Posted in Book review, Books, Children's Literature, Illustrations, Reading, Reading Challenge 2021

Reading Challenge 2021: Oskar’s Quest – Annika Perry

Hello Lovelies!

I hope you’re all well and are getting into the Easter spirit 🐣! I’m thoroughly enjoying my Easter break – reading plenty, spending time with my family (my support bubble), in the garden and spending time soaking up the warmer days. I seem to have got my writing mojo back so whilst I appreciate it is now April, I have a couple of posts I need to catch up with. Today’s post is the book I chose to read for the reading challenge. The focus for March was: Read a book that was gifted to you. If you’d like to catch up or take part in my reading challenge, please click here for more information. I’m sure all my avid reader blogging friends get books for birthdays, Christmas and then when you decide to treat yourself… or is that just me? Anyway, I had the perfect book in mind for this month from my dear friend, Annika Perry. Those of you who have seen my blog will remember that a couple of years ago, I blogged about Annika’s first book, The Storyteller Speaks. You can see this post here. Annika is a blogger who was here from day one of my journey and I’ve been so honoured to be a part of her writing journey. You can find her wonderful blog here. I was privileged to receive a copy of Oskar’s Quest, Annika’s second book. I can’t wait to share this with you all today.

What’s it all about?

This children’s book hits all the right notes. It’s about courage, kindness and friendship – all the ingredients for a meaningful and happy life and all the lessons we teach children and young people today. There is a simple premise behind the book but it stands for so much more which is why it personally appeals to me as an adult. Oskar is a blue bird who finds himself on Roda, a little lost. This mysterious island is filled with beautiful flowers and interesting creatures but Oskar is afraid. He sees the red bell-flowers and notices they look lonely.

‘The flower nodded sadly as one more leaf drifted to the ground. A drop of water followed.’

The reason for all the sadness is because their songbird, Maya has been taken by Drang, the darkest cloud in the sky. What can Oskar possibly do? He’s just a little blue bird. He decides he wants to be brave and help. He makes the decision to go to Drang and ask for her back. After all, the island needs her beautiful music to bring them happiness once again. But he can hear the fear and the names inside his head. This doesn’t deter him, he will get the songbird back. As he gets closer to the cloud, the worse the weather is. He has to really hold his nerve and be the bravest bird he’s ever possibly been.

‘Maya opened her golden beak but stopped, swallowed her screech and hiccuped loudly. Her body trembled with fear and hope.’

Drang booms and bangs and scares both the birds. However, he is misunderstood. He saw the happiness of the other birds and felt left out. He has no friends so he thought that by taking Maya, she could make him happy too. But she stopped singing and cried instead making Drang cry too. It was this that caused the terrible weather! Oskar’s bravery and kindness meant that they could all head back to the island together and be friends there.

‘At her words, all the birds, flowers and trees of Roda sang a song of celebration. The music made Drang so happy he could not help but shed a few tears of joy.’

Oskar has to return home where he hears the calls again, mocking him for being scared. Yet this time was different because he was not scared and because he had new friends. He was a much braver bird than he was before. Rather than act in nastiness towards the birds, he invites them to join them on their new adventures.

Final Thoughts
There’s a real art to writing children’s books and I think Annika has produced an excellent one. It teaches us that we can be brave and we can use kindness to defeat anything. It’s also made me reflect back to my own childhood and how I could have done things differently, if only I were a bit more brave. The illustrations are also stunning and support the story wonderfully. I naturally loved Oskar and Maya’s illustrated beauty was matched perfectly to the writing about her. I am really in awe of Gabrielle Vickery’s drawings.

This book fulfils my criteria for this month perfectly because it is a treasured gift and it always will be. I have read this book three times now and it’s magical with each read. Annika really knows how to keep her audience entertained whilst also teaching them that kindness, bravery and friendship mean the world. Adult or child – read this book. Felling sad or lost – read this book. Gift it to anyone that has ever been afraid fo anything. Thank you so much, Annika. ♥️

See you all next time for my round up post. Take care all and HAPPY EASTER.

