Throwback Thursday: Wolf Totem by Jiang Rong

throwbackthursday

Throwback Thursday is a meme created by Renee at It’s Book Talk to share old favourite books rather than just the new shiny ones. This is a great idea to bring back to life some much-loved books. Please feel free to join in.

My choice for this week is: Wolf Totem by Jiang Rong.

Taken from my review in 2009, this book is still firmly at the top of my favourite ever reads. In 2008 it won the first ever Man Asia Literary Prize and with good reason. I have hardly ever come across anyone else who has read it but I honestly recommend so highly.

Image result for wolf totem jiang rongWhat I thought:

From the very first page I was hooked. Jiang Rong creates such a vivid and compelling narrative that I found myself simultaneously gripped with the story yet trying to slow down and savour every word, so beautiful was each sentence.

Wolf Totem is semi-autobiographical and Jiang’s passion for the Mongolian grasslands shines through on every page. The description of the grasslands themselves, the wildlife, the lifestyle and survival was stunning. So few books make me believe that I am there at the actual place, but with this book I was there on horseback, hiding from wolves, fleeing for my life, braving blizzards and building campfires. I smiled, I cried, I hoped and I silently pleaded all within the space of an hour. I also fell in love with wild Mongolian wolves. To get to know them was an honour– they are clever, cunning, brave, brilliant and I loved following their story (from both sides – the good and the bad). The Little Wolf that was captured and raised by humans both enchanted me and broke my heart.

While this book is most certainly a tale of the grasslands of the last 10,000 years and what happens when modern living creeps in, it is also a book about so much more. I can’t praise this enough; I am sad that it has ended as I could have read on for another 500 pages. What a beautiful book, one I highly recommend and one I will be reading again and again.

Verdict:

It’s now quite a while since I read this and I really think I want to read it again soon; just reading this review has brought back so many memories of how wonderful it is. If you love animals, nature, different cultures, the human spirit or just damn good literature then you will love this.

 

Throwback Thursday: The Mayor of Casterbridge

throwbackthursday

Thursday is a meme created by Renee at It’s Book Talk to share old favourite books rather than just the new shiny ones. This is a great idea to bring back to life some much-loved books. Please feel free to join in.

My choice for this week is:

The Mayor of Casterbridge by Thomas Hardy

mayorTaken from my review in 2012:

When I began this book I have to admit that I didn’t think the three words I’d be using to describe it would be drama, excitement and intrigue . In fact, I really had no intention of reading this book at all any time soon as a friend of mine had to study it in school as a teenager and told me it’s the worst book she’s ever read and that had stayed with me and filed into the “don’t bother” part of my brain. But then I saw or heard something about this book (I forget where and what) and that it was about a man who sells his wife and baby daughter at a fayre and immediately I thought that sounds intriguing and off I popped to pick up a copy. How glad I am that I did – The Mayor of Casterbridge has turned out to be one of my favourite books! I loved it!

Michael Henchard is a young man of twenty-one and walking the countryside of Dorset with his wife, Susan, and their baby girl, Elizabeth-Jane, looking for work. They decide to rest a while in a small village where there is a fayre and several drinks later, Michael starts loudly asking for bidders to buy his wife. After accepting 5 guineas from a sailor he wakes later to realise that they have actually gone and when he realises what he has done he swears not to drink a drop more of alcohol for another 21 years (as long as he has so far lived). He starts to make inquiries about where the sailor and his family may have gone but nobody knows who he is and Michael is too ashamed of his conduct to search too effectively and he sets off on the road once more, alone.

The story then fast-forwards eighteen years and Michael is now the Mayor of Casterbridge (modeled on Dorchester in Dorset). It’s difficult to say more about what happens next as I really don’t want to give it away – this book is much better read if you know nothing about the characters and what is to come yet as there are plenty of twists and turns along the way. The fuller title for The Mayor of Casterbridge is The Life and Death of a Man of Character, and that is really what this book is based around – Michael Henchard and his fall and rise (and fall again). The main cast of characters is small enough that we really get to know them well and care about them: Susan and Elizabeth-Jane become part of the story again as does a Scottish traveller looking for work, Donald Farfrae and a young lady, Lucetta Templeman, who gets caught up in something that will come back to haunt her in a big way later in the book.

Henchard really is a man of character, as the title suggests, and he is prone to jealousy, impulsiveness and malice but in turn he can be caring, warm and reflective meaning that the reader never hates him, but actually feels for him as he is his own harshest critic. What astounded me was Hardy’s understanding of human nature: time and time again I was amazed that he had managed to get it so spot on; to really make me feel as the characters did and understand why they behaved the way they did.

