The Sun, The Sea & The Stars – Iulia Bochis

Hello Loves!

I haven’t posted anything because what can I say? Isn’t it all just very overwhelming at the moment? School has started and that is overwhelming – lots of changes and on a much larger scale, the death of Queen Elizabeth II has completely thrown me and brought up my own experiences of grief. I am deeply moved daily by the scenes surrounding the death of her. I guess it isn’t a shock but the sense of loss is overwhelming. With work and life I took myself off to a place that brings me great joy and comfort: the book shop. I’m back in a stage of buying many (I am on a ban…so far so good) and not being able to read them. Whilst aimlessly walking and not staring too hard in case I get tempted, I did spot something that felt like a sign from the book gods. That sign was The Sun, The Sea & The Stars – Ancient Wisdom as a Healing Journey. Firstly, it’s a beautifully illustrated book and I knew it would be a manageable and healing read.

What’s it all about?
Small but mighty is the best way to describe this book. It opens with a personal message from the author and illustrator Iulia Bochis where it is revealed that this book was born out of the feeling that everyone is different yet we share so many thoughts and feelings the same. We all face moments in our life that cause us to stop, think and reflect whilst we are navigating our journey through life. It was just the antidote that I needed at this period in time.

Starting in Autumn, we see a season of great change. Bochis wants us to remember that there is beauty in every season and as we are approaching Autumn, it’s perfectly apt now. Whilst the seasons are changing around us, our natural world is also changing and adapting around us too. We need to remember to be at one with the natural world – we help to shape it of course.

“The trees look vulnerable, shedding their past lives.”

We have to remember that time doesn’t stand still. Therefore, we have to keep moving because we can’t stop time. It is only when we continue that we are able to see what actually happens next. Autumn leads us into Winter when our surroundings are naturally darker. Yet, it is within the darkness that the stars and the moon shine brighter for us all to see. The world rests in Winter and time moves us towards Spring – the time of new beginnings and bloom. We have the opportunity to start again. We bloom too.

“Being still does not mean don’t move, it means move in peace.”

The book ends with Summer. Everything is different again, including ourselves. The summer is naturally a happier time for people purely because we see light and for me, this book was like summer because it provided me with more light for our current times. It’s become part of my journey and by sharing it with you, I hope that it is becomes part of your journey too.

Final Thoughts
This book gave me the opportunity to stop and pause just to reflect and recover. When everything is overwhelming, it is really easy to run away or bury our heads. I do both of these things. Yet, it is just delaying the inevitable. It is much better to take time and explore the world around us. There is beauty wherever we look, we just need to remember to look. It is really easy to glance and let it all pass us by. This book gave me the opportunity to remember that. If you’re feeling overwhelmed and like it is all a bit much at the moment, take half an hour and read this book. It’s one I am certain I will be dipping in and out of/

“What feels like the end is often the beginning.”

Until next time my loves, thinking of you all. This post dedicated to her majesty the Queen.

Big Love xxx

Book Bingo Reading Challenge 2022! Takeaway – Angela Hui

Morning Loves!

I’m back in the UK after a glorious holiday. I had such a wonderful time and feel more refreshed and recovered which is lovely. I hope you’ve all had a lovely August and have managed to have some form of a break. It’s needed for all of us! Hello September as well! I cannot believe how that has crept up on us!

Today I want to share with you my book topic and choice for my Book Bingo Reading Challenge! For August I opted for Non-Fiction which I do love. I go through a cycle of reading it, loving it, going back to fiction, remembering I’ve not read any non-fiction so then pick one and then the cycle continues. I wish I could understand why that happens but that’s a discussion for another day. I decided to read Takeaway by Angela Hui. Oh my days, I love this book so much. Let’s crack on with it!

What’s it all about?

I picked this book because like many families, mine has a long tradition with popping to the Chinese take away. In fact, it’s something I still do today both with my family and friends – pop to the Chinese takeaway, usually on a Friday or Saturday night. But what about the people behind the food? This book is honest, humble and wonderfully written. It’s a fine piece of non-fiction.

This novel explores, through Angela Hui’s voice, the story of her parents and how they came to be in Wales and their day to day lives of running the takeaway during the 1990s. We see just how different the family were and how they naturally stood out amongst the habitants of the Welsh valleys. Lucky Star was their home and business for thirty years. The rhythm of that life was comforting and joyous. But, it wasn’t always easy.

“The telephone rang constantly and a stream of people would pop in to pick up orders in hot foil containers stacked in white plastic bags. It was a juxtaposition of us being treated like immigrants, but also being keepers of something instinctively British.”

Each chapter focuses around a specific aspect of life within the takeaway: the weekend service, language barriers, summer holiday and competitions, just to name a few. However, there are a couple of anecdotes that really stuck with me. Hui talks openly about the racism she and her family experienced and how isolating that is. It’s an uncomfortable but essential read because I bet it still happens today. The reactions of her parents are contrasting; calmness and defiance from her mother, rage and anger from her father.

