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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

RTY: Crooked House – Agatha Christie

Hi Everyone!

I’m back today to review my November choice for Penguin’s Read The Year Challenge. I was feeling really bad that I missed October’s deadline by a day so I wanted to crack on with November’s right away. The focus for this month is: Pick up a book about the country you live in. Agatha Christie is such a prolific English writer and yet, shamefully, I’ve never read anything by her. However, this changed when I read this book. Set in and around London in 1947, this book fits the brief perfectly. The bonus was I absolutely flew through it because I was completely hooked. I just had to find out what happened!

What’s it all about?

The novel opens towards the latter stages of the Second World War with character Charles Hayward in Cairo. He meets and falls in love with Sophia Leonides. She’s a small and very successful English woman who works in the Foreign Office. Despite being madly in love, they decide to leave their engagement until after the war, when they can be reunited in England.

It is always a shock to meet again someone whom you have not seen for a long time but who has been very much present in your mind during that period.

Once home, Charles sees a death notice in The Times. Sophia’s grandfather, Aristide Leonides, the wealthy business entrepreneur, has died ages 85. As a consequence of the war, the whole family have been living with Aristide in their mansion “Three Gables”, the ‘crooked house’ of which the novel is entitled. Following the autopsy, it is revealed that Leonides was poisoned with his own eserine based eye medicine, via an insulin injection. Sophia tells Charles that she cannot possibly marry him in these circumstances. The culprit has to be found first.

The most obvious suspects from the start are Brenda Leonides, Aristide’s vastly younger wife and Laurence Brown, the private tutor of Sophia’s younger siblings, Eustace and Josephine. The rumour: the illicit love affair conducted right under Aristide’s nose. What’s even more interesting is that the family are desperate for it to be Brenda as they openly despise her. The age gap causes suspicion amongst them, seeing the marriage as an opportunity for her to be rich, rather than one for love.

I think people more often kill those they love, than those they hate. Possibly because only the people you love can really make life unendurable to you.

Charles decides to help his father who is an Assistant Commissioner of Scotland Yard, to investigate the murder and hopefully get to the bottom of it. By becoming a guest of the house, he hopes that someone will reveal a clue or let something slip, enabling him to progress in his deductions.

As the novel progresses it becomes clear that each member of the family has a motive and opportunity to kill him. They are all well aware of the eye medicine and how poisonous it was. Aristide was open with them all following questioning from Josephine.

Following the discussion of his will, it is apparent that they all stand to gain a healthy bequest from the estate. Only the servants do not as their wages have been annually increasing. Therefore, this removes them as suspects.

What are murderers like? Some of them, have been thoroughly nice chaps.

The family members also have very little in common with one another. Edith de Haviland, his unmarried sister in law, is a rude woman in her 70s who lives with them to supervise the upbringing of the children. The eldest son, Roger, is Aristide’s favourite despite being a complete failure at business. His catering business is balancing precariously on a knife edge. His wife, Clemency, is a scientist with unsentimental tastes. She’s never been able to enjoy the wealth of the family. Roger’s younger brother Philip, has suffered because of being in his brothers shadow. As a consequence, he removed himself to a world of books and historical facts and figures, spending his time in the library. Philip’s wife Magda is a semi successful actress who views every day life as if being on stage. Naturally, she always wants the leading role.

Eustace, 16, has polio. Handsome and intelligent, he is bitter and cynical as a result of his illness. His 12 year old sister, Josephine, is ugly, intelligence and obsessed with detective stories. Taking this as her inspiration, she spies on the rest of her family, listening at doors, making notes in her little black notebook.

What characters don’t quite realise at the start is that Aristide has secretly rewritten his will to leave everything to Sophia. It was his belief that she was the only one who had the strength of character to take his place as the head of the house. When the family are told this information, it is a complete surprise.

Throughout the investigation, Josephine has been mocking the police for their stupidity. She brags that she knows who the killer is. Soon after, she is found lying unconscious in the yard, after a blow to the head from a marble doorstop.

Child’s evidence is always the best evidence there is. I’d rely on it every time. No good in court, of course. Children can’t stand being asked direct questions. They mumble or else look idiotic and say they don’t know. They’re at their best when they’re showing off.

When Charles finds letters from Brenda to Laurence, sharing their love for one another, it seems that it fits with the death of Aristide. Therefore, they are arrested. However, whilst they were both in custody, the children’s Nanny dies after drinking a hot chocolate, laced with digitalis (heart medicine). Apparently, this was for Josephine and once again the family are twitchy as the murderer is still lurking around them.

Fearing for Josephine’s life, Charles (in vain) to get her to tell him the murderer’s name. Edith de Haviland invites Josephine to have an adventure with her to get ice cream sodas. However, the car drives over a cliff and both are sadly killed.

