Category Archives: Reading

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – J.K. Rowling

Hey Everyone!

Happy October. 🎃 Well, I’ve survived week four of school. Naturally, the weekends mean I retreat into my little house and read and recover. I’ve also got the added advantage of seeing my lovely parents for my Mum’s birthday too. However, I’m still squeezing in reading time!

You may remember I decided to reread all the Harry Potter books. Well, I’ve managed to review all of them apart from the final one. So here goes!

What’s it all about?

The novel begins with the aftermath of Dumbledore’s death. At this point, Voldemort is attempting to take control of the Ministry of Magic. At the same time Harry is about to turn seventeen years old which will result in him losing the protection he gained from his mother. Members of the Order of the Phoenix relocate to the Dursley’s and prepare to move Harry to the Burrow. For this, they need a plan and decide to use poly juice potion so they all look like Harry.

“The last words Albus Dumbledore spoke to the pair of us?’ 
Harry is the best hope we have. Trust him.

Unfortunately, the Death Eaters seem to be aware that this was the plan and attack the party. Mad-Eye Moody and Hedwig are killed and George Weasley is severely injured. Voldemort arrives to finally kill Harry but Harry’s wand keeps the spells from Voldemort away.

Harry, Ron and Hermione prepare to search for the final four Horcruxes. They are also the benefactors of gifts from Dumbledore: a Golden Snitch for Harry, a Deluminator for Ron and The Tales of Beedle the Bard for Hermione. They also receive the sword of Godric Gryffindor which has the power to destroy Horcruxes but it is prevented by the Ministry of Magic.

“I’m going to keep going until I succeed — or die. Don’t think I don’t know how this might end. I’ve known it for years.

Bill Weasley and Fleur continue with their wedding plans and the day of the wedding is the day the Ministry falls to Voldemort. The wedding is attacked by Death Eaters. Harry, Ron and Hermione flee to Sirius Black’s family home, 12 Grimmauld Place which now belongs to Harry.

Whilst here, Harry manages to work out that the late brother of Sirius, Regulus, had stolen the Horcrux locket and hid it somewhere in the house. Unfortunately, this was then stolen by Mundungus Fletcher. The house elf, Kreacher, locates Fletcher but he reveals that the locket has been stolen by Dolores Umbridge.

The trio decide to infiltrate the Ministry and steal the locket from her but as they escape, Ron is injured and Grimmauld Place is now compromised. The three are forced to hide in the wilderness, with only their spells to protect them. No matter what they try, they are unable to destroy the locket. Time ticks by before they realise the negative effect the locket has on them. It leads to the desertion of Ron, leaving Harry and Hermione left to continue alone.

During their time together, Harry and Hermione learn about Dumbledore’s past, including the death of his sister Ariana and his connection with the dark wizard, Gellert Grindelwald. They travel to Godrick’s Hollow, Harry’s birthplace. There they meet the historian, Bathilda Bagshot. However, they soon realise that all isn’t as it seems. The real Bathilda has been killed and replaced with Nagini, who attacks them.

The two manage to escape but Harry’s wand is damaged beyond repair in the process, leaving him immensely at risk. A few days later, a doe Patronus guides Harry to a pond where he sees the Gryffindor sword. When Harry tries to to get the sword, the locket also nearly kills him. What’s more surprising is the Deluminator guides Ron back to Harry and saves him. He also manages to destroy the locket with the sword. Another Horcrux down…

Hermione is certain there is a reason why Dumbledore left her the book. The penny drops and Hermione spots a symbol that they have seen before, on an item that Luna Lovegood’s father, Xenophilius, has worn. They visit him and he eventually shares with them the symbol and what it represents: The Deathly Hallows. It contains the Elder Wand (an unbeatable wand), the Resurrection Stone (which can summon the dead) and the infallible Invisibility Cloak.

Xenophilius acts incredibly strangely and they soon realise that he has summoned the Death Eaters to catch them, in exchange for Luna’s freedom. The three manage to escape but Harry works out that Voldemort is hunting for the Elder Wand. This wand has been passed to Dumbledore after he defeated Grindenwald. Finally the pieces come together. The third Hallow is in his own Invisibility Cloak and the Snitch contains the Resurrection Stone.

A slight problem follows as they are captured and taken to Malfoy Manor. Bellatrix tortures Hermione, believe they stole the sword of Gryffindor from her vault at Gringotts. With the help of Dobby the house elf, Harry’s friend, they escape to Bill and Flyer’s house along with fellow prisoners, Luna, Mr Ollivander, Dean Thomas and the goblin Griphook. During the escape, Peter Pettigrew is killed for showing an ounce of mercy towards Harry. The absolute worse part for me was the death of Dobby.

‘Here lies Dobby, a free elf.’

Harry’s visions continue and the next is of Voldemort stealing the Elder Wand from Dunbledore’s tomb. Time is running out so the trio then decide to break into Bellatrix’s vault, believing that another Horcrux is hiding there. With Griphook’s help, they manage to break into the vault. There they retrieve the cup of Hufflepuff and escape on a dragon.

Amongst the chaos, it gave Griphook an opportunity to steal Gryffindor’s sword. Harry has another vision of Voldemort being informed of the break in. Enraged, he decides to check on Horcruxes, revealing to Harry what the final two are: Nagini and one at Hogwarts.

This makes the decision easy for them and they head to the beloved school. It wasn’t easy as Death Eaters are everywhere but make it with the help of Aberforth, Dumbledore’s brother. Voldemort is alerted to Harry’s whereabouts and decides to mount an attack on the school. The teachers and students alike defend the school whilst Harry, Ron and Hermione destroy the cup with the basilisk fangs from the Chamber of Secrets.

Harry discovers the final Horcrux and heads towards the Ravenclaw tower looking for the diadem. It is located in the Room of Requirement but in the process they are ambushed by Draco, Crabbe and Goyle. Crabbe attacks using a cursed fire but is unable to control it. The fire kills him and in turn, destroys the diadem. In the meantime, a number of characters are killed in the Battle of Hogwarts.

Voldemort is becoming increasingly annoyed that the Elder Wand isn’t performing as he expected it to. His reasoning is that Snape is the true owner of the wand as he is the one who killed Dumbledore. Voldemort murders Snape but Snape dies just as Harry arrives. Snape gives Harry his memories for him to see through the Pensieve.

These memories show a completely different side to Snape that no one expected. What appeared on the surface as absolute dislike for Harry, has roots in much more complicated grounds. Snape was a double agent, continuously watching over Harry and his friends, conjuring the doe Patronus because he was in love with Lily. We also learn that Dumbledore was dying after mishandling the ring Horcrux. His death with Snape was planned all along.

‘Dumbledore watched her fly away, and as her silvery glow faded he turned back to Snape, and his eyes were full of tears.
“After all this time?”
“Always,” said Snape.

Harry also now realised he is the final Horcrux, unbeknownst to Voldemort, and must die at Voldemort’s hands to render him mortal. Harry gives himself up and instructs Neville Longbottom to kill Nagini. Harry embraced his fate and takes the Resurrection Stone to reunite himself with his dead parents and Sirius. Voldemort casts the killing curse on him.

What comes next is a dreamlike state where Harry is greeted by Dumbledore. He tells Harry about the original killing curse and how it left a fragment of him creating a connection but now the killing curse has been cast again, that fragment has been killed. Dumbledore also admits that his friendship with Grindelwald caused the death of his sister and estrangement from his brother.

Following this, Harry decides to beat death and head back for Hogwarts to end this for once and for all. He pretends to be dead and Voldemort buys it. Neville pulls the sword of Gryffindor out of the Sorting Hat and beheads Nagini.

Harry hides under his cloak as the battle rages on. Bellatrix is killed by Molly Weasley and Harry then shows himself to Voldemort. He explains how the Elder Wand’s loyalty transfers upon defeat, not the killing. Therefore, the previous master, was Draco not Snape. Harry then disarmed Draco at Malfoy Manor which means that Harry is the master of the Elder Wand.