“We’ve always held our tongues and erred on the side of caution when confronted by racism. In reality, we’re just cooking to survive. Trying to get through a night’s service smoothly is just basic survival.”

I found myself feeling like I knew both Hui’s mother and father. There’s obvious conflict with the father but that is explored openly. They’re so different yet they work together to provide food for the local area. Hui’s opportunity to do deliveries means that (finally) she can get out of the takeaway and see new places. We can take for granted the childhood experienced Hui wouldn’t have been like yours or mine. Life was the takeaway. Every revolved around that kitchen; serving the community and then having a meal together. The impact on Hui’s own romantic relationships meant that this was strained too throughout her young adult years.

“I’m ashamed that I never gave him a chance to understand my situation by explaining things to him. How the takeaway had a hold on me.”

Time goes by, Hui ages and the little girl is now off to university. Even that is still tied to the takeaway, working weekends to help. But, as things most often do, it’s time for the takeaway to close its doors. The changing climate, the local competition and the stress on the family resulting in her mother’s poor health meant that it was time to finish serving. Their story has come to an end.

“We had some good times, right?” I say to no one in particular. Mum is holding back tears. Dad looks to the ground and pats me on the back. “Well, since Tom’s here I’ll get started on my ribs…”

Final Thoughts

I love this book. There, I said it. I found it honest, upsetting, humbling, overwhelming, moving and utterly remarkable. It’s made me really think about my own local takeaway and their own stories. What brought them here? The food of my Friday nights, what does it mean to them? Etc. The truth in this book hurts. Times change, people change, poor attitudes towards others different from us are still being displayed. Yet, at the heart of it all is a family wanting a better life and wanting to be part of a community. To sum it up perfectly:

“In these fear-filled times, I hope this book will serve as a refuge of nourishment, a fortune cookie of joy and an education to what goes on behind closed doors in the nation’s favourite takeaway.”

I urge you all to go buy and read this book. If you’re interested in cooking, at the end of each chapter is a recipe so the reader is able to try out some of these signature dishes at home. I’ve got my eye on a beautiful belly pork dish! This added touch is something I’ve really enjoyed reading too. It’s another way of bringing Chinese cuisine into our own homes.

Speak soon loves! (I’ll be back at school by the time I post again! Wish me luck…)

Big Love xxx

Book Bingo Reading Challenge 2022! The Lamplighters – Emma Stonex

Hello Loves!

I hope you’re well and enjoying July. Now the summer holidays are here I’m getting my reading game back on and the plan is to clear some of my reading piles! No more book buying until the pile is significantly lower! (Here’s hoping anyway!)

Today I want to share with you the amazing choice I had for my Book Bingo Reading Challenge. For July I decided on picking: Read a best seller. Now, I’m not very good with books that are really hyped up because I always feel the pressure to like it too. However, I can totally see why my choice for is a best seller – it’s absolutely incredible. I’m talking about the debut novel The Lamplighters by Emma Stonex. I hope you love this as much as I did!

What’s it all about?

Well, it’s really tricky to review this book without spoiling anything but I’ll give it my best shot! The first thing to know is that the novel alternates between then and now. We start in December 1972 when three men, Bill, Arthur and Vince, have disappeared from a tower lighthouse off the English coast. What makes this more mysterious is the state in which the place is discovered by the relief team; the door barred from the inside, dishes set out at the kitchen table and both clocks stopped at a quarter to nine. Everything was polished and cleaned to perfect – no evidence of a struggle of any kind.

Twenty years have passed and the Maiden Rock Mystery is still a mystery and still remains unsolved. This naturally leads to plenty of speculation and theories developing – ranging from the sublime, grim and ridiculous. What really happened though?

“This isn’t a thriller, this is my life.”

Some of these theories follow the ideas that one man killed the others, then killed himself. The Trident company seem to be pushing this theory quite strongly. Maybe all three were suicidal? Perhaps a monster approached and attacked them. Maybe they were all swept out to see. Some even swore that they have seen a trio of white birds hovering over the lighthouse, believing this to be the men with some supernatural powers.

“I’ve heard it all, over the years. Arthur was abducted by aliens. He was murdered by pirates. He was blackmailed by smugglers. He killed the others, or they killed him, and then each other and then themselves—over a woman or a debt, or a washed-up treasure chest. They were haunted by ghosts or kidnapped by the government. Threatened by spies or gobbled by sea serpents. They went lunatic, one or all of them. They had secret lives no one knew about…”

As time moves back into the now, an author long inspired and naturally curious about the incident begins to interview the women of the lighthouse keepers. After all, these are the ones left behind. Helen, Jenny and Michelle all differ remarkably meaning it’s really easy to follow their narratives. It’s these interviews where we learn the narratives of the men, the secrets the women have too and the personal tragedies that this event caused.

