On My Bookshelf (12)

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

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It’s been a while since I did one of these, but unfortunately the number of unread books on my bookshelf hasn’t really gone down. This isn’t because I haven’t been reading but because, in spite of all my best efforts, I keep buying new books! The book I’m showcasing you this time is one that, like so many, has been taking up shelf space for quite some time now, and gives me a sense of guilt ever time I glance at it in passing. I’ve heard so many great things about it, which is why I don’t really understand why I keep putting off reading this book. It’s Possession by A.S. Byatt. I’ve not read any of her work yet but like I said, I’ve heard a lot of great things about her writing so it should be good!

Synopsis
“Literary critics make natural detectives,” says Maud Bailey, heroine of a mystery where the clues lurk in university libraries, old letters, and dusty journals. Together with Roland Michell, a fellow academic and accidental sleuth, Maud discovers a love affair between the two Victorian writers the pair has dedicated their lives to studying: Randolph Ash, a literary great long assumed to be a devoted and faithful husband, and Christabel La Motte, a lesser-known “fairy poetess” and chaste spinster. At first, Roland and Maud’s discovery threatens only to alter the direction of their research, but as they unearth the truth about the long-forgotten romance, their involvement becomes increasingly urgent and personal. Desperately concealing their purpose from competing researchers, they embark on a journey that pulls each of them from solitude and loneliness, challenges the most basic assumptions they hold about themselves, and uncovers their unique entitlement to the secret of Ash and La Motte’s passion.(Goodreads)

Book Haul (16)

So lately I’ve been trying to stop myself from buying too many books, and instead focus on the books I already own. I’ve been doing pretty well if I may say so myself and I went for months without buying any new books. But when I went to the Netherlands a few weeks ago to visit family and friends I have to admit I caved and ended up buying two new books. In my defence though, one’s a second hand book and the other one a Dutch book which would’ve been difficult to get hold of otherwise, so I feel that, in this instance, it was okay to buy new books.

The first book I bought is The Man Who Listens to Horses by Monty Roberts, the real-life horse whisperer. I’ve admired him for years for the way he treats horses and the remarkable way he’s managed to learn the ‘language of horses’. I’m reading it at the moment and it’s so inspiring. I would love to buy a young horse sometime in the near future, and when I do I will definitely be using his method to train my horse.

I bought this at the second-hand book market in the centre of Amsterdam, and I only paid €4 for it so it was a great bargain!

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The second book I bought is Papegaai Vloog over de IJssel by Kader Abdolah. It’s his latest book and hasn’t been translated into English yet, so unfortunately I can’t give you the English title. A few months back I wrote a review for one of his other books, The King, which you can find here. I’m really looking forward to reading this new one, because so far I’ve loved everything he’s written and I’m hoping this one will be just as enjoyable to read.

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I’m really going to try to make myself read both these books before I even think about buying any new ones, so the next book haul might not be for a while yet (but who knows?).

Have you bought any exciting new titles recently?

A New Addition

So I’ve been away from this blog for a few weeks, and for several reasons. The first reason is that I’ve been away visiting family and friends which was really nice. I spent a few days in Amsterdam staying with best friend M and meeting up with some other friends whom I hadn’t seen in ages and I had such a good time.

And the second (and most exciting!) reason is that we got a new puppy a week ago! We lost our dear dog a year ago, on 4 April, and we were all heartbroken. For months we didn’t feel like we would be able to love another dog the way we loved him, but we finally came to the realisation that life’s pretty empty without a pet and that’s when we started looking for a new pup. We finally picked him up on Sunday, 22 March, so he’s been with us for just over a week. He’s a little Jack Russell, nearly 11 weeks old now, and he’s called Kalle (a Scandinavian name). We’re in love <3

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Top Ten Tuesday (24)

It’s Tuesday again, which means it’s time for another Top Ten Tuesday! This meme is hosted by The Broke and the Bookish, and if you run a book blog and want to participate, go check it out!

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This week’s theme is ‘Top Ten Books On My Spring TBR List‘. I’ve got great plans reading-wise for this spring, so I’m excited to share this list with you all.

