Book Bingo Reading Challenge 2022! Takeaway – Angela Hui

Morning Loves!

I’m back in the UK after a glorious holiday. I had such a wonderful time and feel more refreshed and recovered which is lovely. I hope you’ve all had a lovely August and have managed to have some form of a break. It’s needed for all of us! Hello September as well! I cannot believe how that has crept up on us!

Today I want to share with you my book topic and choice for my Book Bingo Reading Challenge! For August I opted for Non-Fiction which I do love. I go through a cycle of reading it, loving it, going back to fiction, remembering I’ve not read any non-fiction so then pick one and then the cycle continues. I wish I could understand why that happens but that’s a discussion for another day. I decided to read Takeaway by Angela Hui. Oh my days, I love this book so much. Let’s crack on with it!

What’s it all about?

I picked this book because like many families, mine has a long tradition with popping to the Chinese take away. In fact, it’s something I still do today both with my family and friends – pop to the Chinese takeaway, usually on a Friday or Saturday night. But what about the people behind the food? This book is honest, humble and wonderfully written. It’s a fine piece of non-fiction.

This novel explores, through Angela Hui’s voice, the story of her parents and how they came to be in Wales and their day to day lives of running the takeaway during the 1990s. We see just how different the family were and how they naturally stood out amongst the habitants of the Welsh valleys. Lucky Star was their home and business for thirty years. The rhythm of that life was comforting and joyous. But, it wasn’t always easy.

“The telephone rang constantly and a stream of people would pop in to pick up orders in hot foil containers stacked in white plastic bags. It was a juxtaposition of us being treated like immigrants, but also being keepers of something instinctively British.”

Each chapter focuses around a specific aspect of life within the takeaway: the weekend service, language barriers, summer holiday and competitions, just to name a few. However, there are a couple of anecdotes that really stuck with me. Hui talks openly about the racism she and her family experienced and how isolating that is. It’s an uncomfortable but essential read because I bet it still happens today. The reactions of her parents are contrasting; calmness and defiance from her mother, rage and anger from her father.

“We’ve always held our tongues and erred on the side of caution when confronted by racism. In reality, we’re just cooking to survive. Trying to get through a night’s service smoothly is just basic survival.”

I found myself feeling like I knew both Hui’s mother and father. There’s obvious conflict with the father but that is explored openly. They’re so different yet they work together to provide food for the local area. Hui’s opportunity to do deliveries means that (finally) she can get out of the takeaway and see new places. We can take for granted the childhood experienced Hui wouldn’t have been like yours or mine. Life was the takeaway. Every revolved around that kitchen; serving the community and then having a meal together. The impact on Hui’s own romantic relationships meant that this was strained too throughout her young adult years.

“I’m ashamed that I never gave him a chance to understand my situation by explaining things to him. How the takeaway had a hold on me.”

Time goes by, Hui ages and the little girl is now off to university. Even that is still tied to the takeaway, working weekends to help. But, as things most often do, it’s time for the takeaway to close its doors. The changing climate, the local competition and the stress on the family resulting in her mother’s poor health meant that it was time to finish serving. Their story has come to an end.

“We had some good times, right?” I say to no one in particular. Mum is holding back tears. Dad looks to the ground and pats me on the back. “Well, since Tom’s here I’ll get started on my ribs…”

Final Thoughts

I love this book. There, I said it. I found it honest, upsetting, humbling, overwhelming, moving and utterly remarkable. It’s made me really think about my own local takeaway and their own stories. What brought them here? The food of my Friday nights, what does it mean to them? Etc. The truth in this book hurts. Times change, people change, poor attitudes towards others different from us are still being displayed. Yet, at the heart of it all is a family wanting a better life and wanting to be part of a community. To sum it up perfectly:

“In these fear-filled times, I hope this book will serve as a refuge of nourishment, a fortune cookie of joy and an education to what goes on behind closed doors in the nation’s favourite takeaway.”

I urge you all to go buy and read this book. If you’re interested in cooking, at the end of each chapter is a recipe so the reader is able to try out some of these signature dishes at home. I’ve got my eye on a beautiful belly pork dish! This added touch is something I’ve really enjoyed reading too. It’s another way of bringing Chinese cuisine into our own homes.

Speak soon loves! (I’ll be back at school by the time I post again! Wish me luck…)

Big Love xxx

Reading Round-Up: July

Hello Loves!

I hope you’re all well. You may have guessed from my previous post that I’m on holiday now (finally) and I’m getting back into the swing of reading and resting!

