Category Archives: Read The Year Challenge

RTY: The Wood (The Life & Times of Cockshutt Wood) – John Lewis Stempel

Hello Lovelies!!

Today I want to share with you my review of my book choice for Penguin’s Read The Year Challenge. The topic for May was use a book to get closer to nature. I chose to read The Wood – The Life and Times of Cockshutt Wood. This book was a perfect choice for me because I’ve been wanting to branch out into reading more non fiction.

The novel, told in diary format by John Lewis-Stempel, focuses on his final year of working at Cockshutt Wood and tending to the three and a half acres of woodland. After four years, Stempel coppiced the trees, raised cows and pigs who roamed there. He knows the land like the back of his hand, it is a part of him. It’s a blissful sanctuary.

“Cockshutt was a sanctuary for me too; a place of ceaseless seasonal wonder where I withdrew into tranquility. No one comes looking for you in a wood.”

What’s it all about?

Following the last twelve months, we see Cockshutt Wood change through the seasons. The novel starts in December where we read vivid descriptions of the robin singing, the trees standing naked and the snow gently falling. It’s picturesque, peaceful, beautiful. Man and nature becoming one.

“There is always the sense of the unexpected in a wood, a constant feeling that, around the next bend in the path, behind the bole of the next tree, there will be a surprise.”

As a reader, we are invited into Stempel’s life during December’s chapter. We learn about his background in this profession, stemming from his grandfather, the farm animals they had and how traditions have continued, such as holly. Yet, what I have never given thought to before is how on the surface, winter seems to signal the end. It’s a time when plants wither, the weather drops and it becomes a chore to be outside. Nevertheless, nature is working hard behind the scenes to look after us. Mother Nature is waiting for a sign just like we do, for that moment when we all wake up ready to face the world; to start again.

“Oddly aware, walking through the wood this afternoon, that it is dormant rather than dead. How the seeds, the trees and hibernating animals…are locked in a safe sleep against the cold and wet.”

January’s entries provide something I get quite excited about: snowdrops. The description of the weather is still cold, crisp and glittered with snow. The songs of robins sing through the wood. I personally always admire the snowdrop. I feel a thrill of excitement whenever I see them. Every year I look for them, for the sign. They are so delicate and beautiful, yet the survive the harshest of conditions in winter. They represent that spring will come, we’ve nearly made it.

“If snowdrops are appearing, then the earth must be wakening. Of all our wild flowers the white bells are the purest, the most ethereal, the most chaste… Whatever; the snowdrop says that winter is not forever.”

Spring has sprung in the wood and we hear the songs of the birds and the plants are all starting to wake. Spring also provides a sense of renewal in Stempel as he feels he has a spring in his step. The wood continues to create a sense of awe and amazement. References to different poems by John Clare, Alfred Lord Tennyson, Robert Browning and Edward Thomas embody this sense of new life that spring brings. This lyrical way of writing means that the wood appears to be magical. For Stempel, it enables him to feel like he is a child again. I completely relate to this, being outside in the lush greenery makes me feel quite at peace. There’s a feeling that absolutely nobody can get to you.

“…the possibility of adventure in its secluded spaces. I’m still that boy. I cannot walk through a wood without a sense of wonder. And there is a relaxing privacy to a wood… A wood is an escape.”

Now we are in May, we have beautiful flowers, birdsong in abundance and longer, lighter evenings. It is the same for the wood. There’s a ‘blizzard of blossom’ and everything is growing at an enormous rate, a rate which Stempel (and every gardener too) only just about manages to keep a hold on. The new animals are appearing and finding their feet. It’s the best time of year and this lyrical narrative made me so excited and blissfully happy. If you close your eyes, you can imagine it, with the whole of your being.

“Dawn chorus II: starts with robin, then blackbird, song thrush, chiffchaff, willow warbler, wood warbler. They merge into a stream of song; I cannot distinguish their individual voices. They sing as one.”

