Reading Round-Up: October

Hello Loves!

How are you all? I’m been so lucky and had a week in the sun before heading back to work. I went back to my ‘heaven is a place on earth’ place: Cyprus. It’s such a beautiful country which always helps me reset and restore the harmony and resilience I need for school! Anyway, back in the UK, Now the clocks have gone back, we are firmly into Autumn – arguably the most beautiful season in the UK. I really hope you’re all enjoying it!

I was utterly exhausted so where I had a bumper summer of reading, October wasn’t quite like that. When I find I’m struggling, I always go back to books for children. I think there is a real art to writing a children’s book. There are lessons in there that help us as adults. I’ve found that this month I have read more children’s book than I have for a while previously! Also, I’ve defaulted back to writers that are my ‘safe bets’. I know I’ll enjoy them so I pick them to take the pressure off!

Regardless, I managed to read a total of 13 books in October which I’m quite pleased with! Let’s check out the shelves!

As always it is a difficult decision to pick a top three but I’ve given it my best! I’ve also picked ones that I think and hope you guys would love too!

  1. The Cat Who Saved Books – Sosuke Natsukawa. You absolutely need to add this book to your list now. I cannot praise this book enough. I really need to review it properly because it’s wonderful on so many levels. It’s just pure magic. We follow a cat who sets challenges for those who see its presence. These challenges are all challenges we can relate to so read it and find out! I have a really big soft spot for translated books as well and I think we are so lucky to be able to have access to these as well as our own classic British writers.
  2. Fledgling – Lucy Hope. Another book that I strongly urge you to put to the top of your reading list. I LOVE it. I was so lucky to receive an advanced copy of this. It’s released in the UK on November 4th so all head out and buy it. It tells the magical story of a gothic adventure set in Bavaria. It includes angels and owls and a boy where things are not as they really seem. It’s stunning.
  3. The Audacity – Katherine Ryan. I love Katherine Ryan. She’s deadpan, brutal, honest and fierce. Within this non fiction piece, there are many examples and scenarios that I can relate to within here. Even if Katherine’s comedy isn’t your style, her writing is something else. I really enjoyed this book and found it incredibly insightful.

That’s it! There’s some absolute beauties in this months reading, some of which I’ve never even heard of and I’ve just found them on my travels. I’m so grateful that I have the reading bug to be honest – I can’t imagine my life without it and I’ve realised that it isn’t about how much you read, it is about what you read and the impact they have on me and my life.

Lastly, I hope you’re all continuing to stay safe and well. I can’t stop looking at my holiday photos so here’s another one for you all! Enjoy!!

Big love all xxx

Reading Challenge 2021: Grimm Tales for Young and Old – Philip Pullman Collection

Good afternoon lovelies!

How are you all? I hope you’re well and enjoying the beauty in the change of nature right now. Outside my window I can see leaves dancing and their colours changing. Autumn is a really beautiful time of year – it’s so important that we notice it. In fact, I’ve been worried recently that I’m missing all of this happening around me so I’ve taken time this weekend to relax, read and observe. We are so lucky to have our natural world in all its beauty. We need to take care of it.

As promised in my previous post, I’m here today to share with you my book choice for my reading challenge. September’s theme was: Read a traditional fairy tale. Now, this is where I have to admit that my knowledge of fairy tales really only extend to the Disney versions I spent my childhood watching. I knew a couple of tales from growing up too but these really were quite hazy and the more modern fairy tales or the modern adaptation of them I knew also fell into that category. Therefore, my choice for this month came at the right time as these were an easy read (helps massively with school) and also thoroughly enjoyable… if that’s the right word! I’m really looking forward to sharing my favourite three with you all!

What’s it all about?
First of all, I just have to say that my edition here, the Penguins Classics edition, really is stunning. There’s something truly magical about owning a clothbound book I find. This collection contains the classics: Snow White, Hansel and Gretel, Rumpelstiltskin and Rapunzel to name a few but also some that I’ve never even heard of. However, I have to start with my favourite: Cinderella.

Cinderella
Written in 1812, the tale begins with the death of a young girl’s mother, leaving her with the lesson of being good and praying faithfully. The following Spring the girl’s father marries an evil woman with two daughters of her own. They turn the young girl into a servant and make her sleep on the floor in the fire cinders, hence the name Cinderella. She remains true to her beloved mother and remains humble despite the years of abuse and suffering she suffered.

Meanwhile, the King announces a three day festival so that the prince can pick his bride. Cinderella is desperate to attend but her step-mother has different plans. She purposely throws lentils into the ashes and forces Cinderella to clean them up instead of attending. However, Cinderella gets a helping hand from her trusty birds and the mess is quickly cleared. The magic tree, one which has helped her often, gives her a dress and slippers of the most beautiful gold, silver and silk. Once she’s at the ball, she is the most stunning girl there! Under her disguise, nobody knows it’s her and rather fortunately, the prince sees her and falls in love.

