The Sky Above the Roof – Nathacha Appanah

Hey Loves!

How are we all? I am here to share with you today my first read of 2022 and it’s celebrating its publication day today too! How exciting. First of all, a huge thank you to MacLehose and Quercus for this early copy. Next, I can’t gush about this book enough. It’s small but, goodness, it is mighty. I hope you enjoy the review!

What’s it all about?
This novella centres around Wolf, a seventeen year old boy who steals a car in order to find his sister Paloma who left home over ten years ago. He’s unlicensed, on edge and veers onto the wrong side of the road, causing an accident. As a result, he is arrested, imprisoned and leaves his mother and sister to deal with the devastation that was caused. From this event – this one moment in time, this small novella reveals various viewpoints and voices all resulting in a novella full of poignancy and pain. In life, every action has a consequence. This novella explores that and the plethora of emotions that are caused by that.

‘She thought this name would bring him strength, luck, natural authority… there he is now, in the back of a police van, as we turn the page.’

The narrative then evolves to describe Wolf who clearly struggles and presents like a teenager who may be on the autistic spectrum. He muddles things up, mixes up time, words and actions. He sometimes listens but is usually observing the speaker to read their face. Yet the medical advice, confirms that Wolf is medically well and perfectly healthy. So why did he behave the way he did? Why steal a car and cause an accident? Why create the utter devastation for his mother and sister to resolve and live with for the rest of their lives?

For me personally, I felt the most sympathy for the mother, Phoenix. The turmoil she faces is arguably the most poignant part of the novella. She clearly is troubled and deeply vulnerable too. I’m also deeply interested in her name: will she rise from the ashes?

‘The day ends with the woman in a white nightdress waking, drenched in sweat. The image of her two children vanishing into the earth is still vivid and the distress she felt in her dream is there, in the pit of her stomach.’

Time doesn’t stop for any of us and with each narrative, time is ticking in the background. The impact on all involved differs and the consequences are also variable. However, what is clear is that everyone, literally everyone, is affected. Wolf, his life will never be the same again. Everything is internal with him – his pain, suffering, reasoning and angst. It’s questionable whether or not he will come back from this.

”Wolf makes his bed, not thinking about anything. Between the moment when he left the van and now, his heart has been closed.’

By the end of the novella though, lessons have been learnt and Wolf realises he isn’t innocent anymore and he will always have to live with the consequences of what he did. Whilst the novella starts with the literal prison, it ends with the prisons that we create around ourselves. It’s almost poetic.

Final Thoughts
This book is complex on so many levels – the time frame, the characterisation, the clear psychological struggles faced by this family. However, for me it’s been so difficult to write about because it’s so beautifully stunning that I don’t quite know where to begin. Hopefully I’ve done it justice. I can confidently say that it is nothing like what I’ve read before. I always have a soft spot for translated novels and this one is no exception. Translated by Geoffrey Strachan with his translator’s note at the start means that we get the explanation of the French title referring to a poem by Paul Verlaine. This too was sublime.

‘What have you done, who weep
Your endless tears?
What have you done, who weep
With youth’s lost years?’

As I say, this book is being published today so Happy Publication Day and enjoy reading!

See you next time for my next review.

Big Love xxxx

Lockdown Secrets – Eleanor Tattersfield

Hello Lovelies!

After ending 2021 on a high with regard to reading, I found myself feeling so much pressure for this year which has meant that my reading has slowed right down. However, after work yesterday I went to collect a book as a present. My New Year’s Resolution was to not buy any books… but I failed all because of this amazing book I read and wanted to share with you straight away. It’s something I knew absolutely nothing about, the cover just caught my eye. We all know how it is with a beautiful or eye catching cover! They usually end up in our possession eventually. Anyway, I really hope this book gets to you as much as it does me. Enjoy!

What’s it all about?
This book quite simply is genius. If you know London, you may know Marby & Elm in Exmouth or have seen their super cute website here. However, back in February 2021, Eleanor Tattersfield came up with a clever idea following inspiration from a radio show for people to document their own lockdown confessions. After finding some postcards and seeing it as a sign, the project was born. Using the power of Instagram, followers could send their own confessions on postcards to the shop to be shared anonymously to unburden themselves. Literally anything and everything was shared and Tattersfield knew that these had to be seen. Using social media, these are still being shared today as well as within this book.

“As the secrets poured in, prominent themes emerged: food fetishes, masturbation, loneliness, breaking the rules, sex, love and surprisingly, the love of lockdown.”

I think the reason why I adore this book so much is because it is brutally honest. Part of me really wishes I documented my life better (or more) during lockdown. I look back and know that I baked a lot and sent a few thousand emails but I could have done so much more. This book is that. I also love the fact with it being anonymous, people will be absolutely honest and open. It really takes some nerve to share some of these confessions I must admit! The one below made me laugh so much because I had my own animal friends in lockdown. To be honest, they’re still around now! The only difference is mine are squirrels…

“Their wit, sincerity, creativity and diversity are completely and utterly compelling.”

As I was reading this, I just had an overwhelming feeling of pride really. That may sound silly but for people to share their lives with the world, to share their inner most fears and worries really is something. The postcards about family naturally made me think of my own and appreciate how much I did miss them in lockdown. This then led me to think about those people without family and people who were completely isolated from everyone. This one below really hit me…

Final Thoughts
Overall, this book is pure joy. I read it in one sitting and found myself wanting to be a part of this too. I also really appreciated the fact that there is a template in the back of the book to send my own. Maybe, one day, I will consider doing it! If you’re interested in sending your own, you can find out more information here. The next time I visit London, I absolutely will be dropping by this store. I couldn’t not!

“A unique record of the lockdown: sometimes amusing, often surprising, and occasionally heart-breaking.”

It’s relatable, believable and utterly memorable. What an incredible little book!

Until next time everyone!!

Big love xxx

Reading Challenge 2021: The Essex Serpent – Sarah Perry

Hi Book Lovers!

I hope you’re all well and had a brilliant Christmas. I’m sure you all got plenty of wonderful books that I’ll be keeping an eye out for, that’s for sure. I thought I was making a good dent into my reading pile but then more arrived… I love it though!

