Category Archives: Book review

My Not So Perfect Life – Sophie Kinsella Review 

Hey everyone! 

Happy May! Time is definitely flying by now. I can’t keep on top of it really. Anyway, I’ve not posted a book review in what feels like eternity. September apparently. This is for a number of reasons…time being the  biggest factor. Also, only reading books that I’m teaching. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve read Macbeth now. I’m starting to have Macbeth type dreams! 

Yet, onto something a little more lighthearted. I wanted an easy, happy read to help me recover from work in the evenings. This is where Sophie Kinsella comes in. I rely on her for this and her new book, My Not So Perfect Life, did not disappoint. 


What’s it all about? 

The story follows protagonist Katie Brenner, a Somerset girl trying to make it in London in her dream career: advertising. She’s even rebranded herself; changing her look and name to ‘Cat’ to fit in. However, London life isn’t as she expected. Her cramped flat that she shares with two others is problematic (I’m sure many of us can relate to this!) her commute to work is a horror and she stumbles over her new name. Her job too also isn’t as she expected (another point of relation for some of us!). Instead of being anywhere near the ideas aspect of branding, she enters tiresome amounts of data from questionnaires and deals with admin. But, London is her dream, she will not give up. Her Instagram shows the kind of life wants in London, yet who is to know it isn’t her life yet?

“Then, on impulse, I scroll back through my previous Instagram posts, looking at the photos of London cafes, sights, drinks, and smiling faces (mostly strangers). The whole thing is like a feel-good movie, and what’s wrong with that? Loads of people use colored filters or whatever on Instagram. Well, my filter is the “this is how I’d like it to be” filter. It’s not that I lie. I was in those places, even if I couldn’t afford a hot chocolate. It’s just I don’t dwell on any of the not-so-great stuff in my life, like the commute or the prices or having to keep all my stuff in a hammock. Let alone vanilla-whey-coated eggs and abnoxious lechy flatmates. And the point is, it’s something to aspire to, something to hope for. One day my life will match my Instagram posts. One day.” 

Her boss, Demeter, is equally problematic. She presents herself as mega successful and perfect with the best clothes, the successful career, the idyllic family: the Queen Bee. Yet, very few seem to like her. She also doesn’t seem to like ‘Cat’ much. Two instances that stand out for me are when Dementer gets Cat to dye her roots for her and when she fires her. The firing is a low point for Katie. Dementer doesn’t really remember if she’s done it or not. Awkward. However, Alex is at work and he’s a bit of a dish…

“I think: We’re rebranding Clairol? I’m going to help REBRAND CLAIROL? Oh my god, this is MASSIVE – Until reality hits. Dementer doesn’t look excited, like someone about to redesign an international brand. She looks bored and impatient. And now her words are impinging properly on my brain…”

Katie has no choice but to go back to Somerset where her dad has a new business idea: glamping. Katie refuses to give up on her dream, however, practicality tells her she has too. She’s broke and struggling to find another job. Her dad, Mick, and his partner Bibby, are overjoyed at her return. Katie throws herself into making this business work for her dad and Biddy, with the intention of getting back to London asap. She creates a brand for the farm and gets a website running. It’s not long until glampers arrive. Ansters Farm Country Retreat is taking off! 

“It’s funny how life works like a see-saw: some things go up while others plunge down. My life is swiftly unravelling while Dad’s is finally, it seems, coming together.”

A surprise visitor soon turns up at the farm: Dementer. Katie sees this as an opportunity to get revenge. Kinsella monopolises humour here. Her writing is witty, clever and incredibly realistic. As a reader, we naturally dislike Dementer as does everyone in her workplace. After numerous ‘bespoke’ activities, Katie learns to see a different side to Dementer. She even begins to feel sorry for her. Her husband is aloof, her kids are spoilt brats and she is utterly exhausted. I have to say, there were a number of laugh out loud moments here! 

God, this feels good. I start slapping Dementer’s head as I apply mud to her hair, and that feels even better. Slap-slap-slap. That pays her back for making me do her bloody roots.” 

When Alex turns up to fire her, Katie (as well as Dementer) believes someone is out to set Demeter up, prying on her scattiness and vulnerability. A side plot: romance. Who doesn’t love a bit of romance? Things hot up between Katie and the gorgeous man that is Alex. They each help one another to see the importance of their relationships with their fathers. Yet, there is a feeling of like a superhero mission though for Dementer. Naturally, Katie was right to trust her instincts. Without spoiling anything for those who haven’t read this yet, the ending is perfect. Life lessons learnt. Bright futures. 

“As the hubbub starts up again I glance over at Dementer and she clasps her hands tightly; then she blows us a kiss and puts a tissue to her eyes, as if she’s my fairy godmother.”

