Tag Archives: Book review

This Is Going To Hurt – Adam Kay

Hi Everyone!

I hope January is treating you well and the new year has got off to a splendid start. Today I want to share with you a book that I absolutely loved for so many reasons. The book: This Is Going To Hurt by Adam Kay.

I read this book because (without going into too much detail) I spent a lot of time over the Christmas and New Year period going backwards and forwards from hospital. I saw first hand the staff who after 12 hours were still there, with a smile looking after a small armies worth of patients. I felt for them, wholeheartedly.

Adam Kay was a junior doctor for 6 years. This book is essentially made up of his diaries from 2004 to 2010. Whilst it’s incredibly witty, it does show the extraordinary work of the NHS. There’s also tears along the way too.

 

What’s it all about?

This book shows us the journey from being a teen, choosing your life career to the time when Kay decided that enough was enough. This first hand account of the daily grind at the NHS shows exactly what happens on the front line every single day.

“Reading back, it felt extreme and unreasonable in terms of what was expected of me, but at the time I’d just accepted it as part of the job.”

Rather than spoiling a number of the anecdotes here, I wanted to share with you just a few of my favourites. The first is when Kay experienced his first ‘degloving’ injury. An eighteen year old patient was out celebrating (who hasn’t been out and done something we regret the next morning?!) when he decided to take a shorter route home, via a lamp post. Naturally, there were some injuries to the penis which made my eyes water!

“It brought to mind a remnant of spaghetti stuck to the bottom of the bowl by a smear of tomato sauce… when asked if the penis could be ‘regloved’…Mr Binns, the consultant, calmly explained that the ‘glove’ was spread evenly up eight foot of lamp post in West London.”

However, it is the reality of the situation that stands out, arguably more, than the stories from the wards. In an entry from Christmas Day, Kay reveals how he has overslept in his car. The hours are long, the patients often challenging and doctors are usually exhausted.

“It takes me a while to establish where I am or why. Good news: it seems I fell asleep in my car after my shift last night and I’m already at work, in the hospital car park.”

Another hilarious anecdote that I enjoyed in this book was about car parking. As you may be aware, hospital car parks are incredibly expensive. However, Kay reveals that there is no staff car parking due to a health initiative. Therefore, to save himself a longer commute, he uses the visitors car park.

“Today, however, the jig is up: my car has a clamp and a £120 fine for removal jammed under the windscreen wiper…The parking attendant has scrawled on the back, Long fucking labour, pal.”

The diaries are funny and honest and yet sometimes completely unbelievable. The following anecdote made me laugh and cry. Kay remarks on how patients seem to enjoy placing various objects into different areas of the body.

“Christmas in particular has rewarded me well, with a stuck fairy (‘Do you want it back?’ ‘Yeah, bit of a rinse and she’ll be grand,’ a grossly swollen vulva from a mistletoe contact allergy and mild vaginal burns from a patient stuffing a string of lights inside and turning them on.”

As we progress to the end of the book, the laughs end too. Kay reflects on his time as a doctor. The difficult outcomes and the reality of the situation that every single day our doctors are faced with life or death decisions. Sometimes, despite your best efforts, things still go wrong.

“If you’re going to survive working in his profession, you have to convince yourself these horrors are part of your job. You can’t pay any attention to the man behind the curtain – your own sanity relies on it.”

 

Overview:

I loved this book. It’s honest, compelling and heartbreakingly sad at times. I feel it does show the complete picture of our NHS. I have a lot of respect for them. The majority are excellent and care for their patients. I appreciated the letter at the end of the book to the Secretary of State. It’s honest and real and this is why this book is brilliant. I urge you all to read it.

Big love xxx

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Filed under Book review, NHS

RTY: Safe Haven – Nicholas Sparks

Hey Everyone!

Day four of January 2018 and I’ve read two books. I’m quite pleased with this progress but I am well aware my holiday is nearly over. However, I’m reading as much as I can before reality hits!

You may have seen a previous post about the Read The Year Challenge. The focus for January was: start the year with a book about new beginnings. Thanks so much to the lovely Kim at By Hook Or By Book for suggesting this book to me!

 

What’s it all about?

Safe Haven centres around the protagonist, Katie. At the start of the novel she is Erin, a wife who is fleeing in a violent marriage. Kevin is an alcoholic and usually ends up beating her. Erin decided enough was enough and ran away.

“Everyone has a past, but that’s just it–it’s in the past. You can learn from it, but you can’t change it.”