“Not my daughter, you bitch!”

In retaliation, Voldemort attempts the Killing Curse on Harry but the spell rebounds, killing him. Harry used the Elder Wand to repair his own wand, intending to return the Elder Wand to Dumbledore’s tomb. He keeps his Invisibility Cloak and leaves the Resurrection Stone as forever lost. The wizarding world can live in peace forever more.

19 years later and once again we are on Platform 9 3/4s. The difference now is that we are seeing the children of the trio head to school. Harry and Ginny have three: James Sirius, Albus Severus and Lily Luna. Ron and Hermione have two: Rose and Hugo. Albus is worried he will be sorted into Slytherin. Harry tells him all about Snape’s bravery and that the Sorting Hat would consider his wishes. The novel ends.

‘All is well.’

Final Thoughts

It’s really no secret how much I genuinely love the Harry Potter series. I felt the same sadness that I felt when I finished it the first time round as a geeky kid who grew up with this. I still cry when I think about the death of Dobby. (I know, it’s silly! But he’s just too adorable!!) It’s a book I desperately try and get the kids in my school to read. It’s a book I try and reference as much as I possibly can as it is just magical. Every page is magical. There’s not been anything like it and I doubt there ever will be in my lifetime.

Thanks for sticking with me as I relieved this series. I hope you loved it as much as I did.

Big love all! Xxx

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Filed under Book review, Books, Children's Literature, Harry Potter, Reading

Reading Challenge 2020: Gulliver’s Travels – Johnathan Swift

Hey Lovelies!!

I hope you’re all okay. I’ve been trying really hard to keep up with you beautiful people but daily life is very full on. School is busy but we are doing well. That’s all that matters. For me personally, I’m absolutely exhausted but reading has been a really good relief for me. I’ve enjoyed being able to float off into different worlds.

For this month, the topic for the reading challenge was: a tale that leads to adventure and excitement. I wanted to tap into the classics for this because, despite doing many of these at university, I had clear gaps in my classic knowledge. Therefore, I decided to read Gulliver’s Travels by Johnathan Swift. I knew very little about it so went into this with fresh eyes. It absolutely fitted this months focus. Here goes!

What’s it all about?

The novel is structured into four parts which represent different places Lemuel Gulliver travelled to. The first part is all about his journey to Lilliput from May 4th 1969 – 13th April 1702. He ends up here because Gulliver is washed ashore after a shipwreck and finds himself taken prisoner. His captives are a race of tiny, tiny people, less than 6 inches tall. They are the residents of the island of Lilliput. Because of his normal human size, they’re naturally cautious of him. He promises them that he will behave admirably and as a result, is given residency of the island. He becomes a favourite of the Royal Court and is given different permissions. An example of this is that he is to allowed go around the city as long as he doesn’t hurt any of the inhabitants.

To begin with, the Lilliputians are friendly and hospitable. However, his size continually causes them fear and concern. Gulliver also learns that they place great emphasis on trivial matters which clearly mean a lot to them. An example of this is, which end of an egg a person cracks becomes the basis of a deep political rift within that nation.

‘The tiny Lilliputians surmise that Gulliver’s watch may be his god, because it is that which, he admits, he seldom does anything without consulting.

The people are ones who revel in displays of authority and performances of power. Gulliver assists the Lilliputians by stealing a fleet that belongs to the Blefuscudians. The King and his company are deeply unhappy with him. Therefore, they decide to charge him with treason even though he was helping them. He is convicted and sentenced to be blinded.

Amazingly, he decides that he has to escape and manages to do so with a little help. He spots an abandoned boat and sails out to be rescued by a passing ship. He manages to return home.

Part Two is a voyage to Brobdingnag from 20th June 1702 – 3rd June 1706. Gulliver sets sail but his ship is blown off course by storms. As a result, he’s forced to sail for land in search of fresh water. Gulliver is abandoned by his friends and left on the peninsular on the western coast of the North American continent.

Unlike the previous island, this island is the complete opposite. The grass is as tall as a tree. He is found by a farmer who seems to be a complete giant to him. He takes Gulliver home and his daughter cares for her. The farmer is curious about him and decides to exhibit him to make himself some money.

Sometime after doing this, he becomes quite sick and the farmer decides to sell him to the Queen of the realm. Glumdalclitch (the daughter) is taken into the Queen’s service to take care of the tiny man. Gulliver is much too small to use their huge furniture, the Queen commissions a house for him.

‘Difference in opinions has cost many millions of lives: for instance, whether flesh be bread, or bread be flesh; whether the juice of a certain berry be blood or wine.

Gulliver experiences plenty of different adventures on this strange island. He spends time with the King of the island and he shares stories of Europe which leaves the King less than pleased. He doesn’t like the use of guns and cannons.

On a trip to the seaside, Gulliver ends up losing his small house as it’s been seized by a giant eagle which drops the house and Gulliver into the sea. Here he is picked up by sailors who return him to England.

The penultimate part spans from 5th August 1706 – 16 April 1710. This voyage was to Laputa, Balnibarbi, Luggnagg, Glubbdubdrib and Japan. Upon setting out for the voyage, Gulliver’s ship is attacked by pirates and he is marooned near a rocky, deserted island in India. He is eventually rescued by the flying island of Laputa, a kingdom devoted to the arts of music, mathematics and astronomy. What’s different here is instead of using armies, they throw rocks down at rebellious cities on the ground.

Whilst there, Gulliver explores Balnibarbi, the kingdom ruled from Laputa, as a guest of a courtier. He learns a range of things here but continues to move on to Maldonado to await a trader who can take him on to Japan.

Whilst waiting for this, Gulliver takes the opportunity for a short trip to Glubbdubdrib. Here, he visit is a magician’s dwelling and discusses history with ghosts of historical figures such as Julius Caesar, Homer and Aristotle, to name a few.

Finally, Gulliver reaches Japan but asks the Emperor to help him, which he does. At this point, Gulliver returns home with a promise to himself that that is where he shall remain.

The final part of the novel is a voyage to the Land of Houyhnhnms. This voyage was from 7th September 1710 – 5th December 1715. Gulliver decides to ignore his earlier promise to himself of staying at home and decides to head back to sea. This time he is the captain of a merchantman who needs additional crew members. It is his belief that his crew have turned against him. Predictably, his crew commits a mutiny.

They hold him for a period of time but decide to leave him on the first piece of land they come across in order for them to continue as pirates. Gulliver is abandoned in a landing boat and finds himself among a deformed savage race of humanoid creatures which he conceives a violent antipathy. He meets the Houyhnhnms, a race of talking horses. These rules the deformed creatures he previously met.

Gulliver is accepted and becomes a member of a horse’s household. He learns to admire and appreciate how they are and their way of life. There is a problem though, they see him as a threat and as someone that poses danger to them. They demand that he swim back to the land he came from.

The initial Houyhnhnm who took him in decides to help him by giving him time to build a canoe to make the departure easier. However, this journey is also a disaster. Luckily, he is picked up by a Portuguese boat and returns to England. To home.

This made me reflect, how vain an attempt it is for a man to endeavor to do himself honor among those who are out of all degree of equality or comparison with him.

This isn’t as simple as it may seem. Gulliver is unable to reconcile himself and inevitably becomes a recluse, avoiding his family and remaining at home. He only spends his time with his horses.

Final Thoughts

This book was unlike anything I’ve read before. I’ve previously avoided these types of classics because I had this preconceived idea that I just wouldn’t enjoy them. I found that this book was actually quite masculine, just because of the history associated with sailing. I won’t be running to get another classic like this, but I absolutely have no regrets about reading it.

Catch up with you all soon. Keep safe and warm!

Big love xx

14 Comments

Filed under Book review, Books, Reading, Reading Challenge 2020

Sofia Khan Is Not Obliged – Ayisha Malik

Hello Lovely Blogging Friends!

