Books That Take Place Abroad

Courtesy of That Artsy Reader Girl, I’ll be dipping into books I’ve read that take place abroad (i.e. not the UK) this week. It feels a bit of a cheat really because, when I think about it, I don’t read a great many books set in England in the first place!

For these purposes, therefore, I need to think a little deeper. About those books with the greatest sense of place, that would be devoid of meaning without it.

A Fine Balance – Rohinton Mistry

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The first time we went to India my other half and I were determined to read literature to go along with our trip. He read Shantaram (ridiculous, apparently) and I read Rohinton Mistry’s chunk of a novel. It is a phenomenal book, capturing India and its hierarchical society in all its glory. Brilliant, evocative and added a perfect extra layer to the holiday.

Memoirs of a Geisha – Arthur Golden

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I read this classic so many years ago that the details are vague. However, what has easily remained with me is both how much I adored it (maybe time for a reread?) and its deeply evocative sense of place.

The Tiger’s Wife – Téa Obreht

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It seems odd I suppose to include a book here that I, controversially given its prize-winning status, didn’t much care for. In reality I found Obreht’s surreal tale to be unnecessarily confusing and meandering. That said, the bleak portrait she paints of an unknown Balkan state, with its icy weather, traditions and folklore has stuck with me ever since.

A Thousand Splendid Suns – Khaled Hosseini

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Another one that I read years and years ago but whose images; dusty courtyards, bombed out houses, women gazing through the mesh of their burqa, have seared themselves in my mind. And I haven’t even read The Kite Runner yet. Yey.

Ruby –  Cynthia Bond

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As tough as some of the scenes are in this tale of abuse and betrayal in America’s Deep South, the atmosphere and imagery of rural East Texas are undeniably beautiful.

The Orchard of Lost Souls – Nadifa Mohamed

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I’ve said it countless times but I really need (still) to read more African literature. Somalia is a real black hole on a map for me, thankfully less so after reading this Mohamed’s thoughtful, complex second novel.

Wild Swans – Jung Chang

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This task is so useful for reflecting on books I read years ago. I stared at this one on my auntie’s bookshelves for years before finally picking it up. It is an absolute must read. Epic.

The Goldfinch – Donna Tartt

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An entirely different side to America than Ruby, Donna Tartt’s doorstop novel, which I dog-eared to bits, is phenomenal, ranging from a cosy, antique New York to a cold, hard Los Angeles, whose dusty streets and sterile homes magnify the sense of unease and foreboding.

Wide Sargasso Sea – Jean Rhys

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This classic really gets mixed reviews so I felt rather dubious when it was chosen by the book club one month. To my surprise I really loved it and that was helped by the vivid picture Rhys paints of life in nineteenth century Jamaica/Dominica. Hot, oppressive and delirious.

Carmen – Prosper Mérimée

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I was so excited to read the novella that inspired Bizet’s famous opera. Mérimée is always good for a short story and Carmen is no exception. It also helps that I lived in wonderful Sevilla for a very short time and have LIVED that famous cigar factory. Yas.

Books I Could Re-read Forever

Back in 2016 the pressure to think up startlingly original reviews/bookish posts finally got the better of me and I gave in – albeit temporarily. Life happened and what has followed has been quite a simple epiphany – it doesn’t fudging matter if my posts are any good as long as I’m enjoying myself! It has been all to easy too forget just how fantastic the online bookish community is and the past couple of weeks I’ve spent reconnecting with people have been just wonderful and reminded me just how much I’ve missed everyone.

I always enjoy writing reviews but, if I’m honest, anything beyond that (unless I have a clear subject matter; e.g. a bookshop I’ve visited, etc) I sometimes struggle for inspiration and I have so much admiration for those who churn out quality post after post. That’s why I’ve always enjoyed the eternally popular Top Ten Tuesday (originally hosted by Jamie at The Broke and the Bookish who has since moved on and has now courageously been taken on by Jana at That Artsy Reader Girl) for a little mental jig around and inspiration (which if any of you have seen my woeful Goodreads so far this year will understand is sorely needed). Today I’m starting on a positive note and looking at the books I could reread forever (but never do since rereading feels like time-wasting – I know that that’s the wrong attitude to have – feel free to tell me how wrong in the comments section below!):

1. Gone with the Wind – Margaret Mitchell 

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Now, because of when/where it is set (i.e. Civil War era Georgia) Gone With the Wind can make you squirm; specifically with its depiction of slavery – oh how content they seem! However, regardless of these sinister misgivings, this is a CRACKER of a story and I could read it all. day. long.

2. Snowflake – Paul Gallico

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I’m sure I’ve mentioned this book on here a million times, no doubt in lists identical to this one but do give it a read. It’s not a terribly well-known book these days but it is oh so sweet and ever so magical. Read it before the snow disappears!

