My excitement knows no bounds

When I was casually scrolling through Twitter a few days back there was one thing that stood out and made my little bookish heart beat a little faster: Elif Shafak is coming to Edinburgh this month! Not only is she one of my favourite authors, which is enough to make me really excited about this, but it also gives me something to look forward to that’s wholly separate from this constant grind of studying, going to classes, and essay writing. I know it sounds like something insignificant to get so excited about, but when your life revolves pretty much around studying non-stop, something like this can really take the edge off. Sometimes it’s the little things, and we need to appreciate them more I think.

6542440In case you’re thinking: wait, who is this, and why are you so elated? Here’s a brief summary:
Elif Shafak is a Turkish novelist and political scientist, and has written 13 books including 9 novels. She writes both in Turkish and in English. Her novels include The Forty Rules of Love, The Bastard of Istanbul, The Gaze, The Flea Palace, and Honour.

 8322746 The-Gaze 2049640 honour-elif-shafak 9780670918805

She’ll be giving a talk on Politics, Women, and the Art of Storytelling at the University of Edinburgh on the 25th of March, and later that day she’ll be doing a reading at the Looking Glass Bookstore as part of their Istanbul Review Night. And best of all? Both events are free! (yes this is my inner student coming through right there). If it wasn’t already clear from my rambling I am BEYOND EXCITED, and will be blogging about it in detail afterwards.

And I will definitely be bringing my copy of The Flea Palace,  so I can (hopefully) have it signed.

Excited fangirl signing off now. More about this towards the end of the month :D

 

Have you ever met any of your favourite authors? What was it like, and was it anything like you expected it to be? Share your experiences below.

February in Review

Hi all, and apologies for abandoning the blog again for so long. I had three deadlines this month, and in addition to that my mum came to visit me for a few days so it’s safe to say that I’ve been pretty busy. It’s such a shame that whenever things get busy the blogging immediately gets put on the back burner, but it’s just really difficult to find the time to blog regularly. Not to mention finding the time to actually read a book. Who would’ve thought a master’s programme would be so hectic?

February is the shortest month of the year and it definitely felt as if it was over in a flash. To me it still feels as if we’ve only just had Christmas, but it’ll be the 1st of March tomorrow, and we’ve only got 4 weeks of teaching left this term! This is scariest of all, because that means I’m only 3 essays and a dissertation away from graduating. And after that I’ll have to start looking for a job and pretend to be a mature and responsible adult, and I’m not sure if I’m ready for that much responsibility.

Anyway, February was a reasonably good month. I visited 2 museums:

The Scottish National Gallery

The National Museum of Scotland

And in spite of everything I even managed to read to read 4 books!

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I’d wanted to read this book for quite some time now, and I am even planning on using this novel for my dissertation. I really enjoyed reading it!

 

 

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I had to read this for one of my modules and write a book review for it. It was not the most exciting read ever, but I love reading about Al-Andalus so it was still enjoyable.

 

 

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Again I had to read this for a module and write a review about it. This book was amazing! Really interesting, and I highly recommend it to anyone who wants to know more about Saudi Arabia and its gender politics.

 

 

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Last but not least: this was more of a guilty pleasure read. It was nice to get my mind off things and read something light and completely different from what I normally read. I really enjoyed it.

 

 

So that’s all for now and I will really try and blog a bit more regularly, but unfortunately I can’t make any promises.

What did you read this month?

Top Ten Tuesday (15)

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish, where you can list any kind of top 10 that is related to books, authors, and reading in general.

TTT3W

 

This week’s TTT is: Top Ten Books That Will Make You Cry. I have to admit that I cry easily, over books, series, films, and even ads on TV if I’m honest. So you’d think that compiling a list of ten books that made me cry would be easy for me, but it was surprisingly difficult. So, without further ado, here are my picks:

 

Which books make you bawl your eyes out?

Review: If You Could Be Mine by Sara Farizan

Title: If You Could Be Mine17302571
Author: Sara Farizan
Published: August 20th, 2013
Publisher: Alqonquin Young Readers
Pages: 247
ISBN: 1616202513

Synopsis
In this stunning debut, a young Iranian American writer pulls back the curtain on one of the most hidden corners of a much-talked-about culture.

