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April – The Boy at the Back of the Class – Onjali Q. Raúf

Happy April Everyone!

What a beautiful start to the year it has been. The spring flowers are much to be celebrated and the light nights are ever increasing. Today I want to share with you the absolute joy that is, The Boy at the Back of the Class by Onjali Q. Raúf. Not only is this one of the books of the month for April, but this book also won the overall prize for the Waterstones Children’s Book Prize 2019. It’s current, relevant and an incredible read. I thought I’d take the photo in my garden with this little guy. The protagonist reminded me of him a bit. Look at his cute little face!

What’s it all about?

Told through the eyes of a group of friends, Tom, Josie and Michael, this novel is something we can all relate to in so many ways.

The story starts with an empty chair in a classroom following the absence of a student who had moved to Wales. A group of friends are naturally inquisitive and want to know why Mrs Sanders (the head of the school) and Mrs Khan (the teacher) are whispering at the front of the class. After a short amount of time, a young boy walks in behind Mrs Sanders. Ahmet became the focus of everyone’s attention. He looks very sad indeed.

‘I made a secret promise to myself right there and then that I would be friends with the new boy. I happened to have some lemon sherbets in my bag that morning and I thought I would try and give him one…’

Outside of lessons, Ahmet is nowhere to be found. After all, from the children’s point of view. it’s hard to make friends with someone when you rarely see them. However, one thing that is described so beautifully are his eyes. It’s the one thing that the character of Alexa (the story teller whose name we do not learn until the final chapter of the book) focuses on. The children wait until the end of the day and eventually they see him! They’re over the moon, but it doesn’t quite go as planned, despite having the lemon sherbets.

‘But the new boy grabbed her hand and hid his face behind her arm. I didn’t know what to do because I’ve never really scared anyone so much before that they wanted to hide from me.’

As days went by, the group of friends continually waited for Ahmet to give him gifts of sweets, chocolates and fruit. Over time, Ahmet started to make improvements with them. A smile here and a wink there. All signs he wanted to be their friends. After overhearing comments about how Ahmet is a ‘Refugee Kid’ the storyteller decides she doesn’t care and it really doesn’t matter. Finally, she gets a nod from Ahmet. A sign to her that it doesn’t matter that he’s a ‘Refugee Kid’.

‘I wish he had smiled back, because you can only ever know that a person’s really your friend when they like you enough to smile back. But it was OK because the nod felt like a promise, and I knew that I wouldn’t have to wait too long before the smile followed.’

What is beautiful in this novel is the storyteller clearly has an amazing mum. Working in the local library, books and knowledge centre their world. Naturally curious, the storyteller asks her mum questions about these children and their backgrounds. It all rings so true with the images we have all seen in the media. However, the child friendly language used makes it seem relatable by everyone; young and old.

Ahmet joining the class raises more questions than answers. Yet, the children are focused on being his friend and learning more about him. They had learnt that he was from Syria and had to flee from war. The storyteller and her mum decide to go off in search for pomegranate in the hopes that Ahmet would like this reminder from his home.

‘The new boy fell quiet. And then, for the first time since we met him, he smiled… a real, proper smile that went from one cheek to the other.’

One part of the novel that absolutely had my heart breaking was Ahmet telling his story, with pictures, to show the class what had happened and where he had come from. Story time is something so common in every classroom in the country. This one created a lump in my throat.

Ahmet tells his class all about his home in Syria, his mum and dad, as well as his sister and their cat. The war in Syria had led him to flee on a boat (like those seen on our television screens) to some form of safety. He went from Greece to the setting of the novel and his new school. To a new beginning. After telling his story hands shoot up around the classroom with yet more questions. The storyteller extends friendship further by offering her beloved Tintin comic to share together. We learn the truth about Ahmet’s family – his sister, mother, father and cat and why he is all alone.

‘I waited to see if Ahmet would show them the pictures and tell them about Syrah and the sea and his mum too. But, he didn’t, and I knew that he wanted me to keep it a secret.’