  • A Dance with Dragons Part 2: After the Feast – George R.R. Martin
  • The Map of Love – Ahdaf Soueif
  • The Yacoubian Building – Alaa Al-Aswany
  • Palace Walk – Naguib Mahfouz
  • The Kalahari Typing School For Men – Alexander McCall Smith

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  • A Dangerous Inheritance – Alison Weir
  • The Museum of Innocence – Orhan Pamuk
  • Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency – Douglas Adams
  • I Am Malala – Malala Yousafzai
  • Papegaai Vloog Over de IJssel – Kader Abdolah

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Do you make reading plans/lists for any particular time period?

Top Ten Tuesday (23)

Hi guys, so it’s time for another Top Ten Tuesday. I really love this meme because it’s so diverse and it really forces you to think about your favourite reads, literary tropes, and many other things. This meme is hosted by The Broke and the Bookish, and if you run a book blog and want to participate, go check it out!

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This week’s topic is Top Ten Books You Would Classify As ALL TIME FAVOURITE BOOKS from the past 3 years. I think this is a great one because I love reflecting and looking back on the wonderful books I’ve read in the past. Since we’re only a few months into 2015 I’ve chosen books that I read in the period from 2012-2014.

2012

  • Ken Follett – The Pillars of the Earth
  • Elif Shafak – The Bastard of Istanbul
  • George R.R. Martin – A Game of Thrones
  • Dawn French – A Tiny Bit Marvellous

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2013

  • Carlos Ruiz Zafón – The Shadow of the Wind
  • Khaled Hosseini – And The Mountains Echoed
  • Elizabeth Chadwick – The Summer Queen

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2014

  • Kader Abdolah – The King
  • Ruby Wax – Sane New World: Taming the Mind
  • Alexander McCall Smith – 44 Scotland Street

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I could’ve picked a few more books from the past few years, but since I had to limit myself to just 10 I had to think about this carefully. If you take part in this TTT list, leave me a comment so I can check our your picks! :)

Foodporn Friday (1)

I’ve been meaning to blog about food for a while now because I absolutely love cooking and baking, but somehow it was never the right moment. Or, in some cases, I simply forgot to take pictures of whatever it was I created, and a post without pictures is a sad excuse for a blog post really.

But a few days ago I made one of my favourite recipes, so I just had to share it here. It’s a basic recipe for a lemon drizzle cake, but this time I slightly changed it by topping it with a lemon buttercream frosting and it turned out great!

It’s a gluten free cake, because my family and I are gluten intolerant, and if you use a butter substitute it can easily be made dairy free as well.

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That looks a bit of alright, doesn’t it?

So, without further ado, the recipe for my lemon cake with lemon buttercream icing.

For the cake
55 grams butter, softened
150 grams sugar
2 eggs
the zest of 2 lemons
juice of 1 lemon
250 grams rice flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon xanthan gum
1/2 teaspoon salt
180 ml milk

For the frosting
60 grams butter
250 grams icing sugar
1 tablespoon milk
15 ml lemon juice

Some lemon zest for decoration

Instructions
Preheat the oven to 180C.

Cream together the butter and sugar. I like to use an electric whisk to do this. Then add the eggs one by one and mix well. Mix in the lemon zest and juice and mix well again. After that add the dry ingredients and the milk. Whisk everything until it’s well combined, stopping every now and then to scrape the edges of the bowl. Continue to mix until you get a smooth, homogenous cake batter.

Grease a round baking tin and dust with a bit of rice flour. Pour the batter into the cake tin and spread it out evenly.

Bake in the centre of the pre-heated oven for around 25-30 minutes, but keep your eye on it. The cake’s done when a toothpick inserted into the centre comes out clean.

Leave to cool on a wire rack, and don’t frost before the cake has completely cooled! This’ll take maybe an hour.

To make the frosting
 Cut the softened butter into cubes and place in a large mixing bowl. Sift in the icing sugar to avoid lumps. Add your milk and lemon juice and mix well with an electric whisk until it has a smooth and quite thick consistency. If it looks too runny, add a bit more icing sugar. You don’t want your frosting to drip off the cake.