September already… I genuinely can’t quite believe it. I’m embracing the calm before the storm and returning to school. I know that teaching now will be completely different to how it’s ever been before but I want the best for my students. I’m making the most of the time I’ve got now reading the never ending TBR pile and catching up with you amazing people.

Today I want to share with you a book I got from a random book box (find out about the super Box of Stories family here.) I’ve ordered three boxes over summer and I’ve finished the first box of four books. I love this website because you get books you’ve never thought of and it challenges you to read things you may not always consider.

Anyway, one of the BEST books I’ve read this year has come from there and it is this book I want to share with you all today. Sofia Khan is Not Obliged – by Ayisha Malik. I really hope you love it as much as I did.

What’s it all about?

This book is so current and relatable for so many people that I just had to share it. The book follows the protagonist, Sofia Khan, a Muslim girl living in London with all her dating dramas. She’s so funny and genuine, I adored her character from the start.

The first relationship she shares with us is between her and her boyfriend, Imran. He asks her to move in with his family, in a house connected to theirs via a connecting door. Sofia is completely not interested in that style of life, living in a ‘hole-in-the-wall’ type home. This inevitably brings the relationship to a close as neither party are willing to budge.

Well, I had to choose between God and a bunch of sales execs. I carried on praying, of course.

The following love interest is Naim, but this raises further complications for Sofia. Pressure is a constant from her family who want her to follow tradition and get married. Everyone else is doing it, after all!

One day on the tube to work, Sofia is called a terrorist by a man she accidentally bumps into. Unfortunately, despite her shock and anger, the train departs again before she’s able to do anything.

Nevertheless, Sofia continues to make her way to work, a little bruised from the run in with the ignorant man. When she arrives at her publishing job, there’s yet another meeting. This time, she ends up being the centre of attention and it is decided that she will write a book all about dating and her experiences of dating as a British Muslim. Although a little reluctant, her friends support her and also feature in the book – friends like Suj who is dating someone different to her and Hannah who has decided to enter a polygamous marriage. The range of different relationships explored are the perfect way to challenge conventions that we are used to.

Sofia also manages to build an unlikely friendship with her tattooed next door neighbour, Conall. During the furious wedding chat and life planning, he provides Sofia strength and refuge that she so desperately needs. Most importantly, she can use his place to write. After all, the book isn’t going to write itself.

Later, Sofia’s dad has a heart attack which knocks her immensely. All her wants is to see her married and settled so Sofia decides to marry Imran after all. She thinks that this is the way to make her dad better and her family happy.

There’s frenzied excitement as the family get ready for the marriage. Sofia thought she would be feeling more but the happiness of her family is of most importance to her. Meanwhile, Conall informs her that he is going to Afghanistan for three months. She notices that this news has a strange effect on her – she’s desperately sad but buries it in wedding things. Imran reveals to her that he expects her to take his name, something that she vehemently is against. This really calls time on the relationship. It isn’t what she wants or needs right now. She was going into it for the wrong reasons. She calls off the wedding, considering telling her parents at a later date.

Back at work and with a final draft written, Sofia attends a meeting here she is told that the book needs more sex in it, as this is what the reading public want and expect from a dating book. Naturally, Sofia is reluctant. Her boss tells her that the sex element will distract the reader from questioning why Sofia chooses to live her life the way she does.

She hides at Conall’s when the news breaks that her engagement has failed. This causes her family to be furious with her. There are severe financial implications of this broken relationship too.

I never realised that the weight of disappointment rests mostly on your heart.

Just like that, we are taken back to what is most important: family. We learn the news of Sofia’s father passing away. She’s absolutely devastated. This part of the novel is so poignant and beautifully written. I couldn’t help but feel desperately sad for her.

“One of the issues about the whole ‘being alone’ stance is not having anyone to share the world’s problems with. A person’s been scooped out of your life and so you speak into a pit of nothingness. Or you don’t speak at all, depending on your tendency towards soliloquy.

Life continues and back at Waterloo Station, Sofia recognises the man who called her a terrorist. She decides to follow him and sits in the seat she could see he wanted. In response, he calls her a ‘Paki bitch’. An elder lady and a man come to her defence but Sofia decides to embrace the lessons she’s learnt from Conall. She goes after him, hurls an insult at him and then punches him.

I don’t consider “prick” a swear word. For most people it’s just a state of being.

Conall emails her to say that he won’t be in Afghanistan much longer because he’s met someone and they’re heating to Pakistan to make a film. She isn’t too sure how to take this news but she knows she feels utterly deflated. Work isn’t much better as she finally realised something. She doesn’t want to write this book anymore. She’s reminded that she’s got a contract to fulfil and a book will be published in October. She reluctantly agrees but it won’t be the book she’s drafted. She also resigns.

Conall returns and asks her to come out to Pakistan with him. It doesn’t take her long to agree. The issue is the family, more specially, male members of the family. However, her mother steps up and informs them that times are very different now and she will be absolutely fine.

“I’ve always hated words of comfort. I don’t know if you should trust a person who says ‘It’s going to be OK’ unless they’re going to personally try and fix it.”

Sofia gets on a plane with him where she learns that he has converted to Islam for her. This is of the upmost importance to her and she is completely blown away by this gesture. It was a rule that she would not date anyone that didn’t share her faith as they wouldn’t understand the importance of it.

The book ends with the start of their blossoming relationship.

Final Thoughts

I loved this book for so many reasons. Sofia is just a gem – I honestly wanted to be her friend. I related to the family pressures immensely – it felt like I was part of her family! The exploration of different relationships was really good too. Why shouldn’t people from different believes and backgrounds fall in love? The most important thing for me was this was hilarious. The language was accessible and just so funny. I LOVED it.

Continue to stay safe and well.

Big love all!! Xx

16 Comments

Filed under Book review, Books, Box of Stories, Reading, Romance

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix – J.K. Rowling

Hi Lovelies!!

How are you all? The sunshine has been beautiful and this also means it’s the perfect weather for reading. I’ve got some reviews I really need to catch up on so I hope you’ll be patient with me whilst I get through them. I hope you have been enjoying the weather and making some lovely memories this summer. Anyway, it’s time for me to review the next book in the Harry Potter series: The Order of the Phoenix. Here goes!

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What’s it all about?

As per all the other novels, The Order of the Phoenix begins in the summer holidays where Harry is back with his Aunt and Uncle Dursley. During one day, Harry and his cousin Dudley are attacked by Dementors. Harry openly casts his patronus to save Dudley and himself. Due to performing under age magic, Harry is expelled from Hogwarts. However, this is postponed pending a hearing at the Ministry of Magic. Harry is clearly at more risk than ever so it is decided that one evening, a group of wizards would whisk him away to 12 Grimmauld Place, the childhood home of Sirius Black. Grimmauld Place has become the headquarters of the Order. These wizards are willing to risk their own life for Harry. The likes of Mad-Eye Moody, Remus Lupin, Nymphadora Tonks and Kingsley Shacklebolt are all part of the guard to move Harry safely.

Ron and Hermione explain to Harry that the Order is a secret organisation led by Albus Dumbledore dedicating to fighting Lord Voldemort and his Death Eater followers. From here, they learn that Voldemort is seeking something he did not have prior to his first defeat. The Ministry of Magic, led by Cornelius Fudge, refuses to acknowledge anything about Voldemort’s return. They don’t want people to panic and live in fear again. After all, they only have the word of Harry and his friends. Instead, the Ministry decide to launch and run a smear campaign against Harry and Dumbledore with the Daily Prophet.

The day of Harry’s trial approaches but Harry doesn’t get to speak. Dumbledore does this for him. He questions the use of magic in self-defence and probes to know why the Dementors are out lose in suburban Britain. Harry saved his cousins life, for sure. As a result of Dumbledore’s questioning, Harry is cleared of all charges.