Overall: 

This book is pure joy. It’s so relatable on so many levels. It challenges your perceptions of characters, making you think about your own behaviour. You never know what’s really going on with someone. One thing it’s reminded me of, hard work pays off and everything happens for a reason. Thanks Sophie. A perfect stand alone book with characters you’ll fall in love with. 


Big love xxx

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Chocolat – Joanne Harris 


Hey everyone! 

I’ve not left you all, I’ve just had a crazy start back at work. My summer feels like a distant memory. But, my apologies for leaving you all, temporarily. I knew the start of school would hit me like a brick in the face, so I wanted to read something that made me feel cosy and warm inside. Hence: Chocolat. I just love it. 

What’s it all about? 

Set in Lansquenet, France, nothing seems to have changed in what feels like a hundred years, until Vianne Rocher arrives. It was Mardi Gras when Vianne and her daughter Anouk with her imaginary rabbit, Pantoufle arrive. They have spent their lives wondering from place to place. However, Lansquenet-sous-Tannes appears to be different. After enjoying the Mardi Gras festival so much, they decided to stay. Vianne rents a house and she opens a tempting and luxiourous chocolate shop, La Céleste Praline, in front of the church which causes controversy with Lenton vows. Father Reynaud, the village priest, is not impressed. He believes that by opening a chocolate shop at the time of Lent, a time of fasting, is an insult to religion. 

“For a time, then, we stay. For a time. Till the changes.” 

Father Reynaud also doesn’t approve of Vianne because of her blatant refusal to attend church or confession. He convinces other parishioners to stay away from her chocolate shop of evil. Yet, despite this, the shop attracts a few curious customers from the start. These, in turn, become some of her closest friends. With every box of her fabulous chocolates, a free gift: Vianne’s perception of its buyers’ private discontents and a clever, yet caring cure for them. The description always makes my mouth water. I can almost taste it. 

“I sell dreams, small comforts, sweet harmless temptations to bring down a multitude of saints crashing among the hazels and nougatines” 

Vianne is a good listener, doesn’t judge and makes everyone feel welcome within her shop. Her regular clients consist of Armande Voizin, an 80 year old woman who never followed the traditions and customs of the village, Joséphine Muscat, a woman abused by her husband and an old man with a dying dog called Guillaume Duplessis. Vianne talks to her guests and asks them things that make them challenge their original beliefs. She wants to make their lives better, thus making her the catalyst for change. But, some characters do not wish to change. 

“Guilleaume left La Praline with a small bag of florentines in his pocket; before he had turned the corner of avenue des Francs Bourgeois I saw him stoop to offer one to the dog. A pat, a bark, a wagging of the short stubby tail. As I said, some people never have to think about giving.” 

When river gypsies arrive along the river bank in the village, Vianne and her friends naturally befriend them too. Her attention is focused on the rather handsome yet aloof Roux. His red hair like flames. The river gypsies are not doing anyone any harm to the village or its people. Nevertheless, the priest is ready to resort to any means in order to get rid of them. This adds to the growing tension against Vianne too. A fire starts on one of the boats. Thankfully no one was hurt. 

Reynaud’s attempts to sabotage Vianne’s shop, friendships and to drive out the gypsies from the village made her more determined to stay. Yet, her mother’s tarot cards that she reads, continue to show black. There is repeated reference to the ‘Black Man’ throughout the novel. The motif of her mother’s folklore. Reynaud makes it his personal mission to run Vianne out of town. There are pages of description where he is talking about her and her temptations at church on Sunday. Some people listen, but it isn’t long until curiosity gets the better of them. 

“Protected from the sun by the half-blind that shields them, they gleam darkly, like sunken treasure, Aladdin’s cave of sweet clichés.” 

Vianne organises a Grand Festvial of Chocolate. The shop is decorated beautifully. It is the sign that she has won, that maybe life might be safe here. 

“Places do not lose their identity, however far one travels. It is the heart that begins to erode over time. The face in the hotel mirror seems blurred some mornings, as if by too many casual looks. By ten the sheets will be laundered, the carpet swept. The names on the hotel registers change as we pass. We leave no trace as we pass on. Ghostlike, we cast no shadow.” 


Overall:

I love this book. I love the split first person narration. You can really feel the tension between Vianne and Father Reynaud. Yet, as I was reading, I was desperate for the two of them to make peace and find a way to live together in the village. The descriptions of the chocolates make me feel like I can physically taste it. It’s a marvellous book, perfect for this time of year. 

Big love xxx

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Silk – Alessandro Baricco


Hi all! 

