Category Archives: Reading

Reading Challenge 2020: Between Shades of Gray – Ruta Sepetys

Hey Lovelies!

I can’t believe we are deep into February which means I’ve survived my first half term as Head of Department. Also, I’m quite proud of my progress so far too because I’ve read 16 books so far this year which I think is pretty good. I’m waiting for the slump to hit me though. I did have high hopes for half term but I’ve spent most of it with a lingering cold and dodging the relentless rain. Regardless, I hope you’re all well and staying safe in this weather. I am looking forward to catching up with you all!

You may remember from a previous post that I created my own reading challenge for 2020 (click here for a recap) and today I wanted to share with you the book I read for January: Between Shades of Gray – Ruta Sepetys. This book completely took my breath away. It is exquisitely written, moving, powerful and evocative. Get yourselves a copy as soon as possible.

What’s it all about?

Firstly, the criteria for January was a tale that represents a new beginning. When I first started reading this book, I wasn’t really sure it fit the criteria but I continued because the book was just so bloody good. Regardless, this book absolutely represents the grit and determination of people wanting to survive in some of the cruelest places on earth. There’s love, kindness, compassion and hope, even when on the surface it appears to have completely gone.

The book is based on true historical events that took place following the expansion of the Soviet Union into the surrounding countries, prior to the Second World War. The novel starts in Lithuania, in the house of Lina. There’s a ominous boom at the door which brings fear and trepidation. Lina, her younger brother Jonas and her mother Elena are taken one night by the NKVD (a forerunner for the KGB) and placed on a goods train along with many other ‘criminals’. Their crime? Unknown. No court, no charge. Just a journey in a train with ‘thieves and prostitutes’ painted on the side. 

“Three NKVD officers had Mother encircled. ‘We need more time, we’ll be ready in the morning.’ ‘You have twenty minutes or you won’t live to see morning,’ said the officer. He threw his burning cigarette onto our clean living room floor and ground it into the wood with his boot. We were about to become cigarettes.”

Lina’s father is absent for this as he never returned home. At this stage we can only assume or guess why. Has he spoken out against Stalin?

From Lithuania the train travels into Siberia, a long cold, dangerous journey. Siberia does not sound like a place I’d ever want to be to be honest. Overcrowded, with no food or sanitation the cattle trucks soon become filthy and disease ridden. One by one the dead bodies begin to mount up.

Lina’s mother becomes a ray of hope amongst the devastation as she takes charge and tries to forge a purpose and unity from the scared, hungry and increasingly weak companions in their cattle truck. Her unflagging, unrelenting spirit drives them on. Lina loves to draw but in this desperate place all she can do is draw in the filth on the floor.

“I counted the people – forty-six packed in a cage on wheels, maybe a rolling coffin. I used my fingers to sketch the image in a layer of dirt on the floor near the front of the train car, wiping the drawings away and starting over, again and again.”

During this journey she meets Andrius and together they manage to make contact with people on some other trains heading into Siberia. They find Lani’s father, imprisoned on a different train but alive! He will escape, they will be together as a family again…

42 days of travelling in a cattle car and Lina arrives at Altai Labour Farm inside Siberia. They’ve had to travel with dead bodies, endure the taunting and brutality of their guards, even had a to shower in cold water with leering guards looking on.

Through all of this Lina’s mother has kept her safe, bribing guards with jewellery and money she had hidden in her clothing. For the moment however, the travelling was over. However, they were not greeted with warmth or kindness. Yet more hostility presented itself.

“ ‘What’s she saying?’ asked Jonas. ‘She says she has no room for filthy criminals,’ said Mother. The woman grabbed my hair and pulled it, yanking me towards the door to throw me out. Mother yelled and ripped the woman’s hand from my head, slapped her, and pushed her away. Jonas kicked her in the shin. The Altaian woman stared at us with angled black eyes.”

At this point the characters are forced now to work on a farm, given the bare minimum food to survive with their ration docked for any infringement of the rules, life gets worse and worse. (There is a clear link to the theme for this monthI promise!!)

The NKVD want them to sign a confession and agree to a sentence of 25 years, in return they will give them more food and permission to visit the nearby village. In an act of solidarity the prisoners refuse to sign, the only act of defiance they can muster.

Their solidarity does not last, (did it ever begin?) and the NKVD find some who will inform on the others, find some who will serve them in other even lesssavoury ways. The prisoners turn on each other, not knowing who to trust. Some sign, then more. They stop being a people and become a collection of individuals desperate to live one more day, desperate to find any ray of hope in order to survive. This was the key. Not living.Surviving.