What I really loved about this book, though, was the drama. This is why I love all the Victorian books I have read so far – they’re like watching a soap-opera. The Mayor of Casterbridge has it all – love, hate, greed, jealousy, deceit and repentance. And watch out for a scene involving a skimmington-ride (what the Victorians – and those before them – used to do to humiliate people, particularly adulterous women or women who beat their husbands which involved a very rowdy and public parade with effigies of the persons concerned being ridden through town on the back of donkeys) which has extremely tragic consequences.

I just had to share this quote with you too as it made me laugh:

“The present room was much humbler, but what struck him about it was the abundance of books lying everywhere. The number and quality made the meagre furniture that supported them seem absurdly disproportionate.”

Sound familiar? 😉

 

I loved the fact that there were pictures too

 

Verdict:

I heart Thomas Hardy! This is the second book of his that I have read (the first being Tess) and I now fully intend to gorge myself on the rest this year. Forget your preconceptions about dry and dull Victorian literature – this book has it all! A firm favourite now and one I will definitely read again at some point.

Have you read it? If so, what did you think?

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Review: Sealskin by Su Bristow

SealSkin-Vis-3.jpgWhat I thought:

Have you ever read a book where, when you turn the final page, you are simultaneously enraptured, enchanted and bereft at having to leave the characters right there on the page and carry on without them? This is that book.

Inspired by the legend of Selkies (seals who can transform into people) and set in a small fishing village in Scotland, this is a book about love, redemption and an awakening, all with a sprinkling of magic. Donald is a young man who is always on the outside, preferring his own company to being among those who mock him and one day, while out on the seas, he is involved in something that will change the course of his life forever. The act is shocking and unexpected but it is a talented writer who can lead you gently in Donald’s footsteps as he learns to atone himself and allow the reader to begin to forgive him as he begins to forgive himself.

What did I love most about this book? Everything. Really, just everything. There was almost a childlike wonder to reading this book; a fairytale that bewitched and enchanted. It is the sort of story that I would want someone to read to me while tucked up under a blanket with a hot chocolate. That’s how it made me feel. I miss it now it’s over. I miss them.

Haunting and evocative with such fluid prose, this is a book of beauty and magic. I fell in love: with the landscape, the cast of characters and with the awakening of a whole village. I was there in the pages. I tasted the salt on my lips, I felt the wind whip through my hair, I felt the bitter cold of rain-soaked clothes and I felt the freedom of running through the grass with abandon.

Verdict:

This book is special.  January is not yet over and I already know that Sealskin will be in my Top 10 books for 2017. I will be recommending this book to everyone I know. And I will read it again. And again.

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NB/ Thank you to Orenda Books for a copy of this wonderful book which I chose to read and review honestly.

The Book Whisperers Top Reads of 2016

2016 has been kind of an odd year for me and, I can’t lie, one I’ll be glad to see the back of. But the good news is that it’s over now and onwards and upwards. I’m devouring books again and resurrecting this blog (that has been semi-neglected for too long).

I’ve definitely got my reading mojo back, particularly in the second half of this year, and have read some really amazing books. The ones I have picked as my favourite are for a mixutre of reasons: they were real page-turners, they resonated with me in ways I didn’t expect, they were real comfort reads and just what I needed at the time.

In no particular order, the books I have picked out for my favourite reads of 2016 are:

 

five-riversFive Rivers Met on a Wooded Plain by Barney Norris

This has to be my wow book of the year. I thought the premise sounded interesting but was totally unprepared for how it would make me feel. I found this book is enchanting, mesmerising and beautiful and was absolutely blown away by it. In fact, I still think about it now. An author that really understands what it is to be human. Highly recommended. Read my full review here.

 

 

book-5Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

This was a book club choice that I probably wouldn’t have picked up for myself otherwise (which is exactly what I love about book clubs – they force you out of your comfort zone and introduce you to new authors and genres). Station Eleven is a dystopian novel that is set (for the most part) 20 years after the end of the world as we know it (due to a flu virus that wipes out 98% of the world’s population). What I really loved about this book is the way that it was written without sentimentality, almost matter of fact. I found it really refreshing. The story made me think and ask myself lots of questions about what I would do and I found it really engrossing read.

 

book-9Angela Marsons – all of them!

