I hope you’re all well and settling into the Spring weather nicely. I say that… I went from wearing a strappy top because of the warmth created by the glorious sunshine one day to snow and a big jumper the next. British weather really is a surprise sometimes! Now I am back by the fire, today’s post is a round up of the books I’ve read in the month of March – a little late, I know. Please forgive me! I’ve spent my Easter break catching up and having the best time really. It’s wonderful to be back with my support bubble.
I managed to read a total of 14 books which is just one less than last month. Considering we have had children back in school and life has become a different kind of hectic, I’m really thrilled with this number. I must confess, the last six books on the list were ones I read on holiday though… Regardless, I’ve experienced some new writers this month and ones where I have already added more of their titles to my book order… Please reassure me that it isn’t just my TBR list that doesn’t seem to go down… Anyway, let’s look at the shelves for March!
Picking a top three for this month is going to be pretty difficult – there’s just so many good ones. This month has been the month for some absolutely brilliant books for lots of different reasons. Sometimes a book comes along at just the right moment. It seems that I fell on my feet so much with regard to this. It’s a real blessing when it happens. I’ve decided for my top three this month, I’ll pick books I’ve not reviewed yet. However, if you’re wanting to see the reviews for Many Different Kinds of Love, Madame Burova and Oskar’s Quest please click here, here and here.
Trust Me by T.M. Logan. Logan has become one of my favourite writers. I literally cannot get enough of him. I received a review copy of Trust Me and I have been recommending it to everyone and anyone that will listen to me. It was thrilling, gripping, frightening, unnerving and utterly sublime. I’m now working my way through the rest of his work too. I really need to review more of his work on my blog so you can see how brilliant he is.
The Beekeeper of Aleppo by Christy Lefteri. Despite this book being about the harsh realities of life in Aleppo, fleeing conflict and the horrors that come with it, I found this book to be more about hope than anything else. I literally couldn’t put it down and read it in one sitting. To see the resilience and complete faith in the worst circumstances is really inspirational and humbling.
Your Truth or Mine? by Trisha Sakhlecha is my third choice for this month. A writer I have never heard of before but certainly won’t forget now. This book had me utterly gripped from start to finish. I also didn’t quite work out the twists and turns either. I was so thrilled to have received this in one of my many book subscription boxes and it is a writer that I will keep my eyes out for in the future.
Another successful month I feel, despite the challenges faced in education right now. I thank you all for your patience and interaction with me on my blog. I do try really hard to keep up with you wonderful people. I blame you all for my ever increasing TBR list as well!
Hopefully I’ll be able to squeeze another review out before I head back to work next week. I’m embracing the inclement weather and reading opportunities with a hearty gusto, I must say! Next month sees another focus for my reading challenge and hopefully many more wonderful books that I can’t wait to read. Take care everyone!
How are we all? I hope you’re as excited as I am that Spring is here and we have more light and more colour outside. 🌸☀️ It’s the time of year when everything starts to come alive again and we all start to feel a little better. Now I am on Easter break, I can wait to share more books with you and no doubt all more books to my ever increasing TBR pile. I’m hoping to sneak a few naps in at the same time! I’m absolutely shattered!
Today I want to share a book with you all that I finished just as the clock crept into this morning. I was lucky enough to get a preview copy of Madame Burova by Ruth Hogan. It’s out on Thursday 1st April so if you’re tempted, you’ve not got long to wait! It was my first time reading Hogan and I have to be honest, I really enjoyed it! I hope you do too. Also, it has a pretty cover. Superficial I know, but it just looks gorgeous on the shelf.
What’s it all about? The narrative is split between now and 1972/3. Madame Burova or Imelda, is central to the plot. Her occupation of Tarot Reader, Palmist and Clairvoyant means that she knows the secrets of many; secrets she cannot possible divulge. Following in her mother’s footsteps, Imelda took her role seriously. After all, it is a gift she has been given and something which she doesn’t take lightly. However, she is getting older and there is a secret that she isn’t sure she can keep to herself much longer. Two envelopes. Two truths.
‘The envelopes held a secret that had troubled Madame Burova more than most, and now the time had come for her to open them and fulfil a promise made long ago.’
Once Madame Burova has made her decision, the narrative swaps back to 1972 where we see a much younger Imelda obtains a job at Larkins holiday park. She will give readings to the customers and guests amongst other eclectic and talented performers like Magic Melvin, Titus Marlow, Sara-Jade Virtue, Jeanie Rogers and Cillian Byrne. Cillian caught her eye and something stirred deep within. However Vivienne, a guest of the holiday park, also had her eyes on him. The performers become a family of sorts and easily fall into a routine of performances and daily schedules. Fast forward to now and we learn of Billie. Billie’s childhood was wonderful – she had two loving parents who adored her. However, once both passed away, she learns that things weren’t really as they seemed. She receives a letter…
‘As she read what was written on the pages it contained, her whole world washed away like the chalked hopscotch squares of her childhood in a sudden downpour of rain.’