Time rolls by and the summer months are passing like the gentle breeze being described. Trees are standing proud and tall, providing a home for a variety of insects and birds. The bees are working hard to provide for their own hive as well as us humans. Their buzz hums in the air. The does walk around the walk, their home with calm ease. Yet there is a sense of time passing, of seasons changing. The apples are swelling, nearly ready for picking. The fox cubs are sent into the wild to fend and find the way for themselves. Autumn is approaching.

“Colour change escalation, for the worse; most trees have lost vibrant hues in favour of a muddy brown mixed by a toddler let loose on a paintbox of watercolours.”

The novel ends by going full circle. We see the trees loose their leaves, squirrels nut collecting ready for hibernation, animals fighting one another for the berries on the bushes. It is inevitable; time moves on and seasons work together to change and nurture. This also means the end of Stempel’s time at Cockshutt Wood. During his four years here, he has become at one with the wood and the wood is at one with him.

“I thought the trees and the birds belonged to me. But now I realize that I belonged to them.”

Overview

This book is beautiful in its purest form. It’s lyrical, it oozes soul and it was a massive surprise for me. I am the first to admit I am not a great lover of non fiction. However, this has changed me. I went on a three mile walk with my dad and this book was all I could think about. It provides descriptions, poetry, recipes and tales of the inhabitants of the wood. It’s profound and I felt genuinely moved. I recommend it to anyone who wants to feel closer to nature, to have a moment of peace and tranquility. I’m off to find more of Stempel’s books.

If anyone has any suggestions for the next few months, please let me know! Topics can be found here.

Big love all! Enjoy the last day of May. Summer is approaching. Xx

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Filed under Book review, Read The Year Challenge

RTY: Letters To A Young Poet – Rainer Maria Rilke

Hi Everyone!

This sunny weather has been a complete joy. I’m so grateful it’s here! Gone are the dark days, hello to sunglasses and summer wardrobes. This increased amount of daylight also means more reading time. Finally!! I hope you’ve all been soaking up the sun and making time for yourselves, you lovely people, you.

I’m going to review my book choice for Penguin’s Read The Year theme for April today. I’d read this at the start of the month but work is so demanding (exam season is fast approaching) so I haven’t had chance, but I’m here now! The topic for April was: Grab a book that will help you explore your creativity. I thought this book would be perfect because it’s all about a journey into writing poetry.

 

What’s it all about?

Firstly, this little book needs some context to it. These letters were collected three years after the death of Rainer Maria Rilke by the recipient, Franz Xaver Kappus. He was 19 at the time and at a military university when he first wrote to the poet to ask whether he believed his poems were any good and to see whether he should proceed any further. These letters formed a beautiful friendship.

These ten letters span over a two year period, with each starting with the various locations Rilke was writing from. Rilke wrote them when he was 27, stopping just before he was 30. These letters provide advice about being honest to yourself and the encouragement to continue in pursuing a creative career. Despite such support and praise, the men never met.

Each of the men attended the same university, so their grounds of their communication was born. The first letter is from Paris on February 17th, 1903. He writes about how he doesn’t believe in criticism and that the best thing a creative mind can do is listen to himself. A poem is good when the poet feels that it derives from necessity. It is at that point that the poet won’t feel the need to ask others for their opinions.

He writes that Franz’s poems are good but they are heavily influenced by Germany’s leading contemporary poets. The advice he offers is to look deeper into oneself. He explains how a good poem comes from connecting with one’s deepest and truest sui generis nature. This is most difficult to find in poems like love poems and is advised to stay away. Therefore, Franz would be better writing about his personal surroundings, even when it may seem the images aren’t exceptional enough to be in a poem.

“If your daily life seems poor, do not blame it; blame yourself, tell yourself that you are not poet enough to call forth its riches; for to the creator there is no poverty and no poor indifferent place.”