At the end of the festival, Cinderella escapes leaving one slipper behind. The prince knows that the woman he loves can fit into that shoe and so the search begins to find her. The step-sisters are desperate for him to think it’s one of them. One decides to cut off her toe to enable her foot to fit and the other cuts off her heel. Yet, it’s the birds who show how the shoe rightfully belongs to and punish the evil step-sisters of their behaviour towards Cinderella.

“Roocoo-coo, roocoo-coo
No blood in the shoe!
It’s not too tight,
This bride is right!”

The Elves
Written in 1806, this little collection of tales all feature one thing: elves. In the first tale, we see a hardworking but poor shoemaker struggling to make shoes due to his lack of leather. In fact, he was only able to make one single pair. He left the pair unfinished, for the morning, heading for bed to commend himself to God. After waking the following morning, saying his prayers, he returns to his workbench. What he sees is a miracle! A completed pair of shoes in perfect condition.

A customer entered the shop and offered a huge sum for the shoes, more than they usually sold for. Following this, the shoemaker decides to stay up and see exactly who had helped them. Hidden in the corner of the room, they waited patiently. What they saw were two little men working quickly and nimbly on a pair of shoes, running away once they were completed.

The wife decides that they have to show thanks to the little people because they truly have changed their lives. Noticing they have no clothes, she makes them little clothes for them and the shoemaker finishes each outfit with a pair of shoes. Once they had finished the clothes and shoes, they left them for the men and saw how happy it made them. They danced out of their home, never to be seen again. However, the shoemaker prospered in his business.

The second tale centres on a girl this time. A poor but hardworking servant girl was sweeping out the house when she found a letter. She couldn’t read so instead took the letter to her masters. They told her the contents of the letter – that she had been invited to an elf baptism and asked to be a godmother. She hesitated not really sure of what she should do but her master manages to persuade her to accept.

Upon arrival the girl saw just how beautiful it was where the elves lived. They did everything to keep her comfortable and happy but she wanted to leave. The elves continued to work hard but after three days she was desperate to return. They ave her gold but let her leave. Once she got back home she learnt that it wasn’t three days but seven years that she had spent with them.

The final tale shows a woman who had her child taken from the cradle by elves and substituted with a changeling. She was advised by a neighbour to set the changeling on the hearth, make a fire and boil water within two eggshells. This should make the changeling laugh and he would leave. The woman did everything in her power to follow her neighbour’s instructions. Finally, the changeling laughed and a band of elves appeared to swap the child and changeling back.

“We’re finer than before –
We shan’t be cobblers anymore!”

The Golden Bird
Every year, a king’s apple tree is robbed of one golden apple during the night. Frustrated with this regular theft, the king sets his gardener’s sons to watch to find out who it is. The first two sons fail in their mission as they both fall asleep. However, the youngest son manages to stay away to see that the thief isn’t a person, but it is in fact a golden bird. He tries to shoot it but only manages to knock a feather off. The king decides that this feather is so valuable that he must also have the bird that it belongs to.

The king sends the sons again onto their next mission – capture the bird. On route, they meet a talking fox who gives them some advice. The first two sons ignore the advice but the third doesn’t. He obeys the fox so the fox further advises him to use the wooden cage from the castle and not the golden one. However, this he disobeys and the bird rouses the castle, resulting in his capture. The fox offers further advice – to use a grey leather saddle, not a gold one, but the son disobeys too. He now has a bird and a horse. He is sent after the princess from the golden castle. The fox advises him not to not her say her farewell to her parents but he disobeys again. As a result, princess’s father orders him to remove a hill for eight days as the price of his life.

The fox removes it and then they set out together again. He further advises the prince on how to keep all the things he has won since then. It then asks the prince to shoot it and cut off its head. When the prince refuses, it warns him against buying gallows’ flesh and sitting on the edge of rivers.

On route back home, he finds his older brothers who have been living in sin throughout this ordeal. Because of their actions, they are to be hanged on the gallows. He buys their liberty and they find out exactly what he has been up to. When he sits on the river’s edge, they push him in. They steal all of his things and the princess and begin back to their father. Nevertheless, the bird, horse and princess all grieve for the youngest son. The fox also rescues the prince. When he returns to his father’s castle dressed in a beggar’s clock, the bird, the horse and the princess all recognise him as the man who won them and become cheerful once again. The older brothers are punished for their deeds and he marries the princess.

Lastly, the third son cuts off the fox’s head and feet at the creatures request. The fox is revealed to be a man, the brother of the princess who had been enchanted by a witch after being lost of may years.

