Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Man Booker Prize Longlist: My Favourites

The day eagerly awaited by booklovers is here: the Man Booker Prize Long list has been announced.

You can find the full long list here.  Whilst I'll try to read most (if not all) of the books on the list, I've grabbed a selection to show case here -

Marlon James (Jamaica) - A Brief History of Seven Killings 

Jamaica, 1976: Seven men storm Bob Marley’s house with machine guns blazing. The reggae superstar survives, but leaves Jamaica the following day, not to return for two years. Inspired by this near-mythic event, A Brief History of Seven Killings is an imagined oral biography, told by ghosts, witnesses, killers, members of parliament, drug dealers, conmen, beauty queens, FBI and CIA agents, reporters, journalists, and even Keith Richards' drug dealer. Marlon James’s dazzling novel is a tour de force. It traverses strange landscapes and shady characters, as motivations are examined – and questions asked – in a masterpiece of imagination.

Laila Lalami (US) - The Moor's Account

In 1527 the Spanish conquistador Pánfilo de Narváez arrived on the coast of modern-day Florida with hundreds of settlers, and claimed the region for Spain. Almost immediately, the expedition was decimated by a combination of navigational errors, disease, starvation and fierce resistance from indigenous tribes. Within a year, only four survivors remained: three noblemen and a Moroccan slave called Estebanico . The official record, set down after a reunion with Spanish forces in 1536, contains only the three freemen s accounts. The fourth, to which the title of Laila Lalami s masterful novel alludes, is Estebanico s own. Lalami gives us Estebanico as history never did: as Mustafa, the vibrant merchant from Azemmur forced into slavery and a new name, and reborn as the first black explorer of the Americas, discovering and being discovered by various tribes both hostile and compassionate. In Estebanico s telling, the survivors journey across great swathes of the New World transforms would-be conquerors into humble servants and fearful outcasts into faith healers. He remains ever-observant, resourceful and hopeful that he might one day find his way back to his family, even as he experiences an unexpected (if ambiguous) camaraderie with his masters. The Moor s Account illuminates the ways in which stories can transmigrate into history, and how storytelling can offer a chance for redemption, reinvention and survival.

Chigozie Obioma (Nigeria) - The Fishermen

In this dazzling debut novel, four young brothers in a small Nigerian town encounter a madman, whose prophecy of violence threatens the core of their family.  In a small town in western Nigeria, four young brothers - the youngest is nine, the oldest fifteen - use their strict father's absence from home to go fishing at a forbidden local river. They encounter a dangerous local madman who predicts that the oldest brother will be killed by another. This prophesy breaks their strong bond and unleashes a tragic chain of events of almost mythic proportions.


Anuradha Roy (India) - Sleeping on Jupiter

Jarmuli: a city of temples, a centre of healing on the edge of the ocean. Nomi, a young girl, is taken from her family and finds herself in an ashram, overseen by a charismatic guru. But Guruji's charm masks a predatory menace, and the young girl faces danger beyond her understanding.  Twenty years later, Nomi returns to Jarmuli with a documentary film crew. All has changed in a town that she no longer knows, as tourists and market traders bustle, banter and chase their dreams amidst the temples of her youth.  Seeking the truth about what happened to her and her family, Nomi finds herself chasing shadows in a town that has reinvented itself. But when she returns to the ashram that haunts her dreams, she discovers some scars cannot be washed away.

Sunjeev Sahota (UK) - The Year of the Runaways

The Year of the Runaways tells of the bold dreams and daily struggles of an unlikely family thrown together by circumstance. Thirteen young men live in a house in Sheffield, each in flight from India and in desperate search of a new life. Tarlochan, a former rickshaw driver, will say nothing about his past in Bihar; and Avtar has a secret that binds him to protect the choatic Randeep. Randeep, in turn, has a visa-wife in a flat on the other side of town: a clever, devout woman whose cupboards are full of her husband's clothes, in case the immigration men surprise her with a call.  Sweeping between India and England, and between childhood and the present day, Sunjeev Sahota's generous, unforgettable novel is - as with Rohinton Mistry's A Fine Balance - a story of dignity in the face of adversity and the ultimate triumph of the human spirit.

I think I'll be reading this one ^^ first!

