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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

11 Comments

Filed under Book review, Books, Reading, 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

12 Comments

Filed under Book review, Books, Reading Challenge 2020

Sofia Khan Is Not Obliged – Ayisha Malik

Hello Lovely Blogging Friends!

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

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

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

What’s it all about?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The book ends with the start of their blossoming relationship.

Final Thoughts

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

Continue to stay safe and well.

Big love all!! Xx

16 Comments

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

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince – J.K. Rowling

Hey Loves!

Firstly, I apologise for my absence. I’ve been a bit under the weather but I’m fighting fit again now, thankfully.

Time today for the penultimate Harry Potter book: Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. I’ve really been enjoying re reading the series and part of me is sad that it’s all coming to an end again. Nevertheless, the beauty of books is that you can read and reread, especially the ones we love. I find it soothes the soul, for sure.

I hope you enjoy this review. Thanks for sticking with me for the series!

What’s it all about?

Back with our favourite duo! The novel opens with Severus Snap, a member of the Order of the Phoenix, meeting with Narcissa Malloy and Bellatrix Lestrange. Narcissa expresses her grave concern for her son, Draco following his dangerous mission given to him by Voldemort. Snape makes an Unbreakable Vow with Narcissa, vowing to keep Draco safe.

An Unbreakable Vow?” said Ron, looking stunned. “Nah, he can’t have…. Are you sure?”
“Yes I’m sure,” said Harry. “Why, what does it mean?”
“Well, you can’t break an Unbreakable Vow…”
“I’d worked that much out for myself, funnily enough.

Dumbledore arrives at Privet Drive to take Harry to the Burrow. They detour to the home of Horace Slughorn, former Potions teacher at Hogwarts, and Harry manages to persuade him to return to teaching.

On the return to school via the Hogwarts Express, Harry suspects Draco has become a Death Eater. Using his invisibility cloak, Harry eavesdrops on Draco in his carriage where he is bragging about his mission. Draco catches Harry in the process, petrifies him and breaks his nose. Nymphadora Tonks finds Harry and takes him back to the castle. There, Dumbledore announces to the school that Snape will be teaching Defence Against the Dark Arts, while Slughorn teaches Potions.

One lesson, Harry borrows a textbook from a cupboard. This book once belonged to the mysterious “Half-Blood Prince” who clearly excelled at Potions. In the margin the owner wrote notes and tweaks to potions. Harry excels at the subject as well, winning a bottle of Felix Felicis or “Liquid Luck”. His success pleases Slughorn immensely but angers Hermione who is distrusting of the book.

Over time, Ron and Hermione grow closer but Ron learns from Ginny about Hermione’s history with Victor Krum. To make Hermione jealous, Ron decides to go out with Lavender Brown. Harry is aware of his own feelings for Ginny but is conflicted because of his friendship with Ron. Following a Gryffindor Quidditch win, Ron gives them his blessing.

Harry looked around; there was Ginny running toward him; she had a hard blazing look in her face as she threw her arms around him. And without thinking, without planning it, without worrying about the fact that fifty people were watching, Harry kissed her. After several long moments, or it might have been half an hour-or possibly several sunlit days- they broke apart.

Meanwhile, as the year goes on, Draco becomes more unhinged. As a result, he invites Harry to duel with him. During the duel, Harry uses an unknown spell from his borrowed book which nearly kills Draco. Snaps saves him but more questions about the book are raised.

Dumbledore tries to help Harry with his foretold battle with Voldemort using the Pensieve to examine memories of people who had met Voldemort before. One of the memories involves Slughorn talking with Tom Riddle during his time at Hogwarts. The problem with this memory is it has been tampered with. Dumbledore asks Harry to obtain the real one from Slughorn in order to find out exactly what was discussed.

To retrieve the memory, Harry uses the Felix Felicis. The memory shows Slughorn and Riddle discussing the process of splitting one’s soul and hiding it in Horcruxes, making the using immortal. Voldemort took this one step further by creating six Horcrux which must all be destroyed in order to destroy Voldemort completely. We know that two have already been destroyed – the diary from The Chamber of Secrets and a ring from Voldemort’s grandfather. Four remain…

Harry and Dumbledore journey to a cave to a cave where Dumbledore suspects a Horcrux to be. The focus of this adventure is Slytherin’s locket. They do manage to find the locket in a potion filled basin in the middle of an underground lake. The locket can only be reached by drinking the potion, something that Dumbledore demands he does. He begs Harry to make him keep drinking, despite what he may say. He does so, severely weakening Dumbledore. Nevertheless, they’ve got the locket and return to Hogwarts.