The contents of this letter tell Billie that she was adopted as a baby. Her parents weren’t really her parents. Does this make the memories and her childhood any less valuable? Can she still call them her parents even if they’re not her biological ones? Amongst her inner turmoil, she sets off in the hope of finding some answers. She heads towards St Pancras station. Her and her father would often visit the statue of John Betjeman and rub his tummy for good luck. It was here that she heard the music call her from below. A piano was playing ‘Smile’ her dad’s favourite song. That song was the cure for everything. She moved closer and closer to the music, not realising she was crying. The pianist: Henry Hayward. She’s so angry that they didn’t tell her. Yet, this doesn’t make her life, her childhood, any less real or meaningful.
“Your childhood was happy, your parents loved you and you them. That was the past and none of that will change. But the important thing now is what you will do with your future?”
Billie decides to visit Madame Burova. She knows that she has some of the answers that she is so desperate for. However, she cannot tell her who her parents are, she can only give her two things that were left for her: a bank account and a photograph. That isn’t to say that if she learns the truth it would be denied. Madame Burova just cannot break the trust and the secret she obtained years ago. However, she does befriend Billie and introduces her to the local people who may be able to help like Treasure and Clive. Billie learns that her father kept in touch with Madame Burova after she saw the baby left behind. She left the baby in the safety of the authorities but became invested in her life. She wanted to know that she was safe and well. All the correspondence she had with Billie’s father was there on the table for her to see. Billie decides to stay and rent the space that Madame Burova has. She will do readings part time and Billie will open a little shop with seaside souvenirs.
“They didn’t need to be related to you to be the best parents you could have wished for. It takes more than blood to raise a child as well as they did.”
As the plot develops, the fate of the two women collide and their stories are eventually told. Besides all that, they become the closest of friends too. Each have plenty to learn. Billie learns who her biological parents are. She learns the truth about her life and now is able to plan for her incredibly bright future. Madame Burova learns that the man she was in love with, was in love with her back. It was just tragic circumstances that kept them apart. By the end of the novel I felt like my heart was full. I thoroughly enjoyed this book and the ending provided the closure and resolution I needed. ♥️
“Because of you…he was the happiest man alive. I can’t tell you how much of a comfort that has been to me all these years.”
Final Thoughts There’s much more to this book but I don’t want to spoil it for you. As I said in my conclusion, I found it truly uplifting. I have a lot of love for Madame Burova and I was captivated by her story just as much as Billie’s. This book is perfect for anyone who needs a little pick me up, a little hope and a good distraction.
I’ll see you all next time my loves. I’ve still got to share with you the book I read for my reading challenge this month and a roundup of this month too. Continue to take care and enjoy the light that this season brings. As I’m typing this, I can see a beautiful carpet of daffodils. 🌼
How are you all? I’ve missed you all terribly! I can’t believe it’s been two weeks since I last posted. I can only apologise. School is manic now we have all the children back but it’s so good to see them. Also, I’ve got myself in that rut of reading (albeit much slower than usual) but not having the words to write. I’ve got some wonderful books I can’t wait to share with you all so I hope the words come soon. I’ll give it a go with this book anyway. We all know and love Michael Rosen from his wonderful children’s books like We’re Going on a Bear Hunt and my personal favourite, Chocolate Cake amongst others. In fact, I don’t know a child who hasn’t been brought up knowing his stories. However his latest book tells a very different story. It’s the story of his survival. It is a story of love.
What’s it all about? This book is a mix of diary entries, messages and prose poems, sharing the journey of Michael Rosen and his battle with coronavirus. It opens with an entry on 23rd March 2020 – almost one year ago. The entry is from Michael’s wife, Emma. At this point, Michael was feeling unwell but did not have any of the symptoms that have been drilled into us. Michael continues to feel worse and worse and Emma decides to ask their friend and neighbour, a GP, to help. Whilst waiting on the doorstep, Emma checks Michael’s oxygen. The result of this is an urgent trip to A&E. Seven months later, we have the next entry, this time from the GP friend we learn exactly what happened.
“Evidence was emerging of the importance of checking oxygen saturations when assessing people with COVID-19 – I had one in my doctor’s bag at work, but had decided that it would be a good idea to buy one to keep at home. I did not realise at the time how important that decision and the timing of the delivery would be.”
Once in hospital, Michael was immediately put on an oxygen mask. Coronavirus was still the unknown – we we learning about it as we went along. 6th April 2020 and Michael was re-admitted to intensive care and placed in an induced coma. He has a 50% chance of survival. Without it he is 100% likely to die. Whilst in the induced coma, doctors and nurses make use of the empty notepad beside Michael’s bed. Inside, they share stories of what they said and did during this period of time. What shines from these pages is love and hope. We can only imagine what it has been like inside hospitals during the peak of this pandemic. To take the time to leave a note which will enable Michael to fill in the gaps of his six week coma is truly special. We see how specialists have all come together to help our beloved NHS during what has been the worst threat to us in our life time.
“It’s been lovely to look after you today on your birthday! You’ve been a popular chap today – FaceTime calls from your family and a birthday card. You were also treated to a rendition of Happy Birthday from about 15 ICU staff around your bedside and a round of applause from staff and one of the other patients! You continue to improve and I know how proud everyone is of you.”
