Tag Archives: Books

The Midnight Line – Lee Child

Hello Lovelies!

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

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

What’s it all about?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Final thoughts

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

Happy February everyone!

Big love to you all xx

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Filed under Book review, Thriller

January: The Language of Kindness – Christie Watson

Hello Lovelies!

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

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

What’s it all about?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Final thoughts:

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

Big love. X

23 Comments

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

2018 Summary

Hello Everyone!

As we approach the end of 2018, I wanted to take the opportunity to reflect upon the books I’ve read this year and share some of my favourites with you all. Some of these books I’ve discovered because of you lovely people.

This year I managed to read a total of 64 books. Whilst I’ve not met my 100 target, it’s much improved from the total read last year which was 36.

My list is as follows:

Anonymous The Secret Teacher
Anonymous William and Evelyn De Morgan
Arden, Katherine The Bear and the Nightingale
Arden, Katherine The Girl in the Tower
Banksy Wall and Piece
Barr, Emily The Truth and Lies of Ella Black
Baum, Lyman Frank The Life & Adventures of Santa Claus
Botton, Alain de The Course of Love
Bramley, Cathy Hetty’s Farmhouse Bakery
Briggs, Raymond The Snowman
Brookner, Anita Hotel du Lac
Bythell, Shaun The Diary of a Bookseller
Callow, Simon Dickens’ Christmas: A Victorian Celebration
Christie, Agatha Crooked House
Curtis, Richard Four Weddings and a Funeral
de Waal, Kit The Trick to Time
Dickens, Charles A Christmas Carol
Dinsdale, Robert The Toy Makers
Elphinstone, Abi Sky Song
Fletcher, Stephanie E-mail: A Love Story
Folbigg, Zoe The Note
Galbraith, Robert Lethal White
George, Nina The Little Breton Bistro
Griffin, Ella The Memory Shop
Hamid, Mohsin Exit West
Hamid, Mohsin The Reluctant Fundamentalist
Harris, Joanne The Lollipop Shoes
Hislop, Victoria Cartes Postales from Greece
Hosseini, Khaled Sea Prayer
Kay, Adam This is Going to Hurt
Kerr, Judith When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit
KET Planet Banksy
Lafaye, Vanessa Miss Marley
Laurain, Antoine The Red Notebook
Lewis, Christina & Fuller, Katy Land of Green Ginger
Maria Rilke, Rainer Letters to a Young Poet
McCaughrean, Geraldine Where the World Ends
Miller, Andy The Year of Reading Dangerously
Miller, Ben The Night I Met Father Christmas
Morpurgo, Michael The Snowman
Morris, Heather The Tattooist of Auschwitz
Obama, Michelle Becoming
Pavese, Cesare The Beautiful Summer
Perry, Annika The Storyteller Speaks
Priestley, J.B An Inspector Calls
Purcell, Laura The Silent Companions
Purcell, Laura The Corset
Quigley, Alex Closing the Vocabulary Gap
Rae, Simon The Faber Book of Christmas
Rowling, J.K. Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone
Rudnick, Elizabeth Christopher Robin
Schwartz, Kyle I Wish My Teacher Knew
Smith, Dodie I Capture the Castle
Sparks, Nicholas Safe Haven
Stempel, John Lewis The Wood
Trigiani, Adriana The Supreme Macaroni Company
Vickers, Salley The Librarian
Waller, Robert James The Bridges of Madison County
Winterson, Jeanette Christmas Days
Woodfine, Katherine The Midnight Peacock
Young, Louisa My Dear, I Wanted to Tell You
Youngson, Anne Meet Me At The Muesum
Yousafzai, Malala I Am Malala
Zafron, Carlos Ruiz The Shadow of the Wind

2018 has been an amazing year for books. There’s been some absolute knockouts that I’ve thoroughly enjoyed reading. Some I’ve reviewed to share with you all, others I’ve not quite had chance to review yet.

I personally believe that this year has been one of the best for books. Just look how beautiful The Faber Book of Christmas is with its fabric covering from Liberty’s. So lush!

This year I’ve decided to share with you my top 5 Fiction and Non Fiction books that I’ve read. Non Fiction is normally not my cup of tea. Nevertheless, I’m equally surprised to confess that this list was easier to compose than the Fiction list!

