I hope you’re all enjoying this beautiful weather we are having. I must say, the heat and a multi-story tower block of a school isn’t quite the best mix but we are going with it and embracing the utter joy that the sunshine brings. After a lengthy working week, it’s time for us all to sit back with a book and enjoy the luscious weather. I went for a walk in the city centre last night to my local Waterstones (came out with two bags full which doesn’t help my bookshelves at all…) but it was great to be able to share amazing books of 2021 so far. What is does also mean for me is that I can catch up on a couple of posts that I’ve been meaning to do. My post today is my reading round up for May. I really hope you find some books here to add to your own TBR piles.
May felt like a bit of a slow month for me. Historically, it is the month that starts the examination season and things tend to feel like they are coming to a natural close. With the cancellation of exams this year, it does mean that that feeling hasn’t quite happened. In fact, we were still evidence gathering and sorting this week. Nevertheless, I manage to read 11 books this month which is still pretty good going I think. One thing I did notice was that I opted for ‘lighter’ reads because I was utterly exhausted. Anyway, let’s check out the shelves!
As I said above, this month was where I saw a slight change in my reading choices but there are some brilliant books here. My top three books for May are:
Stella – Takis Würger. This book was what I had chosen for my reading challenge and is the next post that I will be writing about. I don’t want to spoil it for you but it’s a love story (but not as we know it) set in wartime Berlin. It’s an incredibly beautiful, torturous and powerful book that I can’t wait to share with you all.
The Road Trip – Beth O’Leary. I have enjoyed Beth O’Leary’s book and this new release was no different. She has a really unique style of writing I think and she’s also very relatable and funny. I managed to bag a signed copy which is also very lucky. It’s a merging of past and present – all in the hopes of making a wedding on time. It’s a great read for the summer if you’re planning your summer reading list!
The Alphabet Murders – Lars Schütz. This was my only crime thriller book this month and it was such a pocket rocket of a book. It’s really hard to describe this without giving anything away but basically the race is on, after finding numerous murders with letters from the alphabet next to them, to try and work out who would be next and if the murderer could be stopped at all.
And that’s it! Another vaguely successful reading month in the context of life and work. I always find that I get frustrated when I am too tired to read though! Never mind. It’s the weekend and I’ve plans for not very much else.
Can you believe we are in June? I’m embracing the lighter days and the gloriously summery weather we have been having in the UK this week. It’s felt like a long time coming but gosh, isn’t it a breath of fresh air really? I hope you’re all okay and embracing the longer and brighter days. Would you believe me if I told you I had to put sun cream on his week?!
Anyway, we’ve celebrated my blogs birthday well. Thank you so much for all your lovely messages – I’ve loved reading them! I’ve got a couple of posts that are in the pipeline but I wanted to share with you today a book I’ve just finished. I love it when I finish something and want to write about it straight away! Anyway, prepare yourself for the thrilling real life story of Carolyn Woods. Her novel, Sleeping With a Psychopath reads like a work of fiction. However, I find it utterly terrifying that this is actually a true story. I hope you find it as compelling as I did!
What’s it all about? The novel opens with a prologue where Woods reflects back over the past eighteen months of her life. Her journey is one of our own worst nightmares yet she has a story to tell, a cautionary tale of the modern day. Looking back, Woods sees herself as vibrant, positive, successful and happy. Following her divorce, she rented a beautiful cottage in a Cotswold town and got herself a little job in a shop which she thoroughly enjoyed. What could possibly go wrong? She was about to find out following a visit from a handsome stranger. Little does she know that this man is about to ruin her life, take away her independence and her reasons for living.
“He has isolated me and I have become frightened, depressed and introverted. I am very confused. It feels as though someone has opened the top of my head and put a blender into my brain.”
The novel then takes us back to the beginning, June 2012, when Woods was working in the little clothes shop. As the sun was setting on another day in the Cotswolds, the door announced a visitor: immaculately dressed, handsome in his features and incredibly attractive. His name was Mark and he certainly said all the right things. Woods admits she liked him instantly and felt that he liked her back. She guessed that he was a spy – there was something very James Bond about him after all. He did nothing to dissuade this, claiming he was a rich Swiss banker. She is captivated. After all, it’s not every day a handsome stranger walks into your life and likes you! Woods decides to do something she hasn’t done before. She gives him her phone number and the end of yet another working day has come. What follows next is text conversations where plans are made and the intimacy between the two increase. Upon reflection, Woods punctuates her narrative with comments showing how naive she has been and statements that were originally said showed no signs for concern, are obvious red flags now.
“Thinking back on those first early encounters, with the knowledge I have now, I can see exactly how Mark was operating. I believe him to be a psychopath.”
The pace of the narrative increases again. This time we see lavish gifts that Mark gave to Carolyn: the brand new Audi, the need to get away, the promise of luxury wherever they went. You can see how easy it was to be swept away by the magic and mystery of it all. They started to look for a house with a budget of 2-3 million pounds. Their whole future was planned out before them quite rapidly. However, Mark took control of her mobile phone, saying that all messages had to be deleted because of people watching. He also claimed to know a lot of wealthy, powerful people of status – Hilary Clinton and Vladimir Putin, to name two. He also asked her to marry him, something which she accepted and was excited to do. But, the lavish lifestyle, the new cars and the expensive budget for a house doesn’t match up to the day where Mark asks to borrow £26,000 due to a cash flow problem. She fell deeply and head first. She was in love with him so said yes.
