has left him paralysed, and completely dependent on other people. It is abrupt, over within a few pages; and creates a poignant point of comparison for what follows. Throughout the whole of the book, this is the only piece of narrative which is depicted from his point of view, and adds to the portrayal of his dependence on other people; as well as alluding to his experience of the general public in regards to disability and their attitude towards him in presuming that, because he is in a wheelchair, he no longer has a voice.

“…I had observed a few basic routines, as far as Will was concerned. Most would stare, a few might smile sympathetically, express sympathy, or ask me in a kind of stage whisper what had happened. I was often tempted to respond ‘Unfortunate falling out with MI6,’ just to see their reaction, but I never did.”

The Review

Me Before You elegantly and emotionally portrays the development of Will and Louisa’s relationship; from a state of mutual animosity to a strong and overwhelming love. The relationship presented between Louisa and Will is in sharp relief with the relationship between Louisa and Patrick, her boyfriend: a fitness fanatic who is obsessed with completing the Xtreme Viking, an intense triathlon in Norway. At times, Patrick is portrayed as almost comical; while their relationship gradually reduces to Louisa watching him run in circles around a running track, or listening to him talking about the merits of Japanese balancing trainers.

A favourite scene of mine occurs at Louisa’s birthday party; where Patrick and Will meet for the first time over dinner and, it is fair to say, do not get on so well. Louisa’s muted thanks for Patrick’s gift – jewellery – is thrown out of the water when she opens her gift from Will, a pair of yellow and black striped tights, just like a pair she used to have when she was young. This thoughtful action seems to be a turning point in the book; where we really see Will’s attitude begin to change.

The depiction of the two families – the Traynors and the Clarks – could not have been more different. The Traynors are rich and want for nothing; the Clarks in comparison are financially insecure and very dependent upon Louisa’s income to get by. However, when it comes to family bonds and closeness, the equation is completely reversed; the Traynors’ cold and distant attitudes and home in stark relief to the bubbly, noisy and loving Clark household.

While Louisa cares for Will, anticipating his every physical need as well as encouraging him to leave the house and start to see more of the world; Will in turn draws Louisa slowly out of her shell, encouraging her to read, watch foreign films, and embrace classical music and new foods. We learn that Louisa also carries secrets and scars, which Will helps to heal.

“I just… want to be a man who has been to a concert with a girl in a red dress. Just for a few minutes more.”

Jojo Moyes pulls you into this story so well that, before you know what’s going on, you are completely invested in the lives of these two people and the affect they have on each other. As the book progresses there are revelations on both sides, laughs, sadness and scares; as Louisa and Will fall in love. Because we only ever get to see the story from Louisa’s side, we are completely immersed in her plans, her beliefs and her hopes… and as such, completely floored by the way things unfurl towards the end of the book. I’m sure I was not alone in crying at the last few chapters. This was one of those books that left me hollowed out and a little bit numb once I turned the last page and closed the covers. For a few moments I am pretty sure I just sat staring at the blurb on the back of the book and wondering why on earth it had taken me so long to read it. This beautiful book will remind you, unashamedly and unequivocally, to just live. 

“You are scored on my heart, Clark. You were from the first day you walked in.”

After I’d finished Me Before You I picked up After You, the sequel I had been gifted… and stayed up until 12.30a.m this morning finishing it (it has taken 3 coffees to get me through today. Whoops). But that review, my friends, is a story for another day.


Review: Stay With Me by Ayobami Adebayo


Stay With Me is the debut novel from Ayobami Adebayo.

The story is narrated by Yejide, the protagonist; and Akin, her husband. It opens with Yejide looking back on the past she left behind, the story she does not tell behind the simple statement ‘I was barren and my husband took another wife.’

Yejide and Akin are desperate for a child, as are their families. One day, her stepmother turns up with a new wife for her husband, to ‘help draw Yejide’s baby into the world’. This action kick-starts the unravelling of Yejide and Akin’s relationship. Her longing for a baby; the maliciousness of Funmi, the second wife; and the pressure placed on them by Akin’s mother; and the unearthing of many secrets; pushes them both over the edge in different ways.

