More Reviews!

I thought I’d add a quick post to say that I have started reviewing for The Wee Review based in Scotland. I have been doing this for the past couple of months and will be focussing on Theatre and Books for the time being.

Inerestingly, the theatre shows seem to tour all over the place and at the different festivals, so if you are into this sort of thing, keep an eye on my reviews!

Chance Developments: Stories … a review

I haven’t read an Alexander McCall Smith is absolute ages! It may have been close to five years, I went through a phase of reading his stuff (and it was great with all the Edinburgh references). I got this one on discount on the Kindle, and it is quite an unusual work. There are 5-6 old photographs and what he tries to do is to create a short story out of each one.

In true Smith style, there is a strong central theme, in this case ‘love’ and the author manages to weave the different kinds of love into the lives of the various characters. What I loved about the book was how the characters all seem very ‘everyday.’ They could be the people who sat next to you on the bus or served you at the till. It really brings to life the concept of everyone has a story and when we meet someone or interact with them, it really is two personal story arcs meeting briefly before diverging again.

In particular, I loved the richeness of the first story and how it presents a snapshot of the life of an ex-nun. It was beautifully crafted from top to tail and ends in a bit of a flourish. Very enjoyable reading – I may be getting into that phase again!

Under the Harrow … a review

This book by Flynn Berry was a quick read. I picked it up because it was on a list with Gone Girl and The Girl on the Train. The novel is about a girl who is about to go visit her sister, but when she gets there, finds her sister and her dog both brutally murdered. I enjoyed how the author had described the crime scene very graphically, I do like that in crime novels, it sets a strong scene.

Turns out, the sister Rachel had also been brutally attacked in the past (and nearly died) but the perpetrator was never caught. The book is then the protagonist’s attempts to find her sister’s killer. And in true, crime fiction style, there are cops with personal issues of their own. Rachel’s past begins to surface, and we find that not a lot of people knew many things about her and many suspects with strong motives begin to emerge.

Overall, the book did not impress me. I found the revelations from the past rather predictable (perhaps I have been reading too much in the genre)! I also found the ending rather bland. The initial excitement of the plot did not carry through and the repeat crime sub-plot quickly lost steam. So I’d give this one a miss if I were you, but it isn’t a very long read either way, so it was okay.

10 Favourite Love Quotes

Here’s 10 of my personal favourites:

“I was always hungry for love. Just once, I wanted to know what it was like to get my fill of it — to be fed so much love I couldn’t take any more. Just once. ”
Haruki Murakami, Norwegian Wood

“Each of us is born with a box of matches inside us but we can’t strike them all by ourselves”
Laura Esquivel, Like Water for Chocolate

“For I am the daughter of Elrond. I shall not go with him when he departs to the Havens: for mine is the choice of Luthien, and as she so have I chosen, both the sweet and the bitter.”
J.R.R. Tolkien, The Return of the King

“It is that happy stretch of time when the lovers set to chronicling their passion. When no glance, no tone of voice is so fleeting but it shines with significance. When each moment, each perception is brought out with care, unfolded like a precious gem from its layers of the softest tissue paper and laid in front of the beloved — turned this way and that, examined, considered.”
Ahdaf Soueif, The Map of Love

“The moment you stop to think about whether you love someone, you’ve already stopped loving that person forever.”
Carlos Ruiz Zafón, The Shadow of the Wind

“You can never know if a person forgives you when you wrong them. Therefore it is existentially important to you. It is a question you are intensely concerned with. Neither can you know whether a person loves you. It’s something you just have to believe or hope. But these things are more important to you than the fact that the sum of the angles in a triangle is 180 degrees. You don’t think about the law of cause and effect or about modes of perception when you are in the middle of your first kiss.”
Jostein Gaarder, Sophie’s World

“The only thing worse than a boy who hates you: a boy that loves you.”
Markus Zusak, The Book Thief

“I could recognize him by touch alone, by smell; I would know him blind, by the way his breaths came and his feet struck the earth. I would know him in death, at the end of the world.”
Madeline Miller, The Song of Achilles

“I want to fall in love in such a way that the mere sight of a man, even a block away from me, will shake and pierce me, will weaken me, and make me tremble and soften and melt.”
Anaïs Nin, Delta of Venus

And in the end, I leave you with the most heartbreaking love poem by Pablo Neruda, placed to incredible violin, watch here.