Anna Smaill (New Zealand) - The Chimes

A mind-expanding literary debut composed of memory, music and imagination. A boy stands on the roadside on his way to London, alone in the rain. No memories, beyond what he can hold in his hands at any given moment. No directions, as written words have long since been forbidden. No parents - just a melody that tugs at him, a thread to follow. A song that says if he can just get to the capital, he may find some answers about what happened to them. The world around Simon sings, each movement a pulse of rhythm, each object weaving its own melody, music ringing in every drop of air. Welcome to the world of The Chimes. Here, life is orchestrated by a vast musical instrument that renders people unable to form new memories. The past is a mystery, each new day feels the same as the last, and before is blasphony. But slowly, inexplicably, Simon is beginning to remember. He emerges from sleep each morning with a pricking feeling, and sense there is something he urgently has to do. In the city Simon meets Lucien, who has a gift for hearing, some secrets of his own, and a theory about the danger lurking in Simon's past.

Anne Tyler (US) - A Spool of Blue Thread

‘It was a beautiful, breezy, yellow-and-green afternoon…’ This is the way Abby Whitshank always begins the story of how she and Red fell in love that summer’s day in 1959. The whole family on the porch, half-listening as their mother tells the same tale they have heard so many times before. From that porch we spool back through the generations, witnessing the events, secrets and unguarded moments that have come to define the family. From Red’s father and mother, newly arrived in Baltimore in the 1920s, to Abby and Red’s grandchildren carrying the family legacy boisterously into the twenty-first century – four generations of Whitshanks, their lives unfolding in and around the sprawling, lovingly worn Baltimore house that has always been their home…

Hanya Yanagihara (US) - A Little Life

A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara is an immensely powerful and heartbreaking novel of brotherly love and the limits of human endurance. When four graduates from a small Massachusetts college move to New York to make their way, they're broke, adrift, and buoyed only by their friendship and ambition. There is kind, handsome Willem, an aspiring actor; JB, a quick-witted, sometimes cruel Brooklyn-born painter seeking entry to the art world; Malcolm, a frustrated architect at a prominent firm; and withdrawn, brilliant, enigmatic Jude, who serves as their centre of gravity. Over the decades, their relationships deepen and darken, tinged by addiction, success, and pride. Yet their greatest challenge, each comes to realize, is Jude himself, by midlife a terrifyingly talented litigator yet an increasingly broken man, his mind and body scarred by an unspeakable childhood, and haunted by what he fears is a degree of trauma that he'll not only be unable to overcome - but that will define his life forever.

What about you?  
Have you read any of the books on the long list?  
Which ones are your favourites?  
Let me know in the comments!


Sunday, July 26, 2015

Links of the Week | July 26th 2015

How is it the end of July already?

In the wake of the Twitter storm over Taylor Swift misunderstanding Nicki Minaj's tweets, this field guide to intersectionality from Hellogiggles is a good place to start for those of you who are unfamiliar with the concept

This eggplant, tomato and chickpea curry recipe is something I shall definitely be trying - especially if the rubbish weather continues! (Is it just me who thinks that curries go well with rainy day weather?)

Another yummy recipe, this time from Half Baked Harvest, for a one pot greek oregano chicken and orzo with tomatoes in garlic oil.

on summer reading lists: I'd like to read them all, please.  Have you got a reading list for summer? I think I may finally have a chance to make one now term is over!

19 second-hand bookstores in the UK and I have only visited 3 (3!!), I'll have to up my game (plus it's a good excuse to visit smaller towns, the recognised homes for most of these cute bookshops!) Or there's this list of independent bookshops in London.

How delicious does this pasta look? YUM

What about you guys?  What have you been reading + enjoying this week?


Saturday, July 25, 2015

The Playground by Julia Kelly

Eve is left alone with a young daughter after her partner walks out on her. Facing adulthood and all of the responsibilities that come with it doesn’t come naturally to her. Her relationship with her mother, for instance, is rocky as she recognises the sharp comments followed by soothing reassurances. Nonetheless, they move to a rented flat in the seaside town of Bray, overcoming their initial prejudices about the town they settle in and form a community based around the playground. However, when Eve is blamed for an unfortunate accident she is left wondering if the personal development she’s made has been lost forever, can she move on in her life yet again?

Unusual inspiration

After attempting to write another novel, Kelly endured a tearful conversation with her agent who was telling her everything wrong with it. The novel was supposed to be the second of her two book deal with Quercus (the first being her bestselling With My Lazy Eye). In an interview with, Kelly speaks of the “pure panic” that inspired The Playground: “During a tearful telephone conversation with my agent….I stared out my sitting room window and watched children in the playground across the road. She asked if I had any other ideas. Needing to say something and needing to honour my deal, I said that I could maybe try writing about the playground. I talked a little bit about things I found interesting as a new mother: that primal instinct to protect your child, how everyone gives you advice that is so often conflicting, how people are expected to be parents when they haven’t quite grown up themselves and so on.”

