The Art of Buying Books (and reading them years later…)

Hey loves!

I hope you’re all well. I apologise that it’s been two weeks since I’ve posted anything. It’s exam season, in fact the first English paper was today, and it’s just manic. I’m feeling all kinds of things: pressure, worry, apprehension and excitement.

When the majority of my time is absorbed in work, it always means that my reading is reduced. I’ll look at the page and the words are all dancing around. I read a page and then have no idea what has happened and I also find that I tend to DNF more books when work is full on anyway. It’s not all doom and gloom though because I’ve also spotted another pattern… I’m VERY good at shopping! (To be fair, I never need an excuse to shop.) I’ve become on first name terms with the staff at my local Waterstones, I’m obsessed with the telephone box library and I’m desperate to find more and I talk about books all the time too. It’s all well and good finding these books but I’m sure like the rest of you, your to be read pile is like mine. Mine spans two book cases and I now have three piles on the floor…some of these books I’ve had for years…

So I thought I’d share more book buying posts with you! This may inspire me to read them quicker so I can legitimately buy more. I always find new books to get based on your posts so hopefully I can help you add more to yours too! Let’s kick this one off!

First of all: paperbacks. You know when your arms get tired and the hardbacks are just too heavy? Love the paperback for this reason! The books below are from a subscription box that I receive monthly – all crime and/or thriller. I’ve not heard of any of these before so I feel quite excited about them! I also love receiving post so I do love it when they arrive!

However, I do really LOVE a hardback. I think my heart is with them to be honest. There are some stunning ones at the moment too. I feel like a lot of work has gone into making and maintaining new editions so they are visually beautiful. It sounds really odd but I love how they look on the shelf. Books decorate a room I think so I’m more than happy to have them all around me. I believe I’ve got some gorgeous ones here too. Some of these are signed editions as well! I love the fact that these are much more accessible now. I remember being desperate to meet my favourite writers to get signed copies but it just isn’t always possible as they were usually based in London. Now they are readily accessible to us all which means it’s much easier to get a signed copy. I keep all my signed copies and really treasure them.

The last thing I’ve really got my eye on is books with sprayed edges. This has really taken off in the past year or so but they really do add something. I keep an eye out for these as well because they’re really pretty! Sometimes there’s a pattern but sometimes it’s just colour. Either way, I really like the attention to detail! I’ve only got a couple so do let me know if there are anymore out there at the moment! Answers on a postcard if you know what these two books are…

I can’t wait to share more book buying posts with it. I’m absolutely certain it will be a regular thing because I literally cannot stop myself buying books. Now is probably not the time to confess that it was a New Year’s Resolution to buy less so I could clear my pile. Needless to say, that didn’t last too long. Regardless, have you read any of these? What did you think? Or am I missing out on a book that I HAVE to read? Let me know!

Big Love all xxxx

Reading Round-Up: April

Hey Loves!

I hope you all have had a great start to May. I was relieved to have a bank holiday here just to adjust with going back to school! It’s always a little more intense this time of year because we are approaching exams and it’s all just a little bit much… Much love to all the educators out there! I feel you! Anyway, today I wanted to share with you my round-up for April. I’m absolutely buzzing about this because in March I was really disappointed with myself. This month, probably because of a two week holiday in reality, I am sooo happy because I felt like I was really making a dent in my to be read pile. Now, I may have also ordered more and found more in the community telephone boxes but…the point still stands.

Now, I am really thrilled to say that I managed to read 19 books in March. There were some absolute corkers in there too! I literally cannot wait to share them with you. Some I’ve blogged about already so for the interests of sharing more books with you all, I’ll not include them in my top three. Let’s check out the shelves!

So, I already reviewed The Mad Women’s Ball and The Lost Apothecary already and it was crystal clear that I absolutely loved those books. I’m still raving about them with my friends now. Likewise with Rachel’s Holiday, what an incredible book that is too and I really hope you enjoyed those posts. I’ve attached the links to the titles above just in case you missed them. Now, onto my top three which is an ever increasing difficult decision.

