An Idiot Abroad & The Further Adventures of An Idiot Abroad – Karl Pilkington

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These two travel diaries are hilarious and after reading them back to back I saw no imagereason they couldn’t have a joint review.

Whilst I believe you would get a chuckle out of them either way, I would recommend having some prior knowledge of Karl Pilkingtons moaning but loveable persona to get maximum LOL-value out of these books.

If you haven’t seen it already, grab a copy of the An Idiot Abroad series asap or YouTube some Karl vids and then come back to me. He is truly one of my favorite people to watch. Amazing one-liners aside, his simple way of viewing things often lead to some absolutely brilliant theories and ideas. Having regular appearances from mate Ricky Gervais certainly doesn’t hurt the laugh-factor either.

Basically the mis-matched friends, along with Stephen Merchant, collab over two
series to send Karl on overseas adventures that he has never experienced before. Most amusing moments come from surprises that Ricky and Steve throw in that they are well aware will put Karl very much out of his comfort zone. Well worth a watch!

Anyway, this isn’t a TV show review. Back to what I was here for…

The first travel diary ‘An Idiot Abroad‘ is written by Karl on a day-to-day basis as he travels to see the Seven Wonders. The chapters are divided up in to the trip to each Wonder as well as the twists and turns along the way.

Karl’s views are always a very raw – and most of the time un-glamorous – and veryimage different to your normal travel novel. He struggles with differences in cultures like why there are no toilet doors in China, why there is a Pizza Hut situated just meters from the great pyramids and fitting in to the very free and flamboyant lifestyle in Brazil.

Never one to shy away he gives everything (okay ALMOST everything) a go and sometimes surprises with which experiences he notes as his favourites. He is very quick to say though that on every single trip his favorite part is never the Wonder.

The Further Adventures of An Idiot Abroad‘ is written a little different to the first. After an unfortunate incident with some medical gel and an eye Karl thinks that perhaps he is not in the best frame of mind to write whilst on the road, so instead completes this journal once he returns home.

This second set of trips is based around the bucket list. A compiled list of the most popular ‘bucket list’ activities that Karl must pick from. Less than enthusiastic about most options, he still trecks along to participate in every surprise that comes his way – except for bungee jumping, which he seems to run in to at every turn.

He also slips in his insights and thoughts on items on the list he didn’t choose – on all 100 in fact – and while a lot of the time people are quick to call Karl daft, I tend to agree with a lot of the points he makes on this journey. Particularly that he thinks, for the most part, becoming ‘special’ ruined what was originally special about a lot of these activities.

One of the best parts of these books is that you unintentionally read them in Karl’s voice and tone, which just makes them even more enjoyable than they already are. You will find yourself accidentally laughing out loud many times during these stories (just a warning that this may lead to some strange looks in public).

Are you also an avid Karl fan like me? Let me know what you think….

 

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The Crossroads – Niccolo Ammaniti

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Little did I know when I picked up this book – with little to no expectations I mightIMG_0124 add – that it would turn out to be one of my favorite books… Ever!

It has been a long time since I have gotten all consumed by a novel. You know those ones where “one-more-chapter” leads to you looking at your watch and realising three hours has passed. Or when you give up sleep and surrender to the fact that you’ll be tired at work the next day so you can find out what happens in the end (which is usually still half a book away).

It is only possible for this to be a short review because giving too much information away would mean ruining the experience for any other potential readers.

For me the best part of this story was the element of surprise. Something that I personally find has become a little rare in reading these days. Predictable twists and endings are becoming a dime a dozen and I’m often left wanting something more. This book was it.

The story is told from the point of view of several characters but in quite a clever and unique way. A couple of characters dominate the majority of the pages, while with others we only catch a glimpse of in a random chapter here and there. The stories also overlap from time to time, giving different viewpoints from the same time slot. During these instances the characters are not always together so it gives you a chance to see several things happening at the same time that do not relate to each other, which I found quite cool.