“And from then on nothing was missing from their happiness as long as they lived.”

Final Thoughts
I think there is (obviously) rather something magical about fairy tales. I found reading this a complete joy really. The majority are cautionary and I do wonder how younger audiences would find them now. Some are fairly barbaric and brutal but all have their own lessons. We all are desperate for good to overcome evil, for light to beat darkness, for kindness to be rewarded and that’s really what these tales show us. I’m so glad that I had this as a theme on my challenge because without it, I’m sure I wouldn’t have got to them! The reading list is forever growing, let’s face it. But I’ve loved reading them! No regrets.

I’ll continue catching up with you all whilst getting through my final week before half term break. I feel like I’ve been counting down since week two to be honest but it will be good to switch off and recover. The reading pile isn’t going to read itself, is it? Until next time my loves.

Big love all xxx

Reading Round-Up: September

Hello Book Lovers!

How are you all? I’m taking full advantage of the gloriously summery weather today to catch up on reading and blogging. Let me start off by owning that September was a really poor reading month for me. I felt very much sucked into the daily stress of school and the repeated discussion and implementation of the ‘Covid Catch Up Curriculum’. I’ve never experienced a start of a term just as difficult as this one. As Coldplay once sang, “Nobody said it was easy. No one ever said it would be so hard.” Naturally, this had a knock on impact on my own free time – gone went the gym, reading and blogging. I noticed that my mental well-being suffered as a result of this too. This weekend I needed to take proactive steps to ensure that I could recenter myself and restore some of that harmony that I much needed. Part of that is reconnecting with you wonderful people.

As a result of September being so full on, with the distant sunshine, sun loungers and endless realms of time, I only managed to read 9 books. On the one hand, 9 is better than not reading at all! Regardless, these 9 books were really enjoyable! I knew I was struggling so I stuck to my ‘go to’ writers. So, let’s check out the shelves for September!

The only problem with sticking with my ‘go to’ writers is that picking a top three becomes very difficult. I love the thrill and the pace of Patterson, the mystery of Carpenter. Decisions, decisions…

  1. Gingerbread – Robert Dinsdale. Those of you who have been following my blog for a while know how The Toymakers is one of my favourite books of all time. I’ve discovered now I’ve cleared some of my TBR pile, that I have more books by him. Gingerbread brings together reality and folklore again with a young boy heading into the forest with his grandfather to scatter his mother’s ashes. The story goes from here.
  2. Grimms Fairy Tales – collection by Philip Pullman. I’ve always wanted to branch out into the world of fairy tales. I’ve dabbled and like any young child, grew up watching Disney, but I’ve never actually got around to reading some of the classics. This collection looks beautiful and was a really enjoyable read. You’ll see my review of this for my reading challenge.
  3. A Slow Fire Burning – Paula Hawkins. I managed to bag myself a signed copy of this book which I was thrilled about! Also, I really enjoyed seeing Hawkins back with another exceptional novel. A young man is found dead and so questions are asked about the three women who knew him. A great read!

Whilst the start of this post sounded like a mix of woe and excuses, I’ve always prided myself on being honest. It wouldn’t be fair to leave that and not acknowledge the amazing things that have happened. I have a great family – we celebrated my Mum’s birthday last weekend which was an absolute joy. I have a brilliant team around me at school and I continuously strive to be their leader which creates a warm and supportive community and I have you guys on here who leave me wonderful comments and shower me with kindness. I hope I give you guys the same feeling back. ♥️ I also got a free hot chocolate, carrot cake and a hug from someone who works in my local coffee shop. I even managed to grab myself an excellent book haul from Waterstones, chatting with the staff there about the amazing books that are out at the moment. Life is good. We just need to remember to keep a balance of the good and the bad.

I will strive to be more consistent and blog more frequently! I’ll see you next time for my review of Grimm and any other wonders that have come my way.

Big love all xxx

Reading Challenge 2021: The Island of Sea Women – Lisa See

Hi Loves!

Well, term time began and that’s really when my free time ended. I didn’t expect the start of the new term to be this hard but it’s been nothing like I ever imagined. The words ‘Covid Catch-Up’ are haunting my ears and my zen like state from the summer seems a little less zen and a little more bleugh. I can only apologise for my absence and hope that you all forgive me. I’ve tried to keep up with you all, something I will endeavour to keep on doing. I’ve fallen behind in my own reading and blogging which frustrates me but I’m here now! Hopefully I can make up for it.

Today I am here to share with you my book choice for August for my reading challenge. The focus was: Read a book which takes you to the beach. Now, my default position would be to pick a sunny skies book, with beach vibes and the hint of suncream in my imagination. However, I opted for something more harrowing, more gritty than you’d probably expect. I read The Island of Sea Women by Lisa See. I hope you enjoy the review and the book!