After some deep deliberation, I’ve decided my top three are as follows:

  1. Yinka, Where is Your Husband? – Lizzie Damilola Blackburn. I loved this for the honesty, the family and the pressures that brings, the representation of the single life and the pressure to get married. It’s also really well written and incredibly funny. I always find that honesty is the best policy and this shone within this book. Want a story with a strong female lead? Then this is for you.
  2. The Storyteller – Dave Grohl. I heard such amazing things about this book and I am thrilled to say it absolutely lived up to expectation! I found it a really engaging piece of non-fiction – so much so that I’ve added this to my curriculum! (If anyone knows how to tell Dave Grohl himself – let me know!) Lots of music stories and famous people but also really humbling. Loved it.
  3. Queenie – Candice Party-Williams. For some strange reason I missed the boat with this book. I found it by pure chance and I read it in one sitting. I just couldn’t put it down. Like Yinka, it was honest and reflective, meaningful and incredibly open. I am so glad I managed to finally catch up with this one and read it!

And that’s it! Don’t get me wrong, this month was really successful for reading and there’s other books on that list that I really enjoyed. I had the best break with reading and resting. It was much needed and I am really grateful for it. I’ve got myself into a bit of a reading slump following this but I’m sure it’ll come back.

Let me know what amazing books you’ve read recently and I’ll be sure to add them to my to be read pile! Continue to stay safe and well and surrounded by beautiful books.

Big Love xxx

Book Bingo Reading Challenge 2022! Mrs England – Stacey Halls

Hello Loves!
Well, with me, there’s always a story to tell and today is no exception. I’m a bit behind with this post because I had flu over half term and then this week I managed to drop a desk on my foot. My foot is now an interesting colour to say the least and my toes resemble sausages more than anything else. Thank goodness I managed to see the wands before this happened! As a result, I’m just a bit slower than usual so I apologise that my book choice for February has taken me so long to get up. I’ve also broken my ‘I can’t buy anymore books’ ban because I felt sorry for myself. Never mind – onwards!! Thankfully, it is a brilliant one so I hope this makes it worthwhile!

For February, my choice was: Read a book that takes you back in time. I love novels that transport us back to another place and another time. The writer that came to mind for this was Stacey Halls. I absolutely adored The Familiars, which I read for a previous reading challenge. I still haven’t got to The Foundling but I’d got a beautiful hardback, signed copy of Mrs England so I decided to pick that. On with the review!

What’s it all about?
Despite the title of the novel being Mrs England, at first it appears that the character of Ruby, or Nurse May, is more important. As the novels opens, Ruby has to make the difficult decision to leave her position caring for the children of Mr and Mrs Radlett as they embark on a new adventure in America. Despite not seeing her family very often, Ruby doesn’t feel like she can leave the country, despite her love for the children in her care. Therefore, she has to head back to the Norland institute in the hope of finding another position. It’s slim pickings apart from one advert for a family in West Yorkshire. Four children, two boys and two girls, belonging to the mill owner, Mr Charles and Mrs Lilian England. And so our story begins at Hardcastle House.

‘The room was so quiet I could hear my heart breaking, and it sounded like a daisy snapping at the stem.’

Ruby throws herself into her work despite the initial frostiness within the house. All but Mr England seem to be distrusting of Ruby but he sole focus is the children: Millie, Rebecca (Decca), Saul and baby Charley. You have this feeling that she’s just walked into something and it’s there, hanging in the air. There are clear differences between the girls and the boys of the household. Ruby becomes closest to Decca as she reminds her of her own sister Elsie. The family unit and Ruby fall into a rhythm and life settles down a bit. Things do seem a little strange though, unsettling and like something just isn’t quite right. However, the children do get the opportunity to leave about being a blacksmith from Mr Sheldrake. This is a very exciting time for them all but it does end rather strangely. Ruby discovers a letter that was given to Decca for her mother. This is the start of something, she just isn’t sure what that something is.