Originally the novel was published in Italian and later translated to English. I’ve read some other reviews where people have expressed that this made some of the story not make sense or that it felt like the story had lost a certain something. I have to say I totally disagree – but perhaps this depends on the individual. I’d love to hear anyone’s thoughts on that…

Our main heroes of the novel are Rino and Cristiano Zena, a father and son of dysfunctional proportions. The two are joined for the most part by Rinos two – and only – friends; Quattro Formaggi, a slow and introverted soul who suffers from mental and physical conditions due to a severe electric shock in his youth and Danilo Aprea, estranged from his marriage after his baby daughter choked to death as he stood by helpless. The three older gentleman – no-hopers for lack of a better word – survive on a mix of beer and grappa and after labouring work starts to dry up they turn their sights to what they believe to be a pure genius criminal plan.

A few other noteworthy characters turn up by association but I will leave them for you to discover on your own terms. The novel is brutal in most parts, but effective in telling the tale. Every time I believed I had a character figured out, my opinions were tossed out the window.

I implore you to find a copy of this immediately and give it a read. Wherever you imagine this story to be going at the beginning I assure that you will be knocked sideways with how wrong you were.

Let me know what you think….

Promises, Promises – Erica James

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With the Summer sun in full blast and trips to the pool very plentiful, it also means that my trips to and from the bookshelf become more regular.

Cue the beach reads and easy-going storylines – or as my boyfriend ctimthumballs them, ‘girly books’.

This one definitely falls in to the ‘girly book’ category. A romcom perhaps, if you are looking for a more official term.

Told mostly from the view-point of three main characters – Maggie, Ethan and Ella – we travel through ups and downs, awkward but funny moments and of course the predictable happy ending for all. Now don’t get me wrong here, I’m not criticizing. Would a romcom really be a romcom without the sappy ending? One must expect – maybe even look forward to it.

That being said these intertwined lives are not without some hardships and there are a few twists and turns that did have me second guessing if my gut instincts were correct after all. Breakups, blackmail, enough adultery to last a lifetime and even an unexpected murder  are just a few of the hurdles sprinkled throughout the story.

Ethan could most simply be described as a womanizer, however, after you become more acquainted with his wife and home life you almost come to sympathize with him. Tied together and seemingly trapped forever in a grueling life with unbearable in-laws, a severe health scare may be the wake up call he needs.

Ella on  the other hand is what some would describe as a free spirit. She has managed to escape from the unhealthy personal life she was once victim to and has made a life all of her own. Supporting herself and building an extremely successful career from scratch speaks volumes of the caring person Ella is but maybe believing in second chances will ultimately be her downfall.

Maggie is sick of feeling mediocre. Mediocre employers, mediocre husband, mediocre happiness. Doesn’t everyone deserve blinding happiness? To have someone sweep them off their feet and have mind-blowing sex with? Even just a mother-in-law that didn’t hand out insults like candy on Halloween would be an improvement. The old Maggie let these daydreams float around her head day in, day out. The new Maggie though, maybe she would do something about it.

I think my favorite thing about this story is the supporting characters – Mrs O, Daryl, Hal and even conniving Christine. They all have such interesting traits and bring great substance to the story.

Let me know what you think….

 

Voices from the Titanic – Geoff Tibballs

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I have always been Titanic obsessed. I’m not sure if it stemmed from the movie – stillIMG_0119 one of my all time faves – or from the countless conspiracy theories attached to it. Anyone who knows me knows that I love nothing more than a good conspiracy theory. It may also have been something I picked up from my brother who has always been quite intrigued by the legendary ship also. In fact, I’m pretty sure I found this book when I was snooping around his room one day for God knows what reason. 

Now I’ll be straight up in saying that I would only recommend reading this book if you have some prior interest in the Titanic as even for enthusiasts like me some sections were a bit slow-going. Completely non-fiction this book is in no way a story but a collection of articles and statements from the time of the terrible tragedy.