Running alongside this, back in 1972, the men share their own stories following the days before the incident took place. Like their wives, they too have their own stories to tell. The entrapment within the tower is a mere metaphor for the ensnaring of their past mistakes, their sins and regrets. Over time, resentment too increases. The demands of the job and the time away means that this is ever prevalent.

“When I’m ashore I have to pretend to be a man I’m not, part of something I’m not part of. It’s difficult to explain it to normal people. Lighthouse worlds are small. Slow. That’s what other people can’t do: they can’t do things slowly and with meaning…”

It’s here that I struggle because I want to tell you but what I want more is for you to read it and feel the magic yourself. This book made me feel exactly the same as Where the Crawdad’s Sing did and that was my favourite book of last year. It’s haunting, atmospheric, emotional and utterly thrilling. I couldn’t put it down and I doubt I’ll read another book like it this year.

Final Thoughts

I started to summarise this book above but I literally cannot stop gushing about it. In fact, I’ve left my copy for someone else to stumble across and read. It’s incredible and I don’t have the words to really show that.

See you next time my loves!

Big Love xxx

Blog Tour: The Shape of a Boy – Kate Wickers

Hi Loves!

I hope you’re all well. Today I’m here as part of a wider blog tour to share with you a really wonderful book: The Shape of a Boy by Kate Wickers. Thank you so much to @KateWickers and @QuartoKnows for the opportunity of reading this and being a part of the tour! I can’t wait to share this brilliant book with you all! So, let’s get on with it!

What’s it all about?
This book is really a complete joy. To be honest, I’m not the target audience for this: I don’t have children. However, I still found myself really excited by it. Kate, her husband and three children: Josh, Ben and Freddie and the journeys they take over the course of their lives so far. I think it’s really important to show just how crucial family memories are but how they can be made based on the simplest experiences as well as the most incredible ones too. Starting with her own childhood memories, Kate Wickers talks about what she remembers growing up. The simplest things like drinking chocolate milk out of glass bottles, making friends with people who don’t speak the same language and riding a pillion. Therefore, now she has her own family, Wickers is really keen to challenge the belief that young children won’t remember anything. This book is a testament to that.

‘Most experiences were magical and exceptional, and on very rare occasions disconcerting. All were life-defining. I felt sure that there experiences would shape them Ito the adults they’d become, whether they remembered them or not.’

Each chapter is a destination that the family went on and the experience they gained there. Rather than ruining the whole journey, I’ve picked two that are my favourite. My first tells the story of Thailand, when Josh was aged three and Ben was aged two. Naturally, one may assume that this is such a long way to take young children but why not? I don’t blame her! The reason why I absolutely love this experience is because a simple mishearing results in the children thinking they are off to Toyland! What’s even more special is that by being honest and open with the children and sharing historical facts, it meant that they were totally on board. Ganesh, Garuda and Hanuman to the rescue!

‘From Garuda was Josh’s constant companion on our travels through Thailand, and poor Noddy rarely saw the light of day.’

Fast forward a few years; Josh now seventeen, Ben sixteen and Freddie twelve and the destination is Laos. Naturally being older, tensions can arise but this trip taught the family to slow down, relax and let things go. Trying to get the boys to step away from technology and electronic devices is a challenge. But, after some careful coaxing, the boys do it. On a trip to Mount Phou Si, climbing 329 steps to the summit, they spotted a lady selling birds which she’d trapped in tiny pink and yellow cages. The vision is fairly awful: anxious birds in a small confined space, with a cat watching nearby. Moral dilemma approaching… support a business that you don’t agree with for the greater good? Or leave them to more likely die? The boys chose to buy one bird each, consequently setting them free. Wickers isn’t too afraid to see the symbolism of the birds and her boys.

‘Their intentions were good, only for the welfare of the birds, and possibly a little to prove to me that they were now their own people now, free as a bird…’

Final Thoughts
Travelling to different places at different times, from pregnancy to teenage years, this book really does cover it all. I love the gusto that Wickers has and I really love the experiences that are being made or these children. She’s absolutely right – these family memories really matter. I was super jealous that they saw orangutans in Borneo, crocodiles in the Nile and zebras in Tanzania. I think there is so much to learn from this book and it is summarised perfectly by the mantra: ‘Have kids, will travel’. Part of me wishes that I had the travel bug when I was younger but this book gives me the hope that when children come may way, my travel dream might do too and that is possible and wonderful.

Thanks again to @KateWickers and @QuartoKnows. I loved this book and appreciate the chance to read it.

Until next time all!

Big love xxxx

Book Bingo Reading Challenge 2022! The Summer I Turned Pretty – Jenny Han

Morning Fellow Book Lovers!