‘My mind buzzed with possibilities, but kept returning to one. Either Mrs England was not expecting a letter from the blacksmith Mr Sheldrake, or she was. In which case they were in correspondence. Which meant… What did it mean?’

Ruby is thrown into turmoil about what to do. She finds herself in a very precarious position but desperately feels the need to speak with Mrs England. What she gains from that conversation makes her think further. Yet, she is a professional and her employment means that she has to look after the children, so looking after the children is what she does. Until one unfortunate day when events take a turn for the worst. Decca is sent away to school, sending shock to the household and upset to Ruby. Life continues but it isn’t quite the same and the uneasy feeling only increases. Mrs England seems completely under the control of her husband; she doesn’t seem to be allowed her own thoughts and we get the feeling that everything is internalised with her. We do see her protective motherly instincts kick in when Saul is taken poorly. Even this event though sees Mrs England silenced and removed. After all, the majority of her life is behind a locked door.

‘There were so many things I wished to ask her – what Mr Sheldrake put in his letter; why her husband locked her in her room. Why she had such disdain for her entire family; why she was, as her mother put it, like lint swept into a corner, brittle and lonely. Why nobody came to the house; why she never left.’

For me, this seems to be the best place to end the review because I don’t want to spoil anything. Nevertheless, by the end of the novel things are much clearer than they were at the start of the novel. The voiceless characters within the novel have the opportunity to speak and Mrs England’s story is eventually told. Ruby ends up seeking a new career opportunity but this time, she gets a lead position: Head Nurse based on her work with the England family. Ruby really is an incredible woman and without her, this novel is nothing.

‘These things are always a part of us, in one way or another, and I’m not suggesting you’ll ever put it behind you. But I’m yet to meet a student or probationer who embodies fortis in arduis more than you. I admire you very much.’

Final Thoughts
I love this book so much. Ruby has to be one of my most favourite characters within a piece of fiction. I also found myself gravitating to Mrs England too. The plot structure of this novel is also one of my favourites – a series of events that make you question every little thing, every little detail. It left me wanting more which is the way any novel should leave you in my opinion. Also, it’s got a stunning cover which fits perfectly with the time period as well. This book is hauntingly beautiful.

Until next time my loves! (Hopefully it will be a bit sooner as well – foot depending!)

Big love xxx

Reading Challenge 2021: The Essex Serpent – Sarah Perry

Hi Book Lovers!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

See you next time loves!

Big love xxx

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

Hello Loves!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Big love all xxx

Reading Round-Up: November

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

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

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

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

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

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

Big love all xxx

The Book Lover’s Bucket List – Caroline Taggart

Good Evening Book Lovers!

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.

Big love all xx

Reading Challenge 2020: Go Set A Watchman – Harper Lee

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Hello Lovelies!

May is gifting us with some glorious sunshine right now so I wanted to take this opportunity to share with you the book I read for the Reading Challenge: Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee. This book was perfect for the focus of this month: Read a book about hope and growth. Feel free to remind yourself of the different themes for each month here. Harper Lee was an exceptional writer. Like many others, To Kill A Mockingbird was a book I read for GCSE and it has stayed with me ever since. I’ve had the privilege of teaching this too which provides another way of looking at things. I remember when this book came out and the hype and media attention around it. You are probably aware that it was initially promoted as a sequel to TKAM but it is now being seen as a first draft. Regardless, being older now, obviously, I wanted to see whether my opinions changed on the characters and themes being presented. It’s left me thinking I need to read TKAM again really! Let’s see how it goes!

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What’s it all about?

Told through the eyes of Jean Louise Finch, or “Scout” as we also know her, the novel opens with her arrival to her hometown Maycomb, Alabama from New York. This is her annual fortnight long visit to see her father Atticus her Uncle Jay and Aunt Alexandra, the latter replacing Calpurnia’s place following her retirement. We learn that Jem, her brother, died of a heart condition which also killed their mother. Jean Louise is met by her childhood sweetheart, Henry “Hank” Clinton who is working for her father.

