Posted in Book review, Books, Historical Fiction, Reading, Reading Challenge 2020

Reading Challenge 2020: Cilka’s Journey – Heather Morris

Happy Sunday Lovelies!!

I hope you’re all well. This post comes a bit later than I anticipated really. I don’t think I’ve ever felt this utterly shattered and defeated really. It’s hard at the moment but to keep myself going I’ve just been reading and buying plenty of books! I mean, who wouldn’t? Today I want to share with you a book I have had sat on my shelf since the day it was published: Cilka’s Journey by Heather Morris. There’s no particular reason as to why this has sat on my bookcase for a little over a year. It’s more of a case of having to be prepared to read about such sadness and resilience. You’ve got to feel strong enough.

The theme and focus of this month for the reading challenge was: November: Something that has been sat on your bookshelf / TBR list that casts a backwards glance. Well, this book certainly does that! If you’ve been keeping an eye on my reading challenge or would like some more information, click here. For those of you who have been around for a while, you’ll remember my post on Morris’s first novel The Tattooist of Auschwitz (click here!) Anyway, I just had to be prepared for another emotional and potentially heart breaking story.

This book is beautiful in so many ways. I really hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

What’s it all about?
This book is the sequel to The Tattooist of Auschwitz, this time based on the true story of a person who survived Auschwitz Birkenau and ten years in a Russian Gulag in Siberia. Cilka Klein is introduced to us in the first book where we hear Lale Sokolov’s story. Sokolov knew Klein at Auschwitz where she was sent in 1942. She was only sixteen years of age. The tale is retold using research and interviews. Some characters are naturally fiction or an amalgamation of many faces and people she met. The most important and poignant factor is that the story is real. This is a story of survival.

“She is just surviving, Cilka has often thought. There is no one way to do it.”

Cilka quickly learnt that survival meant that she had to give the men in the camp exactly what they wanted. Two Nazi officers take a shining to her and they repeatedly rape her. She stays alive by allowing constant and repeated humiliation and abuse whilst in her role as the Jewish guard in the building in which Jewish women are sent to their death. It is here that she sees her own mother led and killed.

“She hopes she will be able to explain to Josie later that he can have her body and that is all; he cannot have her mind, her heart, her soul.”

From here she is sent to the Siberian Gulag because the Russians see her as a German collaborator because of the ‘relations’ she has had with the two Nazi officers. It is here she spends the next ten years of her life. There’s further rape, hard labour and complete and utter despair. What shines through the book though, more importantly, is friendship, courage, beauty and her will to keep the women in her block alive, as well as herself. Their hut is remarkable. The woman mostly work together to try and make it homely, stitching fabric and putting flowers from outside in a broken cup. Her closest friend, Josie, burns her hand and Cilka acts fast to save her by putting her hand in the snow. It is here that she learns about the hospital wing and meets the woman who will help save her life. Never forget the name Yelena Georgiyevna.

As Cilka learns how to be a nurse we see the narrative split into the past and present. Cilka has regular flashbacks to her life at the concentration camp. These are weaved with what events of the Siberian camp to show us exactly the horrors that Cilka experienced. It’s utterly harrowing. I had to keep reminding myself of her age when I was reading. Her whole youth taken from her.

“She didn’t choose it. It just happened.”

Yelena can clearly see that there’s plenty on this girls mind. But she is a good nurse and in demand from the patients. She experiences life on the main ward, the maternity ward where she learns to deliver babies and ultimately changes how the nursery is ran. She spends time in the ambulance, going to various calls outs where mines have collapsed. She faces these challenges head on, only to really think about what she has achieved later. Cilka opens up to her mentor, Yelena and it is here we learn her true story.

“The first day I saw you I felt there was something about you, a strength, a sense of self-knowledge that I rarely see. And now, with the little you told me, I don’t know what to say except that you are very brave.”

The end of the novel gives the reader hope. Cilka falls in love, escapes and does get to live a life outside of a prison camp. As heart warming as that is, for me it isn’t the most important part of the story. It’s the fact that she is given a voice. She shows how at such a young age she knew she had what it takes to survive. We see her sacrifice herself on so many occasions. She doesn’t harden or become cruel. Quite the opposite. She is given the opportunity to be free: she nominates Josie and her baby. She saves lives. She talks to very sick patients and gives them a soft exit from this world. She cares and she fights and ultimately it saves her life.

“It’s time to live now, Cilka,” he says. “Without fear, and with the miracle of love.” “Is that a poem?” she asks him, smiling through her tears. “It is the beginning of one.”

I hope we never have to live through events like this again. What is just as important is that these heroes, these young people, have a voice today to share their stories which at the time probably didn’t mean anything to them. It was just the daily grind to get through. Now we can share the stories and humbly reflect on how lucky we truly are.

“Stories like Cilka’s deserve to be told, and I’m humbled and honored to bring it to you. She was just a girl, who became a woman, who was the bravest person Lale Sokolov ever met.”