Then something happened that changed everything. Whilst travelling on the bus, the group overhear a conversation about the refugees. Again, it is a conversation we have all heard over time with some sympathetic views in comparison to the more judgemental views. Nevertheless, the children hear that the border is about to be shut, meaning Ahmet won’t see his family ever again. Despite telling their teachers, the group feel slightly fobbed off. It’s time to make a plan, or three, just to be on the safe side. These include writing to the Prime Minister or creating a Special Appeal. But, that wasn’t the greatest plan of all. The greatest plan in the world involved writing to our one and only Queen of England. They even create an emergency plan, just in case!

Time was plodding a long and the children were well aware about the discussion about the borders being closed. Therefore, it was time for them to work together and head for a London adventure! They had to help Ahmet and his family before it was too late. After navigating the trains and making their way around London, they need to get to the palace. They had presents for the Queen too! The first character they meet is Stan the Taxi driver. He’s a hit straight away!

Following Stan they then meet two Cold Stream Guards: Chris Taylor and Walter Kungu. After a mini adventure in itself, the guards promise to give another letter to the Queen and the presents they brought for the Queen too.

‘Getting into the back seat of the police car, we waved back. Lots of people began cheering and waving at us from all along the palace walls, so we waved back at them too, even though we didn’t really know why.’

As you can imagine, what came next was complete stardom. The children were in the news and causing a stir around the whole world! They even had a reply from the Queen. Finally, the children and Ahmet had some good news. Alexa also had her birthday. In fact, it is here that we finally learn her name! Her birthday was a complete surprise but the best gift wasn’t for her at all. It was for Ahmet, her best friend.

‘I know that afternoon was one of the best afternoons I will ever have. Not because it was my birthday, but because it was an end to one of the best adventures a brand new ten-year-old could ever have…’

Final thoughts

This book should be read by absolutely everyone. I mentioned throughout about comments we would have all heard in the media or even in our every day lives. However, this novel brings a voice to so many children and families who have been in this situation. It’s about friendship and kindness and the fact that we can always do more to help. The childlike innocence throughout is endearing and beautiful. This book is a deserving winner and an excellent read. It stands for something so much more than we ever could realise.

Big love all. Xxx

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Filed under Book review, Children's Literature, Waterstones Book of the Month

March – If I Die Before I Wake – Emily Koch

Hi Lovely People!

I hope you’ve been basking in the beautiful sunshine today. It’s glorious out there! Spring is in the air and boy is it fabulous!

Time for my choice of book for the Waterstones Book of the Month. There was one book for March that just grabbed my attention which, as a result, meant that the others didn’t get a look in! That is If I Die Before I Wake by Emily Koch.

Unlike my other reviews, this won’t be as detailed and thorough with the plot. I wouldn’t want to give anything away and ruin it for you! I hope you enjoy.

What’s it all about?

The novel centres around the first person narration of Alex. Unfortunately for Alex, two years ago he was involved in a rock climbing accident. As a result, he is living in a permanent vegetative state. However, we as a reader get an insight into Alex’s internal dialogue. He goes through phases of utter despair, depression, frustration, positivity and everything in between.

“I’ve always been fighting, since the moment I woke up in hospital. But I haven’t always been on the same side of the battle lines.”

However, he does have access to some of his senses. He can see a little through the slits in his eyes. He can hear exceptionally well and can smell too. It’s his sense of smell that enables him to work out who is in his hospital room and when.

‘She only has to walk into my room and I feel a little bit better. For a start, she smells motherly and comforting, like marzipan -‘

Since Alex’s fall two years ago, he has remained in an unresponsive state, according to the doctors treating him. To begin with, because of the pain he could see his family going through, he decides it would be better to die. However, the more various family members and his girlfriend, Bea visits, the more he wants to show them he’s alive inside. He desperately tries to move, to focus on one point to get it moving, even if just for an inch.

As the novel progresses and time passes by, his family have to make the incomprehensible decision whether or not to turn off his life support machine. His parents, sister and girlfriend push for continuous medical tests. All the results show the same: nothing. Unresponsive. They continue to hold on.

Whilst everyone involved are in agony, Alex’s internal agony is so much worse. He can hear all the discussing about what decision to make regarding Alex’s current position. Eventually, they agree that it is time to move on and let him go. Alex knows that this will result in his life and there is absolutely nothing he can do about it.