The second letter in the collection is from Italy. Rilke begins by apologising for the delay in response and reveals he has been fighting an illness. Having read Franz’s work, Rilke offers two pieces of practical advice: don’t over use irony and whilst composing a poem, have some inspiring works near by e.g The Bible which he uses whenever he has writer’s block. These inspirations will help with any stoppages in writing as it provides a change in focus.

“Have patience with everything that remains unsolved in your heart…live in the question.”

One of the most famous letters is where the poet shares his angst about love, sex and his future careers which can all be used as inspiration for his poetry. Franz reveals his complete and utter loneliness. The advice is to produce something amazing. It is only in loneliness that one can be uncomfortably honest with oneself. Use it to flourish and grow.

“Perhaps all the dragons in our lives are princesses who are only waiting to see us act, just once, with beauty and courage. Perhaps everything that frightens us is, in its deepest essence, something helpless that wants our love.”

Throughout these letters we are also privy to some beautiful descriptions of foreign lands. Rome is described as a beautiful city and we see Rilke’s reaction to being here. Rome is full of beautiful paintings and astounding architecture. Despite this, Rilke is certain that if one can not find beauty in wherever they are, then one can only blame himself. The world is infinitely beautiful and if one is ever bored, it is because the individual is unwilling to exert some energy in seeing the world for what it really is. Go out and breathe it!

“Therefore, dear Sir, love your solitude and try to sing out with the pain it causes you. For those who are near you are far away… and this shows that the space around you is beginning to grow vast…. be happy about your growth, in which of course you can’t take anyone with you, and be gentle with those who stay behind; be confident and calm in front of them and don’t torment them with your doubts and don’t frighten them with your faith or joy, which they wouldn’t be able to comprehend.”

The following letter contains some lovely praise. He says there has been significant improvement in the young poet’s work. It is evident that Franz is deepening the personal knowledge he possesses and his work is something that only Franz could create. Of course, this is the real aim of writing poetry – expressing ones truest self. To show his appreciation and this movement to revealing oneself, Rilke transcribes the sonnet onto a blank sheet of paper. He claims this is often a useful tool for enhancing ones self awareness. I imagine you couldn’t get a higher form of praise in those days.

“Have patience with everything that remains unsolved in your heart. Try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books written in a foreign language. Do not now look for the answers. They cannot now be given to you because you could not live them. It is a question of experiencing everything. At present you need to live the question. Perhaps you will gradually, without even noticing it, find yourself experiencing the answer, some distant day.”

Letter eight deals with loss. From Sweden, Rilke writes that whenever one is sad, one should use the time to reflect on reasons why they are sad. Usually, it is due to some form of loss. We are able to recognise the nature of that loss and we create room for something new to enter our lives. Again, this can be used to create beautiful pieces of work. Channel those experiences into something wonderfully written.

“Why do you want to shut out of your life any uneasiness, any misery, any depression, since after all you don’t know what work these conditions are doing inside you? Why do you want to persecute yourself with the question of where all this is coming from and where it is going? Since you know, after all, that you are in the midst of transitions and you wished for nothing so much as to change.”

The next letter is arguably the most profound in its dealings as it is how to handle doubt during the creative process. Whether you are a poet or painter, any creative person would have experienced this. Rilke encourages the young poet it see doubt as an opportunity for further creative explorations, to enhance and develop. Even when one experiences such negative emotions, as long as they as intense, they are beneficial to the poet’s writing endeavours. They can be used to inspire more meaningful writing.

“Don’t be too quick to draw conclusions from what happens to you; simply let it happen. Otherwise it will be too easy for you to look with blame… at your past, which naturally has a share with everything that now meets you.”

The final letter holds deep congratulations as the young writer has decided to avoid a career in journalism and criticism. He writes that Franz seems more courageous and hope that these qualities only deepen in the years to come. He has grown as a writer and can now truly be himself.