I hope you’re all well and enjoying the sunshine. It’s definitely getting me into the summer spirit and I wanted to use that for my reading challenge this month *ignores the fact that there’s four weeks of school left…* I decided to go with Read a book that’s full of sunshine for this month. Personally, to me there’s only ever going to be one winner: Jenny Han. I absolutely adored the Lara Jean series so I knew I would love the next trilogy she’s written. Of course, I’m talking about The Summer I Turned Pretty. I hope you love it as much as I did!

What’s it all about?

The protagonist of this novel is Isabel ‘Belly’ Conklin, her brother Steven and their best friends, Conrad and Jeremiah Fisher. Belly’s mother and Jeremiah and Conrad’s mother, Susannah are best friends and every summer they head to the beach house. All of these summer breaks lead to one thing: love. Belly is just realising how beautiful she is and how she is changing into a young woman. She’s only ever had eyes for Conrad but feelings for Jeremiah occur meaning that we have a love triangle between the three of them.

‘It feels like nothing else exists outside of that world, this moment. There’s just us. Everything that happened this past summer, and every summer before it, has led up to this. To now.’

The mothers, Susannah and Laurel, are best friends. Yet, despite this novel being a coming of age story about Belly, there is an ever increasing sadness and feeling that something is wrong with Susannah. She seems to be asleep more, spending more time in her room and more sadness around her. She promised Belly the summer of her life, seeing how beautiful she was, yet the sadness around her and her mother is hard to go unnoticed. Susannah is the character who seems to have all the answers, who can see things differently. Everyone turns to her and adores her. Her boys are fiercely protective of her.

‘She and my mother hugged first, fierce and long. My mother looked so happy to see her that she was teary, and my mother was never teary.’

Daughter to Laurel, Belly hasn’t really known her own beauty until now. She’s fiercely headstrong and a talent in the pool. But the boys only see her as a little sister, much to her frustration. The older of the two brothers, Conrad is a deep and intense character. There are times when he is thoroughly frustrating because he’s so difficult to understand. However, the moment came when things felt a little different between Belly and him. She’s always been interested in Conrad but he’s so closed off and emotionless that she never really knew where she stood with him. Does he even notice her?

‘The air felt different all of a sudden. It felt charged, electric, like I had been zapped by a thunderbolt.’

What about Jeremiah? He’s presented as the golden boy of the family, the younger of the two brothers and the one who is arguably the most loyal to Belly. However, he does become frustrated about living in the background. He too develops feelings for Belly and she does likewise. What does this mean for the group? To make matters more confusing, one summer they share a kiss, Belly’s first. What does this mean for them? Wasn’t it Conrad who she hoped her first kiss would be with?

‘He took. a deep breath of air and puffed up his cheeks, and then he blew it out so hard the har on his forehead fluttered. I could feel my heart start to pound – something was going to happen. He was going to say something I didn’t want to hear. He was going to go and change everything.’

Also in the mix is Cam. Another summer Belly meets Cam and he tells her how beautiful she is. They have a summer relationship, hanging out together, having fun together and sleeping in his hoodie. Does this work out? After all, he is the only one to notice all the amazing things about Belly and to tell her all of them too. Just the fact he notices her, really makes a difference to the group.

‘Things had been weird with me and Conrad and me and Jeremiah – an impossible thought crept its way into my head. Was it possible they didn’t want me with Cam? Because they, like, had feelings for me? Could that even be? I doubted it. I was like a little sister to them. Only I wasn’t’

So who gets the girl in the end? That’s for you to read and find out!


Final Thoughts

I loved this novel so much. It made me remember back to when I was younger and summer seemed to give you all the opportunities you could ever want. There’s a reason why YA is a booming genre and that’s because it’s honest and real. Jenny Han is an exceptional writer – I love her books and this one doesn’t disappoint. I cannot wait to get my hands on the other two books in this trilogy because I have to see what happens to the trio. This book gave me all I wanted and needed and more regarding summer vibes. I absolutely loved it.

It’s back to exam marking for me and admiring the summer weather from inside. I hope you all enjoy it! Until next time.

Big Love xxx

Blog Tour: The Wild Year – Jen Benson

Hi Book Lovers!

I hope you’re all well and had a restful weekend. Today I’m very excited to share with you another blog tour I’m part of. This time, the book really appeals to my restless side. Have you ever just sat back and felt that you want to change jobs or move house or make a big decision in some way? Are you a lover of the outdoors, adventure and camping? Then this book is very much for you! A huge thank you to @jenandsim, @aurumpress, @clairemaxwell and @quartobooksuk for the chance to be a part of this phenomenal book tour! I hope you love the book as much as I do!

