Posted in Book review, Books, Historical Fiction, New Books

The Diplomat’s Wife – Michael Ridpath

Hey Loves!

Well, we’ve done week one of 2021 and it probably doesn’t feel very different to 2020… but let’s still keep the faith. There’s plenty of time for lots of reading and finding your next best read. For me, school is still as busy as ever. I’m spending my time teaching online which is not too dissimilar to writing blog posts – I just feel like I’m talking to myself. Hopefully someone, somewhere is listening! Regardless, today I want to share with you a book you all need to keep your eye out for: The Diplomat’s Wife by Michael Ridpath. This was one of those books where I literally couldn’t put it down. I hope you love it as much as I did!

What’s it all about?
The novel opens in Buckinghamshire, England where we meet Phil. It is just before his big adventure to abroad but his plans are in jeopardy following a slight accident with a car. However, all is rectified when Phil’s beloved Grandma, Emma, reveals her need to go on a trip but she cannot possibly go alone. Therefore, it’s set – Phil will drive his grandmother around Europe, to relive her life and to solve the mysteries of the past surrounding her brother, Hugh and her husband, Roland. From here, we see the interweaving of the past and present within the novel.

“One of the reasons I asked you to accompany me is that I want to tell you a story. My story. The story of what I did before the war. I’ve mentioned I’ve been thinking of revisiting my life then. But I wanted to share it, so someone knows about it when I’m gone.”

Grandmother and grandson travel to Devon, where the story begins. Emma was just a teenager, happily living in her brother’s shadow. She absolutely adored him, idolised him really. Whatever he believed, she did too. A theme that runs within the plot is politics – communism and socialism in particular. When her brother changes his views, she feels betrayed. There’s more going on than what is being shared on the surface, clearly. Tragically, Emma was unable to discuss this with her brother further, because he was killed.

‘I pulled back the rug from Hugh’s face. I will never forget what I saw – it was a mess. His forehead and cheek had been smashed. There was blood, but there was also pinkish stuff, which I later realised was brain matter. It was truly horrible.’

Emma’s feeling of unease only grew at Hugo’s funeral. She meets Dick Loxton, Hugo’s best friend and Kay Lesser, Hugo’s girlfriend. Here we learn that Hugo had a secret life – a life as a spy. His death could be as a result of this. It is this information that starts the journey of discovery. From here, the two head to Paris. Emma was, as the title suggests, a diplomat’s wife. This gave her the opportunity to meet people the average person wouldn’t meet. She moved in circles that seem so different to life in the present. Something else was about to disrupt her world: an affair and a pregnancy.

‘Then a darker thought occurred to me. Was the whole thing camouflage? Had their affair already been going on when my mother invited Roland down to Devon? Which meant his wooing of me was just an elaborate cover…’

Emma has a choice to make: one that will dictate her whole future. Kay advises her and she has a plan. She will follow in her brother’s footsteps but to do that, to get information, she needs to remain with her husband. Lothar and Kay get her set up with the relevant equipment she needs. She is now one of them. Back in the present, the trip isn’t exactly what Phil had in mind. He does frequent a couple of bars and meets Heike. Can he trust her? She seems to be perfect and the two love spending time together. It almost feels odd when she asks to join him and his grandmother, something Phil knows his grandmother absolutely would not like. They settle for talking. Lots and lots of talking. Meanwhile, the next step of their journey is decided: Annecy. It is in this section that Phil sees his grandmother in a new light.

‘Nothing in his life up till now had prepared him for this. But he had to concentrate on the road ahead. On getting out of France safely without the police stopping them. Then he could think properly about what happened, what was happening.’

Berlin, Germany: the next stop. The threat of war is imminent in 1939 and it is here that Emma’s information is key. Kay needs her to keep providing but there isn’t anything to say or offer. There’s just no new information circulating. Until the news of Russia. This is the ultimate game changer. This information is huge. It is here though, that Emma learns the real truth. Once again, we know that all is not as it seems.

‘The anger evaporated, or rather it retired, waiting for a new target. Yes, I had been misled. But so had Kay. Both of us had been misused, drawn to betray our countries on the basis of false promises.’

The final part of the novel is in Spain. Emma is obsessed, literally, with finding out the truth and eventually putting her brother to rest. Likewise, Phil has never known about this side of his grandmother. This journey is as eyeopening for him as it is for Emma. In Spain, Phil sees a face that he recognises and Emma realises they are in immediate danger. As the novel closes, Emma’s story is finally told. We have a voice for Hugh, a resolution.

“To Grams…and her brother.”

Final Thoughts
This book is a must read for 2021. Due for release in February, it needs to be promoted to the top of your TBR lists. There are many strands to this that make it an interesting read. The grandmother/grandson element. It was really lovely to see the strength of the family ties here, especially when Emma did not have these as a child. Along with that, I really enjoyed the historical element of it. Novels set in the war are fascinating because there are so many ways you could present it. I loved the espionage take here was incredible. Who can you trust? You won’t know until the end of the book. Michael Ridpath isn’t a writer I’d heard of but this book has absolutely put him on my radar.

Keep yourselves safe and well.

Big love all xxx

Posted in Books, Reading, Reading Challenge 2021

2021!

Hello Lovelies!