“Let us step into the night and pursue that flighty temptress, adventure.”

Upon their return, they see the Dark Mark over a school tower. The pair climb the tower and are all ambushed by Draco, who reveals that his mission from Voldemort is to kill Dumbledore. Draco cannot do it. He is consumed by fear. Whilst hiding in the shadows, Harry spots Snape arriving. He thinks he is there to help Dumbledore, but he is wrong. Snape kills him.

Harry ignores the fact that Hogwarts is being taken over by Death Eaters because his attention is on getting Snape. Snape surprises him by revealing he is the Half-Blood Prince and then escaped with the rest of Voldemort’s followers.

Harry slips into deep despair and decides he has to break up with Ginny. After all, he would just be putting her at risk. He also learns that the locket is a fake, containing a note from something named “RAB”. Harry announces to his friends that he is going to search for the remaining Horcruxes the following year, rather than returning to Hogwarts.

We’ll be there, Harry,” said Ron
“What?”
“At your Aunt and Uncle’s house,” said Ron, “And then we’ll go with you wherever you’re going.”
“No-” said Harry quickly; he hadn’t counted on this, he had meant them to understand that he was undertaking the most dangerous journey alone. 
“You said it once before,” said Hermione quickly, “that there was time to turn back if we wanted to. We’ve had time, haven’t we? We’re with you whatever happens.

Final Thoughts

It’s this book that reminds me what heart break feels like. The death of Dumbledore definitely shocked the Potter world when this book was initially published. The second time around hit me just as hard. I felt what Harry was feeling – the beauty of incredible writing. I’ve said it so many times but the language gets darker along with the magic. The penultimate serves its purpose – we have to know what happens at the end. Will Harry win? Will they find the Horcruxes? What will happen next?

Continue to stay safe and well all.

Big love xxx

14 Comments

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

The Secret Dreamworld of a Shopaholic – Sophie Kinsella

Hello Lovelies!

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

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

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What’s it all about?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Final Thoughts

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

Take care all. Big love xxx

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Reading Challenge 2020: The Black Echo – Michael Connelly

Hey Loves!

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

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

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What’s it all about?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Final Thoughts

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

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

Continue to stay safe and well all.

Big love! xxx

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Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire – J.K. Rowling

Hey Lovelies!

How are you all doing? Well, it’s the summer holiday. What a strange school year it has been but I’m glad for the break. I feel mentally exhausted. Like many of us, my summer holiday has been cancelled but rather than thinking what could have been, I’m focusing on what amazing opportunities I’ve got now: time and books. I’ve fallen behind with my posting but at least I’ll be able to catch up again now.

Time for my review on Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by J.K. Rowling. You may have remembered that I’m reading all the Harry Potter books again as part of my ‘list of 30 things I want to do’ which featured on my birthday post earlier this month. I hope you enjoy taking this journey with me!

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What’s it all about?

The novel opens with Harry seeing the three Riddles being murdered in a dream. They weren’t hurt but had a petrified face. Everyone assumed the culprit is Frank Bryce, the caretaker of the Riddle house, but he was released. Later in the dream, Frank Bryce is murdered by Voldemort. Harry is awoken by the searing pain in his scar. He knows what that feeling means…

The Weasleys invite Harry and Hermione to the Quidditch World cup where they meet Cedric Diggory, a Hufflepuff sixth year student on the way. The match is electric. Ireland beat Bulgaria despite them having Viktor Krum, their star seeker. Whilst at the match, the Ministry of Magic employees discuss Bertha Jorkins, a missing Ministry worker. However, her head of department, Ludo Bagman, isn’t worried in the slightest.  

As the match ends, things take a turn for the worse. Hooded and masked Death Eaters, followers of Voldemort, attack the camp site causing terror amongst the Muggle campsite owners. The Dark Mark is fired into the sky causing mass panic amongst the magic community. During this time, Harry discovers that his wand is missing. Sometime later it is found in the hands of Winky, Barty Crouch’s house elf, having been used to cast the Mark. Very few believe that Winky could have conjured the Mark but Barty Crouch dismisses Winky from his service.

Back at Hogwarts, Professor Dumbledore announces that Alastor ‘Mad Eye’ Moody will be the new Defence Against the Dark Arts teacher for that year. Dumbledore also informs the school that Hogwarts will host a revival of the Twiwizard Tournament, in which a champion of Hogwarts will compete against two other champions from European wizarding schools: Beauxbatons Acadmey and Durmstrang Institute. The champions are chosen by the Goblet of Fire following the admission of the names of those who want to enter. One condition: you have to be 17. Therefore, this means that Harry is unable to compete.