What’s it all about?
Starting at home in Wiltshire, the novel is Jem’s voice and narrative. We hear about her husband, Sim and her children, E and H and their experiences in the great outdoors in their ‘Wild Year’ where they completely and utterly changed their lives. The pressure of mounting debt and having a family led the couple to making some drastic decisions. Surely life can be much easier than their current life? And more importantly be able to live by their own rules too. The joy that camping brought during various weeks in the year on holiday, surely that could be replicated and repeated long term? So their journey begins…

‘Camping was a basic way to live, but there was such joy in its simplicity. And such freedom in it being all ours: our warmth, our shelter and privacy, wherever we chose to pitch out tent. It was in that moment that I felt the first tinglings of a thought that made my heart race, and my mind jump at the possibility of hope…’

Having an idea is one thing, what was next needed was a plan. Thankfully, with the help from friends, family and kind strangers, various opportunities were created: book writing, a roof over their heads during bad weather, new friends along the way. The destinations were just as exciting, places like Dartmoor, Jurassic Coast, New Forest, the Cotswolds and the Lakes. They bought the biggest tent and gathered together all the items they would need for their experience. As you read the book, there are many lessons learnt all through experience. I found the honestly quite humbling and refreshing to be honest and supportive for those who wish to try something like this. The biggest barrier was always the weather. There’s nothing as unpredictable as English weather! However, this gave the couple the opportunity to regroup and start again, enabling them to come back even stronger.

‘It was hard not to feel despondent as we dragged everything out of the truck and tried to find places to hang it all out to dry. We were lucky that no rain was forecast for the next week, so we spread the tend out in the little field behind the cottage and spent hours sorting through the kit… In the end, destruction wasn’t as bad as we had feared.’

After the hiccups with the weather and potential damage to the tent, the family finally got going again and Christmas was soon around the corner. The family had a wholesome Christmas together, embracing their new lives and experiences. Despite the setting being dark and cold, it was one of the best Christmases because it was new and exciting. It meant more to them being part of the natural world rather than the commercialised one. As time rolled by, the young children also learnt more about the natural world they live in.

‘I noticed she was becoming fractionally more independent as each day passed, like a flower that starts as a tiny bud, wrapped up within itself, but in time opens its arms to embrace and engage with the world.’

After twelves months of camping, the Wild Year was coming to an end. The emotional pressure, the experiences, the growth in both Jen and Sim as well as their children E and H have been so worthwhile. I found myself gripped to this book because there is plenty that I could do to be more appreciative of the natural world. I found it remarkable and I am so grateful to have had the opportunity to take part in not only reading this novel, but being the first stop of the blog tour.

‘…it was a time unlike any other in our lives. One that changed everything.’

Final Thoughts
I really loved this book for so many reasons. I always respect those who want to change their lives for the better and Jen and Sim absolutely did that. They took all the challenges they faced and turned them into learning experiences. I was surprised to learn that it took Jen five years to collate all the experiences together and write this book. I admire her as a mother, a woman and a writer. What this family achieved is nothing less than a lesson in resilience. It was a great read and one that I’ll be sharing with my friends and family.

Book Bingo Reading Challenge 2022! Honeymoon – James Patterson & Richard Roughan

Hey Loves!

I hope you’re all well and have had a wonderful weekend. Mine has been really restful thankfully and I am thrilled to say that the English exams are now over! I can rest a little before the examination marking begins next weekend. I’m a little bit late in reviewing this but I accidentally left my first copy of the book at my parents house so I had to order another one. Anyway, it was delivered Friday and here we are! So for my reading challenge I decided for May to pick: Read a story written by more than one author. For those of you are devoted followers of my little space on the internet will know that I love James Patterson. Recently, I’ve found more and more books where he’s co-authored with some very high profile people, namely people like: Bill Clinton, Hilary Clinton and Dolly Parton, just to name a few. The book I chose (which I found in my beloved telephone box book exchanges) is Honeymoon. All I’ll say to begin with is this is another Patterson classic! I hope you enjoy.

What’s it all about?
Nora Sinclair is an interior designer. She is wealthy, talented, beautiful and has an equally talented and handsome partner. So why is Agent John O’Hara from the FBI interested in her life? Typical Patterson, this is a novel where nothing really is as it seems. Shortly after she becomes engaged to Connor, he suffers some unknown fit in his Westchester mansion, leading to his death. Nora plays the part of the devastated girlfriend, visibly distressed, emotional and broken. Yet, what is happening internally is quite different.

‘It was showtime. Nora calmly walked over to the phone and dialled. She reminded herself; the cleverest liars don’t give details. After two ring a woman picked up and said, “911 Emergency.”

Connor has died before their wedding, Nora is nothing more than his girlfriend. She gets nothing from his death. Enter Craig Reynolds, a representative for Centennial One Life Insurance. It appears Connor took out a life insurance policy in her name. Despite this obvious good news, Nora is wary of an investigation or attracting any attention to Connor’s death. Centennial One is a front for the FBI and Nora is being monitored closely. The next revelation takes place in Manhattan where Nora has gone to meet a client except she is no longer Nora, she is Olivia. One person, multiple identities.