Today, I finished my Reading Challenge of 2021! I honestly had the best time with my Reading Challenge reading things that I wouldn’t normally pick, revisiting books that have been living on the shelves for far too long and for finding books that have changed my world. December’s book is no different. I’ve read the wonderful The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry. This was gifted to me far too long ago because of its gorgeous cover so I’m glad I’ve finally got around to reading it. The theme for December was: Read a book with a beautiful cover. There are just not enough words for how stunning the cover of this book is. If you’re wanting to review the themes for my Reading Challenge this year, please click here. I can’t wait to show you what I’ve got planned for my Reading Challenge 2022, but more on that later! Time to crack on with my review of this brilliant book.

What’s it all about?
This is one of those books where all is not as it seems… Along with that, it’s one of those books where you can’t really give it the justice it deserves because there literally aren’t enough words. Regardless, I’ll give it a good go!

The novel centres around Cora Seaborne who I immediately fell in love with. She’s a widow but her husband, despite being wealthy is also quite abusive. With her new found freedom, she decides to ignore the constraints of her London society life and decides to take up amateur palaeontology. Whilst on holiday in Colchester with her son, Francis, and her companion, Martha, Cora is fascinated by a ruin caused by an earthquake which was rumoured to have awakened the Essex Serpent, a mythical sea dragon. Over time, the children and the locals become increasing convinced that the serpent is real and waiting to attack them. This irritates Will Ransome, the local reverend. The two frequently disagree about his faith and his refusal to believe in the serpent. However, the regular arguing brings them closer together.

“Cora, you cannot always keep yourself away from things that hurt you. We all wish we could, but we cannot: to live at all is to be bruised.”

This doesn’t go unnoticed by Dr. Luke Garnett, Cora’s friend whom she invites (well, begs) him to visit following a disaster at school whereby after Cora visits, the children fall into fits. With permission from Stella Ransome, Luke hypnotises Joanna, their eldest daughter. Unfortunately, Will walks in on this scene and is furious. As a result, a serious rift is caused between him and Cora. As if things aren’t complicated enough, both Cora and Will realise that they are entailed within an emotional affair, as do Martha and Dr. Luke. To make matters worse, Luke has been in love with Cora for some time.

Will decides to confess his feelings to Cora in a letter shortly before he learns that Stella is sick with tuberculosis, where she is rapidly approaching the end of her life. Meanwhile, Luke also confesses his love to her via letter too. Cora, naturally very cautious and wary of men because of her turbulent time with her husband, is angered by both letters. She ignores the letter from Will and writes an angry reply to Luke. Sadly, Luke received the letter the very same day that a knife attack maims him permanently in a way that ends his medical career.

Later, a mysterious stench envelopes the town, making everyone physically sick. Thoughts soon fly to the Essex Serpent and panic starts to rise. Will and some other villages go to look where they find a gigantic fish on the shore that’s dying. The smell comes from that and its death means that the villagers rejoice and celebrate because the serpent was obviously never real. Cora is persuaded to see her friends and returns. This creates an opportunity for Will and Cora to patch things up. This is just the starting point for the both of them.

“We both speak of illuminating the world, but we have different sources of light.” 

Whilst Cora and Will result in consummating their relationship, Joanna discovers that the serpent actually turns out to be an old boat previously thought to have been washed away. This discovery leads to another: Stella, whilst delirious and confused from her illness, has gone to the boat to die. Thankfully, Cora and Will are able to rescue Stella and return her to safety.

The novel closes with the Ransome children living with their friends, the Ambroses, whilst Stella awaits her death. Will finds himself in a sense of flux – he is happy with Stella whilst still in love with Cora. Luke meanwhile finds peace living with his friend Spencer and Core moves to London. She now lives alone as her companion, Martha, has fallen in love and her son has gone to boarding school. Cora is happy living in solitude but she does continue to write to Will, urging him to reunite with her.

“CLEAVE. To cleave to something is to cling to it with all your heart, he said, but to cleave something apart is to break it up.”

Final Thoughts
Firstly, and most obviously, this book is stunning. The cover is beautiful, the flowers ornate and the gold oozes opulence. However, for me it is the writing style that I absolutely love. It flows, it’s seamless and the description is divine. I wish I could write like that. I also thoroughly enjoyed the many letters which make up the narrative too. Letters provide a more intimate experience, we tend to see true emotions within them and these really added to the narrative. As I said at the start of this post, I genuinely don’t have the words to give this book the praise it deserves. But, it is clear to see why this book has won many awards. I urge you all to read it. You won’t be disappointed. What a brilliant way to close my Reading Challenge!

See you next time loves!

Big love xxx

Reading Challenge 2021: The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde – Robert Louis Stevenson

Hello Loves!

I hope you’re all doing ok and enjoying the run up to Christmas. I am well aware there are a lot of unknowns on the horizon but I am doing what I always do: enjoying the holidays, resting and of course, reading plenty. I know I’m still playing catch up on my posts but behind the scenes I have been working on my reading challenge for 2022 which I really hope you get involved with! I can’t wait to share that with you all!

Before that, today I am here to review my book choice for November. The focus was: November – Read a book by an author who died more than 100 years ago. I put this into my challenge so I read another classic. After all, they are classics for a reason and I am someone that sees the new books out in shops and buys them, leaving the classics behind. Unfortunately, I didn’t manage to get this read in November BUT I did manage to finish it on December 1st so it isn’t too bad… My first choice was the poetry of Lewis Carroll but… we didn’t see eye to eye… Anyway, I then decided to read the gothic Victorian classic The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. I hope you enjoy my post!

What’s it all about?
The setting of this novel, heavily influenced by Stevenson’s life in Edinburgh, is set in London with a quintessential Victorian gentleman, Doctor Henry Jekyll. Stevenson contrasts this with the character of Edward Hyde. One evening, Gabriel John Utterson and his cousin Richard Enfield reach the door of a large house. Enfield tells Utterson about the scandalous events of months before. He saw a sinister and terrifying looking man (Edward Hyde) trample a young girl after accidentally bumping into her. Hyde was forced to pay £100 to avoid the public scandal that would have ensued. However, when Hyde bought the cheque, it was signed by the reputable gentleman later revealed to be Doctor Henry Jekyll. Utterson knew the doctor well – he was a client and a friend. Utterson fears the worst and assumes that Hyde is blackmailing him especially as Jekyll changed his will recently in order to make Hyde his sole beneficiary. As his friends, Utterson tries to talk to him about it, only to be repeatedly shut down.

