Review: Oryx & Crake by Margaret Atwood

Oryx and Crake was published in 2003 and shortlisted for the Man Booker and Orange Prize for Fiction.  It is the first of the MaddAddam trilogy.  The novel is described by the author as speculative fiction and in general as a dystopian novel.

This is the second of Atwood’s novels that I’ve read, the first being The Handmaid’s Tale, and while they are very different in storyline they are similar in that they are both unsettling stories about a very plausible end of the world as we know it.  oryx and crake atwood

Oryx and Crake is at once an unforgettable love story and a compelling vision of the future. Snowman, known as Jimmy before mankind was overwhelmed by a plague, is struggling to survive in a world where he may be the last human, and mourning the loss of his best friend, Crake, and the beautiful and elusive Oryx whom they both loved. In search of answers, Snowman embarks on a journey–with the help of the green-eyed Children of Crake–through the lush wilderness that was so recently a great city, until powerful corporations took mankind on an uncontrolled genetic engineering ride. Margaret Atwood projects us into a near future that is both all too familiar and beyond our imagining. (GoodReads)

The GoodReads blurb describes it as an ‘unforgettable love story’ which I wouldn’t agree with.  This book isn’t about love; it’s about a world of segregation between the haves and have-nots, the ‘clean’ and ‘unclean’, the obedient and the rebels.  It’s what our world could very seriously resemble if we continue on the path of fixating on living in security complexes, on being young and immortal, and on unscrupulously modifying genetics to solve immediate problems.

It’s a bleak and horrifying world which could easily have turned into a horror story but told through the eyes of down-to-earth Snowman we are able to experience this story as if it were completely normal.  He is the perfect narrator for this story and an unforgettable character.

I enjoy reading Atwood’s books very much and look forward to reading more as well as carrying on the MaddAddam adventure.  I did enjoy The Handmaid’s Tale more but Oryx and Crake did not disappoint and I’m happy to have finally read it.  I would definitely recommend this book.


lilolia review rating 3 stars good

Instagram Discovery #5 Emma Howells

I found Emma Howells’ photography after reading a PetaPixel article entitled Dear Men: Stop Disrespecting Women Photographers in the Field.  In the article Howells shares her experience of women having to prove themselves on a daily basis to their male counterparts.

“Ever since my initial post, I’ve received an abundance of comments and messages from other women photographers with their own similar experiences. I assumed this was happening to all of the female photographers I knew, even the ones so madly talented that I felt too starstruck to approach.  But in this case, talent isn’t even relevant, is it? Whether or not you know of our work when you first meet us, why not treat us with respect?  Part of what kept me quiet at first was self-doubt in my own work — maybe I wasn’t deserving of their respect. But in this case, the work itself isn’t the problem.”

Howells is a visual journalist and after reading her article I went over to her Instagram.  Just as you would expect from a talented photo journalist, her images are bursting with story.  I loved looking through her beautiful images and I’m sure you’ll enjoy them too.

Review: The City of Mirrors by Justin Cronin

The City of Mirrors by Justin Cronin is the long awaited final novel of The Passage trilogy.  This epic literary journey began with The Passage followed by The Twelve and now, after a 3 year wait (or 4 years if you read The Twelve right when it was published), draws to a close with a final crescendo in The City of

In The Passage and The Twelve, Justin Cronin brilliantly imagined the fall of civilization and humanity’s desperate fight to survive. Now all is quiet on the horizon, but does silence promise the nightmare’s end or the second coming of unspeakable darkness? (GoodReads)

As with the previous two novels, The City of Mirrors is a well written novel of great suspense.  It has its own surprises and yet continues the story of our beloved characters.  It continues to be an epic tale of humanity in the face of extinction highlighting the human heart and spirit.

It is one of the best final books I have read.  It neatly and satisfyingly brings to a close a story that will remain a readers’ favourite for a long time to come.  The Passage trilogy really has been one of those great literary journeys that come along very rarely.