“As I tell my story, I can understand how astonishing people find it that I should have been taken in so easily, and looking back, I cannot believe I behaved so recklessly. But Mark is a conjuror – I was spellbound…”
For a time, life continued. The wedding was being planned, the dress exquisite and Mark was here, there and everywhere: London, Bath, Spain, Italy and Syria. Woods became more and more isolated and was spending the vast amount of time alone. More time alone meant that frustrations and anxieties grew. Mark was around less and less. His narrative becomes more alarming the deeper we progress into the novel. He appears to get injured abroad, has a brain tumour and continues to blow hot and cold with Woods. More and more money was being transferred and Woods found herself in a desperate situation: alone, broke, fragile. Trips together turned into nightmares where Mark didn’t show. Hotels that were booked for her, weren’t paid for meaning she was stranded in a foreign country. Things finally came to an end when the truth about Mark was clear. He wasn’t Mark Conway. He was Mark Acklom, a known criminal from his childhood, forever taking money from different people for promises he could not keep. Eventually, his actions caught up with him and he was arrested and imprisoned.
“Before I met Acklom, I was a happy, sociable, positive person; by the time he was through with me, I could barely function and had become deeply suspicious of people.”
By the end of her story, Woods has lost £850,000 – her entire savings pot. Despite this, it is the love and strength of her daughters and the friends who stood by her that carried her through. Justice was eventually (and legally) served but that also wasn’t as simple or ‘black and white’ as it should have been. Woods now has the opportunity to tell her story, the set the world straight and to start and rebuild her life.
“Mum has lost everything: her money, her job, her home, her security… but the one thing he couldn’t take away from her was the love of her daughters.”
Final Thoughts I was completely captivated by this book for so many reasons. Firstly, I think Woods really discusses and highlights the gender inequality in this book. As a divorced, middled aged female, her perception is that she was ‘stupid’ and she ‘should have seen it coming’. Yet, the male businessmen that were conned were ‘sensible’ and ‘right’. I also found it interest (and horrifying) that the police both here and abroad didn’t believe her. This story is years of fighting, years of a life taken away by one person. It is easy for us to sit here and judge today and see the warning signs for that they are. But, I can see how easy it would have been. This book shows us the art of manipulation. It didn’t read like it was a true story – it reads like a fictional thriller. Personally, I think it takes a lot of bravery from Woods to be as frank, honest and as reflective as she has been.
And that’s it! Definitely read this book, especially if you love thrillers as much as I do. I am off to read something lighter now so I don’t become completely paranoid.
Well, I’ve finally made it to half term. I can honestly say that in my career I don’t think I’ve ever experienced a term quite like that one. There have been some really wonderful highlights though. We threw a party for our Year 11 students which was wonderful and we managed to at least give the year group a good send off. It’s also been the month for being able to socialise in groups of up to six. Six is clearly the magic number because I want to share with you today the fact that my little blog is now six years old!
On the 25th May 2015, I decided to take up blogging because I just wanted a little space to call my own. I wanted to be able to write about the books and places I love. I can’t believe those six years have flown by and where we are now. So much has changed and yet I’d like to thing my blog has grown from strength to strength. Part of that is because of you wonderful fellow bloggers.
I’d like to share with you all on this post some of my top sixes. I hope you enjoy!!
Top Six Favourite Books EVER:
1. Harry Potter Series – J.K. Rowling. This isn’t going to be a surprise to anyone that knows me or my blog. I grew up with these books. They were a huge part of my childhood. I was also a little bit devastated when I didn’t receive my letter…
2. The Toymakers – Robert Dinsdale. I found this book to be utterly incredible for so many reasons. It’s still the one book I buy for all my friends for birthdays. Everyone has to read it. It’s just one of those gems that stay with you.
3. Cartes Postales from Greece – Victoria Hislop. I have two copies of this book – paperback and hardback – where the postcards are all in colour. This book is really incredible. Set in my favourite country of Cyprus, this book was another that I found by pure chance. It’s also the book I’ve re-read most (outside of the texts I teach annually at school).
4. Hungry – Grace Dent. This book is a new addition to my favourites list because it’s a fairly new book. However, I thoroughly enjoyed this book because it made me reflect on my own foodie childhood. It’s something I’ve really never considered before – the relationship between food and our memories. I can remember ever Saturday morning whilst my mum worked, sending the day with my dad eating beans on toast. It’s the little things like that that this book reminded me of.
5. The Ravenmaster: My Life with the Ravens at the Tower of London – Christopher Skaife. London is a brilliant city full of life and energy. This book gave me a glimpse into what life is like in the Tower of London. It’s steeped in history and I found that I really wanted to see the ravens once I’d read it. You may have seen recently in the news about the death of Merlina but the birth and the new name being announced of the latest addition. This is really a gem of a book.