Today I want to share with you my reading round up for July. July is my favourite month – my birthday, summer and the days are just a bit lighter and longer. It also means school is finishing. I have to say, I’ve found this July really difficult. I’ve barely read (only since I’ve been on holiday) and work was really a case of surviving and getting the job done. I’m on the road to recovery now but it’s been tough. I’ve had lots of doubts along the way but I’m pleased I’ve managed to read the books I did.

In July then, I’ve read 6 books – all of which have been after the start of the summer holiday. Don’t get me wrong, I am pleased with 6. But, it’s only now really that I recognise how much I was struggling before. Never mind! My life for the next month is the sea, sunshine, books and beach donuts! Let’s check out the shelves!

It almost seems silly picking a top three. I’ve blogged already about The Lamplighters – I still adore this by the way – and Shape of a Boy. In the interest of being fair, I’ll put the other four books in order of how much I enjoyed reading them and the narratives produced.

  1. The Other Passenger – Louise Candlish. I’m a huge fan of Louise Candlish. She really is the queen of plot twists and this one really kept me hanging until the very end. Perfect for the summer!
  2. Dial A For Aunties – Jesse Sutanto. This was really funny and I did also love the cover. A touch far fetched by the end (a murder, a freezer and a family trying to hide it) but enjoyable nonetheless.
  3. Counterfeit – Kirsten Chen. This was another good read really with an interesting plot. I picked it because it’s to do with real and fake handbags and the people who get mixed up in that. Really different to what I’ve read before.
  4. The Pact – Amy Heydenrych. Just because I’ve put this one 4th, it doesn’t mean I didn’t enjoy it. I really really did and I had to finish it – it was so compelling. But I did manage to work out the ending in terms of who killed Nicole. Regardless, it was a thriller of a book.

So there we have it! Another 6 books read and more on the horizon. I do like to mix it up with the thrillers and the more chic lit bits. A variety is always better. Plus I do end up getting paranoid if I read too many thriller books!

Here’s hoping for a better reading month in August! But for now, it’s beach donut time!

Until my next post, take care all! Big Love! Xxx

Book Bingo Reading Challenge 2022! The Lamplighters – Emma Stonex

Hello Loves!

I hope you’re well and enjoying July. Now the summer holidays are here I’m getting my reading game back on and the plan is to clear some of my reading piles! No more book buying until the pile is significantly lower! (Here’s hoping anyway!)

Today I want to share with you the amazing choice I had for my Book Bingo Reading Challenge. For July I decided on picking: Read a best seller. Now, I’m not very good with books that are really hyped up because I always feel the pressure to like it too. However, I can totally see why my choice for is a best seller – it’s absolutely incredible. I’m talking about the debut novel The Lamplighters by Emma Stonex. I hope you love this as much as I did!

What’s it all about?

Well, it’s really tricky to review this book without spoiling anything but I’ll give it my best shot! The first thing to know is that the novel alternates between then and now. We start in December 1972 when three men, Bill, Arthur and Vince, have disappeared from a tower lighthouse off the English coast. What makes this more mysterious is the state in which the place is discovered by the relief team; the door barred from the inside, dishes set out at the kitchen table and both clocks stopped at a quarter to nine. Everything was polished and cleaned to perfect – no evidence of a struggle of any kind.

Twenty years have passed and the Maiden Rock Mystery is still a mystery and still remains unsolved. This naturally leads to plenty of speculation and theories developing – ranging from the sublime, grim and ridiculous. What really happened though?

“This isn’t a thriller, this is my life.”

Some of these theories follow the ideas that one man killed the others, then killed himself. The Trident company seem to be pushing this theory quite strongly. Maybe all three were suicidal? Perhaps a monster approached and attacked them. Maybe they were all swept out to see. Some even swore that they have seen a trio of white birds hovering over the lighthouse, believing this to be the men with some supernatural powers.

“I’ve heard it all, over the years. Arthur was abducted by aliens. He was murdered by pirates. He was blackmailed by smugglers. He killed the others, or they killed him, and then each other and then themselves—over a woman or a debt, or a washed-up treasure chest. They were haunted by ghosts or kidnapped by the government. Threatened by spies or gobbled by sea serpents. They went lunatic, one or all of them. They had secret lives no one knew about…”

As time moves back into the now, an author long inspired and naturally curious about the incident begins to interview the women of the lighthouse keepers. After all, these are the ones left behind. Helen, Jenny and Michelle all differ remarkably meaning it’s really easy to follow their narratives. It’s these interviews where we learn the narratives of the men, the secrets the women have too and the personal tragedies that this event caused.

Running alongside this, back in 1972, the men share their own stories following the days before the incident took place. Like their wives, they too have their own stories to tell. The entrapment within the tower is a mere metaphor for the ensnaring of their past mistakes, their sins and regrets. Over time, resentment too increases. The demands of the job and the time away means that this is ever prevalent.

