Friday, June 26, 2009

Reviews to come.....

Forgive the silence but I have been tussling with the usual book bloggers dilemma - whether to read or review! Last week I took time off to catch up on some reading and now I am up for reviewing 31 Dream Street, Lisa Jewell, The Sound of No Hands Clapping, Toby Young, The Debt of Pleasure, John Lanchester and Living Dangerously, Katie Fforde........they are all on their way so watch this space.

Have you read any of these books?

Friday, June 19, 2009

Raising The Roof 2009 - 1 Night, 5 Groups, 140 Singers.

Hong Kong Cultural Centre

On Monday night I took a break from reading and indulged myself in one of my other pleasures: music. A neighbour of mine in the village had been so impressed with the singing of some slightly inebriated members of The HKG Welsh Male Voice Choir (yes, there really is a HK Welsh Male Voice Choir), throughout the course of the recent Hong Kong Sevens Tournament, that when she saw an ad in a local magazine for a concert featuring said choir, she asked me if I fancied going along too. 'Of course, why not!' said I, always ready to do something slightly different than stay indoors on a wet Monday evening. So off we trotted to the Hong Kong Cultural Centre Concert Hall. The building itself is very impressive and the list of upcoming concerts quite amazing, everything from Swan Lake to Sing-a-long evenings, quite something.

Foyer at HKCC advertising all the upcoming events.

The concert Hall itself was a sight to behold and for two hours we were entertained by three choirs, including the boys from Wales and two a cappella groups.

The Concert Hall

My favourite group of the evening were the HKFYG Hong Kong Melody Makers. This is a youth choir established in 2004 by the Hong Kong Federation Youth Groups and sponsored by the Dragon Foundation.It's aims are to reflect Hong Kong's vivacity and give voice to the city's cosmopolitan spirit. Choir members are young people with outstanding artistic talent whose passion for music benefits the community. As well as performing live in concert the Melody Makers often take their show on the road and offer free concerts around Hong Kong. Take a look at these links here to see an example of their work. Melody Makers free public concert Melody Makers singing about barbecue pork buns

As well as Melody Makers and The HK Welsh Male Voice Choir we were entertained by Kassia Women's Choir, enthralled by Soho Collective (a female a cappella group) and delighted by Kassia Children's choir - Hullaballo who sang their little hearts out. A thoroughly enjoyable evening and now I am going to look out for the next appearance of Melody Makers.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Me Meme.......

Thanks again to the lovely Dot at Scribbles, ( I decided to do this meme.

1. Kim
2. Mum
3. Sweets (Steve being silly usually!)

1. kim-stillreading
2. kimlette
3. kim

1. My eyes
2. My hands - (when my nails are a reasonable length)
3. My neck - (when I have administered my Clarins neck cream!)

1. My feet - (they are horrible)
2. My knees - (thanks dad!)
3. That I can no longer fit into a size 8 (wow, that was a long time ago, too)

1. English
2. Scottish
3. And, although I hate to admit it - French (the family were champagne makers so if I had to be French at all this is, without doubt, a good enough heritage:)

1. Letting people down.(same as Dot)
2. The BNP.(Cannot believe these guys are for real)
3. Cockroaches (one of only two living things I will kill without remorse. If faced with a mosquito I may have to see that off, too)

1. A glass of wine (say no more)
2. My laptop (to stay connected with my friends and family)
3. A pen - (love to know I can jot things down as they come into my head which is very often becasue I have an over-active imagination)

1. Shorts - it is very warm and humid today (another bad hair day).
2. Bright pink sleeveless top - (for the same reason)
3. Nothing else other than underwear, of course, not even flip flops, the tiles are cooler on my feet.

1. Coldplay - (Chris Martin rocks!)
2. Oasis - (I'm a convert since going to see them live here in Hong Kong in April)
3. Nigel Kennedy - (genius violinist of mammoth proportions)

1. Don't Panic - Coldplay (I know it is oldish but I love it)
2. True Love - Bing Crosby (because it was one of my dad's favourites and he used to sing it all the time. I can hear him now)
3. Nature Boy - Nat King Cole (I used to sing this to my boys when they were growing up and it will always remind me of singing them to sleep when they were tired or sick)

1. Love
2. Laughter
3. Loyalty

1. I once ate bat
2. I once sang a duet with Ronan Keating
3. I came down a black run on my first skiing trip

1. Dark Hair (shortish)
2. Broad shoulders and slim waist (as in David Beckham's or Cristiano Ronaldo's example)
3. Big eyes (Blue or green - preferably green)