“You know, Minister, I disagree with Dumbledore on many counts…but you cannot deny he’s got style…”

Hogwarts should be a safe place for Harry but seeing the new Defence Against the Dark Arts teacher is none other than Dolores Umbridge, a senior employee in the Ministry of Magic. Like Fudge, she also refuses to acknowledge the return of Voldemort. Her and Harry clash daily, with her punishing Harry by having him write ‘I must not tell lies’ into the back of his hand with a cursed quill during detention. Despite being a Defence Against the Dark Arts teacher, she refuses to teach them or let them perform any defensive spells. Harry, Ron and Hermione know the need for these spells so decide to start their own group with any students willing to join if they wish to learn. Umbridge bans any clubs that are not approved by her but Dobby informs Harry about the Room of Requirement. Here they could meet in secret and practice defensive spells under Harry’s instruction. They named themselves, Dumbledore’s Army.

Whilst all of this is happening, the absence of Hagrid is ever apparent. Upon his return, Harry, Ron and Hermione learn that he was (unsuccessfully) trying to prevent the last of the giants from joining Voldemort. Umbridge continues to increase her power and influence within the school. She begins to inspect teachers with the intension of sacking them.

One night when Harry is sleeping, he dreams that he sees through the eyes of Voldemort’s snake, Nagini, who is possessed by him. What Harry sees is Nagini attacking Arthur Weasley. Harry, alarmed, heads straight for Professor McGonagall and Professor Dumbledore. As a result of this, Arthur is rescued and saved. He could have died if it wasn’t for Harry. Dumbledore is concerned that Voldemort could use Harry without him realising so organises Occlumency lessons with Professor Snape. This should mean that Harry would be able to protect his mind against any manipulation from Voldemort. Surprisingly, Snape is also a member of the Order.

Hogwarts is becoming a darker, more miserable place because of Umbridge. She makes many changes in the school. She publicly sacks Professor Trelawney, the Divination teacher. Soon after, Umbridge learns about Dumbledore’s Army after a tip off from Cho Chang’s friend, Marietta Edgecombe. To prevent Harry’s expulsion, Dumbledore takes full responsibility for the group and is forced into hiding. Umbridge then becomes headmistress but Fred and George happily cause pandemonium around the school in revenge.

Harry also struggles with his Occlumency lessons. During one lesson, Snape is called away, leaving behind Dumbledore’s Pensieve, on which he had been storing members he did not wish Harry to see. Driven by curiosity, Harry uses the Pensieve and sees a memory of Snape being bullied by his father, James Potter and Sirius. Snape catches Harry and ends the lesson furious with him. More concerning for Harry is the fact that his father wasn’t particularly nice or friendly. He needs to speak to Sirius to find out what exactly went on. He decides to sneak into Umbridge’s office to use Floo powder to speak with Lupin and Sirius in the fireplace. This wouldn’t have been possible without the help of Fred and George. The two decide that their talents are wasted at Hogwarts so decide to leave and open a joke shop in Diagon Alley.

“The mind is not a book, to be opened at will and examined at leisure. Thoughts are not etched on the inside of skulls, to be perused by an invader. The mind is a complex and many-layered thing.”

Umbridge takes a natural disliking to Hagrid due to him being half giant, and his inspection goes badly. Hagrid confides to Harry, Ron and Hermione that he has brought his giant half brother, Grawp, to Hogwarts and has hidden him in the Forbidden Forest. He’s asked the trio to look after him if Hagrid is forced to leave Hogwarts. During the student OWL exams, Umbridge attacks Hagrid one night with a pack of Aurors. Hagrid overpowers them but flees the school for his own safety. McGonagall is injured in the attack and is put in St. Mungo’s Hospital, meaning that Harry has lost two people who support and protect him.

On the last day of the OWL exams, Harry has a vision of Sirius being tortured by Voldemort in the Department of Mysteries. Once again, Harry uses the fireplace belonging to Umbridge to connect with Grimmauld Place to see if the vision was genuine. Kreacher, the house elf, confirms this. Harry is caught by Umbridge and she summons Snape, intending to use Veritaserum to question Harry. Surprisingly, Snape claims he has none left. Harry cryptically warns Snape about Sirius but Snape feigns misunderstanding.

Umbridge reveals that she ordered the Dementor attack on Harry and Dudley over the summer to silence him. She also decides to use the illegal Cruciatus Curse on Harry to interrogate him, but Hermione intervenes, convincing Umbridge that they are hiding a weapon of Dumbledore’s in the Forbidden Forest. Following Hermione’s lead, Umbridge follows Harry and Hermione to the forest which is inhabited by centaurs. Umbridge provokes them and they take her captive. With Grawp’s help, Harry and Hermione escape.

Luna, Ron, Ginny and Neville join them in the forest and they fly to the Ministry of Magic on Thestrals in order to save Sirius. Once they are at the Ministry, they cannot find him anywhere. What they do find though is a glass sphere with Harry’s and Voldemort’s name on it. Death Eaters arrive, led by Lucius Malfoy and attack in order to secure the sphere, which happens to be the object that Voldemort has been trying to locate. This sphere is a recording of a prophecy concerning the two. As the subjects of the prophecy are the only ones who can remove them, Harry is brought there under false visions planted by Voldemort. Harry and his friends are soon joined by members of the Order and battle the Death Eaters. During the battle, Neville accidentally destroys the prophecy and Bellatrix Lestrange kills Sirius.

Harry chases after her but is clearly no match. Voldemort arrives to kill Harry himself but Dumbledore also chooses this moment to come out of hiding. Voldemort, unable to kill Dumbledore, possesses Harry in an attempt to get him to kill Dumbledore. Harry fights off the possession and Voldemort escapes just as Fudge appears. Now he has seen Voldemort himself, Fudge has no choice but to accept the truth now. He is back.

Later, in his office, Dumbledore explains that Snape understood the warning from Harry and after Harry failed to return from the Forest, alerted the Order, enabling them to save Harry and his friends. Dumbledore also shares that Kreacher had informed Narcissa Malfoy, of the close relationship between Harry and Sirius. This information was crucial for Voldemort as he knew exactly what false memory to plant to make Harry do exactly what he needed.

Harry has to stay with the Dursleys for one last summer. He learns that because Aunt Petunia, Lily’s sister, took Harry into her home, she seals the protection Harry gained from his mother when she died. As long as he is at Number Four, Privet Drive, he is safe from Voldemort and his followers. Dumbledore shares the prophecy, made by Professor Trelawney, with Harry. The prophecy had foretold the birth of someone with the power to defeat Voldemort. One of Voldemort’s followers heard this and informed him. Although the prophecy pointed at either Harry or Neville, Voldemort believed it to be about Harry, which is why he tried to kill him as a baby. The rest of the prophecy hinted that Voldemort would unknowingly mark his opponent as an equal. Eventually, one would have to kill the other.

“I DON’T CARE!” Harry yelled at them, snatching up a lunascope and throwing it into the fireplace. “I’VE HAD ENOUGH, I’VE SEEN ENOUGH, I WANT OUT, I WANT IT TO END, I DON’T CARE ANYMORE!”
“You do care,” said Dumbledore. He had not flinched or made a single move to stop Harry demolishing his office. His expression was calm, almost detached. “You care so much you feel as though you will bleed to death with the pain of it.”

The loss of Sirius, the feeling of guilt and the weight of the prophecy results in Harry becoming quite low. At least now the wizarding community know that he was telling the truth and in turn gains him more respect. His friends and loved ones give him the motivation he needs to return to the Dursleys for one final summer.

Final Thoughts

You guys all know how much I love the Harry Potter books but what is even better now is reading them again as an adult, I appreciate things I probably didn’t notice as a young reader. The language is darker the deeper we get into the series, the threat becomes more menacing and Voldemort gets worse with age. I do firmly believe that my generation grew up with Harry. What is amazing now is that we have a whole new generation doing the same. It’s so special and so magical.

Take care all. Big love xxxx

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The Secret Dreamworld of a Shopaholic – Sophie Kinsella

Hello Lovelies!

Happy August. Can you believe it? All the months seem to be blurring into one very strange year. However, the sun is shining and the birds are singing and that is the most important thing. I’m making the most of my time in the garden reading, slowly forgetting the mountain I need to climb for work. I’d do a rubbish job if I’m tired anyway!