“When I’m ashore I have to pretend to be a man I’m not, part of something I’m not part of. It’s difficult to explain it to normal people. Lighthouse worlds are small. Slow. That’s what other people can’t do: they can’t do things slowly and with meaning…”

It’s here that I struggle because I want to tell you but what I want more is for you to read it and feel the magic yourself. This book made me feel exactly the same as Where the Crawdad’s Sing did and that was my favourite book of last year. It’s haunting, atmospheric, emotional and utterly thrilling. I couldn’t put it down and I doubt I’ll read another book like it this year.

Final Thoughts

I started to summarise this book above but I literally cannot stop gushing about it. In fact, I’ve left my copy for someone else to stumble across and read. It’s incredible and I don’t have the words to really show that.

See you next time my loves!

Big Love xxx

Book Bingo Reading Challenge 2022! The Summer I Turned Pretty – Jenny Han

Morning Fellow Book Lovers!

I hope you’re all well and enjoying the sunshine. It’s definitely getting me into the summer spirit and I wanted to use that for my reading challenge this month *ignores the fact that there’s four weeks of school left…* I decided to go with Read a book that’s full of sunshine for this month. Personally, to me there’s only ever going to be one winner: Jenny Han. I absolutely adored the Lara Jean series so I knew I would love the next trilogy she’s written. Of course, I’m talking about The Summer I Turned Pretty. I hope you love it as much as I did!

What’s it all about?

The protagonist of this novel is Isabel ‘Belly’ Conklin, her brother Steven and their best friends, Conrad and Jeremiah Fisher. Belly’s mother and Jeremiah and Conrad’s mother, Susannah are best friends and every summer they head to the beach house. All of these summer breaks lead to one thing: love. Belly is just realising how beautiful she is and how she is changing into a young woman. She’s only ever had eyes for Conrad but feelings for Jeremiah occur meaning that we have a love triangle between the three of them.

‘It feels like nothing else exists outside of that world, this moment. There’s just us. Everything that happened this past summer, and every summer before it, has led up to this. To now.’

The mothers, Susannah and Laurel, are best friends. Yet, despite this novel being a coming of age story about Belly, there is an ever increasing sadness and feeling that something is wrong with Susannah. She seems to be asleep more, spending more time in her room and more sadness around her. She promised Belly the summer of her life, seeing how beautiful she was, yet the sadness around her and her mother is hard to go unnoticed. Susannah is the character who seems to have all the answers, who can see things differently. Everyone turns to her and adores her. Her boys are fiercely protective of her.

‘She and my mother hugged first, fierce and long. My mother looked so happy to see her that she was teary, and my mother was never teary.’

Daughter to Laurel, Belly hasn’t really known her own beauty until now. She’s fiercely headstrong and a talent in the pool. But the boys only see her as a little sister, much to her frustration. The older of the two brothers, Conrad is a deep and intense character. There are times when he is thoroughly frustrating because he’s so difficult to understand. However, the moment came when things felt a little different between Belly and him. She’s always been interested in Conrad but he’s so closed off and emotionless that she never really knew where she stood with him. Does he even notice her?

‘The air felt different all of a sudden. It felt charged, electric, like I had been zapped by a thunderbolt.’

What about Jeremiah? He’s presented as the golden boy of the family, the younger of the two brothers and the one who is arguably the most loyal to Belly. However, he does become frustrated about living in the background. He too develops feelings for Belly and she does likewise. What does this mean for the group? To make matters more confusing, one summer they share a kiss, Belly’s first. What does this mean for them? Wasn’t it Conrad who she hoped her first kiss would be with?

‘He took. a deep breath of air and puffed up his cheeks, and then he blew it out so hard the har on his forehead fluttered. I could feel my heart start to pound – something was going to happen. He was going to say something I didn’t want to hear. He was going to go and change everything.’

Also in the mix is Cam. Another summer Belly meets Cam and he tells her how beautiful she is. They have a summer relationship, hanging out together, having fun together and sleeping in his hoodie. Does this work out? After all, he is the only one to notice all the amazing things about Belly and to tell her all of them too. Just the fact he notices her, really makes a difference to the group.

‘Things had been weird with me and Conrad and me and Jeremiah – an impossible thought crept its way into my head. Was it possible they didn’t want me with Cam? Because they, like, had feelings for me? Could that even be? I doubted it. I was like a little sister to them. Only I wasn’t’

So who gets the girl in the end? That’s for you to read and find out!