“It is one thing to mortify curiosity, another to conquer it. ” 

On a dark October night, a servant witnesses Hyde beating Sir Danvers Carew to death. All that is left behind is half of a broken cane. The police contact Utterson who takes them to Hyde’s apartment. Upon their arrival, they see how Hyde has vanished but has left behind the other half of the broken cane. Utterson recognises it immediately as one he previously gave to Jekyll. Utterson visits Jekyll who shows him a note. This note has allegedly been written to Jekyll by Hyde but Hyde’s handwriting is similar to Jekyll’s own, resulting in Utterson believing and concluding that Jekyll has forged the note in order to protect Hyde.

Gradually, over time Jekyll reverts to his former self. He’s sociable and back to his status of quintessential gentleman. However, in January the following year, he starts refusing to see visitors. This change in character leads to more suspicions. Furthermore, Dr Hastie Lanyon, a mutual acquaintance of Jekyll and Utterson, dies of shock after gaining some information relating to Jekyll. Before his death, Lanyon gives Utterson another letter to be opened after Jekyll’s death or disappearance. In late February, during another walk with Enfield, Utterson begins a conversation with Jekyll at his laboratory window. Out of nowhere, Jekyll slams the window and disappears, shocking Utterson to the core.

“There comes an end to all things; the most capacious measure is filled at last; and this brief condescension to evil finally destroyed the balance of my soul.” 

In early March, Jekyll’s butler, Mr Poole visits Utterson in a state of frantic worry. He reveals how Jekyll has completely secluded himself in his laboratory for weeks. The pair decide that they have no choice but to break into the laboratory where they find the body of Hyde wearing Jekyll’s clothing. With this and a letter from Jekyll to Utterson, it is assumed that this is suicide. Utterson reads Lanyon’s letter followed by Jekyll’s. Lanyon reveals that his shock was caused by seeing Hyde drink something that turned him into Jekyll. Jekyll’s letter explains how he indulged in unstated vices and feared discovery. Therefore, he found a way to transform himself and thereby indulge his vices without fear of detection. Whilst this was originally under control and under the control of Jekyll, one night in August this happened involuntarily.

Eventually, Jekyll resolved to stop becoming Hyde and go back to his respectful life. Yet, one moment of weakness resulted in him drinking the serum to change. This led to him murdering Carew due to him burying his desires for so long. As a result of this though, Jekyll resolved to stop the transformations. The police were hunting him as a murderer so Hyde needed to help him avoid capture. He wrote a letter to Lanyon in Jekyll’s hand asking for his friend to deliver various chemicals from his laboratory. In Lanyon’s presence, Hyde mixed the chemicals, drank the serum and transformed into Jekyll. The shock of this sight resulted in Lanyon’s death.

Finally, one of the chemicals ran low and new batches failed to work. Jekyll speculated that one of the original ingredients must have some unknown impurity that enabled it to work. Knowing there was no way out, Jekyll wrote out a full disclosure of events and locked himself in his laboratory. Here, he could keep Hyde impressed and Poole and Utterson would find him dead.

“If I am the chief of sinners, I am the chief of sufferers also.” 

Final Thoughts
For such a small novel, there is so much to discuss. There have been many many theories and schools of thoughts about the novel but for me, it shows the impact of hiding those desires deep down. Also, I am fascinated by the duality of man – how we are all capable of good and evil. There’s a reason this novel has stood the test of time – after all it’s been around since 1886… I also really enjoyed the letter elements of the novel. Letters are a dying art form so I really like it when they’re within the plot of a story and this is truly the case here – letters reveal the truth. All in all, this is a short novel that you can easily read in a day but one that throws up many questions and thoughts about the behaviours of man and the difference between out outward presentation of ourselves and our true inside.

I’ll be back before Christmas so I’ll wait until then to wish it to you all! In the meantime, enjoy the build up to the big day and stay safe and well.

Big love all xxx

Reading Round-Up: November

Hey Loves!
How are you all? Well, we are progressing our way through December aren’t we? Those jingly bells are definitely in my ears as I cling on desperately for the Christmas break. We just have to hang on in there! Mind you, whilst the world outside continues to turn, I’ve been trying to catch up with everything. Today, I want to share with you my round up post for November. One the one hand, November feels like a long time ago now. However, I did read some great books that month and I cannot wait to share them with you all. This month I managed to read a total of 8 books which I am quite pleased about considering it was mock season. You’ll see that the majority are children’s books. It’s not a secret that I love a children’s book, especially when I’m exhausted and marginally overwhelmed. It’s an easy way to switch off. I am also really pleased about the two non fiction books of this month too!

Without further ado, let’s check out the shelves!

My top three for this month were actually much easier to pick than previous months. Now, I can’t really explain why but I think it’s because I enjoyed all the books this month. It’s also a bit easier because I’ve reviewed two of them already! Check out Sooley here and Big Panda and Tiny Dragon here.

  1. Before & Laughter – Jimmy Carr. I know Jimmy Carr is controversial however, I learnt so much from this book. Inspired to write after becoming a father, it was amazing to see him being so unforgivingly honest. I am a fan of the show 8 Out of 10 Cats so when I spotted this I had to read it. But this book is so much more than the comedy. There’s some really insightful moments from Carr’s youth that I knew nothing about. I really enjoyed reading this and would recommend it for anyone who is into comedy, any fans of Carr and also anyone who wants to branch into more non-fiction.
  2. Drinking Custard – Diary of a Confused Mum – Lucy Beaumont. Another 8 Out of 10 Cats link here but this time focusing on motherhood. Now, I am not a parent but I found this book completely (and strangely for me) relatable. I think that if I were to become a parent, I’d be a bit like this. I thoroughly enjoyed this book and found myself laughing throughout really. Love it!
  3. A Christmas Carol – Charles Dickens. Every year I teach this novella and every year my love for it grows. It makes me believe that we all have the ability to change and I always find myself wanting to do more after I’ve read it. For example, one of my classes are now writing letters to our local rest home for Christmas. Anyway, this is a short for punchy novella with one of the most iconic characters in the history of literature.