Another book review to close August. Can you believe it’s the last day of the month? I can’t! I feel like time is whizzing past me and I’m struggling to keep up. It also means with September fast approaching, I’m one step closer to being back at work. Better to put that thought on the back burner and concentrate on my review today. Today’s book is a little, cute thing I found at a charity book shop on my travels: Silk by Alessandro Baricco. 

Originally written in Italian in 1996, this book was translated in 1997. What’s strange is I stumbled across this 20 years later. It was sticking out, on a slant on the shelf. It caught my eye. I quickly saw that the cover was beautiful and the back of the book was full of quotes like:  

“A moving allegory of life as a quest…”

and

“A heartbreaking love story told in the form of a classic fable…”

Clearly a bargain at £1. 


What’s it all about?

The 1860s silk trade was booming and Hervè Joncour travels around the world buying silkworm eggs. Eventually, after problems with the silkworm eggs in Africa, Joncour travels to Japan. He buys eggs from the interesting character of Hara Kei, a French speaking nobleman. Joncour falls in love with his mistress, a rather curious and silent character, ultimately incredibly beautiful also. He makes a note of her eyes in particular. 

“Suddenly, without the smallest movement, the young girl, opened her eyes.” 

During his second visit to Japan, Jancour learns about the aviary of exotic birds that Hara Kei has built. His mind, however, seems distracted by the young girl. He leaves a glove her the mistress to find in a pile of clothes: a token. Towards the end of this visit, the mistress gives him a love note written in Japanese, the first of many over the travels. Unable to understand, Joncour visits Madame Blanche, a rich draper and brothel owner. She translates the letter for him. 

“Come back, or I shall die.” 

During Joncour’s third visit to Japan, Hara Kei’s mistress released the birds from the aviary. Through the darkness, as time progresses, they make love, thus starting their affair. It should be noted that Joncour was married to Hélène. She waits patiently at home for his return. Hara Kei conducts the silkworm egg transaction via another associate and refuses to say goodbye when Joncour leaves. 

However, when it is time for Joncour’s fourth trip to Japan, war had broken out in Japan. He finds Hara Kei’s village was burnt to the ground; nothing remained. From what appears to be out of nowhere, a young boy appears and gives him the glove that he dropped on the pile of clothes for Hara Kei’s mistress. Showing unlimited trust, he follows the boy to a place where the refugees from Hara Kei’s village are camping. 

“In front of him, nothing. He had a sudden glimpse of what he had considered invisible. The end of the world.” 

Unlike his previous visits, Hara Kei refuses to welcome Joncour, rather urging him to leave. They are living in a war and clearly nothing was left. Nevertheless, Joncour refuses to leave. The following morning, Joncour sees the body of the boy who guided him, hanging from a tree. Hara Kei has executed him for carrying the glove to Joncour and bringing him back to their village. 

Rather hastily, Joncour procures a supply of eggs but leaves far too late in the season to transport them. The silk mill, despite its earlier success, sits idle. To help the workers in the seven mills, Joncour decides to essentially landscape his garden, offering work to those who were missing out in the idle mills. 

“Occasionally, on windy days Hervé Joncour would go down to the lake and spend hours in contemplation of it because he seemed to descry, sketched out on the water, the inexplicable sight of his life as it had been, in all its lightness.” 

Time passes and Joncour receives a letter, again written in Japanese. This cues another visit to Madame Blanche who, after some reluctance, translates this for him. It is an erotic love letter from a woman to her beloved master. It’s lyrical, almost moving.  It tells the tale of a love that we all hope for. After reading, Madame Blanche gives him some of her trademark blue flowers. 

It is at this point that Joncour decides to retire from the silkworm egg business. At this point he and Hélène have three daughters. Unfortunately, Hélène gets sick and dies of a fever. Joncour lives a life of existing, visiting his wife’s grave whenever he gets lonely. It was at one visit he notices Madame Blanche’s blue flowers there. This sparks one final visit to her. 

“When loneliness mastered him he would go up to the cemetery…The rest of his time was taken up with a liturgy of habits that succeeded in warding off sadness.” 

It is with great sadness that at this visit, Joncour learns that this great love letter was authored in fact by his wife. 

“She even wanted to read it to me, that letter. She had the most beautiful voice. And she read those words with an emotion that I’ve never been able to forget. It was as if they really were her own words.”


Overall:

This novel is quite possibly one of the most highly descriptive, moving and emotionally charged novel I’ve probably ever read. It is beautiful and lyrical. It keeps you thinking about it long after you’ve finished reading it. It’s probably one of the best £1’s I’ve spent. 