Halloween arrives and the Goblet picks its champions. Fleur Delacour from Beauxbatons Academy, Viktor Krum from Durmstrang Institute and Cedric Diggory from Hogwarts. Unexpectedly, the Goblet of Fire also chooses Harry as it’s forth champion. Shock ripples around the Great Hall, anger permiates from the other schools. But, the rules dictate that once a champion is called, they have to compete. Not many fellow students believe that he didn’t enter his own name. Ron becomes jealous of Harry being centre of attention again and the pair end up falling out.

“Harry, Cedric, I suggest you both go up to bed,” said Dumbledore, smiling at both of them. “I am sure Gryffindor and Hufflepuff are waiting to celebrate with you, and it would be a shame to deprive them of this excellent excuse to make a great deal of mess and noise.”

Back to normal lessons and Defence Against the Dark Arts takes a more sinister turn. Professor Moody introduces the class to the Unforgivable Curses: Imperius, Cruciatus and Avada Kadavra. These curses give another wizard the ability to be controlled by another, cause immense pain and kill another, respectively.

The tasks are strictly secret but Hagrid covertly reveals to Harry that the first task is to get past a dragon. Madame Maxime and Professor Karkaroff also learn this information. Certain that they will tell their champions that information, Harry tells Cedric about the dragons in the interest of fairness. Harry really struggles to think of a way to get past a dragon – after all, it isn’t something they do every day! Professor Moody suggests flying and Hermione helps him to perfect a Summoning Charm, which he uses to call his Firebolt broomstick to fly past the dragon and retrieve the golden egg. As a result, Harry earns high marks from the judges and his friendship with Ron is repaired as he can see that Harry wouldn’t actively chose to be in that much danger. The retrieved egg is also the clue for the next challenge.

Meanwhile, Hermione has concerns of her own. Horrified by Barty Crouch’s treatment of Winky, Hermione creates a house elf welfare campaign. She takes Harry and Ron to the school kitchens to see the elves. There they see Dobby again, the house elf that Harry freed. They also find Winky there but she is significantly more distressed than Dobby. Dobby is the only house elf to appreciate his freedom despite his hardworking nature. The other house elves reject Hermione’s idea of payment and holidays which they find distressing.  

“Oh you is a bad elf, Dobby!”

In line with the Triwizard Tournament, the students are informed of the Yule Ball, a tradition of the tournament, which requires Harry finding a partner to open the dance with. He askes Cho Chang, who he likes, but she’s already going with Cedric. Harry then asks Parvati and Padma Patil to go with him and Ron. Hermione, deeply offended that Ron only considered her as a second resort, attends with Viktor Krum, resulting in more jealousy from Ron. At the ball, Cedric repays Harry the favour and tells him to take the egg into the bath in the prefects’ bathroom to work out the clue.

“The words came out before Harry had quite got his tongue around them.
“Wangoballwime?”
“Sorry?” said Cho.
“D’you — d’you want to go to the ball with me?” said Harry.
Why did he have to go red now? Why?

Harry, Ron and Hermione secretly meet in Sirius at Hogsmeade, who tells them that Barty Crouch was fanatical about catching and punishing dark wizards. The resulted in Crouch sending his own son to Azkaban where he later died. Sirius suspects that someone is attempting to attack Harry through the Tournament. There are suspicions but the name that is most suspected is Karkaroff, a former Death Eater.

Pondering on what Cedric told Harry, he takes the egg to the prefects’ bathroom. There he stumbles across Moaning Myrtle and where he learns that he will have to retrieve something dear to him from the Merpeople at the bottom of the lake in Hogwarts grounds. Whilst sneaking back to the Gryffindor Tower under the invisibility cloak, he seems Barty Crouch on the Marauder’s Map, despite him being too ill to judge the Triwizard Tournament. Unfortunately, Harry falls into a trick step and drops the egg which attracts the attention of caretaker Filch, Snape and Moody. Moody’s magical eye means that he can see Harry stuck under his cloak, but doesn’t reveal him.

Despite the day of the second task approaching, Harry, Ron and Hermione are completely unable to find a way of surviving underwater. On the morning of the task Harry gets a visit from Dobby who gives him Gillyweed. Dobby overheard a conversation involving Moody and decides to tell his friend Harry. Gillyweed gives Harry the ability to breathe underwater where he find Ron and the other hostages at the bottom of the lake. Whilst Harry retrieves Ron, he feels like he cannot leave behind any other hostages behind. After looking around for Fleur, Harry decides to retrieve her sister. Harry finishes last but is given marks for his moral fibre.