Happy New Year to you all. We can all agree that 2020 challenged us in so many different ways – ways that we just didn’t expect. What 2020 did give us was time to read some amazing books. I know last year gave me the opportunity to really lose myself in books. I read more than I think I’ve ever done before. It gave me the release from the real world that I know we all found necessary at times. When my school closed and we went into a lockdown, I felt really lost for a while. I’d gone from seeing hundreds of people every day to seeing no one. It had been a really surreal year but one I doubt we’ll ever forget. Regardless, there’s nothing I love more than reading a good book and then sharing it with you amazing people. 📚

2020 was also the first year I wrote my own reading challenge and I’m so proud to say that I completed it too! A different theme each month really encouraged me to broaden my horizons and read things that had either been sat on my shelf for years or branch out into new writers and genres I’d never considered or knew about. I joined various book subscriptions which also gave me new and exciting reads. I’m so chuffed with it that I’ve written a fresh new challenge for 2021 which I am exceptionally excited about.

Naturally, 2020 wouldn’t have been the same without you. I say it regularly but the blogging community is the gift that keeps giving. You’re all so inspiring and lovely. It’s such a privilege to be a part of it. 💖 I’m sure I’m not the only one who really felt that despite the world being in isolation, we were really more together than ever before. Thank you.

So, let’s round up 2020 and launch the reading challenge for 2021!

2020 – Books read: 148

Dr. Nick Edwards – In Stitches: The Highs and Lows of Being an A&E Doctor
Gillian Flynn- The Grownup
Mark Haddon -The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time
Lee Child – Past Tense
Meg Rosoff – There Is No Dog
Nicci French – Beneath the Skin
Antoine de Sait-Exupery – The Little Prince 
Ruth Sepetrys – Between Shades of Gray
Lindsay McCrae – My Penguin Year – Living with Emperors – A Journey of Discovery
Mitch Albom – For One More Day
Vanessa Curtis – Zelah Green – One More Little Problem
David Walliams – The Midnight Gang
Terence Frisby – Kisses on a Postcard
Annie Spence – Dear Fahrenheit 451
Greta Thunberg – No One is Too Small to Make a Difference
Val Emmich – Dear Evan Hansen
Sara Pennypacker – Pax
Tayari Jones – An American Marriage
Onjali Q Rauf – The Day We Met the Queen
JP Delaney – Believe Me
Laure Ellen Anderson – Amelia Fang and the Bookworm Gang
Mona Awad – 13 Ways of Looking at a Fat Girl
Jack London – The Call of the Wild
Kate DiCamillo – The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane
Graeme Simsion – The Rosie Project
Hazel Prior – Away with the Penguins
Harlen Coben – The Stranger
Margarita Montimore – The Rearrange Life of Oona Lockhart
Peter James – The Secret of Cold Hill
Claire Pooley – The Authenticity Project
David Walliams – Slime
Beth O’Leary – The Flat Share
Isabella Wilding – Wilding
Lia Louis – Somewhere Close to Happy
Chloe Coles – Bookshop Girl
Brian Bilston – Diary of a Somebody
Jo Middleton – Play Groups & Prosecco
Harper Lee – Go Set a Watchman
Michelle Harrison – A Sprinkle of Sorcery
Rory Dunlop – What We Didn’t Say 
Beth O’Leary – The Switch
Katharine Arden – The Winter of the Witch
J.K. Rowling – Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone
Phil Earle – Mind the Gap
Nick Spalding – Fat Chance
Alice Munroe – Queenie
J.K. Rowling – Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets
J.K. Rowling – Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
Freya Lewis – What Makes us Stronger
Graeme Simsion – The Rosie Effect
Claire Hutson – Art & Soul
Chloe Coles – Life’s a Beach
E Lockhart – Again, Again
Emma Carroll – Letters from the Lighthouse
Fredrik Backman – My Grandmother Sends her Regards and Apologies
J.K. Rowling – Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire
Graeme Simsion – The Rosie Result
David Foenkinos – The Mystery of Henri Pick
Stephanie Green – The Heathrow Doctor
Sophie Kinsella – Finding Audrey
Beatrix Potter – The World of Peter Rabbit (1-23)
Annika Perry – Oscar’s Quest
J.K. Rowling – Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
Durian Sukegawa – Sweet Bean Paste
J.K. Rowling – Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
Elisa Shua Dusapin – Winter in Sokcho
Claire Chambers – Small Pleasures
Michael Connelly – The Black Echo
Patrick Hoffman – Clean Hands
Zoe Folbigg – The Distance
Katherine Heiny – Standard Deviation
Nadia Marks – One Summer in Crete
Holly Seddon – Love Will Tear us Apart
J.K. Rowling – Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows
Sophie Kinsella – The Secret Dreamworld of a Shopaholic
Robin Sloan – Mr Penumbra’s 24 Hour Bookstore
Sophie Kinsella – Shopaholic Abroad
Laura Imai Messina – The Phonebox at the Edge of the World
Rose Black – The Unforgetting
Dorothy Strachey – Olivia
Mhairi McFarlane – If I Never Met You
Sophie Kinsella – Shopaholic Ties the Knot
Taylor Jenkins Reid – Evidence of the Affair
Lynda Le Plante – Buried
Olivia Beirne – The Accidental Love Letter
Sarah J Naughton – Mothers
Phaedra Patrick – The Secrets of Sunshine
Kate Bradley – I Took You to Keep You Safe
Alex Quigley – Closing the Reading Gap
Katerina Diamond – The Heatwave
Sanjida Kay – One Year Later
Ayisha Malik – Sofia Khan is Not Obliged
Helen Moffett – Charlotte
Michelle Campbell – The Wife Who Knew Too Much
Sam Carrington – One Little Lie
Jessica Jarlvi – When I Wake Up
Christian White – The Nowhere Child
Johnathan Swift – Gulliver’s Travels
Jim Dwyer & Kevin Flynn – 102 Minutes
Matt Haig – The Midnight Library
Ayisha Malik – The Other Half of Happiness
Dominic Pimenta – Duty of Care
Lisa Unger – Confessions on the 7:45
Gill Sims – Why Mummy Drinks
Hong Ying – K: The Art of Love
John Boyne – The Boy at the Top of the Mountain
William Shakespeare – Macbeth
Chris & Rosie Ramsey – Sh**ged. Married. Annoyed.
Nicola Yoon – Everything Everything
Ferdinand von Schirach – The Girl Who Wasn’t There
Deryn Mansell – Tiger Stone
Gill Sims – Why Mummy’s Sloshed
Anton du Beke – A Christmas to Remember
Stacey Halls – The Familiars
Christopher Skaife – The Ravenmaster
Carmel Harrinton – The Woman at 72 Derry Lane
Vanessa Tait – The Pharmacist’s Wife
Karen Dionne – Home
Vicky Zimmerman – The Woman Who Wanted More
Mark Roberts – Blood Mist
Romesh Ranganathan – As Good as it Gets
Chan Ho-Kei – The Borrowed
S.J. Bennett – The Windsor Knot
Heather Morris – Cilka’s Journey
Brad Parks – The Last Act
Shaun Bythell – Seven Kinds of People You Find in Bookshops
Maria Timon – City of Spies
Deborah Bee – Every Move You Make
Marilyn Shimon – First One In, Last One Out
Anton du Beke – One Enchanted Evening
Anton du Beke – Moonlight Over Mayfair
J.R.R. Tolkien – Letters From Father Christmas
Helley Acton – The Shelf
Charles Dickens – A Christmas Carol
Dr Seuss – How the Grinch Stole Christmas
Giovanna Fletcher – You’re the One I Want
Peter Swanson – All the Beautiful Lies
Grace Dent – Hungry
Andreas Pfluger – In the Dark
Katharine Kirlalea – Ok, Mr Field
Sarah Franklin – How to Belong
Elly Griffiths – The Postscript Murders
Gill Sims – Why Mummy Swears
B.A. Paris – Behind Closed Doors
Tara Moore – Victorian Christmas Ghost Stories 
Tom Allen – No Shame
Christopher de Vinck – Ashes 
Richard Osman – The Thursday Murder Club

