Category Archives: Books

RTY: Crooked House – Agatha Christie

Hi Everyone!

I’m back today to review my November choice for Penguin’s Read The Year Challenge. I was feeling really bad that I missed October’s deadline by a day so I wanted to crack on with November’s right away. The focus for this month is: Pick up a book about the country you live in. Agatha Christie is such a prolific English writer and yet, shamefully, I’ve never read anything by her. However, this changed when I read this book. Set in and around London in 1947, this book fits the brief perfectly. The bonus was I absolutely flew through it because I was completely hooked. I just had to find out what happened!

What’s it all about?

The novel opens towards the latter stages of the Second World War with character Charles Hayward in Cairo. He meets and falls in love with Sophia Leonides. She’s a small and very successful English woman who works in the Foreign Office. Despite being madly in love, they decide to leave their engagement until after the war, when they can be reunited in England.

It is always a shock to meet again someone whom you have not seen for a long time but who has been very much present in your mind during that period.

Once home, Charles sees a death notice in The Times. Sophia’s grandfather, Aristide Leonides, the wealthy business entrepreneur, has died ages 85. As a consequence of the war, the whole family have been living with Aristide in their mansion “Three Gables”, the ‘crooked house’ of which the novel is entitled. Following the autopsy, it is revealed that Leonides was poisoned with his own eserine based eye medicine, via an insulin injection. Sophia tells Charles that she cannot possibly marry him in these circumstances. The culprit has to be found first.

The most obvious suspects from the start are Brenda Leonides, Aristide’s vastly younger wife and Laurence Brown, the private tutor of Sophia’s younger siblings, Eustace and Josephine. The rumour: the illicit love affair conducted right under Aristide’s nose. What’s even more interesting is that the family are desperate for it to be Brenda as they openly despise her. The age gap causes suspicion amongst them, seeing the marriage as an opportunity for her to be rich, rather than one for love.

I think people more often kill those they love, than those they hate. Possibly because only the people you love can really make life unendurable to you.

Charles decides to help his father who is an Assistant Commissioner of Scotland Yard, to investigate the murder and hopefully get to the bottom of it. By becoming a guest of the house, he hopes that someone will reveal a clue or let something slip, enabling him to progress in his deductions.

As the novel progresses it becomes clear that each member of the family has a motive and opportunity to kill him. They are all well aware of the eye medicine and how poisonous it was. Aristide was open with them all following questioning from Josephine.

Following the discussion of his will, it is apparent that they all stand to gain a healthy bequest from the estate. Only the servants do not as their wages have been annually increasing. Therefore, this removes them as suspects.

What are murderers like? Some of them, have been thoroughly nice chaps.

The family members also have very little in common with one another. Edith de Haviland, his unmarried sister in law, is a rude woman in her 70s who lives with them to supervise the upbringing of the children. The eldest son, Roger, is Aristide’s favourite despite being a complete failure at business. His catering business is balancing precariously on a knife edge. His wife, Clemency, is a scientist with unsentimental tastes. She’s never been able to enjoy the wealth of the family. Roger’s younger brother Philip, has suffered because of being in his brothers shadow. As a consequence, he removed himself to a world of books and historical facts and figures, spending his time in the library. Philip’s wife Magda is a semi successful actress who views every day life as if being on stage. Naturally, she always wants the leading role.

Eustace, 16, has polio. Handsome and intelligent, he is bitter and cynical as a result of his illness. His 12 year old sister, Josephine, is ugly, intelligence and obsessed with detective stories. Taking this as her inspiration, she spies on the rest of her family, listening at doors, making notes in her little black notebook.

What characters don’t quite realise at the start is that Aristide has secretly rewritten his will to leave everything to Sophia. It was his belief that she was the only one who had the strength of character to take his place as the head of the house. When the family are told this information, it is a complete surprise.

Throughout the investigation, Josephine has been mocking the police for their stupidity. She brags that she knows who the killer is. Soon after, she is found lying unconscious in the yard, after a blow to the head from a marble doorstop.

Child’s evidence is always the best evidence there is. I’d rely on it every time. No good in court, of course. Children can’t stand being asked direct questions. They mumble or else look idiotic and say they don’t know. They’re at their best when they’re showing off.

When Charles finds letters from Brenda to Laurence, sharing their love for one another, it seems that it fits with the death of Aristide. Therefore, they are arrested. However, whilst they were both in custody, the children’s Nanny dies after drinking a hot chocolate, laced with digitalis (heart medicine). Apparently, this was for Josephine and once again the family are twitchy as the murderer is still lurking around them.

Fearing for Josephine’s life, Charles (in vain) to get her to tell him the murderer’s name. Edith de Haviland invites Josephine to have an adventure with her to get ice cream sodas. However, the car drives over a cliff and both are sadly killed.

Back at Three Gables, Charles finds two letters from Edith. Upon inspection, one is a suicide note for Chief Inspector Taverner, where by she takes full responsibility for the murder of both Aristide and Nanny. In the second letter, which is only for Sophia and Charles, Edith reveals the full truth of the matter. The murderer was in fact Josephine. As proof and evidence, Edith attaches her black notebook which discloses “Today I killed grandfather.”