Big love xx

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The Elegance of the Hedgehog – Muriel Barbery


Back to books today! I’m focussing on one of my summer reads which I really enjoyed: The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery. 

I bought this book for three reasons; the cover is very pretty, the title intrigued me immensely and the fact that it is set in Paris. It turned out to be a great little find. I would definitely recommend it. The novel is about facing life head on, rather than living behind masks and walls we make for ourselves, which are meant for keeping others out. It is a lesson in showing how not only do we deceive others, but we also deceive ourselves. 


What’s it all about? 

The narration is split in this novel between the two main characters: Renee and Paloma. Renee Michel is a concierge who believes that every concierge is perceived to be beneath others and lacking the intelligence of those they work for. It is because of this that Renee tries to hide the fact that she spends her days revelling in the works of Marx and Tolstoy. This was easier to do when her husband was alive, she could hide behind his interests, but since his death her lack of interest in television and what was current was harder to hide. However, Renee has found that the wealthy prefer to ignore what is right under their noses, rather choosing to believe in what they already perceive to be true. This is how Renee has managed to hide under their radar for more an twenty years.

“I have no children, I do not watch television, and I do not believe in God — all paths taken by mortals to make their lives easier. Children help us to defer the painful task of confronting ourselves, and grandchildren take over from them. Television distracts us from the onerous necessity of finding projects to construct in the vacuity of our frivolous lives: by beguiling our eyes, television releases our mind from the great work of making meaning. Finally, God appeases our animal fears and the unbearable prospect that someday all our pleasures will cease.”

In the building where renew works, there is a highly intelligent twelve year old girl called Paloma Josse. She has decided to commit suicide on her thirteenth birthday. As the daughter of a diplomat and his bored wife, she feels as though no one ever sees the real her. She hides her intelligence and her true thoughts from others. Paloma has decided that it is much easier to kill herself rather than continue to fight for some kind of recognition from her parents, sister and peers. Her death will be a fitting one; by setting fire to her parents’ apartment in an attempt to force her family to see beyond their wealth and status. 

“We don’t recognize each other because other people have become our permanent mirrors. If we actually realized this, if we were able to become aware of the fact that we are only ever looking at ourselves in the other person, that we are alone in the wilderness, we would go crazy.”

After a death in the building, the widow decides to sell the apartment. Disliking change and ever worrying about what or whom shall move into he apartment, the other residents speculate. The catalyst for this being that there hasn’t been a new tenant in the building in more than two decades. For Renee, her excitement is hidden more underneath. Besides, it is not her job to gossip or get excited about such goings on. 

“In our world, that’s the way you live your grown-up life: you must constantly rebuild your identity as an adult, the way it’s been put together is wobbly, ephemeral, and fragile, it cloaks despair and, when you’re alone in front of the mirror, it tells you the lies you need to believe.”

Kauri Ozu, the new tenant, is a charming and polite man. He is the one man that will bring great change to Renee and Paloma’s lives. During their introduction, Renee makes an offhand comment that draws Kakuro’s attention to her love of Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina. This sparks curiosity and intrigue in Kakuro. He invites Renee to dinner in his apartment once he has settled. As well as this, Kakuro becomes friends with Paloma’s after he learns she is studying Japanese at school. The friendship between the three begins to grow. 

Over time, the friendship between Renee and Kakuro blossoms. Renee is overwhelmingly relived to have a friend with whom she can be herself, who understands her and shares her own interests. They have great discussions about literature, music (brought on by borrowing his bathroom!), art and philosophy. Yet, there is a flaw. Renee struggles with reconciling herself with this relationship as her past has taught her that the social classes cannot mix without some form of conflict. Therefore, when Kakuro invites Renee to dinner to celebrate his birthday, she says no. Kakuro does manage to persuade her eventually and thus their relationship blooms. 

“The peace of mind one experiences on one’s own, one’s certainty of self in the serenity of solitude, are nothing in comparison to the release and openness and fluency one shares with another, in close companionship.”

Paloma, with her own struggles, asks Renee if she could visit her apartment to escape the chaos of her own home. Paloma’s becomes a regular visitor and forces Renee to share her reasons for turning down the dinner invitation of Kakuro. It is here that we as a reader are allowed a little insight into the past which seems to haunt Renee so. She tells the story of how her sister died after being used and deserted by a rich man. Little does Renee know, Paloma takes this information to Kakuro. 

Kakuro, ever the gentleman, comes (to Renee’s surprise) to her apartment to explain how he has no desire to use and desert her. After all, Renee is not her sister. It is at this point, that Renee looks towards the future, something she is yet to do in this novel. Before we can get excited, a cruel twist of fate results in Renee getting hit by a truck. Sadly, she dies. Paloma struggles with grief and promises not to see her plans of her own death on her birthday, rather she wants to learn from Renee in order to have a happy and fulfilling life. 