My top 5 Non Fiction books of 2018

  1. Becoming – Michelle Obama. What a lady! She’s such an inspiration and I felt even more strongly about this after finishing this book. A honest and humble lady making this is lovely read.
  2. I am Malala – Malala Yousafzai. Wow. What an absolutely incredible young lady. A trust inspiration who is still comparing for girls education today. Read my review here.
  3. The Diary of a Bookseller – Shaun Bythell. This book really strengthened my love for independent booksellers. This book provided a brutally honest and often funny account. Read my review here.
  4. This is Going to Hurt – Adam Kay. I laughed and I cried whilst reading this book. Refreshingly honest and all too real as it provides an insight into our National Health Service. Read my review here.
  5. Wall and Piece – Banksy. I am ever so slightly obsessed with Banksy and this book is a beautiful collection of his work. I was especially excited when a Banksy appeared in Hull back in January. Hull has a Banksy!

My top 5 Fiction books of 2018:

  1. The Toy Makers – Robert Dinsdale. This book has been my favourite book of 2018. I absolutely loved it, every chapter, every page. It took me on a journey where I just could not put it down. I would go as far as saying this is one of my favourite books ever. Read my review here.
  2. The Silent Companions – Laura Purcell. This book was absolutely terrifyingly good. It’s easily a book that grips people. I loved loved loved it. I really need to review this to spread the word. However, at this stage: trust me!
  3. The Bear and the Nightingale – Katherine Arden. This book was a complete surprise. I’d never even heard of it until The Orangutan Librarian posted about it. I’ve never looked back. I can’t wait for January when the third book is out. Read my review here.
  4. Lethal White – Robert Galbraith. As we all know, I am a huge fan and this book was just as excellent as the first, second and third. I enjoy the thrill of solving out the puzzle and the ‘who done it?’ concept.
  5. The Storyteller Speaks – Annika Perry. This is my dear friend Annika, her first book, which was amazing. Filled with numerous short stories about an eclectic mix of topics. Read my review here.

2018 was also the first year I took part in a reading challenge. Penguin’s Read The Year Challenge was awesome because I was able to read new and exciting book based on a variety of themes. As a reader, I tend to stick to what I know – classics and new fiction really. However, this really gave me new opportunities to branch out. You can recap all my RTY posts here. I’ll be doing the same next year so stay tuned. RTY with Penguin.

All that is left to say is Happy New Year!! I can’t wait to continue my WordPress journey with you lovely bloggers. I hope 2019 brings you peace, happiness and plenty of good books!

Big love all xx

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Filed under Books, New Year, Reading, Top Ten

Christmas Traditions: Christmas Eve!

Hello Festive Friends!

Happy Christmas Eve! I can’t quite believe it’s here. I absolutely love this time of year and what it stands for. For me, Christmas is about spending time with family and loved ones as well as time for reading plenty under a warm snuggly blanket with a hot beverage.

I’ve added a cheeky Polaroid of my beautiful Christmas tree to share with you all. There’s nothing more beautiful than a dressed tree, standing proud in all its glory. 🎄

My post today is all about Christmas traditions. Around the world people have different traditions for the Christmas season. In fact, before Queen Victoria’s reign we didn’t even celebrate Christmas in England. No one had even heard of Santa Claus or knew what a Christmas cracker was. Cards weren’t sent and it was seen as another working day. I marvel at how much it has changed.

We personally all have our own Christmas traditions which mean so much to each of us. What traditions do you have as a family? I decided this year to branch out into a new tradition from Iceland. My fellow book bloggers, this one is absolutely for you too!

Jolabokaflod, or the “Christmas Book Flood,” is from Iceland and is one of the most lovely traditions I think I’ve heard of. I stumbled across this earlier this year and decided instantly I wanted to do this. Icelanders give books to each other on Christmas Eve and spend the night reading the book they received. This tradition is deeply engrained in Icelandic culture. The majority of books in Iceland are sold between September to December as people prepare for the Christmas season. This is absolutely something I could go for.

I’m so inspired by this that I’ve decided Jolabokaflod is now part of my Christmas routine. I’m genuinely really excited about this! I really enjoyed picking out a book for someone to read specifically for this evening. I gifted a copy of Charles Dickens Great Expectations and in return I received Miss Marley by Vanessa LaFaye. Dickens is the perfect writer for this time of year so I’m looking forward to reading this A Christmas Carol spin off.

So, whilst I read my book, munch on some chocolates and await Christmas morning, I wish you all a very happy, healthy and peaceful Christmas. 🎅🏻🎄🤶🏻

MERRY CHRISTMAS!

Big love to you all xx

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Filed under Books, Christmas, Christmas Eve, Jolabokaflod

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

23 Comments

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