“ ‘Mother, will there be potatoes for us tonight?” When we asked we were told we had to work to earn food. ‘If you worked for the NKVD, Mother, would they give you food?’ asked Jonas. ‘No my dear, they would give me empty promises,’ she replied, ‘which is worse than an empty belly.’”

Through all the brutality of the labour camp Lina continues to draw. This is a means of escape for the young girl, a sense of her old normal life. She manages to get paper and hides her drawings. She holds onto the dream of getting a message to her father, so he can come and rescue them.

Even though the prisoners are divided and manipulated by the NKVD, some sense of solidarity and humanity prevails. They celebrate birthdays, they find reasons to smile and sometimes they can help lift each other a little way out of the horror they are enduring. Illness comes, Jonas falls very ill. The NKVD refuse to feed him or provide a doctor. Elena manages again to protect her children, the fierce mother that she is. Amazingly, against all the odds, Jonas recovers.

Then, without warning, a number of them are selected. Herded again onto another train. Lina, Jonas and Elena are among those taken but Andrius is left behind. The journey leads them to a river and barges. They travel further and further north. Eventually they reach Trefimovsk, inside the Arctic circle. The conditions here make the farm seem like a luxury spa, freezing cold there are not even huts or shacks for shelter. The only buildings are for the guards, they are expected to build their own shelter from whatever is on the ground.

“It was completely uninhabited, not a single bush or tree, just barren dirt to a shore of endless water. We were surrounded by nothing but the polar tundra and the Laptev sea. ‘What you don’t like it? You think you are too good for this? Facist pig. Pigs sleep in the mud. Didn’t you know that?’ He moved closer to Mother. His corroded teeth protruded from under his top lip. ‘You pigs disgust me.’”

From here, life gets increasingly desperate. The prisoners are stick thin and fall ill easily. Elena’s indomitable spirit is finally crushed by the desperation of this place, by the brutality of their guards and most of all by the news that her husband has been shot. She slips into illness and her body slowly shuts down. Her only hope has been cruelty taken from her.

Winter comes and in this barren place on the edge of the world it is a terrible thing to endure. Especially when you are living in a makeshift shack with barely any food. The incrediable resilience of these wrongly accused people shines though. Desperate and down trodden though they are, the fact that they can still show compassion and still feel hope is remarkable.

The ending is a surprise for you! However, I will say it moved me to tears. It was the silent tears that you don’t even realise you’re spilling. That kind of emotion. So, in the words of the writer, I’ll end with this:

“Some wars are about bombing. For the people of the Baltics, this war was about believing. In 1991, after fifty years of brutal occupation, three Baltic countries regained their independence, peacefully and with dignity. They chose hope over hate, and showed the world that even through the darkest night, there is light.”

Final thoughts

This book is just incredible, in ever sense of the word. New beginnings were created by a sense of never ending hope for these people. The fact that it’s based on history means that I feel an overwhelming sense of loss when characters died, their pain was my pain and I desperately wanted them to survive. It’s the perfect book to start my reading challenge with.

February – Read a book that tells the story of love: good, bad or otherwise. For this I’ve chosen to read An American Marriage – Tayari Jones. I don’t know anything about it and I’ve not seen many reviews (haven’t looked to be fair!) so let’s see what this brings for the month of love! Obama and Oprah recommend it so that’s enough for me!

 

More to catch up on soon.

Big love to you all. Xx

 

 

6 Comments

Filed under Book review, Historical Fiction, Reading, Reading Challenge 2020

Reading Challenge 2020

Hello Everyone!

Happy January and equally, happy 2020! A new decade is upon us to make our mark and do the things we love. Where have the last 10 years gone though..?

You may remember from a previous post that I was frantically researching for a reading challenge for this year. There’s plenty out there but each had bits to them I wasn’t really keen on. I also didn’t want to use The Book of the Month from Waterstones either because that was too rigid and a slight problem if there was something I didn’t quite fancy. Therefore, whilst having lunch with a friend, I decided to try and create one.

The categories are as follows:

January- A tale that represents a new beginning

February – Read a book that tells the story of love: good, bad or otherwise

March – Try a book with a non human narrator

April – Focus on a story of nature and/or the spring season

May – Read a book about hope and growth

June – Find a novel with a child narrator

July – Murder and intrigue about this month

August – A summer read to an exotic place

September – A tale that leads to adventure and excitement

October – A spooky story that reflects the Halloween season

November – Something that has been sat on your bookshelf / TBR list that casts a backwards glance

December – Time for a festive story to close the year.

