Wednesday 10 September 2014

Experiencing The Snows of Kilimanjaro by Ernest Hemingway

Okay, I have to admit -- I've only ever read one other story by Ernest Hemingway and, yes, it was about baby shoes. It's not that I haven't been interested. I read some of The Old Man and the Sea but it didn't grab me at all and, when something doesn't grab me, I usually give up within a few pages. I also own a copy of For Whom the Bell Tolls, though it has been sat on the shelf collecting dust with a bunch of other books which I'll get around to reading 'someday'.

Then, yesterday, I was browsing the classics section at my local Oxfam bookshop when I came across The Snows of Kilimanjaro and other stories; eighteen of Hemingway's short stories contained within one small paperback. And being somewhat determined to find at least one piece of Hemingway which I could honestly say that I enjoyed, I purchased it.

To explain the plot rather simply (and incompletely), it's about a man named Harry who is stranded in Africa, gangrene killing him, and he is looking back on his life. He fades in and out of dreams and daydreams, and in these moments we see into his mind as he reflects on all the stories he wish he had written during his life but hadn't, for one reason or another.

How many of us can relate to this? Truthfully, in the moments when Harry pondered why he had procrastinated so severely, I felt as if Hemingway was speaking directly to me.

Yes, enough of the fear. Enough of feeling inadequate. How can a person discover their full potential if they never even try? They can't, really.

Here's one of my favourite passages from The Snows of Kilimanjaro:
You kept from thinking and it was all marvellous. You were equipped with good insides so that you did not go to pieces that way, the way most of them had, and you made an attitude that you cared nothing for the work you used to do, now that you could no longer do it. But, in yourself, you said that you would write about these people; about the very rich; that you were really not of them but a spy in their country; that you would leave it and write of it and for once it would be written by some one who knew what he was writing of. But he would never do it, because each day of not writing, of comfort, of being that which he despised, dulled his ability and softened his will to work so that, finally, he did no work at all. The people he knew now were all much more comfortable when he did not work. Africa was where he had been happiest in the good time of his life, so he had come out here to start again. They had made this safari with the minimum of comfort. There was no hardship; but there was no luxury and he had thought that he could get back into training that way. That in some way he could work the fat off his soul the way a fighter went into the mountains to work and train in order to burn it out of his body. 
[...] And he had felt the illusion of returning strength of will to work. Now if this was how it ended, and he knew it was, he must not turn like some snake biting itself because its back was broken.
Of course, I've only isolated one theme found within Hemingway's beautiful and tragic story (another theme touches on relationships, but I'll reserve my thoughts on that for my journal). There's really so much to get out of The Snows of Kilimanjaro, and I can't recommend it enough. You can read it online here, and purchase a copy for your shelf here.

Sunday 22 June 2014

Review: Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

What are you thinking, Amy? The question I've asked most often during our marriage, if not out loud, if not to the person who could answer. I suppose these questions stormcloud over every marriage: What are you thinking? How are you feeling? Who are you? What have we done to each other? What will we do?

Just how well can you ever know the person you love? This is the question that Nick Dunne must ask himself on the morning of his fifth wedding anniversary, when his wife Amy suddenly disappears. The police immediately suspect Nick. Amy's friends reveal that she was afraid of him, that she kept secrets from him. He swears it isn't true. A police examination of his computer shows strange searches. He says they aren't his. And then there are the persistent calls on his mobile phone. So what really did happen to Nick's beautiful wife? And what was in that half-wrapped box left so casually on their marital bed? In this novel, marriage truly is the art of war... (via Goodreads)

Gone Girl has been on my radar ever since I saw Gillian Flynn interviewed on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon last year. But, despite its acclaim, I was left rather disappointed.

It started off well. I read the first page and was immediately sucked in to the action the fast pace, vivid descriptions and mysterious characters kept the book firmly open in my hands. I couldn't wait to find out what was going on and where all the questions would lead.

Unfortunately, though, things went downhill after the first few chapters. The plot started getting repetitive, with the characters going over the same clues multiple times. It had me wondering how long it would take to actually go anywhere.

But a major, very unexpected plot twist saved Gone Girl halfway through, and that kept me interested for a while. Eventually, however, the twist also became stale and I was once again bored. And then there was the ending which, to me, was a complete anti-climax.

Not to mention the two main characters, Nick and Amy, who are fantastically developed but almost completely unlikeable. I can't say more without giving too much away but, to be honest, the polarising aspects of their personalities are pretty much what make the book. Who would be getting their just-desserts?

I'll still see the film version of Gone Girl which comes out this autumn, though it will be interesting to see how they treat that ending. Altogether, a disappointing and somewhat frustrating, though also intriguing, read.

Rating: 3 / 5

Monday 21 April 2014

Review: Wolf Bride by Elizabeth Moss

Hilary Mantel meets Sylvia Day: the first installment in a deliciously erotic trilogy, set against the sumptuous backdrop of the scandal-ridden Tudor Court.