Final Thoughts

I loved this novel so much. It made me remember back to when I was younger and summer seemed to give you all the opportunities you could ever want. There’s a reason why YA is a booming genre and that’s because it’s honest and real. Jenny Han is an exceptional writer – I love her books and this one doesn’t disappoint. I cannot wait to get my hands on the other two books in this trilogy because I have to see what happens to the trio. This book gave me all I wanted and needed and more regarding summer vibes. I absolutely loved it.

It’s back to exam marking for me and admiring the summer weather from inside. I hope you all enjoy it! Until next time.

Big Love xxx

Book Bingo Reading Challenge 2022! Honeymoon – James Patterson & Richard Roughan

Hey Loves!

I hope you’re all well and have had a wonderful weekend. Mine has been really restful thankfully and I am thrilled to say that the English exams are now over! I can rest a little before the examination marking begins next weekend. I’m a little bit late in reviewing this but I accidentally left my first copy of the book at my parents house so I had to order another one. Anyway, it was delivered Friday and here we are! So for my reading challenge I decided for May to pick: Read a story written by more than one author. For those of you are devoted followers of my little space on the internet will know that I love James Patterson. Recently, I’ve found more and more books where he’s co-authored with some very high profile people, namely people like: Bill Clinton, Hilary Clinton and Dolly Parton, just to name a few. The book I chose (which I found in my beloved telephone box book exchanges) is Honeymoon. All I’ll say to begin with is this is another Patterson classic! I hope you enjoy.

What’s it all about?
Nora Sinclair is an interior designer. She is wealthy, talented, beautiful and has an equally talented and handsome partner. So why is Agent John O’Hara from the FBI interested in her life? Typical Patterson, this is a novel where nothing really is as it seems. Shortly after she becomes engaged to Connor, he suffers some unknown fit in his Westchester mansion, leading to his death. Nora plays the part of the devastated girlfriend, visibly distressed, emotional and broken. Yet, what is happening internally is quite different.

‘It was showtime. Nora calmly walked over to the phone and dialled. She reminded herself; the cleverest liars don’t give details. After two ring a woman picked up and said, “911 Emergency.”

Connor has died before their wedding, Nora is nothing more than his girlfriend. She gets nothing from his death. Enter Craig Reynolds, a representative for Centennial One Life Insurance. It appears Connor took out a life insurance policy in her name. Despite this obvious good news, Nora is wary of an investigation or attracting any attention to Connor’s death. Centennial One is a front for the FBI and Nora is being monitored closely. The next revelation takes place in Manhattan where Nora has gone to meet a client except she is no longer Nora, she is Olivia. One person, multiple identities.

‘Nora’s profession was never really in doubt, though. It was the rest of her life that was in question. Her two lives; her secrets. But there was no proof of anything yet.’

A pattern begins to develop. Another city, another name, another man. But the pattern seems to be that the men in her life never seem to live for long. Nora, or is it Olivia, is devastatingly attractive and never seems to have a problem finding a wealthy and attractive man to spend time with. Agent John O’Hara, investigating Nora under cover is no proof against her wiles. He finds himself drawn irresistibly into her orbit.

‘Nora was an absolutely beautiful woman who’d presented me with an amazing offer. It took every ounce of willpower to remind myself why I was with her in the first place.’

Who is the real Nora Sinclair? As the plot unfolds, we find more of her secrets revealing themselves. Each revelation seems to raise more questions rather than providing any answers. The FBI are circling and getting closer and closer but Nora is a woman with a mission and a plan. Will John O’Hara uncover her secrets? Or will her deadly attraction prove fatal for him as well? Unbeknown to him, while he is trying to find the real Nora Sinclair, she is busy uncovering his own secrets which could lead to an uncomfortable confrontation.

Final Thoughts
Nothing is what it seems with this book and during the first part I was confused myself about who Nora really is. But, it does work itself out in a thrilling, pacy read. I really enjoyed reading it and I loved having such a powerful, intelligent and attractive female protagonist. This girl really means business! One of the things I love about Patterson’s novels is that you cover a lot of ground quite quickly; there are no spare words. I am loving the collaborations too and finding out new names to keep an eye open for. Overall, a timeless thriller by one of my favourite writers. Loved it!

See you next time for more reading and more exploring.

Big Love xxx

Reading Round-Up: May

Hi Loves!

I hope you’re all well and enjoying this changeable last day of May. It’s either brilliant sunshine here or pouring with rain with a big thunder clap thrown in for good measure. I know I won’t finish the book I’m reading today so I thought I’d crack on with my round-up post for May (on time for I think the first month ever…) and share with you some of my favourite reads of this month. I’ve got a couple of reviews I need to get on with so expect those in the next few days too.