When she arrived in a small North Carolina town, Southport, she appears to be twitchy, afraid and constantly looking over her shoulder. She absolutely does not wish to form any ties or relationships with people. Despite this, she becomes friends with her next door neighbour, Jo and Alex, the owner of the local store. Alex is widowed with two young children and over time goes out of his way to be kind to Katie, stocking up with produce she likes and discussing literature together. Katie was instantly attracted to him. I have to agree, he sounds like a true gent!

“She wasnt exactly sure when it happened. Or even when it started. All she knew for sure was that right here and now, she was falling hard and she could only pray that he was feeling the same way.”

Slowly, Katie begins to let down her guard, helped by an unfortunate fishing incident with Alex’s little boy, Josh. Katie begins to feel closer and closer to Alex and his family. But Katie is trapped by a secret. As time goes by, and Katie and Alex get closer, she reveals her past: the abuse, beatings and fear. Katie firmly believes that if Kevin ever finds her, he will kill her. So to protect herself she created a new identity, or borrowed one based on a dead daughter of her neighbour. After all, they did look fairly similar.

“I’ve come to believe that in everyone’s life, there’s one undeniable moment of change, a set of circumstances that suddenly alters everything.”

Whilst Katie tries to rebuild a new life, the one she’s left behind is raging. Kevin is angry and is drinking more and more. He’s obsessed with Erin and by a stroke of (arguable) luck, works out that she’s got a new identity and searched for her. Eventually he traces her back to Southport via a new drivers licence Katie had recently obtained. He tracks her down and sees that she is with Alex and his two children at the carnival. Katie has a sense of something being wrong, but can’t quite put her finger on it.

“…nothing wonderful lasted forever. Joy was as fleeting as a shooting star that crossed the evening sky, ready to blink out at any moment.”

Kevin decides he is going to kill his wife and her new lover by setting the house on fire. Katie gets the children, Josh and Kristin out safely. Her natural motherly instincts kick in. Kevin attacks Katie, kicking and punching her. For the first time, she fights back whilst the children run for help.

Alex finds his children and takes them to Katie’s house. He goes back to his home and finds Kevin attacking Katie. Kevin pulls his gun but Alex drives his car at him, breaking every bone in his hand. The gun falls to the ground.

Katie is terrified that Kevin is going to hurt the children. They race to her house to find Kevin trying to break in. However, he is unstable: alcohol and blood loss isn’t helping! Yet, he is able to hit Alex with a crowbar, pulling a gun on Katie. As Kevin and Alex fight, the gun fires. Kevin is dead.

“…because the past was always around her and might return at any time. It prowled the world searching for her, and she knew it was growing angrier at every passing day.”

As time passes injuries heal and relationships start to recover. Amazingly, a safe is recovered from the fire. Inside it held personal documents and memories from Alex’s late wife, Carly, one of which is an unopened letter. He gives it to Katie asking her to read it.

When she returns home she is shocked to find that Jo’s house looked abandoned. Katie reads the letter and notices it is signed by Carly Jo. It dawns on Katie that her friend Jo was actually the spirit of Carly, watching over Alex, making sure he found happiness.

The letter is possibly the most emotional part of the novel. She asks Katie to look after Alex and their children, to love them and be the mother she cannot be. Once she’s finished the letter, Katie notices lights in Jo’s house and sees her waving from the window. Yet when she looks again, she’s gone. It looks abandoned once again. The novel ends with Katie and Alex ready to start their news lives together.

“Deep in her heart, she wasn’t sure she deserved to be happy, nor did she believe that she was worthy of someone who seemed…normal.”

 

Overview

This novel kept me absolutely hooked. I felt happiness, sadness, worry, fear and relief. It came over me in waves. The description of the beatings were horribly realistic, almost harrowing. I automatically fell in love with Alex, he’s the perfect guy. I wanted Katie to have a good life. I actively wanted them both to be happy. The sensitive writing and portrayal of Jo was really beautiful. It was the best way to end this novel.

Time to turn my attention to next month. February – Get stuck into a story of obsessive love. I’m looking forward to this. After all, February is the month of love! I’m surprised I’ve got January’s read – 11 months to go!

Big love all xx

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Filed under Book review, Read The Year Challenge, Reading

A Christmas Carol – Charles Dickens 

Hey everyone!

Happy December! I can’t believe we are 16 days into this month already. I hope you’re working your way through your advent calendars! My life has consisted of work and mock marking as well as the Christmas party last weekend (dare I say more!) This is the first Saturday where I’ve woken up and nothing really needs doing. I can have a slow, restful day. This evening I am off to see A Christmas Carol at the theatre and I truly cannot wait.  A Christmas Carol is also a GCSE text I’ve been teaching for the past few weeks. This seemed like a big enough sign and opportunity to review this well loved classic.

