21 July 2013

"In fair Verona, where we lay our scene.."

So, I've recently returned from a little trip to Bella Italia (the country, not the restaurant). I'd been invited to the wedding of two friends who were getting married in Lake Garda. As we were going all that way, I figured we might as well make a holiday out of it. Therefore, Me, my husband, my best friend and his wife packed our bags and hopped on an EasyJet (eww).

First stop.. Verona.

Verona is gorgeous, if you ever have the opportunity to go, do it! It's no somewhere I'd have chosen to go, but as we were in the area, we chose to spend a night there. 

We visited the arena, however it was set up for a One Direction concert and so the view was kinda spoiled by plastic red chairs! I'm not gonna lie though, I was quite excited that Harry and the boys would be there a few hours after us.

And look... Juliet's balcony!

Obviously, I went around quoting Shakespeare, like a massive loser, but it was quite emotional!

Next we headed to Venice.

By this point, I was on my third pizza and I'd completely lost track of how many glasses of prosecco!

Finally, we were moving on to Lake Garda where we were meeting up with the wedding party and the rest of our friends. More prosecco, more pizza, the odd icecream and a crazy Italian hotelier prepared us for the beautiful wedding :)

“You may have the universe if I may have Italy” 
-Giuseppe Verdi

04 April 2013

Review: Cutting for Stone

Book: Cutting for Stone
Author: Abraham Verghese

"Wasn't that the definition of home? Not where you are from, but where you are wanted?"
Jen: Reading the initial Times review of the book as an "ambitious tapestry of a novel", I had a feeling I would enjoy this book and for an epic one (534 pages) which usually takes a while to kick off, I was hooked from the first chapter following the arrival of Sister Mary Joseph Praise

Kim: It certainly was a mammoth novel. Huge and intimidating, one of those books I pick to look clever when reading in public. Cutting for Stone is set in an Ethiopian hospital and spans 50 years. It is intense and took a lot of concentration!  

Jen: it did take a lot of concentration but I found it unexpectedly easy to read, albeit once I finally grasped hold of it with two hands. I enjoyed following Shiva's story as he grew up in Ethiopia. I'm grateful to Kim for picking this book as if genuinly opened me up to a part of world history I've been ignorant about to date.

Kim:  Yes, it's given me an insight too and I enjoyed reading about some of the political stuff. Cutting for Stone is a very intelligent and well written novel. The characters are extremely well thought out and utterly believable. I particularly enjoyed the development of Hema's character and her devotion to the boys. She was strong, loyal and in my opinion, the most 'real' of all the characters. In fact, I liked and identified with the minor characters much more than Marion, the narrator. Ghosh was a sweetheart!

Jen: setting the novel over the course of a lifetime with family-life at the core, made this novel a must-read. I love it when Shiva says "it suited me to believe that Hema still controlled the universe"-a moment that perfectly showed the relationship kids have with their parents and that moment when innocence starts to disappear

Kim: That's exactly what I mean about Hema's loyalty, Hema and Ghosh raised the boys like they were their own. They showed love and devotion and received it back. The contrast between their family life and Genet's upbringing was very interesting. As a reader, I think you could be forgiven for hating Genet, for all that she did. But I just found her story so sad!

Jen: Genet's story did indeed stress me out but in the same way, it only evoked sympathy and sadness. I mostly liked the way the book emphasised how important life and I loved the line "the uneventful day was a precious gift". Made me appreciate the calm amongst the noise.

Kim: The story seems to have an empowering theme running throughout. It talks about the struggles of all the characters, but also their determination to do well! For example: “She died chasing greatness and never saw it each time it was in her hand, so she kept seeking it elsewhere, but never understood the work required to get it or to keep it.” All of the main characters seem to be trying to be the best at what they do, except, of course, Genet, which just highlights the tragedy of her character even more. 

"Make something beautiful of your life"

31 March 2013

Review: The Death and Life of Charlie St. Cloud

Book: The Death and Life of Charlie St. Cloud
Author: Ben Sherwood

“That’s death and life, you see. We all shine on. You just have to release your hearts, alert your senses, and pay attention. A leaf, a star, a song, a laugh. Notice all the little things, because somebody is reaching out to you. Qualcuno ti ama. Somebody loves you.”
Kim: OK, I confess, I mainly chose this book because Zac Efron stars in the movie adaptation. Besides, I wanted an easy book. I have a habit of picking big novels, no idea why, maybe I just like to look clever on the train.