Stay With Me is a well-written novel. The rhythm of the language used often reflects the mood of the protagonists; be that anger, sorrow, hope, or the languid acceptance characterising Yejide’s opening chapter. It is a gripping story, frequently emotional and raw. I enjoyed the way that the book changes between one narrator to the other – often Adebayo will use a switch in the narrative voice to break a secret to the reader, or introduce a plot twist. We get an insight into Nigerian culture; which is both interesting and, at times, shocking. Although the book is set against a period of political unrest; I didn’t feel like this played a huge part in the story – it was more a background rumbling, aside from a couple of brief points where it is brought to the fore. This is the only element of the book which I feel could have been explored/involved a little further.

Stay With Me is a tale of how the pressures of family and society can push a person to breaking point; as well as a story of betrayal, and the lies we tell each other – and ourselves.

Although Adebayo has had various short stories published previously; this is her first novel. I look forward to reading many more!

Stay With Me is published on 2nd March by Canongate. Thanks to NetGalley and Canongate for the ARC.

Mr Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore Review

Well hello! Long time no speak… Since the time of my last blog post, I’ve gotten married, started a new job and jetted off for the most beautiful 2 weeks in Sri Lanka for our honeymoon. Now, we’re back and fully settled into married life, and I have been able to up my reading once more!

I’ve also had a think about what it is I wanted to focus on in this space. I am no beauty queen, I cannot afford to buy new clothes every week, and I don’t feel like I can (or want to) write faithfully about these subjects any more. What I can do, however – and do frequently – is read. Buy books. Add to an ever-increasing TBR list and a Kindle that’s bursting with un-reads. I have an inability to walk past a bookshop without popping in ‘for a browse’ and coming out with a volume I just couldn’t leave behind. Going forward this blog will focus on books: my reviews of them, the books I want to read, general chatter and reflection. So, brew up a cuppa, get cosy in your reading chair and have a read of the first review of 2017: Mr Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore, by Robin Sloan.

Book Blind Dates 

I had been desperate to read this book for SUCH a long time! In November, I was at an event at the Biscuit Factory in Ouseburn and happened to walk past their pop-up Forum Books shop (sheer coincidence…ahem). There was a huge basket of ‘blind date’ books just staring at me, and after much deliberation, I picked up this unassuming brown paper package all tied up with string:


How could you say no to that description?! Turns out I couldn’t, and I was so pleased when I unwrapped it to find Mr Penumbra looking back at me. (Also, on a side note – get yourself along to the Biscuit Factory. Art and books and a lovely coffee shop!)

The Review 

I have often thought that what I needed in my life was a 24 hour bookshop, so of course this book caught my eye! I also love books about books, and bookshops. Sloan’s writing is free-flowing, easy and very engaging; and it’s easy to lose, say, the best part of a day getting completely absorbed in this book. It’s also a funny read, without trying too hard at it. From the moment Mr Penumbra stepped from the shadows and asked Clay Jannon:

“What do you seek in these shelves?” 

I was hooked.

The book follows our protagonist Clay as he joins Mr Penumbra’s bookstore as the night clerk. A strange and mysterious place, frequented by a host of rather eccentric individuals and not many other visitors, it doesn’t take Clay long to stumble upon the bookshop’s secret and get pulled into a whole other world: a place of old books, e-books, and the battle between, and integration of; old and new. With Google alongside ancient texts and coding alongside catalogues, this book is just fun. It made me want to learn to code and write a book and buy a bookshop all at once. I read it in two sittings.

I enjoyed the characters who grace the pages of MP24HB – (it’s a long title to type out!) – in my mind, Penumbra was an eclectic combination of Dumbledore, Gandalf, Merlin from The Sorcerer’s Stone and my own Grandad. Clay is the unlikely hero alongside a modern-day (Google) wizard Kat; and the bookshop patrons are lovable in their quirkiness.