6. To Kill A Mockingbird – Harper Lee. This book was my GCSE text when I was at school. I remember reading it and feeling lost with the world that I didn’t really know. This book really has stood the test of time and it’s one that I would urge everyone to read. I also think having a child narrator (Scout) is really clever. Seeing the world in the eyes of a child is quite a revealing thing.
Top Six Books I Need To Read:
1. The Hobbit – J.R.R. Tolkien 2. 1984 – George Orwell 3. The Grapes of Wrath – John Steinbeck 4. Little Woman – Louisa May Alcott 5. Fahrenheit 451 – Ray Bradbury 6. David Copperfield – Charles Dickens
These are all classics and I am absolutely well aware that there are hundreds if not thousands more that I want to read. Looking at my own TBR pile at the moment is overwhelming in itself but the holidays are for this moment – sleeping and reading. I can’t wait!!
What are your favourites? Have you got any books you really should have read by now? Regardless, I hope my lists have inspired your next read. The majority of my TBR list comes from my fellow bloggers in this community. I’m going to attempt to make a dent in the HUGE pile of books I’ve got to read over my half term break. Of course, I’ll be here for my review of this months book choice for my reading challenge and I’ll be posting my round-up of the month too. If we’re lucky, I’ll also be sharing with you more book reviews on books I’ve thoroughly enjoyed reading.
Thank you for all of the support over the last six years.
How are you all? I do hope May is treating you well and is providing you with some much needed sunshine and lighter days. I have say, it’s glorious not arriving and leaving work in the dark. It definitely does something to your mindset – that’s for sure.
Well, on the eve of the UK opening up a little bit further, following our roadmap out of lockdown, I wanted to take this opportunity to share with you a stunning book I received this week: The Book Lover’s Bucket List by Caroline Taggart. Like the rest of the world, I’ve really missed visiting places, seeing new things and making memories. Don’t get me wrong, I love home and the comforts of home, but I’ve missed exploring too. It’s like we all pressed a pause button on the past year. Yet, we have made it and there are many more beautiful times to come. I, for one, am using this delightful book to make plans for the not too distant future and I literally cannot wait! Thank you so much to The British Library for this copy.
What’s it all about? First and foremost, this book is stunning. It’s got a beautiful cover and gorgeous coloured and black and white photographs inside – some of which I will share with you. It takes some thought to piece together out literary heritage. There are the obvious places in the United Kingdom that are synonymous with the writers that come from there or wrote there. For example, my beloved hometown of Stratford upon Avon and the playwright William Shakespeare. What this book does beautifully is takes the four corners of the United Kingdom and gives bookworms an itinerary and ‘to visit list’.
The book starts with our capital, London, a hive of literary history. As we read this chapter, we travel from Poets’ Corner in Westminster Abbey to P.G. Wodehouses’s Mayfair, from the Dickens museum to Dr Johnson’s house. London is a home across decades of literary genius. It also is a home to Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre (a place I am still yet to visit!) to Primrose Hill and Regent’s Park – prominent features of the works of Dodie Smith and A.A. Milne. Platform 9 3/4s aside, my second favourite place in London is Paddington Station. Who doesn’t love that little bear and his marmalade sandwiches?
‘…It’s the bronze statue in the station that brings Paddington (Bear not Station) to life…In fact, if you look a little closer, you’ll see that Paddington’s muzzle is a good bit shinier than the rest of him. Lots of passers-by have succumbed to the urge to stroke it.’
From here, we travel to the Southwestern points of England where we encroach upon Agatha Christie’s sublime Devon. The picturesque scenery is one that always makes me feel like I’ve probably rested and rejuvenated myself. One of the most popular and prominent places is of course, Hardy’s Dartmoor.
Central England boasts such names of literary heroes like Philip Pullman, C.S. Lewis and George Bernard Shaw. Years of my own existence have been spent in the Royal Shakespeare Theatre in Stratford upon Avon, home of Shakespeare’s plays. Somewhere else I really want to visit is D.H. Lawrence’s Birthplace and Museum. I feel in love with Lawrence’s work whilst at university but I fear this is a love I have since neglected.
‘…If you want to make a day of it you can take a walk in Lawrence’s footsteps. Heading northwest out of the village you soon read Colliers Wood Nature Reserve, whose reservoir features as Nethermere in The White Peacock and as Willey Water in Women in Love.’
From here we head towards Eastern England which gives us the locations for George Elliot, Rupert Brooke and W.H Auden and Anna Sewell. Let’s continue to the North of our country where we see names like Elizabeth Gaskell, Ted Hughes, Winifred Holtby and Philip Larkin. I studied at the University of Hull. Larkin runs in the academic blood of the north. One of the most breathtaking places I’ve ever visited is Lyme Park which is a National Trust property. Lyme is infamous for it’s setting of Jane Austen’s BBC adaptation of Pride and Prejudice. Know the novel or not – you will absolutely know Colin Firth as the ridiculously handsome, Darcy. The North also gives us the indescribable Lake District, home of Beatrix Potter and the Peter Rabbit stories. Again, I am lucky enough to have visited here but I am desperate to get back.