Outstanding delivery

Whilst the inspiration was off-the-cuff, its delivery is not. Kelly’s writing style invites the reader to get inside her character’s mind: to see things that they alone witness. This allows for moments of pure insight as much as for comedy. At first I found this style of writing quite hard to get into. Soon enough, however, you overcome the initial discomfort and relish the unique perspective this style of writing offers you as a reader. I especially found the descriptions of the local community interesting, as you trace the character’s progression through their perception of those around them. If you read this novel for its plot alone, you will be disappointed. It isn’t a turbulent tale rushing from one disaster to another: it unravels slowly and carefully. In my opinion, it’s best read for the insight into the character’s mind, in what seems to be a fresh (and very welcome) style of writing. 

It is available from Amazon on Kindle for £3.99 or paperback for £7.99 

Have you read The Playground? Or anything else by Julia Kelly? 
If so, let me know what you thought of it in the comments!


Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Loveliest of Trees, the Cherry Now by A.E. Housman

Loveliest of Trees, the Cherry Now

A. E.  H O U S M A N 

Loveliest of trees, the cherry now
Is hung with bloom along the bough,
And stands about the woodland ride
Wearing white for Eastertide.

Now, of my threescore years and ten,
Twenty will not come again,
And take from seventy springs a score,
It only leaves me fifty more.

And since to look at things in bloom
Fifty springs are little room,
About the woodlands I will go
To see the cherry hung with snow.


This is a bit late in the year to be posting this as we've already enjoyed the cherry blossoms but I only discovered it today + didn't want to wait until next spring to share it.  In my opinion, the world would be a better place if cherry blossoms were appreciated all year round.


Sunday, July 19, 2015

Links of the Week | 19th July 2015


Sali Hughes's piece on her reliance on housing benefit as a teenager is essential reading

Bee's mini book reviews has a good selection of interesting reads

This piece highlights the necessity for context: don't allow your reading of an image to be overruled by assumptions w/out facts and information

Louisa Treger's guest post on little known contemporaries of Virginia Woolf has some names for those of you interested in modernist fiction to check out

Claire Fuller on Prime Writers - a group of writers who published their debut novel aged 40 or over - highlighting the importance of focusing less on the age of somebody's debut, but the quality

Maya Goodfellow on the buried brutality of Britain's colonial past

Five Libyan authors recommended by Elspeth Black

This isn't a link, more of a recommendation, but I saw Far from the Madding Crowd in the cinema - it's a picturesque re-telling of the classic Hardy novel, with near constant sunshine, and worth a watch IMO
 What have you been reading this week?  Let me know in the comments!


Friday, July 17, 2015

Tomato, Spinach and Onion Tart

This tart is perfect for the summer months. With a mixture of melt-in-the-mouth deliciousness and the tart flavour from the tomatoes and herbs: it is perfect served alongside a salad or as a side dish at a barbeque. I found the original recipe here but have adapted the proportions (I found the original made far too much filling).


250g shortcrust pastry [I use pre-made, but here’s a recipe for the virtuous who want to make their own ;)]
1 large onion, thinly sliced
200g Spinach leaves
220g reduced fat soft cheese
2 medium free range eggs, beaten
25ml milk
100g Greek feta cheese, crumbled
6 medium sized tomatoes, thinly sliced
Garlic Italian herb mix


1. Preheat your oven to 190 ºC, gas mark 5. Roll out the pastry on a floured surface until it is just under 1cm thick. Place into your dish – don’t cut off the crust to fit your dish yet as it will shrink in the oven. Shape it to the dish, pricking the bottom with a fork a couple of times, line with baking parchment and baking beans (make sure you get them into the corners!) and bake for approximately 10 minutes until it has set.

2. Whilst that’s in the oven, grab your frying pan and gently fry your onion until it has softened. Add the spinach leaves; mix the onions with the spinach a bit until the spinach has wilted. Remove as much excess liquid from the leaves as you can during this stage by letting it evaporate.

3. Beat together the soft cheese and eggs before adding the spinach and onions. Crumbling in the feta cheese to the mixture. I added 25ml of milk here as it was looking quite thick, but this is entirely up to you!

4. Grab your dish from the oven (wearing gloves, of course!) and spoon in the cheese and spinach mixture before arranging the sliced tomato on top. Now is a good time to trim the pastry to size. After you’ve done this, sprinkle a healthy handful of herbs on top of the tomatoes (don’t be shy: they really bring out the roasted tomato flavour!)

5. Pop into the oven and bake for approximately 30-40 minutes (this is entirely dependent on how thick your dish is – keep an eye on it, for a rough idea - mine was just over an inch thick and took 30 mins).