Back at Three Gables, Charles finds two letters from Edith. Upon inspection, one is a suicide note for Chief Inspector Taverner, where by she takes full responsibility for the murder of both Aristide and Nanny. In the second letter, which is only for Sophia and Charles, Edith reveals the full truth of the matter. The murderer was in fact Josephine. As proof and evidence, Edith attaches her black notebook which discloses “Today I killed grandfather.”

The novel closes with the reasoning why Josephine kills her grandfather and the Nanny. Her grandfather refuses to pay for her ballet lessons. The attention she received following the murder she relishes so this convinced her into another murder. She planned her own with the marble door stop as a means of diverting the attention away from her. We learn that she poisoned Nanny for encouraging Magda to send her away to Switzerland. Josephine also disliked being called a “silly little girl”.

Edith found her notebook inside a dog kennel and felt compelled to protect the child. She devised the suicide/murder car crash as she did not want the child to suffer in prison or an asylum which is where she would have ended up when the police learned the truth.

The novel closes neatly with the engagement between Charles and Sophia confirmed.

Because this is just what a nightmare is. Walking about among people you know, looking in their faces- and suddenly the faces change- and it’s not someone you know any longer- it’s a stranger- a cruel stranger.

Overview

I really enjoyed this pocket rocket of a book. I didn’t know what to expect really. I just knew Christie is such a prolific writer. I was not disappointed and I was hanging on till the very end. I hope you all had a fabulous November and enjoy the weekend ahead.

Big love xxx

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Filed under Book review, Books, Read The Year Challenge, Reading

RTY: The Girl In The Tower – Katherine Arden

Hey Everyone!

November is here, the clocks have gone back and the evenings are getting much darker. That’s all awesome though because it gives us time to sit back and snuggle down with a good book.

Today I want to share with you my post for Penguin’s Read The Year Challenge for October. The theme for this was: ‘Tis the season for spooky stories: take your pick.’ I’m not really a fan of the ghost/vampire/scary stories. So, I decided to read the sequel to The Bear and the Nightingale, The Girl in the Tower by Katherine Arden. However, it is the first month where I didn’t finish the book in October. I finished it November 1st! (Close enough?)

This was just as amazing as the first book which is why I’m reviewing it pretty much straight away. Here goes!

What’s it all about?

Following from the first novel, The Bear and the Nightingale, the second begins with Olga telling her children and her ladies a story about a couple who cannot have children. Therefore, they bring a snow sculpture to life to be their daughter. The sad thing is, she falls in love but eventually fades away. Olga’s daughter, Marya, is convinced she sees the ghost of one of the ladies from a different story in the corner of the room they’re in.

Sasha (Brother Alexander) finally returns home and back to he palace to visit Olga. He brings with him an injured priest. Sasha tells Dmitrii about the battles his country are facing. Olga speaks with the priest, Konstantin, who tells her of Vasya’s evilness and her father’s death. He also reveals her stepmother is dead and Vasya, also presumed dead.

Another priest advises Sasha that Dmitrii is becoming unhappy with his childless wife and needs a sense of adventure. Sasha decides to take him out to the villages Before they leave, a man named Kasyan appears telling them he needs their help to defend against whoever is attacking his villages and people. Kasyan accompanies then on their journey but eventually leaves them to it. As they proceed along their journey, they continued to see burned villages with desperate citizens.

Every time you take one path, you must live with the memory of the other: of a life left unchosen. Decide as seems best, one course or the other; each way will have its bitter with its sweet.

They find themselves at the old monastery where Sasha first trained and where his friend, Sergei still lives. A boy, actually Vasya, brings three homeless children into the camp.

The story travels back in time to the end of book one where Vasya enters Morozko’s home in the woods. Absolutely exhausted and feeling quite hopeless, she wants the dowry Morozko offered her. However, she doesn’t want to marry anyone for it. Eventually, he concedes and the money is hers. Vasya wants to use it to be a traveller and see the world. She dreams about a pale women in white who tells her she should leave at once.

The first night of her adventure brings her a new visitor, a demon woman called Midnight. She refuses to tell Vasya who has sent her but she says she’ll visit twice more during her journey.

Her days are long and arduous and she soon catches a cold from the freezing Russian weather. With her companion, Solovey, she finds a caravan and follows it into a town. Due to the size, she believes it is Moscow. But, they’ve not quite reached that part yet.

Solovey doesn’t trust the town walls and refuses to go inside. However, Vasya is insistent. Disguised as a boy, she is able to explore her surroundings. She’s completely enthralled. A strange and rather ominous man, Kasyan, believes he recognises her in the city market. However, Vasya manages to escape him.

She visits a bathhouse on the way back and decides to stop for food and a hot bath. Whilst she’s bathing, she hears Solovey making a noise in the stable. It is clear why as two men break into her bathroom. She barely manages to escape the town. However, a snowstorm descends directly on the town, helping them to hide their tracks.