Final Thoughts
This book is moving, beautiful, poignant and utterly compelling. I read it in one sitting because I literally just couldn’t go to sleep without knowing what happened. You can tell Morris researches the historical details yet this doesn’t turn into a heavy book. The beauty of friendship and sisterhood is something that relates to today. All of us have a fight or flight instinct. Cilka’s was definitely to fight and boy, what a fight she gives. Like many, I did wonder if this book would be as good as the first. However, enough time has passed between the two for me to be able to make a fair judgement. It is just as good, if not better. Morris really has created a masterpiece.

Continue to look after yourselves everyone. Stay safe.

Big love all xx

Posted in Book review, Books, Halloween, London, Reading, UK

The Ravenmaster – Christopher Skaife

Hey Loves!

Happy Halloween! 🎃

I hope you’re all well. Whilst the rain is sloshing down my windows, I wanted to share with you a little gem of a book I’ve recently finished. I had written this post once but somewhere along the way it did its own Halloween trick and vanished. So, I’ve written it again!

As you may be aware, I’ve spent a lot of time this year branching out into non-fiction. It wasn’t a genre I paid much attention to if I’m honest but I’m so glad I’ve pushed myself because I’ve found some absolute wonders along the way. Today’s post is all about The Ravenmaster by Christopher Skaife. I absolutely love London and I’m saddened that it’s been nearly a year since I was last there. In my eyes it’s a vibrant city full of life and wonder. This book then became a treat for me really because it meant I got to visit the Tower of London, in my head at least. I hope you enjoy it a much as I did!

What’s it all about?

Told through the eyes of the current Ravenmaster or Yeoman Warden, Christopher Skaife tells us what his job is like at the Tower of London and the history surrounding the Tower. It was Charles II who insisted that the ravens of the Tower be looked after and protected because without them, the kingdom will fall. There has to be six ravens at the tower for it to be deemed safe and for the kingdom to reign supreme. This has now become legend and firmly part of British history.

“And a good morning it is. The ravens are at home in the Tower. I can breathe easy again – the kingdom is safe for another day.”

The book begins with an explanation of what Skaife’s job actually is. It goes beyond feeding, nurturing and protecting the ravens, it’s about protecting the Queen. Likewise just like in his previous job as a soldier for the British army. I naturally warmed to him and desperately want to meet him now! As only the sixth Ravenmaster, Skaife is privileged to see another side to the ravens that challenges the historic and common perception of them. We learn that there are a number of rules regarding the ravens but the biggest one I related to was that they like routine and if their routine is disrupted, they don’t take too kindly to it!

“There was the time one of our ravens affectionally pecked a cameraman on the back of the leg during a television interview about the Tower, for example: that caused a bit of a commotion.”

We are introduced to the ravens of the book: Munin, Merlina, Erin, Rocky, Jubilee II, Gripp II and Harris. I am pleased to see that the majority of these ravens still remain at the tower, despite the book being published in 2018. Regardless, each raven has their own personality traits and quirks. I guess it is easy to forget that animals can be like us too. I particularly enjoyed the anecdote of Merlina and her love of Pringles – a girl after my own heart, clearly!

“She has a particular ability to be able to spot a tube of Pringles from the other side of Tower Green, hop right up to an innocent member of the public, steal the whole tube, pop off the lid, and cram as many crisps into her mouth as she possibly can before being noticed.”

Some days are more challenging than others. We get given an insight into days when ravens escape, causing panic and concern. We see the lengths Skaife goes to to rescue and continually protect the ravens. Even so, the paying public are there to hear the story and the story needs to be told. I am and forever will be grateful for the heritage, culture and history that we have in Britain. This book joyfully shows us a small part of it. I also really enjoyed the communication and understanding between Skaife and the ravens: the language they have between them. It isn’t a case of humanising them, it’s purely based on understanding them.

“They certainly seem to have the capacity to remember. When former Ravenmaster Derrick Coyle visited the Tower some seven years after leaving… Merlina came straight over to him. It was as if he’d never been away. Seven years!”

As an English teacher, I’ve taught Macbeth every year and every year have the same conversation about ravens in the Lady Macbeth scene. Ravens are prominent in English Literature from William Shakespeare to Edmond Spenser, Charles Dickens and Edgar Allan Poe. Personally, the next time I teach Macbeth I will be mentioning this book for sure. Ravens may have been associated with death but there is such more to them which is fascinating. As another day ends at the Tower, so does the book. The ravens are at home once more.

“Rising above it all were the birds. They rise above it still.”

Final Thoughts

I love, love, love this book for SO many reasons. We are so lucky to have such a rich and deep history. This book made me want to return to the Tower of London and when the world returns to some sense of normality, whatever that may look like, I absolutely will. For now, I’m pacifying it by looking at Twitter where we can keep up with updates from the ravens and the Tower. I’m thrilled to see the beloved Merlina is still there, bless her! (See for yourself here!)