Looking at that list, I feel immensely proud. Reading the titles again where some jump out at me – gifts from friends, amazing stories that I’ve finally read etc. Whatever the context, I’m so glad I’ve got books. 📖

Time to look to 2021! I’ve thought hard about this reading challenge. They’re meant to be fun and achievable and that’s exactly what I’ve gone for. If you’ve got any book suggestions based on these themes let me know!

January – Read a book that is set anywhere in the world you want to visit. 
February – Read a book by an author who was born in this month. 
March – Read a book that was gifted to you. 
April – Read a book with a one word title. 
May – Read a book that is based on real life events. 
June – Read a debut novel this month. 
July – Read a book where your name is on the cover (title or author)
August – Read a book which takes you to the beach. 
September – Read a traditional fairy tale. 
October – Read a book with an orange cover. 
November – Read a book by an author who died more than 100 years ago. 
December – Read a book with a beautiful cover. 

Ta-da! And there it is in all its glory. I didn’t want to repeat previous themes and I wanted it to be as open as it could be so I could read plenty. I hope you accompany me on the reading journey of 2021.

Have an amazing 2021. I’ll be right there with you!

As always, big love to you all. xxx

Posted in Book review, Books, New Books, Reading, Thriller

The Postscript Murders – Elly Griffiths

Hello Lovelies!

I hope you all had a wonderful Christmas. I tried to wish it to as many people as I could. Normally I’d write a Christmas Eve post but things are very different this year so I decided to use that time for quiet reflection and for sharing time with my much needed support bubble. To be honest, it’s taken me this week to recover from school. Anyway, I wanted to share with you a book I read in a day – it was just so good! The Postscript Murders by Elly Griffiths was a book I knew nothing about until I joined My Chronicle Book Box. For more information, click here: https://mychroniclebookbox.com It’s a stunning book company that I’m so glad I found. If books are you life, definitely check them out. On with the review! I hope you love this one as much as I did!

What’s it all about?
The novel centres around Peggy, a ninety year old murder consultant, living in the sleepy seaside town of Shoreham. She would spend her time plotting murders for famous writers. Therefore, her knowledge of murders is second to none. However, when she dies of what is assumed to be a heart condition, something doesn’t quite sit right with her carer, Natalka. The mystery thickens and the investigation begins.

The novel opens with an entry in Peggy’s Investigation Book, disguised as A Seaside Lady’s Diary. Peggy notes the many people who walk past the windows of her apartment. However, two men arouse her suspicions because they don’t fit into the pattern of dog walkers, cyclists, walkers or pensioners.

‘There’s an alertness about them that Peggy finds most troubling of all, and they both have their backs to the sea. Who comes to Shoreham beach and doesn’t even glance at the shimmering water, looking at its very best today, dotted with sailing boats and accessorised with seagulls?’

The following morning, Natalka knows immediately that something is wrong. She knows Peggy well enough to just be able to feel it. Sadly, Peggy had died and her son wanted the apartment to be cleared out as soon as possible. Obliged, Natalka does this but soon finds something of interest along the way. She takes her new information to DS Harbinder Kaur in the hope that it sheds some light on the matter. What is this information? Well, Peggy, an avid reader, accumulated many books. The difference with these books – they’re all dedicated to her. Natalka continues to feel convinced that Peggy didn’t just die naturally – thinks she has been murdered and ropes Peggy’s two friends, Benedict and Edwin in to help her solve the mystery. Following the funeral, Edwin was allowed to have something as a memento. He chose the last book Peggy was reading.

“I thought it would bring me closer to Peggy somehow. Anyway, when I opened it, this fell out.” ‘It’s a plain postcard and on it are the words: We are coming for you.’