6. Let it rest in the tin for 5 mins before serving. It’s delicious served hot or cold. Yum!

If you decide to give this recipe a go, pop a photo on Instagram and tag me (@readsandrecipes_) or leave a comment below – I would love to know how you got on.


Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Thoughts on "Go Set a Watchman" by Harper Lee

So, Atticus Finch is a racist.

And people are mock-sympathising with those who named their children, or dog in Jake Gyllenhaal’s case, after this character. You can’t blame them though: he was an honest, hardworking and just man in To Kill a Mockingbird. He represented the ideal parent, lawyer and citizen.

Yet now it turns out that author Harper Lee originally wrote a more complex novel. One where racism is more pernicious, that examines the fractured relationship between a father and daughter. This novel is what To Kill a Mockingbird was intended to be. And whilst nobody likes to be reminded that these characters are subject to an authors’ will, this change of direction signals a far more problematic notion than a racist character. It seems to me that Go Set a Watchman wanted to address racism from a more complex position. But when Harper Lee brought this manuscript to her publishers she was told to re-write it and to make it into a story of a white man holding a town to rights. He was the only person that the unruly mob would be swayed by; he was brave to stand up to a system that he saw was intrinsically flawed. So what was wrong with the first idea?

Did we love the idea more than the man?

From the vantage point of seeing the significance that has imbued this text since its initial publication, it seems that we needed to believe in the idea of a man who could see the right from the wrong. That Atticus Finch could grow up, live, and raise his children in a town that was fundamentally and systematically racist and yet still believe (and act on those beliefs, more importantly) that supremacy of any kind was wrong. This isn’t just that we were fond of a character: we believed in him and everything that we felt he represented.

A lesson to be learned

Did Atticus Finch exist? No.

He is a fictional character whose opinions, views and actions are entirely dependent on Harper Lee (and what her publisher deems appropriate).  And it isn't a "blunder" nor something that can be glossed over.

No, nobody wants their favourite character to be a racist. 

But I wonder if any progress can be made if we’re unwilling to entertain the notion that a favoured fictional character could be racist. Will we be willing to consider our own views? Or those of our family or friends?

Do we really need a white saviour?  I have a sneaking suspicion that this character is cherished by predominantly white people.   But when it comes down to it, if you’re looking for an account of racism in America that will withstand the test of time, should you be looking at white authors?


Sunday, July 12, 2015

Links of the Week | 12th July 2015

 I am loving this collection of literary tote bags from Pop Goes the Reader

I loved this post from Bee about writing short stories - it made me contemplate giving it a bash myself

I've been intrigued by the release of Harper Lee's Go Set a Watchman - there's a recording of Reese Witherspoon reading the first chapter here + an interesting review in the NYT by Michiko Kakutani here 

These photographs of Morrocco have me itching to go + see the country for myself

This project by Dylan Marron highlights the absence of people of colour in mainstream films.  I think it's important to hear stories from everyone, not a select few, so please ensure that your bookshelves aren't 100% white (you're missing out on some amazing stories if they are). 

Furthermore, this piece demanding diversity in publishing is a must read, and writer Nikesh Shukla is asking for those affected to submit their experiences of diversity (or lack-of) in publishing.  Please get involved + share it.

I've saved this recipe for spicy roasted tomato + corn soup so I can give it a go myself at some point

This article from Buzzfeed on the difference between book lovers on Instagram vs real life made me laugh

This week saw the 10th anniversary of the 7/7 bombings in London.  This piece by Sameer Rahim, written shortly after the event, presents his perspective on the attacks.

I've spent the weekend developing my Tumblr blog and I would love for you to check it out!

What have you been reading this week? Let me know in the comments!


Thursday, July 9, 2015

Trespassing by Uzma Aslam Khan


Trespassing by Uzma Aslam Khan

 Published in 2005, Trespassing is the forbidden love story of the rebellious Dia and the student Daanish. Dia’s mother, Riffat, was educated in London and has been running the family’s silk farm singlehandedly since her husband’s unsolved murder. She has raised Dia to be fiercely independent, assuring her that she will only let her marry for love. Daanish has been on a scholarship in America to study journalism, returning home to Pakistan for his father’s funeral. Meanwhile, Daanish’s mother Anu has been planning on arranging Daanish’s wedding when he returns to Pakistan and has planned a meeting between Dia’s best friend Nini and Daanish. Nini brings Dia along for support but soon regrets her decision as the chemistry between Daanish and Dia grows stronger.