That’s it! I wanted to keep it seasonal and also provide the scope for variety too. I believe there’s room to branch out into different books I wouldn’t normally have thought of too as well as the flexibility to finally read those books that have been sat on my shelf for a year or five. (Please tell me it’s not just me who has this issue…) Each of these will be accompanied by a review on here too.

This month: new beginnings. Just a quick Google search brings up a fair few ideas for this one. January is the time for resolutions and changes after all. After some extensive research, I’ve decided to go for this:

Synopsis:

One night fifteen-year-old Lina, her mother and young brother are hauled from their home by Soviet guards, thrown into cattle cars and sent away. They are being deported to Siberia. 

An unimaginable and harrowing journey has begun. Lina doesn’t know if she’ll ever see her father or her friends again. But she refuses to give up hope.

Lina hopes for her family.
For her country.
For her future.
For love – first love, with the boy she barely knows but knows she does not want to lose . . .

Will hope keep Lina alive?

Set in 1941, Between Shades of Gray, is an extraordinary and haunting story based on first-hand family accounts and memories from survivors.

I’ve never heard of the book or the film before so I’m starting the year with something new and exciting. I like the blurb too so here’s hoping that it will be a good book to start the reading challenge with. I can’t wait to get going!

What about you, my lovely blogging friends? Are you taking part in any reading challenges? Feel free to dip into this one if you like! Regardless, let me know how you’re getting on. After all, you guys are the reason why my shelves are overflowing!

Wishing you all the best for 2020! Until next time. Happy reading. 📚

Big love xx

10 Comments

Filed under Books, Reading, Reading Challenge 2020

The Way of all Flesh – Ambrose Parry

Hey Lovelies!

August is running away with us again but thankfully for me it has been a summer of reading. I literally haven’t stopped. I even ran out of books on my holiday – thank goodness the hotel had a bookshelf completely filled by the guests.

I did promise to catch up with blog posts from the past few months and today is the first. I read The Way of all Flesh in May. I’d chose it for the Waterstones Book of the Month and it did not disappoint. Time to share my review with you all but without any spoilers. You’ll just have to read it to find out more! I hope you enjoy it.

What’s it all about?

Set and beginning in 1847 Edinburgh, Raven, a young and aspiring student doctor, is living in a less than desirable part of time. He discovers a friend, a lady of the night, is dead. At the same time, Raven is also being pursued for money by the local underworld, a Mr Flint. Previously, Raven borrowed the money to give to his now dead prostitute friend. It was never disclosed as to why she needed it.

Following a good beating in the street for failing to pay Mr Flint back, Raven arrives at the house and surgery of Dr Simpson, a wealth medical man with an excellent reputation. Despite Raven’s battered face, he is taken on as an apprentice which also provides him with the perfect opportunity to leave his lodgings and the insalubrious Old Town area. Naturally, this also could mean that Mr Flint’s debt collectors would be left behind too.

“He hoped the Simpson family appreciated how privileged they were to live in this place, safe not only from cold and hunger, but from the world of danger, anxiety and suspicion that he had grown used to.”

In his new lodgings Raven doesn’t quite have the best start with Sarah, a housemaid with a keen and unusual interest in medicine. She is a product of her time however, she has a wealth of experience in dealing with patients. Raven, initially makes himself look like a complete fool in front of her, alienating her at the same time. To make matters worse, Sarah discovers that all is not what it seems with regard to his deeply hidden past. There is a secret lurking deep beneath the surface…

Over a period of time within this incredible house, he is introduced to a number of other doctors, both established and new to the profession. At this time medicine is a frontier science and people were daily making new discoveries. After dinner, a common pastime was to imbibe new and untested chemical mixtures in order to see if they made a good anaesthetic.

“She found Raven, crouched over Dr Simpson, who lay face-down upon the floor. The bodies of Dr Keith and Captain Petrie motionless alongside. “He breathes” he announced.”

Raven makes a new acquaintance, John Beattie, who invites Raven to accompany him on a house visit. He needs Raven to assist whilst he performs a simple operation. Hoping that he will be paid well, Raven agrees. (This was how doctors made their money in 1847!) Unfortunately, the operation goes badly wrong and Raven is left believing that he is responsible for the death of the patient by mis-administering the ether.