 

What’s it all about?

The novel begins on a cold, bleak Christmas Eve in Victorian London. The protagonist, Ebenezer Scrooge, is a miserable, cold and hard character. He loathes Christmas and all those who celebrate it. His cheery, loveable nephew Fred invites him to Christmas dinner. He declines and ridicules Fred for enjoying the festive period. Two charity workers seek a donation to help the poor; Scrooge sends them away, epitomising the attitude of the upper classes of this period.

“If they would rather die, . . . they had better do it, and decrease the surplus population.”

We also meet Bob Cratchit, Scrooge’s clerk, huddled over a tiny fire. He’s very much overworked and underpaid. Scrooge begrudgingly allows him Christmas Day off work, with pay to conform to social custom.

“If I could work my will, every idiot who goes about with ‘Merry Christmas’ on his lips should be boiled with his own pudding and buried with a stake of holly through his heart. He should!”

Whilst at home that night, Scrooge is visited by Marley’s ghost. The omniscient narrator informs us that he was as ‘dead as a doornail’, he died 7 years prior. Marley’s ghost wanders the earth, imprisoned by heavy chains a money boxes created by a lifetime of greed and selfishness. Marley warns Scrooge that he will be visited by three spirits. This is his one chance to avoid the same fate as Marley. However, his chains would be much longer and heavier.

“I wear the chain I forged in life,” replied the Ghost. “I made it link by link, and yard by yard; I girded it on of my own free will, and of my own free will I wore it.”

The first sprint to visit Scrooge is the Ghost of Christmas Past. This ghost has long white hair and a smooth face. The ghost is dressed in a white tunic with a branch of holly in his hand. On top of its head is a bright flame.

It is here that Scrooge is taken on a journey to his childhood and the events leading to this point in time. Scrooge’s youth showed him a time when he was completely innocent. However, his childhood was a sad one. He was a lonely boy without any friends. He was left at school over the Christmas period. We see a visit from his beloved sister, Fan.

Scrooge did have some happiness in his youth. We meet Fezziwig, Scrooge’s first employer, who treated him like his own son. Work finished on Christmas Eve and they celebrated the festivities together. This reminder jolted Scrooge. He seemed shocked to see his former self.

Perhaps the saddest part of this stave is when Scrooge sees his former love, Belle. She ends their relationship because he is a changed man; he won’t ever love her as much as he loves money. Scrooge is shown Belle in the future, happily married and with a family. It’s a reminder of what Scrooge could have had.

Scrooge is then visited by the second spirit, the Ghost of Christmas Present. This ghost is quite a presence! He’s large but ages as the stave develops. He has long, dark, curly hair and wears a green robe with white fur. Arguably, this spirit is the most impressive.

This has to be my absolute favourite stave in the novel. The description is luscious and in abundance. Here we see joyous people preparing for Christmas. The Ghost takes Scrooge to see Fred’s Christmas party where all are having fun and enjoying each other’s company.

Most importantly, we are shown Christmas at the Cratchit’s house. Here we meet Tiny Tim, a lovely boy who is a cripple and the apple of Bob’s eye. Despite this, he is a happy child and loves his family greatly.

“He told me, coming home, that he hoped the people saw him in the church, because he was a cripple, and it might be pleasant to them to remember upon Christmas Day, who made lame beggars walk, and blind men see.”

The spirit informs Scrooge that unless the course of events change, then Tiny Tim will die. Christmas here is magical, the food is plenty for their family and they really enjoy their time together. They have little but to them it means the world.

These events really shock Scrooge. However, the spirit had not completed his journey. The spirit then shows Scrooge two hideous children: Ignorance and Want. Here Scrooge is given a stark warning, ‘beware them both.’ These children are a clear message from Dickens at the time. They reflect society and the lives of the poor during the Victorian period.

“They are Man’s and they cling to me, appealing from their fathers. This boy is Ignorance and this girl is Want. Beware them both, and all of their degree, but most of all beware this boy for on his brow I see that written which is Doom, unless the writing be erased.”

The third spirit that visits Scrooge is the Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come. It is this ghost that Scrooge fears the most. This spirit doesn’t speak. It’s dressed in a black cloak with the only feature we can see being his hand.

This spirit shows Scrooge a Christmas Day in the future. We are shown scenes of the death of a much disliked man. People seem to be quite happy. Local business men only wish to attend the funeral if a lunch is provided. We see a range of characters steal some of the dead mans possessions ready to sell them on. Scrooge enquirers if anyone was saddened by the death of this mean. The only happiness came from a very poor couple who were in debt to the man. His death meant that this couple would have more time to repay their debt and get their finances in order.