The novel closes with the reasoning why Josephine kills her grandfather and the Nanny. Her grandfather refuses to pay for her ballet lessons. The attention she received following the murder she relishes so this convinced her into another murder. She planned her own with the marble door stop as a means of diverting the attention away from her. We learn that she poisoned Nanny for encouraging Magda to send her away to Switzerland. Josephine also disliked being called a “silly little girl”.

Edith found her notebook inside a dog kennel and felt compelled to protect the child. She devised the suicide/murder car crash as she did not want the child to suffer in prison or an asylum which is where she would have ended up when the police learned the truth.

The novel closes neatly with the engagement between Charles and Sophia confirmed.

Because this is just what a nightmare is. Walking about among people you know, looking in their faces- and suddenly the faces change- and it’s not someone you know any longer- it’s a stranger- a cruel stranger.

Overview

I really enjoyed this pocket rocket of a book. I didn’t know what to expect really. I just knew Christie is such a prolific writer. I was not disappointed and I was hanging on till the very end. I hope you all had a fabulous November and enjoy the weekend ahead.

Big love xxx

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Filed under Book review, Books, Read The Year Challenge, Reading

Sea Prayer – Khaled Hosseini

Hello Loves!

Hope you’re all well and enjoying kicking up the leaves that Autumn is kindly offering us.

Today, I want to share with you a book I saw, bought and read after work yesterday. After a really long, difficult week, I decided to treat myself to a hot chocolate and a little read so headed to my sanctuary: Waterstones. I saw this book in the window and decided it was time to read it. Thank goodness I did. I soon realised that my long and difficult week was just that, only a week, a moment. Not a lifetime.

What’s it all about?

In less than fifty pages, this book has made me question so many things: life, attitudes, the world. This poignant and powerful book is a collaborative piece between Hosseini and Dan Williams. The illustrations are stunning and harrowing, just like the words within.

Written as a response to the refugee crisis, Hosseini has given a voice to the thousands of people who made the same journey from war torn Syria across the Mediterranean Sea to safety. Unfortunately, as we all know too well, thousands did not survive.

Structured as a letter from a father to his son, the night before their journey, this book starts with memories of their past, safe life in Homs. Memories of family members, the animals, the sounds of the city are all shared, creating this beautiful homage to their old life. However, this is something the son, Marwan, cannot remember.

‘But that life, that time, seems like a dream now, even to me…’

The illustrations then become much darker in hue, the words more troubled to show that life has changed. References to the protests, the siege and bombs dropping on their beloved city. Sadly, this is what Marwan knows; what he has grown up seeing on a daily basis. He and many other innocent children.

‘You have learned dark blood is better news than light.’

It is the night before their journey and on a moonlit beach people agonisingly and nervously wait for the morning. Yet, fear of what is waiting for them at the other side is also on their minds. Hosseini references the attitudes reported, the fact that they are ‘unwelcome’ and ‘uninvited’. Sadly, I too have heard reactions like this. It is answered from the words of the mother, making it, in my opinion, all the more heart breaking. The role of the mother is to nurture and protect, to understand.

‘Oh, but if they saw, my darling, even half of what you have. If only they saw. They would say kinder things, surely.’

Everyone prays for their safety, well aware of how deep and large the sea is. Everyone knows the risk they are taking. But it’s the only option. The Sea Prayer is exactly that, a prayer to keep them safe at sea. As parents, they are powerless, their protection cannot deter great seas. But they need safety.

‘Because you, you are precious cargo, Marwan, the most precious there ever was.’

The final two pages, blank and harshly white, are where Hosseini declares what inspired this moving book.

‘Alan Kurdi, the three year old Syrian refugee who drowned in the Mediterranean Sea trying to reach safety in Europe in September 2015.’

Yet, it wasn’t just this little boy. It was 4,176 other lives that were taken in that same year.

Overview

It is when I stop and think about that statistic that I really consider the world we live in today. Nobody should have to live in a place where they don’t feel safe. That little boy, like the many other little boys and girls deserve to know the good of the world like we do.

This book is easily the most beautiful in so many ways. Firstly, the illustrations are sublime. But it is so much more than that. It book shows life before the hell, it shows people’s strength and it teaches us all a lesson. We must care more about each other.

With that, I’m off to hug someone I care about because we are so lucky we have the lives we do.

Big love to you all. Xx

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Filed under Book review, Books, New Books, Reading

RTY: I Capture The Castle – Dodie Smith

Hey Everyone!

As promised in my previous post, today I wanted to share with you my review of the book I chose for Penguin’s Read the Year Challenge. The focus for the month of September was: dive into a coming of age story you haven’t read before. I have to confess that I Capture the Castle wasn’t my first choice for this month. The first book I chose was Black Swan Green by David Mitchell but I found it really difficult to get into. So after the first couple of chapters I gave up. However, my second choice was much more fruitful. I’d heard of Dodie Smith as a little girl because I loved the story The Hundred and One Dalmatians. I really enjoyed the opportunity to read something else by this fascinating, (arguably) lesser known novelist. This coming of age story has everything, love, jealousy, frustration, upset and complete joy.

What’s it all about?

I Capture the Castle tells the adventures of the Mortmains family, struggling to life in genteel poverty in a crumbling castle during the 1930s. The novel is told through the eyes of Cassandra Mortmain, an intelligent teenager who writes everything in shorthand in her journal.