1. Reading and writing
2. X Stitching
3. Making jewellery (especially stringing pearls and wirework)

1. Make dinner
2. Go for a walk
3. Have a glass of wine (it is 8 o'clock somewhere!)

1. Writer (although I have only ever written a couple of things and nothing on the scale of a book)
2. Chef (I love to cook but only when I want to so I guess that wouldn't work)
3. Airline Pilot (I've always thought I could easily fly a plane after all the flying I have done in my life)

1. Provence (never been there although I have been to France a gazillion times)
2. Belize (my nephew is stationed there and I haven't seen him for 23 years)
3. Memphis Tennessee with a stop off in London so I can visit my boys.

1. Nicholas (we almost called our youngest this name but my husband said that kids would call him nicker-less, so we didn't)
2. Michael
3. Gabriel
(I haven't really got a thing for arch-angels, I just love the sound of those names)

1. Spend more time with my kids and the family
2. Take my dads ashes to Australia (He loved it there when we took him on holiday and I promised him I would take him back again)
3. Help my boys in any way I can.

1. I have a major thing for cute shoes
2. I love sparkly things
3. I have a really bad day when my hair sucks

1. I love watching sport
2. I understand the beauty of silence during a film
3. I know how the off-side rule works

Let me know what your answers are.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

The Book Thief - Markus Zusak

Well, here's a first........I actually cried whilst sitting in the hairdressers chair yesterday, reading this book!! I couldn't stop reading it, though and after a brief pause whilst I rummaged for a tissue, blew my nose and wiped my eyes, I quickly opened up the book again to carry on where I had left off. I have never been good at sad, scary, violent or bloody books (or films come to that) and I usually choose not to read books of this nature. I get entirely engrossed in the story and identify so strongly with the characters that I sometimes feel as if I know them as well as any relative of mine. When my boys were small I cried for weeks after watching Bambi and The Land Before Time with them, I'm sure I would do the same if I was to see the videos again today. So imagine the scuffle I had with my conscience when I was deciding whether to read this book or not. I had seen so many glowing reviews about The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak and the title had featured on many of my fellow bloggers 'Best Book of all Time' and 'Most Memorable Book' lists. I kept seeing pictures of the front cover and I found it haunting, so, when a copy appeared in the secondhand bookshop, I had to bring it home. I stared at it on the TBR pile for a while and even put off reading it by escaping into a couple of romantic romps with Ms Jewell and Ms Fforde, but, still it beckoned and so, I took a deep breath and opened the front cover. I am so glad I did.
The book begins in 1939 and is set in pre-war Germany. Liesel Meminger and her brother are taking a train journey with their mother when the boy dies from a coughing fit, in his mothers arms. Unbeknown to Liesel, her mother and father have both been accused of being communists. Her father has been taken away by the authorities and since then Liesel's mother has been unable to find work. Ultimately she and her children are starving. and so she has decided the only way to save them is to put them into foster care. They are on their way to meet with the social worker for the hand over, when the boy dies. And that is only the beginning!!
Her foster parents are kindhearted folk and her 'papa', Hans Hubermann, is the gentlest of men. He teaches her to read and she falls in love with books. The story is about love and friendship, literature, kindness, man's inhumanity to man, the morality of theft and ultimately, death. It is thought provoking, heartbreakingly sad and un-put-downable.
And in the rhythm of the narrator here is some important information about The Book Thief:

*This novel is narrated by Death*
It is a story, about:

*A Girl*

*An Accordionist*

*Some Fanatical Germans*

*A Jewish Fist Fighter*


*and Quite a Lot of Thievery*
This is one of the most remarkable books I have ever read. Markus Zusak turns conventional storytelling on it's head and yet still manages to make the book so totally compelling that on several occasions I found myself reading on through my tears. It is not all totally depressing either, there are some lovely moments in the story which capture the essence of humanity at its finest.
Here are a couple of notes which appear throughout the book from the narrator:
(About Germany)
Since 1933, ninety percent of Germans showed
unflinching support for Adolf Hilter.
That leaves ten percent who didn't.
Hans Hubermann belonged to that ten percent.
There was a reason for that.
(About Friendship)
(An excerpt from Death's Diary)
I do not carry a sickle of scythe.
I only wear a hooded black robe when it is cold.
And I don't have those skull-like
features you seem to enjoy
pinning on me from a distance. You
want to know what I truly look like?
I'll help you out. Find yourself
a mirror while I continue.
(About War)
I've seen so many young men
over the years who think that they are
running at other young men.
They are not.
They are running at me.