Vasya gets colder and sicker and is unable to get any warmth in her body. When she’s on the brink of death, Morozko arrives to nurse her back to heath. He assumes that because her trip was a disaster, she will return home. Yet, Vasya has other ideas. She wants to see the world and continue being a traveller. Morozko’s horse tells him he knows he loves Vasya. His fear is Morozko choosing between love and his immortality.

Morozko knows he has to let her go but he makes her a parting gift of a pair of knives. He teaches her how to fight over a few days. Vasya questions him and their discussion ends in in Morozko kissing her.

Vasya continues her adventure and soon finds another burned village. A mother tells her how her daughter was kidnapped and her husband killed. Vasya vows to find her daughter, so she sets off with Solovey to find them. After a time, she does find her and two others held by bandits who oddly, leave no trace. Solovey distracts the men whilst Vasya whilst she rescues the girls. They manage to escape just in time.

All through the night they are chased by the men. Cue the second visit from the Midnight, the female demon, where she offers advice to Vasya, against her orders. Her advice: to ride west. Vasya trusts her and at daybreak, they come upon a walled monastery. On this journey, the girls, hiding in Vasya’s clothing, nearly froze. Vasya begs the monks to let her in. Amazingly, Sasha is there.

Vasya continues to be deceptive and plays the part of a boy. Sasha also plays along with the act. Dmitrii is overjoyed to meet his new cousin. He orders food and baths for them all and asks Vasya to go hunting the bandits with him. After feeding, the party leave. Upon finding the bandits, fighting breaks out until Kasyan and his men arrive.

Upon returning to the monastery, Vasya busies herself with looking after her beloved horse so she doesn’t have to bathe with the men. Sasha and Sergei go to a separate bath house. Sergei reveals to Sasha his knowledge about Vasya. When they finally get to talk, Vasya tells Sasha everything from when Sasha left the family, to the death of their step mother and father.

That evening, Vasya dreams of the Bear. Morozko appears and to his surprise, Vasya grabs his cloak and pulls him close. He’s there because he heard her cry. However, Vasya can not cope with him appearing and leaving her. So, Morozko vanishes.

It is decided that Vasya should be kept quietly away with Olga so the story of his ‘brother’ may disappear. However, they both know that remaining quiet is not something Vasya does well. We have seen this in book one too!

Sasha begs Sergei to send Rodion to them when they find the captain they are currently unable to pin down. They discuss and assume who Kasyan is as they’d never heard of him before now, each equally as suspicious as the other.

Katya, the oldest of the three girls rescued, informs her that the men are saying they have to lie as payment for what Vasya has done for them. Vasya reveals her true identity as a girl and promises to make sure they’re returned home safely. As they approach the village, Katya asks Vasya what her true name is. This secret further units the girls and Vasya gives Katya a dowry for each one.

Continuing to Moscow enables Vasya to see the beautiful city: the sights and sounds. Sasha takes her to her sister, Olga. However, Olga cannot believe her eyes as she believed her sister to be dead. Initially disappointed that Sasha did not inform Dmitrii of the secret, Olga decides that they’ll have to sneak Vasya away and then reintroduce her as someone else. In order for this to be successful, Vasya needed to be inconspicuous.

That evening, Vasya spots the man who was the captain of the bandits. Actually, he is a Tatar (Russian royalty) called Chelubey. Vasya leaves to tell Sasha immediately what she has seen. But, there is a problem. He doesn’t know what to believe as Vasya did not reveal the full truth. Vasya vehemently assures him of her certainty.

The next morning, Marya overheard her mother discussing Vasya. She knows it is her aunt, not her uncle. Rather cleverly, the two make a deal to keep Vasya’s identity hidden. Marya also tells her aunt how she sees everything Vasya does: the ghost and the domovoi. The two go riding in the city together, having a terribly exciting time. A domovoi tells Marya a prophecy. She’s frightened, so Vasya reassured her that prophecies can be deceiving and to not think too much on it.

Whilst out, Chelubey appears and recognises Vasya’s horse. As he questions her, it is obvious that they recognise each other. He wishes to purchase Solovey but Vasya is clear that the horse will not let anyone ride him apart from herself. Tension rises as neither side wish to back down. Vasya refuses to let her horse go resulting in Chelubey’s men surrounding and blocking her in.

Thankfully, Kasyan appears and rescues her. He keeps Marya hidden and sneaks her back into the castle. Olga is waiting to speak to her sister immediately. The sisters argue and their relationship appears beyond repair at this point.

Chelubey rides again towards Vasya. She bets him that she can tame the mare he just bought. The set the terms of the bet. If she can ride it, she can keep it. If she can’t, he gets Solovey. People place their bets while Vasya takes the time to build trust between her and the horse. She eventually is able to ride it and named the horse Zima. On the surface, Chelubey accepts he has been defeated. Muttering, he tells her that she will pay for that.