With a few weeks to go until the final task, Harry and Krum are talking near the Forbidden Forest where they encounter Barty Crouch, who stopped appearing to work at the Ministry several months ago. He is clearly suffering in many ways, jabbering in a hysterical and crazy manner. He confesses he’s done something terrible, that Bertha Jorkins is dead and begs for Dumbledore. Leaving Krum with Crouch, Harry fetches Dumbledore but returns to find Krum stunned and Crouch gone. Krum comes round to claim that Crouch attacked him from behind.

During a Divination lesson, Harry experiences another dream involving Voldemort where he is punishing Wormtail for a mistake. Harry reports this to Dumbledore and stumbles across a memory keeping device: a Pensieve. Inside the Pensieve, he discovers that Ludo Bagman was accused and acquitted of Death Eater activity and that Barty Crouch’s son was sent to Azkaban for his part in torturing Neville Longbottom’s parents into insanity.

Harry is consumed by preparing for the final task – a hedge maze filled with dangerous creatures and obstacles, the goal being to reach the Twiwizard Cup at the centre. Inside the maze, Harry stuns Krum as he was using the Cruciatus Curse of Cedric. Helping each other by becoming a team, the two reach the cup. They agree to touch it at the same time, making them both winners. However, upon touching it, they discover that it is a Portkey that transports them to a graveyard. There Wormtail appears and kills Cedric. Harry is tied up and gets to watch this happen. Wormtail cuts Harry so he can use his blood to restore Voldemort to a body.

Now restored, Voldemort summons all his Death Eaters and ridicules them for believing him dead. He mentions his faithful servant who is concealed at Hogwarts, who has led Harry to the graveyard. He tortures Harry and challenges him to a duel. But, when Voldemort and Harry fire spells are each other, their wands connect unexpectedly, causing echoes of Voldemort’s previous magic to appear. These include manifestations of Cedric and Harry’s parents. Whilst these provide a distraction for Harry, he manages to escape with Cedric’s body to the cup and is able to return back to Hogwarts.

“He knew one thing only, and it was beyond fear or reason: He was not going to die crouching here like a child playing hide-and-seek; he was not going to die kneeling at Voldemort’s feet . . . he was going to die upright like his father, and he was going to die trying to defend himself, even if no defense was possible. . . .”

Harry’s return causes panic. Moody takes a traumatised Harry to his office. He reveals himself to be Voldemort’s faithful servant and explains that he put Harry’s name into the Goblet of Fire. He’s been guiding Harry to make sure he would touch the cup first. He discussed flying, staged a conversation about Gillyweed that was heard by Dobby, cursed obstacles from outside the hedge maze and used the Imperius Curse on Krum to force him to curse Cedric. As Moody prepares to kill Harry, Snape, Dumbledore, McGonagall all step in, intervene and stun Moody. Slowly, the appearance of Moody changes to become Barty Crouch Jr, the supposedly long dead son of Barty Crouch. By using Polyjuice Potion, he has been able to impersonate Moody thus making him the faithful servant inside the castle.

“Remember Cedric. Remember, if the time should come when you have to make a choice between what is right, and what is easy, remember what happened to a boy who was good, and kind, and brave, because he strayed across the path of Lord Voldemort. Remember Cedric Diggory.”

Using Veritaserum, truth telling potion, they learn that the older Barty Crouch rescued his son from Azkaban as a favour to his dying wife. The Crouch who died in Azkaban was his mother, disguised under Polyjuice Potion. The son was kept imprisoned at home. Winky convinced Crouch to allow his son to see the Quidditch World Cup where he stole Harry’s wand. It was he that conjured the Dark Mark. Wormtail had captured Bertha Jorkins and used her for information. This meant that Voldemort was able to discover the younger Crouch’s whereabouts and form a plan to get him inside Hogwarts and lead Harry to him.

Harry learns from Dumbledore that the wands of Harry and Voldemort connected because they share a core of a feather from the same phoenix. This phoenix is Fawkes. Dumbledore announces to the whole school that Voldemort has returned. However, many people refuse to believe it. Cornelius Fudge is one of those non believers. He has the Dementor’s Kiss performed on the younger Crouch meaning his is unable to testify about Voldemort. As a result, Dumbledore decides to put his own plans in place against Voldemort.

“Decent people are so easy to manipulate, Potter.”