This book also contains one of my favourite lines in literature:

“Neel takes a sharp breath and I know exactly what it means: I have waited my whole life to walk through a secret passage built into a bookshelf.”

Festina Lente, friends – enjoy!




Book Review: An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth

It’s been a long time (a good few months!) since I did a book review, and I’ve read so many good books since then that I’m going to have to start writing!

On a visit to Oxford back in March; my friend took my into Blackwell’s bookshop. It is an AMAZING place. Books sprawl over several floors and the Norrington Room is like the library every book lover wishes they had. I could have spent hours in there.


As it was, we only had a little while to look around, so after a brief wander I settled on buying ‘An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth’ by Chris Hadfield. Hadfield shot to worldwide fame in 2013 when his version of ‘Space Oddity’ recorded on the ISS was released on YouTube. His career as an astronaut spanned 21 years and during that time he has become the first Canadian to walk in space and the first Canadian commander of the International Space Station. Not a bad career path eh!


My purchase did not disappoint. Hadfield’s writing flows smoothly and openly, with plenty of humour and sarcasm thrown in for good measure. It’s an easy and engaging read; and I’d encourage you all to read it at once!

Chris’s book roughly follows his life, from 9 year old boy watching the first moon landing on TV to his final space flight in 2013.It is full of tips, techniques and methods of thinking that can, and should, be applied in everyday life on earth. There are lots in there, so I have plucked out my favourite take-aways below.

1) Attitude 

In space; attitude is the orientation of your vehicle relative to the sun. You must keep adjusting your attitude to make sure you don’t stray from your course, lose control and spin out. On earth; the same rule applies. You can’t control all the variables around you in life; but you can control your attitude towards them and the attitude that takes you through your journey. If a variable changes; change your attitude in line with it. Changing your attitude is a much better outcome than being disappointed in your destination.

2) Work the problem

‘Working the problem’ is astronaut speak for working through every possible decision tree for solving your problem, until you reach the one that presents you with a solution. The message here is that rather than stressing out about the issue that’s thrown itself in your way; you should take a breath, step back and calmly work through your options for dealing with it. Did you ever see an astronaut have a me,t down because something went wrong?…….fair enough, they have many many years of training to get them to that point, but the concept still applies 😉

3) The power of negative thinking

I’m sure that most people will at some point have heard of the term ‘visualisation’ – the practise of picturing yourself achieving that goal you’ve been working towards for so long. You see yourself getting that promotion, winning that race, writing the bestselling novel; picture all the positive steps that it is going to take to get you to that goal…..and then you stop. What happens afterwards? What happens if your master plan does not, as is so often the case; go entirely to plan?

Col. Hadfield is a big advocate of the power of negative thinking. What’s the point of not preparing for things going wrong? As part of an astronaut’s training, they will go through countless simulations, or sims, to learn how to prepare for things taking a wrong turn – or as Chris puts it ‘what’s the next thing that could kill me?’ (when you’re hurtling upwards into the atmosphere at however many thousands of miles an hour things are a little more extreme!). His confidence comes from always preparing for the worst, and planning how to avoid it.

4) Aim to be a zero

This particular takeaway was possibly the the piece of advice that resonated with me the most. I’m sure there are many in the corporate world who have watched a new team member or manager join the company and immediately sweep through making changes without a real understanding of the current dynamics or the impact those changes will make. In Hadfield’s opinion; you can either be a zero, a plus one or a minus one.

If you’re a zero; you have no positive or negative impact on a situation. You are neutral. You don’t make life more difficult for the people you’re working with, you don’t excel or have a positive impact either.

A minus one is pretty self explanatory… are having a negative impact on the situation. Your actions are perhaps not well thought out and rather than providing solutions, you are creating problems.