Big love xxx

Posted in Book review, Books, London, Places, Reading, Romance

The Flip Side – James Bailey

Hello Fellow Book Lovers 📚 !

How are you all? I hope you’re all keeping safe, well and reading plenty. I’m sorry for the two week absence. I’m still at school but all of my lessons are online so I’m clocking up some screen time! I’ve been reading plenty, I’m on book 15 as we speak, but the words have escaped me. However, I’m hoping with this lovely read, I can get back into it. I have been reading a lot of thrillers so I wanted an easy, cute read – hence my choice for today! I read it today and I’ve had the urge to write ever since. The Flip Side by James Bailey was an utter delight. I really enjoyed it and I hope you do too!

What’s it all about?
The novel opens on New Years Eve where the protagonist, Josh, has prepared a magical evening for his girlfriend, Jade Toogood on the London Eye. After months of research, everything was in the place. With their own pod on the London Eye with champagne, truffles and the panoramic stunning views of London, it would bound to be a success. After all, this was going to be the perfect event which would start the rest of their lives, something they’d tell the grandchildren about. However, Josh doesn’t get the answer he expected. Jade says no. Unfortunately (and rather comically) for Josh, they still have a good twenty minutes, in silence, in their pod.

‘I check my watch. Twenty-seven minutes to go. What is wrong with this wheel? Is it broken?’

Immediately, I love the character of Josh. My heart just melts for him. This rejection is even worse. In the space of a few minutes he becomes single, homeless and jobless due to Jade’s father owning where they live and the hotel he works in. Josh has no other option but to go back to his parents. His return home isn’t the quiet non event he wanted, his mum seems to have the whole town there. Thankfully, Josh’s grandpa – Pap – is hiding in the bedroom watching a film. Josh joins him and this is the turning point of the whole story. Their indecisiveness about the film calls for action: a coin toss. And so it begins…

‘And then, just like that, as I flip the coin and watch it spiral into the air, the idea comes to me. And it’s fantastic.’

Josh’s friends, Jake and Jessie, naturally think he’s absolutely insane. For the next year, all decisions that Josh needs to make will be decided by the fifty pence piece in his pocket. Even though they’re dubious, they go along with it even when it cost them the quiz team win. After all, that’s what friendship is. Or maybe fate. Helping Josh to get back out there, his friends convince him to try dating apps or at least, finding someone to date. But his experience of a blind date was a complete disaster. His Tinder date was a little better until his parents came bumbling in, taking the fish and chip supper and scaring her off. Another date, another opportunity but with only £17 in the bank, it was going to be difficult. Thankfully Josh had 2-4-1 voucher (which didn’t quite go down too well), neither did removing the tip or charity donation, or forgetting his wallet…

‘Mum and I stand in the porch waving my Tinder date off as Dad drives her home. She sits in the front seat looking petrified. I didn’t need to worry about Emma being a weirdo. That was me. Poor girl.

However, fate had other things in mind for Josh. The London Marathon brought the friendship group into the city again to cheer Jessie on. The use the coin to decide who should go where to cheer her on. Josh ends up near the National Gallery and pops inside to use the loo. Once finally inside, he sees her. The one. Talking to her is easy. He shares with her a story from his childhood where he would go to the gift shop with his grandpa first and buy a few postcards. Then they would try and find them in the gallery, like a treasure hunt. They pick Canaletto by Renoir, a Degas and Sunflowers by Van Gogh. This was the reason she was in the city in the first place. But time was ticking and Jessie would soon be running past. They planned to see the Sunflowers painting after but fate would have other ideas. They lose each other. There is another problem – he didn’t ask her name.

“I’m working abroad at the moment in an English bookshop and saw his Sunflowers painting at the gallery nearby. I realised how bad it is that I’ve never seen this version, given I’m from London.”