The novel ends with Harry giving his winnings secretly to Fred and George Weasley to enable them to open their own joke shop. He returns for yet another summer with the Dursley’s.

Final Thoughts

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, I love these books. This was the one where I started to feel genuinely frightened as a child reading it. Reading it a second time didn’t make me any less frightened, even though I know what happens. As the trio get older, the threat becomes more harrowing and the magic much darker. I love the constant battle between good, bad and overcoming evil. Cedric is the unsung hero of this book really. He is yet another innocent victim of Voldemort’s long campaign for dark magic. I loved the addition of him and also Winky. Everyone knows I have a soft spot for Dobby too so I’m thrilled he is able to Harry for the underwater challenge. His devotion to Harry is just such a lovely touch. Regardless, book four is just as compelling as book one. Here’s to the next…

Have a great week and I hope to catch up with you all again soon!

Big love all xxx

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

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

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Hello Loves!

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

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

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What’s it all about?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Final Thoughts

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

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

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

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

Take care everyone. Big love xx

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Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban – J.K. Rowling

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Hello Lovelies!!

Sorry there’s been a bit of a gap between this post and my last. I am back at school on a new rota system. Whilst it’s lovely to see everyone, it’s so strange remembering to be 2 metres apart and not seeing the rest of my team and fellow colleagues is really strange. Never mind! Things do seem to be getting better slowly, slowly. I hope you are all continuing to be safe and well.

As you may be aware, I am reading my beloved Harry Potter series again. It’s something on my list of things I want to do when I turn 30. Today I want to share with you my review of my favourite Harry Potter book – The Prisoner of Azkaban. I hope you enjoy reliving and following the series with me. If it’s your first experience of Harry, then I especially hope you love it as much as I do!

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What’s it all about?

Summer rolls around again and once again Harry is at the Dursleys’ having a miserable existence. Muggle television airs a report about an escaped convict, Sirius Black. If that wasn’t bad enough, Aunt Marge visits and insults Harry. In retaliation, accidentally, Harry inflates her and runs away from home with the fear of being expelled. He’s at significant risk but thankfully the Knight Bus manages to pick him up. This journey is full of strange new experiences but exciting nonetheless. Harry meets Stan Shunpike, encounters a large black dog that seems to be following him. He travels to the Leaky Cauldron where Cornelius Fudge, the Minister for Magic. He asks Harry to stay in Diagon Alley for his own protection. After time, he is reunited with Ron and Hermione.

“Don’t let the muggles get you down.”

Before their return to Hogwarts, Harry learns from Arthur Weasley that Sirius Black is a convicted murderer. Somehow, it is unknown currently, he managed to escape the wizard prison, Azkaban to kill Harry. On their journey to Hogwarts a Dementor (an Azkaban prison guard) boards the train causing Harry to relive his parents’ death before fainting. In the same carriage was Remus Lupin, the new Defence Against the Dark Arts teacher, who saves them from the Dementor. What is more concerning is the fact that Dementors will be patrolling the school in attempts to catch Sirius Black. Everyone seems to love Lupin. All but one…Snape.

Third years do have a welcomed distraction, IF they have their parents permission. Sadly Harry doesn’t, so trips to Hogsmeade are banned. Instead, Fred and George give him a gift: the Marauder’s Map. What looks like a piece of parchment is actually enchanted to show all the passages and people on Hogwarts grounds. This means that Harry has a way of sneaking out. Sadly, Lupin catches him. What is exciting is that Lupin knows all about it as he was part of the group who made it in their school days.

“I solemnly swear that I am up to no good.”

During a Quidditch match, Harry faints and falls off his broomstick. The cause? Dementors. Dumbledore was naturally furious. As a result, Harry’s beloved Nimbus 2000 is blown away and smashed to pieces by the Whomping Willow. Professor Lupin decides that Harry needs to learn to defend themselves. Therefore, he teaches him how to achieve the Patronus charm.

“Where is Wood?” said Harry, suddenly realizing he wasn’t there.
“Still in the showers,” said Fred. “We think he’s trying to drown himself.”

Meanwhile, Ron and Hermione are at loggerheads as Ron is under the impression that Hermione’s cat, Crookshanks, has eaten his rat, Scabbers. Hermione is also incredible critical about the anonymous Christmas present Harry receives: a Firebolt broomstick. She’s worried it could have been cursed or jinxed by Sirius Black. Hermione’s stresses continue as she has many classes, some at the same time. She absolutely refuses to explain how she achieves this to Harry and Ron.