Jen: It was refreshing to have a nice quick read and I did read this one in record time. Our last gcbc book was intense to say the least! So yes, a nice quick read but a relatively hollow book. I read it so quickly because it was an easy read, and easy read but quite empty.

Kim: definitely a quick one. So quick that I read it in two relatively short sittings. That being said, it's not a bad book. If I was 14 years old and on holiday, I probably would have loved it. Charlie St Cloud is essentially a book about family bonds and falling in love. The relationship between Charlie and Sam could've come across as a little soppy, but it was actually quite heartwarming.

Jen: I wanted to enjoy the book a lot more than I did. I know what disappointed me the most was the predictability of the book. Anyone that knows me will know my absolute nightmare is spoilers, so you can imagine how much I hate it when I can pretty much anticipate every twist and turn. Every twist and turn in a book that had much more potential.

Kim: I defiantly agree that the book had more potential. But we have to remember that this book was intended for the young adult market. So we can't expect too much depth. I go back to my earlier point, I'd have enjoyed it much more I I'd read it as a teen.

Jen: agreed, clearly aimed at young adults. I think had it been aimed at an older audience, Sherwood would have done more to develop the relationships, particularly Sam and Charlie and Charlie and Tess. In particular, when it came to Tess...I didn't feel anything towards her, making the whole story that much more emptier.

Kim: I feel the same way about Tess. Her story deserved more. Having said all of this, I didn't hate it and I would defiantly watch the movie, after all, Efron is in it!

06 March 2013

New York, New York, I love you so

To kick off 2013, I had the best holiday experience ever - a 7 day trip to NYC and Las Vegas. It was amazing! In a tenuous book related topic - I managed to make it to the New York Public Library. It's HUGE and a totally breathtaking building.
I want to live there. Immediately.

I enjoyed frozen hot chocolate at Serendipity 3, becoming a Knicks fan at Madison Square Gardens, pretending to be Jay Z at Times Square, shopping at Tiffany's and the view from the Top of the Rock.

As for Vegas...well...as they say...

03 February 2013

Review: The Great Gatsby

Title: The Great Gatsby
Author: F Scott Fitzgerald

File:Gatsby 1925 jacket.gif

"I like large parties. They're so intimate. At small parties there isn't any privacy"

Kim: OK, this may be a little controversial, but I didn't like this book. I didn't like it at all! Despite being only 120ish pages, I felt like the story dragged, nothing really happened and I've completely failed to see what all the fuss is about!

Jen: I wanted to enjoy it. I wanted to like all the characters. Well I wanted to like at least one character. I wanted to at least care, about something that was going on. But I couldn't. I enjoyed it marginally towards the end when there was a bit of excitement, but I think I was more excited to actually be nearing the end. I'm always aware that a book has not been a great read when I go to the end to see how many pages there are in the book and I spend the rest of the time counting down to the end...

Kim: The characters were indeed unlikeable and I couldn't relate to any of them. Usually, even there's a character I don't like, there's something compelling about them. I'm usually interested in reading about their bad qualities, but every stifle character in Gatsby was selfish, bland and to be honest, they didn't connect well with each other! If you can't find a real connection between the characters, how, as a reader, are you meant to connect?

Jen: the only moment I was remotely connected to any part of the novel was when Daisy admitted to Tom that she was in love with Gatsby and was going to go away with him - mostly because I think it took some balls to actually be honest. Otherwise, my opinion was that everyone were either selfish or just vapid and and I found it impossible to warm to anyone. [I however reserve the right to change my view when the film comes out and I fall back in love with Leonardo Dicaprio]

Kim: Leo will make everything ok. I can't help but wonder, why the hell they're still making kids read this in schools.

Jen: Something to do with the American Dream I think...

29 January 2013

GCBC loves snow, sledging and... David Beckham

We found snow!!!!! So we went sledging down Primrose Hill in North London.

Guess who else was there?!?!