Observing all, Kasyan tells her she has made and enemy but admired her riding skills. He wants to know why Chelubey recognises her. Vasya, hurt, explains that her own brother didn’t believe her, so why would he. After some gentle coaxing, she tells him. He believes her but knows she needs more evidence. Vasya agrees to wait for a small while until other evidence is found.

Following a very long, detailed church service, the Maslenitsa celebration begins. Sasha begs Vasya to stay out of the limelight, to be inconspicuous and live in the shadows of her sister. Vasya absolutely refuses, knowing full well this hurts him to lie, as a monk. Knowing full well she is hurting her family, she makes a plan to leave. She feels like she’s got no choice. Consequently, she decides to tell Dmitrii about Chelubey that very moment.

There is a problem: Kasyan hears Vasya trying to tell Dmitrii and decides to stop her. Instead, he challenges her to a horse race in the morning. She accepts but continues to try and tell Dmitrii. Yet, she sees the other world. The domovoi is serving at the banquet and Morozko is in the doorway. Vasya invites him to sit at the table with her. He has other ideas and wishes to go for a ride instead.

As they race through the night, they decide to talk. Vasya wants him to tell her what to do. They kiss for a long time. However, Morzoko is conflicted. He wants to share something with her but he decides against it, just warning her to be wary. He will fade as spring comes. As each turn away from one another, a red streak glows across the sky.

In winter it is impossible to be still. Even sitting by the fire, one is watching the coals, stirring the soup, fighting – always fighting – the eager frost.

Vasya is visited by Kasyan whilst she is grooming her horse for the race the following morning. He wishes to tell her something, but he doesn’t seem able to, partly because he keeps being interrupted. Sasha wants a private word with Vasya. He’d been investigating Chelubey and is unable to find anything out. Therefore, this convinces him to believe Vasya and wants to tell Dmitrii about it.

Upon arriving for the race, Kasyan arrives on a golden mare that is no normal horse. A bet is made – if he wins, Vasya must marry him. Startled, she realises he knows her secret disguise. None of this matters yes as Solovey narrowly wins the race.

In revenge, Kasyan pulls of Vasya’s cap to reveal her long flowing hair. Dmitrii is absolutely furious. He demands Kasyan cuts off all her clothes so everyone can see her true form. Sasha is bound and taken away because he knew about the lie. Vasya is taken captive in Olga’s tower.

Despite her anger, Olga ensures that Vasya is bathed, clothed and fed. She’s distraught that she cost their father his life, Sasha his freedom and likely her family if they think she knew. Vasya knows this is continuing to hurt her family and wants to make it right, if she can.

Meanwhile, Kasyan visits Konstantin in his cell, well aware the priest loves and hates Vasya. He’s given a task and promises vengeance on Vasya if he complies. Konstantin has always been disturbed by the feelings evokes by Vasya (particularly in book one) so he agrees.

Whilst locked in the tower, a ghost visits Vasya’s room. She cuts her arm work her necklace so the ghost can drink her blood to gain strength. She is told to leave and return home that very night. Morozko appears and promises to help her. However, Olga appears as Kasyan is calling on her, meaning Morozko disappears.

Kasyan blackmails Vasya: marry him or her family die. Failing to buy time, she reluctantly agrees to marry him. Vasya knows exactly what type of man he is. She knows his involvement in everything to belittle Dmitrii and to put himself in a position of power.

Olga goes into labour and is taken to the bath house. Sadly, the labour is not progressing well and Olga’s life is at risk. Morozko arrives to take Olga through to death. Vasya begs for her sister’s life. But, one of them has to die. Olga wants her baby to survive but Vasya continues to beg for Olga’s life. The baby is stillborn resulting in Olga demanding Vasya leaves.

Morozko finds her in the courtyard. She demands the truth which eventually he reveals. He gave her father exactly the same choice as Olga. Pyotr made exactly the same choice as Olga, to sacrifice himself for his family. The link between the two? Morozko made the necklace when she was a child and chose her. He needs to be tied to flesh and blood to prevent him from fading away. Vasya pulls off the necklace and returns it to him. She wants to flee but she cannot because of the plans Kasyan has for her but because they’re not veiled in magic, he can’t see them.

There is no magic. Things are. Or they are not.’

Thankfully, Rodion arrives at the cell where Sasha is and reveals what he has seen. Kasyan’s home is a tower of bones and he knows he is the one who is burning all the villages. Vasya arrives to tell them that Kasyan plans to act tonight and they need to get into the palace to warn Dmitrii.

Sneaking into the courtyard, there is nothing but chaos ahead. Kasyan and his man are already there. They hear Dmitrii making an announcement so know he is still alive at this point. Sasha goes to rescue him, Vasya goes to find Solovey. In the process she finds Kasyan’s golden horse. Upon freeing her, she turns into a golden fire bird (nightingale) and flies away, leaving the barn on fire.