The three friends decide there is much more to do now they have this information. They head back to the apartment to see if there are anymore clues there. However, it is when they are doing this they hear footsteps in the background and eventually, are confronted by a masked figure pointing a gun at them. The only thing this figure takes is a very rare, out of print book called Thank Heaven Fasting by Sheila Atkins. Why this book? What is so important about it? The group now need to add this to their independent investigation to see if they can work out exactly what is going on. A flyer promoting Dex Challoner’s event promoting his new books brings about a new opportunity to dig a little deeper. He was at the funeral but wasn’t very talkative and snuck out the back. All the attention is now on him. After the reading event, they decide to go for a drink to find out more about his relationship with Peggy. The night doesn’t end too well though.

“Is it murder?… It’s murder all right. He was shot in the head.”

Two murders and books seem to be at the centre of it all. But what does it all mean? Natalka and Harbinder meet up for a drink because Natalka has this weight on her mind, her past could potentially be coming back to haunt her. She reveals about her life in the Ukraine and the reasons why she left that country. Due to her disclosure, Natalka pushes Harbinder for information about the case. We learn that another author, Julie Monroe, who also credited Peggy in her books received the same postcard as her. Natalka immediately jumps to the conclusion that she is the next victim. Nevertheless, there is a problem – she is off to Aberdeen for a literary festival. An impromptu road trip means the trio of friends are hurtling towards Aberdeen. It does throw up new clues – yet another writer, Lance Foster, also received the same postcard. They persuade him to meet them for a chat but when he doesn’t arrive, they get increasingly worried and head to his hotel room to see if he is ok. What they are met with is something Natalka is all too familiar with recently.

‘Benedict lowers his head to Lance’s chest to listen for a heartbeat but he already knows. Lance’s body has a horrible leaden quality to it.’

It is at this point that I can’t really tell you much more. There’s still so much left of this novel but I don’t want to spoil it for you. However, by the end of the book, the many strands all come together, the plot is wrapped up and it is absolutely brilliant. The novel closes where it begins: with Peggy. It was her Investigation Book that helped solve the murders, that helped the group of friends piece together exactly what happened to those writers.

‘”To Peggy,” the others reply. And the sun streams in through the bay window.’

Final Thoughts
I’ve got so much love for this book that I don’t really know where to begin. I was taken in by Peggy from the very first page. She is an absolutely fascinating character. It’s only right and fitting that the plot evolves around her. There are many strands to this novel: murder, crime, novels, friendship, family and love. It would be impossible to explore them all here in this review but I do hope I’ve done this some justice. Elly Griffiths is definitely a writer I will be looking out for again. She’s got her own unique style which fits beautifully in with the ‘Who done it?’ plot style.

I’ll see you all before the new year where I’ll share with you the books I’ve read in 2020 and also launching my new reading challenge for next year. Until then, stay safe and well.

Big Love all xxx

Posted in Book review, Books, Food, Non Fiction, Reading

Hungry – Grace Dent

Hi Loves!

How are we all? Hanging on in there?  I do hope so. We are rapidly approaching Christmas and for teachers everywhere, who are still in schools across the country, it means we get a break at long last. I genuinely can’t wait to just stop and recover. I’ve never experienced a term like it. I think I’ve only survived because I’ve had plenty of hot chocolates and delicious food which brings me perfectly to the book I want to share with you today. I read Grace Dent’s Hungry in a day because I just couldn’t put it down. I genuinely adore Grace Dent. She’s an excellent writer: witty and engaging. She also has one of the best jobs in the world (in my opinion) as she is a food critic, writing for the Guardian currently and judging on Masterchef. This book was every foodies delight!

What’s it all about?
This novel is a journey through Dent’s life via the foods that were central at that specific time. We see a love of ‘Sketty’, Cadbury’s Fruit and Nut, butterscotch Angel Delight, just to name a few. Like every story, it begins at the beginning, in the north of the country in Carlisle. Dent’s relationship with her father is moving, emotional and poignant. We get a snapshot of her father in 2017, obviously unwell. In the space of one page we are cast back to younger years, 1980, we see a young girl making dinner with her father. Dent’s mother focuses on home improvements as well as working. We see a very normal domestic setting which is humble and true to itself.

“You’re as thick as bloody thieves, you two.”

Like many little girls, Dent is a Brownie. However, it is obvious that she feels like she isn’t good enough, or others are favourites in comparison to her. We see a charming anecdote about a matchbox competition where the winner of the most items inside a matchbox wins a box of Terry’s Harlequin. Dent and her father work together and manage to get twenty eight items inside. However, ‘Darlene’s’ box seems to be longer and with more items inside. Dent, like the rest of us, learns that life just sometimes is not fair. 

“Somehow I manage not to say some of the best swearwords in my nine-year-old cursing artillery. I do not say ‘piss’ or ‘arse’ or the bizarrely effective showstopper ‘twat’.”

1988 brings the start of the shopping revolution: big shops! Big Asda arrives locally. What this brings is opportunities, not just for a range of food but for literally everything from clothing, toys, key cutting and prescriptions. For anyone who experienced this first hand, I imagine the description runs true. It’s something, foolishly, I’d not considered. I’m just so used to having that level of convenience around. Evidently, this was a complete game changer for everyone at the time. We had access to most things, things we didn’t even realised that we needed. 

“This meant something remarkable – that every day could feel like your birthday at ASDA if you loitered by the Thomas the Tank Engine celebration cakes at closing time, waiting for the appearance of one of Cumbria’s most influential figures: the woman in charge of the reduced sticker gun.”