I wanted to share with you a book I read quite quickly yesterday, Sophie Kinsella’s – The Secret Dreamworld of a Shopaholic. For my friends across the pond, you may know this book as Confessions of a Shopaholic. It’s an ongoing joke in my family that I’m such a good shopper and that the economy has been saved by me. Regardless of the humour, I love to browse the shops so this book had me hooked on all levels. (I’ve quickly learnt Rebecca Bloomwood is a whole other level of shopper to me! Wow!)

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What’s it all about?

Written twenty years ago, this book centres around the loveable Rebecca Bloomwood. She lives in a trendy flat in Fulham with her best friend Suze who seems to have significantly more luck than she does. Becky works as a financial journalist for the magazine, Successful Savings, but has no interest in the financial world at all. She happily attends conferences for catching up with her friend Elly Granger,  the champagne and free biscuits. The biggest issue for Becky is the fact that she is in debt because of her love of shopping. She’s completely out of control. She convinces herself that she needs the designer clothes, homeware and beauty products. After all, in her eyes, they are an investment. The novel is punctuated with various emails and letters from banks and lenders – he responses hilarious for the reader, less so for the business she is writing to. Her parents offer her advice: cut back spending or make more money.

Another day, another press conference this time held by Brandon Communications. Becky notices a sale sign in the window of the Denny and George shop. They NEVER have sales. She sees the scarf she has obsessed over at a 50% discount. However, she’s left her Visa card at the office. Thankfully, the shop assistant she likes lets her hold it until the end of the day. Perfect! Becky can easily make the press conference and then pick up the scarf.

“That moment. That instant when your fingers curl round the handles of a shiny, uncreased bag—and all the gorgeous new things inside it become yours. What’s it like? It’s like going hungry for days, then cramming your mouth full of warm buttered toast. It’s like waking up and realizing it’s the weekend. It’s like the better moments of sex. Everything else is blocked out of your mind. It’s pure, selfish pleasure.”

When she arrives at the press conference, she is greeted by a staff member of Brandon Communications who, prompted by the Financial Times under her arm, asks her opinion on a surprising update in the world of banking. Becky has no idea what this lady is jabbering about and nods her way through. Luke Brandon, also in attendance, realises that she has no idea what is happening tells her that one financial group recently brought another and was rumoured to that Flagstaff Life would be going the same way.

Crisis averted but Becky is then given another problem. Her boss gives her another errand to do being as she is closer in the city. What this means for Becky though is she won’t have time to go back for her Visa card in order to pay for the scarf. She also needs twenty pounds cash to reach the total. She begs her friend Elly Granger if she can borrow some money but she’s in the same state that Becky is – broke! The press conference continues to happen in the background but Luke Brandon hears the conversation about twenty pounds. He stops the conference to give it to her, once Becky has spiralled another story – this time about it being a present for her aunt in hospital.

“Your aunt must be a stylish lady.” “She is,” I say, and clear my throat. “She’s terribly creative and original.” “I’m sure she is,” says Luke, and pauses. “What’s her name?” Oh God. I should have run as soon as I saw him, while I had a chance. Now I’m paralyzed. I can’t think of a single female name. “Erm … Ermintrude,”

Another bullet dodged, more letters ignored and Suze invites Becky out for dinner with her cousins. Becky can’t really stand them but goes because Suze is a good friend. Whilst out at dinner, Becky spots Luke so goes to speak to him, not realising he is there with his step mother. She notices her scarf and compliments her on it. Luke challenges her about it being for her aunt and once again, Becky blunders her way through that conversation. Apparently her aunt gave it to her. Luke invites her shopping – now this is something she can get on board with and they end up buying luggage in Harrods. This is an all new shopping experience for Becky as she hadn’t considered luggage before. Luke picks the one Becky likes the most, surprising her. However, she has the best time until Luke reveals it’s for his girlfriend, Sacha.

“Rule of life. If you bother to ask someone’s advice, then bother to listen to it.”

Back at home, Suze and Becky happen to be flicking through a magazine and stumble across a list of eligible millionaires which include Suze’s cousin, Tarquin. Suze reveals that Tarquin has a soft spot for Becky which Becky has always ignored. Nevertheless, Becky decides to give it a go and they have a date. Whilst Tarquin is in the bathroom, Becky looks at his chequebook feeling incredibly unimpressed. Helped by alcohol, Becky decides to give up on the date as she just isn’t attracted to him. Tarquin tells Suze that it was obvious that she didn’t like him, making it a tad awkward at home too.

“Don’t think about it. Don’t think about what could have been. It’s too unbearable.”

Meanwhile, throughout the novel Becky’s bank manager, Derek Smeath is constantly trying to contact her about the money she owes and to find a way in order for her to repay it. Becky being Becky, comes up with story after story to avoid him. She claims to have broken her leg, have glandular fever, her aunt died etc. because she is afraid of the mess she is in. What is clear to the bank is that she cannot send a cheque or repay because she has no additional money. He writes to her, rings her home, rings her parents and eventually she goes into hiding at her parents house.

Whilst hiding there she learns that the neighbours made a financial decision based on advice that Becky gave. However, Becky didn’t really know what she was saying! The result of this meant that they lost twenty thousand pounds as a result of the bank take over. Becky feels distraught and horrified that people could be treated in this way and sets to make things right by writing an article that exposes the bank’s duplicity.

“They said I was a valued customer, now they send me hate mail.”

The article is a huge success, taking the financial world by storm. This leads to Becky appearing on a daytime television show, The Morning Coffee. But, what she doesn’t know is the bank is a client of Luke Brandon’s PR firm. Luke is furious with her, believing she wrote the article to get back at him. Becky and Luke end up battling it out on the show but events take a turn for the strange and unexpected. Luke admits that Becky is right and announces that Brandon Communications will no longer be representing the bank. Becky is so good she ends up taking calls and offering advice and is given a regular slot on the show. Awkwardly, she bumps into Derek Smeath. She apologises for her behaviour and finally agrees to a meeting.

More excitingly, Becky is invited for a business dinner at the Ritz Hotel with Luke. She dresses to impress but upon arrival, it is clear that business is not on the agenda. Instead they eat and laugh and end up spending the night together there. What this means though is Becky misses her appointment with the bank manager. Just in time, he writes to her to say that he enjoyed her slot on the morning television show but because her account is looking rosy, he will postpone the meeting whilst continuing to keep an eye on her account.

Final Thoughts

This book made me laugh out loud. For all her flaws – there are many, such as making up dead aunts, broken legs and illnesses, Becky is a completely lovable protagonist. She’s feisty yet flitty, passionate yet obsessive, loveable yet infuriating. I’m embarrassed to admit that I’ve only read a couple of the later books. I’m not sure how I missed the boat on this considering it was published twenty years ago! As you all know, I’m not very good with a series but this is one I’m definitely going to chip away at.

Take care all. Big love xxx

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Reading Challenge 2020: The Black Echo – Michael Connelly

Hey Loves!

I hope you’re enjoying your summer, regardless of how it looks. I’m trying hard to ignore the fact that I should be on a beach right now… but it’s an opportunity to read plenty, spend time with family and just recover from the very strange school year it’s been.

I wanted to share with you my book choice and review for my reading challenge. The theme for July was: murder and intrigue about this month. For more information on my reading challenge click here. I’m a huge fan of thrillers and crime fiction so I went for a very popular writer that I know absolutely nothing about: Michael Connelly’s The Black Echo. Written in 1992, it’s the first in a series featuring the protagonist Harry Bosch. I was completely hooked. It was awesome.

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What’s it all about?

Starting in Vietnam, we meet Harry Bosch in the midst of his police career. Having recently been promoted to the division that handles robberies and homicides things seem good. However, after an accidentally killing the primary suspect in a serial killing spree, the force demotes him to the “Hollywood Division” which handles more trivial, less important crimes. He gets himself a new partner too, detective Jerry Edgar.