Vasya spots her niece, but so does Kasyan. Konstantin tells her the deal he struck with Kasyan. He could have Vasya if he got Marya for Kasyan. Vasya forgives him as he baptised her sister’s baby but will kill him the next time she sees him. Chelubey appears with warriors both dead and alive. Dmitrii’s warriors continue to suffer in defeat.

Vasya hears Sasha’s voice in the crowd. They rush to search for Dmitrii. He’s surrounded by four enemies unable to move. They manage to kill the enemies and save him. Sasha promises to never lie to him again. All is forgiven and they head towards Kasyan.

Vasya goes to rescue her niece but on her way sees ghost of those she loves most. However, the ghost has been seen by her and Marya before. She notices Marya has a glazed, inexpressive look on her face, caused by a necklace with a red jewel in it. Vasya offers to trade her life for Marya’s. Kasyan hits her and kicks her in the stomach and ribs.

The ghost reveals itself to be Tamara, Vasya’s grandmother. They snap the necklace off her neck and the spell is broken. Vasya tries to take Marya away but Kasyan stops her, telling her he’s invincible. She remembers the fairytale Dunya told her when she was younger. She realises how he’s stayed alive and why her grandmother’s ghost is there. She seized the invisible necklace from the ghost but Kasyan puts his sword to her throat. When he’s distracted, she crushes the jewel in her hand. Kasyan dies. Morozko is there to take Tamara to death. Just before they disappear, Vasya sees her grandmother as she was before.

The battle is over, however a new one is forming: the city is on fire. Midnight appears for the final time and Vasya begs her to save the city. She reveals that by breaking her jewel, she banished Morozko who could have sent a snow storm. She confides in Vasya and tells her that Morozko loves her.

Whilst everyone is fleeing the city, Vasya runs back into the fire. Morozko said she’d only see him again in death so she tries to die in the flames. He sees her and sends a storm to distinguish the flames of the city. But he can’t live in the sun after midwinter. He begins to fade away but as he does so, he looks quite human. Vasya begs him to live but he fades away.

Think of me sometimes,” he returned. “When the snowdrops have bloomed and the snow has melted.

Marya is returned safely to her mother who wishes to see Vasya. It is time for Vasya to tell them everything that has happened from the arrival of Konstantin to the present day. Marya can see what her aunt sees. Olga wants her daughter to be protected from sorcerers and men. The novel ends.

Overview

It’s very uncommon for me to read a series of books. I’ve only ever done it with one author: J K Rowling. However, I’ve really enjoyed this series. I can’t wait for the final book to come out. It’s magical, it’s intriguing and it’s an adventure not to be missed. I loved this book just as much as the first, if not more. I’ve got used to the Russian names (the glossary is very useful too) so in that sense it was better for me than the first book. I absolutely whizzed through this book too – that’s always a good sign!

Have an excellent November everyone! Keep warm and cosy!

Big love xxx

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Filed under Book review, Read The Year Challenge, Reading

Sea Prayer – Khaled Hosseini

Hello Loves!

Hope you’re all well and enjoying kicking up the leaves that Autumn is kindly offering us.

Today, I want to share with you a book I saw, bought and read after work yesterday. After a really long, difficult week, I decided to treat myself to a hot chocolate and a little read so headed to my sanctuary: Waterstones. I saw this book in the window and decided it was time to read it. Thank goodness I did. I soon realised that my long and difficult week was just that, only a week, a moment. Not a lifetime.

What’s it all about?

In less than fifty pages, this book has made me question so many things: life, attitudes, the world. This poignant and powerful book is a collaborative piece between Hosseini and Dan Williams. The illustrations are stunning and harrowing, just like the words within.

Written as a response to the refugee crisis, Hosseini has given a voice to the thousands of people who made the same journey from war torn Syria across the Mediterranean Sea to safety. Unfortunately, as we all know too well, thousands did not survive.

Structured as a letter from a father to his son, the night before their journey, this book starts with memories of their past, safe life in Homs. Memories of family members, the animals, the sounds of the city are all shared, creating this beautiful homage to their old life. However, this is something the son, Marwan, cannot remember.

‘But that life, that time, seems like a dream now, even to me…’

The illustrations then become much darker in hue, the words more troubled to show that life has changed. References to the protests, the siege and bombs dropping on their beloved city. Sadly, this is what Marwan knows; what he has grown up seeing on a daily basis. He and many other innocent children.

‘You have learned dark blood is better news than light.’

It is the night before their journey and on a moonlit beach people agonisingly and nervously wait for the morning. Yet, fear of what is waiting for them at the other side is also on their minds. Hosseini references the attitudes reported, the fact that they are ‘unwelcome’ and ‘uninvited’. Sadly, I too have heard reactions like this. It is answered from the words of the mother, making it, in my opinion, all the more heart breaking. The role of the mother is to nurture and protect, to understand.

‘Oh, but if they saw, my darling, even half of what you have. If only they saw. They would say kinder things, surely.’