27 January 2013

Review: The Help

Book: The Help
Author: Kathryn Stockett

"I realised I actually had a choice in what I could believe"
Jen: As our first book to kick off GCBC in 2013, I'm glad we got a good one (as Kim will agree, trilogies - fifty shades and hunger games -  broke us a little bit) and it was about time we enjoyed reading again...instead of getting angry and throwing books down the stairs...literally...
Kim: I'd had this book on my bookshelf for ages. I think I bought it back when everyone else was buying it. I was a little apprehensive about it though. The Help had epic reviews, but I was sceptical. I mean, what could a white, middle class woman know about experiencing the civil rights movement from the perspective of a black helper?
Jen: I agree and I expected it to be a 'good read' - I mean it got the Hollywood treatment -  so there had to be something there. It took a bit of patience to get through the first few chapters, but after that I was hooked. Being told from the point of view of 3 different women in the early 1960's, all with different motivations, I found myself empathising with them all.
Kim: Since reading 'To Kill a Mockingbird', in school, I think I've been subconsciously seeking out books set in the Deep South during this era.. I've read all the usual suspects; Fried Green Tomatoes, Secret Life of Bees etc.. But there was something special about The Help that I can't quite put my finger on. Maybe it is, like Jen said, the fact that it was told by 3 separate characters. It kind of felt 'real'. Also, the experiences shared by the other maids, when talking to Skeeter somehow made the story more believable. I had to remind myself on a number of occasions that it was in fact fiction. The discussions about true life events such as Rosa Parks and the murder of Medgar Evers only increased the stories believability, but I guess that was the point. 
Jen: You're right Kim it was exciting reading the book because it never felt like we were reading fiction. You do genuinely believe the world Stockett has created is real and it gives credibility to the story overall. Nothing felt marginalised, whether it was the treatment on the maids by their employers, the affection that the maids felt for the white children they raised or the societal pressures forced on young women - whether personal or professional - no matter what the colour of her skin.
Kim: I think Stockett probably had two fundamental aims when she wrote The Help, firstly to raise awareness of the segregation of the 60s (and essentially any that still remains), but  secondly to promote friendships and relationships between all young women. As Skeeter said..
"I realised I actually had a choice in what I could believe".  
Jen: as a reference to the times, The Help is a novel that examines a key part of 20th century American history, however it will be eternally relevant and will be enjoyed for years to come...
Kim: Before we end, I think it's important to mention that the Help isn't just all serious and moral. It's also pretty funny! Celia's character was hilarious and her interaction with Minny was genius. There are some cracking one-liners such as;
"Aibleen can still tell a dirty joke that'll make you tinkle I'm your pants"
And who doesn't love a book that has describes a little boy like this:
"Pretty soon he calling everybody including hisself Mama.. Nobody worry about it. Course when he start playing dress-up in his sisters Jewel Taylor twirl skirts and wearing Chanel No. 5, we all get a little concern" 

02 January 2013

Happy New Year!

We've been slacking a little on the book club front. Christmas and New Year celebrations completely took over and we didn't have much time for anything else.

But now that's all done and dusted, we've gained a few lbs, incurred a few bruises and partied like its 1999. We are now back to GCBC business 100% and to show our true dedication, we've just pledged to read 30 books in Goodreads 2013 challenge. How many are you aiming for?

Happy New Year everyone, may it be filled with peace, love and books worthy of at least 4*s. Cheers!

29 December 2012

My dream. What's yours?

There's something I have to show you.
But first you have to close your eyes
It's a surprise
I can't believe it, I've never seen so many books in my entire life.
You like it?
It's wonderful.
It's yours.

A knighthood for children's illustrator Quentin Blake

In the New Year's Honours list, Quentin Blake has been knighted for his work as an illustrator.

His knighthood recognises his involvement in the House Of Illustration, a permanent museum and gallery for which he has pledged his entire archive, due to open in north London in 2014. It also recognises his work in hospitals where he has created specially-commissioned artworks and murals. Blake has already been awarded an OBE and CBE, so this new title adds to his list of achievements and recognitions. 

In my list of  top 10 children's books, both Matilda and the BFG made the list and when I look back at the illustrations, it reminds me of childhood!!

24 December 2012

All of Dickens in a year...