My new favourite author crush featuring my new favourite Detective crush. Crime fiction is probably my favourite genre and in a sea of crime and psychological thrillers (some of which are fantastic and some of which are mediocre at best), to find a brand new author and fall in love with the entire series is really exciting! I actually read The Lost Girls (book 3) first and promptly went right to be the beginning (Silent Scream) and read all 5 in two weeks. D.I. Kim Stone is a delight to read about (her feistiness and dry wit had me laughing out loud) and in the whole series (currently 5 books , there is not a dud among them). Angela Marsons has been signed up for a total of 16 books in this series and I, for one, cannot wait to read them all. I will be taking part in the Blog Tour for Book 2, Evil Games, in Feb so keep an eye out for that. You can read my review of Blood Lines here and if you haven’t yet discovered this series, what are you waiting for?

 

book-6Our Song by Dani Atkins

I read this book on a 9 day, 120 mile hike on the Cleveland Way in March. I did the walk on my own, just me and a large rucksack, staying in B&B’s and barns overnight and walking all day. When I was feeling battered, broken and weary once arriving at my nightly destination I read Our Song while laid in bed before dropping off into a deep slumber. This was the perfect book for me right then – gentle and heart-warming and just what I needed. I have read several other of Dani Atkin’s books and have loved them all.For a real feel-good, magical read, these books are just the ticket.

 

book-3When She Was Bad by Tammy Cohen

This was a holiday read for me and a perfect page-turning one. As psychological thrillers go, this is one of my favourites. Five work colleagues, a murder (but you don’t know who or who committed it) and several different view-points that keep you guessing right until the end. And what I love most is that I didn’t guess! It could just be that I have read so many psychological thrillers that I can usually guess the outcome, when I come across one that still catches me out I love it! Clever and gripping.

 

 

book-4Life After Life by Kate Atkinson

A life lived over and over again, but with different outcomes. What a clever plot device. Ursula is born, then she dies, she is born again and dies slightly later, she is born again and so on… Ursula witnesses some of the most important events of the last century, living through (usually, anyway) two world wars, friendships, deaths, and hardship. This book is imaginative, bittersweet, poignant and very ambitious but it works.

 

 

kliing-2The Killing Game by J.S. Carol

What a page-turner. I read this on holiday and couldn’t put it down. A gunman in a Hollywood restaurant that is frequented by the A-List and the rich and famous who are all taken hostage, and who lives and who dies is often a game of chance. Adrenalin-fuelled, twisty-turny and intense. Brilliant.

Read my full review here.

 

 

 

book-8Summer at the Lake by Erica James

I absolutely loved this book. It was everything I needed: friendship, nostalgia, and pure indulgence. Three people are thrown together in a split second and what follows is a tale of new friendships in both Oxford and Lake Como in Italy (which  is a place I have been to and it brought back wonderful memories). Warm, engaging, and like meeting up with old friends every time I picked it up, so much so I didn’t want it to end.

 

 

So there it is – my list of favourite books this year. There are lots more that I thoroughly enjoyed but these get my vote for being in the right place at the right time and wowing me, soothing me and inspiring me.

Have you read any of these books and if so, what did you think? What are your favourite books of 2016?

Finally, wishing you all a wonderful, happy, healthy 2017 filled with books and more books!

 

 

Five Rivers Met on a Wooded Plain by Barney Norris

five rivers.jpgWhat I thought:

Five people’s worlds collide in an instant. A car crash binds worlds together in ways none of them could have imagined. The premise of this book drew me in: coincidence, serendipity, luck (good or bad) and what happens after to those involved in the aftermath.

The book is set in the city of Salisbury, somewhere I have never actually been but would like to go – the author apparently grew up there and I have to say that parts of the book did read like a love letter to the city, piquing my curiosity. The five rivers of the title really do meet on a wooded plain in Salisbury and the story (or stories) is constructed around the lives of five different characters whose lives also meet in one spot without warning one day.

While this book, for me, was a bit of a slow burner, by a third of the way through I was captivated, mesmerised and enchanted. It’s rare for an author (particularly one who is only in his mid-twenties) to be able to so keenly observe and understand characters in a way that you feel what they feel and you can find parts of yourself if every character (if you’re brave enough to admit it), crossing age, class and social boundaries.

A drug-dealing flower-seller, a school boy in the throes of his first love, a widower who is questioning the point of life alone, a lonely army wife and a security guard who is trying to find himself again in the familiarity of his old town. These are the characters that fate throws together that night. I am tempted to say that the book actually reads like several short stories but that would be doing it an injustice in this case as there are threads (both strong and tenuous) that bind them together in ways they do (and don’t) realise.

If you’ve ever lost anyone to death or the end of a relationship, if you’ve ever felt regret for the life you didn’t have, if you’ve ever felt lonely even in a crowd or if you’ve never figured out what your purpose is, you will find something that resonates in this book. The characters – Rita, Sam, Geroge, Alison, and Liam – independently tell us about their stories and it makes us realise how we never really know what’s going on behind closed doors. We all wear masks, and wear them well, and few people ever see past the face we present to the world or even to ourselves, but when all said and done it’s love, hope, fear and regret that connect us.