Over time and throughout his duties, Raven has become deeply suspicious about a similar death to the one at the beginning of the novel. The way in which the body is contorted is identical and he begin to suspects foul play. Matters just are not adding up correctly in his mind. As a result, he decides to investigate these matters further. As the story unfolds, Raven makes an unlikely ally who helps him to research these deaths. They begin to discover and uncover a series of similar cases. Raven sets a trap, which fails… and the rest is for you to find out for yourselves!

The novel finishes with an array of events – good and bad – that shed new light on each of the characters. As suspected, no one can be trusted and no one is really who they say they are.

“As he stepped through the front door, the coat swirling about him like a cloak, a number of disparate fragments swirling at the forefront of his thoughts coalesced at once into a visible whole.”

Final Thoughts

This novel contains everything you want from a good book – murder, misadventure, tension, drama. It is packed! The pace is relentless and so it naturally becomes one of those ‘unputdownable’ reads. The time period of the 1840s appeals to me and it was fascinating to see this perspective of Edinburgh. I can’t wait to read the next book by Ambrose Parry – The Art of Dying. I expect it will contain the same trails and tribulations as this novel. Let me know if you’ve read it and your thoughts.

Enjoy the rest of August!! See you next time.

Big love xx

11 Comments

Filed under Book review, Reading, Waterstones Book of the Month

The Very Hungry Caterpillar Turns 50!

Happy Bank Holiday Monday Everyone!

I hope you’re well and making the most of the long weekend. Today is a very special day in the book world because it is the 50th birthday of The Very Hungry Caterpillar. It has its own hash tag on Twitter and everything! (#VHC50 if you’re interested).

I saw this as the perfect opportunity to review this book and look at how important this book has been in so many peoples lives.

What’s it all about?

The book starts on one Sunday morning where a caterpillar hatched from an egg under the moon. He’s absolutely starving, ravenous for gorgeous food. Thus, the Very Hungry Caterpillar is born. He goes off to search for food.

‘One Sunday morning the warm sun came up and – pop! – out of the egg came a tiny and very hungry caterpillar.

Over the course of five days, he eats increasing amounts of fruit. He starts on Monday with one apple, two pears on Tuesday, three plums on Wednesday, four strawberries on Thursday and five oranges on Friday.

On the Saturday, still hungry, he eats a ginormous amount of food! He eats one piece of chocolate cake, one ice cream cone, one pickle, on slice of Swiss cheese, one slice of salami, one lollipop, one piece of cherry pie, one sausage, one cupcake and one slice of watermelon.

However, that night, he gets a pain in his tummy from eating so much. By the next morning, he feels much better after eating a luscious green leaf. By now, he’s neither hungry nor little. He’s a very big caterpillar who looks like he’s fit to burst.

The caterpillar spins himself a cocoon where he sleeps for two whole weeks. After this time as passed, he emerges from it as a beautiful butterfly, with large and colourful wings.

Then he nibbled a hole in the cocoon, pushed his way out and…

he was a beautiful butterfly!

Final thoughts

It is easy to see why this book has turned 50 years old. I don’t know of anyone who hasn’t read it. However, what I find more meaningful than any age of a book, is where it goes next. Of course, this book has travelled through generations of readers. I read this book as a little girl and I still marvel in its wonder today as an adult. Reading this with smaller children in my own family is a joy as the legacy continues.

I was reading somewhere that apparently one of these books is sold, on average, every minute. The story and the illustrations have lived in many a home and continue to do so today. It’s been translated into over 60 languages with more than 46 million copies being sold. There is, of course, a new edition for the 50th birthday which features a rather lovely gold cover. Regardless, this story is just a wonderful, humble piece of writing that we’ve all loved, since our childhood. Happy birthday Very Hungry Caterpillar! 🎂 🎉

Enjoy the rest of the long weekend my dearest friends.

Big love xx

15 Comments

Filed under Book review, Children's Literature, Reading

The Language of Kindness – Christie Watson

Hello Lovelies!

Happy 2019! We’re already 12 days in so I hope it’s treating you kindly. I am reading my third book of 2019, so I’m feeling quite pleased. My reading challenge for this year is to pick one book from the Waterstones ‘Book of the Month’ list. This is one of their choices! And what a choice it is!

Today I want to share with you a review of one of the books I’ve read: The Language of Kindness by Christie Watson. This book moved me and left me feeling immense admiration of our NHS and the people who work for them. She gives nurse a voice.