A forbidden love story

The two embark on an illicit affair with assistance from a servant who drives them out to an idyllic beach cove for their meetings. Whilst this forms the main narrative arc of the novel, Khan weaves several separate stories along the way. The novel is set in different time periods, showing us Dia and Daanish’s lives before they met one another. For instance, Dia and Daanish are both frustrated with their education: Dia is surrounded by those who see cheating as acceptable whilst Daanish’s professor insists that he stop trying to give a more wholesome account of the Gulf War as American readers wouldn’t be interested. Salaamat, the servant who helps Daanish and Dia, is forced to move from his village to Karachi to find work and we see the underbelly of the city through his eyes. The silk farm run by Dia’s mother Riffat features prominently, as Dia is obsessed with watching the silkworms develop they almost become a separate character within the novel by themselves.

A novel divided by time, geography and characters

The novel is divided into the perspectives from the four major characters: Dia, Daanish, Anu (Daanish’s mother) and Salaamat and finally an explosive chapter towards the end of the novel from Riffat’s perspective that is full of surprises. The chapters are divided between time periods, present day or a piece of the character’s past that illuminates their current situation. It is cleverly written, as Uzma Aslam Khan expertly weaves the individual narratives of these characters together with a peppering of romance, mystery, politics and intrigue.  Khan has expertly depicted a Pakistan that is influenced by the West. Through the expectations placed on Daanish by those both in Pakistan and the US we see the prejudices faced by an international student alongside the pressure placed on them by their local community. 

A thought provoking read

Trespassing is an interesting read, with mysteries, romance and drama unfolding along the way.  It is a story of forbidden love, political troubles, education, and the silk industry.  The prose is thoughtful and poetic as you get to know each of these characters and their individual story lines which come together powerfully at the end of the novel. Trespassing is available from Amazon for £11.99 or £7.89 on Kindle, but is also a lot cheaper from second-hand sellers (for a mere penny!)


Monday, July 6, 2015

The Country at my Shoulder by Moniza Alvi

The Country at my Shoulder

M O N I Z A  A L V I

There's a country at my shoulder,
growing larger - soon it will burst,
rivers will spurt out, run down my chest.

My cousin Azam wants visitors to play
ludo with him all the time.
He learns English in a class of seventy.

And I must stand to attention
with the country at my shoulder.
There's an execution in the square -

The women's dupattas are wet with tears.
The offices have closed
for the white-hot afternoon.

But the women stone-breakers chip away
at boulders, dirt on their bright hems.
They await the men and the trucks.

I try to shake the dust from the country,
smooth it with my hands.
I watch Indian films -

Everyone is very unhappy,
or very happy,
dancing garlanded through parks.

I hear of bribery, family quarrels,
travellers' tales - the stars
are so low you think you can touch them.

Uncle Aqbar drives down the mountain
to arrange his daughter's marriage.
She's studying Christina Rossetti.

When the country bursts, we'll meet.
Uncle Kamil shot a tiger,
it hung over the wardrobe, its jaws

fixed in a roar - I wanted to hide
its head in a towel.
The country has become my body -

I can't break bits off.
The men go home in loose cotton clothes.
In the square there are those who beg -

and those who beg for mercy.
Azam passes the sweetshop,
names the sugar monuments Taj Mahal.

I water the country with English rain,
cover it with English words.
Soon it will burst, or fall like a meteor.



Sunday, July 5, 2015

Links of the Week | 5th July 2015

As somebody who took their education for granted, this piece by the Prime Minister of Pakistan, Muhammad Nawaz Sharif, on the importance of education was really eye-opening.

These chocolate and orange madeleine biscuits look delicious.

This panel of authors from Africa discussed what it means to be defined as an African author, what they thought an African School of Witchcraft and Wizardry would be like, and other interesting points.

I'm obsessed with salads at the moment, especially during this hot weather, and this one looks delicious.

On Sylvia Plath's teenage correspondence with her mother, including her first poem.

I love having a look at what people plan on reading over the summer, such as this. {let me know if you have a similar list on your blog!}

I've been looking for Tumblr book blogs.  Do you have any recommendations (either your own or somebody else's) for me to check out?


Wednesday, July 1, 2015

June in Review

This month I read:
Trespassing by Uzma Aslam Khan, Disclaimer by Renee Knight and Split World by Moniza Alvi

I visited:
Some independent book shops in London + popped up to York

These are now on the TBR pile:
The Matchmaker by Elin Hilderbrand, The Buddha of Suburbia by Hanif Kureishi, Unexploded by Alison MacLeod and The Portable Veblen by Elizabeth McKenzie

I have been listening to:

Looking forward to July, what books are you planning on reading? 

It's set to be a heatwave here in the UK, so I intend on enjoying the sunshine and maybe recreating this delicious recipe for lemon and ginger ice pops!

// What were your June highlights?  Let me know in the comments!

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