 

  Verdict:

I said earlier that this book felt like a love letter to Salisbury, but I would also go as far as to say that it is a love letter to humanity. I absolutely loved it. I was astounded by Norris’s perception of people, and his empathy and gentleness with them. There were moments I had to stop to draw breath or even write something down, and it is so rare that I do this when reading a book. I came to Five Rivers with little expectation and left it with a sense of awe. Highly, highly recommended and I cannot wait to see what Norris comes up with next. He has a fan.

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Me Before You by Jojo Moyes

In three words:

Beautiful, funny, heart-breaking

What I thought:

Many years ago I read a book called The Ship of Brides by Jojo Moyes and I loved it. Why then has it taken me this long to pick another of her books up? If I loved Ship of Brides then I ADORED this!

Me Before You stars a young, eccentricly dressed young woman called Lou Clark who has lost her job at the local cafe and has to make a choice about her next job betweenworking in a chicken factory or being a carer to a disabled man. At the time, neither seem appealing but Lou opts for the role of carer which is where she meets Will Trayor. Will is in his mid thirties and up until his accident he was a high-flying, adrenaline-junkie, career-minded business man with a great appartment in London and a gorgeous girlfriend. Since the accident which left Will quadriplegic, he is now living with, and being cared for by, his parents and hating every second of it. The first meeting between Lou and Will is anything but comfortable and Lou begins to wonder what she has let herself in for. Before long though, Lou has decided to try to make Will’s life a happy one again and show him that it might just be worth living afterall.

What is amazing about this book is that despite dealing with a serious subject matter such as the right to die, Me Beofre You is infused with humour and comic relief that had me howling at parts. Believe me, the humour is needed and Will is one of the funniest characters I have read for a while. Moyes never sugar-coats Will’s condition and this and his sarcastic sense of humour are what makes him so human

Now a warning: Do not read this book in public! I am not kidding when I say that I sobbed my way through the last 50 or so pages, and from reading other reviews I am not alone. You would have to have a heart of stone not to be moved by this book.

Verdict: Highly, highly recommended. I was so invested in this small cast of characters that I felt as though I had lost friends when I finished this book. The growing friendship between Lou and Will is one of the most touching and heart-breaking I have ever read and I found myself willing them on at every turn of the page:  I still find myself thinking about them now.

 

  Have you read this book or anything else by Jojo Moyes? What did you think?

 

The Gambia in photos

Holiday bliss – reading on the beach

The Gambia in photos

Regular readers of my blog will know that travel is one of my passions (I still have to do part 2 and 3 of my trip to Paris yet – sorry I’ve been off the radar for a while but I will get round to it, I promise). Last month, Mr Whisperer and I went to The Gambia on the west coast of Africa and it was one of my favourite holidays.

What I loved about The Gambia:

1) The people – it’s not nickenamed The Smiling Coast of Africa for no reason – the locals are some of the friendliest people I have ever met. They are happy, smiley, chatty and have a great sense of humour.

2) The weather – hot, hot, hot!

3) The animals – we had monkeys and cats on our patio and huge turtles and lizards elsewhere in our hotel grounds. We also went to a crocodile park and I actually got up close and personal with a crocodile (with nothing between me and it). I was expecting its skin to be like armour but it was actually really soft (although as my horrified sister-in-law pointed out, it’s teeth aren’t!)

4) The culture – we went on an open top jeep tour and among other things we visited a local primary school and watched some lessons in progress and also a fishing village in the early evening when the boats were coming back in with the fish. It was crazy and amazing!

5) The relaxation – beaches, palm trees, friendly locals, sun. What more is there?

A holiday to remember

A regular visitor to our patio (usually when there was peanuts or mangos nearby)

The most insane place – the village of Tanje where they bring in the fish each day

Crazy, insane, wonderful!

Trip to see a local primary shcool

Children hanging around the school in the hope of some sweet – luckily we came prepared

Wall art with books – and lots of them 🙂

The fruit ladies on the beach touting for business

The lovely Fatima who adopted us as “her” customer

Trip down the Gambia River and through the mangroves

The oyster ladies in the mangroves

Chilling with one of my books on the beach – bliss

Band on the beach

I’m watching you!!!

Hanmade batik’s

Our hotel

  Have you ever been to Africa? Where else do you recommend that I add to my “travel hist-list”?

NB/ The above photos belong to me and may not be used without my permission. Thank you.