Seventeen-year-old Sahar has been in love with her best friend, Nasrin, since they were six. They’ve shared stolen kisses and romantic promises. But Iran is a dangerous place for two girls in love—Sahar and Nasrin could be beaten, imprisoned, even executed if their relationship came to light.

So they carry on in secret—until Nasrin’s parents announce that they’ve arranged for her marriage. Nasrin tries to persuade Sahar that they can go on as they have been, only now with new comforts provided by the decent, well-to-do doctor Nasrin will marry. But Sahar dreams of loving Nasrin exclusively—and openly.

Then Sahar discovers what seems like the perfect solution. In Iran, homosexuality may be a crime, but to be a man trapped in a woman’s body is seen as nature’s mistake, and sex reassignment is legal and accessible. As a man, Sahar could be the one to marry Nasrin. Sahar will never be able to love the one she wants, in the body she wants to be loved in, without risking her life. Is saving her love worth sacrificing her true self? (Goodreads)

Review
This book has been on my TBR list for ages, ever since I saw the ARC pop up on Netgalley about a year ago. I didn’t request it at the time because I still had so many other books to read, but the story really intrigued me and it was never far from my mind. So when I finally got my own copy at the beginning of the year as a belated Christmas present, I was really excited and couldn’t wait to finally start reading it. But of course that coincided with the start of my second semester, which meant that I didn’t have a lot of time to actually read for fun. So in spite of it being a really short book at just under 250 pages, it still took me a while to finish it.

I have to say the book definitely didn’t disappoint. The style of writing was easy and accessible, which I’d say is rather typical for a young adult book, and personally that’s all I can handle at the moment when I take a break from reading academic texts. And though the style of the book may be simple, the content isn’t. It tackles some big issues about gender and gender-identity, forbidden love, the loss of a parent, corruption, prostitution, and authoritarianism. In addition to that the novel features gay, lesbian, and transgender characters in prominent roles. It sounds like a lot for such a relatively short book but oddly enough it’s not overwhelming, even though that is what you’d expect. It’s all woven together beautifully, and you feel as though you really get to know the characters. The story is told from Sahar’s point of view, and because of that focuses primarily on her. So she was the first character I really sympathised with and really felt sorry for, but as the story progresses you gradually get to know the other characters better as well, and you begin to see that they all have their own problems to deal with. Nasrin seems very happy-go-lucky and superficial, and for the best part of the novel you actually get the impression that that’s all there is to her character, but it’s not. And that just shows, once again, that nobody’s perfect and you shouldn’t judge anyone based solely on outward appearances. The lengths Sahar was willing to go to for her and Nasrin to be together were, I think, equally admirable and terrifying, and I’m so glad that she didn’t go through with it in the end. It’s good that sex-change operations exist for people who really need them, but she was going to do it for all the wrong reasons.

What I like about the ending is that it’s a rather unsatisfying one for the characters. I’m searching for the right word, and unsatisfying isn’t quite what I’m looking for, but that’s the best I can come up with for now. Also, it makes it seem as though I like to see the characters suffer but that’s not the case (I’m not sadistic I swear! :)). I like it because it’s a very realistic ending. I won’t give too much away about the ending, but in the wider context of the story it wouldn’t have worked if Sahar and Nasrin had gotten their happy ending. They live in Iran, and being gay is punishable by death, so they can’t be together. In addition to that Sahar is married and adultery, surprise surprise, is also a criminal offence. So whichever way you look at it they can’t end up together, as much as I wanted them to. But I’m also glad that it didn’t have a tragic ending, which I was dreading for a while as I was reading the book. That would have worked in my view, but it would’ve been too horrible and sad. To cut my rambling short, because this is going nowhere – and Ireally don’t want to give too much away – I thought it was a good book and I enjoyed reading it. I would definitely recommend it to others.

My rating: heartheartheart

Have you read this book? If so, let me know what you thought of it!