Despite being a short book, it is packed with the here and now as well as the history. I’ve definitely grown in appreciation for the ravens and for the role of the Ravenmaster. I’m SO glad I found this book and it’s one that will be a permanent feature on my bookcase as well as a gift for my friends and family.

Enjoy the rest of Halloween loves! 🎃 Stay safe and well.

Big love xxx

Posted in Book review, Books, Halloween, Reading, Reading Challenge 2020

Reading Challenge 2020: The Familiars – Stacey Halls

Hey lovelies!

I hope you’re all well. For me, I’m so grateful to see half term. Wow. I don’t think I’ve ever felt as exhausted as I do now. Working in a school through the pandemic is a challenge itself. I keep thinking I should write a book about it! Thankfully I’ve been reading plenty, ranging from fiction to non fiction. It’s the writing side of things that seems to have fallen away from me… I can only apologise for my absence. I’ve tried to keep in touch with you all but I know it’s been a while.

Now I’m on half term, it’s time to catch up with all those posts I should have written and comments I should have left to you beautiful people. I also want to make a few tweaks to my blog to keep it fresh and updated. It’s a work in progress I think!

Anyway, today’s post is a review of the book I chose for the October theme of my reading challenge: a spooky story that reflects the Halloween season. I went for The Familiars because I’ve seen so many positive comments and reviews, I just had to read it for myself! It really was a brilliant read. I picked it up yesterday morning and finished it last night. Here goes!

What’s it all about?

The novel is set over 400 years ago at the time of the great Pendle Witch Trials in Lancashire. We meet our heroine, the wonderfully named Fleetwood Shuttleworth. 17 years old, married to Richard, a nobleman of Gawthorpe Hall.

Fleetwood carries a burden, she is pregnant. Yet, she hasn’t had much luck with any of her previous pregnancies. Her duty is to bear her husband an heir. She has failed before, miscarriages and still births. Her value is intrinsically linked to a successful pregnancy, a baby may be worth her life in her husband’s eyes. She’s bordering obsessed with having a child, believing that that is all she is meant to do in life.

Fleetwood is desperate to be the mother Richard wants but she has read a doctor’s letter saying she will die if she gets pregnant again. Why hasn’t Richard told her? Does he want a child more than her wants her? Suffering with her pregnancy and plagued with doubts Fleetwood engages Alice, a young midwife that she met on their land. Alice is a mystery but becomes a very close friend to Fleetwood.

“Loyalty is earned, not demanded.”

Alice knows the uses of herbs and poultices which help Fleetwood and restore her health. But her learning and knowledge has the ring of witchcraft, of the ‘wise women’ who are now feared and reviled by the church and state. Roger, the magistrate and Richard’s mentor is leading the prosecution against the Pendle witches. Accused of cursing a peddler over some metal needles Roger has arrested Alizon Device and is using the testimony of a child, Jennet Device, to arrest others. Alice is implicated by Jennet and a warrant is issued for her arrest.

In a shock discovery Fleetwood finds out that Richard is keeping a mistress at her childhood home and that this lady is also pregnant. She feels sure that she is going to die in childbirth and be replaced. Part of her insecurities tell her she’s already been replaced anyway.

“If the Devil is poverty, and hunger, and grief, then yes, I think they know the Devil.”

She confronts Richard and leaves Gawthorpe Hall to go back to her mother. She takes Alice with her and calls her by another name to keep her safe from arrest. Fleetwood is sure that Alice can keep her alive and healthy throughout the pregnancy. The bond between the two ever tightening.

Eventually Richard persuades her to return to Gawthorpe Hall and she does so but on her arrival, Alice is arrested and taken to Lancaster Castle to be imprisoned. Fleetwood is devastated and begs Roger, as a family friend, as her friend, to relent and release Alice to her custody. Roger has no time for her pleas, he sees only his career and reputation at court. The prattling of a silly girl carries no weight and the life of her midwife, a commoner and a woman is beneath his concern.

“Alice Gray saved my life, not just once but many times. When I itched, she brought me plants to rub on my skin. When I was sick, she made me tinctures. She kept me company when I was at my lowest. She planted a garden for my health.’
‘Sounds like a witch to me, Richard said bitterly.”

The novel ends in such an unexpecting way that I really don’t want to ruin it. All I will say is both the female characters here are incredibly courageous. I was thrilled with the ending and the final chapter being five years later gave me the resolve I desperately wanted.

Final Thoughts

I didn’t expect to read this book in a day. I didn’t expect to open it and be transported back 400 years into a time of fictionalised history. Halls changed some details but the fact that this is real history intrigues me. I will absolutely be reading her next book, The Foundling. Oh, and how beautiful is the cover?!

With regard to the reading challenge, the focus for November is: Something that has been sat on your bookshelf / TBR list that casts a backwards glance. Come back to see what I’ve got planned for this.

Keep safe and well everyone.

Big love

Posted in Book review, Books, Children's Literature, Harry Potter, Reading

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – J.K. Rowling

Hey Everyone!