What sets this trilogy apart from others in this genre is its magnificent breadth of story which spans many centuries and Cronin’s undeniable writing skill.  To those who have read the previous novels: you will not be disappointed with this final installment.  And to those who have not yet read this trilogy: you are blessed for you will get to read this epic story from beginning to end without pause.


lilolia review rating 4 stars great



2016 Man Booker Prize Shortlist

The 2016 Man Booker Prize Shortlist is out!  We have already seen one of the shortlisted books win the 2015 NBCC Fiction Prize earlier this year and the only previously Man Booker shortlisted author on the list this year is Deborah Levy (Swimming Home).  The shortlist looks packed with interesting reads.

Chair of Judges, Amanda Foreman, said of this year’s shortlist:

“The Man Booker Prize subjects novels to a level of scrutiny that few books can survive. In re-reading our incredibly diverse and challenging longlist, it was both agonizing and exhilarating to be confronted by the sheer power of the writing. As a group we were excited by the willingness of so many authors to take risks with language and form. The final six reflect the centrality of the novel in modern culture – in its ability to champion the unconventional, to explore the unfamiliar, and to tackle difficult subjects.”

The Sellout by Paul Beatty

the sellout paul beatty

“Paul Beatty’s The Sellout showcases a comic genius at the top of his game. A biting satire about a young man’s isolated upbringing and the race trial that sends him to the Supreme Court, it challenges the sacred tenets of the United States Constitution, urban life, the civil rights movement, the father-son relationship, and the holy grail of racial equality—the black Chinese restaurant.  Born in the “agrarian ghetto” of Dickens—on the southern outskirts of Los Angeles—the narrator of The Sellout resigns himself to the fate of lower-middle-class Californians: “I’d die in the same bedroom I’d grown up in, looking up at the cracks in the stucco ceiling that’ve been there since ’68 quake.” Raised by a single father, a controversial sociologist, he spent his childhood as the subject in racially charged psychological studies. He is led to believe that his father’s pioneering work will result in a memoir that will solve his family’s financial woes, but when his father is killed in a police shoot-out, he realizes there never was a memoir. All that’s left is the bill for a drive-thru funeral.  Fueled by this deceit and the general disrepair of his hometown, the narrator sets out to right another wrong: Dickens has literally been removed from the map to save California from further embarrassment. Enlisting the help of the town’s most famous resident—the last surviving Little Rascal, Hominy Jenkins—he initiates the most outrageous action conceivable: reinstating slavery and segregating the local high school, which lands him in the Supreme Court.” (GoodReads)

Hot Milk by Deborah Levy


Sofia, a young anthropologist, has spent much of her life trying to solve the mystery of her mother’s unexplainable illness. She is frustrated with Rose and her constant complaints, but utterly relieved to be called to abandon her own disappointing fledgling adult life. She and her mother travel to the searing, arid coast of southern Spain to see a famous consultant—their very last chance—in the hope that he might cure her unpredictable limb paralysis.  But Dr. Gomez has strange methods that seem to have little to do with physical medicine, and as the treatment progresses, Sofia’s mother’s illness becomes increasingly baffling. Sofia’s role as detective—tracking her mother’s symptoms in an attempt to find the secret motivation for her pain—deepens as she discovers her own desires in this transient desert community.  Hot Milk is a profound exploration of the sting of sexuality, of unspoken female rage, of myth and modernity, the lure of hypochondria and big pharma, and, above all, the value of experimenting with life; of being curious, bewildered, and vitally alive to the world. (GoodReads)

His Bloody Project by Graeme Macrae Burnet


A brutal triple murder in a remote northwestern crofting community in 1869 leads to the arrest of a young man by the name of Roderick Macrae. There’s no question that Macrae is guilty, but the police and courts must uncover what drove him to murder the local village constable.
And who were the other two victims? Ultimately, Macrae’s fate hinges on one key question: is he insane?