Malfoy continues to be up to his old tricks but this time his target is Hagrid. Hagrid’s hippogriff Buckbeak is in danger of being executed by the Ministry of Magic after injuring him. Malfoy did deserve it as he failed to listened to the instructions given by Hagrid. His father is pushing for punishment. Hermione and Ron work tirelessly to try and defend the hippogriff. The trio hear Buckbeak executed as they leave Hagrid’s hut. The rift between Hermione and Ron is healed when Scabbers is spotted and returned to him.

Things take a turn for the strange and Scabbers escaped again. However, this time the large black dog appears and drags Ron into a tunnel under the Whomping Willow. The others have no choice but to follow ultimately ending up in the Shrieking Shack, a haunted house in Hogsmeade. It is revealed that the dog is in fact Sirius Black. Harry feels like he has to kill him, but he can’t.

Lupin arrives but weirdly, hugs and embraces Black as a friend. We learn that the belief that Sirius betrayed the Potters was not true. It was Peter Pettigrew. Lupin admits he is a werewolf and that the Marauders (Black, Pettigrew and James Potter) learned how to transform into animals to help support Lupin. Scabbers is Pettigrew. He faked his own death, framed Black for the murders and has been hiding ever since.

We saw at the start the hostility between Lupin and Snape. This continued – Snape hates Harry remember? Snape arrives to apprehend Black but is knocked out by Harry, Ron and Hermione, who now know Sirius is innocent. Lupin and Black transform Pettigrew into human form and prepare to kill him. Harry stops them. He knows his father would not have wanted that. What is fair and right is to send him back to Azkaban.

“You think the dead we loved truly ever leave us? You think that we don’t recall them more clearly in times of great trouble?”

Pettigrew, slimy as ever, manages to escape and the full moon transforms Lupin into a wolf. The problems continue for Harry, Ron, Hermione and Black as they are chased to the shore of the lake. Here, waiting for them is the Dementors. Just as hope was feeling lost, a Patronus charm saves them, cast by Harry’s dad, he believes.

“Happiness can be found, even in the darkest of times, if one only remembers to turn on the light.”

Harry awoke later in the hospital wing full of panic and confusion. Harry and Hermione are told that Black has been sentenced to the Dementor’s Kiss. This is where the Dementor’s suck out the soul of their prisoner. Pettigrew’s escape means that Black is still a convicted murderer. Professor Dumbledore tells Harry and Hermione that there is a way to save many innocent lives in one evening. Hermione has a way of attending classes that seem to be on at the same time: a time-turner. The two set off on a mission to go back in time to save Buckbeak and Sirius.

Whilst on this mission, Harry sees himself at the side of the lake. Harry learns that it wasn’t his father who summoned the Patronus charm, it was him. Buckbeak escapes with Sirius on his back. The two are saved. Time ticks away but thankfully Harry and Hermione return to the hospital wing to close the timeline. Snape is furious with Lupin and reveals to all that he is a werewolf, resulting in Lupin’s resignation. Harry returns to Kings Cross with his friends. What is different this year, is a letter from Sirius, giving him permission to visit Hogsmeade next year.

“He was my mum and dad’s best friend. He’s a convicted murderer, but he’s broken out of wizard prison and he’s on the run. He likes to keep in touch with me, though…keep up with my news…check if I’m happy…”

Final Thoughts

I think the reason why I like this book the most is because we have two brilliant characters: Lupin and Black. I love his misunderstood Black is and the fact that he has been in prison, a hell, for years for something one of his friends did, not him. As the trio get older, the magic gets darker. I also like this because it’s really good to see Hermione centre stage. She is the one with the knowledge and the history but here we saw her put that into action. After all, she is the only one with a time-turner. I think it is also good to see niggles and fallings out between the trio – it is reminiscent of real life in that sense. I’m absolutely loving re-reading these. They do get bigger and darker now too which is great.

I hope you’ve enjoyed Book Three! Here’s to the next: The Goblet of Fire. See you next time for the Reading Challenge Book Review for June and hopefully more cakes! Stay safe everyone!!

Big love all. xx

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Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets – J.K. Rowling

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Hello Loves!

How are we all? I hope we continue to be safe and well. The weather here has taken a bit of a turn so I thought I would use the time to review the second book in the Harry Potter series: The Chamber of Secrets. Considering I am a huge Potter fan, you’ll probably be surprised to know that I’ve only ever read the books once – the year they were released. I was very much part of the Potter generation – the ones who queued up to buy the latest book and read it through the night so when you got to school the next day no one could spoil it for you. I decided I wanted to re-read them. At times of great change, I find it is always lovely to look back on some classic reads and relive them. So here goes!