“I find this a fascinating phenomenon: the ability we have to manipulate ourselves so that the foundation of our beliefs is never shaken.”

Overall

I really enjoyed this book. It challenges beliefs about class systems and relationships. It shows that we all hide something through fear or frustration, yet there is always someone who can relate to you. People are naturally brought together by comment interests. Give this book a try, you may just love it! 

Big love xx

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Educating Rita – Willy Russell


Hey guys! 

I’m on a massive countdown now until the summer. I just can’t wait. I’m so exhausted. I’m also a bit down about my reading. I either can’t get into books or I fall asleep. It’s frustrating me immensely! However, I have had a little treat recently, and that is to revisit Educating Rita. I’d kind of forgotten just how magical this play is. Then, my school for free trinkets to see this at Hull Truck which was equally awesome. (More on that later!) 

The play focuses on two characters, Rita, a working-class woman in her twenties from Liverpool and Frank, a late middle-aged professor at a university. The play begins with Rita arriving at Frank’s office. She’s there to be tutored after deciding to return to education to pass her exams. At the start, Frank is on the phone with Julia, his younger live in girlfriend. He claims he will be going to the pub on the way home. This becomes a prominent image in the play. 

“Life is such a rich and frantic whirl that I need the drink to help me step delicately through it.”

Like a whirlwind, Rita enters bold and brash but utterly charming. She focuses her attention onto a nude painting on the wall that Frank claims to never look at anymore. She jokes with him and gives her opinions on various matters without holding back. Frank is amused and intrigued by her. He offers her a drink, revealing numerous bottles as the play progresses behind a number of books. 

“But if you wanna change y’ have to do it from the inside, don’t y’? Know like I’m doin’…tryin’ to do. Do you think I will? Think I’ll be able to do it.”

Frank presses Rita to know why she is there. She wants to learn everything, much to Frank’s surprise. She is hungry to learn and tired of everyone around her. Her job as a hairdresser, where she has to listen to mundane chat every day is bringing her down. She teases Frank about needing a haircut, but he disagrees. 

Rita is naturally inquisitive. She starts to ask him questions like what assonance means. She tells him her real name is actually Susan, but she prefers to be known as Rita after the author of her favourite book, Rubyfruit Jungle, which she repeatedly presses him to read. 

Rita reveals how she wants to improve herself, but her husband Denny does not understand why she wants to do this. Frank agrees to teach her but informs her of how he is openly disillusioned with education. He tells her that once he is done telling her she should go and not come back. Eventually, he tries to get rid of her, but she pursues him as her tutor. 

Rita continues to come for her lessons and Frank has usually been drinking. Frank enquires about her experiences at school when she was younger. It is quite disheartening. People fought, argued and didn’t know any better. No one ever paid attention and anyone who wanted to learn was automatically an outsider. She went along with everyone else but started to wonder if she was missing something.  

“See if I’d started takin’ school seriously then I would have had to become different from my mates; an’ that’s not allowed.”

Attention then focuses onto a written response from Rita about her favourite book, Rubyfruit Jungle. Frank criticises her work for being too subjective with no literary criticism. Rita struggles with the concept of criticising something she likes. Discussion then moves onto a Forster book Frank had mentioned previously. She hated it! One thing she does learn though is that Frank wrote poetry. She pushes him to see some but he refuses. 

The more their conversations develop, the closer Rita and Frank become. Frank’s negativity towards the world is more and more apparently. He claims this would not be the case if Julia were more like Rita, but Rita just laughs these comments off. 

The tone seems to change in Act three because Rita rushes in, apologising for being late. It was because of a very talkative customer. Frank doesn’t seem annoyed about this, rather her answer on the staging of Peter Gynt seems to infuriate him. Rita admits it’s quite short and reveals to Frank a growing conflict at home regarding Denny and her education. Therefore, she has to write her essays at work. Discussion changes to culture, with Rita saying the working class has no culture. Frank tries to say they do, but Rita’s questioning making him realise that maybe she is right. 

Their next meeting is quite frosty as Frank is annoyed that Rita hasn’t got her essay. He eases when he realises that Denny has burnt all of her books and notes because he was mad at her for not taking the contraceptive pill and for going back to school. Rita explains his reasoning for it, how he feels betrayed and how they already have choices in their lives. Yet, Rita knows they don’t. Rita decides that they need to have fun and go to the theatre. Frank joins her, despite it being an amateur production. Rita’s love for the theatre grows as she boasts about seeing a Shakespeare play. 