Happy October. 🎃 Well, I’ve survived week four of school. Naturally, the weekends mean I retreat into my little house and read and recover. I’ve also got the added advantage of seeing my lovely parents for my Mum’s birthday too. However, I’m still squeezing in reading time!

You may remember I decided to reread all the Harry Potter books. Well, I’ve managed to review all of them apart from the final one. So here goes!

What’s it all about?

The novel begins with the aftermath of Dumbledore’s death. At this point, Voldemort is attempting to take control of the Ministry of Magic. At the same time Harry is about to turn seventeen years old which will result in him losing the protection he gained from his mother. Members of the Order of the Phoenix relocate to the Dursley’s and prepare to move Harry to the Burrow. For this, they need a plan and decide to use poly juice potion so they all look like Harry.

“The last words Albus Dumbledore spoke to the pair of us?’ 
Harry is the best hope we have. Trust him.

Unfortunately, the Death Eaters seem to be aware that this was the plan and attack the party. Mad-Eye Moody and Hedwig are killed and George Weasley is severely injured. Voldemort arrives to finally kill Harry but Harry’s wand keeps the spells from Voldemort away.

Harry, Ron and Hermione prepare to search for the final four Horcruxes. They are also the benefactors of gifts from Dumbledore: a Golden Snitch for Harry, a Deluminator for Ron and The Tales of Beedle the Bard for Hermione. They also receive the sword of Godric Gryffindor which has the power to destroy Horcruxes but it is prevented by the Ministry of Magic.

“I’m going to keep going until I succeed — or die. Don’t think I don’t know how this might end. I’ve known it for years.

Bill Weasley and Fleur continue with their wedding plans and the day of the wedding is the day the Ministry falls to Voldemort. The wedding is attacked by Death Eaters. Harry, Ron and Hermione flee to Sirius Black’s family home, 12 Grimmauld Place which now belongs to Harry.

Whilst here, Harry manages to work out that the late brother of Sirius, Regulus, had stolen the Horcrux locket and hid it somewhere in the house. Unfortunately, this was then stolen by Mundungus Fletcher. The house elf, Kreacher, locates Fletcher but he reveals that the locket has been stolen by Dolores Umbridge.

The trio decide to infiltrate the Ministry and steal the locket from her but as they escape, Ron is injured and Grimmauld Place is now compromised. The three are forced to hide in the wilderness, with only their spells to protect them. No matter what they try, they are unable to destroy the locket. Time ticks by before they realise the negative effect the locket has on them. It leads to the desertion of Ron, leaving Harry and Hermione left to continue alone.

During their time together, Harry and Hermione learn about Dumbledore’s past, including the death of his sister Ariana and his connection with the dark wizard, Gellert Grindelwald. They travel to Godrick’s Hollow, Harry’s birthplace. There they meet the historian, Bathilda Bagshot. However, they soon realise that all isn’t as it seems. The real Bathilda has been killed and replaced with Nagini, who attacks them.

The two manage to escape but Harry’s wand is damaged beyond repair in the process, leaving him immensely at risk. A few days later, a doe Patronus guides Harry to a pond where he sees the Gryffindor sword. When Harry tries to to get the sword, the locket also nearly kills him. What’s more surprising is the Deluminator guides Ron back to Harry and saves him. He also manages to destroy the locket with the sword. Another Horcrux down…

Hermione is certain there is a reason why Dumbledore left her the book. The penny drops and Hermione spots a symbol that they have seen before, on an item that Luna Lovegood’s father, Xenophilius, has worn. They visit him and he eventually shares with them the symbol and what it represents: The Deathly Hallows. It contains the Elder Wand (an unbeatable wand), the Resurrection Stone (which can summon the dead) and the infallible Invisibility Cloak.

Xenophilius acts incredibly strangely and they soon realise that he has summoned the Death Eaters to catch them, in exchange for Luna’s freedom. The three manage to escape but Harry works out that Voldemort is hunting for the Elder Wand. This wand has been passed to Dumbledore after he defeated Grindenwald. Finally the pieces come together. The third Hallow is in his own Invisibility Cloak and the Snitch contains the Resurrection Stone.

A slight problem follows as they are captured and taken to Malfoy Manor. Bellatrix tortures Hermione, believe they stole the sword of Gryffindor from her vault at Gringotts. With the help of Dobby the house elf, Harry’s friend, they escape to Bill and Flyer’s house along with fellow prisoners, Luna, Mr Ollivander, Dean Thomas and the goblin Griphook. During the escape, Peter Pettigrew is killed for showing an ounce of mercy towards Harry. The absolute worse part for me was the death of Dobby.

‘Here lies Dobby, a free elf.’

Harry’s visions continue and the next is of Voldemort stealing the Elder Wand from Dunbledore’s tomb. Time is running out so the trio then decide to break into Bellatrix’s vault, believing that another Horcrux is hiding there. With Griphook’s help, they manage to break into the vault. There they retrieve the cup of Hufflepuff and escape on a dragon.