“She was almost in love with him. No, that’s impossible, she thought: either you are or you aren’t. Love’s the only thing in this world that is unequivocal. There are different kinds of love, certainly, but it’s a you-do or you-don’t proposition with them all.”

When returning from Finch’s Landing, Jean Louise and Henry are overtaken by a car full of black men, travelling at a frantic speed. This example of dangerous driving leads Hank to tell Jean Louise that many black people now are driving around without insurance and licences. As a result, this leads to Jean Louise reflecting upon this and dealing with the minor scandal that it causes in the community.

Meanwhile, the Supreme Court’s Brown v. Board of Education decision and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) are introduced as sources of great controversy in the community. Whilst at home, Jean Louise finds a leaflet entitled “The Black Plague” among her father’s papers. Naturally outraged, Jean Louise decides to follow her father to a Citizens’ Council meeting. Here, Atticus introduces a man who delivers an incredible racist speech. Horrified from the balcony, Jean Louise listens, outraged. She’s unable to forgive her father for betraying her and flees the hall.

“Every man’s island, Jean Louise, every man’s watchman, is his conscience. There is no such thing as a collective conscious.”

That night, Jean Louise dreams of Calpurnia, her family’s black maid and mother figure to her and Jem for most of their lives. Over breakfast with her father, Jean Louise learns that Calpurnia’s grandson killed a drunk pedestrian the previous night whilst speeding in his car. Atticus agrees to take the legal case to prevent the NAACP from getting involved. It is following this that Jean Louise decides to visit Calpurnia. Whilst retaining their manners, Calpurnia and her family are polite but cold. As a result, Jean Louise leaves utterly devastated.

Deep down this is eating away at Jean Louise. She has to know what her father was doing at that meeting. Uncle Jack tells her that that Atticus hasn’t become a racist but he is trying to slow down federal government interaction into state politics. Following this, Jean Louise receives a lengthy lecture about race, politics and the history of the South. His aim is to get her to reach a conclusion that she struggles to grasp.

Jean Louise then has a flashback to her teenage years and recalls an incident where Atticus plants the seed for an idea in Henry’s brain and left him to come to the right conclusion independently. Jean Louise exclaims that she doesn’t love Henry and won’t ever marry him. She’s incredibly vocal at her disgust at seeing him and her father at that council meeting. In reaction to this, Henry explains that sometimes people have to do things that they just don’t want to. This is a fact of life that we can all relate to!

“Remember this also: it’s always easy to look back and see what we were, yesterday, ten years ago. It is hard to see what we are. If you can master that trick, you’ll get along.”

Henry defends his case by saying that the reason he is part of the Citizens’ Council is because he wants to use his intelligence to make an impact and a difference on Maycomb, the hometown where he wants to make money and raise a family. Jean Louise screams that she could never live with a hypocrite, only to then notice her father standing behind her, smiling.

During a heated discussion with Jean Louise, Atticus argues that the blacks of the South are not ready for full civil rights and the Supreme Court’s decision was unconstitutional and irresponsible. Reluctantly, Jean Louise does agree that the South is not ready to be fully integrated, she believes that the court was pushed into a corner by the NAACP and had to act. Jean Louise is confused and still devastated by her father. He is behaving in a way that is contrasting to how she was brought up and what he has taught her growing up. She returns to the family home and furiously packs her things. Just as she was about to leave, her uncle comes home.

“The only thing I’m afraid of about this country is that its government will someday become so monstrous that the smallest person in it will be trampled underfoot, and then it wouldn’t be worth living in.”

Angrily, she complains to him and he slaps her around the face. He wants her to consider what has happened over the last two days and how she has processed them. Slowly, slowly, she decides that she can stand them. It is bearable because she is absolutely her own person. As a youngster, she fastened her conscience to her father’s, assuming that her answers would be his answers. Atticus wanted to break her idols so she could reduce him to the status of human being – a very difficult lesson to learn and experience.

