The Little Coffee Shop of Kabul

the little coffee shop of kabul

Genre: General popular fiction; chick lit

Rating: 6/10

Favourite Quote: “…were millions of doves. They were a bubbling froth, their warble a low boil”

The book follows the lives of five women, all who meet in a little coffee shop in Kabul.

If you are looking for an easy holiday read, which won’t require lots of concentration to keep up with the plot and the characters, then this is a great book for you. Drawing on the authors own experiences, it gives you some insight into what life in Kabul might be like for a westerner. Sadly however, as it was written by a westerner, sometimes the dialogue felt forced as the characters were used too much to voice the authors own opinions. Although all characters are used in this way to an extent, with it sometimes being a good thing (link between tolerance of minority groups and children reading Harry Potter anyone?*) it was very patronising in this instance. Politics and culture were brought up constantly, which is to be expected from a book set in Kabul, however again this often felt like you were purposely being taught by the author, as someone acts and then it is explained why they acted that way in the context of the culture. In essence then even if you wanted a very brief and generalised introduction to the politics and cultural norms in Kabul this would be of little use to you as it is an American interpretation of the country, and lacks the subtlety of other authors who write about modern day Afghanistan.

On the note of patronising readers, sadly the fact that random words would often be translated into Dari for no reason also had this effect, rather than what I presumed was the intention of authenticity. As the words were explained immediately after being used, despite being pretty self-explanatory in the first place, the reader was left feeling a little annoyed, especially as this was a regular occurrence throughout.

“‘You knew I was hamla and you took me to your house?’ Of course, said Sunny, knowing the word for pregnant.”

Despite the subject matter discussed being often quite serious for instance the plight of fatherless babies in Afghanistan, the ownership of women by men etc. the book had a light-hearted feel which was at odds with this. These mentions of the more serious aspects of life in Kabul were juxtaposed with stereotypical and laughable-in-comparison worries of the western women in the book, for instance which man to pick. It was hard to empathise with the women discussed as somehow the book seemed to lack emotional depth, and perhaps the author should have tried to focus on one or two stories rather than five in order to achieve this.

In summary it is a good read if you want something quick and easy, but sadly it lacks emotional depth, character development and can leave you feeling somewhat patronised. If I were to recommend a fictional book on Afghanistan from the point of view of women, then I would be far more likely to suggest ‘A Thousand Splendid Suns’ by Khaled Hossieni. You learn about the culture and politics without realising that it’s occurring, and the emotional depth and empathy with the characters can sometimes feel almost too much!

If you have read this book please feel free to comment below and let me know what you think!



The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August

The first fifteen lives of Harry August

Genre: popular fiction, science fiction

Rating: 9/10

Favourite quote from the book: There is no greater isolation a man may experience than to be lonely in a crowd. He may nod and smile and say the right thing, but even by this pretence his soul is pushed further away from the kinship of men”.

The book begins with a small girl at the bedside of an old man asking him to pass a message back in time because the world is ending. We then follow the story, or as it might be more aptly put stories, of Harry August, a man who relives his life over and over again. We learn what he does in each of his lives, the main people he meets and ultimately how he comes to have the responsibility of preventing the world from ending, and what he will do with that responsibility.

I absolutely loved this book. It is beautifully written, and one of those books where you have to pause every now and then to have a think. You know the ones? It makes you consider what you would do if put in the same situations, as well as think about the moral implications of your own actions in everyday life. The characters in the book for instance at times treated ‘linear people’ (those who only live their lives once) as somewhat inconsequential, because for them every time they came back the same people would be there again. Anyway that part really made me stop and think about how even if something isn’t going to affect you, is it right that you should do as you please despite the consequences to others? Another moment which made me stop and think was when considering how I would react if someone I knew told me they had lived their life before (and could prove it!), which led really to me thinking about how far we are willing to accept those we love.

I hope now that I’m not putting anyone off by making them think it’s a load of philosophical sappy drivel, it truly isn’t! The plot is very good, with a number of intertwining subplots which make it a gripping read. The characters are also very three dimensional, which enables you to empathise with them a great deal. Although not a truly unique idea of time travel (it reminded me very much of ‘Groundhog day’, only with an entire lifetime rather than a single day), it certainly wasn’t a cliché!

When trying to think if there was anything I disliked about the novel (so you don’t all think I am related to the author) I found it very hard. One thing which has been kind of mentioned already is the idea of love. Not just romantic love, but the love of family and friends too. Without spoiling the book, Harry is a man who pursues knowledge, which is fine by me and perhaps if it had harked on about love it would have annoyed me for being too romantic. However I wondered whether if I went back and lived my life several times over, if I would seek out the same friends and loved ones? Surprising myself really, I ended up concluding that perhaps Claire North has the right of it, perhaps having to start relationships with people from the beginning, when you already know them would be demoralising and boring.

Sadly I can’t say how it compares to the authors other work as this was my first novel by her (I am aware she was using an alias for this book, and have read nothing under any of her pen names). However I will be very much looking forward to her next book ‘Touch’ and am really hoping it will come out during 2015 so I can review it too!

Please feel free to comment, as I would love to know your thoughts, whether you have read the book or not. Do you think you would be more or less concerned about the lives of others if you knew they would exist again the next time you were reborn? And do you think you would seek out the same people life after life, or just move on? Apologies for the comment section, with the new layout there isn’t a simple box at the bottom, but if you scroll upwards again there is a ‘leave a comment’ option under the title. I may have to change that.

Until next time xxx

‘Last Voyage of the Valentina’ by Santa Montefiore

Last voyage of the valentina

Genre: Romance

Rating:  6/10

Favourite quote: N/A

This book follows the story of Alba, a young woman in the 1970’s who lives a promiscuous and hedonistic lifestyle aboard a houseboat – ‘The Valentina’. She has always feels isolated and so when she finds a portrait on her mother on the boat she goes on a quest to discover the truth about her mother and her family in Italy. Ultimately she finds not only her family in Italy but discovers a truth about her mother which explains why she was always such a mystery and not spoken of.

I’m afraid to say that although I’ve liked some of her other novels very much I thought this one was a let-down. It was described on the cover as a mystery, however it lacked tension. Had I put it down on the train and forgotten it I wouldn’t have endeavoured to find out the ending. In addition the characters were cliché and flat, and even in the book stereotypes were regurgitated, with Alba and her mother being the same ‘exotic and mysterious’ stereotype, and the two men who fall for them (Tommy and Fitz) being ‘English gentlemen’.  The women in the book were particularly hard to relate to, and I found by the end I didn’t care what happened to Alba, nor could I find anywhere a valid explanation of why Fitz fell in love with her aside her looks.

There was an attempt at character development; however it seemed very forced and unrealistic. Alba suddenly changes from being a selfish and hedonistic woman to one who is suddenly content with clean simple living, working in a café and who loves children. Although I understand what the author was trying to achieve here, it seemed unrealistic.

However if you are looking for an easy read, perhaps a holiday book to read in the sun where you know everything will turn out well in the end, then you can’t go far wrong with this book. A good book for if you are lacking the time or effort to concentrate on a more challenging book; the switching viewpoints keep your interest somewhat. However if you are going to pick up a book by Santa Montefiore then I could suggest ‘The House by the Sea’ which seems to have the heart and the characters which ‘Valentina’ seems to lack.

Please feel free to comment below, if not, the next review to go live should be later on this week and will the ‘The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August’ by Claire North. Until then xxx