Cassandra’s father is a writer suffering from writer’s block. He hasn’t written anything since his first book, Jacob Wrestling, was published. The novel, a reference to Jacob wrestling with the angel, is an innovative and challenging modernist novel that was hugely popular. This book made Mortmain’s name huge, especially in the United States.

Ten years before the novel begins, Mortmain takes out a forty year lease on a dilapidated but beautiful castle. This is the seed of inspiration for him, or isolation! However, as Cassandra tells the story, they are having to sell the furniture to survive and buy food.

Walking down Belmotte was the oddest sensation– every step took us deeper into the mist until at last it closed over our heads. It was like being drowned in the ghost of water.

Topaz, Mortmain’s second wife, is a beautiful artist’s model who enjoys being with nature, often naked in its presence. Rose, the eldest daughter, is a classic English beauty. Her focus is to meet a wealthy young man to settle with. She tells Cassandra, who tells us, that she wants to live in a Jane Austen novel.

Cassandra has literary ambitions and spends her time writing and capturing everything around her in her beloved journal. The final characters in the household are Stephen, the handsome and loyal live in son of the late maid and Thomas, the youngest Mortmain child who is just as intelligent as Cassandra. Stephen is very much in love with Cassandra but she doesn’t really notice.

While I have been writing I have lived in the past, the light of it has been all around me…

The novel changes pace when the Cottons, a wealthy American family, inherit the nearby Scoatney Hall and become the Mortmains’ new landlords. The girls are intrigued by the two handsome, unmarried brothers, Simon and Neil Cotton. These new men give the girls something new to focus on and to investigate further. Neil was raised in California by their English father. He’s very carefree and wants to become a rancher one day.

Whereas, Simon is scholarly and serious, with a passion for the English countryside. As the eldest, Simon is the heir and is already much wealthier than Neil. Although Rose isn’t attracted to him, she decides to pursue him into marriage if she can. Rose admits she’d marry the devil if it meant she could escape poverty.

When the two families first meet, each are as intrigued as the other about them. When the Cottons visit the following day, Rose openly flirts with Simon. However, she ends up humiliating himself due to her inexperience. Both brothers are less than amused by the experience and as they walk away, Cassandra overhears them saying they will cease further acquaintance with the family.

However, after an amusing episode with a fur coat and an alleged sighting of a bear, all is forgiven between the two families and they become close friends. Rose convinced herself that she really is arrested and taken with Simon so Cassandra and Topaz devise a scheme to get Simon to propose to her. This has an excellent result for the family as he falls in love with her and proposes shortly after.

Time in the novel following this is split between the castle and London. Rose and Topaz head to the city with Mrs Cotton to purchase Rose’s wedding trousseau. Whilst everyone else is away, Cassandra and Simon spend the evening together when they inevitable kiss. Cassandra becomes obsessed with Simon; it’s all she thinks about. However, she does end up feeling incredibly guilty. Simon, is of course, Rose’s fiancé. With Rose being away, Cassandra feels more and more lonely and isolated.

It came to me that Hyde Park has never belonged to London – that it has always been , in spirit, a stretch of countryside; and that it links the Londons of all periods together most magically – by remaining forever unchanged at the heart of a ever-changing town.

Over this time, Stephen continues to copy poems for her and save his money to buy her gifts. Cassandra decides that she has to tactfully let Stephen down in terms of his offer of love. She encourages him to pursue his model and film career, which has recently taken off.

…surely I could give him–a sort of contentment... That isn’t enough to give. Not for the giver.

Cassandra decides to join forces with him and Thomas to help their father overcome his writer’s block. They lock him in one of the towers, delivering food parcels to him. He becomes quite frustrated, but eventually it seems to be for a good cause. Cassandra, meanwhile, is acutely aware that her attraction is increasing. Cassandra continues to record everything in her journal.

In the background, unknown by all the characters in the novel other than Stephen, Rose and Neil have been falling in love. To conceal their growing love, they pretend to hate each other. When they eventually elope together, Simon is left heartbroken. However, for Cassandra, this means there is a sign of hope. Before Simon leaves to go back to the United States, he visits Cassandra.

“I found it quite easy to carry on a casual conversation it was as if my real feelings were down fathoms deep in my mind and what we said was just a feathery surface spray.”

Despite her feelings for him, Cassandra decides to deflect the conversation at the moment when she believes he may propose marriage, in the belief and understanding that he was still in love with Rose.

The novel ends on a rather ambiguous note. Cassandra reminds herself that Simon has promised to return to her. She closes her journal for good, still loving him.

I get the feeling I do on finishing a novel with a brick-wall happy ending – I mean the kind of ending when you never think any more about the characters.

Overview

This book is an excellent coming of age story. The family as absolutely fascinating and I found myself feeling many of the emotions described in the novel. Rose just wants to fall in love with the right person, Cassandra adores her sister and wants her to be happy. They each want their father to be able to write something so they can have furniture. Finally, who wouldn’t want to live in a castle? This is a charming book, perfect for everyone.

Hope you enjoy the autumn everyone! Get out there any kick up the vast array of colourful leaves.

Big love xxx

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Filed under Book review, Books, Read The Year Challenge

Matilda At 30 – Roald Dahl & Quentin Blake

Hey Everyone!