As Dent grows up, she knows for sure she wants to write and she makes the most out of every opportunity she gets. She dabbles with bits, submitting them along the way to the likes of Cosmopolitan and Chat. She has a difficult decision to make (one that I absolutely can relate to), leave the North for London where there is more of a chance to be successful or stay with her family. She makes the decision to move and lands her first writing job. From here, everything changed. In 1996, at the age of twenty six, we see Dent flying first class to Austria for a freebie trip. It literally changes her life and who can blame her? Who wouldn’t want to have opportunities like these?  

“So now here I was, one year into officially being Editorial Assistant, checking in at the exceedingly grand Hotel Imperial, Vienna, being escorted by the manager to one of their largest suits for a two-night stay. He turned the key in the lock and I squeaked with joy.”

One foodie experience I think many of us can relate to in the book is the Toby Carvery. There will be a Toby Carvery near you, wherever you are in the UK. It’s known for the four choices of meat, limited vegetables and gravy. Despite Dent’s palate developing, expanding and becoming more refined, her parents are the same as ever. A Toby Carvery costs a grand total of £4 each. This is a night out for the family, somewhere he father now only feels comfortable. Despite this being a whole other world to Dent, the family moments are so important to her but it does highlight the different between London and the rest of the country. 

“George, look at her face, look at it! It’s four quid for the carvery! Four! You can’t turn your nose up at that price. Oh, she’s too posh for this now! Too posh!”

The ending of the novel is arguably the most devastatingly beautiful. It is here we see the long time coming diagnoses of dementia for her father and the impact this has on them all. We have hints throughout the book about him forgetting a few things periodically, but it turns into a much bigger issue. There are moments of complete clarity and it is like her father is really back with them. Sometimes there are moments when he has completely gone to somewhere no one can reach him. It is also the part where we learn that Dent’s mother has cancer. Two blows in quick succession means the impact on Dent personally is astronomical. 

“Dementia is really awkward. Not just painful and frightening. Embarrassing. I don’t like to be left alone with Dad… sometimes I can see the terror in his eyes…”

What is clear though, Dent and her father will always have Cadbury’s Fruit and Nut to bring them back to the moment, back to their sense of reality. The ending of this novel is one of hope, despite all the adversity. Hope for the future, hope for food to continue shaping our lives and providing us with new experiences and ultimately bringing us all together again. 

“Sometimes I feel like – am – I am – ppphhh.”
“Shall we have a bit of chocolate?”
‘I take the bar of Dairy Milk Fruit and Nut we got him for Christmas. His eyes light up.’
“My chocolate.”

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Final Thoughts
There’s so much about this book I genuinely love. If like me, you wanted to push yourself to read more non-fiction, then absolutely start here. If you love food, then this is definitely for you too! There are plenty of other anecdotes that we can all relate to in here. I hope this gives you just enough to get your taste buds going! Recently, I also attended a Zoom event where Grace discussed her book and left that feeling moved and inspired. This book is such an unsung hero. It’s painfully real. I feel so lucky to have a signed copy too! (See above!) 

Continue to stay safe and well all. 

Big love all xxx

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Posted in Book review, Books, Christmas, Reading, Reading Challenge 2020

Reading Challenge 2020: Letters From Father Christmas – J.R.R. Tolkien

Hey Loves!

Happy December! 🎅 🎄 Can you believe we are in the final month of 2020. What a strange and unique year it has been for so many reasons. Whilst the majority of this year has been spent apart, I’ve never felt closer to my blogging community. Together we’ve read and written and kept our own sense of normality going. It’s been really truly wonderful.

I must apologise for the absence. Anyone in education right now will tell you how challenging it is. I’ve been reading to keep my sane but the writing aspect has escaped me. I’ve written posts and deleted them, getting stuck half way.

However, I’m here today to share with you my book choice for the Reading Challenge 2020. The theme for this month was: Time for a festive story to close the year. The book I chose was Letters from Father Christmas by J.R.R. Tolkien. There’s so many things I love about this book, I just couldn’t wait to tell you all about it.

What’s it all about?

First of all, I genuinely think this is one of the most beautiful editions of a book I own. This version is the centenary edition, published on the 100 year anniversary of the first letter ever sent to Tolkien’s eldest son, John, in 1920. It includes pictures of the letters, envelopes and drawings that Tolkien did for his children from 1920-1943. Every December, a envelope would arrive bearing a stamp from the North Pole and a letter from Father Christmas.

These letters are so utterly beautiful and magical that it was really hard for me not to pick them all to write about. However, that would ruin this remarkable book for everyone else. As well as writing from Father Christmas, we also see entries from the Polar Bear and one of the elves too. Each character is unique, their voice clear, their hearts pure.

“Inside you will find a magic wishing cracker: pull and wish for what you want, and see if you don’t get it next Christmas.”

Polar Bear gets himself into all sorts or antics, for he seems to be quite clumsy. The year 1925 shows us how the Polar Bear went onto the roof to collect Father Christmas’s hood that had blown off in bad weather, only to fall through the roof and into the house. Not only did the Polar Bear fall in, but vast amounts of snow did too causing the fires to go out and the cellar being flooded where all the toys were for that year.

In 1926, the reindeer broke loose and escaped. What would Father Christmas do without them? We see how they have ran away, throwing presents all around and tossing them in the air. We see worries from Father Christmas and hope that theirs aren’t broken. Christmas is a huge operation that with everyone helping out, even the Snowman.

“The Snow Man is addressing our envelopes this year. He is Father Christmas’s gardener – but we don’t get much but snowdrops and frost-ferns to grow here. He always writes in white, just with his finger.”