3. His Dark Material Trilogy – Philip Pullman

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It’s so many years now since I read Philip Pullman’s legendary trilogy, I’ve definitely passed my 10 year rule on re-reads. It’s time to dust these off again because the fantastical adventures of Lyra and her Pantalaimon have never left me.

4. The Handmaid’s Tale – Margaret Atwood

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Does this one need any explanation? I unfortunately didn’t make it very far into the popular TV adaptation last year (I couldn’t cope with my OH spoiling it for himself) but a million and one people have told me I need to give it another crack.

5. The Snowchild – Eowyn Ivey

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Another beautiful novel. Rich with imagery and meaning. This modern fairytale reminds me in this lull that there are wonderful books out there, I just need to search a little harder (and read a little more thoughtfully).

6. The Snowgoose – Paul Gallico

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Another beautiful, fable-like tale from one of my all time faves (I’m sure those of you who have been around here a while are familiar with my twee Paul Gallico obsession – sorry). The Snow Goose is arguably his most famous work.

7. I Capture the Castle – Dodie Smith

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I often get myself into a mood where I relish eccentric, quintessentially English books that don’t need to necessarily go anywhere plot-wise, they just need to be beautifully written. This is a book for all your lazy summer afternoons.

8. All My Friends are Superheroes – Andrew Kaufman

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After reading his fantastical fable; The Tiny Wife, I was so excited to return to Andrew Kaufman’s famous first book. It is funny, quirky in the extreme, touching and can be read on so many different levels. It definitely needs to be read more than the once.

9. Cider with Rosie – Laurie Lee

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Ooooo Laurie Lee. More quintessential ‘englishness’ (the original, in my opinion). Although the Spanish novels recounting his time there during the civil war are wonderful, I adore Cider with Rosie. It’s idyllic picture of rural England makes me feel all warm and fuzzy inside. I just can’t help myself.

10. We Should All Be Feminists – Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

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Adichie is not only an immensely talented novelist but an awesome woman, an intellectual force to be reckoned with and this tract; based on her 2013 TEDx talk, is food for thought. You have no excuse not to improve yourself by reading this again and again; it’s oh so short and oh so important.

Top Ten Sequels I Can’t Wait To Get

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Although having time to do any valuable reading at all fills me with excitement these days, the more I do read the more I see the benefits and excitement of immersing myself in a particular world an author has created. Worlds we can rely on time and time again. Since I don’t read nearly enough series of books, most of my anticipated sequels have been around a fair while. Do bear with me in my ignorance for this week’s marvellous Top Ten Tuesday….

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1. The Year of the Flood; Margaret Atwood. The impetus to read any series of books for me is often the publication of the final, much-anticipated installment – hence my final foray into Margaret Atwood’s much-loved Maddaddam trilogy this year. Thought-provoking stuff.

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2. The Mirror and the Light; Hilary Mantel – Even though my experience of Mantel’s writing outside the Wolf Hall trilogy has been poor to say the least, her depiction of the life and times of Thomas Cromwell is thrilling and I cannot wait to continue on his predictable journey.

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3. The Mad Apprentice; Django Wexler – Wexler’s The Forbidden Library was my first worthy experience of a ‘children’s book’ in fifteen long years. It won’t be my last as this was the first tale to sweep me well and truly away in a long time. Magical.

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4. How to Build a Girl; Caitlin Moran – Moran’s How to Be a Woman was so funny and insightful it made me snort into my corn flakes. Although I imagine this is much of the same thing, you can’t knock a winning formula.

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5. Love in a Cold Climate; Nancy Mitford – The Pursuit of Love brought me just the type of cosy English drama I sometimes crave. A reading of this will be all the more poignant following the death of the last Mitford sister; Deborah, Dowager Duchess of Devonshire.

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6. Silver: Return to Treasure Island; Andrew Motion – This might sound naff and read even worse, but I can’t deny my love for Treasure Islandan admiration so deep I might just have to get my fix with Motion’s questionable sequel.

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7. The Girl Who Fell Beneath Fairyland and Led the Revels There; Catherynne M. Valente – No, I haven’t ready of these yet. Maybe Christmas is just the time. They’re really supposed to be the BEST.

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8. Gormenghast; Mervin Peake – On the side of a much darker fantasy, the thought of reading Peake’s Gormenghast trilogy thrills (and frightens) me just a tad.

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9. 1985; Anthony Burgess – Although not a sequel to Orwell’s seminal novel in the truest sense of the world, the thought of a Burgess-take on this political dystopia, coupled with an academic response to Orwell’s original work, is intriguing, if not widely loved, to say the least.

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10. Vile Bodies; Evelyn Waugh – A natural conclusion. After reading and, much to my surprise, chuckling my little socks off at Waugh’s farcical Decline and Fall recently, this one is the next on the list to keep me entertained over Christmas.