If you get stuck on the first two chapters as I did, I urge you to keep powering forward. Many of the articles in the beginning are from newspapers and advertisements describing the spectacular amenities of the ‘floating hotel’ but some are also filled with technical mumbo-jumbo that means little to us average Joes. However, as I persevered I found the stories to get more and more interesting.

As early as chapter 3 you delve more in to witness statements of the moment the ship struck the infamous iceberg. From here we travel along in the timeline of the sinking, the escape from the disaster, the rescue and everything that followed in the aftermath.

There were two main feelings I had when reading through these first hand stories;

The first: I could not read much more than a few pages at a time. A vast majority of these accounts were absolutely heart-wrenching. Tales of newlyweds torn apart, lifetime loves going down with the ship as they refused to be apart, kisses goodbye from loved ones they expected to see again upon rescue and the bravest of gentlemen calmly waiving goodbye to their wives as they waited for their inevitable watery deaths. Sadder indeed   Is the fact that so many more of these lives could have been saved.

The second: When reading the statements of survivors it is so hard not to imagine that you are reading fiction. The experiences that these people lived through are so incredible that you can barely believe they are reality. That they did in face sit in the freezing waters and watch such a magnificent ship sink to the depths of the ocean.

One particular line that really stuck with me the whole way through was a young chap who stated “I am always annoyed at artists’ depictions of the sinking of Titanic. I’ve never seen one that came anywhere near the truth.” Reading that hit home on just how impossible it is to imagine what those survivors lived through and witnessed that awful night. Many also report on how they still hear the terrible chorus of human wails when all those doomed souls were forced in to the freezing water.

So whilst most definitely a tear-jerker it is also extraordinarily interesting. If you have any interest surrounding the Titanic I would definitely give this a read.

Let me know what you think…

Butterfly’s Shadow – Lee Langley

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Wow – this story was originality at its best. Funnily enough the last book that I said had a non-predictable storyline was also based in Japan – coincidence?Image result for butterflys shadow book

There was no love story here, no see-it-from-a-mile-away happy ending, no beaches at sunset. Not having any of these things made the story that much more real.

With the story being told from several different character perspectives, it gives you the chance to keep guessing and develop more knowledge and understanding at the same time as the characters themselves.

It is hard to say who the novels main character is, with attention being passed back and forth throughout. However the heart and soul of the story is Cho-Cho. Even when she isn’t around physically she still has a very strong presence and affect on those who know her.

Cho-Cho is introduced to us as a young and naive ‘bride-for-hire’ who lives and breaths her love for her “American Hero” husband. When he departs on his naval ship she is sure he will return to her one day soon but when he returns to Japan with an American wife Cho-Cho has a surprise of her own up her Kimono sleeve. Joey Pinkerton is the spitting-image of his father and in very mysterious circumstances he ends up leaving his mother and returning to America with his new parents.

The rest of the story is intertwined between the Pinkerton family and Cho-Cho seeking the truth and what is right. There are deaths, refugee camps, hidden secrets and war that continue to delay Joey in his search for answers. Delays however, can only hold you back for so long….

What did you think?

 

 

Four Kitchens – Lauren Shockey

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I have been waiting to read this book for ages, slowly chipping away at my un-readimage pile of books and finally it reached the top.

There are a few attributes that I love separately – travel, food, inspiration – that all come together in Lauren Shockeys story. Being non-fiction there are no twisted plot lines to unravel, no overly-complicated characters to love or hate, just raw truths wether pretty or not. I fell in love more and more with each page I read. With my own questionings in regards to career filling my head at the moment, I probably picked up this book at the perfect time.

With a love for food and cooking, Lauren is unfulfilled with her desk job within the food industry and to her parents bewilderment she makes herself a drastic yearly plan that she jumps in to, guns blazing. Four stages (unpaid kitchen internships) in four countries, each 3 months long to experience different styles, cultures and cuisines.