With each year that passes, another letter arrives and we see the acknowledgement that the children are getting older. In 1928, Father Christmas mentions John, who he believes is too old to write so guessed his presents. Chris and Michael are still sending him letters though, keeping the magic alive. We also see the reference to many more children being born with Father Christmas mentioning how different countries like England, Norway and Denmark, to name a few, have more children than previous Christmases. We see the joy and fears, the excitement and worries of Father Christmas. The writing throughout really brings him and the Polar Bear to life. 

“It is a good thing that clocks don’t tell the same time all over the world or I should never get around, although when my magic is strongest – at Christmas – I can do about a thousand stockings a minute, if I have it all planned out beforehand.”

1933 brings about a new problem: goblins. In the previous year, the goblins were severely punished for stealing all the presents. Polar Bear said he could smell something bad and as a result, became incredibly restless. One evening, the goblins had set fire to the stores and captured several gnomes in the process. They also broke into the stables and stole the reindeer! Thankfully Polar Bear was there to save the day.

 Towards the end of the book in 1936, we see the new addition of red and green elves living with Father Christmas to help with the packing. Ilbereth the elf pens a letter to tell the children all about their adventures and excitements. Unfortunately, after working quite hard Polar Bear became quite tired and fancied a bath. He fell asleep, covering the overflow, causing a huge flood in the Delivery Room. Disaster! 

“Well, there is one thing: those children at Northpole Road, Oxford (he always says that) may lose some of their presents, but they will have a letter worth hearing this year.”

Towards the end, Father Christmas is just writing to Priscilla. I found this part of the book most poignant and it made me a bit teary actually. Growing up is inevitable and it means we lose the magic of Christmas. The final letter is Father Christmas saying goodbye. 

“I suppose you will be hanging up your stocking just once more: I hope so for I still have a few little things for you. After this I shall have to say “goodbye”, more or less: I mean I shall not forget you…”

And with this, the letters stop and the novel ends. 

Final Thoughts
Well, what a way to finish and complete my Reading Challenge 2020! What a beautiful, magical, sublime little book. It made me value the traditions I made with my own family at Christmas. I also really wished that I had something like this as a little girl too. Imagine being fortunate enough to grow up with this. Sadly, as we all know, growing up means we lose the magic of Christmas. However, for me, a little part of it has remained alive because of this book. I love Christmas and this book has got me right in the festive mood. Two weeks of school left…

Continue to keep safe and well everyone.

As always, big love to you all. xx

Posted in Book review, Books, Historical Fiction, Reading, Reading Challenge 2020

Reading Challenge 2020: Cilka’s Journey – Heather Morris

Happy Sunday Lovelies!!

I hope you’re all well. This post comes a bit later than I anticipated really. I don’t think I’ve ever felt this utterly shattered and defeated really. It’s hard at the moment but to keep myself going I’ve just been reading and buying plenty of books! I mean, who wouldn’t? Today I want to share with you a book I have had sat on my shelf since the day it was published: Cilka’s Journey by Heather Morris. There’s no particular reason as to why this has sat on my bookcase for a little over a year. It’s more of a case of having to be prepared to read about such sadness and resilience. You’ve got to feel strong enough.

The theme and focus of this month for the reading challenge was: November: Something that has been sat on your bookshelf / TBR list that casts a backwards glance. Well, this book certainly does that! If you’ve been keeping an eye on my reading challenge or would like some more information, click here. For those of you who have been around for a while, you’ll remember my post on Morris’s first novel The Tattooist of Auschwitz (click here!) Anyway, I just had to be prepared for another emotional and potentially heart breaking story.

This book is beautiful in so many ways. I really hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

What’s it all about?
This book is the sequel to The Tattooist of Auschwitz, this time based on the true story of a person who survived Auschwitz Birkenau and ten years in a Russian Gulag in Siberia. Cilka Klein is introduced to us in the first book where we hear Lale Sokolov’s story. Sokolov knew Klein at Auschwitz where she was sent in 1942. She was only sixteen years of age. The tale is retold using research and interviews. Some characters are naturally fiction or an amalgamation of many faces and people she met. The most important and poignant factor is that the story is real. This is a story of survival.

“She is just surviving, Cilka has often thought. There is no one way to do it.”

Cilka quickly learnt that survival meant that she had to give the men in the camp exactly what they wanted. Two Nazi officers take a shining to her and they repeatedly rape her. She stays alive by allowing constant and repeated humiliation and abuse whilst in her role as the Jewish guard in the building in which Jewish women are sent to their death. It is here that she sees her own mother led and killed.

“She hopes she will be able to explain to Josie later that he can have her body and that is all; he cannot have her mind, her heart, her soul.”

From here she is sent to the Siberian Gulag because the Russians see her as a German collaborator because of the ‘relations’ she has had with the two Nazi officers. It is here she spends the next ten years of her life. There’s further rape, hard labour and complete and utter despair. What shines through the book though, more importantly, is friendship, courage, beauty and her will to keep the women in her block alive, as well as herself. Their hut is remarkable. The woman mostly work together to try and make it homely, stitching fabric and putting flowers from outside in a broken cup. Her closest friend, Josie, burns her hand and Cilka acts fast to save her by putting her hand in the snow. It is here that she learns about the hospital wing and meets the woman who will help save her life. Never forget the name Yelena Georgiyevna.

As Cilka learns how to be a nurse we see the narrative split into the past and present. Cilka has regular flashbacks to her life at the concentration camp. These are weaved with what events of the Siberian camp to show us exactly the horrors that Cilka experienced. It’s utterly harrowing. I had to keep reminding myself of her age when I was reading. Her whole youth taken from her.

“She didn’t choose it. It just happened.”

Yelena can clearly see that there’s plenty on this girls mind. But she is a good nurse and in demand from the patients. She experiences life on the main ward, the maternity ward where she learns to deliver babies and ultimately changes how the nursery is ran. She spends time in the ambulance, going to various calls outs where mines have collapsed. She faces these challenges head on, only to really think about what she has achieved later. Cilka opens up to her mentor, Yelena and it is here we learn her true story.