Slowly, Michael starts to improve thanks to the love and care of the numerous NHS staff and his family. The joy from everyone when Michael can talk, when he can breathe a little better, when he can start to piece together exactly what has happened to him, is immense. The style of the book changes now to the prose poems too. In these poems, Michael is adamant that it was his wife, Emma who saved his life. She sent in a duvet to keep him warm, music that she knows he loves, sends an iPad so she can be by his side and reassure him. Anything that she thinks will help bring him back from the brink – and it does. It provides him comfort and strength; the strength he needs to survive. Over time, Michael learns to take it slowly. One day he can walk, the next he is exhausted. Emma is there as a constant. Improvement means he is one step closer to returning home.
“The family watch me. I wonder how it feels for them to see me like this. I am sorry this is me… I walk into the living room I realise that they have taught me how to walk. The gap between hospital and home has closed.”
Once home, Michael realises that March and April have gone and he has very little, if any recollection of it. In the later poems, we see brutal honesty about how this has changed Michael forever. He repeatedly says that he is not the man he was. He may have survived but he has changed inextricably. He has a good ear and a deaf ear, a good eye and a blind eye, a painful knee, one big toe with a nail and the other without and a sore nipple. His whole body has been ravaged by this virus. BUT, he is alive.
“I am getting it that there is a place between life and death. I was there for weeks.”
This book isn’t negative in any way, shape or form. It’s about celebrating life. It’s a consideration of the doctors and nurses who fought daily to keep Michael and everyone else alive. It’s about how love can pull us from the depths of despair. His body has definitely changed, his mind too. We have all been affected this past year because of the current climate. But the end of the novel shows us that we have so much to live for and so much left to do in our lives. We see Michael’s daughter getting ready for university, Michael’s son with his GCSE work on the table and we see his granddaughter, nearly two years old, playing in the garden. Life is not over yet.
“I read their diary-letters to me that they wrote in a little black book when I was in a coma. Why did these strangers try so hard to keep me alive? It’s a kindness I can hardly grasp. The words tell me that they wanted me to survive.”
Final Thoughts Michael Rosen didn’t write this book with publication in mind – he just wanted to piece his life together. I don’t think he quite realised just how poorly he was; how close he was to death. My biggest insecurity tells me that I will never be able to do a good job with reviewing this book. I don’t quite have the words to show the kindness, resilience, determination and love shown within. I loved it on so many levels. When we hear the words ‘coronavirus’ or ‘COVID-19’ our hearts sink. But in this book, we see the exact opposite. Read it and your heart will be filled to the core. It is magical to think that people are just this kind even when faced with the hardest challenge. For those of us who have had friends or relatives in hospital fighting this horrendous disease, it will give you a snapshot of what is happening behind those closed doors. The staff become extended members of our family because they hold the hands we can’t. We can do this. We can beat this. We will get through it. We have no other option. ♥️
First of all, let me wish you a happy March. March is the month that gifts us with Spring 🌻. It’s a month that is bringing us all hope for the future too. We definitely have light at the end of the tunnel after a difficult winter. Nevertheless, the evenings are lighter and there is a lot to celebrate. ☀️
I really enjoyed writing my round-up last month so I thought it would be something I do every month now. February was a shorter month (my excuse anyway?) but I did manage to read 15 books which I’m quite pleased with. It’s a little less than last month but that’s really ok. It is the joy of reading that matters more than the numerical amount. There’s been some personal challenges for me this month so once again the writing left me but the reading remained. Regardless, I’ve read some brilliant books in February and I can’t wait to share them with you. Let’s check out the shelves!
As I say, there’s some fantastic books here and some reviews I really need to post. Picking a top three has been difficult. However, my top three books of February are:
Breathtaking by Rachel Clarke. I don’t have the eloquence or the words really to explain how sublime this book is. Like I said in my previous post, we have all been affected by the pandemic, myself included. This book shows us inside the beating heart of the NHS at the start of the pandemic. What the NHS staff have seen and experienced this time is incomprehensible. My heart broke when I was reading about how they make sure nobody dies alone.💜
All On The Board by Ian Redpath and Jeremy Chopra. Based at North Greenwich station two underground workers, Ian and Jeremy, try and make the day a little better by leaving messages and poems on the board for people passing through the station. This collection shows some of their work. It’s a really uplifting book and you can see more on their Facebook page here.
The Silent Patient by Alex Michaelides. This book kept me gripped from start to finish. It’s been doing the rounds recently so it is clearly a popular choice and I can totally see why. It was also a book where I didn’t work out the ending either which can happen with thrillers. A great, pacy book. (Mind you, Fifty Fifty by Steve Cavanagh was just as pacy too.)
Also, there was a new focus for the reading challenge this month and I read my first John Grisham book. Some of you lovely people also recommended other Grisham books that I have added to my ‘never ending and will probably out live me’ reading list. Thank you so much. If you missed it, you can catch up with it here.
I wish you a happy, bright and healthy March. I’m hoping to share with you more books I’ve loved as well and to keep catching up with you all. Happy Spring everyone! 🌸 🌺 🌻
How are you all? I hope everyone is well and embracing the lighter days and evenings. It’s been a bit of a strange time for me so I apologise for the absence. School is interesting, especially in light of the recent announcements. I’m sure everything will make sense soon enough. As long as I am doing the best for my students, that’s all that matters. At least there is a light at the end of the tunnel now.