Stop one takes her to molecular gastronomy restaurant wd-50 in New York. Probably what I read as the hardest experience, if for no other reason than it was the first. Being thrown in to an unfamiliar environment, not knowing quite how to behave or how others would behave towards her, the hours and hours of menial prep work and experiencing for the first time the gruelling long hours. However, with so many new tequines and ‘sciency’ ingredients to play with, as well as the owner Wylie Dufresne cooking on the line every night there were so many valuable lessons.

Next up we find her in Hanoi restaurant La Verticale. This experience was my faviourite and the most fun to read. The colourful backdrops, talk of spices and delicious street food and the endearing people we get to know. Her colleagues, as well as new friends, are loveable and give the sense of a family away from home – keep an eye out for Thanh, he pulls my heartstrings. During her time here Lauren learns the importance of flavour and intuition over technique.

Now we travel to Tel Aviv and the Carmella Bistro. Amoungst shopping in the local markets and enjoying home cooked, comforting, holiday feasts with new friends, Lauren also gets her first taste of responsibility in the kitchen. Being bumped to a higher status than apprentices normally do, she finds herself in charge of a section and working the line during every service. With a job offer on the table, she still decides to finish out her yearly plan.

Naturally, the last stop brings us to Paris. Where else could it possibly be? Wanting to learn within a Michelin star environment we are dropped in to 2-star Senderens. A completely different world to anywhere she has worked before, the Holy Grail of work spaces, precicion skills and flawless dishes. Though, while her time here is invaluable, she also finds it has its flaws – dropped back to the endless hours of prep work seems a downgrade after her affair with responsibility and she notices that not only does Alain Senderens not work within the kitchen, she doesn’t even meet him.

With a scattering of recipes breaking up her tales and an unexpected ending, everything about this book is nothing short of endearing and inspiring, with a strong message to just go ahead and follow your dreams. I urge you to pick up a copy ASAP!

Let me know what you think…

The Perfect Man – Sheila O’Flanagan

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The best thing about going on a beach vacation to Fiji (okay maybe not the best, but it’s a bonus) is that you can take a pile of books, stretch out in the sun and zone out imagefor hours on end. So why not start with a classic, easy beach read…

And easy beach read it was. Just a girly love story with your classics ups and downs, will they or won’t they’s and of course, an appearance of the completely wrong woman. Now that’s not the complaint it may sound like, it’s just that if you’re after some mystery or twists and turns, this maybe wouldn’t be the book for you.

I love a girly beach read as much as the next person, my only dislike it that you can usually work out the ending within a couple of chapters. Which I found was the case in this book.

Britt and Mia McDonagh – opposites in both looks and personality – set off on the Valentines cruise aboard the Aphrodite. There to host writing seminars after her book The Perfect Man sky-rocketed to a best seller, Britt found herself unexpectedly without an assistant to accompany her – cue her sister Mia. Given her hard, and sometimes difficult exterior, there is no one else Britt could have pictured herself being cooped up with for 2 weeks and although struggling with the thoughts of leaving behind her 3-year-old daughter, Mia feels she deserves a little adventure.

Leo Tyler can’t understand how he ended up alone in a VIP suite during a Valentines cruise –  it certainly isn’t how he imagined his honeymoon. Encouraged to go-it-alone, find some single women and “move on”, Leo isn’t immediately convinced. What kind of single women would be on a couples cruise?

Despite initial suspicions of a growing interest between Leo and Britt, it’s up-coming model Pippin Costello – tagging along with her parents – that grabs his attention in the end, much to the sisters’ surprise.

Surprisingly, the adventures of the characters continued on after the cruise ended and delved a little more in to their regular lives.

As she attempts to make decisions that are best for her daughter whilst not losing her own identity, Mia struggles to decide wether her feelings lie with Alejo – her daughters father – or with hunky cruise director Steve Shaw. Whilst Britt, deep in to her second novel, starts to wonder if she will find her Perfect Man…

Tell me what you thought…..