Overall, eight books are still a good number but I’m really pleased that I read more non fiction. I do really love non fiction but it’s never my first choice. I know that doesn’t make much sense but I do always enjoy it and then vow to read more. Yet, I end up going to my usual crime/thriller/psychological thriller novels.

I’ll see you in my next post where I’ll be writing my review of my book choice for November and December. I’ll try to get some Christmas reads in there too! See you when I break up for the holidays!

Big love all xxx

Reading Challenge 2021: Sooley – John Grisham

Hey Loves!
I hope you’re all doing well and enjoying the fact we are now into December! Last week I woke up to SNOW! I wasn’t expecting it and I was mesmerised! It rarely happens where I live so I loved it. With that and it being December and the countdown to Christmas, I can barely contain myself. I mean, I’ve already got three Christmas trees up… Anyway, I was so taken with my London weekend that I’m really behind with my reading posts! Forgive me… I’m going to start the catching up process now though. Today’s post is my review of my book choice for October: Sooley by John Grisham. Now, I’m not massively into Halloween but I do love to see all the pumpkins (hence my photo of this book to be honest!) The theme of October was: Read a book with an orange cover. I found this book in my local bookshop; it was orange and by a writer I really want to read more of so it was perfect. Thankfully, I also really enjoyed reading it! I hope you enjoy my review!

What’s it all about?
The novel focuses around a topic I know very little about: basketball. If you’re expecting a classic Grisham courtroom drama, then you won’t find it here. However, what you do find is a blend of dreams, ambition, conflict and poverty. As always Grisham weaves his tale effortlessly, the characters are well developed and the plot still remains challenging, without reading like a challenge. The protagonist of the novel is Sooley, a seventeen year old, ginormous human being at six feet two inches. He is from a small rural village in South Sudan. His dream is to become a world famous basketball star. However, his location means that he is hardly living in the land of dreams or opportunities. Regardless, Sooley is lucky enough to get himself onto the under 18s national team to go on a tour of the USA. This is his golden opportunity to get noticed by a talent spotter and therefore get himself a college place in America. Maybe he could even get himself a deal with an NBA team and play in the worlds biggest basketball league.

Meanwhile, back in Sooley’s home town, life is not peaceful. Even on the bus journey to the airport, a gunfight breaks out between government soldiers and rebel bandits. However, Sooley manages to keep himself alive. As the training begins in earnest, it becomes clear that Sooley is very fast and can jump very high but he cannot get the ball in the basket. Nine times out of ten, he misses. Playing in America is a completely different world from the hard dirt courts Sooley is used to in South Sudan. Even though the richer teams have better kit and look smarter, he personally feels like a prince in his sponsored Reeboks and dowdy grey uniform. His coach, Ecko Lam believes that Sooley can become a superstar and starts pushing his case to a scout who he knows.

“Lonnie, Samuel could be the steal of the tournament. He’s not getting looks because he’s not scoring. But he will. When I first saw hi back in April he had the worst jump shot in Africa. He’s come a long way and he’s still working hard. And growing.”

Back home things are continuing to get worse. The guerrilla forces have launched an attack which has overrun Sooley’s village. The loss of life is staggering. His mother, brothers and sisters are all missing. The news that makes its way into the US media is fragmented and unreliable. Sooley has no idea where his family are or if they are even alive. His sister is taken away by the rebel forces and his father is shot dead. The rest of his family are now refugees fleeing the fighting. All they have now is whatever they can carry and keep safe on them.

The narrative switches from the endless stream of mostly unsuccessful basketball games and the horror and harsh reality of the people who are starving and suffering at home. Sooley is torn between constantly thinking about home whilst being thousands of miles away, trying to secure himself a safe future.

‘The water was wretched but it quenched their thirst. The peanuts tasted by chocolate candy. “Eat slow,” Beatrice whispered to James and Cool. “Make it last.” But they couldn’t eat slow.’

Partly due to sympathy for the tragedy that has overtaken him, Sooley manages to secure a scholarship to an American college. As he gets settled into the campus and college life, his new coach manages to make contact with his family in a refugee camp in Uganda. Sooley’s life becomes a bit more ‘normal’ (or normal in our terms) as he shares a room with someone else from the team and gets a job working in the locker room of the football team. Now he has access to the gym in the quiet periods, he starts to practice for as long as he possibly can. His training has officially begun. Nevertheless, he still cannot dribble and he still cannot shoot. As a result, Sooley is likely to spend his first season sitting on the bench. Early one morning, his phone rings with an International call. It’s his mother. Finally, after this wall of silence and doubt, he is able to make contact. It’s taken two months for him to hear her voice again and the news that his sister is missing hits him hard.

Despite working hard and showing some signs of improvement, Sooley is still resigned to the bench. He is still growing taller and he is putting on muscle mass. His shooting is getting better and better. For the team however, things are not going so well. A series of defeats means that morale is low. Finally the coach decides to give Sooley the opportunity to play on the court. This was his opportunity to show just how much he had improved. In that game, all his practice, hard work and dedication comes to fruition.

‘The legend of Sooley began with fifteen minutes to go in the second half. He sprang high and aimed at the rim. It was not a hopeless effort to beat the buzzer. I was not a Hail Mary. Instead, it was a smooth, confident, perfect jump shot from 42 feet that found nothing but net. He glanced at Coach Britt, who stood frozen, his mouth wide open.’

Over the next few games, Sooley establishes himself as the star of the team. Despite his obvious skill, he remains humble and likeable, never letting the adulation of the crowd go to his head. Alongside this success, he starts working with an immigration lawyer to see if he can get his family to safety in America with him. He sends them money and speaks to the at least once a week and whilst their situation is difficult, it is no longer desperate.

But all this wasn’t destined to last. Like any young man, decisions are made that are later regretted and lessons have to be learnt. The ending isn’t what we expect…

Final Thoughts
Grisham strikes again with this book! I wasn’t bothered by the fact that I know very little about basketball. I was taken in with Sooley’s story, felt increasingly uncomfortable with the descriptions of life when you are living in a state of fear and utter survival as well as refugee camps. Ultimately, I was desperate for Sooley to become a success story. I completely appreciate that this novel doesn’t end in the way I expected it to either. That is the skill of Grisham – he creates an ‘easy’ read which is hard-hitting, challenging and thought provoking. Regardless, it was a book that I did enjoy to read and once again, I am grateful for finding this by pure chance on the shelves at the store.