‘I must have exhausted myself after several hours of panic. I found I was asleep, trapped in the same visionwatching from the corner of our flat, trying to help her, trying to shout to her but realising that saline drip lines bound my wrists and ankles, and the sponges used to clean my mouth were stuffed into it, gagging me.

Whilst heating the conversations about his impending death, Alex doesn’t have the energy to communicate (or try to) that will make the doctors and his family pay attention.

Something is different though, Alex has got some new visitors: the police. Recently, they have been around Alex’s hospital trying to unearth clues and information regarding Alex’s rock climbing accident. It appears that accident isn’t quite the correct word to describe what had happened to him.

‘The question I would have asked myself back then, if I’d known what I know now, was: But what if it wasn’t fate that made you fall?’

Alex has all the time in the world lying there to try and work out what happened to him. Everything is a blur though. His memories are severely damaged, if not gone. Yet, he still tries. He has a unending sense that something bad is happening with Bea too. The two link together in his mind and we see utter frustration from Alex because there isn’t nothing he can do apart from think.

Alex knows that he needs to use the senses he does have to try and work out what happened to him. As the pages fly by, time is running out for Alex (and everyone else) to solve the mystery of what exactly happened to him. After all, murder is a crime and Alex‘s accident might not be an accident at all. Time is running out for them all. This needs solving before they can say their last goodbyes.

“And so, I hope if you can hear me, you will forgive me…After I read this to you, I’m going to talk to your dad. You know what I’m going to say to him.”

Final Thoughts

Everything Alex’s character felt, I felt. I desperately wanted to shout and scream and get people to see what I was reading. A novel like this makes me feel great allegiance with the tragic character. Emily Koch did an amazing job at giving someone in a vegetive state a voice. Every nuance, every feeling was well thought out. I was gripped until the very end. I don’t want to ruin this for you but I urge you strongly to go and read it. You won’t be disappointed.

Big love all xxx

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

February: A Pinch of Magic – Michelle Harrison

Hello Lovelies!

Firstly, I offer my warmest apologies. It’s been a really busy time at work as we are in the middle of another mock cycle. We’re done two papers out of four in English so I seem to spend my time marking plenty! I’m just so sorry I’m so rubbish!

However, I am back to catch up with you all and to share with you the book I chose from Waterstones Book of the Month list for February: A Pinch of Magic. As you can see, this book is beautiful!

What’s it all about?

The novel opens with the story of a girl gazing out of the window in Crowstone Tower where she is being kept prisoner. The next day she knew she was being taken to the gallows for being a supposed witch.

“Using the stone, she scratched on the inside walls as if she were writing with chalk. She wrote out a single word: a name… the one who had wronged her.”

Fast forward to Betty Windershins’s 13th birthday where she learns about the family curse. It’s a busy Saturday night in The Poacher’s Pocket, the local pub and their home. Betty lives there with her grandma, Betty (Bunny to avoid confusion) and her sisters, Fliss and Charlie. It’s Halloween too and Betty is determined to go out and play. However, she wants to travel a little further, across the ferry to Marshfoot where there was a fairground. Fliss declines the invitation, becoming more of a killjoy in Betty’s opinion since her own birthday. They board the ferry almost tasting freedom when all doesn’t seem quite as expected. Bunny appears!

‘The boat lurched again as a familiar figure looked over the two girls. Betty gave a squeak of surprise as someone pushed their face to hers, almost nose to nose.’

Absolutely certain that Granny had not been on the boat when they left, this journey raised more questions than answers. Naturally, Bunny was furious with the girls. Betty being naturally curious, tries to work out how their granny knew where they were and what they were doing. She desperately wants answers which she finally gets after a short journey in which they all hold onto each other and use a carpet bag for their travels. It is time for the girls to sit down with their grandmother to find out exactly what all that was about. Much to Betty’s surprise, her sister Fliss doesn’t see phased by it at all. It is revealed that she was told the story on her own birthday. It was Bunny’s time to tell them all.