What’s it all about?

Written through the eyes of Christie Watson, a nurse for 20 years, we see what life was really like during her career. The novel moves from her first days as a student days, to becoming a mentor for fresh and new nurses to being a senior nurse, leaving the profession. It all begins when Watson is seventeen years old. A touch I really liked what a quotation about nursing at the start of each chapter. This is her story.

‘Twenty years in nursing has taken so much from me, but has given me back even more.’

As a resuscitation nurse, the role is incredibly varied across the whole hospital. We see through her eyes the memory of Crash Calls, where time is crucial in saving lives. One of the first places we see is A&E. Like myself, you all have probably seen what A&E looks like in this country, particularly over the weekend. However, everyone has to pull together as a team, as shown by Watson’s narrative. Life is so fragile and delicate. A&E reminds us of this on a daily basis.

‘Every day is intensely felt and examined, and truly lived. But my hand always shakes when I push open the door – even now, after many years as a nurse.’

The decision for Watson to become a mental-health nurse was influenced by many things, especially her mother. On her first day, we as readers get to feel the same sense of trepidation as she does. Unable to sleep due to feelings of nervousness, Watson prepares herself for the first day of the rest of her nursing career. Following her mentor, Sue, Watson meets one of her first patients: Derek. Derek had stopped taking his medication and was convinced that people were trying to steal parts of his body. Over time Watson could see improvements in Derek. He seems calmer, less angry and more centred. Sadly, Derek tries to commit suicide.

‘Derek’s face is full of fear. I want to scoop him up somehow. To wrap him in a blanket and keep him safe.’

We are then taken to see the journey of new life: the labour and birth of a baby. Shadowing a midwife, Frances, we are allowed into the world of a new mum-to-be, Scarlett. The description of childbirth is all too familiar for many of us but this was Watson’s first birth. We feel her fears that scream out of the page. The description oozes accurate emotions. The retelling of these events make the strongest of us feel slightly squeamish. However, it’s the strength of women that shine through. Women are having babies all the time and midwives are the ones helping to bring them safely into this world.

‘The air is different. The world is different. My student nurse’s dress collar is wet with tears, but they continue to fall. I am in total amazement at women, at midwives, at humanity.’

Nurses know, only too well, the balance between life and death. After changing to be a children’s nurse, Watson shares an emotional day at work. The death of a child is always incomprehensible but it’s worse when you know the families. Stuart, a fellow nurse, has had a beautiful baby boy who is healthy. However, he becomes terribly sick with no signs. He’s admitted to the ward where Stuart works. The team of staff there are experts with years of clinical experience. However, this little baby doesn’t survive.

‘There is a terrifying pause, then a few seconds of silence, before she slowly shakes her head. Sometimes, even as a novice, I understand that there simply is no meaning.’

The majority of nurse show real compassion. Baby Emmanuel was born prematurely at twenty-four weeks. He’s tiny and the odds are stacked against him. However, since his birth the nurses are aware that his mother, Joy, has not yet had the chance to hold her baby son, to have the contact they need to strengthen their bond. Watson gives this mother the moment she needs. It’s high risk, he’s attached to many tools keeping him alive, but it is something that that mother needs. This scene moved me immensely. The compassion and consideration nurses have for their patients fills the room.

‘He looks at his mum for the longest time without blinking, and she looks back at him, and in a few short minutes they fall in love.’

Not every story has a happy ending, life teaches us that. Yet, nurses fill their days with care, trust and compassion. The most emotive part of the book was Watson sharing the illness (lung cancer) and subsequent death of her father. Watson isn’t the nurse this time, she is the patient’s daughter. Nurse Cheryl is there. She knows pain before her father feels it. She laughs with him, keeps the family together in their final moments. She knows to open his eyes so husband and wife can see each other. She knows to give a gentle nod of strength at the funeral. This nurse remains with the family until the very end. For Watson, her nurse instincts tell her to try and save his life, even though she knows it is futile.

‘Today I am not a resuscitation nurse. I am not even a nurse. I am a daughter. And it hurts. Everything hurts.

It is this part of the book that had me crying my eyes out. Nurses feel our pain. We are all human and the only thing we can ever be sure of is death. We see mini episodes where nurses will wait until relatives are there, know what the families need to hear. That resilience to keep going to give families their last moments together is very special. Nurses are the beating heart of the NHS.