So, once your cake has had plenty of time to cool, add the frosting and spread it out evenly over the cake. Decorate with a bit more lemon zest to make it look pretty :)

This cake is best eaten on the day, but will definitely keep for a few days if stored in an airtight container and kept somewhere cool.

Do you love baking? Share your favourite recipe below if you like. And if you decide to bake this cake please send me pictures, because I’d love to see your baking creations!

Top Ten Tuesday (22)

So it’s been a while since I’ve done one of these, and as I’m posting it it’s only just still Tuesday (but it’ll be Tuesday for another few hours in some parts of the world so that totally counts, right?)

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This week’s topic is a pretty cool one, which is why I just had to do it. It’s: Top Ten Favourite Heroines From Books (or TV shows/films). Pretty cool huh? Mine will be a combination of the two, because there are awesome heroines in every medium.

1. Hermione Granger – Harry Potter series.
This one should go without saying really. She’s smart, she’s brave, but she doesn’t have to sacrifice her femininity in order to be all of those things.

2. Danaerys Targaryen – A Song of Ice and Fire
She gets bullied and abused by her brother, sold and forced to marry the leader of a brutal gang of warriors on horseback. So what does she do when her husband dies? She takes control and leads that unruly troop into battle and tries to free as many slaves as possible. Oh yeah, badass.

3. Vianne Rocher – Chocolat
What I love most about her is that she stays true to who she is and what she believes in, but at the same time she accepts and respects people’s differences and doesn’t try to convince them of her ways, even though that’s exactly what they’re trying to do to her.

4. Katniss Everdeen – The Hunger Games (the book version!)
She’s an admirable character and a likeable heroine because she gets thrown into a situation and tries to make the most of it. She sacrifices herself in order to save her little sister from inevitable harm, which is one of the most selfless things a person can do for a loved one.

5. Matilda – Roald Dahl
She’s probably the best role model for young girls there is. Matilda teaches girls that it’s okay and even good to be smart and different, and that you should stand up for what you believe in.

6. Precious Ramotswe – The No.1 Ladies’ Detective Agency
Her love for people and her country, and her general philosophy and outlook on life are simply amazing. If I had to choose the wisdom of one fictional character to live by, it would be the wisdom of Mma Ramotswe.

7. Lucie Pevensie – The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe (The Chronicles of Narnia #2)
She’s the first one to discover Narnia behind the wardrobe, and sets events in motion that eventually lead to saving the the magical land. She’s inquisitive, loveable and loyal, which is why I love her so much.

8. Ishraq – The Order of Darkness series
I love her because she’s a highly intelligent woman living in the Middle Ages, who basically doesn’t give a shit about the fact that women are supposed to be subservient slaves. She’s had an education, has knowledge of science, medicine, mathematics, and languages, as well as being a pro at martial arts. She doesn’t need to be saved from sticky situations. In fact, she’s the one doing the actual saving most of the time!

So that’s all from me for now. Who’s your favourite fictional heroine?

Review: The Winter Crown by Elizabeth Chadwick (Eleanor of Aquitaine #2)

wintercrownTitle: The Winter Crown
Author: Elizabeth Chadwick
Published: September 11th, 2014
Publisher: Sphere
Pages: 483
ISBN: 1847445446

Review
At the beginning of The Winter Crown we find Alienor in pretty much the same place where we had left her at the end of The Summer Queen. These are the early years of her marriage to Henry II when they’re still head over heels in love with one another, and they’re ruling side by side as King and Queen of England and Duke and Duchess of Aquitaine. But soon enough, bit by bit, Alienor’s worst fears are starting to become reality. Whereas during the early days of their marriage Henry would often rely on her advise, he’s starting to sidetrack her more and more, disregarding her opinions and insights into how to best contain their unruly vassals in Aquitaine and Poitou. He begins to rely heavily on his Chancellor, Thomas Becket, with whom he develops an unhealthy relationship to say the least. All the while he rules his territories with an iron fist, leaving Alienor with little more to do than bear him a small army of heirs.