The rest of the novel is a journey around Europe finding the Sunflower girl. She has to be out there somewhere and Josh just can’t seem to forget about her. Extensive research shows how there are versions of Sunflowers in Munich, Amsterdam, Philadelphia and Tokyo. He and his friends head to Bristol airport and flip a coin to see where he will end up: Amsterdam or Munich. (The other two are ruled out due to a lack of funds, naturally.) Munich it is, but it isn’t as successful as Josh had hoped. Amsterdam next and this provides luck but not as Josh expects it. He meets Eva who helps him with the local bookstores and learns he is an internet sensation, unbeknown to him. His friends have to be behind this.

‘I’m looking at an Instagram account with pictures of me. But it’s not my account. #FindSunflowerGirl.’

The fates don’t seem to want to help Josh find his Sunflower girl but he decides to head to Paris, following a phone call from Jessie who said that someone at work had seen Sunflowers recently there. Will Josh find her? Will the coin be right? It’s got him this far after all. Josh also had the voice of his beloved grandpa in the back of his head. He had to take this leap. Maybe his luck was about to change.

‘It’s her. It’s actually her.’

The stars align, he learns her name (Lucy) and they see Sunflowers with the postcard they bought in London. Life is complete. There are a few more surprises and bumps in the road for Josh in the way first but by the end of the novel, Josh has got his girl, a plan to go travelling in the not too distant future, and a sense of happiness and contentment. What makes it even better is knowing that his grandpa is right with him the whole time, the silent presence ever keeping him company and support. The novel ends in Rome without the coin. Time for a fresh start with the girl he loves.

‘Just as I have watched my coin spiral up in the air countless times over the past year, it twists and twirls in the sky, only this time it lands behind me rather than back in my hand… I wrap my arms around Lucy and kiss her strawberry gelato flavoured lips.’

Final Thoughts
This book was a lift that I needed. It was funny, heartwarming and just plain adorable. I even want to read the letters of Van Gogh because of it. The thing that intrigued me most was that the writer is male. Contemporary romances novels are normally written by women and it was this that drew me to this book to be honest. I wanted to see how it would be presented. As a girl, I only have my own experiences to go from. I found myself really feeling for Josh and secretly wishing that someone would want to travel Europe to find me. It’s a very modern romance and just made me feel really young at heart. I loved the friendships in the book and the role the family played too. I found Josh’s parents hilarious and I know we will all see glimmers of our own families in them. Honest and enjoyable, I loved this book.

Until next time where I will be reviewing my book choice for the reading challenge this year, stay safe all.

Big love xxxx

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, 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, 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

Posted in Book review, Books, Reading Challenge 2020

Reading Challenge 2020: One Year Later – Sanjida Kay

Hey Lovelies!

How are you all doing? Well, the first week back to school was a bit of a shock to the system, I can’t lie. It’s very difficult to maintain two metres distancing and teach or move around the building. We’ll get there. As long as we are all safe, that’s all that matters really.

I apologise for my absence but I’m here now to share with you my book for August which I did read in August but didn’t get round to reviewing for you all. The topic for the reading challenge that month was: a summer read to an exotic place. (For more information on my reading challenge click here.)

Very few of us got to visit the countries we wanted to this year so this was the perfect opportunity to drift off someplace good. However, I didn’t want it to just be a holiday romance type book. I decided to read One Year Later by Sanjida Kay. I’d found this by pure chance on my travels. I have to say, I really enjoyed it!

What’s it all about?

The novel opens with a date night between Amy and Matt. However, this isn’t just any date night. The history between them is difficult and challenging. Something doesn’t quite seem right. The pair are coexisting together but are barely living. Sadly, date night doesn’t even happy due to the arrival of Amy’s brother, Nick, is late for his baby sitting duties.

The death of Ruby-May is apparent right from the start. She’s a shadow over the entire plot but is never present. (Hence the title, One Year Later). The parents clearly are trying to function and cope with the circumstances for her death but ultimately they haunt the lives of everyone within the family unit.