‘Nora’s profession was never really in doubt, though. It was the rest of her life that was in question. Her two lives; her secrets. But there was no proof of anything yet.’

A pattern begins to develop. Another city, another name, another man. But the pattern seems to be that the men in her life never seem to live for long. Nora, or is it Olivia, is devastatingly attractive and never seems to have a problem finding a wealthy and attractive man to spend time with. Agent John O’Hara, investigating Nora under cover is no proof against her wiles. He finds himself drawn irresistibly into her orbit.

‘Nora was an absolutely beautiful woman who’d presented me with an amazing offer. It took every ounce of willpower to remind myself why I was with her in the first place.’

Who is the real Nora Sinclair? As the plot unfolds, we find more of her secrets revealing themselves. Each revelation seems to raise more questions rather than providing any answers. The FBI are circling and getting closer and closer but Nora is a woman with a mission and a plan. Will John O’Hara uncover her secrets? Or will her deadly attraction prove fatal for him as well? Unbeknown to him, while he is trying to find the real Nora Sinclair, she is busy uncovering his own secrets which could lead to an uncomfortable confrontation.

Final Thoughts
Nothing is what it seems with this book and during the first part I was confused myself about who Nora really is. But, it does work itself out in a thrilling, pacy read. I really enjoyed reading it and I loved having such a powerful, intelligent and attractive female protagonist. This girl really means business! One of the things I love about Patterson’s novels is that you cover a lot of ground quite quickly; there are no spare words. I am loving the collaborations too and finding out new names to keep an eye open for. Overall, a timeless thriller by one of my favourite writers. Loved it!

See you next time for more reading and more exploring.

Big Love xxx

Book Bingo Reading Challenge 2022! Cannery Row – John Steinbeck

Hello Everyone!

I hope you’re all okay. I’m back at work now but definitely looking forward to the bank holiday weekend! Hopefully the weather will pick up again and it’ll be glorious instead of chilly… I had heard that May apparently is meant to be the coldest on record! I jolly well hope not… I need some sunshine in my life.

Today I want to share with you my category and book choice for April. I love my Book Bingo and I’m super proud of it. It’s really pushed me out of my comfort zone which is really what it’s all about. For April I decided to pick: Read a classic you should have read by now. I don’t know about you but I always find pressure with the classics, like I’m meant to have read them and I even get embarrassed when someone mentions a classic I haven’t read. That being said, I did study a number of them when I was at university so this category did throw up some challenges. Overall, I decided to read Cannery Row by John Steinbeck. I love Steinbeck’s work as they really do depict a specific historical time period but I’ve only ever read (and taught) Of Mice and Men. This is becoming increasingly controversial so I have relished the opportunity to reach out into more of his work.

What’s it all about?
On the surface, the plot is really simple: a group of men want to throw a party for their friend. However, this book is so much more than that. Its role is to capture the feelings and the people all located in one place: the cannery district of Monterey, California. The people there are down on their luck, lacking opportunity and those who choose for other reasons to not live in the more respectable area of town.

“The inhabitants are, as the man once said, ‘whores, pimps, gamblers, and sons of bitches,’ by which he meant everybody. Had the man looked through another peephole he might have said, ‘saints and angels and martyrs and holy men,’ and he would have meant the same thing.”

The first character we meet is Lee Chong, the owner of the Lee Chong Grocery. On the surface, it appears like he values profits over people however, the actions from Chong that he values people more than money. Steinbeck uses Chong to show how things aren’t as they seem and people can have different personas. Following Chong, we are then introduced to Mack and the boys. Again on the surface they are known to be pleasant guys and good hearted. But, they do have a tendency to take advantage of people and situations to benefit themselves. They refuse to live according to the conventions of society to become ‘successful’ in terms of the world view.

‘A little group of men who had in common no families, no money, and no ambitions beyond food, drink, and contentment.”

Arguably, the most important character is Doc. He is different to the others and is viewed which such high regard. He’s unlike the others too as he is educated and cultured. He is the one that the others look up to. He is always there to offer help and support. He gives advice to those who need it and also provides medicine or other medical services should they be required too. His nature inspires Mack and the boys to try and give Doc a party to thank him for everything he does for them all. There is one issue though: money. The boys take up odd jobs with none of them quick to take up anything long term. The main job is to capture some frogs.

‘He lived in a world of wonders, of excitement. He was concupiscent as a rabbit and gentle as hell. Everyone who knew him was indebted to him.’

Unfortunately, the party doesn’t quite go to plan to begin with. Sadly, Doc returns home to find his place trashed – the door hanging on its hinges, the floor littered with broken glass, phonograph records – some broken, some stolen, mostly littering the floor. Doc naturally is furious and doesn’t really understand what has happened to cause this. After he’s calmed, Doc apologises to Mack for his reaction. Mack reveals the intentions of the men and how it went wrong. Mack does seem to be someone who has regrets himself and is quite a reflective character. He promises to pay for the damages that was caused during a lengthy speech. But, Doc stops him because he knows him too well and Mack knows he is completely right.