Amongst the chaos, it gave Griphook an opportunity to steal Gryffindor’s sword. Harry has another vision of Voldemort being informed of the break in. Enraged, he decides to check on Horcruxes, revealing to Harry what the final two are: Nagini and one at Hogwarts.

This makes the decision easy for them and they head to the beloved school. It wasn’t easy as Death Eaters are everywhere but make it with the help of Aberforth, Dumbledore’s brother. Voldemort is alerted to Harry’s whereabouts and decides to mount an attack on the school. The teachers and students alike defend the school whilst Harry, Ron and Hermione destroy the cup with the basilisk fangs from the Chamber of Secrets.

Harry discovers the final Horcrux and heads towards the Ravenclaw tower looking for the diadem. It is located in the Room of Requirement but in the process they are ambushed by Draco, Crabbe and Goyle. Crabbe attacks using a cursed fire but is unable to control it. The fire kills him and in turn, destroys the diadem. In the meantime, a number of characters are killed in the Battle of Hogwarts.

Voldemort is becoming increasingly annoyed that the Elder Wand isn’t performing as he expected it to. His reasoning is that Snape is the true owner of the wand as he is the one who killed Dumbledore. Voldemort murders Snape but Snape dies just as Harry arrives. Snape gives Harry his memories for him to see through the Pensieve.

These memories show a completely different side to Snape that no one expected. What appeared on the surface as absolute dislike for Harry, has roots in much more complicated grounds. Snape was a double agent, continuously watching over Harry and his friends, conjuring the doe Patronus because he was in love with Lily. We also learn that Dumbledore was dying after mishandling the ring Horcrux. His death with Snape was planned all along.

‘Dumbledore watched her fly away, and as her silvery glow faded he turned back to Snape, and his eyes were full of tears.
“After all this time?”
“Always,” said Snape.

Harry also now realised he is the final Horcrux, unbeknownst to Voldemort, and must die at Voldemort’s hands to render him mortal. Harry gives himself up and instructs Neville Longbottom to kill Nagini. Harry embraced his fate and takes the Resurrection Stone to reunite himself with his dead parents and Sirius. Voldemort casts the killing curse on him.

What comes next is a dreamlike state where Harry is greeted by Dumbledore. He tells Harry about the original killing curse and how it left a fragment of him creating a connection but now the killing curse has been cast again, that fragment has been killed. Dumbledore also admits that his friendship with Grindelwald caused the death of his sister and estrangement from his brother.

Following this, Harry decides to beat death and head back for Hogwarts to end this for once and for all. He pretends to be dead and Voldemort buys it. Neville pulls the sword of Gryffindor out of the Sorting Hat and beheads Nagini.

Harry hides under his cloak as the battle rages on. Bellatrix is killed by Molly Weasley and Harry then shows himself to Voldemort. He explains how the Elder Wand’s loyalty transfers upon defeat, not the killing. Therefore, the previous master, was Draco not Snape. Harry then disarmed Draco at Malfoy Manor which means that Harry is the master of the Elder Wand.

“Not my daughter, you bitch!”

In retaliation, Voldemort attempts the Killing Curse on Harry but the spell rebounds, killing him. Harry used the Elder Wand to repair his own wand, intending to return the Elder Wand to Dumbledore’s tomb. He keeps his Invisibility Cloak and leaves the Resurrection Stone as forever lost. The wizarding world can live in peace forever more.

19 years later and once again we are on Platform 9 3/4s. The difference now is that we are seeing the children of the trio head to school. Harry and Ginny have three: James Sirius, Albus Severus and Lily Luna. Ron and Hermione have two: Rose and Hugo. Albus is worried he will be sorted into Slytherin. Harry tells him all about Snape’s bravery and that the Sorting Hat would consider his wishes. The novel ends.

‘All is well.’

Final Thoughts

It’s really no secret how much I genuinely love the Harry Potter series. I felt the same sadness that I felt when I finished it the first time round as a geeky kid who grew up with this. I still cry when I think about the death of Dobby. (I know, it’s silly! But he’s just too adorable!!) It’s a book I desperately try and get the kids in my school to read. It’s a book I try and reference as much as I possibly can as it is just magical. Every page is magical. There’s not been anything like it and I doubt there ever will be in my lifetime.

Thanks for sticking with me as I relieved this series. I hope you loved it as much as I did.

Big love all! Xxx

Posted in Book review, Books, Reading, Reading Challenge 2020

Reading Challenge 2020: Gulliver’s Travels – Johnathan Swift

Hey Lovelies!!

I hope you’re all okay. I’ve been trying really hard to keep up with you beautiful people but daily life is very full on. School is busy but we are doing well. That’s all that matters. For me personally, I’m absolutely exhausted but reading has been a really good relief for me. I’ve enjoyed being able to float off into different worlds.

For this month, the topic for the reading challenge was: a tale that leads to adventure and excitement. I wanted to tap into the classics for this because, despite doing many of these at university, I had clear gaps in my classic knowledge. Therefore, I decided to read Gulliver’s Travels by Johnathan Swift. I knew very little about it so went into this with fresh eyes. It absolutely fitted this months focus. Here goes!