This second instalment chronicles Alienor through her relentless childbearing years and sees her become increasingly frustrated with the direction her life is taking. Henry’s political scheming seems to get worse every year, and the games he plays become increasingly more complicated. His love/hate relationship with Thomas Becket spirals out of control after he’s made him Archbishop of Canterbury, and ends with a bloody climax that sees Becket murdered by Henry’s followers inside Canterbury cathedral.

Meanwhile, Alienor worries incessantly about her children’s inheritance, as Henry seems to try and involve their sons in his political schemes. Their oldest surviving heir, Henry, had been crowned as a teenager to rule alongside his father, and was subsequently called “The Young King”, but had in fact not been allowed to rule any of his territories at all. Henry II, becoming increasingly paranoid, tries with all his might to stay the sole ruler over all of his territories. This continues to the point where Alienor has had enough of his scheme, and attempts to give her sons what is rightfully theirs, even if she has to turn to her former husband, Louis of France to achieve this. But Henry gets wind of her plans and has her captured before she manages to reach France. He takes Alienor back with him to England and has her imprisoned at Saurum (Salisbury). This is where the book ends, but Alienor’s story will be concluded in the third instalment, The Autumn Throne.

For me this was one of the most anticipated books of the year, and like The Summer Queen it did not disappoint. Chadwick’s style of writing brings the period to life in an almost magical way, but also manages to convey all the raw, heartfelt emotions and turmoil Alienor experiences. Just before reading this book I had just finished Alison Weir’s The Captive Queen, which is another historical novel centring around Eleanor of Aquitaine, so it was quite interesting to be able to compare the way the two authors filled in the many gaps in our knowledge of this fascinating woman. Both accounts are extremely well written and enjoyable to read, but in my view I got the feeling that the reader gets to “know” Alienor better in Chadwick’s book. Of course there is so much we cannot and sadly never will know about Alienor’s life, but I felt that the gaps were filled in a very realistic manner and very true to her character. But as I am no historian, just someone with a keen interest in history, I don’t know how much my opinion on the matter is worth.

In conclusion, I think this book, together with the preceding and the upcoming volumes, are great reads for anyone interested in history, medieval and women’s history in particular. I definitely enjoyed it and, even though I already know how it’ll all end, I’m looking forward to the third and final part of this story.

My rating: heartheartheartheart

Review: Does My Head Look Big in This? by Randa Abdel-Fattah

79876Title: Does My Head Look Big in This?
Author: Randa Abdel-Fattah
Published: May 1st, 2007
Publisher: Orchard Books
Pages: 360

Review
Sixteen-year-old Amal is just your average Australian teenager. Like most girls her age she loves fashion, make up, and she worries about getting good grades. Then one day, while watching an episode of Friends, the realisation suddenly hits her: she’s ready to wear the hijab. Since she used to attend an Islamic middle school she was already used to wearing it for a few hours a day, but now she’s decided she’s ready to start wearing it full-time. When she tells her parents about her decision they’re hesitant, and wonder whether she’s truly ready. They also try to make her understand that it might be difficult at first, and that people might see and treat her differently. Amal isn’t worried. After all, it is a personal decision that only affects her. She’s doing this because she feels it’s the right thing for her to do, but as it won’t change her beyond her physical appearance, why should anyone treat her differently?

On her first day of school wearing the hijab, her first hurdle is the headmistress. Amal attends a rather posh private school, and her headmistress seems mostly concerned with the fact that the hijab is not in accordance with the school’s strict dress code. In addition to this she automatically jumps to the conclusion that Amal’s parents forced her to wear it, and is highly surprised when Amal tells her that her parents, in fact, tried to talk her out of it. Luckily Amal’s friends don’t make a big thing of it, but she does get subjected to a lot stares and shocked looks from other pupils, as well as a lot of talking behind her back. After 9/11 things only get worse, as people suddenly start treating her as the in-house expert on terrorism.

In spite of this Amal tries to stay positive. Surely everyone will turn round once they realise her hijab hasn’t changed her? It’s just a piece of fabric, nothing more. Gradually some people do start to treat her normally again, and Amal feels that life can in fact be as it once was. During the rest of the school year she does face some hurdles, some of which are related to her religious beliefs, whereas others are just your typical teenage problems. But the open ending of the book gives off an overall positive message.