I once again apologise for the fact that this post is very late. I’ve got the round-up and November’s book choice left to catch up on!

Continue to stay safe and well everyone!

Big Love xxxx

Big Panda and Tiny Dragon – James Norbury

Hello Loves!

Happy Sunday! I hope you’re all well and enjoying this typically autumnal weekend. 🍁

It’s been a while since I’ve read a book and felt the urge to blog about it straight away but here we are. I just couldn’t wait to share this beautiful book with you all. I had no idea it existed until I saw the pretty cover. Naturally and unsurprisingly, I left with arm fulls of books to add to my ever increasing shelves that I’m barely making in a dent in. However, I read this first and I haven’t been able to stop talking about it since. I’m here to share with you today the stunning book of love, courage, hope and friendship: Big Panda and Tiny Dragon by James Norbury. I hope you fall in love with this just as much as I have.

What’s it all about?
This book definitely has The Boy, The Fox, The Mole and The Horse vibes but it’s stunning and heartfelt in its own right. Inspired by Norbury’s volunteering experience with the Samaritans, this gem of a book follows Big Panda and Tiny Dragon, two unlikely friends, that follow the seasons sharing hope and lessons for us all to learn from.

Throughout the book there are a series of conversations, sometimes silly, sometimes serious, which show a range of emotions and fears. The words of wisdom within this little book are all inspired by Buddhist philosophy and spirituality which gave Norbury hope during difficult times. I personally believe in fate and I found this book at this point in time for a reason. It gave me the heartwarming hug I needed. I’m passing this hug (virtually) onto you.

Big Panda and Tiny Dragon embark on a journey through the four seasons of the year together. Whilst on this journey, the journey of life, they get lost more often than not. This is something we all can relate to – whether it is getting lost on a journey of losing ourselves in times of doubt and question. However, it is what Big Panda and Tiny Dragon find when they are lost that makes the journey that little bit more special. They discover beautiful sights they have never seen before and would never have seen if they had gone the right way. Good things can come from mistakes we make.

“My head feels like this storm sometimes,” said Tiny Dragon.
“If you really listen…you can hear the raindrops splashing on the stone. It’s possible to find a little peace, even in a storm.”

It isn’t just the words that aid this beautiful story but the drawings too. I always appreciate things like this because I am not artistic in any way. Norbury’s use of bold brush strokes, the fluffy, cuddly Big Panda and the small, wiry Tiny Dragon, the meadows, lakes, forests and hills mean that each page is as beautiful as the last.

Big Panda and Tiny Dragon explore the thoughts and emotions surrounding hardships and happiness. This connects every single one of us together, reader or not. Whilst they see the offerings of nature through the seasons of Spring, Summer, Autumn and Winter, they learn to live in the moment and to embrace those gifts of nature. Big Panda and Tiny Dragon also learn how to be at peace with uncertainty and how to find the strength to overcome life’s obstacles. They do it together. These conversations show us friendship, inner wisdom and self acceptance.

Final Thoughts
This book felt like a breath of fresh air. It’s been so easy for us to feel overwhelmed with life pausing and starting up again. We each have been tested and tried in our lifetimes and sometimes it is easier to give up. This little book has the biggest heart and is there for you when you need it. Read it cover to cover, look for your favourite conversation, find the lesson that suits your current experience. The series of vignettes mean that you can read this however you want to really. It is there as in inspiration, a reminder that not all is lost. Pause. Breathe. Enjoy. Look at life in a positive way.

I just have so much love for this book. It reminded me of me, of the most amazing group of family and friends I’ve got around me. Like I said at the beginning, I found this book for a reason and I’ll be spreading the message of this book near and far. I adore the drawings that bring the lessons to life too. All I keep thinking now is, I really want my own Big Panda and Tiny Dragon. To finish my review, my favourite quote.

“Some people are like candles. They burn themselves out to create light for others.”

With so much love to you all but especially to my candles…

Big love xxx

Reading Challenge 2021: Grimm Tales for Young and Old – Philip Pullman Collection

Good afternoon lovelies!

How are you all? I hope you’re well and enjoying the beauty in the change of nature right now. Outside my window I can see leaves dancing and their colours changing. Autumn is a really beautiful time of year – it’s so important that we notice it. In fact, I’ve been worried recently that I’m missing all of this happening around me so I’ve taken time this weekend to relax, read and observe. We are so lucky to have our natural world in all its beauty. We need to take care of it.

As promised in my previous post, I’m here today to share with you my book choice for my reading challenge. September’s theme was: Read a traditional fairy tale. Now, this is where I have to admit that my knowledge of fairy tales really only extend to the Disney versions I spent my childhood watching. I knew a couple of tales from growing up too but these really were quite hazy and the more modern fairy tales or the modern adaptation of them I knew also fell into that category. Therefore, my choice for this month came at the right time as these were an easy read (helps massively with school) and also thoroughly enjoyable… if that’s the right word! I’m really looking forward to sharing my favourite three with you all!

What’s it all about?
First of all, I just have to say that my edition here, the Penguins Classics edition, really is stunning. There’s something truly magical about owning a clothbound book I find. This collection contains the classics: Snow White, Hansel and Gretel, Rumpelstiltskin and Rapunzel to name a few but also some that I’ve never even heard of. However, I have to start with my favourite: Cinderella.

Cinderella
Written in 1812, the tale begins with the death of a young girl’s mother, leaving her with the lesson of being good and praying faithfully. The following Spring the girl’s father marries an evil woman with two daughters of her own. They turn the young girl into a servant and make her sleep on the floor in the fire cinders, hence the name Cinderella. She remains true to her beloved mother and remains humble despite the years of abuse and suffering she suffered.

Meanwhile, the King announces a three day festival so that the prince can pick his bride. Cinderella is desperate to attend but her step-mother has different plans. She purposely throws lentils into the ashes and forces Cinderella to clean them up instead of attending. However, Cinderella gets a helping hand from her trusty birds and the mess is quickly cleared. The magic tree, one which has helped her often, gives her a dress and slippers of the most beautiful gold, silver and silk. Once she’s at the ball, she is the most stunning girl there! Under her disguise, nobody knows it’s her and rather fortunately, the prince sees her and falls in love.