Wales and Northern Ireland have produced some of the most influential poets we have ever experienced. Poets like William and Dorothy Wordsworth, Dylan Thomas and Seamus Heaney. The beauty of these two locations are seen in countless poems, for us all to enjoy and experience together. Lastly, Scotland too has gifted us with some talented writers over the years too. Who could forget Robert Burns, Sir Walter Scott and J.M. Barrie. Whether it be their childhood setting or where the most famous books and poems are set, we really are incredibly lucky to have all of these at our fingertips. Who could forget Dunsinane Hill and Birnam Wood, from Macbeth?
‘And here you are, in the very same wood, nearly a thousand years later. Gosh. Pause. Time for tea? There was a nice-looking place just over the bridge. What do you fancy? Eye of newt? Toe of frog? No? Well, I expect they have scones. And we don’t have to talk to each other. We can just sit and read a book.’
Final Thoughts This book has given me a real boost. Just as the world is waking up again from what feels like a very long hibernation period, we can start to plan and explore and live again. Pick a writer and visit all the places associated with them. Pick a location and see what you learn. Either way, if you love books as much as I do, this book is a must for your shelf. It’s more than that. It needs to be with you at all times, just in case you get an opportunity to explore someone or some place new.
I hope my small glimpse into this book gives you a gentle push to get out there and explore again. Thank you so much to the British Library for sharing this with me. I’ve loved it and will continue to love it the more I experience it. If you see a girl with her head in this book and a range of post-it notes sticking out of the top, the likelihood is, it’s me on my next literary adventure.
How are we all? Well, I feel like I blinked and missed April to be honest. Where did it go? Also, how is it now the start of May? Anyway, it is painfully clear that I didn’t have a very successful month with my little blog last month. Work is just absolutely crazy. I don’t have the words for it really. My fellow bloggers in education will know exactly what I am talking about. Just know that I’m right there with you all!
However, I did manage to read 12 books in the month of April. All things considered, I’m still pleased with this. I’m less pleased that I didn’t blog as much but hopefully May will give me plenty of opportunities to do more. There is a half term this month so I am thinking all positive things! Anyway, let’s check out the shelves!
Just like last month, I’ve experienced novels by writers I’d never heard of before. It really is indescribable when you stumble across a writer or book you just absolutely loved. You’ll see that I’ve got more T.M. Logan in my shelves this month. Sadly, I’ve ran out now! Regardless, my top three books for this month are as follows:
Exit – Belinda Bauer. I really enjoyed this book. It centres around Felix Pink and his acts of kindness. However, one act doesn’t quite go to plan. The novel is a fresh and fun take on the crime genre. I really enjoyed reading it and found myself becoming quite attached to Felix. The ending of the novel too gave me just what I needed at the time.
Long Lost – Harlan Coben. I first heard of this writer from The Stranger series of Netflix. Following this, I read the book version (it is different) and really liked Coben’s style of writing. Punchy chapters, thrilling plot line, well developed characters. Perfect! I really want to read some more of Coben’s work now – where to begin?
Pine – Francine Toon. I reviewed this book on my previous post (click here to see) and really enjoyed it. It was so atmospheric and eerie. It felt like I was in the depths of Scotland, not knowing who to trust or what to believe. I said in my previous post that I didn’t know what I think about it and that is still very much the case. It’s interesting that it’s still a book I’m thinking about though!
And that’s it! As I said before, I’m hopeful for a good reading and reviewing month! I think it is only really coming to light now just how much lockdown and the pandemic has affected people. May brings new hope – easing of measures, the chance to see more people, the opportunity to go back outside and back to the places we love and have missed dearly. There are so many more good times to come. For me, it’s the ability to go to the bookshops and top up my ever increasing bookshelves.
Continue to stay safe and well. I will see you next time, hopefully sooner, for another review.
It’s been a couple of weeks since I last posted and as I am sure many of you guessed, going back to school after the Easter break was like being hit by a train again. So I apologise for the gap in between posts. I’ve been marking a lot and only just barely functioning really. At least I’ve had a restful weekend before the next week of fun… I thought I’d use my Sunday night in the best possible way and share with you all the book I chose to read for my reading challenge this month. The theme of this month was: Read a book with a one word title. Now, this was trickier than I originally had thought. However, I managed to find a sneaky little book that has been sat on my bookcase for a while. I picked it up because I loved the cover and I bought it because I loved the premise. Pine by Francine Toon did not disappoint. (If you’d like anymore details on my reading challenge, as always you can click here.)
What’s it all about? Set in the Highlands of Scotland, the novel centres around the broken and dysfunctional family of ten year old Lauren and her alcoholic father, Niall. Following the disappearance of Lauren’s mother, Christine, the family appear to be sunk into an existence where each day starts and ends without ever really being lived. Lauren’s life is full of ten year old concerns: her friends and enemies at school, who she will play with and roam the Highland Moors and woodlands with. However, she also has to deal with a home that is cold, damp and ramshackle – a place where her father is often absent, either working or drinking. There is no real sense of privacy here as the local community knows each other and are always involved in each other’s business. Therefore, Lauren has a number of people who look out for her.