“Sunsets did that here. Made you forget it was the smog that made their colors so brilliant, that behind every pretty picture there could be an ugly story.”

The first investigation involves a young graffiti artist calling the police after seeing a body being taken from a Jeep and put into a water pipe. During the investigation in these water conduits underneath Los Angeles, Bosch finds the body of Billy Meadows, another tunnel rat and a friend from his wartime experience. Bosch uncovers evidence that connects Meadows to an unsolved bank robbery in the city. He decides to contact the FBI, asking to work in unison with each other. But, he is stopped during each attempt by a special agent, Eleanor Wish. Eventually, Wish’s boss, John Rourke, sends a complaint to the IAD, a legal entity that dislikes Bosch with a passion because he refused to join it’s club, the “Family”.

The following day brings the IAD closer to successfully getting Bosch suspended from the force. Bosch is well aware that his time is running out so decides to find the identity of the anonymous witness of the crime. He discovers that it is a young man named Sharkey. Sharkey himself is a shady character being involved with gang assaults and robbery of gay men. His horrific upbringing does evoke sympathy from Bosch, albeit momentarily. After locating Sharkey, the FBI rescinds its complaint but the IAD continues with their campaign to suspend Bosch.

Wish tries to distract Bosch from the case, hinting at an ulterior motive for her persistent antagonism. Bosch argues and disagrees with Rourke over which different leads they should follow on the case. They clash with Wish over who should have the privilege of hypnotizing Sharkey to extract information. That night, Wish appears at Bosch’s houses to apologise for how she has been. They decide to end the friction and collaborate more from that moment on.

The next day with their new working together plan in action, Bosch and Wish visit a halfway house where Meadows had stayed. They manage to unearth leads to various murders and criminal partners Meadows may have had some involvement with. The lines blur between professional and personal. Meanwhile, Sharkey runs into a stranger who picks him up, unaware of the danger he is about to walk into.

“Lean in, invade that foot and a half that is all theirs, their own space. Lean back when you get what you want. It’s subliminal. Most of what goes on in a police interrogation has nothing to do with what is said.”

Early on the fifth morning of the investigation, Bosch is summoned to a murder scene, finding it is Sharkey’s. He hypothesizes that Sharkey’s death is the result of an insider on the force sharing details of the investigation to criminals in the network. Ultimately, Bosch feels responsible. Rourke tips Bosch about the IAD’s progress to tail the case in order to get him suspended. Bosch interrogates the IAD about an unauthorised wiretap he found on his phone. Bosch and Wish meet up again and find out the identities of two involved Vietnamese gangsters who are plotting their next bank heist. When they go to Wish’s apartment, they are nearly hit by a speeding car. Bosch is certain this is not a coincidence. They spend the whole day being interrogated but are released to go home. Naturally, they are emotionally and physically exhausted.

Bosch follows the natural lead and starts to track the Vietnamese gangsters the next morning. Using the IAD’s technology, he buys a phone off a man named Binh. Using his call history, they track down the other member, Tran. From here, they follow him into Little Saigon and then to Beverley Hills. What the see is him moving diamonds into a briefcase and then vanishing suddenly. Rouke starts planning how to intercept these tunnels whilst Bosch grows increasingly suspicious about their investigation and why it is seemingly so easy for them. The Vietnamese criminals and the hit and run trouble Wish. Her connection with Vietnam still raw for her. Wish visits a war vigil, renewing her belief and commitment to justice.

“Out of the blue and into the black is what they called going into a tunnel. Each one was a black echo. Nothing but death in there. But, still, they went.”

Arguably a little too late, Bosch realises that Rourke is complicit in the robberies. The IAD raids the tunnels and most are shot and killed during the ambush. Bosch goes in alone to find Rourke and is shot. Bosch knows now that he is in quite a difficult situation and time is desperately running out. However, whilst in and out of consciousness, he sees Wish in the tunnel. She takes matters into her own hands. Eventually, he wakes up in hospital where Wish visits him. The IAD also pay him a visit, threatening to throw him off the force completely if he leaks the story. Bosch decides to leave hospital against medical advice and sneaks back into the police station. There he spends time reviewing Sharkey’s tape. As a result, he learns who is actually behind the heist. He attends Meadows’s funeral in the background and meets a reporter to give him the information he needs in order to stumble across the case himself. The case is solved and ultimately the novel ends.

“We want the truth, Detective. You are confusing that with what we choose to tell the public.”

Final Thoughts

I thought this book was pacey, gritty and full of twists and turns. I didn’t work out who was really at the core of the plot until it was revealed at the end. This for me is a sign that you’re reading a brilliant book. The plot is woven and intricate. The characters strong. Harry Bosch is an excellent protagonist with characteristics that I found compelling. I always find book series quite a commitment but I will definitely be keeping an eye out for anymore Connelly books I see on my travels. I was completely hooked with this one!

I am also chuffed that it’s month seven of the challenge and so far I haven’t missed one! The focus for August is: a summer read to an exotic place. As I said at the start, I’m ignoring the fact that I should be on a beach. Thankfully this gives me the perfect opportunity to travel mentally, at least.

Continue to stay safe and well all.

Big love! xxx

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Sweet Bean Paste – Durian Sukegawa

Hey Loves!

How are you all? Hope everyone is enjoying July. This year has been so strange you know. I can’t believe we finish for summer this week but it doesn’t feel right. Anyway, it’s completely out of our control. I am looking forward to a break. I’ve got lots of reading planned and a HUGE pile of books to get through. I love that though!

Today I want to share with you a book I read in one sitting. It’s just utterly beautiful and I know you’d love it. I just had to share it with you! It’s criminal not to. I’m talking about Sweet Bean Paste by Durian Sukegawa. This book is a translation but it’s strikingly beautiful. I hope you enjoy!

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What’s it about?

Set in the beautiful Japanese cherry blossom, the novel centres around Sentaro, a middle aged man with a criminal record, a habit of drinking too much and a dream of becoming a writer. The reality is he spends his time watching the blossom come and go making and selling dorayaki – a type of pancake with a sweet bean paste. The mundane reality of his life is getting to him; he longs for more. One day whilst he was working in the confectionary shop, he notices a woman looking at him. He politely nods. This image repeats over time, he recognises her and she seems to spend a long time watching from afar under the Japanese blossom. She approaches the shop after reading a sign asking for workers. Despite her age, seventy six, she wants the job. She offers to work for less but is still rejected. However, she seems to know plenty about the bean paste and wishes to share that knowledge. With over fifty years experience, the reader sees that she clearly has a life before that has led her to this moment and persistency in returning to the shop.

“I couldn’t tell anything about the feelings of the person who made it.”

Little did he know, this little old lady, Tokue, would change his world for the better. Deeply in touch with nature, Tokue watches the trees and their movement. She is certain that feelings make food better. She wants to impart this knowledge to Sentaro because he clearly needs saving from the situation he finds himself. He needs saving from himself. There is one major problem: her hands. Nevertheless, after tasting her sweet bean paste he offers her a job there. He has to learn how she does it to help the business. He is well aware that he only has the job because he has a debt to repay to the owner. At first, his motivation was this.

“Sentaro didn’t really care where she made it. He didn’t care who she was, either. All that concerned him was if she could make a good-quality, sweet bean paste to draw in the customers and help him get away from this shop as soon as possible.”

Tokue begins to make the paste by teaching Sentaro what she knows and her technique for creating something so utterly divine: like nothing he has ever tasted. Over time, the two become close. They talk, make bean paste and see an improvement in the confectionary store. Because of the earlier concern about her hands, Tokue tried incredibly hard to stay in the back and out of the way. She does have an Achilles heel: babies. If any young children or babies come into the shop, she naturally gravitated towards them. She seemed to grow and blossom around her. With the success of the product, the increased sales and therefore increased production, Sentaro became more positive and more exhausted. There is no time for drinking! Eventually, this catches up with him and he ends up unable to work. The following day he learns that Tokue creates and opens the shop on her own. She manages the money and writes everything down to help him. Sentaro is completely shell shocked.