“The first day I saw you I felt there was something about you, a strength, a sense of self-knowledge that I rarely see. And now, with the little you told me, I don’t know what to say except that you are very brave.”

The end of the novel gives the reader hope. Cilka falls in love, escapes and does get to live a life outside of a prison camp. As heart warming as that is, for me it isn’t the most important part of the story. It’s the fact that she is given a voice. She shows how at such a young age she knew she had what it takes to survive. We see her sacrifice herself on so many occasions. She doesn’t harden or become cruel. Quite the opposite. She is given the opportunity to be free: she nominates Josie and her baby. She saves lives. She talks to very sick patients and gives them a soft exit from this world. She cares and she fights and ultimately it saves her life.

“It’s time to live now, Cilka,” he says. “Without fear, and with the miracle of love.” “Is that a poem?” she asks him, smiling through her tears. “It is the beginning of one.”

I hope we never have to live through events like this again. What is just as important is that these heroes, these young people, have a voice today to share their stories which at the time probably didn’t mean anything to them. It was just the daily grind to get through. Now we can share the stories and humbly reflect on how lucky we truly are.

“Stories like Cilka’s deserve to be told, and I’m humbled and honored to bring it to you. She was just a girl, who became a woman, who was the bravest person Lale Sokolov ever met.”

Final Thoughts
This book is moving, beautiful, poignant and utterly compelling. I read it in one sitting because I literally just couldn’t go to sleep without knowing what happened. You can tell Morris researches the historical details yet this doesn’t turn into a heavy book. The beauty of friendship and sisterhood is something that relates to today. All of us have a fight or flight instinct. Cilka’s was definitely to fight and boy, what a fight she gives. Like many, I did wonder if this book would be as good as the first. However, enough time has passed between the two for me to be able to make a fair judgement. It is just as good, if not better. Morris really has created a masterpiece.

Continue to look after yourselves everyone. Stay safe.

Big love all xx

Posted in Book review, Books, Halloween, London, Reading, UK

The Ravenmaster – Christopher Skaife

Hey Loves!

Happy Halloween! 🎃

I hope you’re all well. Whilst the rain is sloshing down my windows, I wanted to share with you a little gem of a book I’ve recently finished. I had written this post once but somewhere along the way it did its own Halloween trick and vanished. So, I’ve written it again!

As you may be aware, I’ve spent a lot of time this year branching out into non-fiction. It wasn’t a genre I paid much attention to if I’m honest but I’m so glad I’ve pushed myself because I’ve found some absolute wonders along the way. Today’s post is all about The Ravenmaster by Christopher Skaife. I absolutely love London and I’m saddened that it’s been nearly a year since I was last there. In my eyes it’s a vibrant city full of life and wonder. This book then became a treat for me really because it meant I got to visit the Tower of London, in my head at least. I hope you enjoy it a much as I did!

What’s it all about?

Told through the eyes of the current Ravenmaster or Yeoman Warden, Christopher Skaife tells us what his job is like at the Tower of London and the history surrounding the Tower. It was Charles II who insisted that the ravens of the Tower be looked after and protected because without them, the kingdom will fall. There has to be six ravens at the tower for it to be deemed safe and for the kingdom to reign supreme. This has now become legend and firmly part of British history.

“And a good morning it is. The ravens are at home in the Tower. I can breathe easy again – the kingdom is safe for another day.”

The book begins with an explanation of what Skaife’s job actually is. It goes beyond feeding, nurturing and protecting the ravens, it’s about protecting the Queen. Likewise just like in his previous job as a soldier for the British army. I naturally warmed to him and desperately want to meet him now! As only the sixth Ravenmaster, Skaife is privileged to see another side to the ravens that challenges the historic and common perception of them. We learn that there are a number of rules regarding the ravens but the biggest one I related to was that they like routine and if their routine is disrupted, they don’t take too kindly to it!

“There was the time one of our ravens affectionally pecked a cameraman on the back of the leg during a television interview about the Tower, for example: that caused a bit of a commotion.”

We are introduced to the ravens of the book: Munin, Merlina, Erin, Rocky, Jubilee II, Gripp II and Harris. I am pleased to see that the majority of these ravens still remain at the tower, despite the book being published in 2018. Regardless, each raven has their own personality traits and quirks. I guess it is easy to forget that animals can be like us too. I particularly enjoyed the anecdote of Merlina and her love of Pringles – a girl after my own heart, clearly!

“She has a particular ability to be able to spot a tube of Pringles from the other side of Tower Green, hop right up to an innocent member of the public, steal the whole tube, pop off the lid, and cram as many crisps into her mouth as she possibly can before being noticed.”

Some days are more challenging than others. We get given an insight into days when ravens escape, causing panic and concern. We see the lengths Skaife goes to to rescue and continually protect the ravens. Even so, the paying public are there to hear the story and the story needs to be told. I am and forever will be grateful for the heritage, culture and history that we have in Britain. This book joyfully shows us a small part of it. I also really enjoyed the communication and understanding between Skaife and the ravens: the language they have between them. It isn’t a case of humanising them, it’s purely based on understanding them.

“They certainly seem to have the capacity to remember. When former Ravenmaster Derrick Coyle visited the Tower some seven years after leaving… Merlina came straight over to him. It was as if he’d never been away. Seven years!”