I’m sure we all have worries and concerns, the same worries we have had for the past twelve months really. We have all been affected by the pandemic – whether we have been poorly or lost someone we love. In these times, I know I am missing the physical contact with people – I love a good hug! But I am certain that this won’t be a negative post – that’s not my style at all! I want to share with you a book that felt like a hug. It’s beautiful in every sense of the word. Of course, I am talking about The Boy, The Mole, The Fox and The Horse by Charlie Mackesy. 👦 🦊 🐴. I really hope you enjoy the post and the book as much as I did. Consider this my virtual hug to you all during these trying times. 💜
What’s it all about? Following numerous Instagram posts showing the illustrations of a young, lonely boy and his animal friends in 2018, the book, The Boy, The Mole, The Fox and The Horse, was born. It tells the story of a lonely boy who ambles through the countryside on a glorious spring day.
The first animal the boy meets is the mole. They become friends and continue the journey, meeting the fox and the horse. On this journey they talk about anything and everything. They form a companionship and become great friends. They share their hopes and their fears with each other and provide each other the support they need. The boy is no longer lonely.
Whilst asking the big questions life throws at us, each animal has a different reaction. The fox is usually silent whereas the horse and the mole offer reassurance and wisdom. Don’t misunderstand the silence from the fox. His presence is just as important as the advice given from the other animals.
Each animal represents a different part of us as human beings. The boy is naturally inquisitive with so many questions about the world. The mole (arguably my favourite) is overly enthusiastic and a lover of cake. The fox has clearly been hurt and upset and is now distrusting and sad. The horse represents the wiseness, the deepest part of us. Each of us can relate to each character in the text. That’s what makes this so magical. By the end, your heart and harmony will be restored.
Final Thoughts I love this book. I genuinely love this book. I think everyone should read it. It gave me a little boost that I so desperately needed. As I said at the start, I wanted to share this with you all so it brings you the joy it bought me. If you’ve read it, I’m sure you know exactly what I mean. Whilst this doesn’t have a linear structure, it is more episodic and showing the different fears we all have and the joys that friendship and companionship bring to our lives. The calligraphy writing is stunning and I wish I could do that myself to be fair. The illustrations are also beautiful. The two things work together to create a sublime book. 👦 🦊 🐴
Continue to look after yourselves. Stay safe. I’ll see you at the weekend for a roundup of this month.
Hello Lovelies! Well, January flew by us and now we are into February – the month of love and pancake day. Today I want to share with you the book I chose and read for the reading challenge this month. The theme for February was February – Read a book by an author who was born in this month. I wanted to avoid the obvious theme for this month – love – and wanted to pick something that took me out of my comfort zone. This took some research and I am pleased to report that there are plenty of writers with birthdays this month – happy birthday to you all! So, I opted for The Rooster Bar by John Grisham. I have to confess that before this book, I’d never read any Grisham so when I saw his name on the list for a birthday this month, it was the perfect opportunity to rectify that. I must say, I feel a bit silly to be honest. Grisham is such a prolific writer, I almost can’t believe that I’ve not read anything by him. At least I have now and I am thrilled to also say that I really enjoyed it! As always, if you’d like more information on my reading challenge for 2021, please click here. I hope you like the review.
What’s it all about? Written in 2017, The Rooster Bar is inspired by real life events happening in America chronicled in the magazine article ‘The Law-School Scandal‘. It centres around Mark Frazier, Todd Lucero and Zola Maal. Each are third year law students at Foggy Bottom Law School, Washington. Unfortunately, this law school doesn’t have a particularly good reputation – they seem fairly lax on standards and the firm is considered to be a place where students don’t get a rigorous education in law. Why would people study there then? Well, it promises the world.
‘She fell for the scam that easy federal money could make law school possible for everyone, and took the first bold steps that would lead to Foggy Bottom.’
At the start of the book we meet Gordon Tanner, Zola’s boyfriend. This character has a few battles of his own, bipolar disorder mainly, but he discovers evidence that Hinds Rackley, the lead investor and owner of Foggy Bottom (amongst other diploma centres) uses a complicated but technically legal scheme to gain millions dollars from unassuming students. Students end up in a cycle of spiralling debt with no job prospects at the end of it. Gordon wants to expose Rackley and show the world how he really is and the reality behind students falling for the glossy magazine adverts for Foggy Bottom and it’s equals. Gordon becomes increasingly more erratic and acting out of character when it is realised that he has stopped taking his medication. The three try and detain him at home so he can rest and recover but manages to leave one night, resulting in an arrest for a DUI. The three manage to get a street lawyer, Darrell Crowley, to convince the judge to release Gordon on bail. Gordon manages to once again sneak out from the watchful eyes of his friends and girlfriend, resulting in his suicide.
‘And now, with one semester to go, Mark was staring miserably at the reality of graduating with a combined total, undergrad and law school, principal and interest, of $266,000 in debt.’
The following pages after this are the most emotional. Mark and Todd are blamed for the death of Gordon because they were the ones who were meant to be watching over him. As a result of this, they each were finding their job prospects dwindling down to nothing. There were no jobs. The jobs they had been promised are withdrawn. They each decide to work for Maynard, the guy who owns the Rooster Bar. They also rent the office space above to set up their own fake law firm: Upshaw, Park and Lane. They sort themselves false identities and forged credentials. They are certain that this is the only way that they will be able to make any kind of money at all whilst avoiding paying any back to Foggy Botton. Zola is the most reluctant out of the three of them but likewise, has little to no options. She joins them.