In May I managed to read a brilliant 14 books. I’m really happy with that as it’s been pretty full on at work. It’s also been helped by the release of the new ‘Quick Reads’ too which are a godsend for when you’re exhausted. Regardless, a book is a book and reading is reading. Let’s check out the shelves!

I know I say it every month but picking a top three is tough! Anyway, hopefully I’ve done this list some justice.

  1. Again Rachel – Marian Keyes. I loved Rachel’s Holiday and this next book didn’t disappoint. My only regret is that I was so late to this party. This book is all about what comes next for Rachel twenty years later. It was brilliant!
  2. Insatiable – Daisy Buchanan. This book is modern and fresh and shows the need for us to be loved. I really loved the protagonist, Violet, too. I enjoyed the writing style of Buchanan so much that I’ve also got Careering on my to be read pile.
  3. The Uncommon Reader – Alan Bennett. This was one of the books I bought to celebrate the Jubilee. Small yet mightily funny, this book tells the story of the Queen and her enjoyment of a travelling library.

I’ve got a couple of reviews to put up, one for a blog tour and one for my book of the month: The Manager and Honeymoon respectively, both of which I thoroughly loved. I need to get a wriggle on with those too! Have you read any of these? What takes your fancy?

See you next time!

Big Love all xxx

Book Bingo Reading Challenge 2022! Cannery Row – John Steinbeck

Hello Everyone!

I hope you’re all okay. I’m back at work now but definitely looking forward to the bank holiday weekend! Hopefully the weather will pick up again and it’ll be glorious instead of chilly… I had heard that May apparently is meant to be the coldest on record! I jolly well hope not… I need some sunshine in my life.

Today I want to share with you my category and book choice for April. I love my Book Bingo and I’m super proud of it. It’s really pushed me out of my comfort zone which is really what it’s all about. For April I decided to pick: Read a classic you should have read by now. I don’t know about you but I always find pressure with the classics, like I’m meant to have read them and I even get embarrassed when someone mentions a classic I haven’t read. That being said, I did study a number of them when I was at university so this category did throw up some challenges. Overall, I decided to read Cannery Row by John Steinbeck. I love Steinbeck’s work as they really do depict a specific historical time period but I’ve only ever read (and taught) Of Mice and Men. This is becoming increasingly controversial so I have relished the opportunity to reach out into more of his work.

What’s it all about?
On the surface, the plot is really simple: a group of men want to throw a party for their friend. However, this book is so much more than that. Its role is to capture the feelings and the people all located in one place: the cannery district of Monterey, California. The people there are down on their luck, lacking opportunity and those who choose for other reasons to not live in the more respectable area of town.

“The inhabitants are, as the man once said, ‘whores, pimps, gamblers, and sons of bitches,’ by which he meant everybody. Had the man looked through another peephole he might have said, ‘saints and angels and martyrs and holy men,’ and he would have meant the same thing.”

The first character we meet is Lee Chong, the owner of the Lee Chong Grocery. On the surface, it appears like he values profits over people however, the actions from Chong that he values people more than money. Steinbeck uses Chong to show how things aren’t as they seem and people can have different personas. Following Chong, we are then introduced to Mack and the boys. Again on the surface they are known to be pleasant guys and good hearted. But, they do have a tendency to take advantage of people and situations to benefit themselves. They refuse to live according to the conventions of society to become ‘successful’ in terms of the world view.

‘A little group of men who had in common no families, no money, and no ambitions beyond food, drink, and contentment.”

Arguably, the most important character is Doc. He is different to the others and is viewed which such high regard. He’s unlike the others too as he is educated and cultured. He is the one that the others look up to. He is always there to offer help and support. He gives advice to those who need it and also provides medicine or other medical services should they be required too. His nature inspires Mack and the boys to try and give Doc a party to thank him for everything he does for them all. There is one issue though: money. The boys take up odd jobs with none of them quick to take up anything long term. The main job is to capture some frogs.

‘He lived in a world of wonders, of excitement. He was concupiscent as a rabbit and gentle as hell. Everyone who knew him was indebted to him.’

Unfortunately, the party doesn’t quite go to plan to begin with. Sadly, Doc returns home to find his place trashed – the door hanging on its hinges, the floor littered with broken glass, phonograph records – some broken, some stolen, mostly littering the floor. Doc naturally is furious and doesn’t really understand what has happened to cause this. After he’s calmed, Doc apologises to Mack for his reaction. Mack reveals the intentions of the men and how it went wrong. Mack does seem to be someone who has regrets himself and is quite a reflective character. He promises to pay for the damages that was caused during a lengthy speech. But, Doc stops him because he knows him too well and Mack knows he is completely right.