Matthew Davies spent this year reading all of Dickens' novels and short stories. No small feat!

Matthew set himself this task at the beginning of 2012 and spent the year on his 'project.'

What literary resolutions will you work towards during 2013?

He selected the following list. I'm slightly ashamed to say, I've yet to make it through one whole Dickens novel...maybe we should set ourselves the 'one Dickens book challenge' during 2013 Kim??

23 December 2012

Merry Christmas!

Just a quick little note to wish everyone a very merry christmas! We've been in the festive spirit for quite a few weeks now.

22 November 2012

Paris changes everything

I was lucky enough to head over to Paris for a couple of days last week with work! You can see the Eiffel Tower from the office balcony. Loved it!

Didn't get much time to head out but managed a sneaky trip to the Champs Elysses and stocked up on items from Sephora (note to Sephora: open in the UK please!!) The whole place is starting to get in the Christmas spirit and seeing the Avenue all lit up was amazing.

I was staying with my friend Claire, an aspiring author who is in the process of writing her first novel. We discussed the best approaches to tackling writing a novel when you have the rest of life to deal with. There's no way I could dedicate enough time so I don't know how she does it. Are there any novelists out there who can provide some insight into how you refresh your memory of the plot and character development when you take a break from writing - is there a faster way than just re-reading all your work written to-date? I'm a visual person, so I suggested a massive timeline on the wall, mapping and linking character development to the progression of the story. What do you do?

She's promised me I can be first to review it when she finally finishes! (oh and she asked if I'd translate it from French to English....erm.....maybe Claire, maybe)

Anyway, I will leave you with this shot of Paris that I love. Not mine so I can't take the credit. I can still show it some love though!!

11 November 2012

Walking aimlessly around London

Yesterday we spent the afternoon on, what started off as an aimless walking trip through London and ended up an amazing tour along Southbank towards London Bridge as the sun set.

I'll let the pics do the talking. It was beautiful.

We also stumbled across a secondhand book stall along Southbank and I found a copy of Peter Pan. I've been looking for a copy for ages. I didn't have £6.50 to buy it though. Devastated. Kim's now hoping she gets me for Secret Santa at Courier Christmas this year.

01 November 2012

Classic Books We Ought to Read

So, we've kind of made a pact to read more classic novels.

As you may be aware, in GCBC, we each pick 5 books which make up a 'round'. We're currently on Round 3, which includes The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald. This got me thinking, we really should read some more classic novels. Anyway, I've begun to compile a list of books that we ought to read, but haven't. What sometimes hinders our book reading is that believe it or not, we each had lives before GCBC, so our literary history is not completely identical!

Please take a look at the list below, we'd love to hear your recommendations, is there anything you would add? or even better, any you think we should completely avoid? Thanks in advance!

Disclaimer: Please don't recommend Chaucer, A-Level English Lit ruined it for me.. Too old, and dotted with French. Lets say 1850s-1950s-ish! (We're flexible!)

The List

Emma - Jane Austen (1815...ooh!)
Fahrenheit 451 - Ray Bradbury (Written in 1953, but like I said - we're flexible)
A Clockwork Orange - Anthony Burgess (1962, see above!)
The Heart of the Matter - Graham Green (1948! Winning!)
84, Charing Cross Road - Helene Hanff (1970)
Catch 22 - Joseph Heller (1962)
Brave New World - Aldous Huxley (1932)
The Best of Everything - Rona Jaff (1958)
Requiem for a Dream - Hubert Selby Jr (1978)
One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest - Ken Kesey  (1962)
Lady Chatterley's Lover - D.H. Lawrence (1928)
Rebecca - Daphne Du Maurier (1938)
Gone With the Wind - Margaret Mitchell (1936)
Animal Farm - George Orwell (1945)
Down and Out in Paris and London - George Orwell(1933)
A Tree Grows in Brooklyn - Betty Smith (1943)
The Grapes of Wrath - John Steinbeck (1939)
East of Eden - John Steinbeck (1952)
Brideshead Revisited - Evelyn Waugh (1944)
The Picture of Dorian Gray - Oscar Wilde (1890)
Cat on a Hot Tin Roof - Tennessee Williams (1955)
Mrs Dalloway - Virginia Wolf (1925)