Jean Louise then goes back to the office and makes a date with Henry. She reflects that Maycomb has taught him things she had never known. She goes to apologise to her father, but he tells her of his pride for her. As a father, he wants her to stand up for what she thinks is right. Jean Louise didn’t want her world disturbed but she tried to crush the man who was trying to preserve it for her. Telling him that she loves him, she silently welcomes him to the human race. For the first time ever, she sees him as literally, just a man. Not an idol.

 “You wouldn’t have listened to him. You couldn’t have listened. Our gods are remote from us, Jean Louise. They must never descend to human level.”

Final Thoughts

This book is exceptional in every sense of the word. I loved seeing an older Jean Louise and to watch the lessons she learns at her age. She is inevitably changed by the big city of New York but her lessons clearly are vital for her home background too. I do naturally want to call her Scout, but we must remember she is an adult here! It’s always jarring when reading about race because it’s naturally a difficult subject to discuss. However, it’s representation here is delicate. I said at the start that I think Harper Lee is an excellent writer! This didn’t disappoint but just remind yourself, this is not To Kill A Mockingbird. I found myself naturally trying to make links and connections which is very natural. I missed Jem, but the links Jean Louise made helped with this. Overall, a great book!

Big Love all xx

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The Toy Makers – Robert Dinsdale

Hi Everyone!

Happy 1st March and World Book Day! Today I wanted to share with you a book I’ve just finished reading. I have to say, I absolutely loved it. I cannot emphasise that enough. It was just so magical, so gripping, so enchanting. It’s become one of my favourite books ever. Therefore, I absolutely had to share this with you. A bonus: the cover is absolutely beautiful too.

What’s it all about?

Set in the early 1900s in London, this book is told mainly through the eyes of 15 year old Cathy Wray. It centres around a magical Emporium, owned by Papa Jack, which opens at the first frost and closes on the appearance of snowdrops. The toys are magical and awe inspiring. It’s a place where children’s dreams are fulfilled.

‘Come, go in after him. You would not be the first. Children are already tugging on their parents’ hands; a pair of young lovers hurry to make secrets of their gifts to one another; an old man unwinds his scarf as he hobbled in, if only to feel like a boy again.’

However, Cathy has a problem. She’s 15, pregnant and her parents are none too pleased. They arrange for her baby to be given away once it’s born. Until then, Cathy is kept in hiding at home. Her sister, Lizzy, brings her a newspaper as something to read and entertain herself with. Little did she know that this would be where her adventure begins.

‘Are you lost? Are you afraid? Are you a child at heart? So are we.’

When Cathy reaches the Emporium, she meets Papa Jack. It becomes clear he has a different name, a past life much more tragic than his life now. Papa Jack set up his extraordinary toyshop after arriving from Eastern Europe and Tsarist Russia. He is the father of two young boys he had not seen for many years. Originally a carpenter, Papa Jack crafts exquisite toys out of a variety of materials, such as pine cones and twigs.

‘The most terrible things can happen to a man, but he’ll never lose himself if he remembers he was once a child.’

His two sons, Kaspar and Emil, are also incredible toymakers. Each are thoughtful regarding the sibling rivalry about who will inherit the Emporium in the future. Each make amazing and magical toys; soldiers who battle, night lights with changeable scenes, toy boxes which deal with space, paper trees and my favourite in the Emporium, a complete Wendy House.

‘When you are young, what you want from toys is to feel grown up… Yet, when you are grown, that changes: now, what you want out of toys is to feel young again. You want to be back there, in a place that did not harm or hurt you in a pocket of time built out of memory and love.’

Both Emil and Kaspar take a keen interest in Cathy. When the end of the season arrives and Cathy has to leave, a decision is made for her to live in the Wendy house on the shop floor. Each realise that she’s getting bigger! Both brothers visit her as well as the patchwork dog (desperately wanting one of these now!) Cathy has her baby, a girl named Martha. Time to come clean. Papa Jack allows her to stay at the Emporium. He shows her, using the crank of a toy, the story of Jekabs Godman, his role in a war and how he survived. The tragic tale coming to life.