“But it’s not takin’ the place of life, it’s providing’ me with life. He wants to take life away from me; he wants me to stop rockin’ the coffin, that’s all.”

Frank invites Rita to a dinner party Julia is giving; Rita agrees but she doesn’t turn up. She later reveals to Frank that Denny did not want her to go and she felt nervous and underdressed. She obsessed about bringing the wrong wine. Frank tries to explain how none of that matters and she just needed to be her charming self, but Rita is offended. She wasn’t going to provide the ‘banter’ for anyone. 

“…I don’t wanna spend the night takin’ the piss, comin’ on with the funnies because that’s the only way I can get into the conversation. I didn’t want to come to your house just to play the court jester.”

At the next meeting, Rita comes in upset with a bag of her belongings. She tells of how her and Denny have split up and she is going to live with her mother. She begs Frank to keep on teaching her, to change her. She refuses to give up, despite Frank telling her she is fine. He gives in and does as Rita asks. 

Over time, Rita becomes more and more like the other students. She gets herself a new flat mate, a new job at a bistro and makes new friends. She also starts to speak without her trademark Liverpudlian accent. On the other hand, Frank is drinking more, troubles with Julia remain and is saddened by the changes he sees in Rita. 

“I have merely decided to talk properly. As Trish says there is not a lot of point in discussing beautiful literature in an ugly voice.”

Things take a turn for the worst when Rita next arrives as Frank is frantically packing his books. He tells of how the university suggested he take a sabbatical because of his drinking. Rita tries to sympathise with him, but his attitude and negativity towards her exam paper make her angry. She yells at him saying he told her to be objective and to do her research, which she has done. She claims he does not want her to have her own thoughts. But, their fight fizzles out when he says he read and enjoyed Rubyfruit Jungle. 

Their meetings start to dwindle because of Rita’s busy schedule. Frank is drinking even more and seems somewhat jealous of Rita’s new friends, in particular a young student called Tyson. He and Rita are fighting more, but he does sign her up for her exam. After the exam Rita returns and tells him she wanted to write something sarcastic, but she ended up writing a thoughtful answer. She admits she is still learning about life, but that Frank was a good teacher. Frank doesn’t believe her. He is depressed and getting ready to go to Australia without Julia. 

There is a pause and Rita says she has something to give him. The play concludes with Rita sitting him down, taking out her scissors to give him a haircut. 

“I never thought there was anything’ I could give you. But there is. Come here, Frank…”

This play really is cracking. It showcases the beauty of education and what it can do to people. It also shows the power of friendship; Rita and Frank need each other. This play naturally appeals to the educator in me, but it works on other levels. Who doesn’t want to better themselves?! The production at Hull Truck Theatre was also brilliant. It is a play you have to see. 


Big love xx

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The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society – Mary Ann Shaffer & Annie Barrows

  
Hey guys. 

Hope you’re all well on this wet and dismal Thursday evening. I wanted to use this rare opportunity of a free evening to write a review of this book, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society, for you all. This book is like a hug, honestly. I absolutely loved it! I hope you enjoy this as much as I did. 

On with the review…

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society is set in January 1946. It was a time where London was merely rubble due to the Second World War. The novels main protagonist, Juliet Ashton, is a known writer on the search for her next literary piece. During the war, Juliet wrote a column under the pseudonym, Izzy Bickerstaff. As the war ended, her publisher and close friend, Sidney Stark, published her columns. They were viewed as rather humorous and the made a complete book called Izzy Bickerstaff Goes To War. The novel opens with Juliet searching for a more serious topic that she can write about under her own true identify. 

“I no longer want to write this book- my head and my heart just aren’t in it. Dear as Izzy Bickerstaff is-and was- to me, I don’t want to write anything else under that name. I don’t want to be considered a light-hearted journalist anymore. I do acknowledge that making readers laugh- or at least chuckle- during the war was no mean feat, but I don’t want to do it anymore. I can’t seem to dredge up any sense of proportion or balance these days, and God knows one cannot write humor without them.”

The novel is structured using a series of letters and correspondences. Rather unexpectedly, Juliet receives a letter from a man called Dawsey Adams from Guernsey. By pure chance, Dawsey noticed Juliet’s name inside a book by Charles Lamb. These books are so rare on the island of Guernsey that he enquires for more, particularly for the island’s book club, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. 

“I wonder how the book got to Guernsey? Perhaps there is some secret sort of homing instinct in books that brings them to their perfect readers.” 

Dawsey’s first letter is the catalyst for many others off the island. The central person that featured in the correspondence is Elizabeth McKenna, a young woman who had sadly already died by the time Juliet begins her letters with the people of Guernsey. During the occupation of Guernsey by the Germans, Elizabeth had been deported to a concentration camp, where she was later killed. 