Like any story, they’re successful to begin with. They have numerous victories in the D.C. courts. Zola suggests that they expand to reach out to personal injury victims. These cases tend to have good revenue but none of them have much knowledge with these types of claims. Mark locates Ramon Taper, who files a lawsuit against the hospital where his son died. The trio branch out to get some legal advice for this type of case and are reassured that the case is sound. However, Mark later learns that the statute of limitations has already passed, meaning there is literally nothing he can do. Unfortunately, what this means for them is that they can be sued by Ramon for legal malpractice and for giving him demonstrably unsound legal advice. There’s not a lot they can do, In fact their only option is to reveal with Ramon’s new lawyer, Edwin Mossberg, that he is not a real attorney. Legal malpractice cannot be filed against a fake lawyer, so remarkably Mossberg drops the case. However, the scheme the trio set up is now revealed to the D.C. Bar Association, meaning that time is going to run out for them, not that they know it…yet.
“These are mistakes, not regrets. Regrets are over and done with and a waste of time to rehash. Mistakes, though, are bad moves in the past that might affect the future.”
They soon realise that the D.C. Bar is aware of their deception, it’s time for a plan B. They hatch another scheme involving Swift Bank, a financial institution associated with Foggy Bottom Law School founder Rackley. It involves a class action settlement and is set to pay billions of dollars to defraud customers. Again, the trio create thousands of fake customers, filling in fraudulent claims on their behalf, with the hope to earn enough money to escape the US and the Bar Association’s investigation. However, they have forgotten the fact that the police will also be investigating them. Mark and Todd are arrested but Zola is forced to return to her parents home country of Senegal, to protect them from corrupt officials. With the money in her account from their previous work, she hires Idina Sanga who manages to get Mark and Todd released on bail.
Using the earlier evidence of the Foggy Bottom fraud, Mark and Todd manage to persuade Rackley to pay out the Swift Bank settlements at a rapid pace, including to those fraudulent clients they created. The result of this is that they accumulate a huge amount of money. They use it to buy fake passports to travel to Senegal. Whilst they are travelling, the news of the fraudulent cases begin to surface but by this point the money the trio have is secured. By the end of the novel, the trio clear their debts and have to live in exile.
Final Thoughts As I said at the start, I enjoyed this book. It was a great introduction to Grisham and I will absolutely be looking for more of his books in the near future. I guess this is where I miss being able to mooch about second hand book shops – but maybe we will get back to that soon.
After a good nights sleep and with the rain currently sloshing down my windows, I thought now was the perfect time to share with you what I’ve been reading in January. First of all, how beautiful is my image for this post? I LOVE it. Anyway, this is new to my blog but I thought it would make a good addition because I read a few books but I don’t always review them all. This way, I can share with you monthly the books that have captivated my attention and share with you stories that are too good to miss. I’ve found so many amazing books through the blogging community so I hope this gives you the opportunity to add to your own to be read pile. 📚
In January, I read a total of 18 books which is a bit of a record for me. There were some absolute page turners in that eighteen too! Let’s check out the shelves!
My Top Three books for this month would have to be:
The Art of Death by David Fennell. This book is the epitome of page turner. I was completely hooked and just had to find out what happened. It will grab you instantly.
The Diary of Two Nobodies by Giles Wood and Mary Killen. Known for being on Gogglebox, these two make me laugh every time I see them. The book was exactly the same. I could hear their voices in my head, that’s for sure.
The Flip Side by James Bailey. You can check out my review for this one here. Sometimes we all just need a bit of fluff and this provided me with a light read that I thoroughly enjoyed.
I was lucky this month because there weren’t any books that I didn’t enjoy. This is because I tend to stop reading them if I’m not liking them. After all, there’s not enough time to read everything anyway, why waste it on something you’re not enjoying?
This month also saw the start of the reading challenge for 2021. January’s book Mutiny by Lindsey Collen definitely took me to a beautiful geographical setting, but instead gave me the hangover version of that country. Check out the view here.
February brings us the month of love ❤️ and we all know my first love is books! I’m excited to see what this month brings and to see what page turners I can possibly read in that time.
I hope you are all safe and well. I cannot believe it is the last day of January today. I guess we are all continuously adapting to whatever the new normal is. As promised in my previous post, I want to share with you today the book I chose to read for my reading challenge this year. (For more information on my reading challenge, please click here. Here you will find the focus for each month and of course, you are more than welcome to join! The theme for January was: January – Read a book that is set anywhere in the world you want to visit. Now, the opportunities are endless and after near enough a year where we haven’t really been able to go anywhere, this decision was quite overwhelming. So, I picked Mauritius – what’s not to love? Sun, sand, glorious beaches…or so I thought. My book choice was set in Mauritius but I didn’t get the gloriousness I expected. My choice was: Mutiny by Lindsey Collen. This provided me with a nightmare version of my beach scene to be fair. Great book though! Here goes!