What’s it all about?
Set in Jeju, you enter the matriarchal world of these fiercely independent women skin divers. In a culture where the men stay at home to look after the children, to discuss the latest gossip in the village square. These women head out into the sea day after day to provide food from the sea for their families. The book covers several decades, from 1930s right through to the modern world today. Mi-ja and Young-sook are two young girls in the 30s with ambitions to be a part of the diving collective. Their backgrounds are very different. Mi-ja is the daughter of a collaborator with the hated Japanese Occupation Forces whilst Young-sook lives at the heart of the collective, born into a long line of haenyeo (sea women) divers. Despite Mi-ja’s damaged reputation Young-sook befriends her and together they learn to dive.

‘From that day on, I believed I could trust her with my life. So did my mother. All of which meant that by the time Mi-ja and I turned fifteen – we were as close as a pair of chopsticks.’

The opportunity came for Young-sook to join her mother and the haenyeo diving for the precious abalone. These creatures are extremely valuable but can be incredibly dangerous to try and catch as you can easily become trapped against the rocks. Young-sook gets her abalone and surfaces triumphantly but soon realises that her mother is trapped under the water. Lacking the experience, she fails to free her despite repeated attempts and at the moment of her success she faces the bereavement of her mother, the breadwinner for her entire family.

She grabbed my knife and tried to slice through the leather. In her rush, she slit a deep gash in her forearm. Her legs began to kick frantically. I pulled on her arm, trying to help. I couldn’t last much longer…’

The death of Young-sook’s mother puts a massive strain on the family and on her in particular as she is now expected to provide for the whole family, including her father. So when the girls have the opportunity to participate in ‘Leaving-Home Water-Work’, Young-sook jumps at it. This is when they haenyeo were hired to dive in other countries. In this instance, Mi-ja and Young-sook were hired out for nine months in Vladivostok. On their days off, the girls would take rubbings of anything that caught their eye as a way of collecting memories and telling their stories. This opportunity would have been a great adventure for the girls as they were away from home in a strange country and had the opportunity to meet young men. At one point they were walking through the town when they were approached by two Russian sailors. The boys bought them ice cream which was an extravagance that they would never have been able to purchase for themselves. However, despite some serious flirting, the girls returned to the Korean district, leaving the boys disappointed.

‘I stuck my tongue out all the way – like I’d seen other people do – and took a big lick. The air was already cold, but this was so cold! It froze the top of my head just as intensely as diving off the boat into icy waters, but while the ocean was salty, this was sweeter than anything I’d ever tasted.’

On their return to Jeju the girls have a life changing encounter. In the port they are struck by the enormous number of Japanese soldiers, sailors and guards. Both girls feel unsafe and threatened by all these leering men. But, salvation comes in the form of Lee Sang-mun who helps them get themselves and all their luggage safely to the truck which will take them back to their village. Young-sook is convinced that there is a spark between them and her thoughts turn to weddings. However, it transpires that he is interested in Mi-ja and Young-sook feels rejected and for the first time, resents her friend. Lee Sang-mun is a wealthy man but works with the Japanese. Young-sook’s grandmother is pleased to see the back of Mi-ja as she is married off to a collaborator.

“He’s a collaborator and he has too much Japanese thinking in him.” ‘This was about the worse thing she could say about anyone since she so hated the Japanese and those who helped them.’

Young-sook isn’t left behind as her grandmother also has her married off, this time to a school teacher called Jun-bu. This brings some stability to her life and a measure of settled calm. Her sister has joined the haenyeo which brings more income to their household. Inevitably, Young-sook becomes pregnant. During this time it becomes clear that the Japanese are fighting a desperate end to the war against the American forces. The build up of war materials on Jeju is intense and their lives are disrupted by the constant passage of planes overheard and war ships through the sea. Upon her return to the summer work in Vladivostok, four of the girls from Jeju give birth. In typical haenyeo style, this barely stops their work and the newborns accompany them on the boat from birth, as the women continue to dive.

‘In mid-June, Mi-ja went into labour in the sea. She kept working until the final hour, when In-ha and I joined her on the deck for the delivery. After all her foreboding, that baby practically swam out of Mi-ja.’

At the end of the war, the Japanese were driven out by the victorious American forces but as far as the people of Jeju were concerned, they just replaced one set of occupiers with another and worse, the American suspicion of communism meant that they were hostile to the naturally communal approach of the haenyeo. As tensions grew on the island, it culminates in an American strategy called ‘The Ring of Fire’. This is an attempt to trap the ‘insurgents’ and remove them entirely. Young-sook, her husband and her children are caught in this ‘Ring of Fire’. As the atrocities committed by the militia mount, the risk that they will kill everyone to hide what they have done is very real. However, Mi-ja and her influential husband have the power to save them but faced with the choice, Mi-ja turns her back and leaves them. Her son and her husband are murdered before her eyes in an event called the ‘Massacre at Bukchon’.