Everyone prays for their safety, well aware of how deep and large the sea is. Everyone knows the risk they are taking. But it’s the only option. The Sea Prayer is exactly that, a prayer to keep them safe at sea. As parents, they are powerless, their protection cannot deter great seas. But they need safety.

‘Because you, you are precious cargo, Marwan, the most precious there ever was.’

The final two pages, blank and harshly white, are where Hosseini declares what inspired this moving book.

‘Alan Kurdi, the three year old Syrian refugee who drowned in the Mediterranean Sea trying to reach safety in Europe in September 2015.’

Yet, it wasn’t just this little boy. It was 4,176 other lives that were taken in that same year.

Overview

It is when I stop and think about that statistic that I really consider the world we live in today. Nobody should have to live in a place where they don’t feel safe. That little boy, like the many other little boys and girls deserve to know the good of the world like we do.

This book is easily the most beautiful in so many ways. Firstly, the illustrations are sublime. But it is so much more than that. It book shows life before the hell, it shows people’s strength and it teaches us all a lesson. We must care more about each other.

With that, I’m off to hug someone I care about because we are so lucky we have the lives we do.

Big love to you all. Xx

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Filed under Book review, Books, New Books, Reading

RTY: I Capture The Castle – Dodie Smith

Hey Everyone!

As promised in my previous post, today I wanted to share with you my review of the book I chose for Penguin’s Read the Year Challenge. The focus for the month of September was: dive into a coming of age story you haven’t read before. I have to confess that I Capture the Castle wasn’t my first choice for this month. The first book I chose was Black Swan Green by David Mitchell but I found it really difficult to get into. So after the first couple of chapters I gave up. However, my second choice was much more fruitful. I’d heard of Dodie Smith as a little girl because I loved the story The Hundred and One Dalmatians. I really enjoyed the opportunity to read something else by this fascinating, (arguably) lesser known novelist. This coming of age story has everything, love, jealousy, frustration, upset and complete joy.

What’s it all about?

I Capture the Castle tells the adventures of the Mortmains family, struggling to life in genteel poverty in a crumbling castle during the 1930s. The novel is told through the eyes of Cassandra Mortmain, an intelligent teenager who writes everything in shorthand in her journal.

Cassandra’s father is a writer suffering from writer’s block. He hasn’t written anything since his first book, Jacob Wrestling, was published. The novel, a reference to Jacob wrestling with the angel, is an innovative and challenging modernist novel that was hugely popular. This book made Mortmain’s name huge, especially in the United States.

Ten years before the novel begins, Mortmain takes out a forty year lease on a dilapidated but beautiful castle. This is the seed of inspiration for him, or isolation! However, as Cassandra tells the story, they are having to sell the furniture to survive and buy food.

Walking down Belmotte was the oddest sensation– every step took us deeper into the mist until at last it closed over our heads. It was like being drowned in the ghost of water.

Topaz, Mortmain’s second wife, is a beautiful artist’s model who enjoys being with nature, often naked in its presence. Rose, the eldest daughter, is a classic English beauty. Her focus is to meet a wealthy young man to settle with. She tells Cassandra, who tells us, that she wants to live in a Jane Austen novel.

Cassandra has literary ambitions and spends her time writing and capturing everything around her in her beloved journal. The final characters in the household are Stephen, the handsome and loyal live in son of the late maid and Thomas, the youngest Mortmain child who is just as intelligent as Cassandra. Stephen is very much in love with Cassandra but she doesn’t really notice.

While I have been writing I have lived in the past, the light of it has been all around me…

The novel changes pace when the Cottons, a wealthy American family, inherit the nearby Scoatney Hall and become the Mortmains’ new landlords. The girls are intrigued by the two handsome, unmarried brothers, Simon and Neil Cotton. These new men give the girls something new to focus on and to investigate further. Neil was raised in California by their English father. He’s very carefree and wants to become a rancher one day.

Whereas, Simon is scholarly and serious, with a passion for the English countryside. As the eldest, Simon is the heir and is already much wealthier than Neil. Although Rose isn’t attracted to him, she decides to pursue him into marriage if she can. Rose admits she’d marry the devil if it meant she could escape poverty.

When the two families first meet, each are as intrigued as the other about them. When the Cottons visit the following day, Rose openly flirts with Simon. However, she ends up humiliating himself due to her inexperience. Both brothers are less than amused by the experience and as they walk away, Cassandra overhears them saying they will cease further acquaintance with the family.

However, after an amusing episode with a fur coat and an alleged sighting of a bear, all is forgiven between the two families and they become close friends. Rose convinced herself that she really is arrested and taken with Simon so Cassandra and Topaz devise a scheme to get Simon to propose to her. This has an excellent result for the family as he falls in love with her and proposes shortly after.