What’s it all about?

The novel is structured into four parts which represent different places Lemuel Gulliver travelled to. The first part is all about his journey to Lilliput from May 4th 1969 – 13th April 1702. He ends up here because Gulliver is washed ashore after a shipwreck and finds himself taken prisoner. His captives are a race of tiny, tiny people, less than 6 inches tall. They are the residents of the island of Lilliput. Because of his normal human size, they’re naturally cautious of him. He promises them that he will behave admirably and as a result, is given residency of the island. He becomes a favourite of the Royal Court and is given different permissions. An example of this is that he is to allowed go around the city as long as he doesn’t hurt any of the inhabitants.

To begin with, the Lilliputians are friendly and hospitable. However, his size continually causes them fear and concern. Gulliver also learns that they place great emphasis on trivial matters which clearly mean a lot to them. An example of this is, which end of an egg a person cracks becomes the basis of a deep political rift within that nation.

‘The tiny Lilliputians surmise that Gulliver’s watch may be his god, because it is that which, he admits, he seldom does anything without consulting.

The people are ones who revel in displays of authority and performances of power. Gulliver assists the Lilliputians by stealing a fleet that belongs to the Blefuscudians. The King and his company are deeply unhappy with him. Therefore, they decide to charge him with treason even though he was helping them. He is convicted and sentenced to be blinded.

Amazingly, he decides that he has to escape and manages to do so with a little help. He spots an abandoned boat and sails out to be rescued by a passing ship. He manages to return home.

Part Two is a voyage to Brobdingnag from 20th June 1702 – 3rd June 1706. Gulliver sets sail but his ship is blown off course by storms. As a result, he’s forced to sail for land in search of fresh water. Gulliver is abandoned by his friends and left on the peninsular on the western coast of the North American continent.

Unlike the previous island, this island is the complete opposite. The grass is as tall as a tree. He is found by a farmer who seems to be a complete giant to him. He takes Gulliver home and his daughter cares for her. The farmer is curious about him and decides to exhibit him to make himself some money.

Sometime after doing this, he becomes quite sick and the farmer decides to sell him to the Queen of the realm. Glumdalclitch (the daughter) is taken into the Queen’s service to take care of the tiny man. Gulliver is much too small to use their huge furniture, the Queen commissions a house for him.

‘Difference in opinions has cost many millions of lives: for instance, whether flesh be bread, or bread be flesh; whether the juice of a certain berry be blood or wine.

Gulliver experiences plenty of different adventures on this strange island. He spends time with the King of the island and he shares stories of Europe which leaves the King less than pleased. He doesn’t like the use of guns and cannons.

On a trip to the seaside, Gulliver ends up losing his small house as it’s been seized by a giant eagle which drops the house and Gulliver into the sea. Here he is picked up by sailors who return him to England.

The penultimate part spans from 5th August 1706 – 16 April 1710. This voyage was to Laputa, Balnibarbi, Luggnagg, Glubbdubdrib and Japan. Upon setting out for the voyage, Gulliver’s ship is attacked by pirates and he is marooned near a rocky, deserted island in India. He is eventually rescued by the flying island of Laputa, a kingdom devoted to the arts of music, mathematics and astronomy. What’s different here is instead of using armies, they throw rocks down at rebellious cities on the ground.

Whilst there, Gulliver explores Balnibarbi, the kingdom ruled from Laputa, as a guest of a courtier. He learns a range of things here but continues to move on to Maldonado to await a trader who can take him on to Japan.

Whilst waiting for this, Gulliver takes the opportunity for a short trip to Glubbdubdrib. Here, he visit is a magician’s dwelling and discusses history with ghosts of historical figures such as Julius Caesar, Homer and Aristotle, to name a few.

Finally, Gulliver reaches Japan but asks the Emperor to help him, which he does. At this point, Gulliver returns home with a promise to himself that that is where he shall remain.

The final part of the novel is a voyage to the Land of Houyhnhnms. This voyage was from 7th September 1710 – 5th December 1715. Gulliver decides to ignore his earlier promise to himself of staying at home and decides to head back to sea. This time he is the captain of a merchantman who needs additional crew members. It is his belief that his crew have turned against him. Predictably, his crew commits a mutiny.

They hold him for a period of time but decide to leave him on the first piece of land they come across in order for them to continue as pirates. Gulliver is abandoned in a landing boat and finds himself among a deformed savage race of humanoid creatures which he conceives a violent antipathy. He meets the Houyhnhnms, a race of talking horses. These rules the deformed creatures he previously met.

Gulliver is accepted and becomes a member of a horse’s household. He learns to admire and appreciate how they are and their way of life. There is a problem though, they see him as a threat and as someone that poses danger to them. They demand that he swim back to the land he came from.

The initial Houyhnhnm who took him in decides to help him by giving him time to build a canoe to make the departure easier. However, this journey is also a disaster. Luckily, he is picked up by a Portuguese boat and returns to England. To home.