Book Haul (12)

So I received a few new books in the post today, which were actually belated Christmas presents so I’m really happy that I’ve finally got them. The only problem is that the new term starts next week, so I don’t know how much spare time I’ll have to actually read them. But I guess I’ll just have to try and find a way to do so. That is one of my new year’s resolutions after all, to make some time to read for pleasure in spite of the heavy workload of my master’s degree.

All three books have been on my wishlist for a while now, and I can’t wait to start reading them :)

If You Could Be Mine by Sara Farizan

17302571Seventeen-year-old Sahar has been in love with her best friend, Nasrin, since they were six. They’ve shared stolen kisses and romantic promises. But Iran is a dangerous place for two girls in love—Sahar and Nasrin could be beaten, imprisoned, even executed if their relationship came to light.

So they carry on in secret—until Nasrin’s parents announce that they’ve arranged for her marriage. Nasrin tries to persuade Sahar that they can go on as they have been, only now with new comforts provided by the decent, well-to-do doctor Nasrin will marry. But Sahar dreams of loving Nasrin exclusively—and openly.

Then Sahar discovers what seems like the perfect solution. In Iran, homosexuality may be a crime, but to be a man trapped in a woman’s body is seen as nature’s mistake, and sex reassignment is legal and accessible. As a man, Sahar could be the one to marry Nasrin. Sahar will never be able to love the one she wants, in the body she wants to be loved in, without risking her life. Is saving her love worth sacrificing her true self?

The Yacoubian Building by Alaa Al-Aswany

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This controversial bestselling novel in the Arab world reveals the political corruption, sexual repression, religious extremism, and modern hopes of Egypt today.

All manner of flawed and fragile humanity reside in the Yacoubian Building, a once-elegant temple of Art Deco splendor now slowly decaying in the smog and bustle of downtown Cairo: a fading aristocrat and self-proclaimed “scientist of women”; a sultry, voluptuous siren; a devout young student, feeling the irresistible pull toward fundamentalism; a newspaper editor helplessly in love with a policeman; a corrupt and corpulent politician, twisting the Koran to justify his desires.

These disparate lives careen toward an explosive conclusion in Alaa Al Aswany’s remarkable international bestseller. Teeming with frank sexuality and heartfelt compassion, this book is an important window on to the experience of loss and love in the Arab world.

Does My Head Look Big In This? by Randa Abdel-Fattah

79876When sixteen-year-old Amal decides to wear the hijab full-time, her entire world changes, all because of a piece of cloth…

Sixteen-year-old Amal makes the decision to start wearing the hijab full- time and everyone has a reaction. Her parents, her teachers, her friends, people on the street. But she stands by her decision to embrace her faith and all that it is, even if it does make her a little different from everyone else.

Can she handle the taunts of “towel head,” the prejudice of her classmates, and still attract the cutest boy in school? Brilliantly funny and poignant, Randa Abdel-Fattah’s debut novel will strike a chord in all teenage readers, no matter what their beliefs

So that’s all I have to show you for now. Have a brilliant weekend everyone! :D

Have you bought any new books recently?

Top Ten Tuesday (14)

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish, where you can list any kind of top 10 that is related to books, authors, and reading in general.

TTT3W

My 14th Top Ten Tuesday, and the first of 2014! This is definitely my favourite meme, and I will continue with it in this new year, and hopefully more regularly than I did in 2013. Which ties in nicely with this week’s topic, which is: Top Ten Goals/Resolutions for 2014 (bookish, not bookish, or a blend).

  1. Make sure I update my blog regularly.
  2. Read at least 50 books.
  3. Read more books by women authors. I read 22 last year, and my aim is to top that.
  4. Find a healthy balance between course work and free time. This year I’ll need to allow myself some time every now and then to sit down and read.
  5. Write reviews soon after finishing a book, rather than putting it off indefinitely.
  6. Explore new genres and authors.
  7. Possibly take part in/host a blog tour.
  8. Do a giveaway.
  9. Get my Master’s degree.
  10. Go to London again and see a play.

 

So that’s 8 bookish resolutions, and 2 general ones. I’d say all-in-all they should be doable for this year.