‘Of course she was a professional. But she was more than that. To my family, she was our nurse. To my dad, she was his friend.’

The novel ends with the right now. Staff are facing burn out, exhaustion and anxiety. Watson is well aware and has seen for herself ‘bad’ nursing. There’s no excuse for patronising, dismissive and a lack of sympathy. As a patient you are vulnerable, embarrassed, feeling like you’re taking up too much time for the staff who have probably been at work for twelve hours. Yet, there is hope. For Watson’s final day as a nurse, it is just as eventful as the rest of her career: crash calls, a birth, A&E. Life goes on but the message is, we do it together.

‘Hold my hand tightly. Let us fling open the door and find whatever we find, face all the horror and beauty of life. Let us really live. Together, our hands will not shake.’

Final thoughts:

This novel reminds me so much of This is Going to Hurt by Adam Kay. From a nurses perspective we hear their voice. Life is hard in hospitals. Helping the very sick and vulnerable has a massive impact on those administering care. I’m grateful for those wonderful nurses who spend their lives bringing comfort to their patients. This book moved me immensely and it is a book we all absolutely have to read.

Big love. X

23 Comments

Filed under Book review, Non Fiction, Reading, Waterstones Book of the Month

2018 Summary

Hello Everyone!

As we approach the end of 2018, I wanted to take the opportunity to reflect upon the books I’ve read this year and share some of my favourites with you all. Some of these books I’ve discovered because of you lovely people.

This year I managed to read a total of 64 books. Whilst I’ve not met my 100 target, it’s much improved from the total read last year which was 36.

My list is as follows:

Anonymous The Secret Teacher
Anonymous William and Evelyn De Morgan
Arden, Katherine The Bear and the Nightingale
Arden, Katherine The Girl in the Tower
Banksy Wall and Piece
Barr, Emily The Truth and Lies of Ella Black
Baum, Lyman Frank The Life & Adventures of Santa Claus
Botton, Alain de The Course of Love
Bramley, Cathy Hetty’s Farmhouse Bakery
Briggs, Raymond The Snowman
Brookner, Anita Hotel du Lac
Bythell, Shaun The Diary of a Bookseller
Callow, Simon Dickens’ Christmas: A Victorian Celebration
Christie, Agatha Crooked House
Curtis, Richard Four Weddings and a Funeral
de Waal, Kit The Trick to Time
Dickens, Charles A Christmas Carol
Dinsdale, Robert The Toy Makers
Elphinstone, Abi Sky Song
Fletcher, Stephanie E-mail: A Love Story
Folbigg, Zoe The Note
Galbraith, Robert Lethal White
George, Nina The Little Breton Bistro
Griffin, Ella The Memory Shop
Hamid, Mohsin Exit West
Hamid, Mohsin The Reluctant Fundamentalist
Harris, Joanne The Lollipop Shoes
Hislop, Victoria Cartes Postales from Greece
Hosseini, Khaled Sea Prayer
Kay, Adam This is Going to Hurt
Kerr, Judith When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit
KET Planet Banksy
Lafaye, Vanessa Miss Marley
Laurain, Antoine The Red Notebook
Lewis, Christina & Fuller, Katy Land of Green Ginger
Maria Rilke, Rainer Letters to a Young Poet
McCaughrean, Geraldine Where the World Ends
Miller, Andy The Year of Reading Dangerously
Miller, Ben The Night I Met Father Christmas
Morpurgo, Michael The Snowman
Morris, Heather The Tattooist of Auschwitz
Obama, Michelle Becoming
Pavese, Cesare The Beautiful Summer
Perry, Annika The Storyteller Speaks
Priestley, J.B An Inspector Calls
Purcell, Laura The Silent Companions
Purcell, Laura The Corset
Quigley, Alex Closing the Vocabulary Gap
Rae, Simon The Faber Book of Christmas
Rowling, J.K. Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone
Rudnick, Elizabeth Christopher Robin
Schwartz, Kyle I Wish My Teacher Knew
Smith, Dodie I Capture the Castle
Sparks, Nicholas Safe Haven
Stempel, John Lewis The Wood
Trigiani, Adriana The Supreme Macaroni Company
Vickers, Salley The Librarian
Waller, Robert James The Bridges of Madison County
Winterson, Jeanette Christmas Days
Woodfine, Katherine The Midnight Peacock
Young, Louisa My Dear, I Wanted to Tell You
Youngson, Anne Meet Me At The Muesum
Yousafzai, Malala I Am Malala
Zafron, Carlos Ruiz The Shadow of the Wind

2018 has been an amazing year for books. There’s been some absolute knockouts that I’ve thoroughly enjoyed reading. Some I’ve reviewed to share with you all, others I’ve not quite had chance to review yet.