To mark the upcoming one year anniversary, they make the brave decision to leave the country and head to Tuscany where, as a family, they will honour the event as one. Amy and Matt are joined by Nick, Bethany (Amy’s sister), Chloe (Matt’s other daughter) and the two super little ones, Lotte and Theo. Luca (nanny come child psychologist) and Bethany’s personal trainer. The only person not invited, rather awkwardly, is Amy’s dad. The blame for Ruby-May’s death lies firmly at his door in the eyes of Amy and Matt.

They arrive to beautiful Italy, the setting restoring some inner peace. They settle in for the evening as a group and chat idly. The following morning the first bomb shell happens… Nick arrives with their father. It is obviously clear that no one is pleased about this.

‘Amy feels as if she can’t breathe. She holds onto the table to stop herself from folding in two. Bethany pours them both prosecco and takes a long drink. She regards her father coldly. “Dad, why are you here?”‘

Begrudgingly, their father is allowed to stay and so begins a family holiday with the unusual amount of walking on egg shells.

Meanwhile, the narration changes and we head back to the past where we see a snapshot of what life was like before, with Ruby-May at the heart of it. The novel follows the structure throughout: we hear different voices at different times to create one story. The central figure being Ruby-May.

Over the next few days, the reader gains an image of a family that has been devastated and shattered beyond repair. They’re each trying to desperately hold onto their own little piece but it’s tinged by bursts of anger and grief. Amy is a shadow, clouded by wind. Everything is internal and living means going through the motions. Whereas husband Matt is full of rage and anger at all times. He seems to have a much better relationship with his ex wife than with Amy, something that Amy is all to aware of.

‘Amy continues to dunk her teabag, in and out, in and out, staring at a spot a foot or so in front of her. She’s still, a part from the small, mechanical movement of her wrist. The two pale children, fixated on their whey-faced mother, with her hacked off blonde hair and her dead eyes.’

Bethany is self obsessed and insensitive, possibly because of her career choice of being on TV. There is a feeling that this is a defence mechanism on her part, a way of distracting herself. Nick is desperately trying to hold it all together and please everything, often at the detriment to himself. His goal is to try and mend the family, help it heal. He too is carrying his own emotional scars which impact his every day life. These truths are revealed to us as the plot develops and unfolds.

Theo and Lotte provide the refreshing innocence that this book needs to prevent it from becoming too heavy and emotive. They’re happy go lucky and love life. They don’t really understand what’s happened but talk about Ruby-May as if she’s next door. They have a naivety to them that makes my heart melt. One of the most poignant scenes in the novel for me is where Nick, Lotte and Theo hold their own funeral for Ruby-May, using her doll.

“One day we all had a bath together – me, Lotte and Ruby-May. And I got out, because I didn’t want to be in the bath with two girls, and then Ruby-May did a poo. In the bath!” He collapsed with laughter. Lotte starts giggling too… abruptly they both stop. “She’s dead now,” says Lotte.

The novel has plenty of twists and turns and I don’t want to ruin them for you. However, the different perspectives create the full narrative as to what really happened the day Ruby-May was taken from them.

This book is a clear, poignant portrayal of grief and the devastation that the loss of a child would bring to a family. The hope of the beautiful Italian setting to try and calm them does become cathartic. As the sea laps the shore, time still passes and the family can learn to forgive and live as best as they can, taking Ruby-May in their hearts every single day.

Final Thoughts

I love this book for so many reasons. The split narratives are crucial for making the plot work. I felt like I knew and adored Ruby-May as much as the characters. The twists and turns mean that you never really know what’s coming next. I got my head around something but then another thing would happen which would call it all into question again. It kept me gripped until the last page because, like Amy and Matt, I needed to know what actually happened. I felt like I needed closure as much as they did.

Whilst not a conventional holiday novel, I’m so glad I read this. Italy’s serenity and sublime beauty was described so I felt like I was there. I loved the juxtaposition between this idyllic setting and the utter devastation they all feel.

This book is arguably one of my favourite this year. It’s utterly devastatingly real.

I’m off to prepare for another week of marathon running (meaning teaching!!). Stay safe all.

Big love xxx

Posted in Book review, Books, Box of Stories, Reading, Romance

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