‘He said he would build her a treehouse, but he never has. Now he buries all thoughts and potential for thoughts. He has become quite skilled at this over the years.’
On Halloween evening, following an evening of guising (trick or treating), Lauren and Niall come across a strange woman, in the road, dressed only in a white dressing gown. They decide to take her to the safety of their home. The next morning she has vanished. Do they know who she is? Why is she alone in the road? It becomes clear that Lauren has the potential for understanding supernatural events. She uses tarot cards and has a sixth sense for the unseen world. Christine, Lauren’s mother, was an alternative healer and filled the house with healing crystals, salt lamps and often made Niall uncomfortable with her talk of auras and cleansing. As we progress though the novel, the circumstances of her disappearance become murky. The people of the town all throw their suspicions towards Niall. Although no one will discuss anything with Lauren.
“Some girls were talking and it made me wonder. Where do you think my mum went?” ‘Lauren’s words rush out like water. She seems Ann-Marie go still as she continues.’ “I once asked Kirsty about it, but she said I have to ask my dad and my dad doesna want to talk about it.”
As the novel progresses, the deterioration of Niall increases. Holding everything inside, he continues to work as a carpenter until one day, the years of repression come bursting out in a fit of rage and aggression. When he returns to his senses, the cabinet he was removing from the wall is in splintered pieces by his feet and his horrified GP client is standing in the doorway clearly terrified of him. Niall carries with him a sense of total sadness and potential for explosive outbursts. He knows he is failing as a father but is unable to open up to any of the people around him who try to help.
‘It’s come apart now but he keeps hacking, because it feels too good.’ “Absolute fucking bastard.” ‘He is stamping on wood and tearing plaster, his arms and hands catching against splinters.’
The woman in the white dressing gown is seen repeatedly but no one can remember seeing her after she has gone. All sense of reality is questioned. Strange events happen, rings of stones and rocks, fetid rotten smells and breaths of icy cold air all begin to manifest in and around the people of this remote Highland town. Eventually things come to a head with the disappearance of another local girl. The last person to see her: Niall. Of course, he was drunk…
“As I’ve said before, people talk a lot here, Niall. A lot. Not just the internet, it’s wherever you go. They’ve been telling me you knew her. And people seem to know a lot about you too. Your past.”
The novel rushes to a shocking and unnerving conclusion. Lauren is convinced that the supernatural is at play although her spell to protect her from the bullies at school failed to do just that. By the end of the novel, it is still unclear as to whether or not Lauren has a gift. Is it a childish fancy or does she have hidden talent? It is left to the reader to make their own judgement as to what is real and what is not. Her mother wanted her to be wild and throughout the novel there is a sense of wildness as she roams the dark, pine forests and damp moorlands. This is not the childhood of a normal girl. Everything we know is questioned and challenged.
Final Thoughts This book was a funny one for me. I definitely know I didn’t dislike it. It’s a book that grapples with our own emotions. It’s written in a way that makes you feel uncomfortable as you read it. That being said, you do feel that things will be better by the end. It’s a book that is very hard to categorise but it is a chilling read. Part of me wishes I’d read it over the Halloween period – just to get into the spooky mood. It’s exceptionally well written because it makes the reader imagine, even if you’re not wanting to. You’re forced down this path and the only way to get off is to keep reading. In that sense, only utter exhaustion made me put it down. It’s a book that has left me with more questions than answers. Despite it being a one word title book, it is multilayered, complex and explores a variety of themes. Its simple title is a mask for the gravity of what is inside.
I hope you’re all well and settling into the Spring weather nicely. I say that… I went from wearing a strappy top because of the warmth created by the glorious sunshine one day to snow and a big jumper the next. British weather really is a surprise sometimes! Now I am back by the fire, today’s post is a round up of the books I’ve read in the month of March – a little late, I know. Please forgive me! I’ve spent my Easter break catching up and having the best time really. It’s wonderful to be back with my support bubble.
I managed to read a total of 14 books which is just one less than last month. Considering we have had children back in school and life has become a different kind of hectic, I’m really thrilled with this number. I must confess, the last six books on the list were ones I read on holiday though… Regardless, I’ve experienced some new writers this month and ones where I have already added more of their titles to my book order… Please reassure me that it isn’t just my TBR list that doesn’t seem to go down… Anyway, let’s look at the shelves for March!
Picking a top three for this month is going to be pretty difficult – there’s just so many good ones. This month has been the month for some absolutely brilliant books for lots of different reasons. Sometimes a book comes along at just the right moment. It seems that I fell on my feet so much with regard to this. It’s a real blessing when it happens. I’ve decided for my top three this month, I’ll pick books I’ve not reviewed yet. However, if you’re wanting to see the reviews for Many Different Kinds of Love, Madame Burova and Oskar’s Quest please click here, here and here.
Trust Me by T.M. Logan. Logan has become one of my favourite writers. I literally cannot get enough of him. I received a review copy of Trust Me and I have been recommending it to everyone and anyone that will listen to me. It was thrilling, gripping, frightening, unnerving and utterly sublime. I’m now working my way through the rest of his work too. I really need to review more of his work on my blog so you can see how brilliant he is.