Welcome to October! The leaves are changing, it’s definitely getting colder and Autumn is fast upon us. What is perfect about this time of year is it’s the right time to get cosy on the sofa, in a chunky blanket with a book.

Before my Read The Year post for September, I wanted to share with you the news that Roald Dahl’s Matilda was published 30 years ago today. Happy birthday Matilda!!

I can’t believe it’s 30 years old – only two years older than me! It’s fascinating how it’s stood the test of time. That’s because it’s absolutely brilliant!! I have so much love for Matilda in my heart. The message that good will always conquer evil is one to remember, even when we feel most defeated. Also, the comfort and joy we can get from a good book cannot be understated. For Matilda, it’s all she has at some points in her life.

By pure coincidence, I’ve had a really Matilda orientated weekend. I went to Manchester to see the touring cast of Matilda the Musical. It was awesome! Just as amazing as when I went to see it in London. (see here for information!) I have a huge swell of pride about this as it started in my beloved Stratford upon Avon. It’s grown into this incredible production which is now being shared across England. Go and see it if you get chance, you won’t be disappointed!

To celebrate 30 years, Quentin Blake has released a number of drawings and illustrations which reimagine Matilda as an adult. Blake shows Matilda as a poet laureate, an astrophysicist, a special FX artist, a world traveller and the CEO of the British Library. I chose the latter cover to buy to mark this special occasion. Also, in my opinion, it’s the most likely career I think Matilda would have. Also, how beautiful is this cover?!

In true Quentin Blake style, the illustrations are just awesome. It’s so clever to be able to see the potential lives Matilda could have had. The opportunities are indeed endless. Regardless, it’s a beautiful book with the original story and illustrations within. What a relief this has been republished for the world to consider where the incredible little girl would be now.

So, happy birthday Matilda! I hope this novel continues to give hope to those who need it, shows that good will conquer evil and shares the love of learning. Matilda, you are a beauty.

Happy reading everyone!

Big love.

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Filed under Books, Children's Literature, New Books, Weekend Trips

I Am Malala – Malala Yousafzai

Hey Lovely People!

How are you all? I hope that September has treated you well and like me, you’re keeping warm from the rain outside. I noticed yesterday the leaves are starting to turn, clearly Autumn is upon us. Today I wanted to share with you one of the most inspiring books I’ve ever read: I Am Malala. Wow. There aren’t enough words for this book. Malala Yousafzai is a name that everyone has heard of so I wanted to read her story and what an amazing story it was for me.

What’s it all about?

The book is written in five parts, covering various points in Malala’s life. Part One covers Malala’s life ‘Before the Taliban’. She describes her childhood home in Swat Valley where Malala, her father Ziauddin, her mother Toor Pekanbaru and her two younger brothers Khush and Atal, lived. Ziauddin’s father, Rohul Amin was an imam and a teacher. Ziauddin studied a Master’s in English at Jehanzeb College. Malala was therefore surrounded by great thinkers and educated minds. Malala is very honest in her narrative, they are a normal family and her brothers irritate her.

“I don’t want to be thought of as the “girl who was shot by the Taliban” but the “girl who fought for education.” This is the cause to which I want to devote my life.”

Her father opened the Khushal School with a partner Naeem, who had to leave himself due to financial problems. So, Ziauddin found a new partner, Hidayatullah, who helped him to bring the school into profit. This profit enabled them to open more schools in the area. Toor Pekai would bring any children who were in need to live with them and Ziauddin would give them free places in the school where they could learn and thrive.

Malala spends time in her narrative explaining the changes in political regimes in Pakistan, the first drone strikes in Pakistan in 2004, following 9/11 in America and the 2005 Kashmir earthquake. I remember 9/11 in particular because it was my first day at secondary school. Just like Malala, many of us can relate to and remember events in history that have happened that have shaped our world today.

In Part Two, subtitled ‘The Valley of Death’, the narrative centres on the growing rise of the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan in Swat. Back in 2006, Fazlullah began an ever increasingly popular radio broadcast where, initially advice was given on matters such as ritual ablution and drug abstinence. However, the focus of this changed to the condemnation of music and dancing. Finally, the instruction came that women were to stay in the home. To Malala, who loved to go to school with all the other girls, this was a complete travesty. Nevertheless, this did not stop her from getting her education. Malala was absolutely determined to go to school.

“Education is education. We should learn everything and then choose which path to follow.” Education is neither Eastern nor Western, it is human.”

The war in North-West Pakistan was still raging and the return of Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto to Pakistan has devastating results. As an activist for women’s rights, her return led to her assassination. This murder was just the start as the Taliban began to commit further murders. Ziauddin Yousafzai continued to speak out against such violence. His daughter, Malala, began to write a BBC Urdu blog under the pseudonym Gul Mukau, sharing tales of how life was during this time.

“If one man can destroy everything, why can’t one girl change it?”

More woe descended upon Swat when after a Taliban edict in 2009, Malala’s school was forced to shut down. Malala and her family had no choice but to move to Shangla for the next three months.

Part Three is entitled ‘Three Girls, Three Bullets’. It is in this part where Malala describes her horrific ordeal with the Taliban.

“The Taliban could take our pens and books, but they couldn’t stop our minds from thinking.”