This made me reflect, how vain an attempt it is for a man to endeavor to do himself honor among those who are out of all degree of equality or comparison with him.

This isn’t as simple as it may seem. Gulliver is unable to reconcile himself and inevitably becomes a recluse, avoiding his family and remaining at home. He only spends his time with his horses.

Final Thoughts

This book was unlike anything I’ve read before. I’ve previously avoided these types of classics because I had this preconceived idea that I just wouldn’t enjoy them. I found that this book was actually quite masculine, just because of the history associated with sailing. I won’t be running to get another classic like this, but I absolutely have no regrets about reading it.

Catch up with you all soon. Keep safe and warm!

Big love xx

Posted in Book review, Books, Reading Challenge 2020

Reading Challenge 2020: One Year Later – Sanjida Kay

Hey Lovelies!

How are you all doing? Well, the first week back to school was a bit of a shock to the system, I can’t lie. It’s very difficult to maintain two metres distancing and teach or move around the building. We’ll get there. As long as we are all safe, that’s all that matters really.

I apologise for my absence but I’m here now to share with you my book for August which I did read in August but didn’t get round to reviewing for you all. The topic for the reading challenge that month was: a summer read to an exotic place. (For more information on my reading challenge click here.)

Very few of us got to visit the countries we wanted to this year so this was the perfect opportunity to drift off someplace good. However, I didn’t want it to just be a holiday romance type book. I decided to read One Year Later by Sanjida Kay. I’d found this by pure chance on my travels. I have to say, I really enjoyed it!

What’s it all about?

The novel opens with a date night between Amy and Matt. However, this isn’t just any date night. The history between them is difficult and challenging. Something doesn’t quite seem right. The pair are coexisting together but are barely living. Sadly, date night doesn’t even happy due to the arrival of Amy’s brother, Nick, is late for his baby sitting duties.

The death of Ruby-May is apparent right from the start. She’s a shadow over the entire plot but is never present. (Hence the title, One Year Later). The parents clearly are trying to function and cope with the circumstances for her death but ultimately they haunt the lives of everyone within the family unit.

To mark the upcoming one year anniversary, they make the brave decision to leave the country and head to Tuscany where, as a family, they will honour the event as one. Amy and Matt are joined by Nick, Bethany (Amy’s sister), Chloe (Matt’s other daughter) and the two super little ones, Lotte and Theo. Luca (nanny come child psychologist) and Bethany’s personal trainer. The only person not invited, rather awkwardly, is Amy’s dad. The blame for Ruby-May’s death lies firmly at his door in the eyes of Amy and Matt.

They arrive to beautiful Italy, the setting restoring some inner peace. They settle in for the evening as a group and chat idly. The following morning the first bomb shell happens… Nick arrives with their father. It is obviously clear that no one is pleased about this.

‘Amy feels as if she can’t breathe. She holds onto the table to stop herself from folding in two. Bethany pours them both prosecco and takes a long drink. She regards her father coldly. “Dad, why are you here?”‘

Begrudgingly, their father is allowed to stay and so begins a family holiday with the unusual amount of walking on egg shells.

Meanwhile, the narration changes and we head back to the past where we see a snapshot of what life was like before, with Ruby-May at the heart of it. The novel follows the structure throughout: we hear different voices at different times to create one story. The central figure being Ruby-May.

Over the next few days, the reader gains an image of a family that has been devastated and shattered beyond repair. They’re each trying to desperately hold onto their own little piece but it’s tinged by bursts of anger and grief. Amy is a shadow, clouded by wind. Everything is internal and living means going through the motions. Whereas husband Matt is full of rage and anger at all times. He seems to have a much better relationship with his ex wife than with Amy, something that Amy is all to aware of.

‘Amy continues to dunk her teabag, in and out, in and out, staring at a spot a foot or so in front of her. She’s still, a part from the small, mechanical movement of her wrist. The two pale children, fixated on their whey-faced mother, with her hacked off blonde hair and her dead eyes.’

Bethany is self obsessed and insensitive, possibly because of her career choice of being on TV. There is a feeling that this is a defence mechanism on her part, a way of distracting herself. Nick is desperately trying to hold it all together and please everything, often at the detriment to himself. His goal is to try and mend the family, help it heal. He too is carrying his own emotional scars which impact his every day life. These truths are revealed to us as the plot develops and unfolds.

Theo and Lotte provide the refreshing innocence that this book needs to prevent it from becoming too heavy and emotive. They’re happy go lucky and love life. They don’t really understand what’s happened but talk about Ruby-May as if she’s next door. They have a naivety to them that makes my heart melt. One of the most poignant scenes in the novel for me is where Nick, Lotte and Theo hold their own funeral for Ruby-May, using her doll.

“One day we all had a bath together – me, Lotte and Ruby-May. And I got out, because I didn’t want to be in the bath with two girls, and then Ruby-May did a poo. In the bath!” He collapsed with laughter. Lotte starts giggling too… abruptly they both stop. “She’s dead now,” says Lotte.