The Beekeeper of Aleppo by Christy Lefteri. Despite this book being about the harsh realities of life in Aleppo, fleeing conflict and the horrors that come with it, I found this book to be more about hope than anything else. I literally couldn’t put it down and read it in one sitting. To see the resilience and complete faith in the worst circumstances is really inspirational and humbling.
Your Truth or Mine? by Trisha Sakhlecha is my third choice for this month. A writer I have never heard of before but certainly won’t forget now. This book had me utterly gripped from start to finish. I also didn’t quite work out the twists and turns either. I was so thrilled to have received this in one of my many book subscription boxes and it is a writer that I will keep my eyes out for in the future.
Another successful month I feel, despite the challenges faced in education right now. I thank you all for your patience and interaction with me on my blog. I do try really hard to keep up with you wonderful people. I blame you all for my ever increasing TBR list as well!
Hopefully I’ll be able to squeeze another review out before I head back to work next week. I’m embracing the inclement weather and reading opportunities with a hearty gusto, I must say! Next month sees another focus for my reading challenge and hopefully many more wonderful books that I can’t wait to read. Take care everyone!
I hope you’re all well and are getting into the Easter spirit 🐣! I’m thoroughly enjoying my Easter break – reading plenty, spending time with my family (my support bubble), in the garden and spending time soaking up the warmer days. I seem to have got my writing mojo back so whilst I appreciate it is now April, I have a couple of posts I need to catch up with. Today’s post is the book I chose to read for the reading challenge. The focus for March was: Read a book that was gifted to you. If you’d like to catch up or take part in my reading challenge, please click here for more information. I’m sure all my avid reader blogging friends get books for birthdays, Christmas and then when you decide to treat yourself… or is that just me? Anyway, I had the perfect book in mind for this month from my dear friend, Annika Perry. Those of you who have seen my blog will remember that a couple of years ago, I blogged about Annika’s first book, The Storyteller Speaks. You can see this post here. Annika is a blogger who was here from day one of my journey and I’ve been so honoured to be a part of her writing journey. You can find her wonderful blog here. I was privileged to receive a copy of Oskar’s Quest, Annika’s second book. I can’t wait to share this with you all today.
What’s it all about?
This children’s book hits all the right notes. It’s about courage, kindness and friendship – all the ingredients for a meaningful and happy life and all the lessons we teach children and young people today. There is a simple premise behind the book but it stands for so much more which is why it personally appeals to me as an adult. Oskar is a blue bird who finds himself on Roda, a little lost. This mysterious island is filled with beautiful flowers and interesting creatures but Oskar is afraid. He sees the red bell-flowers and notices they look lonely.
‘The flower nodded sadly as one more leaf drifted to the ground. A drop of water followed.’
The reason for all the sadness is because their songbird, Maya has been taken by Drang, the darkest cloud in the sky. What can Oskar possibly do? He’s just a little blue bird. He decides he wants to be brave and help. He makes the decision to go to Drang and ask for her back. After all, the island needs her beautiful music to bring them happiness once again. But he can hear the fear and the names inside his head. This doesn’t deter him, he will get the songbird back. As he gets closer to the cloud, the worse the weather is. He has to really hold his nerve and be the bravest bird he’s ever possibly been.
‘Maya opened her golden beak but stopped, swallowed her screech and hiccuped loudly. Her body trembled with fear and hope.’
Drang booms and bangs and scares both the birds. However, he is misunderstood. He saw the happiness of the other birds and felt left out. He has no friends so he thought that by taking Maya, she could make him happy too. But she stopped singing and cried instead making Drang cry too. It was this that caused the terrible weather! Oskar’s bravery and kindness meant that they could all head back to the island together and be friends there.
‘At her words, all the birds, flowers and trees of Roda sang a song of celebration. The music made Drang so happy he could not help but shed a few tears of joy.’
Oskar has to return home where he hears the calls again, mocking him for being scared. Yet this time was different because he was not scared and because he had new friends. He was a much braver bird than he was before. Rather than act in nastiness towards the birds, he invites them to join them on their new adventures.
Final Thoughts There’s a real art to writing children’s books and I think Annika has produced an excellent one. It teaches us that we can be brave and we can use kindness to defeat anything. It’s also made me reflect back to my own childhood and how I could have done things differently, if only I were a bit more brave. The illustrations are also stunning and support the story wonderfully. I naturally loved Oskar and Maya’s illustrated beauty was matched perfectly to the writing about her. I am really in awe of Gabrielle Vickery’s drawings.
This book fulfils my criteria for this month perfectly because it is a treasured gift and it always will be. I have read this book three times now and it’s magical with each read. Annika really knows how to keep her audience entertained whilst also teaching them that kindness, bravery and friendship mean the world. Adult or child – read this book. Felling sad or lost – read this book. Gift it to anyone that has ever been afraid fo anything. Thank you so much, Annika. ♥️
See you all next time for my round up post. Take care all and HAPPY EASTER.