By 2009, the army have fought off the Taliban in Swat and the Yousafzai family return home. Malala’s school re-opens and she visits Islamabad with her school friends. Here she meets Major General Arthar Abbas and gives a public speech. Malala is used to giving regular public speeches with her father in various interviews. Each one bares the same message: criticism of the Taliban and the ineffectiveness of the army.

“When the whole world is silent, even one voice becomes powerful.”

Mother Nature adds to the destruction of Swat, the 2010 Pakistan floods destroyed many buildings and left many people without food, clean water and electricity. Also, things are still very politically charged in Pakistan. CIA agent Raymond Davis murders two men and the Americans kill Bin Laden. The consequence of this is widespread mistrust of American influences in Pakistan by the public.

However, for Malala, it was like as usual. Malala began to win numerous prizes for her activism. She continues to speak out about a girls right to education. She appeared on Geo TV and visited the mausoleum of Muhammad Ali Jinnah.

Due to her courage at standing up for what she believes in, Malala started to receive death threats. This worried her parents immensely. In August 2012 when Zahid Khan was shot and killed, Ziauddin expected to be the next target. Malala also begins to worry that she too is a target but her focus is on her exams and she is desperate to study hard and do well.

“We were scared, but our fear was not as strong as our courage.”

However, what follows shocked me to my core, along with the rest of the world. After her Pakistan Studies exam on the 9th October, two men stop her bus and come aboard. They shout one thing: “Who is Malala?” Then three shots are fired.

“I told myself, Malala, you have already faced death. This is your second life. Don’t be afraid — if you are afraid, you can’t move forward.”

Part Four is subtitled ‘Between Life and Death’. We learn that one bullet travelled from Malala’s left eye to her shoulder and her two friends, Shazia and Kainat were also injured. Thankfully, not fatally.

Ziauddin gave a speech with the Association of Private schools before rushing to the hospital to be with his daughter. Her mother was learning to read and rushed home to pray. Malala was taken by helicopter to the Combined Military Hospital in Peshawar where she was then airlifted to a military hospital in Rawalpindi. On the 15th October, Malala was taken to the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham aboard a United Arab Emirates jet. However, her father refused to come as the rest of the family could not travel without passports. She made the journey with her medical team, alone.

“I reassured my mother that it didn’t matter to me if my face was not symmetrical. Me, who had always cared about my appearance, how my hair looked! But when you see death, things change. “It doesn’t matter if I can’t smile or blink properly,” I told her. “I’m still me, Malala. The important thing is God has given me my life.”

Part Five is called ‘A Second Life’. Malala woke up in the Birmingham hospital on the 16th October. However, her thoughts were not of herself or her injuries. She was obsessed with the location of her father and the safety of her family. She knew full well that she and her family could not afford medical treatment. Finally the medical team answered her questions.

Malala received 8000 cards and many many presents. Her family arrived 9 days later to join her in her recovery. In November Malala underwent major surgery to repair her facial nerve. The following January she was discharged from hospital. In February she underwent further surgery to get a cochlear implant.

The story ends with her new life in Birmingham. She missed Swat and her friends terribly. Yet, she decided to continue her activism, to spread the word about the importance of education. She wants to become know for “the girl who fought for education” rather than “the girl who was shot by the Taliban”.

“One child, one teacher, one book, one pen can change the world.”

Overview

This book was so inspiring, so shocking and everything in between. Education is a massive part of my life. I remember as a young girl going to school, never questioning it or even realising how lucky I was. Reading this book has made me appreciate my education so much more. As a teacher, I want to share this book with everyone. I’m not really into reading about political history but because this was in my lifetime, I felt I appreciated it more. Obviously, it is something that has been in the press a lot so I valued having Malala’s own words. This girl is so inspirational, thank goodness for her.

“We realize the importance of our voices only when we are silenced.”

Finally, on a different note, today is the first day of Autumn. To celebrate, I’m launching a new swoosh at the bottom of every post. Hope you like it!

Big love all xxx

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Filed under Book review, Books, Education, Reading

The Red Notebook – Antoine Laurain

Hello Everyone!

Happy September!! You’ll be pleased to know my great disappearing act has come to an end. In all seriousness, the last of my summer holiday went in the blink of an eye and my return to work came all too suddenly. Therefore, I apologise for all the wonderful things I’ve missed. I’ll endeavour to catch up with them all.

Now I’ve got a pocket of time to myself (meaning I’m currently ignoring the Macbeth scheme of work I need to write) I wanted to share with you a lovely little book I read over the summer. This book made me smile in abundance. It was one of those reads that grabbed you by the heart and whisked you on a little adventure.

What’s it all about?

The novel centres around Laure and Laurent and how their lives are brought together. For the majority of the novel, the main voice we hear is Laurent’s. However, it is through his narrative we learn about Laure.

On her way home from work, Laure is mugged. Her attacker knocks her head with a heavy object which causes her to fall to the ground. The attacker runs away, taking her handbag with him. Many people around her try and help but Laure believes she is completely fine. She doesn’t realise that she has sustained quite an injury to the back of her head. Laure doesn’t wish to return home, despite feeling ok. Therefore, she checks herself into a nearby hotel and meets a friendly night clerk. She explains how she’s been mugged and needs a place for the night so in the morning she can go and report it to the police where she will then be able to pay for the room. The night clerk agrees to let her stay and gives her a key to a room. She settles down for the night.