Eileen by Ottessa Moshfegh


So here we are. My name was Eileen Dunlop. Now you know me. I was twenty-four years old then, and had a job that paid fifty-seven dollars a week as a kind of secretary at a private juvenile correctional facility for teenage boys. I think of it now as what it really was for all intents and purposes—a prison for boys. I will call it Moorehead. Delvin Moorehead was a terrible landlord I had years later, and so to use his name for such a place feels appropriate. In a week, I would run away from home and never go back. This is the story of how I disappeared.
The Christmas season offers little cheer for Eileen Dunlop, an unassuming yet disturbed young woman trapped between her role as her alcoholic father’s caretaker in a home whose squalor is the talk of the neighborhood and a day job as a secretary at the boys’ prison, filled with its own quotidian horrors. Consumed by resentment and self-loathing, Eileen tempers her dreary days with perverse fantasies and dreams of escaping to the big city. In the meantime, she fills her nights and weekends with shoplifting, stalking a buff prison guard named Randy, and cleaning up her increasingly deranged father’s messes. When the bright, beautiful, and cheery Rebecca Saint John arrives on the scene as the new counselor at Moorehead, Eileen is enchanted and proves unable to resist what appears at first to be a miraculously budding friendship. In a Hitchcockian twist, her affection for Rebecca ultimately pulls her into complicity in a crime that surpasses her wildest imaginings.  Played out against the snowy landscape of coastal New England in the days leading up to Christmas, young Eileen’s story is told from the gimlet-eyed perspective of the now much older narrator. Creepy, mesmerizing, and sublimely funny, in the tradition of Shirley Jackson and early Vladimir Nabokov, this powerful debut novel enthralls and shocks, and introduces one of the most original new voices in contemporary literature.

All That Man Is by David Szalay


Nine men. Each of them at a different stage in life, each of them away from home, and each of them striving–in the suburbs of Prague, in an overdeveloped Alpine village, beside a Belgian motorway, in a dingy Cyprus hotel–to understand what it means to be alive, here and now. Tracing a dramatic arc from the spring of youth to the winter of old age, the ostensibly separate narratives of All That Man Is aggregate into a picture of a single shared existence, a picture that interrogates the state of modern manhood while bringing to life, unforgettably, the physical and emotional terrain of an increasingly globalized Europe. And so these nine lives form an ingenious and new kind of novel, in which David Szalay expertly plots a dark predicament for the twenty-first-century man.  Dark and disturbing, but also often wickedly and uproariously comic, All That Man Is is notable for the acute psychological penetration Szalay brings to bear on his characters, from the working-class ex-grunt to the pompous college student, the middle-aged loser to the Russian oligarch. Steadily and mercilessly, as this brilliantly conceived book progresses, the protagonist at the center of each chapter is older than the last one, it gets colder out, and All That Man Is gathers exquisite power. Szalay is a writer of supreme gifts–a master of a new kind of realism that vibrates with detail, intelligence, relevance, and devastating pathos.  (GoodReads)

Do Not Say We Have Nothing by Madeleine Thien


“In a single year, my father left us twice. The first time, to end his marriage, and the second, when he took his own life. I was ten years old.”
Master storyteller Madeleine Thien takes us inside an extended family in China, showing us the lives of two successive generations—those who lived through Mao’s Cultural Revolution and their children, who became the students protesting in Tiananmen Square. At the center of this epic story are two young women, Marie and Ai-Ming. Through their relationship Marie strives to piece together the tale of her fractured family in present-day Vancouver, seeking answers in the fragile layers of their collective story. Her quest will unveil how Kai, her enigmatic father, a talented pianist, and Ai-Ming’s father, the shy and brilliant composer, Sparrow, along with the violin prodigy Zhuli were forced to reimagine their artistic and private selves during China’s political campaigns and how their fates reverberate through the years with lasting consequences.  With maturity and sophistication, humor and beauty, Thien has crafted a novel that is at once intimate and grandly political, rooted in the details of life inside China yet transcendent in its universality.

The Health Benefits of Reading

I will admit that I haven’t ever needed much incentive to read.  I have wonderful memories of trips to the children’s and adult’s libraries with my mom.  She was an avid reader and going to the library was a wonderful routine.

To this day reading is very much a part of my daily routine.  Every night I read my book before I go to sleep.  Sometimes I read for an hour, other times just 15 minutes.  This routine has greatly benefited my quality of life because no matter the day I’ve had, reading clears my mind before I go to sleep which in turn helps me sleep well.

Stress Reduction

There’s nothing quite like reading to take your mind off the stresses of your life.  You may already be doing this but if you need some incentive Mindlab International at the University of Sussex completed research in stress reduction which showed that of all the activities you can do to relieve stress (listening to music, having a cup of tea/coffee, taking a walk, playing video games) reading worked the best and reduced stress by 68% and you can do this by reading for as little as 6 minutes.