Did you make any resolutions for 2014? (bookish or otherwise)

On My Bookshelf (10)

In this feature I showcase books that remain on my shelf, unread and impatiently waiting to be picked up.

onmybookshelf

This time I’ve chosen 44 Scotland Street by Alexander McCall Smith, the first in a series of books that goes by the same name. I absolutely adore McCall Smith’s series about The No.1 Ladies’ Detective Agency, and I’m really looking forward to reading some of his other work as well. What makes it more interesting for me at this particular moment in my life is that the books are set in Edinburgh, which is where I’m living at the moment, so I’m assuming that this will really bring the story to life for me once I start reading it. I really hope I’ll have time to start on this series soon!

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Synopsis
Welcome to 44 Scotland Street, home to some of Edinburgh’s most colourful characters. There’s Pat, a twenty-year-old who has recently moved into a flat with Bruce, an athletic young man with a keen awareness of his own appearance. Their neighbour, Domenica, is an eccentric and insightful widow. In the flat below are Irene and her appealing son Bertie, who is the victim of his mother’s desire for him to learn the saxophone and Italian all at the tender age of five.

Love triangles, a lost painting, intriguing new friends, and an encounter with a famous Scottish crime writer are just a few of the ingredients that add to this delightful and witty portrait of Edinburgh society, which was first published as a serial in The Scotsman newspaper. (Goodreads)

Woman Author Challenge 2014

Over at www.peekabook.it they host this really great Woman Author Challenge, and since I enjoyed it so much last year I’ve decided to take part in it again this year. Last year I read 22 books written by women, and my aim is to top that this year. So if you fancy setting yourself a nice challenge for 2014, check out the blog and sign up!

This year I’m aiming for Level 4: WONDER WOMAN – read 20+ books written by a woman author.

womenauthorchallenge

Review: The Little Coffee Shop of Kabul by Deborah Rodriguez

coffee_shop_ARTWORK:Layout 1Title: The Little Coffee Shop of Kabul
Author: Deborah Rodrigues
Published: April 11th, 2013
Publisher: Sphere
Pages: 375
ISBN: 075155040X

Synopsis
From the author of the memoir Kabul Beauty School comes a fiction debut as compelling as real life: the story of a remarkable coffee shop in the heart of Afghanistan, and the men and women who meet there — thrown together by circumstance, bonded by secrets, and united in an extraordinary friendship.
After hard luck and some bad choices, Sunny has finally found a place to call home — it just happens to be in the middle of a war zone.
The thirty-eight-year-old American’s pride and joy is the Kabul Coffee House, where she brings hospitality to the expatriates, misfits, missionaries, and mercenaries who stroll through its doors. She’s especially grateful that the busy days allow her to forget Tommy, the love of her life, who left her in pursuit of money and adventure.
Working alongside Sunny is the maternal Halajan, who vividly recalls the days before the Taliban and now must hide a modern romance from her ultratraditional son — who, unbeknownst to her, is facing his own religious doubts. Into the café come Isabel, a British journalist on the trail of a risky story; Jack, who left his family back home in Michigan to earn “danger pay” as a consultant; and Candace, a wealthy and well-connected American whose desire to help threatens to cloud her judgment.
When Yazmina, a young Afghan from a remote village, is kidnapped and left on a city street pregnant and alone, Sunny welcomes her into the café and gives her a home — but Yazmina hides a secret that could put all their lives in jeopardy.
As this group of men and women discover that there’s more to one another than meets the eye, they’ll form an unlikely friendship that will change not only their own lives but the lives of an entire country.
Brimming with Deborah Rodriguez’s remarkable gift for depicting the nuances of life in Kabul, and filled with vibrant characters that readers will truly care about, The Little Coffee Shop of Kabul is the best kind of fiction—full of heart yet smart and thought-provoking. (Goodreads)

Review
This book follows the lives of 5 very different women who would normally probably never meet, but who are all connected to each other in some way through a little coffee shop. Sunny, an American woman from the South has been running the coffee shop a few years now, but the property is owned by 60-year-old Halajan. Sunny takes in Yasmina, a young, pregnant, recently widowed woman from a rural area who was stolen away by drug lords and left abandoned on the streets of Kabul. And then there are Isabel, a British journalist, and Candace, an American ambassadors wife who’s finally left her husband after years of unhappy marriage, who both frequent the coffee shop as well.