The ghost then moves to show the Cratchit’s house. Here the family are mourning the loss of Tiny Tim, echoing the warning from the earlier ghosts. This part of the novel utterly breaks my heart.

The final thing the spirit shows Scrooge is a neglected grave. Scrooge realises that this is his own. Sobbing and emotionally drained, Scrooge promises to change his ways to avoid this future.

In the final stage, Scrooge wakes up on Christmas Day. He is a reformed and changed man. He decides to see Fred and celebrate the day with him. Naturally Fred accepts him with open arms. He anonymously sends the largest prize turkey to the Cratchit house, giving the boy a crown for doing so.

“I will honour Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year. I will live in the Past, the Present, and the Future. The Spirits of all Three shall strive within me. I will not shut out the lessons that they teach!”

The following day Bob arrives late for work. Scrooge plays a trick on him which makes it seem like he is going to give Bob the sack. What he really does is give Bob a pay rise. He also becomes a second father to Tiny Tim.

It is from this point that Scrooge treats everyone kindly, compassionately. He’s clearly learnt from the warnings given throughout the novel. The novel ends with the words of Tiny Tim.

“God bless us, every one!”

 

Overview

This novel is pure magic. Everyone has the opportunity to change, just like Scrooge. Despite being over a hundred years old, this novel still carries the same message today. Dickens wanted society to learn from their mistakes, to see what they were doing to the poor. We have a lot to thank him for. You’ll see that each chapter is written in staves, continuing the musical element from the title. Dickens wanted this to be read aloud. I love teaching it because I feel like I’m doing exactly what Dickens wanted: spreading his message far and wide and embracing Christmas with my whole heart.

So, my message is clear: keep on jingling and spreading that Christmas cheer.

Big love

Xx

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Filed under Book review, Christmas, Victorian Lit

Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close – Jonathan Safran Foer


Hey guys! 

Hope you’re all well this beautiful August day. I’m back into the swing of things reading wise so I thought I would post a review of a book I’ve finished reading: Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close. This was quite a quick read as I managed to finish it in three days. I’ve surprised myself with that one. I was thinking that my brain wouldn’t let me read much! 


What’s it all about? 

The novel is narrated by nine year old protagonist, Oskar Schell. He is grieving the loss of his father, Thomas, who was killed in the World Trade Center on September 11th 2001. The consequence of this for Oskar is that he feels angry and depressed as well as being distant with his mother. Essentially, Oskar is afraid of everything. 

“Why didn’t I learn to treat everything like it was the last time. My greatest regret was how much I believed in the future.” 

However, Oskar has a terrible secret that he shares with the reader. When he returned home from school on September 11th, he listened to the voicemails left by his father whilst he was inside the burning World Trade Center. On the final call, Oskar fails to pick up the phone as he was too afraid. The line goes dead. Oskar feels so guilty that he hid the answering machine and hasn’t told anyone about the messages. 

“My life story is the story of everyone I’ve ever met.” 

In the not too distant future, Oskar finds a key inside a vase within his father’s closet. Along with the key, there is a little envelope with the word ‘Black’ on it. Oskar deduces that this must be a name and he makes the decision to track down every person in New York with that last name, Black. 

It is whilst Oskar takes this mission that he meets a range of different characters e.g. Abby that I found quite relatable. Yet non of them know anything about the key. A Mr. Black, first name unknown, has not left his apartment for 24 years, agrees to help Oskar on his search. Over the course of eight months, he visits all of the Blacks in all the boroughs. 

Oskar visits his Grandma’s apartment and talks to her allusive renter, who unknown to Oskar, is his grandfather. We are told how years earlier, Oskar’s grandfather had abandoned his grandmother when she became pregnant with Oskar’s father. Following the events of WW2, where he consequently lost everyone he loved, he decided he couldn’t bear loving anyone again. He did write letters to his son throughout his life, yet never posted them. Sadly, he returned to America before September 11th to reunite with his family, but it was too late to meet his son, Oskar’s dad. As a result, he moves back in with his grandma; a relationship that appears as rather strange to Oskar. 

“I missed you even when I was with you. That’s been my problem. I miss what I already have, and I surround myself with things that are missing.” 

Oskar discloses his story about his dad and the search to the renter. Whilst this is ongoing, Oskar checks his phone and sees that he has a message from Abby Black, the second Black he spoke to. Abby knows who or what the key belongs to: her husband’s father’s safe deposit box. This is anticlimactic for Oskar and he is disappointed that the key had very little to do with his own dad. He decides to return the key to William. 