‘Sang-mun grabbed Mi-ja’s arm and began to walk away. “Mi-ja!” I screamed. “Help us!” She kept her face turned, so she didn’t see what happened when the soldier decided to stop wasting their time with Yu-ri… Her agony was my agony. Then she stopped screaming.’

The novel ends in a way that should give us a sense of hope. Things aren’t always as they seem and this is a prime example of this. But, can we really forgive or even acknowledge seeing things in a different way? That’s something that is explored as the novel closes. No spoilers here – you’ll need to read it to find out…


Final Thoughts
I did enjoy reading this book. Don’t get me wrong, it is harrowing, horrifying and a completely alien culture to what we are used to. It is nothing like our every day lives and so my eyes were opened to a new experience completely. It isn’t a traditional beach read – no summer vibes here! Regardless, this book is one that I am so grateful to have read. That’s the beauty of these reading challenges – reading something you wouldn’t normally read. This book is exactly that.

Thank you all so much for your patience, care and love. I’ll be back soon – I promise!

Big love all xxxxx

Reading Challenge 2021: A Double Life – Charlotte Philby

Hello!

I hope you’re all doing well. Today I need to catch up with you all regarding my reading challenge book for July. You may remember from my previous post that it was the first time this year that I didn’t read this book in the month it was from. Eek! Never mind. I made sure it was the first book I read in August so it’s not too bad…

Anyway, the focus for July was: Read a book where your name is on the cover (title or author) Now for me, there are some really obvious ones: the Charlotte Bronte novels, Charlotte’s Web by E.B.White, Charlotte by Helen Moffatt, The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman etc. However, I wanted to go for one I’ve never read before and hopefully never heard of before. The whole point of the reading challenge is to push myself. My final decision was A Double Life by Charlotte Philby. I liked the cover and the blurb was intriguing so it made sense to me. Let’s get on with the review.

What’s it all about?

First of all, my review may not be as long as usual. I don’t want to ruin any surprises for you – so forgive me for the elusiveness of it! However, I’ve given you just enough to tempt you in – hopefully!

The novel centres around two very separate and very different and contrasting women: Gabriela and Isobel. These women are worlds apart but by the end of the novel, we see how there’s ‘two sides to every story’ and then we know the truth too.

Firstly, Gabriela who is a senior operator in a FCO counter terrorism unit, leading a small Whitehall based team. She’s ambitious and is desperate to be promoted and acknowledged with accolades in that field. She’s also the family breadwinner whilst her partner (an interesting character in itself – he comes across as quite feeble) Tom, a freelance architect, looks after their children.

In stark contrast to her ordered life, complicated only by the over familiar FCO creep of a boss, Emsworth, Isobel is a mess. A journalist who has failed to see just how good she could be and as a result, drifts this an alcohol and drug endured haze of an existence. She works for a local paper in Camden, writing local news stories with very little enthusiasm.

One evening Isobel witnesses a horrific attack whilst walking home from a party. She didn’t feel like she could report it because of being under the influence of alcohol and drugs. She made the assumption that no one would believe her or that her statement wouldn’t be reliable. Yet, someone knows she was there and makes themselves known to her in a number of frightening ways. The journalist in her knows there’s a story here so starts to investigate. Little did she know that she would end up in the murky waters of a dark network of human trafficking and exploitation.

‘As I talk him through the details, I feel the events of Saturday morning begin to fade, the woman’s face sweeping in and out of focus in my mind like a figure stepping in and out of the shadows, until, for the moment, she vanished altogether.’

When Gabriela returns from her seven month trip to Moscow, her life begins to fall apart at the seams. The promotion she so desperately wanted eludes her, she actually ends up losing her job instead, and it makes her completely disillusioned, questioning the value of her life and all that’s within it. She loves her children but is adamant she doesn’t want to be a stay at home mum.

Whilst working in Moscow, she meets a very charming and charismatic gentleman, Ivan. She falls for him and they start to have an intimate relationship. She barely knows anything about him and the information she gives him about herself isn’t exactly the truth… She falls pregnant and flees back to Moscow leaving her two children behind with Tom. In Moscow, she decides to have the baby, a little girl, and have a double life. Meanwhile, Isobel is getting closer to finding out what is actually happening. The links between the two women are getting clearer…

‘But she loved Ivan, that was also a fact. He was the antidote to everything she resented about her life with Tom, and so, unlikely as it might seem to some, she reasoned that moving between these two worlds was the perfect solution. As long as no one found out, and maybe they didn’t have to.’