“Subjects only needed to read, silently, for six minutes to slow down the heart rate and ease tension in the muscles, he [Dr David Lewis] found. In fact it got subjects to stress levels lower than before they started.”

“Dr Lewis, who conducted the test, said: “Losing yourself in a book is the ultimate relaxation.”

You can read more about these findings in this Telegraph article.  If considerable stress reduction in today’s high pressure world isn’t bonus enough, reading has another high value health benefit.


Yale University’s recent study ‘A chapter a day: Association of book reading with longevity’, which used data from 3635 people over 50, found that reading books about 3 and a half hours or more per week can afford you the benefit of living longer.

“Book readers lived an average of almost two years longer than those who did not read at all.”

You can read more in this NYT article.  Reading books forces you to clear your mind and concentrate on something other than your day, your to-do list, or your problems.  It requires you to immerse yourself in a conscious and enjoyable activity.  It is both brain exercise and play.  If you don’t already read books daily let the benefits of stress reduction and longevity be your incentive to start a routine that will also bring a great deal of pleasure to your life.  And once you’re hooked, the good news is you have an extra 2 years to read all the books you’ve ever wanted to read but didn’t think you had time for.

Instagram Discovery #4 Matt Stuart

I found Matt Stuart‘s street photography in a LensCulture interview.  I was immediately drawn in to his images for his eye for the quirky and humorous in everyday life.


A photo posted by Matt Stuart (@mattu1) on

I also loved this upbeat and supportive quote which is good for street photographers and life in general.  The sentiments of it are echoed in his photography.

“Be patient, optimistic; remember to smile, both for others, and for yourself. Don’t get depressed when you miss the shot; there’s just another around the corner if you keep your eyes open.”
Matt Stuart

This is why I really enjoyed his instagram feed – it is filled with great street photography that will make you smile and appreciate the quirky, humorous world we live in.  He has such a great eye for street photography and I’m sure you’ll enjoy scrolling through his work.



Review: Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami

I closed this book wondering what the hell had happened.  John Updike described it best in his New Yorker review: “Haruki Murakami’s new novel, “Kafka on the Shore”, is a real page-turner, as well as an insistently metaphysical mind-bender.” It is definitely both a page-turner and a mind-bender!

“Kafka on the Shore is powered by two remarkable kafka on the shore by haruki murakamicharacters: a teenage boy, Kafka Tamura, who runs away from home either to escape a gruesome oedipal prophecy or to search for his long-missing mother and sister; and an aging simpleton called Nakata, who never recovered from a wartime affliction and now is drawn toward Kafka for reasons that, like the most basic activities of daily life, he cannot fathom.  As their paths converge, and the reasons for that convergence become clear, Haruki Murakami enfolds readers in a world where cats talk, fish fall from the sky, and spirits slip out of their bodies to make love or commit murder. Kafka on the Shore displays one of the world’s great storytellers at the peak of his powers.” (GoodReads)

Kafka on the Shore was published in 2006 and went on to win the World Fantasy Award for Best Novel (2006), the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize Nominee for Longlist (2006), and the PEN Translation Prize (2006), among others.

Murakami tells the stories of the two protagonists, Kafka and Nakata, in alternating chapters building us up to the main event in splendid Murakami fashion.  The way is sprinkled with metaphysical breadcrumbs moving you forward in the story, letting you know something extraordinary occurred and will occur.  It is a fascinating read but like his Hard Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World you don’t get clear cut answers.  You must make sense of the mystery for yourself.

I’d be lying if I said I completely understood everything that went on in the novel when I read the last line.  I felt baffled despite having seen many of the breadcrumb details sprinkled throughout the story come together.  I will have to read it again.  On his official website in response to questions about the book Murakami himself recommends reading the book several times to fully comprehend it.

“I suggest reading the novel more than once. Things should be clearer the second time around. I’ve read it, of course, dozens of times as I rewrote it, and each time I did, slowly but surely the whole started to come into sharper focus. Kafka on the Shore contains several riddles, but there aren’t any solutions provided. Instead several of these riddles combine, and through their interaction the possibility of a solution takes shape. And the form this solution takes will be different for each reader. To put it another way, the riddles function as part of the solution. It’s hard to explain, but that’s the kind of novel I set out to write.”