As an English teacher, I’ve taught Macbeth every year and every year have the same conversation about ravens in the Lady Macbeth scene. Ravens are prominent in English Literature from William Shakespeare to Edmond Spenser, Charles Dickens and Edgar Allan Poe. Personally, the next time I teach Macbeth I will be mentioning this book for sure. Ravens may have been associated with death but there is such more to them which is fascinating. As another day ends at the Tower, so does the book. The ravens are at home once more.

“Rising above it all were the birds. They rise above it still.”

Final Thoughts

I love, love, love this book for SO many reasons. We are so lucky to have such a rich and deep history. This book made me want to return to the Tower of London and when the world returns to some sense of normality, whatever that may look like, I absolutely will. For now, I’m pacifying it by looking at Twitter where we can keep up with updates from the ravens and the Tower. I’m thrilled to see the beloved Merlina is still there, bless her! (See for yourself here!)

Despite being a short book, it is packed with the here and now as well as the history. I’ve definitely grown in appreciation for the ravens and for the role of the Ravenmaster. I’m SO glad I found this book and it’s one that will be a permanent feature on my bookcase as well as a gift for my friends and family.

Enjoy the rest of Halloween loves! 🎃 Stay safe and well.

Big love xxx

Posted in Book review, Books, Halloween, Reading, Reading Challenge 2020

Reading Challenge 2020: The Familiars – Stacey Halls

Hey lovelies!

I hope you’re all well. For me, I’m so grateful to see half term. Wow. I don’t think I’ve ever felt as exhausted as I do now. Working in a school through the pandemic is a challenge itself. I keep thinking I should write a book about it! Thankfully I’ve been reading plenty, ranging from fiction to non fiction. It’s the writing side of things that seems to have fallen away from me… I can only apologise for my absence. I’ve tried to keep in touch with you all but I know it’s been a while.

Now I’m on half term, it’s time to catch up with all those posts I should have written and comments I should have left to you beautiful people. I also want to make a few tweaks to my blog to keep it fresh and updated. It’s a work in progress I think!

Anyway, today’s post is a review of the book I chose for the October theme of my reading challenge: a spooky story that reflects the Halloween season. I went for The Familiars because I’ve seen so many positive comments and reviews, I just had to read it for myself! It really was a brilliant read. I picked it up yesterday morning and finished it last night. Here goes!

What’s it all about?

The novel is set over 400 years ago at the time of the great Pendle Witch Trials in Lancashire. We meet our heroine, the wonderfully named Fleetwood Shuttleworth. 17 years old, married to Richard, a nobleman of Gawthorpe Hall.

Fleetwood carries a burden, she is pregnant. Yet, she hasn’t had much luck with any of her previous pregnancies. Her duty is to bear her husband an heir. She has failed before, miscarriages and still births. Her value is intrinsically linked to a successful pregnancy, a baby may be worth her life in her husband’s eyes. She’s bordering obsessed with having a child, believing that that is all she is meant to do in life.

Fleetwood is desperate to be the mother Richard wants but she has read a doctor’s letter saying she will die if she gets pregnant again. Why hasn’t Richard told her? Does he want a child more than her wants her? Suffering with her pregnancy and plagued with doubts Fleetwood engages Alice, a young midwife that she met on their land. Alice is a mystery but becomes a very close friend to Fleetwood.

“Loyalty is earned, not demanded.”

Alice knows the uses of herbs and poultices which help Fleetwood and restore her health. But her learning and knowledge has the ring of witchcraft, of the ‘wise women’ who are now feared and reviled by the church and state. Roger, the magistrate and Richard’s mentor is leading the prosecution against the Pendle witches. Accused of cursing a peddler over some metal needles Roger has arrested Alizon Device and is using the testimony of a child, Jennet Device, to arrest others. Alice is implicated by Jennet and a warrant is issued for her arrest.

In a shock discovery Fleetwood finds out that Richard is keeping a mistress at her childhood home and that this lady is also pregnant. She feels sure that she is going to die in childbirth and be replaced. Part of her insecurities tell her she’s already been replaced anyway.

“If the Devil is poverty, and hunger, and grief, then yes, I think they know the Devil.”

She confronts Richard and leaves Gawthorpe Hall to go back to her mother. She takes Alice with her and calls her by another name to keep her safe from arrest. Fleetwood is sure that Alice can keep her alive and healthy throughout the pregnancy. The bond between the two ever tightening.

Eventually Richard persuades her to return to Gawthorpe Hall and she does so but on her arrival, Alice is arrested and taken to Lancaster Castle to be imprisoned. Fleetwood is devastated and begs Roger, as a family friend, as her friend, to relent and release Alice to her custody. Roger has no time for her pleas, he sees only his career and reputation at court. The prattling of a silly girl carries no weight and the life of her midwife, a commoner and a woman is beneath his concern.

“Alice Gray saved my life, not just once but many times. When I itched, she brought me plants to rub on my skin. When I was sick, she made me tinctures. She kept me company when I was at my lowest. She planted a garden for my health.’
‘Sounds like a witch to me, Richard said bitterly.”

The novel ends in such an unexpecting way that I really don’t want to ruin it. All I will say is both the female characters here are incredibly courageous. I was thrilled with the ending and the final chapter being five years later gave me the resolve I desperately wanted.

Final Thoughts

I didn’t expect to read this book in a day. I didn’t expect to open it and be transported back 400 years into a time of fictionalised history. Halls changed some details but the fact that this is real history intrigues me. I will absolutely be reading her next book, The Foundling. Oh, and how beautiful is the cover?!

With regard to the reading challenge, the focus for November is: Something that has been sat on your bookshelf / TBR list that casts a backwards glance. Come back to see what I’ve got planned for this.

Keep safe and well everyone.

Big love

Posted in Book review, Books, Children's Literature, Harry Potter, 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

Posted in Book review, Books, Reading, Reading Challenge 2020

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