“There are three items… three gifts, if you like. Each of them is an everyday object. Each of them holds a different kind of power. I call it a pinch of magic.”

The three everyday objects that held hidden secrets were the carpet bag, a mirror and a set of nesting dolls. These items had been passed down the family for 150 years and would continue to do so. Each item belongs to a specific person and they each do different magic things. The girls are naturally quite fascinated. Betty knows that the items could help them with seeing their father who is currently in prison. As amazing as these items are, they come with a price. The Widdershins family are cursed.

“The truth is, we’re cursed… all of us. No Widdershins girl has ever been able to leave Crowstone. If we do, we’ll die by the next summer.”

Betty hopes it’s just wishful thinking. However, Bunny has seen for herself what happens. The crows’ chorus followed by the person becoming colder and colder. Despite feeling like ice, the last thing you feel is the cold kiss. Then it’s the end. They know the curse has been triggered because a stone falls from the Tower over at Repent island where all the prisoners, including their father are. Despite all the warnings, Betty has this deep desire to break the curse, no matter what the costs. And so the adventure begins.

After searching at home, Betty finds some letters from her grandmother to her father and vice versa. All is not what it seems as it appears that their father has been moved from prison. Bunny had stopped replying to him but continued to visit the prison. Prisoner number 513 becomes of great importance to Betty so she decides she must visit him with Fliss to see why her grandmother kept returning there. The prison looked cruel by daylight, worse by evening light. It oozes misery. Prisoner 513, Colton by name it disappointingly ordinary. But it is his knowledge that the girls are desperate to acquire. He said he knew how to break the curse. The cost of this information, the bag. His ticket out of prison. His freedom card.

‘Four tiny words, with such enormous power. Betty tensed, like a bow string that had been pulled back, ready to fire.’

A regular visitor to The Poacher’s Pocket who could hold the key to some information is Fingerty. He’s an ex prisoner but also incredibly rude and cold. It would be very difficult to get information from him but Betty firmly believes that it is worth a try. After some free alcohol he tells the story of Sorsha Spellthorn. The general belief was that she was a witch which resulted in her being locked in the tower. The narration then changes to Sorsha and we hear about her awful childhood where she was a clear target. She ended up trusting someone who she shouldn’t have. This information inspires a deep need within Betty to try and break the curse. The girls decide to leave.

Granny, it said, we’re sorry. We’ve taken your bag and gone to break the curse. We’ll be back as soon as we can. Please don’t come looking for us, and please don’t be too angry. Betty & Fliss.”

However, Charlie catches them. Despite Betty following the instructions about the bag, it doesn’t work. They’ve forgotten one crucial piece of information: the items only work for their owner. Granny owns it now and then it will be Charlie’s. Charlie takes matters into her own hands, shouting the command of where they wish to go, much to Betty’s surprise. A larger surprise was waiting for them when they got to the prison. Unfortunately, Charlie got the number confused and they ended up in a cell with a rather awful prisoner called Jarrod.

“Why would you be carrying an empty bag, eh? This is how you got in here? Is it a portal or summat?”

‘He held the bag out in front of him, fitting it over his huge foot like an ugly, misshapen slipper.’

They get Colton out but Jarrod is nowhere to be found. They’ve no choice but to continue to get information from Colton. Betty desperately wants to break the curse but in a rather heartbreaking way, we learn that Colton lied for his freedom. He knows nothing. What’s worse, Jarrod appears after lurking in the shadows knowing everything. He takes Charlie, Fliss and the bag with him. Betty absolutely will not leave them. The curse is triggered.

What happens next over the course of the novel is adventure and desperation. Betty is determined to break the curse and get Fliss, Charlie and the bag back. Betty and Colton get a boat and travel over the very dangerous and notorious Devil’s Teeth. They hear the wardens however, there is also another surprise. Fingerty. He joins them and continues to tell the rest of Sorsha’s story. It’s a story of help, broken trust and envy.

‘Jealous… wants what you have… a mother always knows.’