“So many people enter and leave your life! Hundreds of thousands of people! You have to keep the door open so they can come in! But it also means you have to let them go!” 

Whilst this is happening and Oskar’s search is ongoing, his mother never asks where he is going. It is finally revealed at the end of the novel that she has known the whole time. Once she gained this knowledge, she called every person and explained what Oskar was up to, before he got there. 

When his search ended in bitter disappointment, Oskar decides to dig up his father’s empty coffin and asks the renter for help. Together, they go to the cemetery. The renter brings two suitcases with him filled with all the unsent letters he wrote to his son. The renter decides to fill the empty coffin with these letters. This seems to be a turning point for Oskar, who is now able to move forward from his grief and loss. Importantly, he reconnects with his mother. 

To conclude, in a long letter from Grandma to Oskar, we discover that Grandpa and Grandma grew up in Dresden, Germany and both survived the firebombing of the city. However, neither of their families did. Grandma knew deep down that Grandpa was in love with her sister, Anna, but she married him anyway. She accepts that fact when he comes back to her on September 11th because she doesn’t want to be alone. When he tries to leaves her again, they decide to live at the airport together. 

“There were things I wanted to tell him. But I knew they would hurt him. So I buried them, and let them hurt me.” 

Oskar is back to square one. He’s failed to find any conclusions about his Dad. The novel ends with a series of pictures of a man falling to his death from the World Trade Center. Oskar decides to flip them so the man falls up the building. Therefore, imagining his Dad is safe. 

“I like to see people reunited, I like to see people run to each other, I like the kissing and the crying, I like the impatience, the stories that the mouth can’t tell fast enough, the ears that aren’t big enough, the eyes that can’t take in all of the change, I like the hugging, the bringing together, the end of missing someone.” 

Overview:

I really enjoyed this book and I was surprised how quickly I managed to get through it. I had a tear at the end because I was incredibly moved by the content and plot. I tried to put myself in Oskar’s shoes; to feel what he felt throughout this novel. I am a firm believer that all novels have the ability to teach us something. This taught me that we can always feel pain and sometimes we are desperate for answers that just are not there. It’s really easy for us to look into things and make assumptions, like Oskar and the key. I’m not ashamed to say that this book broke my heart a little bit, possibly because of Oska’s narration and because I can remember 9/11 like it was yesterday. I can remember exactly where I was and what I was doing at the time. This gave me some form of personal response or relationship with this book. 
Keep reading guys! Enjoy August. 

Big love xx

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Filed under Book review, Books, Reading

13 Reasons Why – Jay Asher


Hey guys! 

Happy Sunday. I hope you’re having a restful weekend. It’s been a funny one for me. I’ve done lots of reading because I feel utterly exhausted. It’s the last English exam tomorrow so this is probably why. Anyway, it meant that I got to finish reading 13 Reasons Why. Blimey, what a cracking little book this is! It’s probably one of the best books I’ve read in 2017 so far. 

What’s it all about? 

The novel evolves around two characters: Hannah Baker and Clay Jensen. Now I have to say Clay is a rather shy, mild character in high school. I actually quite liked him as a character and there were times when my heart broke for him. Anyway, Clay comes home from school to find he has received a mystery package in the mail, with no return address. Inside the package was 7 double sided cassette tapes used by Hannah to explain why she committed suicide. Each tape details a reason why. The novel follows Clay’s listening of the tapes (on a stolen player from his friend Tony) and him walking around the town to visit various places mentioned. 

The first to receive the tapes was Justin. They shared a kiss once after Hannah developed a crush on him. However, it wasn’t long until she remembered she liked someone else. Yet, Justin bragged to his friends that it was more than a kiss, earning Hannah an unwarranted reputation as some kind of slut. It was Justin who started the journey to Hannah’s death. 

“I’d like to not be the thing people dig their hands in anymore.”

The second person was Alex. Alex foolishly published a ‘hot or not’ list, comparing the girls in their class. He credited Hannah with the title of ‘Best Ass’, adding fuel to the fire about her reputation currently flying around school. At the same time, he awarded Jessica, his ex girlfriend the title of ‘Worst Ass’ in revenge for her not sleeping with him. Needless to say, Alex’s character enraged me. Little shit. 

Next up: Jessica herself. After the list, this friendship became rather strained. Jessica got angry and slapped Hannah. It was this altercation that ended their friendship. Also the consequence of the slap was a scar above Hannah’s left eye brow. Clay noticed…

The tapes were then sent to Tyler, another classmate. He worked as the photographer for the yearbook. But it wasn’t just photos for the yearbook he took. Hannah knew he was stalking her and taking photos of her through her bedroom window. Hannah asked Courtney for help in catching Tyler in the act. Tyler took a picture of Hannah and Courtney kissing in Hannah’s bedroom. The photo got published, leading us nicely to the next receiver of the tapes. 