“Life goes on.” What nonsense, I thought, of course it doesn’t. It’s death that goes on.” 

Before she was taken away, she had fallen in love with Christian, a German soldier, and given birth to their daughter, Kit. Kit was raised for the first four years of her life by Dawsey and the Guernsey islanders. Via her correspondences, Juliet is drawn into a world of differing characters and members of the literary society. She learns that the society bring together a whole host of people who found peace in literature during a dangerous and tragic time. 

Through the letters, Juliet and the reader, learns the origins of the society. When the German soldiers controlled Guernsey during the occupation of the Channel Islands from 1940-1945, the islanders were living under strict rules and people were severely oppressed. Eating their own livestock was also prohibited. However, several islanders concocted a clever scheme that could save a pig for themselves. When one farmer’s pig died, several farmers would pass around the carcass, each reporting the death of their own pig to the German officials. Farmers could then hide away one of their pigs to a laughter in secrecy and eat with their friends and neighbours. 

“None of us had any experience with literary societies, so we made our own rules: we took turns speaking about he books we’d read …We read books, talked books, argued over books and became dearer and dearer to one another. Other Islanders asked to join us, and our evenings together became bright, lively times-we could almost forget, now and then, the darkness outside. We still meet every fortnight”

One evening, the islander’s feasted on one such secret pig. German soldiers discovered the gathering and immediately demanded to know why they had broken the curfew. Elizabeth McKenna saved them all by telling the story of how their meeting was the first gathering of a new livery club on the island. Thankfully, the story was bought. 

Thus, the society was born. They met every fortnight and grew close together: the own little community. Most members knew nothing of literature but discovered an author or genre that appealed to their own personalities. Literature help boost morale and spirits. They read all kinds of literary texts from Charles Lamb to the Brontë sisters. The society enabled the island to find solace and forget, briefly, the horrors of war. 

“We clung to books and to our friends; they reminded us that we had another part to us.” 

As letters and time passes, Juliet learns more and yearns to meet her new friends in Guernsey. It also gives her opportunity to get away from the overwhelming attention from a male suitor. Upon her arrival, relationships are strengthened and life in London doesn’t appear to be so appealing anymore. Most significantly, she grows increasing close to Kit and eventually applies for her adoption. 

Juliet also falls in love with Dawsey and proposes marriage to him. Juliet’s time on the island has changed everything. She even begs Sidney to visit her and see for himself the charm and friendliness of these people. Finally, with Sidney’s help, she decides her next book would be: the life of Elizabeth McKenna. Her life was central to life on this island. What is rather touching, Elizabeth helps Juliet find herself too. Julie’s life decisions provide the self-fulfilment and happiness she had been longing for. 

“I don’t want to be married just to be married. I can’t think of anything lonelier than spending the rest of my life with someone I can’t talk to, or worse, someone I can’t be silent with.” 

As the novel closes, Juliet is dedicated to writing her new book to honour the life of Elizabeth. After all, she is the heart and soul of this group. 

“If I could have anything I wanted, I would choose story without end, and it seems I have lots of company in that.”

This book is pure magic. I laughed and felt the pain of the islander’s when they lost Elizabeth. It’s heartwarming and I couldn’t recommend it highly enough. The use of letters as the narrative structure emphasises the emotions and the secrecy of this society. I was sad this novel came to a close. 

Big love x

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A Moveable Feast – Ernest Hemingway

  

Hey everyone! 

I’m so sorry I’ve vanished from the internet world for the past couple of weeks. I’ve been quite poorly with a throat infection, so it’s been a case of lots of broken sleep and liquids! But, I’ve recovered and I’m back to read through all my favourite blogs I’ve missed and post this review. I hope you can all forgive me and welcome me back with open arms. 

Today’s review: A Moveable Feast. A Movable Feast is a remarkable little book. I absolutely loved it. It was brought back into the headlines after the Paris terror attacks last November. The book, published in France as Paris est une fête (Paris Is A Celebration), struck a chord with the mood of defiance in the wake of the attacks. In all honesty, it was this that brought my attention to this book, and I’ve finally managed to read it. 


Overview:- 

This charming little book is a memoir by Hemmingway describing the years he spent in Paris with his wife, Hadley, and young son, Bumby, after World War 1. Each chapter provides a snapshot into Hemmingway’s life and experiences in Paris. During this period many artists and authors were living in Paris and Hemmingway writes about his encounters and friendships with Ezra Pound, Ford Madox Ford, Gertrude Stein and F. Scott Fitzgerald. I love the way all these amazing people were in the same place at the same time. I only wish that I could have been apart of it. The people, the food, are all brought to life by Hemmingway’s narration. 