The following morning, the women working on the front desk reads a note left by the night clerk telling them what happened with the mysterious woman. They patiently wait then decide they should go and check on her. When they enter they room, what they find shocks them. She’s lying unconscious and in a pool of blood. She is then taken to a hospital where it is revealed that she is in a coma.

Meanwhile, Laurent decides to leave his bookstore to go for a walk around the city. He’s pondering his life, feeling rather dissatisfied and contemplating whether or not he should leave his overpowering girlfriend, Dominique. He spots a woman’s handbag from afar and reflects how his ex wife, Claire, used to never part with her bags. He has his suspicions about this bag being stolen. After conducting a little investigation, he discovers no wallet, adding to his earlier suspicion. He takes the bag home and rescues it from the trash.

‘How many things do we feel obliged to do for the sake of it, or for appearances, or because we are trained to do them, but which weigh us down and don’t in fact achieve anything?’

Once at home, he pulls out all the contents of the retrieved bag and among them finds a necklace with hieroglyphics on it and a red notebook. There are plenty of odds and ends such as a lipstick, perfume bottle, a book signed by a lesser known author and some hair pins. His attention is mostly held by the red notebook and he realises it is a diary. Temptation gets the better of him and he starts to read it. This gives him the window to learning about this woman. He learns that she is kind, creative, witty and passionate. He feels deep down that she is someone he would want to get to know.

‘He drank some more wine, feeling he was about to commit a forbidden act. A transgression. For a man should never go through a woman’s handbag-even the most remote tribe would adhere to that ancestral rule.’

However, back at the hospital, Laure is dreaming in her coma. Her dreams take her back to being a child playing in a beautiful garden. Her memories intrude on this blissful dream and her former husband, Xavier, appears in the garden. This then pulls her fork her dream to the reality of his death. She recalls the government phone call, informing her of his death in the Iraq War as he was taking war photographs. She fights back the reality and the pain of this situation and reverts back to the garden, holding Xavier’s hand.

Laurent finishes reading Laure’s diary and realises how Dominique pales in comparison to this woman he has never met. Ironically, at this moment, Dominique shows up at his apartment. Laurent quickly hides all of Laure’s items in her bag and hides it. Yet, as soon as Dominique enters, she can smell another woman’s perfume. Laurent is adamant that no other woman has been there but she doesn’t believe him. When they attend a party that evening, Laurent’s mind drifts to how Laure would behave at a party. He decides that this is unfair on her and ends their relationship.

‘She was an enigma. It was like looking at someone through a fogged-up window. her face was like one encountered in a dream, whose features disolve as soon as you try to recall them.’

The following day Laurent’s friend Pascal tells him how foolish he has been in terminating his relationship. After all, Laure is still unknown to him really. Pascal had different morals to Laurent and he wishes his friend followed in his own footsteps of being more of a ladies man. As they part ways, Laurent is determined to find Laure and reunite her with her bag. The police are less than interested in the matter, claiming the paperwork is too lengthy.

Laurent decides to track down the author of the signed book which was in the bag. Upon finding him, he cannot remember who the owner of the book is but can describe what she looks like. Rather conveniently, he has another author in the store doing another book signing who can read hieroglyphics. He translates the necklace which reveals her full name. The overwhelming sense of relief is immense from Laurent. He knows her name which means he now has a better chance of finding her.

Unbelievably, he does find her, in a coma in one of the hospitals. Upon his arrival he sees another man there called William. He is a colleague of Laure’s and has been taking care of her pet cat. The doctor introduces him as Laure’s brother but Laurent and the doctor know that this isn’t true. It is assumed that he is Laure’s boyfriend and he fails to contradict him. Laurent feels bad about lying about his relationship but when he is asked by William to stay at her house to cat sit, he doesn’t look back.

Laure is still deep in her dream but more and more of the real world invaded them. She hears nurses discussing a television show and is aware that she is in hospital. But, she is not willing to wake up just yet.

Laurent stays at Laure’s house for several days. He spends time looking through her personal items, like her photo albums, books and collections. It helps to add and further create an image of her in his head. He starts to feel an increasing amount of guilt because of his behaviour.

‘There, it was over. How was it so easy to disappear from someone else’s life? Perhaps it was with the same ease that you enter it. A chance meeting, a few words exchanged, and a relationship begins. A chance falling out, a few words exchanged and that same relationship is over.’

Later in the day he meets with his daughter, Chloe. She asks him to pretend to be her boyfriend when her friends appear. Initially, this upsets him but he plays along to keep his daughter happy. He is also aware that the boys are less likely to come near her if they think she’s got an older boyfriend. He confides in Chloe about what he has been doing with the handbag and the notebook. Chloe finds it all very romantic despite her father sharing his guilt with her.

‘Chloe sighted, then continued, ‘She’s very attached to the past – the mirror is ancient, a famili heirloom; perhaps it was her grandmother’s. And she uses an unusual perfume – no one wears Habanita any more – she writes weird things in her notebook, she has a book signed by an author you admire…’ Then she concluded with an ironic smile, ‘She’s the woman for you.’