Courtney was the fifth person. Hannah was desperate for Courtney to be her friend. Yet the picture Tyler had published created more rumours, this time about Courtney’s sexuality. In a vain attempt to save herself from embarrassment, Courtney added to the rumours about Hannah. That snowball of events is just getting bigger…

“Some of you care. None of you cared enough.”

Marcus was next and again I have to say he is another male character I did not like. Nevertheless, his role is rather small yet still important. He decided to believe the rumours about Hannah and made a pass at her. He clearly believed she was easy and up for a good time.  Obviously he was rather surprised when Hannah knocked him back. 

Zack tried to comfort Hannah after Marcus has stormed off. He became the seventh character to receive the tapes. The following day he tried to ask Hannah out, but made rude remarks and got turned down. Clearly, his ego bruised, he went out of his way to seek revenge on Hannah. He decides to steal her notes of encouragement from her. Each student had a paper bag where you could leave little comments of encouragement. Yet she saw Zach take hers. As a result, Hannah was cut off from a tiny piece of happiness from her day. 

The eighth person to receive the tapes was Ryan. Hannah decided to try and trust others again yet her previous experience should have taught her better. Ryan stole a poem Hannah had written about her personal problems. As if this wasn’t bad enough, he then published the poem anonymously in the school newspaper. Unfortunately some students recognised Hannah’s handwriting and mocked her for it. This, for me, was a huge turning point for Hannah’s character. Her thoughts were not the object of scrutiny as well as her perceived actions. 

“You can’t go back to how things were or how you thought they were. All you really have is now.”

Clay’s tape was different to the others. For a start, he didn’t make her feel suicidal like the rest of the characters. Hannah acknowledges that Clay is the nicest person she has ever met and wishes they had more time to get to know each other. She also apologises to him. At a party, the pair clicked and automatically got on. They talked and talked and eventually shared kisses. Yet, it all went wrong when Hannah started to think about Justin and the other boys she kissed. She sends Clay out of the room and cries. 

Number ten: Justin. After Clay leaves, Hannah hides in a closet feeling emotional and drunk. She witnesses the rape of Jessica. Justin knew it was going to happen and just let it. Hannah struggles with her responsibility in this. She could have stopped it too, but she was in a state herself. 

“All guys are arseholes. Some are arseholes all of the time, all are arseholes some of the time.”

The eleventh person to receive the tapes was Jenny. Jenny was a popular cheerleader from school who offered Hannah a lift home after the horrendous house party. It is on their way home that she mounts the pavement and hits a stop sign, giving Hannah the feeling that she wasn’t safe enough to drive. Hannah got out of the car and begged Jenny to ring the police. But, she never did. Later that evening, the lack of stop sign caused a car accident that killed one of their senior classmates. 

Bryce. When my dislike of characters couldn’t get any more, Bryce rocks up. He is the next to receive the tapes. He did feature earlier in the novel (don’t want to spoil everything!) and again he messes with Hannah and makes assumptions because of the earlier rumours. He clearly takes advantage of her. Hannah is pretty much shut down, thinking about her life and her funeral. 

“You don’t know what goes on in anyone’s life but your own. And when you mess with one part of a person’s life, you’re not messing with just that part. Unfortunately, you can’t be that precise and selective. When you mess with one part of a person’s life, you’re messing with their entire life. Everything…affects everything.”

The final person to receive the tapes was Mr Porter, Hannah’s teacher and school counsellor. There is a sense that this really is th last chance for Hannah. She even admits it herself. Hannah secretly records his conversation. It is here she expresses her desire to kill herself because of all of the events we learn about from the tapes. Mr Porter doesn’t offer the most sound advice, telling Hannah that she should press charges or move on. 

Clay is broken and utterly exhausted by the end of the novel. He runs into another classmate, Skye. He has suspicions about her wellbeing. The novel ends with Clay reaching out to her. 

Overall:

I loved this book. It didn’t take me long to read it but that was probably down to the fact that I felt so strongly about all of the characters. I wanted to save Hannah, scream at most of the boys, kick Bryce in the balls, comfort Clay, shake Mr Porter for giving up on her so flippantly. 

The narration of Hannah and Clay was clever. Even in Hannah’s death they are still linked; Clay understands her. The use of cassettes is quirky, retro almost. It takes me back to when I was a kid. 

There are a lot of lessons you can take from this book, put best by Hannah herself:

“In the end, everything matters.”