‘Sentaro felt like sitting down in shock. How had she managed it? What was her pancake batter like? She had handled all the money with those gnarled fingers…? What had the customers thought of that?’

One of the younger customers, Wakana, takes a liking to Tokue and finds the courage to question her about her life, with a particular focus on her hands and fingers. This image is recurring and we are constantly reminded as a reader that there is a tale to be told here. Tokue is very reserved about it, holding the majority of the story to herself. We learn that she wanted to be a teacher, hence the appreciation and excitement towards children, but an illness when she was younger meant that she was never able to fulfil her dream. Whilst things had been incredibly good, like the seasons and the weather, time brings about change. There is a rumour about a cursed lady working at the shop causing customers to stay away. In his naivety, he accepted the illness story. What he didn’t realise what the extent of that illness or what that illness was. It turns out that as a child Tokue had leprosy. Tokue is old enough and wise enough to know that the drop in sales and the rumours are down to her, so decides to quit. As if beautifully timed, the trees have lost their blossom too…

“There was a time when I’d given up all hope of ever going outside those gates into the world again. But look at me. I could come here. I met so many people. All because you gave me a job.”

As a result of this, Sentaro finds himself back in bleak sadness. He feels as though he has sent his own mother away. Over time, he decides he needs to go back and see her. He takes Wakana with him and they bring a canary for her to look after. It is clear that they all need each other so the gap between them has meant that they’ve missed each other terribly. Yet, he had to make the business work in order to repay his debt. The quality dropped again following Tokue’s departure but Sentaro took his lessons seriously. Because of his huge amount of feeling, this was in the bean paste. It really does change the taste. During the winter months, Tokue sent a letter as a reminder and a shove that Sentaro needs. She felt something in the wind that told her to contact him. Beautifully, she know that something wasn’t quite right. She was correct.

“It’s important to be bold and decisive. When you can say with certainty that you have found your style of dorayaki, that will be the start of a new day for you. I firmly believe this. Please have the courage to go your own way. I know that you can do it.”

More time passed, more letters sent and received and more pressure from the owner to make the shop more profitable. Eventually, Sentaro decides to quit and move onto something else. However, the calling of dorayaki and everything he gained from Tokue called to him. Seeing the vision of Tokue and hearing her words gave him the shove again he so desperately needed. It just so happened that this time he was too late to tell her. The novel closes with one last beautiful letter, a death and a new beginning. Sentaro will never forget the impact that Tokue had on him.

‘Sentaro and Wakana stood close, gazing in silence at the trees all around them. The forest murmured with every ripple of wind that rustled its branches and leaves. As if Tokue was somewhere close nearby, telling them to open their ears and listen.’

Final Thoughts

I’ve used the word beautiful copious amounts in this review because it absolutely is. It moved me in ways I didn’t expect. I was worried regarding the translation and if it would lose its eloquence but its simplicity makes it elegantly sublime. By noticing nature and listening to the messages in the wind, we can all learn to live differently. Tokue’s character showed us that when times are incredibly difficult, we always have hope. Her hope was young people and babies. They animated her and brought light to her. They showed her that she wasn’t foolish to have those dreams. The illness may have taken her opportunity as a young adult, but she had a different opportunity in that shop as an elderly lady. The bond between the older generation is a gift. Like Sentaro, we can always learn something and better ourselves. There is always light, even in the darkest of times.

I genuinely loved this book. I’d say, so far, that this is my favourite book this year. It was blown away by its simplicity, it’s tenderness and love. I highly recommend to absolutely everyone. Everywhere.

Big love all xxxx

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Reading Challenge 2020: My Grandmother Sends Her Regards and Apologies – Fredrik Backman

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Hello Loves!

I hope you are all well. I can’t believe we are approaching the end of June. I don’t feel like I’ve been outside properly in months and I’ve kind of lost a sense of what is normal. Weird… Anyway, I’m back into school (we never really closed!) so I’m feeling all kinds of tired. However, I wanted to share with you the book I read for June’s theme: Find a novel with a child narrator. You can find out more about the Reading Challenge here!

For this month, I picked My Grandmother Sends Her Regards And Apologies by Fredrik Backman. You may have heard of this book under a different title if you’re one of my friends abroad: My Grandmother Asked Me To Tell You She’s Sorry. Backman is arguably most famous for his hilarious and moving book: A Man Called Ove so I had high hopes for this one. Thankfully, it did not disappoint!

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What’s it all about?

The story is told through the eyes of Elsa who is seven, nearly eight. Her granny is the central figure in her life but Elsa has a secret: her granny is a superhero because every seven year old deserves a superhero. The novel revolves around their setting – a group of flats with a range of residents. Whilst this is physically there, it is a secret world created by Granny that is of most importance to Elsa. The secret kingdom of Miamas, in the Land-of-Almost-Awake.

As a knight of Miamas, Elsa is sent upon a quest following her Granny’s dying wish. One by one she encounters the residents of the house where she lives, each unique and quirky in their own way. Elsa begins to realise how many lives her Granny touched even though her flaws become ever more apparent, something that Elsa didn’t see before. Granny is at the least eccentric, or maybe she’s a genius, a crackpot genius. She revels in rule breaking, thumbing her nose at the world and saying those things that wouldn’t be said in polite society. Elsa adores her granny, who leads her into all sorts of scrapes and thinks that Elsa is the cleverest seven, almost eight year old she knows.

‘Granny lives at the top, of opposite Mum, Elsa and George. Granny’s flat is exactly like Mum’s except much messier, because Granny’s flat is like Granny and Mum’s flat is like Mum.’

Elsa lives at the top of the house in a flat with her mum and George. Elsa’s mum (Urika) is highly organised, married to her job and can sort out, find and categorise anything. It’s her superpower. Elsa’s mum and Granny, despite being flesh and blood are polar opposites. Arguably, Elsa’s mum is saddened by the closeness by her daughter and her mother – something that she does not have.

Elsa’s quest takes her into the lives of the other people who live in the house and she constantly finds parallels between them and the Land-Of-Almost-Awake. This book is written from the unique perspective of a child. Not just any child, Elsa is different. But as Granny says, all the superheroes are different. Spiderman and Wolverine are not like normal people and neither is Elsa. Elsa constantly interprets the world around her by using superheroes to understand how to act, along with a healthy dose of Harry Potter!

The story lurches from the make believe world of Miamas, which overlays the real world with a strange symmetry. Elsa is highly literate, thanks often to Wikipedia and delights in showing her wide vocabulary and the inability to resist making corrections in red pen to public signs that contain errors.

‘You don’t need to close your eyes to get the Land-of-Almost-Awake. In those last few seconds when you’re eyes are closing, when the mists come rolling in across the boundary between what you think and what you just know, that’s when you set off.’ You ride into the Land-of-Almost-Awake on the back of cloud animals, because that’s the only way of getting there.’

Two of Elsa’s most constant companions in her quest are the Wurse and Alf. A Wurse is a large, hairy animal that comes from Miamas and helped win the War-Without-End. Alf is a taxi driver. These two unlikely suspects become the best of friends with Elsa, she needs them to help fulfil her Granny’s wishes.

By the end of her quest, Elsa has followed a thread that is woven through the lives of every resident in the house. A thread that her Granny left behind but has taken her whole life to complete. She has made new friends, defeated an frightening dragon, found the truth about her mother leading to a deeper connection and even reaches out to her estranged father. Quite an accomplishment for a child, even one as different as Elsa!

‘Most likely they told her [Granny] a whole lot of damned things she wasn’t allowed to do, for a range of different reasons. But she damned well did them all the same. A few years after she was born they were still telling girls they couldn’t vote in the bleeding elections but now, the girls do it all the same. That’s damned well how you stand up to bastards who tell you what you can and can’t do. You bloody do those things all the bloody same.’