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What’s it all about?

The book opens on Harry’s twelfth birthday where the Dursley family are hosting a dinner party for a potential client of Vernon’s drill manufacturing company. Naturally, Harry isn’t invited but he is happy to spend the evening in his bedroom. His thoughts drift to his friends, Ron and Hermione and why they haven’t been in touch with him. It is during his thinking that Dobby, a house elf, turns up in his bedroom. This is far from ordinary and Harry has a problem on his hands.

Dobby reveals that he has been intercepting Harry’s post from his friends and warns him not to return to Hogwarts because it is unsafe for him. Harry refuses to budge. After all, he loves Hogwarts and hates being at Privet Drive – there really is no chance that he would stay there. So Dobby continues to take matters into his own hands. He attempts to get Harry expelled for using magic by framing him smashing Aunt Petunia’s dessert to the floor. As a result, Uncle Vernon’s business deal collapses but Harry is given a second chance. The Ministry of Magic allows Harry to return to Hogwarts for the start of the school year.

“Beds empty! No note! Car gone — could have crashed — out of my mind with worry — did you care? — never, as long as I’ve lived — you wait until your father gets home, we never had trouble like this from Bill or Charlie or Percy —”

But the start of the school year wasn’t for some time. Uncle Vernon punishes Harry, fitting locks to his bedroom door and bars to the windows. One evening, Ron arrives with his brothers, Fred and George in their father’s enchanted Ford Anglia. They rescue Harry who then stays at the Weasley home, The Burrow. The Weasley’s and Harry travel to Diagon Alley where they are reunited with Hermione, introduced to Lucius Malfoy and Gilderoy Lockhart. Lockhart is a conceited autobiographer and the newly appointed Defence Against the Dark Arts teacher, following the death of Professor Quirrell. When Harry and Ron approach Platform 9¾, it refuses to let them pass, resulting in them missing the train. They decide to fly the enchanted car to Hogwarts but crash into the Whomping Willow on the grounds. The year is not starting off smoothly for Harry at all.

Harry and Ron end up in trouble. As punishment, Ron has to clean the school trophies and Harry has to help Professor Lockhart with addressing his fan mail. Whilst he is doing this, he learns about the wizards’ prejudice about blood status – pure blood (only wizarding heritage) and Muggle (non magical) parentage. More alarmingly, Harry can hear an unnerving voice, seemingly coming from the walls of the castle. Things get stranger still. Following a deathday party for Nearly Headless Nick, the Gryffindor House ghost Harry, Ron and Hermione run into Filch and his cat, Mrs Norris, who has been petrified. A warning was scrawled on the wall.

“The Chamber of Secrets has been opened. Enemies of the heir, beware.”

Because Harry was there when Mrs Norris was discovered, rumours quickly fly around the school regarding the Chamber of Secrets’ history. The rumour seems to be that Harry is the next heir. After some investigating Harry, Ron and Hermione discover from Cuthbert Binns, the ghostly professor of the History of Magic, that there was a terrible monster created by Salazar Slytherin after a disagreement with the other founders – Godric Gryffindor, Helga Hufflepuff and Rowena Ravenclaw. Slytherin believed that students of non magic parentage should be refused entry to Hogwarts and only the pureblood be educated. He built a chamber to finish the mission. Only the heir could open it and control the monster inside.

Later, during a seasonal game of Quidditch, a Bludger ends up chasing after Harry. It appears to be rogue, zigzagging around any player it can hit. Unfortunately, it ends up breaking Harry’s arm. To make matters worse, when trying to repair the bones, Lockhart ends up removing all of them instead. Whilst in the hospital wing, Dobby visits Harry in the dead of night, revealing that it was he who charmed the Bludger and sealed the gateway to the train. He also tells Harry that the Chamber of Secrets was opened before.

Another attack happens, this time on a first year Gryffindor student. Colin Creevey, a huge fan of Harry’s is the victim. The school takes on a sense of panic. In response to this, a duelling class is set up for the students, led by Lockhart and Snape, in order to prepare them. It is during this that Harry learns he is a Parselmouth, meaning he can speak to snakes and understand them. This is incredibly rare and again adds to the rumours flying around school that Harry is the heir. Salazar Slytherin was also a Parselmouth.

“Hearing voices no one else can hear isn’t a good sign, even in the wizarding world.”