At the end of the festival, Cinderella escapes leaving one slipper behind. The prince knows that the woman he loves can fit into that shoe and so the search begins to find her. The step-sisters are desperate for him to think it’s one of them. One decides to cut off her toe to enable her foot to fit and the other cuts off her heel. Yet, it’s the birds who show how the shoe rightfully belongs to and punish the evil step-sisters of their behaviour towards Cinderella.

“Roocoo-coo, roocoo-coo
No blood in the shoe!
It’s not too tight,
This bride is right!”

The Elves
Written in 1806, this little collection of tales all feature one thing: elves. In the first tale, we see a hardworking but poor shoemaker struggling to make shoes due to his lack of leather. In fact, he was only able to make one single pair. He left the pair unfinished, for the morning, heading for bed to commend himself to God. After waking the following morning, saying his prayers, he returns to his workbench. What he sees is a miracle! A completed pair of shoes in perfect condition.

A customer entered the shop and offered a huge sum for the shoes, more than they usually sold for. Following this, the shoemaker decides to stay up and see exactly who had helped them. Hidden in the corner of the room, they waited patiently. What they saw were two little men working quickly and nimbly on a pair of shoes, running away once they were completed.

The wife decides that they have to show thanks to the little people because they truly have changed their lives. Noticing they have no clothes, she makes them little clothes for them and the shoemaker finishes each outfit with a pair of shoes. Once they had finished the clothes and shoes, they left them for the men and saw how happy it made them. They danced out of their home, never to be seen again. However, the shoemaker prospered in his business.

The second tale centres on a girl this time. A poor but hardworking servant girl was sweeping out the house when she found a letter. She couldn’t read so instead took the letter to her masters. They told her the contents of the letter – that she had been invited to an elf baptism and asked to be a godmother. She hesitated not really sure of what she should do but her master manages to persuade her to accept.

Upon arrival the girl saw just how beautiful it was where the elves lived. They did everything to keep her comfortable and happy but she wanted to leave. The elves continued to work hard but after three days she was desperate to return. They ave her gold but let her leave. Once she got back home she learnt that it wasn’t three days but seven years that she had spent with them.

The final tale shows a woman who had her child taken from the cradle by elves and substituted with a changeling. She was advised by a neighbour to set the changeling on the hearth, make a fire and boil water within two eggshells. This should make the changeling laugh and he would leave. The woman did everything in her power to follow her neighbour’s instructions. Finally, the changeling laughed and a band of elves appeared to swap the child and changeling back.

“We’re finer than before –
We shan’t be cobblers anymore!”

The Golden Bird
Every year, a king’s apple tree is robbed of one golden apple during the night. Frustrated with this regular theft, the king sets his gardener’s sons to watch to find out who it is. The first two sons fail in their mission as they both fall asleep. However, the youngest son manages to stay away to see that the thief isn’t a person, but it is in fact a golden bird. He tries to shoot it but only manages to knock a feather off. The king decides that this feather is so valuable that he must also have the bird that it belongs to.

The king sends the sons again onto their next mission – capture the bird. On route, they meet a talking fox who gives them some advice. The first two sons ignore the advice but the third doesn’t. He obeys the fox so the fox further advises him to use the wooden cage from the castle and not the golden one. However, this he disobeys and the bird rouses the castle, resulting in his capture. The fox offers further advice – to use a grey leather saddle, not a gold one, but the son disobeys too. He now has a bird and a horse. He is sent after the princess from the golden castle. The fox advises him not to not her say her farewell to her parents but he disobeys again. As a result, princess’s father orders him to remove a hill for eight days as the price of his life.

The fox removes it and then they set out together again. He further advises the prince on how to keep all the things he has won since then. It then asks the prince to shoot it and cut off its head. When the prince refuses, it warns him against buying gallows’ flesh and sitting on the edge of rivers.

On route back home, he finds his older brothers who have been living in sin throughout this ordeal. Because of their actions, they are to be hanged on the gallows. He buys their liberty and they find out exactly what he has been up to. When he sits on the river’s edge, they push him in. They steal all of his things and the princess and begin back to their father. Nevertheless, the bird, horse and princess all grieve for the youngest son. The fox also rescues the prince. When he returns to his father’s castle dressed in a beggar’s clock, the bird, the horse and the princess all recognise him as the man who won them and become cheerful once again. The older brothers are punished for their deeds and he marries the princess.

Lastly, the third son cuts off the fox’s head and feet at the creatures request. The fox is revealed to be a man, the brother of the princess who had been enchanted by a witch after being lost of may years.

“And from then on nothing was missing from their happiness as long as they lived.”

Final Thoughts
I think there is (obviously) rather something magical about fairy tales. I found reading this a complete joy really. The majority are cautionary and I do wonder how younger audiences would find them now. Some are fairly barbaric and brutal but all have their own lessons. We all are desperate for good to overcome evil, for light to beat darkness, for kindness to be rewarded and that’s really what these tales show us. I’m so glad that I had this as a theme on my challenge because without it, I’m sure I wouldn’t have got to them! The reading list is forever growing, let’s face it. But I’ve loved reading them! No regrets.

I’ll continue catching up with you all whilst getting through my final week before half term break. I feel like I’ve been counting down since week two to be honest but it will be good to switch off and recover. The reading pile isn’t going to read itself, is it? Until next time my loves.

Big love all xxx

Reading Challenge 2021: The Island of Sea Women – Lisa See

Hi Loves!

Well, term time began and that’s really when my free time ended. I didn’t expect the start of the new term to be this hard but it’s been nothing like I ever imagined. The words ‘Covid Catch-Up’ are haunting my ears and my zen like state from the summer seems a little less zen and a little more bleugh. I can only apologise for my absence and hope that you all forgive me. I’ve tried to keep up with you all, something I will endeavour to keep on doing. I’ve fallen behind in my own reading and blogging which frustrates me but I’m here now! Hopefully I can make up for it.