Final Thoughts

To read this book is to read through the eyes of a child. To experience the confusions, frustrations and delights of a seven, nearly eight year old. This book reads like an adult fairy tale, despite being narrated by a child. It is a blur between childlike innocence and a path being laid by a beloved family member. It addresses the regrets of an adult that has lived her life to the full regardless of what impact it has had on others around them. For some characters, Elsa is there to right the wrongs her Granny made towards some. Whilst she does this, she learns more about her Granny and about her closer family. As a child the immediate family can cause nothing but frustration when you’re growing up. Here, Elsa learns the importance of all family, not just her Granny.

I think this book will make you question your own childhood, as it did me. It’s well worth a read and completely different to anything else I’ve read recently. I’m sure you’ll enjoy being transported as much as I did.

‘Epilogues in fairy tales are also difficult. Even more difficult than endings. Because although they aren’t necessarily supposed to give you all the answers, it can be a bit unsatisfying if they stir up even more questions. Because life, once the story has ended, can be both very simple and very complicated.’

Time to consider July’s book (as if it is nearly July!!) and the theme for this one is: Murder and intrigue abound this month. For this I have chosen a writer I know absolutely nothing about: Michael Connelly. Wish me luck!

Take care everyone. Big love xx

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Reading Challenge 2020: Go Set A Watchman – Harper Lee

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Hello Lovelies!

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

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What’s it all about?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Final Thoughts

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

Big Love all xx

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Reading Challenge 2020: Wilding – Isabella Tree

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Hey Lovelies!

Happy May 1st. Part of me is really shocked that it is May and another part of me feels like each day is becoming a blur. One thing I do take comfort in is that each day that passes means that we are a day closer to our old sense of normality. We’ve all embraced the new normal but I for one would really like to see my family some time soon!

The book for this month came at just the right time. The theme for the Reading Challenge for April was: Focus on a story of nature and / or the spring season. You can remind yourself of the theme for each month in my earlier post: here. One thing that is a constant is that time is passing and that brings with it the beauty of the natural world around us which seems to be excelling at the moment. Wilding is the perfect book for this season.

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What’s it all about?

Told through the eyes of Charlie and Isabella, two young farmers who are breaking convention and challenging the norm with regard to their land. The book is fascinating and rich with depth and detail. Charlie and Isabella are working hard on their farm, investing in the latest technology, intensively farming every possible part of the land to maximise productivity because, truth be told, their land isn’t good farmland for cash crops. Even with subsidies, they are struggling to make it work. Determined and ambitious, two qualities they both epitomize, the writing is very much on the wall for them.

Set in the heart of the south of England, the farm is stunningly beautiful. It’s criss-crossed with roads and public footpaths. There is an abandoned castle on the land and it has been in their family for hundreds of years. It’s more than a commercial enterprise, it is part of them and part of the surrounding community. But, it is dying. The land is exhausted, the yields are just not there. Even the ancient oaks are dying.

The narrative opens with Ted Green, a former custodian of royal oaks at Windsor Great Parks. He can see the illness in these proud old men and women of Knepp estate. They have seen kings and queens come and go, half a millennium of history has passed them. The civil war passed by, maybe they provided shade to weary soldiers on the march. As the world wars shook Britain, they heard bi planes pass overhead followed by Spitfires and Lancasters. The land around them was ploughed to answer the call to ‘Dig for Victory’, to feed a nation that would starve without it. But this is the death knell.

“The majority of a tree’s roots are found in the top 12 inches and are vulnerable to ploughing and compaction…delicate mycorrhizae (fine hair like filaments that attach themselves to roots and create a vast network) are destroyed by the churning blades of ploughs and are highly susceptible to agricultural chemicals.”

This is the first time either of them had realised the cost to the land of farming and it is completely shocking. They decided to make a change. They decide to re-wild the land. To return it nature and let go and the ‘land management’ they have been brought up revere. The sheer scope of what then occurs is beyond description in a review. The thrilling rebirth that takes place. They re-introduce some ‘wild’ species to the land. Old English Longhorn cattle, fallow deer, Exmoor ponies, Tamworth pigs. These are not farmed, they are left to be wild within the confines of the land. Nature is very much going to do its own thing.

The effect on the land is startling. As the agricultural chemicals drain away, the browsing, grazing and rooting animals transform the landscape in a few short years. They discover how the different animals compliment each other, grass that the ponies can’t metabolise is perfect for the long horns. The pigs churn up the soil and leave a perfect habit behind them for all sorts of invertebrates which in turn attract birds and then raptors. The eco system is transforming at a rate far beyond anything they had anticipated. Change was in front of them and it was a success!

“We were dismayed at first to observe their (the pigs) capacity for damage, particularly in the wet. But the land’s ability to regenerate was equally astonishing and in the growing season it was only a matter of days before a patchwork of pioneer plants would appear.”

The book progresses chronologically but each chapter tends to focus on a particular element of the wilding process. It could be birdlife, the grazing animals or butterflies. They encounter significant opposition from the surrounding residents, some of whom are aghast at the neat farmland becoming wild and unkept. Whilst I have some sympathy for this, we do all judge things on how they look at least some of the time, but it was a case of perseverance. They refuse to back down. There is a resurgence in the wild life, the rebirth of the land and the huge increase in biodiversity, some of which is now extremely rare and threatened. It goes beyond their expectations and everyone else’s it seems.

“Interviewed anonymously, a cross-section of local villagers vented their anger… I love wildlife, I love the countryside. But it’s turning into quite a mess… a fair old mess really. I don’t believe in this scheme, not in the south-east of England.”

The gradual revealing of the symbiotic relationship between the different elements of nature is beguiling. One Jay can plant 750 acorns in one summer. The tangled thorny scrub that it likes to plant in provides the perfect nursery to stop the oak sapling being eaten by the browsing cattle that keep the scrub in check. The cracked and dry clay by the side of the river provides a habit for endangered insects that need exactly those cracks to nest in. The utter connectedness of all of us, our total dependence on these natural processes shines though this book. It’s personally given me a grounding that I so desperately need right now in times of great uncertainty.

I’ve never understood the real meaning of organic, never realised the difference it might be making to me and us all to be eating intensively farmed meat, cereal and vegetables. This book lifts the veil on a past which is more connected and much, much, more healthy. Darker, yes, less controlled and dominated, but ultimately more productive, more beneficial for all of us. From the fungi that live in the soil, the painted lady butterflies and nightingales, through to the majestic raptors that glide above us dependent on the whole connected chain of life below them.

“If the beat of a single butterfly’s wings can raise a hurricane on the other side of the world, one wonders, what might tens of thousands do in your own backyard?”

This is a book that is full of hope, full of wonder at the resilience of nature but it sounds a warning note at the end. The turtle dove, once common in England, is critically endangered. Knepp is the only part of the country where numbers are growing but it is too little too late. We cannot run the risk of losing another beautiful thing from our landscape due to our own actions again. History repeats…

“As we skirt the blackthorn thickets with an ear out for turtle doves Charlie and I count mixed blessings. The joy at hearing the bird here, and hearing it now is counterbalanced by the sands of time charging down to that single pinprick of loss. The turtle dove is a reminder that Knepp is an island, only a tiny scrap of the carpet – powerless, on its own, to save a species on a trajectory to extinction.”

Final Thoughts

This book is a gem but it is so dense and thick with information, research, findings and results. I really enjoyed reading the characteristics of the animals that they get to see on a daily basis, the pigs being a particular favourite. Nature is thriving there and this is proof that it can continue to thrive if we just change what we do. It also reminded me that we shouldn’t judge based on how things look. At some stage, this project looked ‘messy’ to several onlookers, but look at the beauty it produced. The lasting effect means much more than the appearance.

Now it’s May, the theme of the reading challenge for this month is: Read a book about hope and growth. Hindsight is a wonderful thing. These categories seem to be fairly apt at the moment.

Big love all. Continue to stay safe.

xxx

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Filed under Book review, Nature, Reading, Reading Challenge 2020