A plus one is, obviously, the ultimate goal. Everyone wants to be a plus one, to be actively contributing to your situation in a positive manner. But becoming a plus one takes time, and work, and patience. If you waltz into a situation trying to prove how much of a plus one you are; the likelihood is that people are going to perceive you as a minus one, regardless of the skills or the ability you are bringing to the table.

In a new situation, be it a new job or a volunteering or just helping someone out, always aim to be a zero – you’ll eventually be viewed as a plus one without ever having to tell people that you are.


There are so many positive pieces of advice in the book that I couldn’t possibly list them all here (though you could easily fill a fair few blog posts with them all) – all I can say is that this book is absolutely, definitely worth a read. And that I hope Chris Hadfield signs up for some talks in the UK sometime soon! In the meantime, I will be watching the below TED talk if you need me 😊

Books on my Hot List for 2015

Following on from my review of my favourite books of 2014; today’s post is a run down of (some of) the books on my reading list for 2015.

I am one of those people that cannot walk past a bookshop without going in ‘just for a browse’ and walking out with at least one book (normally 2 or 3, let’s be honest) to add to the stack of books on the bedside cabinet. It’s already so high that it almost blocks the light from my bedside lamp! So it is probably safe to say that this isn’t a comprehensive list and there will be additions over the year – another 11 books with my book group; for a start!


On my list currently, in no order of preference, are:

The Bookshop Book – Jen Campbell

How to be a Woman – Caitlin Moran

The Joy Luck Club – Amy Tan (January’s book group read)

Americanah – Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche

Gone Girl – Gillian Flynn

How to Build a Girl – Caitlin Moran

The Casual Vacancy – J.K. Rowling

Late Fragments – Kate Gross

Yes Please – Amy Poehler

The stand-outs for me from the list above are ‘How to be a Woman’, which I’m halfway through now and loving; and ‘Late Fragments’ which I bought after listening to a Woman’s Hour interview with the author’s mother. Kate Gross was a charity CEO, who died on Christmas Day last year after a battle with colon cancer. The interview really caught my attention – her mother spoke so openly about her achievements, her illness and her approach to her terminal illness, and Kate sounded like such a brilliant figure. When I got home from work that day I immediately ordered the book.

Yes Please - Late Fragments

I can think of many others I would like to read as well – Not That Kind Of Girl by Lena Dunham, The Silkworm by Robert Galbraith, Elizabeth is Missing by Emma Healey……so many books, so little time!! I would love to develop a little reading nook in our house this year as well – we’ll see what James will let me get away with 😉

I suppose I had better go and get settled with one of these beauties, then – I have a lot to get through!

Happy reading

Steph x

Top Books of 2014

I am a major bookworm. I always have a big pile of books on my bedside cabinet, and am forever guilty of buying 3 new books when I’m still in the middle of the current one.

I’ve read some good books and some not so good books over the course of 2014 – here is a run down of my favourites!

***Disclaimer*** The following is just a mash up of my opinions on these particular books – I am no expert, nor do I wish to cause offence to anyone who may not agree with me! All interpretation is personal 🙂 Happy reading!

My favourite books of 2014: The Goldfinch, The Secret History, The Shock of the Fall, No and Me, The Fault in our Stars, Eat and Run, Lean In, The Little Coffee Shop of Kabul.
My favourite books of 2014: The Little Coffee Shop of Kabul, The Secret History, The Goldfinch, The Shock of the Fall, No and Me, The Fault in our Stars, Eat and Run, Lean In.

1) The Little Coffee Shop of Kabul – Deborah Rodriguez (RRP £7.99, Waterstones)

I wouldn’t normally go for a book like this, which I guess you could technically classify as ‘chick lit’ – however; this book is set in a part of the world that I am very unfamiliar with, and that I want to know more about. The book tracks 5 women of various backgrounds whose central connection is a coffee shop in Kabul city. The author lived in Kabul herself and this gives the book a genuine feel – cultural references run throughout the story and, while the book is easy to read; you can never fully relate to the struggles and issues faced by the women in this story. Deborah Rodriguez also wrote ‘Kabul Beauty School‘ which I think will probably be on my list of books to read for 2015!