Back to the now and the girls use the dolls to see each other. Betty is adamant that she is not going to leave her sisters behind, no matter what the cost. Whilst they continue the journey, Fingerty tells Betty and Colton the rest of Sorsha’s story. Her sister was jealous of the magic she possessed. She wanted it for herself which was exactly what their mother had thought all along. Whilst in deep betrayal caused by her sister, Sorsha picks ordinary looking objects to transfer her powers to. Her earlier help has to come to and end. However, it’s too late. She ends up in the tower. When her sister Pru arrives to see her, she’s changed and she lies. Sorsha is so angry that she curses her sister and all future Widdershins after her.

‘Perhaps there was a way she could have her revenge, even if she couldn’t save herself. For while she no longer had her magic, a curse was something different. A curse could come from darkness. And what could be darker than death.’

Eventually the girls are reunited and Betty has an idea of how she can break the curse. It’s always risky but it has to be worth it. After all, the Crow’s Chorus is only ever getting louder. However, this is where Colton’s part comes to an end. He doesn’t want to return to be put back into prison. So he stays behind. The girls press onward to the tower to prevent the curse. Betty meets Sorsha and tries to make her see sense. They become friends, real sisters and each girl gives Sorsha their magic items back. By the end of the novel, harmony is restored. There is no curse. It’s all over.

‘She was Betty the Brave, Betty the Explorer. And with her sisters at her side, she was ready for anything.’

Final Thoughts

This book was truly magical. There’s a reason why it’s Waterstone’s book of the month for February and March. It’s a real adventure and I was gripped the whole time I was reading. Magic does funny things to readers as it completely takes you in and you become a part of it. I loved Sorsha and felt her pain. I also admired Betty’s sheer determination and resilience. A great book!

Big love to you all!! I promise to be better. Off to catch up with you all now. ❤️

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Filed under Book review, Waterstones Book of the Month

The Midnight Line – Lee Child

Hello Lovelies!

I cannot believe we are in February now. Where is 2019 going?! I hope you’re all well and are having a fantastic start to the year.

I want to share with you a review of a fantastic book I read recently: The Midnight Line by Lee Child. I’ve never read anything by Lee Child before. I picked this book up not knowing it was a Lee Child as it was one of those ‘Blind Date with a book’ books where it’s wrapped in brown paper with a clue. Thankfully, it turned out to be a gripping read. In fact, I was really pleasantly surprised to learn that he’s written a fair few books! I’ve got my new one on the shelf ready for reading.

What’s it all about?

The novel opens the morning after the night before, where Jack Reacher has spent the night with a woman called Michelle Chang. Reacher is travelling through Wisconsin when he happens to stumble across a pawn shop. Inside the window, he notices an unusual ring: a 2005 West Point class ring.

She had used a simile, to explain and flatter and apologize all at once. She had written, “You’re like New York City. I love to visit, but I could never live there.

The item is priceless and wouldn’t be given away without a valid reason. Reacher is convinced of that fact. He suspects that it is stolen and decides against leaving town. Instead he questions the pawnbroker. Following questioning, Reacher learns that the ring was sold to him by a biker named Jimmy Rat.

Upon meeting Jimmy Rat, Reacher beats him and his gang up and learns that the ring belonged to Arthur Scorpio, who runs a laundromat in Rapid City, South Dakota. Reacher decides he needs to follow the trail further and leaves town. He’s well aware that Rat has already warned Scorpio of his plans.

You threatening me now?”
“More like the weather report. A public service. Like a tornado warning. Prepare to take cover.

Whilst in Rapid City, Reacher finds two people with an interest in Scorpio: Gloria Nakamura, a detective who has tried and failed for years to pin something on Scorpio, and Terrence Bramall, a private investigator, hired by Tiffany Jane Mackenzie, a woman searching for her missing twin sister, Serena Rose Sanderson. Serena Rose turns out to be the true owner of the ring.

Hot on Reacher’s tail, Reacher allows himself to be picked up by Scorpio’s men. However, the outcome is not as expected. Reacher subdues them in less than three seconds. As a result of this, Scorpio provides him with the name of Seymour Porterfield, the man who originally gave him the ring. He trusts an associate of his, Billy, to kill Reacher before he finds Seymour.