“You’ll think about it and it’ll worry you for quite a long time, but you won’t pay for it.”

This turn of events mean that the atmosphere is awkward and uncomfortable. There’s friction and tension but when Darling, the beloved puppy becomes poorly and close to death, Mack and the men are forced to make a change. Darling is eventually saved and this gives the men a new lease of life. It is joy and not despair that is running through Cannery Row. As a result, the men decide to throw Doc another party – this time a proper one like he deserves. It. becomes an effort of all the people of Cannery Row with each of them working hard to give Doc a gift. Steinbeck uses this to show that these men, despite their circumstances have good within them and they have the ability to consider others as well as themselves. Doc finds out about the party and decides to make his own contributions. He brings his best records and also orders copious amounts of food for them all. The party ends up being a huge success – one filled with life and joy. The next morning brings quiet and stillness. Whilst cleaning up from the party, Doc remembers a poem that evoked such emotion from his guests the night before. He is in a state of equilibrium and calm. Life is fragile but so so valuable. The people around you make it count.

‘There are two possible reactions to social ostracism – either a man emerges determined to be better, purer, and kindlier or he goes bad, challenges the world and does even worse things.’

Final Thoughts
Short and powerful, I find Steinbeck just an utterly honest writer. He focuses on the men of the time period and shows how the context shapes them. I found Doc delightful but I actually really liked Mack and the boys too. I really need to devote more time to reading more Steinbeck because I do really enjoy it. I’m also really pleased about getting another classic under my belt too! American Literature is one of my favourite things so I really need to devote more time to American writers too. Lots of room for improvement here…

I hope you’re all well. I’ll see you next time for another book related post, I’m sure! Roll on the bank holiday weekend too!

Big Love all xxx

Book Bingo Reading Challenge 2022! The Lost Apothecary – Sarah Penner

Hello Loves!
It’s finally Easter break! 🐣 I am honestly so relieved and I had to admit, I was questioning if I would make it – I’ve never felt so stressed or exhausted… The mornings this week have been tough – but I did it and now I have two weeks of rest, recovery, reading and napping. Hopefully the weather as well will last – there’s nothing better than Spring sunshine. Easter is a huge event for my family too so I’m really excited about that also! Good things are approaching!

Anyway, this post is to hopefully make amends for not being successful in my reading challenge last month. I picked the category: Read a book of the month (Waterstones or equivalent). I’d started four books for this and failed them all for different reasons. Then, I realised that I’d read the books from the Waterstones book of the month so I then branched out to research more books of the month. I stumbled across the Goodreads list and the rest, as they say, is history. The Lost Apothecary by Sarah Penner was on my shelf after being gifted by a friend and that decided it. Fate some may say! I absolutely LOVE this book so I hope you all do too!

On with the review!

What’s it all about?
First of all, the book is visually stunning. The purples and gold really make it a picture on your shelf. Moving away from the look of it, the plot is also stunning too! I love this book and it will be one that I gift to my friends as well. It’s a book that you have to read.

Each chapter alternates between the three main women: Caroline, Nella and Liza and their respective time periods, modern day and 1791. Despite being over two hundred years apart, the lives of these two women are about to be linked forever. The novel opens with Nella, a brief chapter about a letter, a desperate woman, a remedy and a history to the apothecary. Her mother’s before her, the shop historically was a place for women to come to cure their maladies. However, things had taken a much more sinister turn: murder. What had led Nella to this point? There’s only mere references, but a broken heart is evident. As a result, a decision was made, no other woman would hurt like she did.

‘Beneath the ink strokes of my register hid betrayal, anguish…and dark secrets.’

Number 3 Back Alley is the geographical location of the shop. However, it is hidden and is only known about by word of mouth. The front is an empty room with a sack of grain and a small hole for Nella to see who is there. Behind the scenes were huge amounts of herbal ingredients, glass jars, grinding stones and a notebook with the names and ingredients administered over the years. Nella’s mother at the start, with her continuing the work of the apothecary. One day, a charming and interesting girl arrives with a note from her mistress. Her husband was having an affair and that woman needs to go. Instinctively, Nella knew what to do but the child unnerved her. Death and children shouldn’t mix. The remedy = a poisoned chicken egg.