What’s it all about? First of all, this is probably the hardest book to review because when I finished it, it left me with more questions than answers. Anyway, it’s set at the turn of the millennium in an all female prison, the back drop is a time of turmoil for the country with high levels of corruption with regard to the government and police. Not exactly a holiday story… What have I got myself into? Regardless, our heroine is Juna who has been imprisoned following a fabricated allegation – politically motivated. She provides the narration for the story and we learn about the women in the same position as her. Her two cell mates, Leila and Mama Gracienne tell each other their stories as their stomachs growl with hunger. Whilst we don’t see much of Mauritius outside of the prison, we feel the ever increasing presence of the cyclone that is heading straight for them. Despite not seeing the beaches, we do see varied and extensive descriptions of the local cuisine. To combat their hunger, the ladies ration out tales of their favourite foods and how best to cook them.
“How often can I talk about food then?” She is so rude. “Only rarely. Accept?” “Aubergine… Aubergine and potato smothered. I’d do anything for some, even the smallest little bowl of it.”
Word reaches them that they need to prepare to lead a mutiny, an uprising not just against the oppression of their gaolers, the Blue Ladies, but part of a wider revolt against the power of the corrupt government. The story flicks between a tight focus on the minutiae of their day: reciting the recipes, looking out the window whilst standing on each others shoulders. The utter tedium of being locked up away from the rest of the world then shifts to a focus towards the sight of rebellion and danger linked to the approaching cyclone. The eye of the cyclone is the time appointed to mutiny. Juna goes to great lengths to record a diary using hoarded scraps of paper/tissue, illegal and prohibited materials. These materials and the pencils she needs are expensive items in prison currency and she has to pay using her precious allocation of bananas. Every prisoner is entitled to two bananas a day – a privilege hard won by a previous prison generation.
‘And I’ve got my stub of pencil and a few sheets of paper. Yellowed and mustard smelling. I tried to smell where is has been. Forgotten in a bonded warehouse? Stolen by a storekeeper, sold to a dhall-puri vendor, turned up in prison, in exchange for.’
As the story unfolds we gain an insight into the past lives of each of the ladies. At first all talk of the past or the future is forbidden. Far too dangerous to get lost in the injustices that landed them there in the first place or the hope that one day they might leave. Their stories are the things that unite them as they each have their own. Juna, imprisoned for an Allegation, is a computer expert. She works with electronics and programming languages and is constantly trying to create a system, a code, that makes sense of prison life. Leila lands herself there after the Effusion of Blood from a policeman. She comes across as young, childish and her actions scream out for attention from someone. But she puts aside her self obsessions and becomes one of them – part of the mutiny. Mama Gracienne is consumed with guilt. She blamed herself for the death of her daughter. This was the character that pulled at me the most, I genuinely felt for her despite the challenging circumstances. The reference to her being the Confessor possibly adds to that feeling being created.
“We have come to arrest you, I am afraid.” “Me? What for?” “Oh, it’s just an allegation.” “What do you mean just an allegation? Where’s your warrant? You come here shouting someone else’s name, and now you say you are going to arrest me?”
Messages are passed in and out of the prison right under the noses of the ever watchful Blue Ladies. Plans are made and Juna works out how to disable the electronic systems in the prison when the time comes to mutiny. Carefully, word is passed throughout the prison population that the time to strike for freedom will be in the eye of the cyclone. The Blue Ladies can smell the scent of rebellion and defiance. They attempt to provoke a response so they have an excuse to lock the prison down. Will they all stand together, this disparate group of women all imprisoned for different causes? Some violent, aggressive, selfish, spiteful criminals.
“Only one banana each!” ‘We all start to mill around ever so slightly, to wander and be furious…Rein it in. Hold it in. Wait until the eye…The big woman at the front of the queue casts a long look along the line…She puts her hands out and reaches for one banana. There will be a mutiny.’
Final Thoughts Whilst this book didn’t give me beach vibes, it did make me value the power of women – a group all down on their luck, some of which is their own fault, making the best out of a bad situation. I wasn’t really sure what I felt at the end of this book – mostly confused, somewhat conflicted too. It shows us that these picture perfect places also have the failings of the rest of the world too. Based on a true story, the mutiny is a foreshadowing of real life events. I’d definitely read more by Collen – she truly has a unique style but I literally don’t have the words to explain it. It’s one of those you will have to read for yourself (and then try and explain with me!) What this has done though is given me an opportunity to read something I would never even have heard of or picked up and for that I am truly grateful.
February brings a new theme: Read a book by an author who was born in this month. Once again, research has made the decision quite overwhelmingly near impossible. But let’s see what the month brings. If you’ve any ideas, do let me know!
How are you all? I hope you’re all keeping safe, well and reading plenty. I’m sorry for the two week absence. I’m still at school but all of my lessons are online so I’m clocking up some screen time! I’ve been reading plenty, I’m on book 15 as we speak, but the words have escaped me. However, I’m hoping with this lovely read, I can get back into it. I have been reading a lot of thrillers so I wanted an easy, cute read – hence my choice for today! I read it today and I’ve had the urge to write ever since. The Flip Side by James Bailey was an utter delight. I really enjoyed it and I hope you do too!