A School in South Uist: Reminiscences of a Hebridean Schoolmaster, 1890-1913 … a review

As I was saying earlier, I’ve been hooked to this book set in one of the Hebridean islands. An English schoolteacher in the late 1800s, for want of more earning, applies to teach in a school in South Uist. As luck would have it, he gets picked as head teacher. It is his first trip to Scotland, and certainly his first to one of the isles. Now, just like this man, I too was new to Scotland last year. I visited my first Isle this year. Though there’s been about 120 years between us, the emotions that the isles of Scotland evoked in him are much the same as they did in me.

From Wikipedia, “The Hebrides comprise a widespread and diverse archipelago off the west coast of mainland Scotland. There are two main groups: the Inner and Outer Hebrides. These islands have a long history of occupation dating back to the Mesolithic and the culture of the residents has been affected by the successive influences of Celtic, Norse and English-speaking peoples. This diversity is reflected in the names given to the islands, which are derived from the languages that have been spoken there in historic and perhaps prehistoric times.”

They are islands in the Atlantic and their coasts are rugged, windy, and unforgiving. The landscape is different on every island. Skye for instance is dominated by the sharpness of the Cuillin hills and the jagged cliffs on the Trotternish peninsula. Arran, however, has gentler slopes and a softness of landscape. The islanders are kind and deeply religious, and it is easy to understand why. If you’ve ever been there, you’ll have seen that the sea and the rain and the wind make a combination of tremendous proportions. And if there is a God, he resides there. 

Anyway, back to the book. So our schoolmaster begins an instruction in English, and as his pupils have spoken Gaelic before his arrival, it takes everyone a while to adjust. His experiences during his stay include getting lost and hardening up. Everything is relatively new to him, weddings, dances, food, celebrations, hospitality. And as almost no one speaks English, his experiences are less vocal and more tactile, if that’s possible. He appreciated the wildlife and the weather, the culture and the life. And for his part, he did a wonderful job at school, with the help of father Allan, and brought in new practices like a lending library, midday meal, and an exercise routine. 

This book has made it to my best books read list. It is a brilliant memoir. The book is probably hard to find and definitely not very popular, so you might have to look for a while for it. However, in the meantime, what you could occupy yourself with, is the BBC Series on Hebrides. It is brilliant!

Quote: “One calm night my brothers went out into the garden, and called me to join them, and, on my doing so, one of them said in an awed voice: ‘Isn’t it wonderful!’ The word was justified. All was perfectly still; not a murmur came from the sea, no cry of bird nor bark of dog was heard, and there was a complete silence.

Overhead the sky was a canopy of deep cobalt-blue. There was no moon, but myriads of stars shone so brightly in the clear air that by their light the whole landscape around us stood out in every detail to the south: the hills, the lochs, the road down to the sea, the sea itself with its islands placid and dark, the crofters’ cots, and the inn by the shore. The stars did not appear to be in the sky but hanging from it like globular lams, so that I remember my impulse was to raise my arms and to clasp my hands around them, as would be the urge had they been beautiful scintillating diamond balls. 

On our looking north there was not a star to be seen, but a huge black curtain of brooding cloud lay across the horizon for many miles from east to west, shutting out all beyond. As we watched wonderingly, a wave of light crossed this dark curtain like a beam from some gigantic search-light sweeping from east to west, a distance of, perhaps, fifty miles; again and again this light wave swept backwards and forwards across the black cloud; then the top edge of the dark curtain of cloud became tinged with crimson as though an enormous fire were burning behind it and were reflected at the top edge. Streaks of light now flashed upwards and then downwards on the black barrier of cloud; brilliant streamers of coruscations in different colours next appeared, till the whole brilliant spectacle resembled a mammoth firework display, but far transcending in splendour any such human effort.