 

Overview

What is fascinating is that these letters are probably the ‘truest’ thing I’ve read. Each of the emotions we probably have all felt. Self doubt is one of the hardest battles one can face and this advice is so reassuring. It’s really incredible to watch this young poet flourish over the course of these letters. Sometimes we all need a little reassurance and guidance to excel. This little book is so insightful. I believe it fits the criteria for Read The Year this month beautifully. It something I enjoyed reading and can take my lessons from it into my own life. I hope you can too.

Enjoy the sunshine everyone!

Big love xx

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Filed under Book review, Little Black Classics, Read The Year Challenge

RTY: The Bear and the Nightingale – Katherine Arden

Hey Everyone!

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

 

What’s it all about?

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

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

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

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

“Wild birds die in cages.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Overview

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

Big love xxx

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Filed under Book review, Books, Read The Year Challenge

RTY: The Course of Love – Alain de Botton

Hey Everyone!

Happy February. Today’s post is part two of Penguin’s Read The Year Challenge. The focus for February is: Get stuck into a story of obsessive love. Whilst researching different love stories, I stumbled across this. I’d never heard of the author before or the novel. Yet, I was intrigued by the fact that Botton’s work is regarded as ‘philosophy of everyday life.’ This clearly was going to be quite a real story; one that would evoke many emotions in me. I wasn’t wrong.

 

What’s it all about?

The novel follows the relationship of Rabih and Kirsten during their every day lives. The book is structured into 5 sections, each representing a stage in their relationship. Our eyes are opened to the philosophical teachings in italic, blurring emotion and rational thought. It appears to offer explanations to the behaviours displayed. As the novel starts we meet Rabih. He sees Kirsten and knows that she is the one.

“He has never felt anything remotely like this before. The sensation overwhelms him from the first. It isn’t dependent on words – which they will never exchange. It is as if he has in some way always known her, as if she holds out an answer to his very existence…”

However, this novel isn’t meant to be a fairy tale. They meet, fall in love and then real life begins. As a reader, we are with them every step of the way. Real life defines and shapes their relationship. Part one: Romanticism. This first stage of the novel shows their dates and the proposal of marriage. This initial stage of the relationship brings great excitement and wonder.

“He asks her to marry him because it feels like an extremely dangerous thing to do: if the marriage should fail, it would ruin both their lives.”

The second stage of the novel is Ever After. It is here where we would be likely to assume the end. We are all used to that cliche ‘and they all lived happily ever after’. But what happens after that? Well, we see an argument about glasses in IKEA, the proper way of how to tell a story and the matter of punctuality. Little strifes from every day life. Rabih and Kirsten have them all which means we all do.

“We should add that it is a privilege to be the recipient of a sulk: it means the other person respects and trusts us enough to think we should understand their unspoken hurt.”

Along with squabbles, the novel explores the unpredictability of the world of work and the impact this has on relationships. Rabih experiences stresses at work with pay freezes and job changes. Also, anniversary trips abroad don’t go quite right with a misplaced phone. Each draw to the same conclusion: placing blame at one another and criticism. It is what they learn that matters.

“He isn’t angry with her; he is panicked and battered by events. To be a better husband, he recognizes, he will have to learn to place a little less of the wrong, destructive sort of hope in the woman who loves him.”

Children comes next and this in itself brings massive changes to the relationship between Rabih and Kirsten. The time they have together is diminishing, priorities change and the focus becomes the child/ren (Esther and William in the case of Rabih and Kirsten.) They teach their children to be kind, always. Yet, this too causes conflict. How far is too far?

“The relationship nevertheless makes Kirsten worry a little for her daughter’s future. She wonders how other men will be able to measure up to such standards of tenderness and focused attention…”

The next part was a slightly uncomfortable part: adultery. It’s not the cheating that bothers me so much, it’s the fact that Rabih never tells her. To me this feels like a betrayal. I appreciate that he wanted to keep the peace, to not cause massive upset, which he knew it would. He appreciated the sense of closeness and needing to be wanted. Personally, I wasn’t completely convinced by this section. Possibly too much theory and not enough reality?