Big love xx

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My Not So Perfect Life – Sophie Kinsella Review 

Hey everyone! 

Happy May! Time is definitely flying by now. I can’t keep on top of it really. Anyway, I’ve not posted a book review in what feels like eternity. September apparently. This is for a number of reasons…time being the  biggest factor. Also, only reading books that I’m teaching. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve read Macbeth now. I’m starting to have Macbeth type dreams! 

Yet, onto something a little more lighthearted. I wanted an easy, happy read to help me recover from work in the evenings. This is where Sophie Kinsella comes in. I rely on her for this and her new book, My Not So Perfect Life, did not disappoint. 


What’s it all about? 

The story follows protagonist Katie Brenner, a Somerset girl trying to make it in London in her dream career: advertising. She’s even rebranded herself; changing her look and name to ‘Cat’ to fit in. However, London life isn’t as she expected. Her cramped flat that she shares with two others is problematic (I’m sure many of us can relate to this!) her commute to work is a horror and she stumbles over her new name. Her job too also isn’t as she expected (another point of relation for some of us!). Instead of being anywhere near the ideas aspect of branding, she enters tiresome amounts of data from questionnaires and deals with admin. But, London is her dream, she will not give up. Her Instagram shows the kind of life wants in London, yet who is to know it isn’t her life yet?

“Then, on impulse, I scroll back through my previous Instagram posts, looking at the photos of London cafes, sights, drinks, and smiling faces (mostly strangers). The whole thing is like a feel-good movie, and what’s wrong with that? Loads of people use colored filters or whatever on Instagram. Well, my filter is the “this is how I’d like it to be” filter. It’s not that I lie. I was in those places, even if I couldn’t afford a hot chocolate. It’s just I don’t dwell on any of the not-so-great stuff in my life, like the commute or the prices or having to keep all my stuff in a hammock. Let alone vanilla-whey-coated eggs and abnoxious lechy flatmates. And the point is, it’s something to aspire to, something to hope for. One day my life will match my Instagram posts. One day.” 

Her boss, Demeter, is equally problematic. She presents herself as mega successful and perfect with the best clothes, the successful career, the idyllic family: the Queen Bee. Yet, very few seem to like her. She also doesn’t seem to like ‘Cat’ much. Two instances that stand out for me are when Dementer gets Cat to dye her roots for her and when she fires her. The firing is a low point for Katie. Dementer doesn’t really remember if she’s done it or not. Awkward. However, Alex is at work and he’s a bit of a dish…

“I think: We’re rebranding Clairol? I’m going to help REBRAND CLAIROL? Oh my god, this is MASSIVE – Until reality hits. Dementer doesn’t look excited, like someone about to redesign an international brand. She looks bored and impatient. And now her words are impinging properly on my brain…”

Katie has no choice but to go back to Somerset where her dad has a new business idea: glamping. Katie refuses to give up on her dream, however, practicality tells her she has too. She’s broke and struggling to find another job. Her dad, Mick, and his partner Bibby, are overjoyed at her return. Katie throws herself into making this business work for her dad and Biddy, with the intention of getting back to London asap. She creates a brand for the farm and gets a website running. It’s not long until glampers arrive. Ansters Farm Country Retreat is taking off! 

“It’s funny how life works like a see-saw: some things go up while others plunge down. My life is swiftly unravelling while Dad’s is finally, it seems, coming together.”

A surprise visitor soon turns up at the farm: Dementer. Katie sees this as an opportunity to get revenge. Kinsella monopolises humour here. Her writing is witty, clever and incredibly realistic. As a reader, we naturally dislike Dementer as does everyone in her workplace. After numerous ‘bespoke’ activities, Katie learns to see a different side to Dementer. She even begins to feel sorry for her. Her husband is aloof, her kids are spoilt brats and she is utterly exhausted. I have to say, there were a number of laugh out loud moments here! 

God, this feels good. I start slapping Dementer’s head as I apply mud to her hair, and that feels even better. Slap-slap-slap. That pays her back for making me do her bloody roots.” 

When Alex turns up to fire her, Katie (as well as Dementer) believes someone is out to set Demeter up, prying on her scattiness and vulnerability. A side plot: romance. Who doesn’t love a bit of romance? Things hot up between Katie and the gorgeous man that is Alex. They each help one another to see the importance of their relationships with their fathers. Yet, there is a feeling of like a superhero mission though for Dementer. Naturally, Katie was right to trust her instincts. Without spoiling anything for those who haven’t read this yet, the ending is perfect. Life lessons learnt. Bright futures. 