I personally believe that this year has been one of the best for books. Just look how beautiful The Faber Book of Christmas is with its fabric covering from Liberty’s. So lush!

This year I’ve decided to share with you my top 5 Fiction and Non Fiction books that I’ve read. Non Fiction is normally not my cup of tea. Nevertheless, I’m equally surprised to confess that this list was easier to compose than the Fiction list!

My top 5 Non Fiction books of 2018

  1. Becoming – Michelle Obama. What a lady! She’s such an inspiration and I felt even more strongly about this after finishing this book. A honest and humble lady making this is lovely read.
  2. I am Malala – Malala Yousafzai. Wow. What an absolutely incredible young lady. A trust inspiration who is still comparing for girls education today. Read my review here.
  3. The Diary of a Bookseller – Shaun Bythell. This book really strengthened my love for independent booksellers. This book provided a brutally honest and often funny account. Read my review here.
  4. This is Going to Hurt – Adam Kay. I laughed and I cried whilst reading this book. Refreshingly honest and all too real as it provides an insight into our National Health Service. Read my review here.
  5. Wall and Piece – Banksy. I am ever so slightly obsessed with Banksy and this book is a beautiful collection of his work. I was especially excited when a Banksy appeared in Hull back in January. Hull has a Banksy!

My top 5 Fiction books of 2018:

  1. The Toy Makers – Robert Dinsdale. This book has been my favourite book of 2018. I absolutely loved it, every chapter, every page. It took me on a journey where I just could not put it down. I would go as far as saying this is one of my favourite books ever. Read my review here.
  2. The Silent Companions – Laura Purcell. This book was absolutely terrifyingly good. It’s easily a book that grips people. I loved loved loved it. I really need to review this to spread the word. However, at this stage: trust me!
  3. The Bear and the Nightingale – Katherine Arden. This book was a complete surprise. I’d never even heard of it until The Orangutan Librarian posted about it. I’ve never looked back. I can’t wait for January when the third book is out. Read my review here.
  4. Lethal White – Robert Galbraith. As we all know, I am a huge fan and this book was just as excellent as the first, second and third. I enjoy the thrill of solving out the puzzle and the ‘who done it?’ concept.
  5. The Storyteller Speaks – Annika Perry. This is my dear friend Annika, her first book, which was amazing. Filled with numerous short stories about an eclectic mix of topics. Read my review here.

2018 was also the first year I took part in a reading challenge. Penguin’s Read The Year Challenge was awesome because I was able to read new and exciting book based on a variety of themes. As a reader, I tend to stick to what I know – classics and new fiction really. However, this really gave me new opportunities to branch out. You can recap all my RTY posts here. I’ll be doing the same next year so stay tuned. RTY with Penguin.

All that is left to say is Happy New Year!! I can’t wait to continue my WordPress journey with you lovely bloggers. I hope 2019 brings you peace, happiness and plenty of good books!

Big love all xx

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Filed under Books, New Year, Reading, Top Ten

RTY: The Life & Adventures of Santa Claus – Lyman Frank Baum

Hey Everyone!!

Happy December! I can’t believe we are in the last month of 2018. Where has the time gone?! This does of course mean that this is the last book of the Penguin Reading Challenge. I’ve had immense fun doing this challenge and I’m so glad I’ve done it. I’ve read things I’ve never even heard of before. The focus for December is: Finish the year with a book that embodies the festive spirit. This was arguably the easiest month for me because I love Christmas. As is by magic, I spotted this beautiful book: The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus. It was a warm festive hug of a book!

What’s it all about?

The novel opens with a baby being found in the Forest of Burzee by Ak, the Master Woodsman of the World. This baby, Claus, is put into the care of the lioness Shiegra and then adopted by Necile, the Wood Nymph. These characters are immortal whereas Claus is not.

His childhood is filled with love and happiness. However, upon reaching young adulthood, Claus is introduced by Ak to human society. What he sees bothers him greatly. Visions of war, brutality, poverty, neglect and abuse. As an adult, Claus cannot reside in Burzee so he decides to settle in the nearby Laughing Valley, where the immortals assist him. To keep him company, Necile gives him a little cat called Blinky.