“You’ll think about it and it’ll worry you for quite a long time, but you won’t pay for it.”

This turn of events mean that the atmosphere is awkward and uncomfortable. There’s friction and tension but when Darling, the beloved puppy becomes poorly and close to death, Mack and the men are forced to make a change. Darling is eventually saved and this gives the men a new lease of life. It is joy and not despair that is running through Cannery Row. As a result, the men decide to throw Doc another party – this time a proper one like he deserves. It. becomes an effort of all the people of Cannery Row with each of them working hard to give Doc a gift. Steinbeck uses this to show that these men, despite their circumstances have good within them and they have the ability to consider others as well as themselves. Doc finds out about the party and decides to make his own contributions. He brings his best records and also orders copious amounts of food for them all. The party ends up being a huge success – one filled with life and joy. The next morning brings quiet and stillness. Whilst cleaning up from the party, Doc remembers a poem that evoked such emotion from his guests the night before. He is in a state of equilibrium and calm. Life is fragile but so so valuable. The people around you make it count.

‘There are two possible reactions to social ostracism – either a man emerges determined to be better, purer, and kindlier or he goes bad, challenges the world and does even worse things.’

Final Thoughts
Short and powerful, I find Steinbeck just an utterly honest writer. He focuses on the men of the time period and shows how the context shapes them. I found Doc delightful but I actually really liked Mack and the boys too. I really need to devote more time to reading more Steinbeck because I do really enjoy it. I’m also really pleased about getting another classic under my belt too! American Literature is one of my favourite things so I really need to devote more time to American writers too. Lots of room for improvement here…

I hope you’re all well. I’ll see you next time for another book related post, I’m sure! Roll on the bank holiday weekend too!

Big Love all xxx

Rachel’s Holiday – Marian Keyes

Hello Fellow Book Lovers!

I hope you all had a lovely Easter and a wonderful time reading plenty and making memories with the people you love most. I did manage to read a couple of books from the pile – I did add an image to my previous post so I’m hoping to squeeze in a couple more blog posts before I return to work! Last night, I stayed up to silly o’clock because I couldn’t put my book down. I was desperate to see what happened. The book I am talking about is of course, Rachel’s Holiday by Marian Keyes.

Now I have to admit that I am a little late to the Marian Keyes party but a friend at work really was gushing about this book and Again, Rachel so I thought I’d give it a go. It really didn’t disappoint. I loved it and completely devoured it. I cannot believe it has taken me this long to get to it! Anyway, I just have to review it so enjoy!

What’s it all about?
As the title suggests, the novel centres around Rachel Walsh, a twenty seven year old, living what she believes is her best life in New York. She lives with her flat mate and best friend, Brigit, believes she is fat and ugly and spends a lot of time at parties or out doing recreational drugs. Rachel doesn’t see this as a problem but Brigit and her boyfriend, Luke, see the dramatic change in her. It all comes to a head when she ends up in a hospital bed after nearly killing herself. As a result, Rachel is ordered home to Ireland by her mother and father and placed into rehab, the Cloisters.

“You only grow up by living through the shit that life throws at you.”

The novel alternates between her New York life and the reasons why she got so heavily into drugs and her time at Cloisters. Sister Josephine who runs the group sessions, in Rachel’s opinion, lives to make her life miserable. The reality is that her role is to get them to face up to the reasons why they are addicts, to see the patterns of behaviour in order to prevent relapses. For the most part, Rachel doesn’t believe that she has a problem. Ever increasingly isolated, Rachel pines after Luke but is distracted by another resident: Chris. Whenever she felt down, he always seemed to be around with his wise words.

“It never rains but it damn well pours and I was afraid I’d be washed away in the deluge.” 

There are two key turning points for Rachel whilst at the Cloisters. The first is the visit of her parents during a group session. The quick fire questioning from Josephine evokes a number of emotions from Rachel – mainly rage. Her dad is quick to dismiss it as the ‘mother’s work’ and her mother is more concerned with how it looks to everyone else. It becomes a natural bone of contention. The second turning point is again during a group session but this time the visitors are Luke and. Brigit. Again, Rachel began with rage and fury about the amount of drugs and the range of drugs she was talking. Also, behaviours that she thought was hidden are also revealed, such as stealing. Ultimately, Rachel was at rock bottom.

“My life was a wreck. I had nothing, no material possessions, unless debts counts. Fourteen pairs of shoes that were too small for me was all I had to show after a lifetime of profligate spending. I hadn’t a job. I hadn’t any qualifications. I’d achieved nothing with my life. I’d never been happy. I had no husband or boyfriend.”