Today I am here to share with you my book choice for August for my reading challenge. The focus was: Read a book which takes you to the beach. Now, my default position would be to pick a sunny skies book, with beach vibes and the hint of suncream in my imagination. However, I opted for something more harrowing, more gritty than you’d probably expect. I read The Island of Sea Women by Lisa See. I hope you enjoy the review and the book!


What’s it all about?
Set in Jeju, you enter the matriarchal world of these fiercely independent women skin divers. In a culture where the men stay at home to look after the children, to discuss the latest gossip in the village square. These women head out into the sea day after day to provide food from the sea for their families. The book covers several decades, from 1930s right through to the modern world today. Mi-ja and Young-sook are two young girls in the 30s with ambitions to be a part of the diving collective. Their backgrounds are very different. Mi-ja is the daughter of a collaborator with the hated Japanese Occupation Forces whilst Young-sook lives at the heart of the collective, born into a long line of haenyeo (sea women) divers. Despite Mi-ja’s damaged reputation Young-sook befriends her and together they learn to dive.

‘From that day on, I believed I could trust her with my life. So did my mother. All of which meant that by the time Mi-ja and I turned fifteen – we were as close as a pair of chopsticks.’

The opportunity came for Young-sook to join her mother and the haenyeo diving for the precious abalone. These creatures are extremely valuable but can be incredibly dangerous to try and catch as you can easily become trapped against the rocks. Young-sook gets her abalone and surfaces triumphantly but soon realises that her mother is trapped under the water. Lacking the experience, she fails to free her despite repeated attempts and at the moment of her success she faces the bereavement of her mother, the breadwinner for her entire family.

She grabbed my knife and tried to slice through the leather. In her rush, she slit a deep gash in her forearm. Her legs began to kick frantically. I pulled on her arm, trying to help. I couldn’t last much longer…’

The death of Young-sook’s mother puts a massive strain on the family and on her in particular as she is now expected to provide for the whole family, including her father. So when the girls have the opportunity to participate in ‘Leaving-Home Water-Work’, Young-sook jumps at it. This is when they haenyeo were hired to dive in other countries. In this instance, Mi-ja and Young-sook were hired out for nine months in Vladivostok. On their days off, the girls would take rubbings of anything that caught their eye as a way of collecting memories and telling their stories. This opportunity would have been a great adventure for the girls as they were away from home in a strange country and had the opportunity to meet young men. At one point they were walking through the town when they were approached by two Russian sailors. The boys bought them ice cream which was an extravagance that they would never have been able to purchase for themselves. However, despite some serious flirting, the girls returned to the Korean district, leaving the boys disappointed.

‘I stuck my tongue out all the way – like I’d seen other people do – and took a big lick. The air was already cold, but this was so cold! It froze the top of my head just as intensely as diving off the boat into icy waters, but while the ocean was salty, this was sweeter than anything I’d ever tasted.’

On their return to Jeju the girls have a life changing encounter. In the port they are struck by the enormous number of Japanese soldiers, sailors and guards. Both girls feel unsafe and threatened by all these leering men. But, salvation comes in the form of Lee Sang-mun who helps them get themselves and all their luggage safely to the truck which will take them back to their village. Young-sook is convinced that there is a spark between them and her thoughts turn to weddings. However, it transpires that he is interested in Mi-ja and Young-sook feels rejected and for the first time, resents her friend. Lee Sang-mun is a wealthy man but works with the Japanese. Young-sook’s grandmother is pleased to see the back of Mi-ja as she is married off to a collaborator.

“He’s a collaborator and he has too much Japanese thinking in him.” ‘This was about the worse thing she could say about anyone since she so hated the Japanese and those who helped them.’

Young-sook isn’t left behind as her grandmother also has her married off, this time to a school teacher called Jun-bu. This brings some stability to her life and a measure of settled calm. Her sister has joined the haenyeo which brings more income to their household. Inevitably, Young-sook becomes pregnant. During this time it becomes clear that the Japanese are fighting a desperate end to the war against the American forces. The build up of war materials on Jeju is intense and their lives are disrupted by the constant passage of planes overheard and war ships through the sea. Upon her return to the summer work in Vladivostok, four of the girls from Jeju give birth. In typical haenyeo style, this barely stops their work and the newborns accompany them on the boat from birth, as the women continue to dive.

‘In mid-June, Mi-ja went into labour in the sea. She kept working until the final hour, when In-ha and I joined her on the deck for the delivery. After all her foreboding, that baby practically swam out of Mi-ja.’

At the end of the war, the Japanese were driven out by the victorious American forces but as far as the people of Jeju were concerned, they just replaced one set of occupiers with another and worse, the American suspicion of communism meant that they were hostile to the naturally communal approach of the haenyeo. As tensions grew on the island, it culminates in an American strategy called ‘The Ring of Fire’. This is an attempt to trap the ‘insurgents’ and remove them entirely. Young-sook, her husband and her children are caught in this ‘Ring of Fire’. As the atrocities committed by the militia mount, the risk that they will kill everyone to hide what they have done is very real. However, Mi-ja and her influential husband have the power to save them but faced with the choice, Mi-ja turns her back and leaves them. Her son and her husband are murdered before her eyes in an event called the ‘Massacre at Bukchon’.

‘Sang-mun grabbed Mi-ja’s arm and began to walk away. “Mi-ja!” I screamed. “Help us!” She kept her face turned, so she didn’t see what happened when the soldier decided to stop wasting their time with Yu-ri… Her agony was my agony. Then she stopped screaming.’

The novel ends in a way that should give us a sense of hope. Things aren’t always as they seem and this is a prime example of this. But, can we really forgive or even acknowledge seeing things in a different way? That’s something that is explored as the novel closes. No spoilers here – you’ll need to read it to find out…


Final Thoughts
I did enjoy reading this book. Don’t get me wrong, it is harrowing, horrifying and a completely alien culture to what we are used to. It is nothing like our every day lives and so my eyes were opened to a new experience completely. It isn’t a traditional beach read – no summer vibes here! Regardless, this book is one that I am so grateful to have read. That’s the beauty of these reading challenges – reading something you wouldn’t normally read. This book is exactly that.

Thank you all so much for your patience, care and love. I’ll be back soon – I promise!

Big love all xxxxx

The Pocket Wife – Susan Crawford

Hey guys!