How are we all? I hope you’re as excited as I am that Spring is here and we have more light and more colour outside. 🌸☀️ It’s the time of year when everything starts to come alive again and we all start to feel a little better. Now I am on Easter break, I can wait to share more books with you and no doubt all more books to my ever increasing TBR pile. I’m hoping to sneak a few naps in at the same time! I’m absolutely shattered!
Today I want to share a book with you all that I finished just as the clock crept into this morning. I was lucky enough to get a preview copy of Madame Burova by Ruth Hogan. It’s out on Thursday 1st April so if you’re tempted, you’ve not got long to wait! It was my first time reading Hogan and I have to be honest, I really enjoyed it! I hope you do too. Also, it has a pretty cover. Superficial I know, but it just looks gorgeous on the shelf.
What’s it all about? The narrative is split between now and 1972/3. Madame Burova or Imelda, is central to the plot. Her occupation of Tarot Reader, Palmist and Clairvoyant means that she knows the secrets of many; secrets she cannot possible divulge. Following in her mother’s footsteps, Imelda took her role seriously. After all, it is a gift she has been given and something which she doesn’t take lightly. However, she is getting older and there is a secret that she isn’t sure she can keep to herself much longer. Two envelopes. Two truths.
‘The envelopes held a secret that had troubled Madame Burova more than most, and now the time had come for her to open them and fulfil a promise made long ago.’
Once Madame Burova has made her decision, the narrative swaps back to 1972 where we see a much younger Imelda obtains a job at Larkins holiday park. She will give readings to the customers and guests amongst other eclectic and talented performers like Magic Melvin, Titus Marlow, Sara-Jade Virtue, Jeanie Rogers and Cillian Byrne. Cillian caught her eye and something stirred deep within. However Vivienne, a guest of the holiday park, also had her eyes on him. The performers become a family of sorts and easily fall into a routine of performances and daily schedules. Fast forward to now and we learn of Billie. Billie’s childhood was wonderful – she had two loving parents who adored her. However, once both passed away, she learns that things weren’t really as they seemed. She receives a letter…
‘As she read what was written on the pages it contained, her whole world washed away like the chalked hopscotch squares of her childhood in a sudden downpour of rain.’
The contents of this letter tell Billie that she was adopted as a baby. Her parents weren’t really her parents. Does this make the memories and her childhood any less valuable? Can she still call them her parents even if they’re not her biological ones? Amongst her inner turmoil, she sets off in the hope of finding some answers. She heads towards St Pancras station. Her and her father would often visit the statue of John Betjeman and rub his tummy for good luck. It was here that she heard the music call her from below. A piano was playing ‘Smile’ her dad’s favourite song. That song was the cure for everything. She moved closer and closer to the music, not realising she was crying. The pianist: Henry Hayward. She’s so angry that they didn’t tell her. Yet, this doesn’t make her life, her childhood, any less real or meaningful.
“Your childhood was happy, your parents loved you and you them. That was the past and none of that will change. But the important thing now is what you will do with your future?”
Billie decides to visit Madame Burova. She knows that she has some of the answers that she is so desperate for. However, she cannot tell her who her parents are, she can only give her two things that were left for her: a bank account and a photograph. That isn’t to say that if she learns the truth it would be denied. Madame Burova just cannot break the trust and the secret she obtained years ago. However, she does befriend Billie and introduces her to the local people who may be able to help like Treasure and Clive. Billie learns that her father kept in touch with Madame Burova after she saw the baby left behind. She left the baby in the safety of the authorities but became invested in her life. She wanted to know that she was safe and well. All the correspondence she had with Billie’s father was there on the table for her to see. Billie decides to stay and rent the space that Madame Burova has. She will do readings part time and Billie will open a little shop with seaside souvenirs.
“They didn’t need to be related to you to be the best parents you could have wished for. It takes more than blood to raise a child as well as they did.”
As the plot develops, the fate of the two women collide and their stories are eventually told. Besides all that, they become the closest of friends too. Each have plenty to learn. Billie learns who her biological parents are. She learns the truth about her life and now is able to plan for her incredibly bright future. Madame Burova learns that the man she was in love with, was in love with her back. It was just tragic circumstances that kept them apart. By the end of the novel I felt like my heart was full. I thoroughly enjoyed this book and the ending provided the closure and resolution I needed. ♥️
“Because of you…he was the happiest man alive. I can’t tell you how much of a comfort that has been to me all these years.”
Final Thoughts There’s much more to this book but I don’t want to spoil it for you. As I said in my conclusion, I found it truly uplifting. I have a lot of love for Madame Burova and I was captivated by her story just as much as Billie’s. This book is perfect for anyone who needs a little pick me up, a little hope and a good distraction.
I’ll see you all next time my loves. I’ve still got to share with you the book I read for my reading challenge this month and a roundup of this month too. Continue to take care and enjoy the light that this season brings. As I’m typing this, I can see a beautiful carpet of daffodils. 🌼
How are you all? I’ve missed you all terribly! I can’t believe it’s been two weeks since I last posted. I can only apologise. School is manic now we have all the children back but it’s so good to see them. Also, I’ve got myself in that rut of reading (albeit much slower than usual) but not having the words to write. I’ve got some wonderful books I can’t wait to share with you all so I hope the words come soon. I’ll give it a go with this book anyway. We all know and love Michael Rosen from his wonderful children’s books like We’re Going on a Bear Hunt and my personal favourite, Chocolate Cake amongst others. In fact, I don’t know a child who hasn’t been brought up knowing his stories. However his latest book tells a very different story. It’s the story of his survival. It is a story of love.