These two women are so desperate that the novel is essentially a story of hide and seek. One is desperate to hide the truth whilst the other is desperate to reveal it. The lives of the two women converge through the auspices of Madeline, Gabriela’s former FCO mentor, now leading a unit at the National Crime Agency, investigating trafficking and prostitution. By the end of the novel, everything becomes clear and the truth is out.

‘For a moment, as Madeline had spoken, she’d felt sorry for him. All along, he was waiting for her to tell him she’d chosen him. Despite all the evidence telling him she would never leave her family, he had still chosen to believe she would.’

Final Thoughts

Well, as books go, this one was quite a good read. However, I didn’t realise it was part of a series. I’ve never read or heard of the first book so I feel like I need to go back there to see if some of the clues are given. By the end of this book, I must say I had many questions. But, it seems there is a third book coming out which I’m sure will answer them. For me, I’m not great with series – sometimes the commitment puts me off. Also, there’s nothing more disappointing than a really good start and a poor finish. (Not that I’m saying this has happened here!) I did enjoy reading this book and found myself not liking the women either way really which was an interesting reaction. You could argue that it takes a while to find out how the two are linked as it isn’t revealed until right at the end of the book but it’s questionable. I guess it’s to keep the sense of mystery. Regardless, I like the mix of Russia and London and found this really helped with the double life ideal of the novel.

All in all, this was an enjoyable read if not frustrating because I didn’t have all the information. Would I have picked this book if I’d have known? Probably not. BUT I am grateful I did because it was a worthwhile read. The writing style is good and as Charlotte’s go, Philby clearly is a talented one!

I’ll see you next time for more reviews from my sun lounger! Long live the summer! Take care all!

Big love xxxx

Reading Challenge 2021: The Hobbit – J.R.R. Tolkien

Hello Fellow Book Lovers!

Happy July! July is my absolute favourite month for a few reasons really – birthday, end of the school year, time for rest and relaxation, time to sit and read all day… I can’t wait! Friday night is usually the time I collapse in an exhausted heap. However, this evening I wanted to share with you my book choice for the reading challenge. June’s focus was: Read a debut novel this month. There are so many excellent debut novels that still stand the test of time. I decided to read The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien. It’s a book I’ve never read (embarrassing – I know!) but it was recommended to me by a few of my friends so I thought I’d take their advice. Google also told me it was Tolkien’s debut novel! Perfect!

What’s it all about?
The novel centres around Bilbo Baggins. Bilbo is a hobbit which means he is half the size of humans and has exceptionally furry toes. He loves his food and drink but most of all, he’s quite happy living in his comfortable hole at Bag End. One day, rather unexpectedly, the world as he knows it is shattered by the unexpected arrival of an old wizard, Gandalf. Gandalf manages to convince the rather reluctant Bilbo to go on an adventure with a group of thirteen militant dwarves. They are on a serious quest to get their treasure back from the marauding dragon, Smaug. Bilbo’s role is to act as their burglar. The dwarves are less than impressed with Bilbo and Bilbo likewise really. One thing he does not want is adventure.

“We don’t want any adventures here, thank you! You might try over The Hill or across The Water.”

It doesn’t take long for the group to get into trouble. Shortly into their adventure, three hungry trolls capture all of them apart from Gandalf. Gandalf, rather fortunately, tricks the trolls into remaining outside when the sun comes up. As a result, they are turned into stone. The dwarves manage to find a whole host of weapons in the trolls camp. Thorin takes the magic swords with Bilbo taking a smaller sword for himself too.

From here the group decide to stop off at the elfish stronghold of Rivendell. Here, they receive advice from the great elf lord Elrond. Following this they decide to set out across the Misty Mountains. A snowstorm means that they are in desperate need of shelter. But, when they find one in a cave, they are kidnapped and taken prisoner by a group of goblins. Gandalf does manage to lead the dwarves to a passage out of the mountain but poor Bilbo is left behind, accidentally.

Whilst wandering through the various tunnels, Bilbo stumbles across a strange, gold ring on the ground. He decides that this shiny item should be his and puts it inside his pocket. Of course, this ring is the link between the other Tolkien novels! This ring gives him the ability to become invisible. He hears a hissing sound and meets Gollum. Gollum is less than keen on Bilbo and decides that he wants to eat him. A battle of riddles commences – the outcome will determine the fate of poor Bilbo. Cleverly, Bilbo wins by asking a dubious riddle.

“What have I got in my pocket?”