Have you read this book? (If not, why not :)

What did you think of it?

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Wedding Season , Katie Fforde

I'm on a roll reading chic-lit books at the moment and have just finished my very first Katie Fforde book, Wedding Season, which I really enjoyed. The story is very simple and the outcome really predictable, but then, it is a total fairytale, so what else do you expect?

There are three girls who have formed a relationship with each other by working together on weddings. Sarah is the super organised, wedding planner who does not believe in love, Elsa is an accomplished dress designer who is painfully shy and always wears black in order to blend into the background and Bron is a multi-talented make-up artist, hairdresser and cake maker who is caught in a loveless relationship that she would prefer not to be in. So......bring on Hugo the mysterious, who is a well connected internationally renowned photographer, Laurence the Reliable, who is a non drinker and always called upon to be the Best Man at friends weddings and James the unkempt gardener, who is also a gifted art designer and floral artist. Voila! You know as well as I do what is going to happen and the pleasure of reading this book is that along the way some amusing things occur to the main characters and lots of other interesting people are introduced to the story. I particularly liked Fen and Rupert, Pat and her cooking pals and Mrs Lennox-Feathersone.

The characters are well drawn and the situations they find themselves in are on the whole, more or less, believable. There are a couple of things that I could not quite take on face value and had to put down to artistic license - one is that Elsa manages to make and enhance, in less than two weeks, the replica of a dress which had originally taken her two years to make from start to finish and somehow, Bron, who had had some previous success making and decorating train engine birthday cakes, manages to understand how to design, cook and decorate one of the most elaborate wedding cakes I have ever heard described and she had never actually seen the original cake herself. This all adds to the 'cuteness' of the book, in my opinion. It is a fairytale after all, so why not have a little bit of the impossible in there too! The only thing that did grate on my nerves a little was the number of times Ms Fforde linked the word 'professional' to Sarah's character. The picture portrayed is that as Sarah is a professional she could not possibly be in love, too, almost as if being 'a professional' and being in love with someone were mutually exclusive........I couldn't quite get my head around the thought process.

I can forgive all of these small things, though, because this is such a light hearted, easy, summer read which deserves to be consumed whilst sitting in the garden on a warm sunny afternoon, book in one hand and a glass of chilled white wine in the other. Lovely!

Have you read this or any other Katie Fforde books?

Which is your favourite Fforde book?

Romance novels - Love them or hate them ?

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Skipping through the lives of Vince and Joy and Michael Parkinson, in the same week!!

On my second to last book haul trip to the local secondhand book store I came away with my very first Lisa Jewell book. Dot, from had reviewed a recent Lisa Jewell book, 'The Truth About Melody Browne' and I remembered her saying that Lisa Jewell books always cheer her up. So when I saw Vince & Joy sitting on the shelf in front of me I decided to see for myself if Lisa Jewell is a cheery book writer or not.
She is!

Vince and Joy meet each other on a camp site where they are holidaying with their parents. Joy is 18 and Vince is almost 19 when they meet and they fall madly and completely in love with each other. Joy's parents are in their 60's and Vince's are much younger and trendier. Vince and Joy are made for each other and they spend as much time together, away from their parents, as they can. One night whilst the couple are frolicking in the woods, their parents get into an altercation which ends up in a fight between Joy's dad and Vince's step dad. When Vince and Joy return home that night, all is not well and in the early hours of the morning Joy and her family leave the camp site without saying goodbye. Although Joy leaves a letter for Vince, it is raining heavily and most of the ink on the page gets washed away. All Vince can read in the note is "I am so ashamed". They are both devastated by their loss.

Moving on seven years we pick up the story of Vince and Joy again. We meet Vince's room mate, the wonderful Cass and her spiritually inclined cat, Madeleine and Joy's friends, her landlady, Julia and the irrepressible cross dresser, Bella. Without giving too much away it seems that fate guides Vince and Joy to dance around one another but never actually pick up their relationship. Somehow their lives move on in different directions. And this is how it goes into the future until we finally meet the couple again more than 17 years after they first met and fell in love.

This was a delightful book to read and I loved the characters, even the kooky ones were well drawn and believable. The story is light hearted but also asks a couple of serious soul searching questions, too. I can thoroughly recommend this for the summer and have now secured my second Lisa Jewell book, 31 Dream Street. I'll keep you posted.