Continuing his journey, Reacher travels to Mule Crossing, a rural town in Wyoming. This is where Porterfield last lived. A local shopkeeper reveals that he has been dead for well over a year. The story is, he was killed by a wild bear. Upon arrival at Billy’s house, Reacher meets Bramall. The pair decide to partner up and together they search Sy’s house. They discover evidence of a woman living with him.

Mackenzie shows up, having grown deeply impatient with Bramall’s lack of results. Reacher reveals his growing suspicion that both Rose and Sy were involved with the illegal opiate reader. Kirk Noble, a DEA agent, confirms this and requests he is kept informed throughout the whole investigation, especially if they find Rose or Billy.

‘She didn’t explain. So knowing that, where would you start?” “I could tell you, but then I’d have to bill you.’

Whilst continuing their investigation, three junkies try and scare the group off. But, Reacher intimidates them into leaving. They turn out to be friends of Rose. Reacher manages to convince them that they mean no harm. Consequently, they are taken to see Rose who has been hiding since an IED in Afghanistan shredded her face. She was left disfigured and in a constant stream of pain, making her dependent on opioids.

Mackenzie makes a plan to move her sister to her home in Illinois. She’s terrified her sister will die and would rather she looked after her. If she came back with her sister, they could treat her addiction in secret.

Stackley, the dealer who has taken over Billy’s operation following his disappearance, bribes junkies to kill Reacher. One is accidentally shot and subsequently dies. Whereas Reacher forces the others to lure Stackley into a trap; Rose manages to kill him with a rifle.

Scorpio said, “Billy, this is Arthur. I need to hear from you. You’re making me worried now. What’s with not answering your phone all the time? And you got that guy coming. Plus maybe another guy. We just got a message from Montana. They sent a rider down especially. They have a Fed up there asking questions. He just left Billings. We don’t know where he’s headed next. Eyes open, OK? And call me back. Don’t make me worried, Billy.” He clicked off and dropped the phone in the trash basket.

It is very likely that Rose will die without a new supply of opioids, Reacher, Bramall and Mackenzie’s decide to steal what she needs from Stackley’s suppliers. Reacher also makes a deal with Noble to protect Rose from having to testify against the dealers on the DEA’s behalf. Nakamura attempts to arrest Scorpio as she realised that he is the head of the operation. However, he chains her to a table and hits her.

Reacher confronts Scorpio and stuffs him in a mechanical dryer. Meanwhile, the DEA receive sufficient information to arrest Col. Bateman, a corrupt marine officer who had framed Seymour for trying to expose his theft of military opioid supplies for Scorpio.

As the novel closes, Reacher returns Rose’s ring to her. Rose promises to get clean before she, Bramall and Mackenzie drive off. Reacher then hitches another ride out of South Dakota heading towards Kansas.

Final thoughts

I was gripped with this book. It felt like an American Robert Galbraith. I’ve already picked out my next Reacher book I want to read: Night School. I love the character of Reacher too. Everyone wants a guy like him in their life. I thought it was really well written and it had the feeling of pages just floating by. I loved it!

Happy February everyone!

Big love to you all xx

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Filed under Book review, Thriller

January: The Language of Kindness – Christie Watson

Hello Lovelies!

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

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

What’s it all about?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Final thoughts:

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

Big love. X

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

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

Hey Everyone!!

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

What’s it all about?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Overview

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

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

Wrap up warm everyone!!

Big love xx

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Filed under Book review, Read The Year Challenge, Reading

The Diary of a Bookseller – Shaun Bythell

Hello lovely people!

I hope you’re all well and enjoying the best November is giving us. I’m really pleased it’s Friday evening I have to say. Today I want to share with you a delightful read that I found on one of my many pilgrimages to Waterstones. Two things caught my attention: the cover and the title. I’ve always believed that it’s quite romantic to own a bookshop. However, Shaun Bythell’s daily account has shown me the harsh realities of owning a bookshop.

What’s it all about?

Written by bookseller Shaun Bythell, this book tells the story of a year in the second largest second hand book shop in Wigtown, Scotland. Containing over 100,000 books, spanning a mile of shelving and nooks and crannies, this is a paradise to people like me. These diary entries provide the heart wrenching truth of the decline (?) of the physical book in a digital world. Shaun provides his readers an insight into this world: his eccentric customers and his ski suit wearing, bin rummaging member of staff, Nikki.