“As I ate the oysters with their strong taste of the sea and their faint metallic taste that the cold white wine washed away, leaving only the sea taste and the succulent texture, and as I drank their cold liquid from each shell and washed it down with the crisp taste of the wine, I lost the empty feeling and began to be happy and to make plans.” 

Now, as some of you may know, I love Paris and Fizgerald, so this was another gripping factor to this book for me. A large proportion of this book is taken to describe Fitzgerald and his wife Zelda, more than any other person he meets. It was interesting to see how fellow Parisians viewed them and their relationship at this time. 

The book closes with the notion of change. He ends the book with his affair with a young woman, who he associates with the wave of ‘rich’ people entering Paris, and changing it for him forever. 

“If you are lucky enough to have lived in Paris as a young man, then wherever you go for the rest of your life, it stays with you, for Paris is a moveable feast.” 


Summary:- 

The book opens with Hemmingway discussing bad weather and the different cafes in Paris where people go to escape the cold and where he goes to write. The weather wasn’t so delightful here when I started reading this, so in my mind I was in those little Parisian cafes, a part of all the action. Hemmingway is working as a journalist for a Canadian newspaper, trying to begin a career as a ‘straight’ writer of short stories. He describes losing himself within his own writing, as he works at the cafe tables, his only distraction a pretty girl or a boorish critic. 

“You expected to be sad in the fall. Part of you died each year when the leaves fell from the trees and their branches were bare against the wind and the cold, wintery light. But you knew there would always be the spring, as you knew the river would flow again after it was frozen. When the cold rains kept on and killed the spring, it was as though a young person died for no reason.”

Hemmingway offers the reader character sketches of the artists and authors he met and came to know in Paris. I’ve mentioned a couple above, but what is interesting was his sometime fraught relationship with Gertrude Stein, his upmost respect for Ezra Pound. He describes the ultimate kindness of Sylvia Beach, the proprietor of Shakespeare and Company, a bookstore where many of the expatriate community congregate, including writers like James Joyce. 

“He liked the works of his friends, which is beautiful as loyalty but can be disastrous as judgement.” 

The vivid descriptions bring Paris to life as well as the characters that inhabit it, such as the waiters he befriends and the fisherman along the Seine River. He openly discusses his own career as he struggles to make enough money to care for himself and his family by writing short stories. Hemmingway talks openly about his own personal writing technique throughout this book. He describes himself as a quiet but quick tempered, somewhat impatient youth. Yet, his recollections are told from the viewpoint of a confident young man. 

“There is never any ending to Paris and the memory of each person who has lived in it differs from that of any other. We always returned to it no matter who we were or how it was changed or with what difficulties, or ease, it could be reached. Paris was always worth it and you received return for whatever you brought to it. But this is how Paris was in the early days when we were very poor and very happy.” 

Hemmingway’s first encounters with F. Scott Fizgerald are rather frustrating. Their relationship isn’t so great to begin with. However, he does later become a loyal friend and confidant. Hemmingway describes Fizgerald as a gifted but insecure writer. He describes Fizgerald’s drinking problem, and how it is made worse by his wife who was mentally ill. Zelda is dealt with critically because Hemmingway believed she only wanted to bring down Fitzgerald and destroy him. I only wish I knew what Fizgerlad thought about this. 

“Zelda was very beautiful and was tanned a lovely gold colour and her hair was a beautiful dark gold and she was very friendly. Her hawk’s eyes were clear and calm. I knew everything was all right and was going to turn out well in the end when she leaned forward and said to me, telling me her great secret, ‘Ernest, don’t you think Al Jolson is greater than Jesus?’

Nobody thought anything of it at the time. It was only Zelda’s secret that she shared with me, as a hawk might share something with a man. But hawks do not share. Scott did not write anything any more that was good until after he knew that she was insane.” 

The book closes with the pleasant reminiscence of spending winters with his wife, and sunshine in the Austrian mountains hiking and skiing as well as working on his writing. However, the pleasant, positive time ends when ‘the rich’ discover him as a promising young writer and thus invade his life. He then chooses to have an affair with one of these new wave ‘rich’ women, resulting in the end of his narration. 

“If the reader prefers, this book may be regarded as fiction. But there is always the chance that such a book of fiction may throw some light on what has been written as fact.”


Finally: 

If you love Paris and great figures in literature then this book is for you. It’s short and easy to read. It’s sheer joy from start to finish. The snapshot into Paris means you can imagine yourself there, a part of this moment in time. My only sadness is, I very much doubt these types of accounts are being written now by the great writers of our own generation. 

Big love xx

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