By the end of the novel, Rachel is open, reflective and honest with herself. She has gone full circle with regards to her drug taking and the rationale about it. She gets herself a little job, she seems closer with her sisters and parents and is ready to start her next chapter. It isn’t easy and she does slip up along the way but the lessons and advice from the Cloisters, ring in her ears. She can and will succeed.

“Talk is cheap, but look at how people behave, not at what they say.” 

Final Thoughts
Like I said, I stayed up to finish it because I had to know if Rachel made it. Despite her flaws, I still loved her character. In fact, her flaws made her all the more special to me. There were things I could relate to: the feeling of inadequacy, fear of what people think and ultimately the fear of failure. I am a complete Marian Keyes convert and will be keeping my eyes out for her rest of her novels. I loved it and I love Rachel.

Until next time…

Big love xxxx

The Mad Women’s Ball – Victoria Mas

Hello Book Lovers!

I’m back today to share with you another amazing book I’ve just finished reading. I feel like I am on a bit of a roll at the moment and like I’m making a good dent in my huge pile of books. Long may this continue!

The book I want to share with you today is The Mad Women’s Ball by Victoria Mas. This book has a stunning cover (there’s a theme starting…) and focuses on two strong female characters. Taking us back to Paris in 1885, this short novel packs a huge punch and has left me wanting more. I hope you enjoy it just as much as I did.

What’s it all about?
The Salpetriere Asylum: Paris, 1885 where the women are deemed mad or hysterical. However, things really are not as they seem and behind each woman lies a story of betrayal, misunderstanding and fear of what they really know. Under the control of Doctor Charcot, his public displays of hypnotism is enthralling for the audiences who appear. But what about these women? Why are they there? Why are they societies outcasts and who makes that decision?

The two leading ladies of the novel are Eugenie and Genevieve. Their stories become entwined as each woman needs the other in order to survive.

‘Madwomen fascinate and horrify. Were these people to visit the asylum for the late-morning rounds, they would surely be disappointed.’

We learn more about Genevieve first. The head nurse at the asylum, she is stoic and proud. She takes her role at the asylum incredibly seriously and feels like she really is supporting the advance in medicine by working with Doctor Charcot. The women are becoming particularly agitated because of the annual Lenten Ball (Mad Woman’s Ball) the event where the rich come and observe these weak women. For the women, it is their small window of opportunity – to be seen and heard. Head Nurse Genevieve has her own quirk, like the women she cares for – she writes letters to her dead sister. There are hundreds that are stored in the bottom of her wardrobe. It means she feels close to her and she still can live on.

‘She gets up and opens the wardrobe, in which several cardboard boxes are stacked next to the dresses on their hangers. Genevieve picks up the topmost box. Inside are more than a hundred envelopes like the one she is holding.’

Eugenie is incredibly gifted and what you would call, a woman before her time. When I was reading this I was completely taken with her but also terribly afraid for her. My fears would soon become reality. The first incident of note was when she found her grandmother’s pendant after being guided by her dead grandfather. After some forceful probing mixed with love and respect for her grandmother, she reveals that she can see dead people. She confides in her grandmother but ultimately this would turn out to be a mistake. Despite this, Eugenie knows that she isn’t alone and that other people can do what she can, but it is all too much for her father who sends her to the asylum and disowns her.

“No one talks to dead unless the devil is involved. I will not have such things under my roof. As far as I am concerned, I no longer have a daughter.”

Meanwhile at the asylum, spirits are high as everyone is getting ready for the ball. Whilst setting in, the two women are not quite sure how to take each other. However, Eugenie knows about the letters Genevieve has been writing to her sister. Alarmed at first, curious second, Genevieve is unsure what to do. She’s torn by wanting that connection with her sister but also considering her position within the hospital. She absolutely cannot be a part of this ‘madness’. And yet…

‘Eugenie’s eyes are closed now, her tone changed. Although her voice is the same, she speaks in a monotone as though reciting a text that has no meaning. Terrified, Genevieve retreats, pressing herself against the door.’

The relationship between the two women change and they are no longer nurse/patient. Genevieve believes her and feels that she needs to repay the kindness shown to her. The two women help each other, sacrifice themselves for each other. The ball isn’t going to the be the same this year. Eugenie will finally get an opportunity for a fresh start away from the family that betrayed her. Genevieve makes the ultimate sacrifice.

“Existence is fascinating, don’t you think?”

Final Thoughts
This book is incredible. We see the horrors of how women used to be treated, just because they thought differently or believed differently. We see the value of friendship and sacrifice. We see the need and want for spirits to guide and support. We also see the fears of the time too. Life was very different in 1880s Paris and despite this being a fictional piece, it is clear that it is influenced. The overall thing I enjoyed most was the fact that women reign supreme and stand tall despite being different and wanting to challenge boundaries and constraints of the time. These 200 pages are beautiful and essential. What a stunning book.

Big love xxx