A third attack happened, this time on a second year Hufflepuff, Justin Finch-Fletchley. Hermione, Ron and Harry began to suspect Draco Malfoy. His family history firmly rooted within Slytherin. They were also openly hostile towards Muggle born students. The three decide to use Hermione’s talents to create Polyjuice Potion. This will enable them to turn into Malfoy’s friends, Crabb and Goyle, and hope that Malfoy says something incriminating. Sadly, they learn nothing.

Moaning Myrtle, a very miserable and whiny ghost that haunts the girls’ bathroom, unwittingly provides the trio with a new clue: a diary which had been deposited in her stall. The trio discover the diary belonged to Tom Riddle, a student who knows all too well about the Chamber, having been witness to a fellow student’s death while the Chamber was opened fifty years ago. Riddle reveals the culprit to Harry, Rubeus Hagrid. Another attack takes place, this time Hermione and a Ravenclaw prefect, the school is put on lockdown. Dumbledore and Hagrid are forced to leave.

What Hagrid did do was leave a set of instructions for them: follow the spiders that are currently fleeing into the Forbidden Forest. Here they meet Aragog, who tells them that the real monster is one that the spiders fear above all others. When Ron and Harry try to leave, Aragog says they can’t because his sons and daughters haven’t eaten for a long time and they’re hungry. At this point, the enchanted Ford Anglia arrives to rescue them. Hermione then solves the mystery of what the monster is: a basilisk. This explains why Harry can understand it. It kills by a stare. The current victims haven’t seen it’s stare – it’s by a reflection which is why they are only petrified. It isn’t long until they realise that the student that was previously killed was Myrtle. When Ginny, Ron’s youngster sister, was taken by the monster into the Chamber, Harry and Ron discover that the entrance to the Chamber is through the girls’ bathroom. The boys, with Lockhart, enter the Chamber.

It is whilst they are in the Chamber that they realise Lockhart is a fraud. A rockfall happens whilst Lockhart tries to erase the memories of the boys, something he’s done previously for his books. This time, he manages to erase his own memory. Harry becomes separated from Ron and enters the Chamber of Secrets to find an unconscious and barely alive Ginny. Tom Riddle is also in attendance and reveals that his memory has been preserved in his diary. The diary that both Harry and Ginny have been using. Riddle shows Harry his full name: Tom Marvolo Riddle. This is an anagram for He Who Shall Not Be Named. It was he who opened the Chamber fifty years ago and framed Hagrid.

“I am Lord Voldemort.”

Riddle is the true Heir of Slytherin. By possessing Ginny through his diary, Riddle has been continuing his work he started fifty years before. This time was different: Harry. Throughout the battle, Harry remains loyal to Dumbledore. This results in Fawkes, his phoenix, arriving in the Chamber with the Sorting Hat. Fawkes blinds the basilisk, allowing Harry to remove the Sword of Godric Gryffindor from the Sorting Hat. Harry slays the creature and uses a fang, poisoned by the basilisk, to stab the middle of the diary. Riddle and his diary are destroyed and Ginny survives.

Harry, Ron, Ginny and Lockhart return to the main castle and reunite with Professor McGonagall, Dumbledore and Mr and Mrs Weasley. Ginny is given a reprieve by Dumbledore. After all, many a wizard had been persuaded and duped by Voldemort. Lucius Malfoy stormed into the meeting demanding to know why Dumbledore is back. He is accompanied by Dobby, revealing that Dobby is enslaved to the Malfoy family. How did the diary come into Ginny’s hand? Lucius Malfoy had slipped it into her books whilst in Diagon Alley, enabling the Chamber to be opened again.

“It is our choices, Harry, that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities.”

Harry decides to return the diary. However this time, it includes a sock which frees Dobby from the Malfoy’s employment. This results in an attack on Harry but Dobby jumps to save him. The petrified students are cured, Gryffindor wins the house cup again by earning 400 more points, Harry and Ron both receive the Special Services to School award and the end of year exams are cancelled. Hagrid returns during the final feast. Lockhart, now openly useless is dismissed from his teaching post. Like the novel opens, Harry returns to Privet Drive for another summer with the Dursleys.

Final Thoughts

I love The Chamber of Secrets because we are introduced to a range of new characters. My favourite is Dobby. I immediately felt great sympathy when I learnt he was the house elf for the Malfoys. Whilst on the surface, he comes across to Harry and the reader as a great menace, he only ever wanted to protect Harry. The second book in the series was just as good as the first and just as good this second time of reading. I genuinely love it. Having a little magic in our lives is really important and I’m so thrilled to be reading these again. Onto MY favourite book next: The Prisoner of Askaban.

Big love all! xx

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