What I really liked about the book is the fact that it strikes the right balance between humorous and more serious passages. It starts off light-hearted and funny, giving the impression that what you’re about to read fits the “chick-lit” category. Though the story definitely has some serious undertones, but because it’s intertwined with humorous passages it doesn’t get too heavy and is enjoyable to read from start to finish. In my view the story paints a realistic picture of what “hyphenated” people (in this case Palestinian-Muslim-Australian), as Amal calls it, go through in their teenage years.

The book confronts and explores a lot of stereotypes, not just about Muslims, but about many of Amal’s friends as well. Her friend Eileen, for instance, is Japanese-Australian, and her background comes with its own set of expectations and stereotypes. And another friend, Josh, is Jewish, and some of his family members don’t like him being friends with a Muslim girl.

The only downside to the book I could think of is that, at times, it can come across as a bit preachy. The author seems to feel the need to emphasise time and time again what Islam and being a Muslim is truly about, and these sometimes long-winded explanations by Amal to her friends did halt the flow of the story. But this is only a minor thing that I felt I needed to point out, because I can’t say it really tainted my overall impression of the book.

All in all I thought it was an enjoyable read, and a must-read for teenagers from all walks of life.

My rating: heartheartheartheart

Fluent in 3 Months

Two weeks ago I finished reading this really interesting book, and I felt I just had to share it here. This isn’t really a review, as I tend not to review these kinds of non-fiction books, but I still wanted to write a post about it. It’s called Fluent in 3 Months: How Anyone at Any Age Can Learn to Speak Any Language from Anywhere in the World, and is written by Benny Lewis, more commonly known as Benny the Irish Polyglot.

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The book describes a new and kind of revolutionary way of learning a new language, as devised by Benny himself. Until the age of 21 he couldn’t speak any language besides English, and he found it very difficult to learn any language. The methods of learning a foreign language were too boring, and often unnecessarily complicated, which slowed down the process of getting anywhere in the target language. This stumbling block made Benny decide to try a completely different approach when it came to language learning. He decided, and this sounds quite scary, to start speaking from day 1.

The way he describes this method is that you pick a language that you’d like to learn, look up a few basic phrases that you can use in everyday life such as ‘hello’, ‘good morning’, ‘how are you’, ‘my name is…’ etc. His theory is that when you start speaking straightaway you get more of a feel for the language, and it enables you to progress much more quickly as you start to learn more new words and phrases. The main reason why most people want to learn a new language is because they want to be able to communicate with other people in said language, but because the focal point of many language courses is grammar and vocabulary you don’t really learn to speak at all. This more practical application, though it seems intimidating at first, is a much more fun and useful way of learning a new language. And not only is it more fun, but it will make learning grammatical rules that much easier once you actually understand the practical application of those rules, which will make grammar seem less abstract.

As for myself, I love languages and I really want to learn to speak a few more. So far I’m fluent in 3 languages and I have some knowledge of a further 2, and this book has really made me want to learn more. So my aim for the coming months is to try out this fluent in 3 months method and see how I like it. I know how scary it is when you first start speaking a foreign language, and I don’t know if that fear of speaking and making mistake will lessen the more languages you learn, but once you overcome that fear it feels so liberating to be able to communicate. As mentioned in my previous post I’m still undecided about which language to pick first. I’ve quite a good understanding of German but I really need to improve my speaking, so that might be a good place to start. At the same time though I’d love to learn Arabic properly. I’ve been trying to study it on and off for a few years now and have gotten nowhere with it – precisely how Benny describes a lot of language learners in his book – so that’s something I really want to work on as well.

But whichever language I decide to choose, I am going to try and chronicle my progress here on the blog. If anyone else is learning or planning on learning a new language (any language!) drop me a comment here so we can exchange ideas about the best way to approach language learning.

For anyone interested in learning more about this book, you can find it on Amazon for a very decent price. You can also read more about useful language hacks on Benny’s website http://www.fluentin3months.com, which also has a forum where you can meet other languages learners, as well as Benny’s personal blog.

Have you ever tried learning a foreign language? If so, which one(s) and how did it go?