As Laure finally wakes up from her coma, William is by her side but Laurent is not. Earlier in the day, he dropped the keys to Laure’s house off at William’s office. She is released from hospital and returns to her home. She stumbles upon a note from Laurent apologising for what he has done. Amazingly, she is not upset, but rather, more moved by his efforts to get her belongings back to her. Thus, she begins her own mission to find him.

Nevertheless, Laurent is morose. Chloe knows why this is and manages to convince her mother and stepfather that one of their picture frames need touching up. She does this because she has learnt from Laurent that Laure was a framer in the town. She goes to several framing stores until she finds the one where Laure works. She tells her exactly where she can find Laurent.

Immediately, Laure goes to the bookstore. She approaches the counter and asks him about a book that features a woman whose handbag had been taken and a man who runs all around town to find her. It dawns on Laurent that it is Laure and takes her into his arms. They live blissfully ever after.

‘It’s the story of a bookseller who finds a handbag in the street one day, takes it home with him, empties out its contents and decides to look for the woman who owns it. He succeeds but when he finds her, he runs off like an idiot.’

Overview

This book gave me such a warm fuzzy feeling inside. Whilst the attack was absolutely awful, I was desperate for the two to meet. Sometimes I just really appreciate a happy ending. This short little book was such a joy and gave me the happy ending I so desperately wanted. Chloe gave me the biggest surprise character wise as she initially appeared to be a bit of a diva. Yet, she’s the one that brings the two together. This is a perfect little book for a quick read on a drizzly afternoon.

Enjoy the rest of the week lovely people!

Big love xx

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Filed under Book review, Books, Reading, Romance

RTY: The Bear and the Nightingale – Katherine Arden

Hey Everyone!

I hope you’re all well and getting excited for Easter. As we are approaching the end of March, I am well aware I haven’t posted about my choice of book for March’s instalment of Read The Year. The criteria for March was: Read a book about a woman you hadn’t previously heard of. The suggestions were all non fiction. However, I was inspired by a fellow blogging friends review of The Bear and the Nightingale. Thank you so much Orangutan Librarian! I’ve never heard of it, didn’t know about the characters and I didn’t know the writer. Without you, I probably wouldn’t have known about it. The author is female as is the protagonist. Therefore, it fits the criteria perfectly.

 

What’s it all about?

The novel opens in the middle of a cold night in the home of Marina and Pyotr Vladimirovich. The setting made me feel incredibly cold (helped by the description and the snow on the ground here whilst I was reading it!)

The family’s Nurse, Dunya, is telling the children a tale about a girl sent to marry the frost demon (Morozko). The tale shows how the girl was incredibly brave when the frost demon came to her. He rewards this by sending her back to her family with a large dowry.

The reader also learns that Marina is frail and pregnant once again. Whilst this causes concern, she decides she will have the baby as she knows this daughter will be special. Sadly, Marina dies in childbirth. As prophesied, Vasya is a special girl and she has the ability to see and speak to a number of spirits who live in her house and the surrounding forest. My favourite is the spirit who lives in the oven. These sprints embody helpfulness, mischievousness and also danger. For example, the water nymph likes to lure men to their death so she can feast on their death.

Vasya is a wild girl who lives to run away from her chores to be outside. When she is a child of 6 years, she gets lost in the forest and stumbles upon a sleeping man. She awakes him and asks for help. Whilst doing this she notices he only has one eye. She is naturally quite frightened. To save her, another man appears on a white horse.

“Wild birds die in cages.”

Pyotr knows he needs someone to bring his daughter into line; she needs a mother figure. He travels to Moscow to find another bride for himself and a husband for his daughter, Olga.

More descriptions of a freezing, bitterly cold Russia envelope Pyotr’s time there. The current Prince wants to make sure his son, who is still a child, will be safe to rule the land when he dies and that no one will try and derail him. He decides to marry off one such potential to Olga. After a scuffle. Pyotr returns with a necklace.

“I do not understand “damned.” You are. And because you are, you can walk where you will, into peace, oblivion, or pits of fire, but you will always choose.”

The prince also decides to marry off his daughter Anna. She is a slightly obscure character who comes across as quite cold. It is revealed that she is considered mad. She can also see the spirits but she’s convinced they are demons. By marrying Anna off, she will be hidden away.

Pyotr marries Anna and they return home. But, Anna is much worse because there are even more spirits there. She spends most of her time crying and alone. She is constantly seen praying or looking for the church. Olga is married off and goes to Moscow. Anna decides that Vasya can join her when she’s grown up, something that Vasya takes great comfort from.

The necklace from before is given from Pyotr to Dunya, to pass onto Vasya. Dunya recognises it as a talisman and is immediately afraid. She decides to keep it hidden. Yet in her dream, the strange man, we later learn to be Frost (or the frost demon) comes to her quite upset. She bargains with him to wait for the necklace to be passed on.

Much to Anna’s distaste, life continues as it was. Vasya continues to give offerings to the spirits and communicate with them. She continued to be happier outside exploring, rather than inside.

There is a new visitor to the community, a priest, Konstantin. His deployment at first bothers him as he views it as being dumped in the middle of nowhere. When he meets Anna, she reveals all about seeing demons. Konstantin decides God has sent him there to save everyone from their wicked ways. He feeds off their fears to convince and persuade them to give up the offerings to the sprints.