I enjoyed reading Kafka on the Shore and am looking forward to reading 1Q84 which is next according to Jessica’s Book Oblivion post on the best way to read Murakami which I am following.  Having read two of Murakami’s books so far I also recommend reading Hard Boiled Wonderland first before Kafka on the Shore.  Murakami has become a firm favourite of mine for his wonderful blend of the metaphysical and magical realism with ordinary life and people.

Have you read Kafka on the Shore? I’d love to hear your thoughts.


lilolia review rating 4 stars great



The Art of Tsundoku

Tsundoku is a Japanese word defined as “the act of leaving a book unread after buying it.  Typically piling it up together with other such unread books”.

It is both pleasing and reassuring that the word Tsundoku exists because it just goes to show that I’m not alone in the world.  There are, in fact, people as far away as Japan who have been doing just as I have for so long that there’s an established Japanese word describing the act.  If only we had such a gem in English.

Some, like in this LA times article, would say that Tsundoku is a bit of a problem and would liken it to hoarding.  I, on the other hand, believe Tsundoku to be a fine art.

We’ve all done it.  You go into the book shop for nothing in particular because, naturally, we are drawn to places filled with books.  Browsing turns to buying and the new book gets added to the stack on the bedside table (also commonly referred to as the TBR pile). You don’t start reading it immediately because you’re in the middle of something and maybe you’ve already got something lined up next.  So it waits for you to be ready.  And there you have it – Tsundoku.

The art of it is in the choosing – skilled choosing – because you know your own interests and you will one day get to that book.  You’ll inevitably have days when you don’t have a clear idea of what you want to read next or you’re not in the mood for what you’d planned on reading next and on these occasions I have gone to my shelves and found plenty of unread books some of which have turned out to be favourites.  The art of Tsundoku is knowing your own tastes and knowing what you’ll enjoy reading at some point.

An added advantage is that if you’ve been reading a certain kind of book, going back over your Tsundoku books can help you get into something new and take you in a different direction.

Skillful practice of Tsundoku can actually be a wonderful gift to yourself.  A fabulous surprise.  A grand voyage of discovery.  A certainty that you’ll always have something good to read.  Fear not the ever increasing TBR pile, instead, embrace the art of Tsundoku.

Macaneta: Bridging The Gap

Macaneta is cut off from the mainland by the Inkomati river.  People make the trip out to this rural area to spend time on the beach.  It’s a very natural, sparsely inhabited place where cattle roam the wetland close to the river and its community have to make daily trips to the city and surrounds by ferry for everything they need.

The ferry is pretty iconic around here because if you’ve visited Macaneta you have undoubtedly spent some time waiting in line to be ferried across the river.  It isn’t a very large ferry either – it only carries 6 cars at a time and takes about 20 mins to make the crossing.

MF 5 - 20121228 - Lightroom Jul 2016

A new bridge is set to replace the ferry that wanted to die ages ago.  The community have had to make their way to the mainland by ferry or boat for a long time and this bridge will be life changing for them.

The bridge brings a lot of advantages that could not be foregone but as I looked through some photos from a few years ago I had to wonder how it will affect this little nature paradise.






Instagram Discovery #3 Ng Weijiang

I found Ng Weijiang  (@orhganic) through an article on Exposure Guide where you can see some of his incredibly cool collages made by taking advantage of the Instagram layout to create larger art pieces composed of individual posts.


A photo posted by Weijiang (@orhganic) on

His feed is a beautiful blockwork of monochromatic photography.  Most of his work is street photography and architecture in subject – always well composed with interesting perspectives.  Every now and then you see the beginnings of one of his collages starting to take shape one square at a time.  It’s magnificent!

I’m positive you’ll enjoy following him as he journeys through the urban world and occasionally turns it on its head one square at a time.


Operation Declutter Your Home: The How & Why

Two years ago I packed up my entire home into boxes for a move to a new house.  Ultimately, we didn’t move to that new house and I was stuck with all my stuff in boxes.  While it was disappointing at the time, I look back with gratitude because it enabled me to do something very important.