Time in the novel following this is split between the castle and London. Rose and Topaz head to the city with Mrs Cotton to purchase Rose’s wedding trousseau. Whilst everyone else is away, Cassandra and Simon spend the evening together when they inevitable kiss. Cassandra becomes obsessed with Simon; it’s all she thinks about. However, she does end up feeling incredibly guilty. Simon, is of course, Rose’s fiancé. With Rose being away, Cassandra feels more and more lonely and isolated.

It came to me that Hyde Park has never belonged to London – that it has always been , in spirit, a stretch of countryside; and that it links the Londons of all periods together most magically – by remaining forever unchanged at the heart of a ever-changing town.

Over this time, Stephen continues to copy poems for her and save his money to buy her gifts. Cassandra decides that she has to tactfully let Stephen down in terms of his offer of love. She encourages him to pursue his model and film career, which has recently taken off.

…surely I could give him–a sort of contentment... That isn’t enough to give. Not for the giver.

Cassandra decides to join forces with him and Thomas to help their father overcome his writer’s block. They lock him in one of the towers, delivering food parcels to him. He becomes quite frustrated, but eventually it seems to be for a good cause. Cassandra, meanwhile, is acutely aware that her attraction is increasing. Cassandra continues to record everything in her journal.

In the background, unknown by all the characters in the novel other than Stephen, Rose and Neil have been falling in love. To conceal their growing love, they pretend to hate each other. When they eventually elope together, Simon is left heartbroken. However, for Cassandra, this means there is a sign of hope. Before Simon leaves to go back to the United States, he visits Cassandra.

“I found it quite easy to carry on a casual conversation it was as if my real feelings were down fathoms deep in my mind and what we said was just a feathery surface spray.”

Despite her feelings for him, Cassandra decides to deflect the conversation at the moment when she believes he may propose marriage, in the belief and understanding that he was still in love with Rose.

The novel ends on a rather ambiguous note. Cassandra reminds herself that Simon has promised to return to her. She closes her journal for good, still loving him.

I get the feeling I do on finishing a novel with a brick-wall happy ending – I mean the kind of ending when you never think any more about the characters.

Overview

This book is an excellent coming of age story. The family as absolutely fascinating and I found myself feeling many of the emotions described in the novel. Rose just wants to fall in love with the right person, Cassandra adores her sister and wants her to be happy. They each want their father to be able to write something so they can have furniture. Finally, who wouldn’t want to live in a castle? This is a charming book, perfect for everyone.

Hope you enjoy the autumn everyone! Get out there any kick up the vast array of colourful leaves.

Big love xxx

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Filed under Book review, Books, Read The Year Challenge

I Am Malala – Malala Yousafzai

Hey Lovely People!

How are you all? I hope that September has treated you well and like me, you’re keeping warm from the rain outside. I noticed yesterday the leaves are starting to turn, clearly Autumn is upon us. Today I wanted to share with you one of the most inspiring books I’ve ever read: I Am Malala. Wow. There aren’t enough words for this book. Malala Yousafzai is a name that everyone has heard of so I wanted to read her story and what an amazing story it was for me.

What’s it all about?

The book is written in five parts, covering various points in Malala’s life. Part One covers Malala’s life ‘Before the Taliban’. She describes her childhood home in Swat Valley where Malala, her father Ziauddin, her mother Toor Pekanbaru and her two younger brothers Khush and Atal, lived. Ziauddin’s father, Rohul Amin was an imam and a teacher. Ziauddin studied a Master’s in English at Jehanzeb College. Malala was therefore surrounded by great thinkers and educated minds. Malala is very honest in her narrative, they are a normal family and her brothers irritate her.

“I don’t want to be thought of as the “girl who was shot by the Taliban” but the “girl who fought for education.” This is the cause to which I want to devote my life.”

Her father opened the Khushal School with a partner Naeem, who had to leave himself due to financial problems. So, Ziauddin found a new partner, Hidayatullah, who helped him to bring the school into profit. This profit enabled them to open more schools in the area. Toor Pekai would bring any children who were in need to live with them and Ziauddin would give them free places in the school where they could learn and thrive.

Malala spends time in her narrative explaining the changes in political regimes in Pakistan, the first drone strikes in Pakistan in 2004, following 9/11 in America and the 2005 Kashmir earthquake. I remember 9/11 in particular because it was my first day at secondary school. Just like Malala, many of us can relate to and remember events in history that have happened that have shaped our world today.

In Part Two, subtitled ‘The Valley of Death’, the narrative centres on the growing rise of the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan in Swat. Back in 2006, Fazlullah began an ever increasingly popular radio broadcast where, initially advice was given on matters such as ritual ablution and drug abstinence. However, the focus of this changed to the condemnation of music and dancing. Finally, the instruction came that women were to stay in the home. To Malala, who loved to go to school with all the other girls, this was a complete travesty. Nevertheless, this did not stop her from getting her education. Malala was absolutely determined to go to school.