England, 1536
Bound to him against her will...
Lord Wolf, hardened soldier and expert lover, has come to King Henry VIII's court to claim his new bride: a girl who has intrigued him since he first saw her riding across the Yorkshire moors.

Eloise Tyrell, now lady-in-waiting to Queen Anne Boleyn, has other ideas. She has no desire to submit to a man she barely knows and who - though she is loath to admit it - frightens her not a little.

Then comes that first kiss...
It awakens in both a fierce desire that bares them to the soul. But as the court erupts into scandal around the ill-fated Queen, Eloise sees first-hand what happens when powerful men tire of their wives.

Dare she surrender her body and her heart? (via Goodreads)

Last year I had the pleasure of interviewing Elizabeth Moss about her critically acclaimed novel Wolf Bride, so I was excited to finally read it. For the most part I had a positive reading experience, though there were some aspects which I found more appealing than others.

The plot wastes no time in getting started, with the first scene in the book introducing the wanton Queen Anne Boleyn. I certainly appreciated this introduction, as when I'm reading erotica, I prefer not to wait too long for the action! This also set up the premise of the novel very well as the latter parts of it centre around the Queen's demise.

The novel also illustrates the time period well, whilst also incorporating a bit of a modern twist. I found it interesting to encounter all these historical places and people within a piece of fiction.

Unfortunately, though, I didn't feel a big connection to the characters. While I appreciated Eloise (a headstrong, determined young woman), and Lord Wolf (definitely the most interesting character of them all he is enigmatic, loyal, and unpredictable), I don't feel that they're characters I'll remember in a few month's time. They just didn't leave all that big of an impression on me.

But despite the few issues I had with Wolf Bride, I'm still looking forward to reading the second book in the series. Overall this was an exciting, albeit imperfect, read.

Rating: 3.5 / 5

Wednesday 26 February 2014

Meeting Karl Pilkington

On November 23rd last year, I was lucky enough to meet one of my absolute favourite people: Karl Pilkington! He was at Waterstones' flagship store in London signing copies of his latest book, The Moaning of Life, which accompanies the TV series of the same name.

It took a 6am start, almost two hours on the train and a gruelling three hour wait outside the bookshop in a line consisting of at least five-hundred people, but it was all definitely worth it for the minute or so that I had with the man himself.

And I can happily say that he is exactly the same in person as he is on the TV (perhaps even nicer)! He was also very engaging and took his time to have a mini-conversation with me about the epic photograph that's on the back of his book. Here's a picture of us discussing it:

He's smiling! I made Karl smile! YAY me!

Here's another photo of us together, which also features this little red gift bag that I'd brought for him. His reaction was, 'Oh, what is it? I hate surprises.' Yup, I had my very own classic Karl moment! He was amused, slightly, when he saw that it enclosed teabags (what can I say? The man enjoys his tea!)

Finally, the signature he left inside my copy of The Moaning of Life. This will have pride of place on my bookshelf for a long time to come!

I'm so happy that I finally got to meet Karl and experience, first-hand, his unique personality. As he would say himself, 'yeah, was alright, wa'n't it?'

Have you met any of your favourite famous people? 

Sunday 19 January 2014

Review: The Tudor Conspiracy by Christopher Gortner

1553: Harsh winter falls across the realm. Mary Tudor has become queen and her enemies are imprisoned in the Tower, but rumours of a plot to depose her swirl around the one person many consider to be England's heir and only hope-- her half-sister, Princess Elizabeth.

Brendan Prescott's foe and mentor, the spymaster Cecil, brings news that sends Brendan back to London on a dangerous mission. Intent upon trying to save Elizabeth, he soon finds himself working as a double-agent for Mary herself.

Plunged into a deadly game of cat-and-mouse with a shadowy opponent who hides a terrifying secret, Brendan races against time to retrieve a cache of the princess's private letters, even as he begins to realize that in this dark world of betrayal and deceit - where power is supreme and sister can turn against sister - nobody can be trusted. (via

Though The Tudor Conspiracy is the second book in the Elizabeth's Spymaster series, it also works as a standalone novel. So, as I'd not read its predecessor, The Tudor Secret, this served as my introduction to Brendan Prescott and the world he navigates.

From the wonderful descriptions to the three-dimensional characters, The Tudor Conspiracy is an enjoyable read. The atmosphere Gortner creates is very evocative, and I found myself easily transported back to 1553 and its vast unpredictability under the rule of Queen Mary I. It also helped that the novel is set during winter, thus making it a fitting companion during these cold, grey days we're currently experiencing here in England!

I enjoyed the characters; especially Brendan (who serves as narrator for the story) and Peregrine. But though the background of each character is fully explained through the plot, I did feel as if I came in at a bit of a disadvantage not having read The Tudor Secret. Perhaps I would have felt more of an attachment to the characters had I started the series from the very beginning (which I may still go back and do)?

Overall, The Tudor Conspiracy is a suspenseful, fast-paced read with some exciting twists. I'm looking forward to finding out what happens to Brendan in the next novel!

Rating: 4 / 5