‘My mother had held tight to this principle, instilling in me from an early age the importance of providing a safe haven – a place of healing for women. London grants little to women in need of tender care; instead, it crawls with gentleman’s doctors, each as unprincipled and corrupt as the next. My mother committed to giving women a place of refuge…’

Caroline found herself in London for what should have been a romantic weekend for her ten year wedding anniversary. Unfortunately, things are not good with her husband James as she discovered his infidelity. Finding herself in London meant that she needed to make her own way and her own plans. Curiosity getting the better of her, she meets Alfed, a mudlarker. In the dead of night she heads towards the Thames, unknowing what she will find but the call is much stronger than she realised. She’s given a quick piece of advice: look for inconsistencies and finding something is fate. Despite the smell, she finds a quirky glass vial which raises more questions than answers. She feels a pull to find out more. Her London trip is now focused around this small, glass item and its story. Alf also introduces Caroline to Gaynor, his daughter at the British Library. A budding historian herself, the two become the best of friends.

‘Places and people, I thought to myself. I could feel the change in myself at this very moment: the discontent within me seizing the possibility of adventure, an excursion into my long-lost enthusiasm for eras past.’

As the novel progresses, the lives of these three women become more intertwined. Caroline is busy asking questions and researching the contents of the glass vial, Nella and Liza are busy trying to limit the damage that is being caused. Whilst all mixtures before have gone well, the issue of Lady Clarence, her husband and his mistress did not. The wrong person died and the bottle had the same image of a bear and the address on the back. This discrete apothecary, fill of its potions and its secrets was now at risk of becoming public knowledge.

‘At present that seemed like a dream; with my mistake, I might have doomed her and all of us within the pages of her book. I thought again of the many names I’d traced in the register a couple of days ago, I had darkened the ink strokes in order to preserve and protect the names of the women… Now, I feared I hadn’t preserved and protected anything at all.’

The end of the novel is simply stunning. No spoilers here but the I adore the end – the loyalty, the companionship and most of all, the love and respect between these women. This history of the past, the women and their stories have helped shaped Caroline’s future. Gaynor becomes a true friend of Caroline, she (re)discovers who she really wants to be outside the confines of a marriage and the history of the women and their need for the apothecary shop at 3 Back Alley lives on. The title may be the ‘lost’ apothecary, but Caroline has certainly made sure it is found now.

‘I remembered Batchelor Alf’s words on the mudlarking tour, about how finding something on the river was surely fate. I hadn’t believed it at the time, I now knew that stumbling upon the tiny blue vial was fate – a pivotal turn in the direction of my life.’

Final Thoughts
There are not enough words for how much I loved and enjoyed this book. Sarah Penner is a name I will be keeping an eye out for in the future, that’s for sure. This book is perfect for showing the strength of women, what it means to stand by each other and the lengths women will go to to protect those around them. It also shows the devastating effect of being hurt and how that changes people. After all, it was that betrayal that changed Nella. I also loved that the action truly centres around a book that has been passed down from mother, to daughter and now to Caroline. Stunningly beautiful, for me this book is a masterpiece.

Big Love all xxxxx

Book Bingo Reading Challenge 2022! Mrs England – Stacey Halls

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Big love xxx

Book Bingo Reading Challenge 2022! Codename Villanelle – Luke Jennings

Hey Loves!
I hope January has been treating you well. It seems like only yesterday that it was New Years and I was sat making some plans for reading etc. Where does the time go? Anyway, I’m here this evening to share my first book choice for my Book Bingo Reading Challenge 2022 with you! I said in a previous post that I wanted a bit more flexibility with my reading and this challenge certainly has given me that. For January, I chose: Read a tale of a villain. Now, this did take a bit of thought but then I remembered all the hype around the popular show Killing Eve. I’ve only ever seen snippets of it because I do always prefer to read the book before I see it, so I decided to start with the first book: Codename Villanelle by Luke Jennings. I wasn’t sure what I was expecting really but I know I hoped for an exciting story where I found a truly great villain.

What’s it all about?
In just over 200 pages, we have the introduction, history and foreshadowed future of Villanelle. Opening in Italy, the novella begins with the focus on Salvatore Greco. Linked to a number of murders – two judges, four senior magistrates, and a pregnant investigative journalist – Greco is naturally someone that the world needs to be rid of. Konstantin and his group need to remove Greco, to take him out of the game… In order to make that happen, the best villain needs to be involved. Cue Villanelle.

Known three years prior as Oxana Vorontsova, a registered student of French and Linguistics, she found herself in a spot of bother. In Dobryanka women’s remand centre accused of murder. The centre was truly horrendous: barely edible food, no sanitary conditions, freezing cold to live in and solitary confinement for any breaking of the rules. Life before this was also tough. A dead mother and a questionable father meant that the only option was to grow up in an orphanage, where utterly frustrated, she set fire to the block. As a result, Oxana then was transferred to a psychiatric unit where she was observed as having incredible intelligence but absolutely no time for making any friends. In fact, once returned to another school, intelligence was rewarded but concern was raised at the lack of communication with others. Also, Oxana was linked to a number of violent incidents too. It is for all these reasons that Konstantin recruits her.