How are you all? I hope summer is treating you beautifully. I’m having the best time – reading, exploring, holidaying. We’re so lucky to be able to experience everything we’ve got on offer right now. It sounds like such a cliche but I’m so grateful for what I have right now. I’ve had some wonderful quality time with my family and I’ve made a big dent in my TBR pile. (They have since been replaced by books purchased from various days out but we won’t say too much more on that matter…)

Today I want to share with you a book that I couldn’t put down or stop thinking about. For those of you who have followed me for a while, you’ll know how much I love my psychological thrillers and this one did not disappoint. I got The Pocket Wife in one of my book subscription boxes. I’d never heard of it and didn’t know anything about it. Regardless, I read this book in a few hours. It was that good. Most importantly, it was one of those books where I just had to find out what happened. It kept me guessing until the penultimate chapter. I have to confess, I didn’t manage to work this one out! Don’t worry – no spoilers here! I hope you enjoy reading my review!

What’s it all about?

Centred around Dana Catrell and her husband Peter, we are at once given an unreliable narrator. Why? Dana has bipolar disorder. She lives at home whilst her husband is the high flying attorney. As a result, he hasn’t a clue about the deterioration of Dana because he isn’t there to notice the changes in her mood and character. This change is worsened with their son’s move to college.

We awkwardly see Dana move between the bleakest depression to manic euphoria. There is no way to know which side of that she will fall on each and every day. On a particularly down day, Dana pops to see her neighbour, Celia. The women talk and Celia is only too aware of the mental health issues faced by Dana. Dana discloses to her that she feels like she is treated incorrectly, like she’s a ‘pocket wife’ and that she doesn’t exist. The crux of it is, she feels alone and rejected. Celia understands and listens.

“She and Celia were friends, neighbours, sharing piecrust recipes and gossip and yard-sale outings, an occasional languid conversation over coffee or an afternoon trek through the mall with bags in hand. But not secrets. Not until today.”

On a subsequent visit, Dana tells Celia that she is becoming increasingly convinced that Peter is having an affair. He leaves to talk on the phone and constantly finds excuses to leave the house. Like any good friend, Celia checks that Dana is taking her medication as well as seeing her psychologist. She believes it is best that she talks about those fears with someone who is trained and who can give the best advice. Dana discloses that she has opted for alcohol rather than medication thus adding to the unreliability of her narrative.

“There were times over the years when her demons won out, when she wore her lipstick too dark, her mascara too heavy, her dressed too short.”

Regardless, Celia offers Dana wine and the pair of women spend the afternoon together. They chat and enjoy each other’s company but it isn’t long until Dana is drunk. Celia tries to show her a photograph on her phone but Dana passes out before she can make any sense of it. What does this photograph show? When she wakes up, she sees that she is back within the confines of her own house. More worryingly, she learns that Celia has been murdered.

As the last person to see Celia alive, this puts Dana in quite a difficult position. She obsessively tries to put the memories together of the previous night but she struggles. Her frustration with herself only makes the task more impossible. Ultimately, her biggest fear is that because she has a key, she went back over there and killed her. Dana has very little recollection about where she’s been or what she has done.

The one factor that Dana keeps returning to is the photograph. It is the one image that is returned to repeatedly through the novel. It’s what the plot is hung off. Dana believes (or persuades herself) that the photograph she wanted to show her must have something to do with her death. She doesn’t trust her husband at all so talking with him is out of the question. She makes the decision to try and work this one out for herself. When the lead detective, Jack Moss, arrives to ask some routine questions, Dana sees this as an opportunity to get some help from him.

For Moss, his own personal life is somehow mixed into this case too. When he gets the return back on the fingerprints they ran, he didn’t expect to see the fingerprints of his own son, Kyle, on the report. Both Moss and Dana now each have something they want to hide which impacts the progress of the case. Prosecutor, Lenora White, is constantly applying pressure to Moss to make an arrest and get the case solved.

Following this, Dana discovers Celia’s mobile number stored on Peter’s mobile. In her heightened emotional state she worries because he’s told her that he only knows her in passing. Yet, his phone tells a different story. When she looks at the same phone later the number has been removed. This reinforces to her that something is going on and that Peter is potentially hiding something from her. Let’s not forget her emotional state though. Everything is already heightened and distorted.

“Not only are her memories of Celia’s actions on that afternoon a sham, but memories of her own as well. She gets up quickly, before the ceiling covers her, before the walls enfold her, crush her.”

Meanwhile, Dana manages to remember who was in the photograph on Celia’s phone: another woman. She manages to get Celia’s phone but this time the photograph has been deleted. This leads her to the horror and believe that she could have made the whole thing up or imagined seeing it there. She is certain she’s going crazy. She soon falls into another manic state but this time she chooses to use this to help her solve the case.

During his own enquiry, Moss learns that Kyle knows Celia as he was one of her students. He is certain that there’s a rational explanation for his fingerprints to be at her house. His son isn’t a murderer. But if he isn’t, who is? Celia is still dead. Increasing pressure comes from Lenora who wants the case wrapped up.

Evidence is found which then shows things in a very different light. Moss has a duty to investigate and does so. By the end of the novel, the murderer is revealed as well as their motive. After all, forensics don’t lie.

What about Dana? Well, she accepts that she needs help with her mental illness but also now acknowledges that her marriage is also a sham. Everything is tied up neatly by the end of the novel leaving the reader wholly satisfied.

“This is the way the world ends. Not with a bang but a whisper.” ‘No, she thinks, it wasn’t a whisper; it was something else.’

Final Thoughts

For fans of The Girl on the Train, this book is a pacy little number that will keep you guessing until the end. I particularly found the writing surrounding the bipolar incredibly shocking. Psychologists at the time of publication found Crawford’s description accurate and sound. For me, that makes it authentic. We have a character who is clearly flawed but is desperate to know if she has killed someone in a manic state where she has no recollection of it. In that sense it’s incredible emotive. It also means we have a highly unreliable narrator. Can we believe anything she says or is it all a delusion?

Anyway, I loved this little book. It has everything a thriller should have and more. You’ll have to read it to find out who really killed her and why.

I’ll be back next time with my review of my August book as well as my round up for August. I can’t wait to catch up with you all then!

Big love all xxxx