Ink – Amanda Sun 

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inkOne thing that I find after you read a lot of books is that sometimes they start to sound similar. You find patterns of mirrored story lines, familiar characters and the like. If you’re looking for something unique then this is a great novel to pick up!

Bearing that in mind, you need to throw reality out the window and accept the existence of descendants of Japanese gods and some seriously cool ‘super powers’.

The story is based around Katie Greene, who has just moved to Japan to live with her Aunt after her mother passed away. Thrown in to a new country and new school where she barely speaks the language, she struggles to accept this new life.

When she runs back in to school to get something she left behind she accidentally becomes an eavesdropper on the break up of the schools bad-boy Tomohiro. When a bunch of drawings falls at her feet, she swear she sees one move, but how could that be possible?

After more and more snarky run-ins with Tomo, Katie decides to follow him and see what he’s up to. She can’t help but notice that whenever something strange happens, he is always nearby. However what she finds – as is with most bad-boys – is that there is a different side to him than the front he puts on.

Soon after a series of unbelievable events starts to unravel; drawings flying off the page, kidnappings by the Yakuza & a shocking experience at a ‘love hotel’. With danger increasing more by the day, Katie has to decide between her heart & her safety.

Let me know what you think…

The Catcher in the Rye – J. D. Salinger

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Catcher-in-the-rye-2.jpgSometimes you pick up a classic novel with the uneasy feeling that it may be a little bit of hard reading that you really need to get in to the zone for. You read them anyway though because hey, it’s a classic for a reason right? Then sometimes you get pleasantly surprised and find a gem that you love.

For me this was one of those times. I really enjoyed this story, the way it was written and how it reads. The style of writing was quite unique and unlike any other book I’ve read. It’s written in a way that reads as if the main character, Holden, is speaking directly to you. It is done in a very unpolished way, at many times he repeats himself & is calmly erratic – if there is such a thing.

Holden is a teenager who jumps from school to school as he is continuously kicked out from one after another. Not in a trouble making sense, he is quite intelligent, just not particularly interested in being there. His disinterest leads to failing grades in the majority of his subjects.

This particular story from Holden is set over only a couple of days. We start with him leaving yet another school just before the holiday break starts & taking refuge in the city so his parents don’t suspect anything is amiss.

Sneaking in to bars, trying to find some female companionship & over-thinking fills up the hours of his time. Giving us flashbacks in to his family life – learning about his brothers, the older a successful writer in Hollywood, the younger deceased from pneumonia.

Personally the story read a little sad and lonely to me but there were also strong tones of love and family. Let me know what you think….

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child – J.K. Rowling, John Tiffany & Jack Thorne

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Now before you read my thoughts about this new book, img_0055you must know that I am an EXTREME Harry Potter fan. Think mint condition book collections, Quidditch jerseys and even a Deathly Hallows tattoo.

When I heard that they had published this play, I was a little sceptical to read it. As much as I love the HP series & was sad when they ended, I’m under the belief that when it’s over it’s over. When series – or even one-offs – end so well, I think they should be left that way. Just think about how many terrible sequels are out there!

But it’s here… So I had to read it. How could I not?

In my personal opinion – and it is only an opinion because I’ve heard many different thoughts about this one – I don’t think it lent anything to the original stories. I didn’t feel that it read anything like the other books, almost even a little juvenile.

Whilst the books main characters are ones we have not experienced before, when it did jump to flashbacks and ‘familiar faces’ you didn’t really get the same sense of them as you did in books past.

Of course it was nice to get taken back in to Hogwarts, the Ministry of Magic and other old spots of our favourite wizarding world. However, in future I think I will stick to re-reading the old classics to get my Harry Potter fix.

These thoughts aside, any HP fan should give this a read just for the fact that it’s there. Let me know what you thought…