“Education is education. We should learn everything and then choose which path to follow.” Education is neither Eastern nor Western, it is human.”

The war in North-West Pakistan was still raging and the return of Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto to Pakistan has devastating results. As an activist for women’s rights, her return led to her assassination. This murder was just the start as the Taliban began to commit further murders. Ziauddin Yousafzai continued to speak out against such violence. His daughter, Malala, began to write a BBC Urdu blog under the pseudonym Gul Mukau, sharing tales of how life was during this time.

“If one man can destroy everything, why can’t one girl change it?”

More woe descended upon Swat when after a Taliban edict in 2009, Malala’s school was forced to shut down. Malala and her family had no choice but to move to Shangla for the next three months.

Part Three is entitled ‘Three Girls, Three Bullets’. It is in this part where Malala describes her horrific ordeal with the Taliban.

“The Taliban could take our pens and books, but they couldn’t stop our minds from thinking.”

By 2009, the army have fought off the Taliban in Swat and the Yousafzai family return home. Malala’s school re-opens and she visits Islamabad with her school friends. Here she meets Major General Arthar Abbas and gives a public speech. Malala is used to giving regular public speeches with her father in various interviews. Each one bares the same message: criticism of the Taliban and the ineffectiveness of the army.

“When the whole world is silent, even one voice becomes powerful.”

Mother Nature adds to the destruction of Swat, the 2010 Pakistan floods destroyed many buildings and left many people without food, clean water and electricity. Also, things are still very politically charged in Pakistan. CIA agent Raymond Davis murders two men and the Americans kill Bin Laden. The consequence of this is widespread mistrust of American influences in Pakistan by the public.

However, for Malala, it was like as usual. Malala began to win numerous prizes for her activism. She continues to speak out about a girls right to education. She appeared on Geo TV and visited the mausoleum of Muhammad Ali Jinnah.

Due to her courage at standing up for what she believes in, Malala started to receive death threats. This worried her parents immensely. In August 2012 when Zahid Khan was shot and killed, Ziauddin expected to be the next target. Malala also begins to worry that she too is a target but her focus is on her exams and she is desperate to study hard and do well.

“We were scared, but our fear was not as strong as our courage.”

However, what follows shocked me to my core, along with the rest of the world. After her Pakistan Studies exam on the 9th October, two men stop her bus and come aboard. They shout one thing: “Who is Malala?” Then three shots are fired.

“I told myself, Malala, you have already faced death. This is your second life. Don’t be afraid — if you are afraid, you can’t move forward.”

Part Four is subtitled ‘Between Life and Death’. We learn that one bullet travelled from Malala’s left eye to her shoulder and her two friends, Shazia and Kainat were also injured. Thankfully, not fatally.

Ziauddin gave a speech with the Association of Private schools before rushing to the hospital to be with his daughter. Her mother was learning to read and rushed home to pray. Malala was taken by helicopter to the Combined Military Hospital in Peshawar where she was then airlifted to a military hospital in Rawalpindi. On the 15th October, Malala was taken to the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham aboard a United Arab Emirates jet. However, her father refused to come as the rest of the family could not travel without passports. She made the journey with her medical team, alone.

“I reassured my mother that it didn’t matter to me if my face was not symmetrical. Me, who had always cared about my appearance, how my hair looked! But when you see death, things change. “It doesn’t matter if I can’t smile or blink properly,” I told her. “I’m still me, Malala. The important thing is God has given me my life.”

Part Five is called ‘A Second Life’. Malala woke up in the Birmingham hospital on the 16th October. However, her thoughts were not of herself or her injuries. She was obsessed with the location of her father and the safety of her family. She knew full well that she and her family could not afford medical treatment. Finally the medical team answered her questions.

Malala received 8000 cards and many many presents. Her family arrived 9 days later to join her in her recovery. In November Malala underwent major surgery to repair her facial nerve. The following January she was discharged from hospital. In February she underwent further surgery to get a cochlear implant.

The story ends with her new life in Birmingham. She missed Swat and her friends terribly. Yet, she decided to continue her activism, to spread the word about the importance of education. She wants to become know for “the girl who fought for education” rather than “the girl who was shot by the Taliban”.

“One child, one teacher, one book, one pen can change the world.”

Overview

This book was so inspiring, so shocking and everything in between. Education is a massive part of my life. I remember as a young girl going to school, never questioning it or even realising how lucky I was. Reading this book has made me appreciate my education so much more. As a teacher, I want to share this book with everyone. I’m not really into reading about political history but because this was in my lifetime, I felt I appreciated it more. Obviously, it is something that has been in the press a lot so I valued having Malala’s own words. This girl is so inspirational, thank goodness for her.

“We realize the importance of our voices only when we are silenced.”

Finally, on a different note, today is the first day of Autumn. To celebrate, I’m launching a new swoosh at the bottom of every post. Hope you like it!

Big love all xxx

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Filed under Book review, Books, Education, Reading