Despite winning, Gollum still wants to eat Bilbo. Gollum goes and disappears to fetch his magic ring. However, this is the ring that Bilbo has already found. Amazingly, Bilbo uses this to advantage and manages to render himself invisible to escape Gollum and flee the goblins. He finds another tunnel leading up out of the mountain and discovers the dwarves and Gandalf has managed to escape. Evil wolves, known as Wargs, pursue them but Bilbo and his little friends are helped to safety by a group of eagles and by Beorn – a creature who can change from a man into a bear.

Desperate for the adventure to be over, the group enter the dark forest of Mirkwood. Here, Gandalf abandons them to see to some other urgent business he has. It is in this forest that the dwarves end up all caught in a horrendous spider webs. These spiders are like nothing they have ever seen before and can only be described in one way: horrendous. Bilbo must rescue them and uses his magical sword and ring to do so. From here, there is another issues as the group are captured by a group of wood elves who live near the river. Again, Bilbo uses the ring to help the all escape and manages to conceal the dwarves in barrels enabling them to float down the river. The dwarves at Lake Town, a human settlement near the Lonely Mountain, under which the great dragon sleeps with Thorin’s treasure.

“It does not do to leave a live dragon out of your calculations, if you live near him.”

After sneaking into the mountain, Bilbo meets the dragon. They have a chat where the dragon reveals a secret – he has a weak point in his scales near his heart. This information is crucial for the group to get the treasure back. Bilbo manages to steal a golden cup which results in the dragon being furious and vengeful. The dragon heads to Lake Town with the view of burning it to the ground. However, Bard knows how to shoot and arrow and manages to kill him, not before the town is burnt though.

The human population of Lake Town and the elves of Mirkwood march to Lonely Mountain to seek their own share in the treasure which they see as fair following the destruction of their town. They see it as their rightful compensation. But, Thorin completely refuses to share. The humans and elves begin to besiege the mountain, trapping the dwarves and the hobbit inside. Bilbo manages to sneak out to join the humans in order to try and bring peace. When Thorin learns what Bilbo has done, he is furious with him. Luckily, Gandalf appears to save Bilbo from the wrath of the dwarf.

Then, an army of goblins and Wargs marches onto the mountain and the humans, elves and dwarves are forced to work together in order to defeat them. At one point, the goblins nearly win but the arrival of Beorn and the eagles help them ultimately win the battle. After the battle, Bilbo and Gandalf return to Hobbiton where Bilbo continue to live. Sadly, he is no longer accepted by respectable hobbit society but he really isn’t bothered by that. He is quite happy to seek communication from the elves and the wizards. He is back to being completely contented and much happier surrounded by his comforts of home.

“May the hair on your toes never fall out!”

Final Thoughts
I have so much love for this book. I feel like I can relate to Bilbo on many levels – the want to be at home, the comfort of home, the love of cake. All big wins for me. But this book is actually really special. It’s written in such a way that makes you feel like you’re part of it. I felt like I was being transported to another world. Just like Bilbo’s reluctance to be on the adventure, I found myself completely understanding why he would rather be in his hole with his things all around him. It is only the second Tolkien book I’ve read and I genuinely really enjoyed it. I am really looking forward to rereading this one again actually which is something I don’t really say often!

I hope you all have a lovely, restful, bookfilled weekend.

Big Love xxx

Reading Challenge 2021: Stella – Takis Würger

Hello Lovelies!

I hope you’re all safe and well. As always, I am still playing catch up but that’s ok. I’ve bought a lot of books this week which is always exciting but now I just need to find the time to read them all. Evenings and weekends are not enough. If only we could have a five day weekend and a two day working week… now that would be useful!

Anyway, I am here today to share with you the book I read for the Reading Challenge for May. The focus for the month of May was: Read a book that is based on real life events. Now, in the current situation we find ourselves still living in, I wanted to avoid anything related to the pandemic. I’ve read some brilliant books centred on this during this but I think I’m just desperate for this all to be over now really. Therefore, I went for a war related story of which there are many! Stella by Takis Würger was heartbreaking in many ways but so well written it was bordering sublime. This book is dedicated to the great grandfather of the author, so it feels personal too. This novel was released back in March and I finally managed to get my hands on a copy. It fits the theme of the month perfectly being as it is a blended approach of fact and fiction, incorporating excerpts from witness statements documented at a postwar trial of the real-life Stella Goldschlag, who continued to inform for the Gestapo throughout the war. I knew little about her so really wanted to learn more from the novel and to have my eyes opened just a little bit further.

I can’t wait to share this with you now. This will probably be much shorter because I don’t want to spoil anything for you. The magic behind this book needs to be experienced when reading it, not by me now. Don’t forget, if you’d like to take part or find out more information on my reading challenge, please click here. Here goes!