Gradually as we gazed in silence, the brilliance of the lights began to wane, whilst the whole curtain seemed to pulsate; fainter and fainter became the manifestation, the waves of light fewer and slower, till at last they ceased altogether, and nothing remained but the silence, a dark cloud, and the star lamps in the dome of the sky overhead.”

Top 15

For unnamed reasons, I tried to come up with my list of top fifteen books, ever. Understandably, it is not a fair list, it is just a list of names that popped into my head when someone said the word ‘Books!’ Probably, these are books that wouldn’t leave me long after I finished reading them…

My top fifteen, in no particular order
1. Moby Dick
2. The Fountainhead
3. Lord of the Rings
4. 1984
5. To Kill a Mockingbird
6. Lolita
7. All Quiet on the Western Front
8. Sophie’s World
9. One Hundred Years of Solitude
10. Mister God, This is Anna
11. Sputnik Sweetheart
12. Orkney
13. Of Love and Other Demons
14. Illusions
15. The Hungry Tide

Do you have a favourite book/movie? Which one? Which would make it to your top 10?

Espresso Tales … a review

I read humour after a long long time. I borrowed this book from the library because it is the second book of a very very famous series by Alexander McCall Smith. The series is called 44, Scotland Street and is based on the lives of the people living in different flats at that address. The other reason for me to start reading this book is because I have decided to read up books about and/or based in Scotland, and this one’s based in my very own Edinburgh.

There’s Pat, who lives in the same house as Bruce, she had a crush on him at one point. There’s the older and very sagacious Domenica, who tries to set Pat up. There’s Ramsey Dumbarton, who’s writing his memoirs and his wife. But my favourite of all is the family of Stuart, Irene, and their son Bertie! Irene is an unnatural mother with her own weird notions of what is right for her son. Stuart is strange absent and very present, instead, is the hilarious psychoanalyst, Dr Fairbairn, who comes up with all these wacko explanations of peoples normal behaviour.

The chapters are very short, mainly as the series was first written as a serial novella in The Scotsman. The stories are hilarious and so imaginative. All of the characters have such interesting and varied adventures! Of course, it is charming to read stories set in places that one knows, that one has walked down… I love familiarity that way. I highly recommend this book, and probably the entire series. It was a delightful experience!

Quote: “She had to tell somebody, and Matthew would do. He would not be particularly interested, she knew, but she would tell him anyway. She had to share her joy, as Lou knew that joy unshared was a halved emotion, just as sadness and loss, when borne alone, were often doubled.”

Happy Birthday, Haruki Murakami!

Undoubtedly one of my favourite authors, he makes me wish I could read Japanese. He is a true God of magic realism, my favourite genre of writing. People like Marquez are on my list too, but I do believe that it is much harder to be this imaginative in today’s world, monotonous and black-and-white.

Murakami began writing fiction when he was 29. “Before that”, he said, “I didn’t write anything. I was just one of those ordinary people. I was running a jazz club, and I didn’t create anything at all.” Can you imagine, waking up one day, and producing masterpieces? His tales look at such minor nuances of human nature, the complexities of love, the surrealism of existence…

This picture, though it trivializes his work to a great degree, always brings a smile to my face; it is so representative of his work! I love how he deals with everyday object and turns them into things with life, much like how I think.



My recommendations would include Sputnik Sweetheart (my favourite), Kafka on the Shore, and After Dark. Of course, 1Q84 has been on everyone’s radar for a while and is a good read as well. If you are not the voracious I-can’t-fall-asleep-without-reading kind of person, then try The Elephant Vanishes, it too has all the elements of his longer novels.

Live a long life. And keep writing!