‘Every Friday she brings me a treat that she has found in the skip behind Morrisons supermarket…’

Centred around the daily takings and the orders through Amazon, we do meet an array of interesting characters who visit the shop. One of the more controversial decisions made my Bythell was to set up a Facebook account to share customers behaviour, questions and comments with the rest of the world. Whilst this can be seen as a risk, it has clearly paid off for the bookshop as Bythell notices that people are happier the ruder he is. I have to say, I too follow this on Facebook now!

‘One of the shop’s Facebook followers came in to buy books today. She and her boyfriend want to move here and I overheard her whispering “Don’t say anything stupid or he’ll post it on Facebook.” I will write something mean about her later.’

Whilst this can be seen as mean, I find that this brings the shop and the book to life. To be able to read some of the comments and questions from people from all walks of life is incredible really. I felt a particular fondness for customers like Mr Deacon, who see a book reviewed in The Times and then orders it through the local bookshop. One of my favourite parts from the beginning of this book is a customer who visited on Saturday 15th March.

‘He grinned and said, “You’ve got some stuff here, haven’t you? Some stuff. Some stuff.” He bought a copy of The Hobbit. I am putting a mental jigsaw together of what a hobbit looks like, based on a composite of every customer I have ever sold a copy to.’

Bum Bag Dave is also one of the notorious characters who visit the shop. He’s very knowledgable and is always adorned with one bum bag around his neck and one around his waist. Sandy the tattooed pagan also features, dropping off walking sticks to sell in the shop too in exchange for store credit. Jessie from The Picture Shop also features as another member of the community. However, not all customers are friendly or even quirky. Some are just plain rude. As a consequence of a rather angry email, an incident with a Kindle will forever stay in my mind.

‘After lunch I went to my parents’ house to get my shotgun and shoot a Kindle (broken screen, bought on eBay for £10), imagining it was the missing copy of Pomfret Towers. It was remarkably satisfying to blast it into a thousand pieces.’

The concept of a bookshop to me is absolute bliss. The anticipation of finding the next amazing read that will completely take over my life for a few days is one of the best feelings for me. However, to some people it is an alien thing, something which does create a rather negative response as from Bythell.

“So what is The Book Shop? Do you sell books or what? Do people just hand you the books in? What happens in here?”

Day to day life in a bookshop is a mix of customers looking for a book, customers ordering a book and people comparing the price on Amazon or eBay. For Bythell a number of journeys to view collections also feature. The constant battle to keep up with the digital world, to try and show the need for local bookshops in our towns, villages and cities features throughout in this honest narrative. Foodie Friday lightens the tone with the array of delights Nicky finds from the Morrison’s skip.

‘Nicky appeared just a moment after I had opened the shop and thrust what at first glance looked like something from a hospital clinical waste bin under my nose. It was fleshy and covered in what appeared to be blood. “It’s a jam doughnut from the Morrison’s skip.”

There are two things that I absolutely love. One is the fact that the shop receives a number of postcards which are pinned to the wall. These postcards are of various designs with a whole host of messages and sayings on them. Now I’m following the shop on Facebook, it’s really lovely to see that this is still happening. It creates a feeling of the novel is very much a living thing, a product of the shop. The second, also something which I am going to join in the New Year, is The Random Book Club. (More information here.)

‘The diary was written in 2014, and today is 1 November 2016: fifteen years to the day since I bought the shop.’

Overview

I found this book witty, wry and utterly enjoyable. Bythell has no sympathy for those who are ignorant or wish to waste his time. I really liked the fact that each month started with a George Orwell quote too, adding a nice bit of history to the novel. However, the beauty of this book is to highlight and reinforce the need for independent bookshops. For all of us to treasure what we have and use them. I’m absolutely going to join The Random Book Club as a reading challenge for next year. I also love going to bookshops. They’re magical places that we need to love, cherish and nurture for years to come.

I wish you all a lovely, restful week!

Big love all xx

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Filed under Book review, Independent Bookshops