The next part of the novel focuses on Claus inventing toys. He becomes well known for his kindness towards the children. Every so often, his neighbours son, Weekum, visits him. Because of having Blinky, Claus decides to make a carving of the cat calling it a toy. This is the start of something beautiful. The immortals begin assisting him in the production of other carvings, with the Ryls colouring the toys in with their infinite paint pots.

Claus decides to make a clay figure reminiscent of Necile: Dolly. Claus gives the first to Bessie Blithesome, a local noblewoman, after checking with Necile and the Queen of the Fairies about whether he should give toys to wealthy children. The dolls created later then start to resemble Bessie herself and other counterfeit infant girls.

We then see the the Awgwas, evil beings who can become invisible, stealing the toys that he gives to the children. They are rather furious because the toys mean that the children no longer misbehave. As a result, Claus starts to make journeys during the night, travelling down chimneys when he is unable to enter the locked doors.

In all this world there is nothing so beautiful as a happy child.’

But, the Awgwas prevent so many of Claus’s deliveries that Ak declares war upon them. With the help and support of other immortal creatures such as the dragons, three eyed giants and goblins as well as the Black Demons, the Awgwas we’re confident that they were the superior side. Nevertheless, they are defeated and destroyed. Claus is absent for the whole battle, just being told that they have perished.

Claus continues delivering toys to the children. However, he is now aided by two deer: Glossie and Flossie. The deer pull his sleigh which is full of toys. With them he can deliver much quicker than before, spending less time per chimney. It is with their help that Claus reaches the dominions of the Gnome King, who wants numerous toys for his own children. He trades a string of sleigh bells for each toy given by Claus.

In restriction of the deer’s service to a single day annually, their keeper and supervisor Wil Knook decides upon Christmas Eve. He believes this will mean a year without taking presents and taking the reindeer from their home. Yet, the fairies retrieve the toys that were previously stolen. This enables Claus to continue with his first Christmas as planned. Thus, the title Santa is attached to him.

‘Every man has his mission, which is to leave the world better, in some way, than he found it.

As time progresses and the journeys Claus takes increases, we see that the children start to leave stockings places by the fire. But not all leave stockings. He discovers a family of Native Americans living in a tent with no fireplaces. He decides to place the gifts on the branches of the trees just outside.

As Claus reaches older age, the immortals come to the realisation that he is approaching the end of his life. Necile, devastated, still sees him as the baby she adopted and cared for. They call a council, headed by Ak, Bo (Master Mariner of the World) and Kern (Master Husbandman of the World), with the Gnome King, the Queen of the Water Spirits, the King of the Wind Demons, the King of the Ryls, the King of the Knooks, the King of the Sound Imps, the King of the Sleep Fays, the Fairy Queen, Queen Zurline of the Wood Nymphs, and the King of the Light Elves with the Princes Flash and Twilight. It is here that they decide the fate of Santa Claus.

After much heated debate, they decide to grant Santa Claus immortality, just as the Spirit of Death arrives for him.

Everything perishes except the world itself and its keepers…But while life lasts everything on earth has its use. The wise seek ways to be helpful to the world, for the helpful ones are sure to live again.

By the end of the book, the immortal Santa Claus gathers more reindeer to help fly the sleigh. He also takes on four special deputies: Wisk the Fairy, Peter the Knook, Kilter the Pixie, and Nuter the Ryl. We hear how generations of children have received their presents from the beloved, Santa Claus.

Childhood is the time of man’s greatest content. ‘Tis during these years of innocent pleasure that the little ones are most free from care. […] Their joy is in being alive, and they do not stop to think. In after-years the doom of mankind overtakes them, and they find they must struggle and worry, work and fret, to gain the wealth that is so dear to the hearts of men.

Overview

Reflecting back on this book, I just feel a festive glow about me. The tale of Father Christmas/Santa Claus is one we’ve all grown up with. It’s universal and it’s where the extraordinary happens. It’s magical, it’s enchanting and it’s such an amazing thing when you’re younger. It’s having that belief that some jolly old man will come and deliver presents for those who have been good.

For me, the beauty of this book is it gives us an interpretation of Santa Claus. The notion of one person seeing the bad in the world and doing what they can to make it better. Toys bring the children happiness. This much is true of today too. I really like how it’s such a simple yet warmly read. It’s given me the festive feels for sure.

Wrap up warm everyone!!

Big love xx

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Filed under Book review, Read The Year Challenge, Reading