2) The Secret History – Donna Tartt (RRP £8.99, Waterstones)

This was the first book I read with my book group; and I must say they started me off with a good one! The novel follows an elite group of classics students at a university in Vermont. Narrated by Richard Papen, an outsider who finds himself drawn into the group; the novel tracks their questionable moral behaviour which leads to a shocking conclusion.

I won’t go into details of the plot too much as I don’t want to spoil it. However, what I will say is that the writing is excellent and Tartt does a great job at pulling you in to the story; making you as an outsider feel like you are being given access to a thrilling, secret and exclusive world of the Greek Classics students. It is dark and clever, and will make you question your own morals as well as the story unfolds and you find yourself attached to the characters.

Read it. You won’t regret it.

3) The Goldfinch – Donna Tartt (RRP £8.99, Waterstones)

Once I had finished The Secret History, I immediately went out and bought The Goldfinch. This is Tartt’s second novel and winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction 2014. The novel tracks the life of the protagonist, Theo Decker, who having survived a disaster at age 13 clings to a small painting, The Goldfinch, which draws him into a world of crime and deceit.

The Goldfinch is a somewhat thicker tome than The Secret History; but I think it is my favourite of the two. It very quickly draws you in to Theo’s world and the dangerous circles he becomes involved in. It may be long but it is definitely worth the read!

4) The Shock of the Fall – Nathan Filer (RRP £7.99, Waterstones)

I really loved this book. Written by a qualified mental health nurse, this book follows the descent of the protagonist into mental illness following a tragic accident during his youth. It is simple and open, easy and quick to read, and a little bit heartbreaking.

5) No and Me – Delphine de Vigan (RRP £6.29, Amazon)

A friend gave me this book about 3 years ago, and it sat in my little (well, alright, large) pile of books until this summer. The story is about a young French girl who befriends a homeless girl as part of a school project. After the project is complete, Lou persuades No to come and live with her and her family.

6) The Fault in our Stars – John Green (RRP £7.99, Waterstones)

I guess this one needs little introduction – this book went viral earlier this year and has since spawned a pretty popular film, too. I can’t say I really rated the film that much, but I did enjoy the book – I think I even shed a tear. It’s easy reading and pulls at the heartstrings. It’s a sad and horrible truth that people both young and old the world over are battling cancer; and though the characters may be fictitious it’s awful to think that someone so young could succumb to this awful disease.

7) Eat and Run: My Unlikely Journey to Ultramarathon Greatness – Scott Jurek (RRP £8.99, Waterstones)

As you will have heard if you’ve read my blog previously, I am a fan of a bit of running. I bought this book for James for Christmas last year and once he had finished with it I had a sneaky read.

Scott Jurek, for those who do not know, is an American ultramarathon runner; and has won almost all of the elite ultrarunning races around. I have run marathons in the past, and that is tiring enough, so I find it difficult to comprehend how someone can run (and win) a race such as the Western States 100. If you read it, be careful – you might come away vegan (as happened to one of the guys at our running club) or seriously considering running an ultra…..hhmmmm maybe later eh 😉

8) Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead – Sheryl Sandberg (RRP  £8.99, Amazon)

I am very much enjoying the third wave of feminism that is going on at the moment. Sheryl Sandberg is COO of Facebook and presented an extremely popular TED talk in 2010 on ‘Why We Have Too Few Women Leaders’. If you have watched this, you will already be familiar with her messages. Lean In is full of mind boggling statistics regarding equality in the workplace, women’s opinion of themselves and their own abilities to lead, and lead change. I found this book inspiring and extremely relevant to the stage I am currently at in my career. Definitely worth a read for both men and women alike. Pick up a copy…..and remember to sit at the table.


Next time I’ll be reviewing my top books to read in 2015 – if you have any suggestions, please do let me know!

Thanks for reading 🙂

Steph x