What’s it all about? This book is a mix of diary entries, messages and prose poems, sharing the journey of Michael Rosen and his battle with coronavirus. It opens with an entry on 23rd March 2020 – almost one year ago. The entry is from Michael’s wife, Emma. At this point, Michael was feeling unwell but did not have any of the symptoms that have been drilled into us. Michael continues to feel worse and worse and Emma decides to ask their friend and neighbour, a GP, to help. Whilst waiting on the doorstep, Emma checks Michael’s oxygen. The result of this is an urgent trip to A&E. Seven months later, we have the next entry, this time from the GP friend we learn exactly what happened.
“Evidence was emerging of the importance of checking oxygen saturations when assessing people with COVID-19 – I had one in my doctor’s bag at work, but had decided that it would be a good idea to buy one to keep at home. I did not realise at the time how important that decision and the timing of the delivery would be.”
Once in hospital, Michael was immediately put on an oxygen mask. Coronavirus was still the unknown – we we learning about it as we went along. 6th April 2020 and Michael was re-admitted to intensive care and placed in an induced coma. He has a 50% chance of survival. Without it he is 100% likely to die. Whilst in the induced coma, doctors and nurses make use of the empty notepad beside Michael’s bed. Inside, they share stories of what they said and did during this period of time. What shines from these pages is love and hope. We can only imagine what it has been like inside hospitals during the peak of this pandemic. To take the time to leave a note which will enable Michael to fill in the gaps of his six week coma is truly special. We see how specialists have all come together to help our beloved NHS during what has been the worst threat to us in our life time.
“It’s been lovely to look after you today on your birthday! You’ve been a popular chap today – FaceTime calls from your family and a birthday card. You were also treated to a rendition of Happy Birthday from about 15 ICU staff around your bedside and a round of applause from staff and one of the other patients! You continue to improve and I know how proud everyone is of you.”
Slowly, Michael starts to improve thanks to the love and care of the numerous NHS staff and his family. The joy from everyone when Michael can talk, when he can breathe a little better, when he can start to piece together exactly what has happened to him, is immense. The style of the book changes now to the prose poems too. In these poems, Michael is adamant that it was his wife, Emma who saved his life. She sent in a duvet to keep him warm, music that she knows he loves, sends an iPad so she can be by his side and reassure him. Anything that she thinks will help bring him back from the brink – and it does. It provides him comfort and strength; the strength he needs to survive. Over time, Michael learns to take it slowly. One day he can walk, the next he is exhausted. Emma is there as a constant. Improvement means he is one step closer to returning home.
“The family watch me. I wonder how it feels for them to see me like this. I am sorry this is me… I walk into the living room I realise that they have taught me how to walk. The gap between hospital and home has closed.”
Once home, Michael realises that March and April have gone and he has very little, if any recollection of it. In the later poems, we see brutal honesty about how this has changed Michael forever. He repeatedly says that he is not the man he was. He may have survived but he has changed inextricably. He has a good ear and a deaf ear, a good eye and a blind eye, a painful knee, one big toe with a nail and the other without and a sore nipple. His whole body has been ravaged by this virus. BUT, he is alive.
“I am getting it that there is a place between life and death. I was there for weeks.”
This book isn’t negative in any way, shape or form. It’s about celebrating life. It’s a consideration of the doctors and nurses who fought daily to keep Michael and everyone else alive. It’s about how love can pull us from the depths of despair. His body has definitely changed, his mind too. We have all been affected this past year because of the current climate. But the end of the novel shows us that we have so much to live for and so much left to do in our lives. We see Michael’s daughter getting ready for university, Michael’s son with his GCSE work on the table and we see his granddaughter, nearly two years old, playing in the garden. Life is not over yet.
“I read their diary-letters to me that they wrote in a little black book when I was in a coma. Why did these strangers try so hard to keep me alive? It’s a kindness I can hardly grasp. The words tell me that they wanted me to survive.”
Final Thoughts Michael Rosen didn’t write this book with publication in mind – he just wanted to piece his life together. I don’t think he quite realised just how poorly he was; how close he was to death. My biggest insecurity tells me that I will never be able to do a good job with reviewing this book. I don’t quite have the words to show the kindness, resilience, determination and love shown within. I loved it on so many levels. When we hear the words ‘coronavirus’ or ‘COVID-19’ our hearts sink. But in this book, we see the exact opposite. Read it and your heart will be filled to the core. It is magical to think that people are just this kind even when faced with the hardest challenge. For those of us who have had friends or relatives in hospital fighting this horrendous disease, it will give you a snapshot of what is happening behind those closed doors. The staff become extended members of our family because they hold the hands we can’t. We can do this. We can beat this. We will get through it. We have no other option. ♥️