‘I’d found a kind of… a magic, if you will. A way of reaching the soul of a man.’

The next part of the book jumps to 1914 where the threat of war is more than possible. Cathy and Kaspar are the perfect parents to little Martha. The Emporium acts as a safety blanket for most. And yet, war is fast approaching. Emil tries and fails to sign up to serve his country but Kaspar succeeds. As promised, he writes to Cathy every day. However, the narrative is too positive and Cathy is suspicious. She speaks Papa Jack who reveals a magic book in which father and son have been communicating in. The harsh reality of war is revealed. The narrative here is tear jerking, heartbreaking with every description.

‘For the boys I travel with, tomorrow will be their first taste of foreign air. They ask me about the world as if I know anything of it, when the truth is, that, to me, those years before the Emporium are a dream.’

Rather accurately, Kaspar returns from war a changed man. He’s a ghost of his former self, rarely speaking. However, it is the change in the Emporium that bothers him most. The toys have lost a little magic, the shoppers are different, the men are broken in search of a simpler time. It is Emil’s soldiers that cause the biggest reaction in him.

‘And then he was back there. Back where his fingers were grimed in scarlet and black. Back in his uniform, with pieces of his second lieutenant’s brain smeared across his face. His ears were full of the sounds, his nose was full of the smells. He screamed and screamed.’

It was from this moment that the toys needed to change. The death of Papa Jack meant that there was no number one in charge. The sibling rivalry continued. Kaspar was working on something, something different, something big. Martha knew it too. She wasn’t a little girl anymore. Yet, when her father disappeared, more was left unanswered. All that remained were Emil’s toy soldiers, changed.

‘But Papa Jack’s Emporium must endure where I cannot, and so must you my darling.’

The novel ends with an older Cathy living with Martha as a nanny for her two children; the next generation of children to be wowed by tales from the Emporium. It’s pure magic to the last page. I don’t want to spoil the ending for you. But I completely didn’t expect it!

Overview:

Read it and love it. Experience your childhood again. Revel in the absolute joy of incredible toys. Worry and feel fear through the war years with the family. Feel like a child again. Dream in magic. I cannot praise or rate this book enough. I love it.

Big love all xx

Beatrix Potter – 150 Years Young



Today marks a special date in the literary world. It is the 150th birthday of the one and only Beatrix Potter. The legacy she leaves behind is remarkable. She was a keen writer, illustrator and sheep farmer. Her beautiful house is available to look around. It is as she left it, with her nick-nacks placed as she wished. The National Trust are looking after her property and grounds now. 

To celebrate, a few weeks ago I found this lovely looking book from a National Trust shop. I can’t wait to learn more about the books I loved growing up. There are some beautiful photos in this book too. 


There have already been special coins by Royal Mint released earlier this year to mark this occasion. I’ve been on the look out but I’m yet to find one! I’ll definitely keep trying though! (Images below from Google) 


Today, the Royal Mail have released new stamps as well to celebrate this amazing woman. They are so cute! I will have to get myself a set of these. (Image from Google) 


So, I’ve been thinking about how I can mark this birthday in my own way, in a way that’s special to me. I’d love to visit her house, but the chances of that are quite unlikely due to distance. Therefore, I’ve decided that this summer I am going to read my favourite Beatrix Potter stories, in the garden, in the sunshine. There’s no bigger tribute that I can give as one person. Without people reading her stories, her legacy would have died long ago. Let’s keep the magic alive. 


A hearty thanks to Beatrix. You’ve made many a childhood more exciting and adventurous. You’ve made children love the outdoors and animals. I have vast memories of reading these stories at my Grandma’s house as a youngster. 

Finally, it’s important to remember this:


Beatrix Potter lovers out there, what are you doing to mark such a special birthday? Have you been lucky enough to get one of the 50p coins yet? 

Big love all xx