The title, cover and description just scream chick-lit, a genre which I’m not very fond of, but I thought the setting was interesting because I like reading about Afghanistan, which is what made me decide to pick it up. And I’m glad I did, because this book is so much more than your ordinary chick-lit. It deals with a variety of different topics such as inequality, the treatment of women and minorities, terrorism, and forbidden love. I wasn’t surprised when I learned that the author has lived in Kabul for several years herself, because the book shows a good understanding of the history of Afghanistan, the politics, corruption, and the opium trade. Even though this was a fairly easy read it’s not a light read. It deas with some pretty gritty topics as well, which adds something to the book and moves it away from the chick-lit genre it would otherwise be placed in.

Yet there were a few things that bothered me, one of which was the love triangle between Sunny and the two main men in her life. I’m not a fan of love triangles in stories because I think it’s a clichéd and heavily overused plot-device, but luckily it didn’t feature heavily in the story and so it didn’t bother me too much. Another thing that grated with me was Isabel’s use of language. She was the only British character in the story, and she just used a few too many “bloodys” and “blokes” for my liking. This overuse of typically British words were for me a telltale sign that the author was trying too hard to make her appear to be very British, which actually had the opposite effect and made her look fake. And lastly, the way they managed to find Yasmina’s sister towards the end of the book, without any lasting consequences or repercussions for stealing her away from people who wanted to sell her into prostitution wasn’t very credible either.

But in spite of this I think it was a well-written, touching story which I enjoyed reading a lot. I would definitely recommend it to others who enjoy reading about Afghanistan or Muslim countries in general, or who like books featuring female protagonists.

My rating: heartheartheartheart

2013 Reading Challenges

logoThis year I took part in two different reading challenges. One was the Goodreads Reading Challenge, as usual. After passing my challenge of 40 books last year, I decided to be a bit more daring and challenged myself to read 50 books this year. Even though I was on track for most of the year, and even ahead for quite some time, I didn’t manage to complete this one. I guess I underestimated how much of my time would be taken up by my Masters, which I started in September. Still, I managed to read 44 books, which I’m quite pleased about :)

womenauthorchallengeThe other one was the Women Author Challenge, hosted by www.peekabook.it
I chose to go for level 3: SUPER GIRL – read 11 to 15 books written by a woman author. But in the end I even managed to surpass the highest level, which was level 4: WONDER WOMAN – read 16+ books written by a woman author.

  1. The Gaze – Elif Shafak
  2. Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone – J.K. Rowling
  3. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets – J.K. Rowling
  4. The Casual Vacancy – J.K. Rowling
  5. Daughter of Jerusalem – Joan Wolf
  6. The Dervish – Frances Kazan
  7. The Garden of my Imaan – Farhana Zia
  8. Harry Potter: The Prequel – J.K. Rowling
  9. Roses Have Thorns: A Novel of Elizabeth I – Sandra Byrd
  10. A Murder is Announced – Agatha Christie
  11. The Boleyn King – Laura Andersen
  12. Fast Times in Palestine – Pamela J. Olson
  13. Honour – Elif Shafak
  14. Stormbringers – Philippa Gregory
  15. The Summer Queen – Elizabeth Chadwick
  16. Blackberry Wine – Joanne Harris
  17. The White Princess – Philippa Gregory
  18. The Constant Princess – Philippa Gregory
  19. Bonkers: My Life in Laughs – Jennifer Saunders
  20. Leila Khaled: Icon of Palestinian Liberation – Sarah Irving
  21. My People Shall Live: Autobiography of a Revolutionary – Leila Khaled
  22. Allegiant – Veronica Roth

I’m a bit disappointed that I didn’t manage to read 50 books this year, but of course I’m very happy that I at least completed one of my reading challenges. I will definitely partake in both challenges again in 2014, and perhaps in some others as well.

Are you planning to take part in any reading challenges next year?