I didn’t have the energy to immediately unpack everything because I was still quite disappointed with how things had turned out so I just unpacked what I really needed for that week.  After that first week there were certain special items I missed having around me so I unpacked those.  Within the first month I had unpacked what I really needed and what was very important to me and nothing more.

Months passed and what I came to realise was that I had been harbouring a LOT of stuff that I thought I needed, wanted, or would one day use that was just cluttering up my space and my mind.  The really important result of not having all that extra stuff out is that I had the space both physically and mentally to re-evaluate my life a bit and see what I wanted to do next and how I wanted to live.

“Keep only those things that speak to your heart. Then take the plunge and discard all the rest. By doing this, you can reset your life and embark on a new lifestyle.”
Marie Kondō

It seems that when you have all the stuff from your past still cluttering your home it becomes difficult to see the changes you actually want to make.  Your stuff holds you back.  I highly recommend clearing out the clutter to make space for the new to come in.  Once I had everything out of the way I began to see how I could make my home’s style a better reflection of who I am now and what I’m aiming for.

“The space in which we live should be for the person we are becoming now, not for the person we were in the past.”
Marie Kondō

I don’t expect you to go and pack up your whole house as I did to figure out what is worth your space and what is not (although if you can it works well) but I do have a strategy that I think can help you reach the same results in increments.  Instead, pack up room by room.

  • Go into a room of your house and pack everything up.  Take this opportunity to clean the room top to bottom.
  • Leave this room over night or as long as it takes for you to go into the room to do something.
  • Then unpack only what you need for the task or for a week.
  • After a week unpack the things you really miss having around you but be strict about this.  Only the stuff that truly means something to you like photos, special gifts or ornaments, etc.  Do not riffle through boxes and pull out stuff just because it has a memory attached to it because that’s all your stuff.  Just those things that can’t be replaced.
  • Throughout the first month only unpack those things that you need, those special things that you enjoy having around you and which are in line with your current mindset and home style.  Leave everything else in the boxes.
  • After that first month anything that remains in those boxes you should consider donating, selling, or throwing away.

Move from room to room in this way and if you are honest and strict with yourself you should have cleared out plenty of clutter and maybe even made a bit of money from it.  When it comes to clothes the one month rule won’t apply to seasonal clothes so you may have to revisit your wardrobe each season and cull those pieces that don’t get worn within one month.   Give it a try and see how you do.  Do it every year if you want to.  Like everything the more often you do it the better at it you’ll get.

If you find yourself needing a real push to help you declutter you might want to read famous Japanese organizing consultant Marie Kondo’s book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing.  It is jam packed with quote-worthy motivation and revelations.

What’s your take on clutter, love it or hate it?



Review: The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera

The Unbearable Lightness of Being is a 1984 novel hailed by many as a modern classic.  It is set in the Spring Prague period of 1968  and what the characters in the novel describe as a time of Russian occupation of Prague and the Czech Republic as a whole.the unbearable lightness of being by milan kundera

Reading the reviews on GoodReads there seems to be a consensus that the plot and characters in the novel are underdeveloped and that the purpose of this novel is a philosophical one.  I would agree that the plot was lacking but I found the characters and the setting quite interesting.  That’s the part of the book I enjoyed.

What annoyed me was in fact the attempts to make this novel a philosophical one whereby a narrator reflecting on the characters and their circumstances inserted itself into the story and ultimately, for me, just detracted from the parts that made the book enjoyable.  The references to  Friedrich Nietzsche’s concept of eternal recurrence were boring and out of place.  I think if you’re going to use a novel to expound your philosophical ideas then write the story, plot, and characters so that they show us this idea instead of interrupting it to try to squash the idea into it.

I don’t have anything against the philosophical novel but I really need it to be well woven into the story otherwise you might as well write a non fiction piece.  Show me, don’t tell me.  That’s why I read fiction.

The setting and the characters were definitely unique and I enjoyed the perspective.  On a whole I gave the book 2 stars though because upon reading the last page I just felt it could have been done better.  I would love to hear what others thought of this book so if you’ve read it please share your thoughts.


lilolia review rating 2 stars ok