“Marriage: a deeply peculiar and ultimately unkind thing to inflict on anyone one claims to care for.”

The final part of the novel was Beyond Romanticism. It is here we see ‘real life’ as it were. With the help of a therapist, they’ve learnt the lessons of previous mistakes and can see the errors of their ways. The relationship seems healthier and more realistic. 16 years into their relationship they seem ready for marriage. This may seem like a bizarre concept but it is my interpretation that it is part of the learning process.

“We are ready for marriage when we accept that in a number of significant areas our partner will be wiser, more reasonable and more mature than we are. We should want to learn from them.”

 

Overview

This book is well written and filled with real life experiences that we can all relate to at some point or another. Whether it is my age or the fact that I’m not married or have children, there’s some parts that just feel like theory.

Penguin’s theme was obsessive love and I do believe this is shown. We obsess about being the best possible partner, we want the same in return. We love deeply and passionately. Every single one of us makes mistakes and causes hurt without meaning to.

I’m pleased I’ve read this book. I’ve never really read anything like this before so it was an eye opener. I know that one day the teachings will help me in any relationships I’m in. Basically, love really is an amazing, terrifying thing.

Big love all. Xx

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

RTY: Safe Haven – Nicholas Sparks

Hey Everyone!

Day four of January 2018 and I’ve read two books. I’m quite pleased with this progress but I am well aware my holiday is nearly over. However, I’m reading as much as I can before reality hits!

You may have seen a previous post about the Read The Year Challenge. The focus for January was: start the year with a book about new beginnings. Thanks so much to the lovely Kim at By Hook Or By Book for suggesting this book to me!

 

What’s it all about?

Safe Haven centres around the protagonist, Katie. At the start of the novel she is Erin, a wife who is fleeing in a violent marriage. Kevin is an alcoholic and usually ends up beating her. Erin decided enough was enough and ran away.

“Everyone has a past, but that’s just it–it’s in the past. You can learn from it, but you can’t change it.”

When she arrived in a small North Carolina town, Southport, she appears to be twitchy, afraid and constantly looking over her shoulder. She absolutely does not wish to form any ties or relationships with people. Despite this, she becomes friends with her next door neighbour, Jo and Alex, the owner of the local store. Alex is widowed with two young children and over time goes out of his way to be kind to Katie, stocking up with produce she likes and discussing literature together. Katie was instantly attracted to him. I have to agree, he sounds like a true gent!

“She wasnt exactly sure when it happened. Or even when it started. All she knew for sure was that right here and now, she was falling hard and she could only pray that he was feeling the same way.”

Slowly, Katie begins to let down her guard, helped by an unfortunate fishing incident with Alex’s little boy, Josh. Katie begins to feel closer and closer to Alex and his family. But Katie is trapped by a secret. As time goes by, and Katie and Alex get closer, she reveals her past: the abuse, beatings and fear. Katie firmly believes that if Kevin ever finds her, he will kill her. So to protect herself she created a new identity, or borrowed one based on a dead daughter of her neighbour. After all, they did look fairly similar.

“I’ve come to believe that in everyone’s life, there’s one undeniable moment of change, a set of circumstances that suddenly alters everything.”

Whilst Katie tries to rebuild a new life, the one she’s left behind is raging. Kevin is angry and is drinking more and more. He’s obsessed with Erin and by a stroke of (arguable) luck, works out that she’s got a new identity and searched for her. Eventually he traces her back to Southport via a new drivers licence Katie had recently obtained. He tracks her down and sees that she is with Alex and his two children at the carnival. Katie has a sense of something being wrong, but can’t quite put her finger on it.

“…nothing wonderful lasted forever. Joy was as fleeting as a shooting star that crossed the evening sky, ready to blink out at any moment.”