‘Konstantin told her, sparing no detail, of what was to come. And listening to him, it was as if everything in her life had led to that moment. Her expression never flickered, but the thrill that ripped through her was as avid as hunger.’

Oxana trained for a year in order to become a villain. There were six weeks of fitness training and unarmed combat. She was broken down to be built back up again but her mind was resilient. She was trained in interrogation and weapon handling. One of the attributes that makes her the perfect assassin: no emotions. The time had come to dump Oxana and become someone new. Oxana was dead and buried. Villanelle was born.

‘Oxana sensed herself changing, and the results pleased her. Her observation ability, sensory skills and reactive speeds had all been extraordinarily enhanced. Psychologically, she felt invulnerable, but then she had always known that she was different from those around her.’

Now transformed, Villanelle’s job was to get rid of Greco. The Organisation knows Greco’s movements and patterns. Therefore, making it incredibly easy to get rid of him. They know that he has his own private box at the Teatro Massimo theatre and he nearly always attends opening nights. This was an opportunity they couldn’t miss to get rid of him, for once and for all. During Puccini’s Tosca, she notices he is there. She develops a cover of a socialite, dressed beautifully, comfortable with higher class citizens within the theatre and manages to inveigle her way into his private box. She flirts and charms and waits for the moment she has picked for the assassination. Job done.

Not one part of Villanelle’s life is real. Friends don’t know the real her despite socialising together. Her story is that she is a day trader but nothing could be further from the truth. Her inability to feel anything robs her life of flavour. The only time she feels alive is when her life is at risk.

‘Fine-living and designer clothes are all very well, but it’s months now since the Palermo operation, and she badly needs to feel her heart race with the prospect of action.’

Her next job brings her to Britain and her target is Viktor Kedrin. Kedrin is a right-wing ideologist looking to create a fascist super state in Europe and Russia. The Organisation decides that he too is bad for business so Villanelle gets the job of assassinating him whilst he is addressing a conference. This opens the door for Eve to become part of the narrative. Eve is a MI5 operative who is trying to decide whether Kedrin deserves close protection or not. Despite her recommendations, Kedrin goes unprotected meaning that he is an open target. His death is easy but it does leave Eve with more questions than answers. It also means that Villanelle is now on the radar of MI5. There are rumours and suggestions of a professional female assassin at large. But who is she? And how is she this good?

Kedrin’s death means that Eve is therefore suspended. However, she does become recruited by MI6 who are creating a black team, top secret, to hunt Villanelle despite not knowing her name. Meanwhile, Villanelle is busy with her next job: removing FatPanda, otherwise known as Lieutenant Colonel Zhang Lei. Head of a cyber-warfare unit of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army, known as White Dragon, is costing the Organisation money and so has to be removed.

‘The predations of White Dragon have cost their victims billions of dollars over the years, and a group of individuals, collectively more powerful than any government, has decided that it is time to act.’

The assassination of FatPanda swiftly comes to Eve’s attention as she is scouring news bulletins, CCTV and the internet for any sign of Villanelle. The MI6 Black unit that she runs immediately travel to China and make contact with an operative who works at the Chinese Ministry of State Security. Whilst it is difficult for them to trust each other, the need to track down their common enemy means they share information that gets them one step closer to Villanelle. Inevitably, this does not end well with further bloodshed and a cold trail.

Meanwhile trouble is brewing within the Organisation. Konstantin has vanished and Villanelle along with other operatives are given the task of getting him back. Alongside this, Eve is following her own trail looking at the financial transactions that shadow the assassinations. These lead her to a problem much closer to home… For both Villanelle and Eve, it has become clear that their employers are fallible and that their world is getting more and more dangerous.

‘Konstantin always have her to believe that in working for the Twelve, he and she were part of something which was both invisible and invulnerable. This episode showed that for all its reach and power, the organisation could be hurt. Despite the warmth of the salon, Villanelle shivers.’

Final Thoughts
I found this book to be a complicated thing to review really. The hype around the TV series probably didn’t help but I expected more than I got. Whilst researching, I read somewhere that someone felt like it was a first draft, and I can totally see why it felt like that. I wanted it to be brilliant and I wanted to be hooked. Nevertheless, I do think that Villanelle is a brilliant villain. She is gritty and hard but I do wish her character was developed more really. Maybe I’m just a bit greedy! All in all, not a bad book by any means but I haven’t rushed out to buy the next book in the series. I doubt it’s one I’ll read again.

Regardless, I am really pleased with the start of my Book Bingo! I can’t wait to see where I go next! I would love it if you took part in this too so please do let me know what you’re reading.

Big love all xxx