In the same week I skipped through the lives of Vince & Joy, I also read the autobiography of Michael Parkinson 'Parky'. I've always been a fan of Michael Parkinson and was very excited to have this book thrust into my hand by my dog rescuing neighbour, as repayment for my regular walks to the beach with her 'new' dog in tow (well, you always knew I would end up as chief dog walker, didn't you!)

Parkinson has had a charmed life. That becomes apparent almost immediately as we wander through his times as an only child, fuelled by his mothers ambition for her son and lead through his childhood and short-lived cricketing career by his doting father. Stories of meeting the rich and famous adorn every page and I couldn't help but marvel at how fate had been very kind to Parky, opening doors and shining lights on pathways for him to follow, all of which lead to him become one of the most famous interviewers of all time. He spoke highly of every one of his guests and even Meg Ryan, who he termed his only failure, and Emu who he loathed, were treated with kind words. The only thing I could find fault with in this book was his criticism of what he sees as 'the establishment' and some people he had worked for. This negative reflection felt out of place and smacked somewhat of ingratitude in an otherwise positively charged story of a man who made a career out of being sociable and trying to make people feel comfortable. I enjoyed the book overall, though, it is funny in parts and poignant in others. I would recommend it to anyone who is a fan of Parky or those of you who like autobiographies.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

15 Books!

I don't usually join in with any regular feature in the book blogging world but I could not resist this one because I thought it was a great question to ask. So here we go with the first "Booking Through Thursday" on this blog.
This can be a quick one. Don't take too long to think about it. Fifteen books you've read that will always stick with you. First fifteen you can recall in no more than 15 minutes.
Here are mine:

1. Rebecca - Daphne du Maurier - one of the best works of fiction I have read. I became so absorbed in the story that I found myself cheering on the bad guys!! That's what I call great writing.

2. Othello - William Shakespeare - I read this at school when I was doing English Lit. I loved Othello, Desdemona and Cassio and hated Iago with a passion. I constantly wanted to shout out "Don't trust Iago - he's lying" just like I did at pantomimes when I was small and would shout "He's behind you"

3. The Cather in the Rye - J D Salinger - This was the first real 'grown up' book I ever read, I was 14 years old at the time. I fell madly in love with Holden Caulfield and could not believe a teenager could do all the things he did. He was my hero.

4. Jude The Obscure - Thomas Hardy - I didn't read this until a couple of years ago and was so glad that I took my sons advice and read it. It was the first book I ever read where I cried whilst reading it. I hadn't expected it to be sad, but it was.

5. Gweilo - Martin Booth - This book is a memoir of Martin Booth's early childhood which he spent in Hong Kong. I loved this book because Booth paints such a vivid picture of the city during the 1950's and his love for Hong Kong, it's people and his mother comes shining off each page.

6. The BFG - Roald Dahl - This was a favourite of my boys when they were small and I remember having to read it over and over again for them because they loved it so much. We also got the video when it came out and had to watch it about ten thousand times (at least!)

7. Pride and Prejudice - Jane Austen - How can this not be on the list! It is one of my all time favourite books.

8. A Year in Provence - Peter Mayle - I love the way Peter Mayle paints his characters in this book and the way he describes the change of pace his life is undergoing following his move from England to Provence. This book started me off on a Peter Mayle binge and I had very soon found and read all his work. It also started me off wanting to retire to France one day!.

9. No Room for Secrets - Joanna Lumley - Joanna Lumley is a real favourite of mine and I loved the idea she worked from when she wrote this book. We follow Joanna through her house and as she talks about clothes, furniture, books and paintings in each room, her life story begins to unfold. It was a lovely book to read.

10 Macbeth - William Shakespeare - Another one of my English Lit study plays. I loved the air of tension created in Macbeth. It was one of the first books I read where a character begins to unravel in front of the reader. It started me on a lifelong love of empathising with well drawn characters.

11. Show Me the Magic - Annie Caulfield - Annie Caulfield is a great writer and a wonderful observer of people and places. I particularly liked this book because Annie slowly begins to uncover the life of her taxi driver, Isidore, as he acts as her guide around the country. It is poignant and very funny.

12. My Cousin Rachel - Daphne du Maurier - My second du Maurier read and it came in a very close second to Rebecca. I loved the character of Rachel and wondered, along with everyone else, including Daphne du Maurier herself, whether she had been responsible for her husband's death. I thought, if du Maurier doesn't know the answer then how could I? So well written, I couldn't put it down.