As a result of the decline in offerings, they start to weaken and call on Vasya to help feed them. There are much larger problems though. The weather is colder, the logs are burning faster and people are seriously struggling. Many beasts start to roam the village and people die in mysterious ways.

Vasya is warned by the spirits that there are vague evils that are coming because people have ceased to leave the offerings. The dead are signs of how it is worsening.

Dunya is visited again by the strange man (Morozko) pushing for the talisman to be given to Vasya. As before, Dunya bargains for one more year as she believes Vasya isn’t ready yet. Meanwhile, Anna believes and decides that all these problems are caused by Vasya. She is aware that she still speaks to the spirits and is stubborn and will not give up the old ways. Anna wants to marry her off to rid them of this problem. Both Pyotr and Dunya are fretful about the talisman and what it means. They know from the tales of the frost demon are always centred about maidens. Therefore, if she is married, he will lose interest in her.

Pyotr finds a suitable match for his daughter, in his opinion, and celebrations start in preparation for the wedding. However, Vasya doesn’t trust her fiancée because she can tell her horse does not like him and is scared of him. Trouble is foreshadowed as following this, Vasya’s nephew tries to ride her pony. The pony gets spooked when she sees a demon shadow and bolts. Vasya jumps onto the nearest gore and goes after them, saving the nephew. Despite, or because of her valiant efforts, her fiancée is embarrassed, sees that all is not what it seems (after all she isn’t your bog standard woman) and calls off the wedding. The only other option for women at this time was to be sent to a convent. Anna is all for this! She wishes she herself had been so lucky…

“Married! Not to retreat, but to be the mistress of a lord’s domain; not to be safe in a convent, but to live as some lord’s breeding sow.”

Once again Dunya is visited by another time, however this time it is Pyotr’s dead children because she continues to not give the talisman to Vasya. Her hand freezes when she wakes up and she grabs the necklace. She begins to die. She protects Vasya until the end. Just before she passes, she passes the talisman to her. Little does Vasya know what it holds for her.

Konstantin becomes besotted, almost obsessed with Vasya. It is his belief that she is a temptress, sent to seduce him from his holy art. He’s attacked several times by the spirits by Vasya saves him. He’s under the impression that this was her fault anyway.

He then starts to hear a voice quite frequently; his belief being that it is God. He urges all villagers to fear and despise Vasya in the hope that she is driven away. Konstantin convinces Anna to send Vasya to a convent now, her father can wait and will understand. Vasya obviously doesn’t wish to go. They have to tie her up ready for the departure the next day.

But Vasya is wise and is able to escape. She flees to the woods and ends up lost, exhausted and freezing. She stumbles again onto the one eyed man from her childhood (Medved) and is almost attacked by Dunya whom has been turned into a vampire. Morozko shows up just in the crack of time to save her and take her to his magical abode.

Vasya slowly recovers and she is told by Morozko that his brother needs her in order to escape the bounds placed upon him. The consequences would be disastrous if he ever did become free as he would cause war and feed on people’s fear. Vasya is given her own magical horse, Solovey, who follows her around. It is clear that these two care for each other. But, she wants to return home, despite how they behaved towards her.

“You are too attached to things as they are,” said Morozko, combing the mare’s withers. He glanced down idly. “You must allow things to be what best suits your purpose. And then they will.”

Konstantin discovers that the voice talking to him isn’t God but it is Medved. He is told that the voice will leave him in peace if he brings him someone who can hear the spirits. He realises that Anna would be perfect so he ticks her. Anna goes into the forest to meet her demise.

It is for the best was on the tip of the priest’s tongue. But he thought again of years, of childbearing and exhaustion. The wildness gone, the hawk’s grace chained up… He swallowed. It is for the best. The wildness was sinful.”

Vasya returns in the nick of time to discover that Anna is missing. She enlists the help of her brother Alyosha to help. Vasya knows that Medved can use Anna to free himself. When she finds Anna, she sees a zombie attacking her. Anna dies and a battle breaks out between the spirits. They each take sides between Morozko and his brother, who has now turned into a bear.

Amazingly, Vasya is able to speak to the actual Dunya. She gets her to remember her past life and asks Morozko is take her to die properly. He does so, leaving the battle. This leads Vasya and her brother to fight the bear on their own. Her father turns up to save the day. Medved says if Pyotr let’s him have Vasya, he will leave everyone else alone but her father will not and can not do it. He sacrifices himself for his daughter. He does this without fear meaning Medved becomes bound once again and transforms back to the one eyed man.

Vasya realises she is now completely isolated and alone and that she must leave the village. No one trusts her, they all think she is still a witch. She decides she must leave but before she does she goes and warns Konstantin. She flies away on her horse with plans to see the world. Her first visit: Morozko’s house, where she is welcomed in from the relentless cold.

“Solovey will take me to the ends of the earth if I ask it. I am going into the world, Alyosha. I will be no one’s bride, neither of man nor of God. I am going to Kiev and Sarai and Tsargrad, and I will look upon the sun on the sea.”

 

 

Overview

I really enjoyed this book. It was magical on every page, but an adult magic. The characters are compelling. I loved the little spirits, especially the one who lived in the oven. I could feel the cold from the descriptions and I could feel the fear from the villagers when things were going wrong. At the back of my copy is a little sample from the next novel. More magic awaits.

Big love xxx

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Filed under Book review, Books, Read The Year Challenge