“As the hubbub starts up again I glance over at Dementer and she clasps her hands tightly; then she blows us a kiss and puts a tissue to her eyes, as if she’s my fairy godmother.”

Overall: 

This book is pure joy. It’s so relatable on so many levels. It challenges your perceptions of characters, making you think about your own behaviour. You never know what’s really going on with someone. One thing it’s reminded me of, hard work pays off and everything happens for a reason. Thanks Sophie. A perfect stand alone book with characters you’ll fall in love with. 


Big love xxx

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Chocolat – Joanne Harris 


Hey everyone! 

I’ve not left you all, I’ve just had a crazy start back at work. My summer feels like a distant memory. But, my apologies for leaving you all, temporarily. I knew the start of school would hit me like a brick in the face, so I wanted to read something that made me feel cosy and warm inside. Hence: Chocolat. I just love it. 

What’s it all about? 

Set in Lansquenet, France, nothing seems to have changed in what feels like a hundred years, until Vianne Rocher arrives. It was Mardi Gras when Vianne and her daughter Anouk with her imaginary rabbit, Pantoufle arrive. They have spent their lives wondering from place to place. However, Lansquenet-sous-Tannes appears to be different. After enjoying the Mardi Gras festival so much, they decided to stay. Vianne rents a house and she opens a tempting and luxiourous chocolate shop, La Céleste Praline, in front of the church which causes controversy with Lenton vows. Father Reynaud, the village priest, is not impressed. He believes that by opening a chocolate shop at the time of Lent, a time of fasting, is an insult to religion. 

“For a time, then, we stay. For a time. Till the changes.” 

Father Reynaud also doesn’t approve of Vianne because of her blatant refusal to attend church or confession. He convinces other parishioners to stay away from her chocolate shop of evil. Yet, despite this, the shop attracts a few curious customers from the start. These, in turn, become some of her closest friends. With every box of her fabulous chocolates, a free gift: Vianne’s perception of its buyers’ private discontents and a clever, yet caring cure for them. The description always makes my mouth water. I can almost taste it. 

“I sell dreams, small comforts, sweet harmless temptations to bring down a multitude of saints crashing among the hazels and nougatines” 

Vianne is a good listener, doesn’t judge and makes everyone feel welcome within her shop. Her regular clients consist of Armande Voizin, an 80 year old woman who never followed the traditions and customs of the village, Joséphine Muscat, a woman abused by her husband and an old man with a dying dog called Guillaume Duplessis. Vianne talks to her guests and asks them things that make them challenge their original beliefs. She wants to make their lives better, thus making her the catalyst for change. But, some characters do not wish to change. 

“Guilleaume left La Praline with a small bag of florentines in his pocket; before he had turned the corner of avenue des Francs Bourgeois I saw him stoop to offer one to the dog. A pat, a bark, a wagging of the short stubby tail. As I said, some people never have to think about giving.” 

When river gypsies arrive along the river bank in the village, Vianne and her friends naturally befriend them too. Her attention is focused on the rather handsome yet aloof Roux. His red hair like flames. The river gypsies are not doing anyone any harm to the village or its people. Nevertheless, the priest is ready to resort to any means in order to get rid of them. This adds to the growing tension against Vianne too. A fire starts on one of the boats. Thankfully no one was hurt. 

Reynaud’s attempts to sabotage Vianne’s shop, friendships and to drive out the gypsies from the village made her more determined to stay. Yet, her mother’s tarot cards that she reads, continue to show black. There is repeated reference to the ‘Black Man’ throughout the novel. The motif of her mother’s folklore. Reynaud makes it his personal mission to run Vianne out of town. There are pages of description where he is talking about her and her temptations at church on Sunday. Some people listen, but it isn’t long until curiosity gets the better of them. 

“Protected from the sun by the half-blind that shields them, they gleam darkly, like sunken treasure, Aladdin’s cave of sweet clichés.” 

Vianne organises a Grand Festvial of Chocolate. The shop is decorated beautifully. It is the sign that she has won, that maybe life might be safe here. 

“Places do not lose their identity, however far one travels. It is the heart that begins to erode over time. The face in the hotel mirror seems blurred some mornings, as if by too many casual looks. By ten the sheets will be laundered, the carpet swept. The names on the hotel registers change as we pass. We leave no trace as we pass on. Ghostlike, we cast no shadow.” 


Overall:

I love this book. I love the split first person narration. You can really feel the tension between Vianne and Father Reynaud. Yet, as I was reading, I was desperate for the two of them to make peace and find a way to live together in the village. The descriptions of the chocolates make me feel like I can physically taste it. It’s a marvellous book, perfect for this time of year. 

Big love xxx

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