Kevin decides he is going to kill his wife and her new lover by setting the house on fire. Katie gets the children, Josh and Kristin out safely. Her natural motherly instincts kick in. Kevin attacks Katie, kicking and punching her. For the first time, she fights back whilst the children run for help.

Alex finds his children and takes them to Katie’s house. He goes back to his home and finds Kevin attacking Katie. Kevin pulls his gun but Alex drives his car at him, breaking every bone in his hand. The gun falls to the ground.

Katie is terrified that Kevin is going to hurt the children. They race to her house to find Kevin trying to break in. However, he is unstable: alcohol and blood loss isn’t helping! Yet, he is able to hit Alex with a crowbar, pulling a gun on Katie. As Kevin and Alex fight, the gun fires. Kevin is dead.

“…because the past was always around her and might return at any time. It prowled the world searching for her, and she knew it was growing angrier at every passing day.”

As time passes injuries heal and relationships start to recover. Amazingly, a safe is recovered from the fire. Inside it held personal documents and memories from Alex’s late wife, Carly, one of which is an unopened letter. He gives it to Katie asking her to read it.

When she returns home she is shocked to find that Jo’s house looked abandoned. Katie reads the letter and notices it is signed by Carly Jo. It dawns on Katie that her friend Jo was actually the spirit of Carly, watching over Alex, making sure he found happiness.

The letter is possibly the most emotional part of the novel. She asks Katie to look after Alex and their children, to love them and be the mother she cannot be. Once she’s finished the letter, Katie notices lights in Jo’s house and sees her waving from the window. Yet when she looks again, she’s gone. It looks abandoned once again. The novel ends with Katie and Alex ready to start their news lives together.

“Deep in her heart, she wasn’t sure she deserved to be happy, nor did she believe that she was worthy of someone who seemed…normal.”

 

Overview

This novel kept me absolutely hooked. I felt happiness, sadness, worry, fear and relief. It came over me in waves. The description of the beatings were horribly realistic, almost harrowing. I automatically fell in love with Alex, he’s the perfect guy. I wanted Katie to have a good life. I actively wanted them both to be happy. The sensitive writing and portrayal of Jo was really beautiful. It was the best way to end this novel.

Time to turn my attention to next month. February – Get stuck into a story of obsessive love. I’m looking forward to this. After all, February is the month of love! I’m surprised I’ve got January’s read – 11 months to go!

Big love all xx

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Filed under Book review, Read The Year Challenge, Reading

Read The Year With Penguin

Hello lovely people!!

As the end of December is fast approaching, I have turned my attention and thoughts to reading resolutions for next year. Whilst having a mooch about the sales online, I stumbled across Read The Year With Penguin Books. Naturally, I was curious. It looks awesome!

The aim of this reading challenge is to try something new, to experience new writers and genres. I try to branch out but I think this will really help me to continue the mission of finding more. I’m hoping you can all help me too!

The topics for each month are as follows:

January: Start the year with a book about new beginnings.

February: Get stuck into a story of obsessive love.

March: Read a book about a women you hadn’t previously heard of.

April: Grab a book that will help you explore your creativity.

May: Use a book to get closure to nature.

June: Pick up a book that delves into the experience of fatherhood.

July: Travel anywhere in (or out of) the world with a book.

August: Choose a book which tells a migration story.

September: Dive into a coming of age story you haven’t read before.

October: ‘Tis the season for spooky stories: take your pick.

November: Pick a book about the country you live in.

December: Finish the year with a book that embodies the festive spirit.

As you can see, this looks quite exciting. There’s areas here I haven’t considered before so I’m thinking I need to get planning what I’m going to read. Penguin do offer some suggestions here.

This is where I need you, my fellow lovely bloggers. Do you have suggestions for any of the months? Let me know. My plan is to review the book I’ve read each month for the challenge. I’ll try anyway! Maybe you could take part in this with me? That would be awesome too!

Big love xxx

32 Comments

Filed under Books, New Year, Read The Year Challenge, Reading