13. The Laws of Spirit - Dan Millman - This book is a particular favourite of mine and one which I return to often. Dan Millman is an inspiring writer and in this book he tells a story of a man who journeys through the countryside and meets a sage along the way. They take on the journey together and as they go she teaches him of several 'laws' of spirit. I am always intrigued by the Law of Balance and love the way he explains how this works.

14. Thought as a System - David Bohm - This book changed my life! Really! David Bohm was a physicist and was particularly interested in understanding the thought process we have as humans. He postulates that even though we think we are thinking about something (anything) independently, our thought process is based on past experience and unless we see this we cannot break the hold this learned thought system has on our thinking process. He calls this 'the reflex' and argues that in order to be a true independent thinker we have to break this 'reflex' to achieve it.......It is an amazing book. Read it!

15. Beyond Black - Hilary Mantel - This book is really quite dark and scared me a bit but it was one of those books that I just could not put down. When I finished reading it I had so many questions and I always consider that this is the mark of a really great story. This did it for me and I don't think I will forget it in a hurry.

These are in no particular order and I can think of at least 15 more, but, these were the first that came to mind.
So, what are yours?

Monday, June 1, 2009

My Cousin Rachel

In between my travel book reviews I thought I would tell you a little bit about my second Daphne du Maurier read, My Cousin Rachel. Thanks again to Dot ( ), I read another du Maurier classic. It was such an enjoyable book and I can honestly recommend it to anyone who loves well written fiction with a lot of social commentary, hidden meaning and controversial subject matter going on at the same time as the story. It is without doubt an attempt by du Maurier to offer a feminist perspective of a restrictive Victorian society, as it openly alludes to the topic of women's rights and male dominance in cases related to female inheritance and entitlement issues.
The story is set some time at the end of the nineteenth century, the year is not specified. Ambrose Ashley is the lord of the manor and when his nephew is orphaned as a small child, Ambrose adopts Philip and proceeds to bring him up as his own. After the dismissal by Ambrose of Philip's nurse, the Ashley men continue their lives in a completely male household. Ambrose grooms Philip to become his heir and eventually, when Philip reaches his twenties, he begins to run the estate almost entirely by himself. Philip adores Ambrose and his main ambition is to be like him. By this age it is generally agreed that Master Philip looks exactly like a young Mister Ambrose.
Now in his forties, Ambrose begins to suffer with ill health. He is advised by his doctors to travel abroad to warmer climes for the duration of the winter each year. He does this and for two years Philip successfully takes care of the estate whilst his uncle is away. During the third winter when traveling in Italy, Ambrose meets and is enchanted by a lady who happens to also be his cousin. Rachel is a widow and the daughter of an English relative of the Ashley's and an Italian woman. Ambrose loves plants and gardens and each winter on his travels he collects plant specimens to bring back to the garden at the manor. Rachel is also an expert gardener and has in depth knowledge of traditional plant medicines and herbal remedies which she learned from her mother.

After a very short courtship Ambrose marries Rachel. Philip only learns of the wedding after the fact in a letter he receives from Ambrose. He immediately becomes jealous of his cousin and looks on her as a contestant for the affection of his uncle and it is difficult for him to be happy for them. After her previous marriage, Rachel is still working to settle the complexities of her first husband's estate. As a consequence, Ambrose does not return to England in the spring that year, but instead tries to assist Rachel in her efforts to deal with accumulated debts. Another winter comes and goes and Ambrose writes less and less to Philip. At first his letters are cheerful and Ambrose seems devoted to Rachel whom he clearly adores but as time goes on the tone of the letters change and this begins to disturb to Philip. Eventually, a scribbled note arrives and Philip is so worried that he decides to set out to Italy to see his uncle who by now is very ill. When Philip arrives in Florence Ambrose is dead and Rachel has gone, taking with her every last possession of Ambrose's. Philip is determined to hate Rachel as he blames her for his uncles death, believing she may have poisoned him, but, when they finally meet, Philip finds himself as enchanted with her as his uncle was.

Without giving away too much more of the story, what follows is a tale of possession and obsession which looks into the feminine and masculine mind and delves into the world of unreasonable behaviour and reasonable doubt. It is such a cleverly written book. On another note, one thing I found fascinating about this story was when I heard that du Maurier was once asked if Rachel had actually killed Ambrose and she said "I don't know". To me, that is even scarier than if she had.
Let me know if you have read this book and what you thought of it.