What’s it all about?
Set in Berlin during World War II, the novel focuses around Friedrich, a Swiss national who is travelling through Europe. To begin with, the war seems a distant thing happening to others elsewhere and not something to be mindful of at this stage. Whilst in Berlin, Friedrich meets Tristan, an affable Berliner who takes him under his wing. He meets him in a jazz club on evening which has become illegal under the Nazi morality laws. He is obsessed with a singer at the club called Kristin. The trio then form a friendship together and start to attend a variety of different social events together. They socialise more often than not and appear to be very much a unit. Then, it is through these social events or parties that the the spectre of Nazi Germany begins to rear its ugly head. At a party attended by SS officers and other Nazi party officials, Friedrich sees both his friends joining in with anti-semitic songs and jokes. He begins to wonder who his friends are and how they can have such monstrous views.

‘Every day in Germany I had been going through this, acting as if I could live with what was happening to the Jews in Germany. I’d put up with the flags with swastikas and with the people greeting me and roaring at me with their right arms outstretched. At this moment, I felt how wrong this was.’

Over time, there is a growing sense that there is something hidden, something not quite known about Kristin. We know that she is a Jew and we know that she has to keep her identity hidden from everyone. Friedrich has fallen in love with her and couldn’t care less about her background or religion. They spend hours together but she never stays over night with him. However, there is unease throughout the whole narrative whereby we hear new rules specified by the regime as a constant reminder that war is ever approaching; coming one step closer to them each and every day. The narrative splits to give us police reports, representing a later period of time, where people are being questioned about what was happening at the time. This blended structure means that we are torn between the past and the present as the narrative evolves. Regardless, the war creeps closer and the rules become much tighter and the lives of the Jewish people are constrained further.

‘The eight commandment of Dr. Joseph Goebbel’s Ten Commandments for Every National Socialist is issued: “Don’t be a rowdy anti-Semite, but beware of the Berliner Tageblatt.”.’

It is really difficult to explore the plot further without revealing the secrets hidden within. However, we were right to feel that things are not as they seem regarding Kristin. Whilst Kristin returns Friedrich’s affection, she also disappears for days at a time with no warning or explanation. It becomes clear that she has another, hidden life where she is working for ‘undesirables’ who have some kind of hold over her. This doesn’t seem to be a choice she would make willingly, but it shows the corruption of the human soul in order to make people do atrocious things to others. We are much more used to reading books about the heroes of the war, who fight and stand up for what is right. Nevertheless, this book tells us a story which is more likely to be common which challenges a reader still today.

‘Her cheeks were sunken; she had a scarf wrapped around her head. She had bruises under both eyes. One of her eyeballs was also dark – blood had seeped into the vitreous body… “I thought you left me.” “I wasn’t careful enough,” she said again. “Not careful enough.”‘

Unfortunately, there is no happy ending in this book. That is the nature of life sometimes and especially during a period of time like this. One thing that is clear though, is that by the end of the novel all the mystery and elusive strands all come together to complete the narrative. We learn the truth about Kristin and the extent of her own story. Friedrich, Tristan and Kristin all make individual choices that lead them to very different experiences. They are tied or linked together as this trio of friends but they each ultimately have a different ending. This novel gives you a eyeopening, heartbreaking insight into what it would have been like during this period.


Final Thoughts
In many ways, this book was difficult to read and challenging to write about. I’ve made a very conscious effort to not ruin anything at all. One thing I can and will repeatedly say is that it is incredibly well written. The writer’s own personal links with this mean that, like I said at the start, it feels more real. It’s always problematic to say you enjoyed reading a book like this but the honest reaction of mine is that it was uncomfortable, unnerving and horrifying. It explores the nature of love and betrayal. It also gets us to challenge what we think is real or right. It’s a powerful piece, structured in months with an opening summary of the Nazi atrocities. When you become wrapped up in the characters, this serves as a reminder that it is built up on real life events. Friedrich serves as a moral compass – he thinks and notices – but he’s also a fool in love. To repeat, this book needs a read but it will be harrowing along the way.

I hope you enjoyed this review. I apologise that I didn’t manage to get this done in May but I’ve been sitting on it and the uncomfortable nature of it. I’ve also been battling with what to reveal and what not to.

I’ll be back next time to share with you the book I read for June and hopefully sharing some other excellent reads along the way too! Stay safe and well everyone!

Big love xxx

Reading Round-Up: April

Hi Loves!

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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?
  3. 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.

Big love all xxx

Reading Challenge 2021: Pine – Francine Toon

Hello Lovelies!

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.

Reading Round-Up: March

Morning Book Lovers!

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 herehere and here

  1. 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. 
  2. 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.
  3. 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!

Big Love xxx