Top Ten Books That Were Hard For Me To Read

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Hurray! Back on track with the old blog with yet another glorious Top Ten Tuesday to perk up the dud end of the week courtesy of The Broke and the Bookish. This one is a little negative (and very similar to this one from May) but, you never know, it may well persuade me to have a re-read and see if it all clicks together a little better. Let’s face it folks, however much we read and however bright we may be, much to our dismay we can’t always sail through our books, even those we thought we’d love. Here are my current top ten tricky ones:

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1. The Barefoot Queen; Ildefonso Falcones  – this took one serious weekend of stealth reading to finish, topped off by me scrawling ‘too long!’ in pen on the front! (I know, I was that frustrated). A massively corny, swashbuckling read that I judged from the cover from the off….I should have considered myself warned.

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2. Misfortune; Wesley Stace – a rather unfortunate tale that, although hugely quirky and thought-provoking on the whole gender-identity front, lost its way in the last quarter and was almost impossible to finish.

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3. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo; Stieg Larsson – Pre-Relish days I impulse-bought the whole Larsson trilogy, so sick I was of people harping on about it. Although this is an easy ready, I found it boring in the extreme and simply didn’t care. Needless to say I haven’t read the others. Yawn. Bye bye girl-with-no-face.

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4. The Drought; J G Ballard – The book against which all Manchester Book Groupers judge their boredom.

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5. Beloved; Toni Morrison – I don’t know why I found this (widely considered) modern classic so hard to read. The prose isn’t particularly difficult and it is ground breaking in its gut-wrenching portrayal of slavery. However it is, quite rightly, a devastating read and really dragged me down. Make sure you’re in a happy place when you read this one.

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6. The Teleportation Accident; Ned Beauman – a book so baffling, silly and smart-arse that, frankly, I couldn’t even be bothered to try and understand Beauman’s madcap world.

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7. The Robber Bridegroom; Eudora Welty – primarily a tricky dialect barrier but a wonderful book and brilliant writer all the same.

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8. Hard Times; Charles Dickens – I love you Charles but oh Stephen Blackpool, you and your faux northern accent were the bane of my life and a huge interruption to an altogether perfect novel.

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9. The Picture of Dorian Gray; Oscar Wilde – finally finished this classic this year after starting three times and failing miserably. I think the effected posh boy malarkey put me off a little. God only knows why because Wilde clearly is a master of suspenseful, psychological fiction.

And for the boyfriend (of ‘Seed’s Reads’ fame) >>>>>>

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10 The Count of Monte Cristo; Alexandre Dumas – My other half has been taking part discreetly in Literary Relish for years (see: ‘Seed’s Reads’ in the right hand column), being an avid book lover himself. His personal Everest has always been this doorstop of a book, a rip-roaring adventure I must pick up myself one day….

Top Ten Book Characters That Would Be Sitting At My Lunch Table

Gilian-Anderson5_2063010iSo I’m cheating a bit with this week’s Top Ten Tuesday, taking the ‘Back to School’ topic from last week that I missed instead that I thought would be far more interesting. Who would be my top lunch companions from the world of literature? Not sure these folk would gel that well together but we’ll have a go …. (thanks to The Broke and The Bookish as always!)

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1. Miss Havisham (Great Expectations, 1860) – Sure, she’s massively weird and possibly even a little whiffy but I do think she’d be mad fun at a dinner party. Cobwebs aside.

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2. Atticus Finch (To Kill a Mockingbird, 1960) – Top lawyer and all around nice guy, there’s a lot to be learnt from Mr Finch. Ooo, to clerk him would be an honour.

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3. Thomas Cromwell (Wolf Hall, 2009) – Bit of a cheat since he isn’t strictly a literary character but Hilary Mantel leads the way for us to know the magnificent historical character just that little bit better, and I’m hugely grateful for it.

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4. Pop Larkin (The Darling Buds of May, 1958) – Perfect chap for a tipple and a good spread. Pop Larkin knows how to throw a good party.

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5. ‘Moira’ (The Handmaid’s Tale, 1985) – feminist literary heroine 🙂

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6. Aunt Augusta (Travels with My Aunt, 1969) – wacky, glorious Aunt Augusta is an absolute diamond and sets the perfect example to her dull nephew Henry with her zest for life.

smudgeroon-27. Behemoth (The Master and Margarita, 1966) – this bewildering book is memorable for a variety of reasons, not least this gun-toting black cat.

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8. Boris (The Goldfinch, 2013) – another character with an irrepressible lust for life. Theo’s best friend Boris brings a much needed sense of wonder and danger to this story.

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9. Jenny (Frog Music, 2014) – based on a real person, Jeanne Bonnet is a typical San Franciscan quirk, with a mean sense of humour and a penchant for frogs.

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10. Holly Golightly (Breakfast at Tiffany’s, 1961) – Do I need to explain this one? Glamour, guts, glitz, she’s got the lot.