What’s it all about? The novel opens on New Years Eve where the protagonist, Josh, has prepared a magical evening for his girlfriend, Jade Toogood on the London Eye. After months of research, everything was in the place. With their own pod on the London Eye with champagne, truffles and the panoramic stunning views of London, it would bound to be a success. After all, this was going to be the perfect event which would start the rest of their lives, something they’d tell the grandchildren about. However, Josh doesn’t get the answer he expected. Jade says no. Unfortunately (and rather comically) for Josh, they still have a good twenty minutes, in silence, in their pod.
‘I check my watch. Twenty-seven minutes to go. What is wrong with this wheel? Is it broken?’
Immediately, I love the character of Josh. My heart just melts for him. This rejection is even worse. In the space of a few minutes he becomes single, homeless and jobless due to Jade’s father owning where they live and the hotel he works in. Josh has no other option but to go back to his parents. His return home isn’t the quiet non event he wanted, his mum seems to have the whole town there. Thankfully, Josh’s grandpa – Pap – is hiding in the bedroom watching a film. Josh joins him and this is the turning point of the whole story. Their indecisiveness about the film calls for action: a coin toss. And so it begins…
‘And then, just like that, as I flip the coin and watch it spiral into the air, the idea comes to me. And it’s fantastic.’
Josh’s friends, Jake and Jessie, naturally think he’s absolutely insane. For the next year, all decisions that Josh needs to make will be decided by the fifty pence piece in his pocket. Even though they’re dubious, they go along with it even when it cost them the quiz team win. After all, that’s what friendship is. Or maybe fate. Helping Josh to get back out there, his friends convince him to try dating apps or at least, finding someone to date. But his experience of a blind date was a complete disaster. His Tinder date was a little better until his parents came bumbling in, taking the fish and chip supper and scaring her off. Another date, another opportunity but with only £17 in the bank, it was going to be difficult. Thankfully Josh had 2-4-1 voucher (which didn’t quite go down too well), neither did removing the tip or charity donation, or forgetting his wallet…
‘Mum and I stand in the porch waving my Tinder date off as Dad drives her home. She sits in the front seat looking petrified. I didn’t need to worry about Emma being a weirdo. That was me. Poor girl.
However, fate had other things in mind for Josh. The London Marathon brought the friendship group into the city again to cheer Jessie on. The use the coin to decide who should go where to cheer her on. Josh ends up near the National Gallery and pops inside to use the loo. Once finally inside, he sees her. The one. Talking to her is easy. He shares with her a story from his childhood where he would go to the gift shop with his grandpa first and buy a few postcards. Then they would try and find them in the gallery, like a treasure hunt. They pick Canaletto by Renoir, a Degas and Sunflowers by Van Gogh. This was the reason she was in the city in the first place. But time was ticking and Jessie would soon be running past. They planned to see the Sunflowers painting after but fate would have other ideas. They lose each other. There is another problem – he didn’t ask her name.
“I’m working abroad at the moment in an English bookshop and saw his Sunflowers painting at the gallery nearby. I realised how bad it is that I’ve never seen this version, given I’m from London.”
The rest of the novel is a journey around Europe finding the Sunflower girl. She has to be out there somewhere and Josh just can’t seem to forget about her. Extensive research shows how there are versions of Sunflowers in Munich, Amsterdam, Philadelphia and Tokyo. He and his friends head to Bristol airport and flip a coin to see where he will end up: Amsterdam or Munich. (The other two are ruled out due to a lack of funds, naturally.) Munich it is, but it isn’t as successful as Josh had hoped. Amsterdam next and this provides luck but not as Josh expects it. He meets Eva who helps him with the local bookstores and learns he is an internet sensation, unbeknown to him. His friends have to be behind this.
‘I’m looking at an Instagram account with pictures of me. But it’s not my account. #FindSunflowerGirl.’
The fates don’t seem to want to help Josh find his Sunflower girl but he decides to head to Paris, following a phone call from Jessie who said that someone at work had seen Sunflowers recently there. Will Josh find her? Will the coin be right? It’s got him this far after all. Josh also had the voice of his beloved grandpa in the back of his head. He had to take this leap. Maybe his luck was about to change.
‘It’s her. It’s actually her.’
The stars align, he learns her name (Lucy) and they see Sunflowers with the postcard they bought in London. Life is complete. There are a few more surprises and bumps in the road for Josh in the way first but by the end of the novel, Josh has got his girl, a plan to go travelling in the not too distant future, and a sense of happiness and contentment. What makes it even better is knowing that his grandpa is right with him the whole time, the silent presence ever keeping him company and support. The novel ends in Rome without the coin. Time for a fresh start with the girl he loves.
‘Just as I have watched my coin spiral up in the air countless times over the past year, it twists and twirls in the sky, only this time it lands behind me rather than back in my hand… I wrap my arms around Lucy and kiss her strawberry gelato flavoured lips.’
Final Thoughts This book was a lift that I needed. It was funny, heartwarming and just plain adorable. I even want to read the letters of Van Gogh because of it. The thing that intrigued me most was that the writer is male. Contemporary romances novels are normally written by women and it was this that drew me to this book to be honest. I wanted to see how it would be presented. As a girl, I only have my own experiences to go from. I found myself really feeling for Josh and secretly wishing that someone would want to travel Europe to find me. It’s a very modern romance and just made me feel really young at heart. I loved the friendships in the book and the role the family played too. I found Josh’s parents hilarious and I know we will all see glimmers of our own families in them. Honest and enjoyable, I loved this book.
Until next time where I will be reviewing my book choice for the reading challenge this year, stay safe all.
Well, we’ve done week one of 2021 and it probably doesn’t feel very different to 2020… but let’s still keep the faith. There’s plenty of time for lots of reading and finding your next best read. For me, school is still as busy as ever. I’m spending my time teaching online which is not too dissimilar to writing blog posts – I just feel like I’m talking to myself. Hopefully someone, somewhere is listening! Regardless, today I want to share with you a book you all need to keep your eye out for: The Diplomat’s Wife by Michael Ridpath. This was one of those books where I literally couldn’t put it down. I hope you love it as much as I did!
What’s it all about? The novel opens in Buckinghamshire, England where we meet Phil. It is just before his big adventure to abroad but his plans are in jeopardy following a slight accident with a car. However, all is rectified when Phil’s beloved Grandma, Emma, reveals her need to go on a trip but she cannot possibly go alone. Therefore, it’s set – Phil will drive his grandmother around Europe, to relive her life and to solve the mysteries of the past surrounding her brother, Hugh and her husband, Roland. From here, we see the interweaving of the past and present within the novel.
“One of the reasons I asked you to accompany me is that I want to tell you a story. My story. The story of what I did before the war. I’ve mentioned I’ve been thinking of revisiting my life then. But I wanted to share it, so someone knows about it when I’m gone.”
Grandmother and grandson travel to Devon, where the story begins. Emma was just a teenager, happily living in her brother’s shadow. She absolutely adored him, idolised him really. Whatever he believed, she did too. A theme that runs within the plot is politics – communism and socialism in particular. When her brother changes his views, she feels betrayed. There’s more going on than what is being shared on the surface, clearly. Tragically, Emma was unable to discuss this with her brother further, because he was killed.
‘I pulled back the rug from Hugh’s face. I will never forget what I saw – it was a mess. His forehead and cheek had been smashed. There was blood, but there was also pinkish stuff, which I later realised was brain matter. It was truly horrible.’
Emma’s feeling of unease only grew at Hugo’s funeral. She meets Dick Loxton, Hugo’s best friend and Kay Lesser, Hugo’s girlfriend. Here we learn that Hugo had a secret life – a life as a spy. His death could be as a result of this. It is this information that starts the journey of discovery. From here, the two head to Paris. Emma was, as the title suggests, a diplomat’s wife. This gave her the opportunity to meet people the average person wouldn’t meet. She moved in circles that seem so different to life in the present. Something else was about to disrupt her world: an affair and a pregnancy.
‘Then a darker thought occurred to me. Was the whole thing camouflage? Had their affair already been going on when my mother invited Roland down to Devon? Which meant his wooing of me was just an elaborate cover…’
Emma has a choice to make: one that will dictate her whole future. Kay advises her and she has a plan. She will follow in her brother’s footsteps but to do that, to get information, she needs to remain with her husband. Lothar and Kay get her set up with the relevant equipment she needs. She is now one of them. Back in the present, the trip isn’t exactly what Phil had in mind. He does frequent a couple of bars and meets Heike. Can he trust her? She seems to be perfect and the two love spending time together. It almost feels odd when she asks to join him and his grandmother, something Phil knows his grandmother absolutely would not like. They settle for talking. Lots and lots of talking. Meanwhile, the next step of their journey is decided: Annecy. It is in this section that Phil sees his grandmother in a new light.
‘Nothing in his life up till now had prepared him for this. But he had to concentrate on the road ahead. On getting out of France safely without the police stopping them. Then he could think properly about what happened, what was happening.’
Berlin, Germany: the next stop. The threat of war is imminent in 1939 and it is here that Emma’s information is key. Kay needs her to keep providing but there isn’t anything to say or offer. There’s just no new information circulating. Until the news of Russia. This is the ultimate game changer. This information is huge. It is here though, that Emma learns the real truth. Once again, we know that all is not as it seems.
‘The anger evaporated, or rather it retired, waiting for a new target. Yes, I had been misled. But so had Kay. Both of us had been misused, drawn to betray our countries on the basis of false promises.’
The final part of the novel is in Spain. Emma is obsessed, literally, with finding out the truth and eventually putting her brother to rest. Likewise, Phil has never known about this side of his grandmother. This journey is as eyeopening for him as it is for Emma. In Spain, Phil sees a face that he recognises and Emma realises they are in immediate danger. As the novel closes, Emma’s story is finally told. We have a voice for Hugh, a resolution.
“To Grams…and her brother.”
Final Thoughts This book is a must read for 2021. Due for release in February, it needs to be promoted to the top of your TBR lists. There are many strands to this that make it an interesting read. The grandmother/grandson element. It was really lovely to see the strength of the family ties here, especially when Emma did not have these as a child. Along with that, I really enjoyed the historical element of it. Novels set in the war are fascinating because there are so many ways you could present it. I loved the espionage take here was incredible. Who can you trust? You won’t know until the end of the book. Michael Ridpath isn’t a writer I’d heard of but this book has absolutely put him on my radar.