The novel has plenty of twists and turns and I don’t want to ruin them for you. However, the different perspectives create the full narrative as to what really happened the day Ruby-May was taken from them.

This book is a clear, poignant portrayal of grief and the devastation that the loss of a child would bring to a family. The hope of the beautiful Italian setting to try and calm them does become cathartic. As the sea laps the shore, time still passes and the family can learn to forgive and live as best as they can, taking Ruby-May in their hearts every single day.

Final Thoughts

I love this book for so many reasons. The split narratives are crucial for making the plot work. I felt like I knew and adored Ruby-May as much as the characters. The twists and turns mean that you never really know what’s coming next. I got my head around something but then another thing would happen which would call it all into question again. It kept me gripped until the last page because, like Amy and Matt, I needed to know what actually happened. I felt like I needed closure as much as they did.

Whilst not a conventional holiday novel, I’m so glad I read this. Italy’s serenity and sublime beauty was described so I felt like I was there. I loved the juxtaposition between this idyllic setting and the utter devastation they all feel.

This book is arguably one of my favourite this year. It’s utterly devastatingly real.

I’m off to prepare for another week of marathon running (meaning teaching!!). Stay safe all.

Big love xxx

Posted in Book review, Books, Box of Stories, Reading, Romance

Sofia Khan Is Not Obliged – Ayisha Malik

Hello Lovely Blogging Friends!

September already… I genuinely can’t quite believe it. I’m embracing the calm before the storm and returning to school. I know that teaching now will be completely different to how it’s ever been before but I want the best for my students. I’m making the most of the time I’ve got now reading the never ending TBR pile and catching up with you amazing people.

Today I want to share with you a book I got from a random book box (find out about the super Box of Stories family here.) I’ve ordered three boxes over summer and I’ve finished the first box of four books. I love this website because you get books you’ve never thought of and it challenges you to read things you may not always consider.

Anyway, one of the BEST books I’ve read this year has come from there and it is this book I want to share with you all today. Sofia Khan is Not Obliged – by Ayisha Malik. I really hope you love it as much as I did.

What’s it all about?

This book is so current and relatable for so many people that I just had to share it. The book follows the protagonist, Sofia Khan, a Muslim girl living in London with all her dating dramas. She’s so funny and genuine, I adored her character from the start.

The first relationship she shares with us is between her and her boyfriend, Imran. He asks her to move in with his family, in a house connected to theirs via a connecting door. Sofia is completely not interested in that style of life, living in a ‘hole-in-the-wall’ type home. This inevitably brings the relationship to a close as neither party are willing to budge.

Well, I had to choose between God and a bunch of sales execs. I carried on praying, of course.

The following love interest is Naim, but this raises further complications for Sofia. Pressure is a constant from her family who want her to follow tradition and get married. Everyone else is doing it, after all!

One day on the tube to work, Sofia is called a terrorist by a man she accidentally bumps into. Unfortunately, despite her shock and anger, the train departs again before she’s able to do anything.

Nevertheless, Sofia continues to make her way to work, a little bruised from the run in with the ignorant man. When she arrives at her publishing job, there’s yet another meeting. This time, she ends up being the centre of attention and it is decided that she will write a book all about dating and her experiences of dating as a British Muslim. Although a little reluctant, her friends support her and also feature in the book – friends like Suj who is dating someone different to her and Hannah who has decided to enter a polygamous marriage. The range of different relationships explored are the perfect way to challenge conventions that we are used to.

Sofia also manages to build an unlikely friendship with her tattooed next door neighbour, Conall. During the furious wedding chat and life planning, he provides Sofia strength and refuge that she so desperately needs. Most importantly, she can use his place to write. After all, the book isn’t going to write itself.

Later, Sofia’s dad has a heart attack which knocks her immensely. All her wants is to see her married and settled so Sofia decides to marry Imran after all. She thinks that this is the way to make her dad better and her family happy.

There’s frenzied excitement as the family get ready for the marriage. Sofia thought she would be feeling more but the happiness of her family is of most importance to her. Meanwhile, Conall informs her that he is going to Afghanistan for three months. She notices that this news has a strange effect on her – she’s desperately sad but buries it in wedding things. Imran reveals to her that he expects her to take his name, something that she vehemently is against. This really calls time on the relationship. It isn’t what she wants or needs right now. She was going into it for the wrong reasons. She calls off the wedding, considering telling her parents at a later date.

Back at work and with a final draft written, Sofia attends a meeting here she is told that the book needs more sex in it, as this is what the reading public want and expect from a dating book. Naturally, Sofia is reluctant. Her boss tells her that the sex element will distract the reader from questioning why Sofia chooses to live her life the way she does.

She hides at Conall’s when the news breaks that her engagement has failed. This causes her family to be furious with her. There are severe financial implications of this broken relationship too.

I never realised that the weight of disappointment rests mostly on your heart.

Just like that, we are taken back to what is most important: family. We learn the news of Sofia’s father passing away. She’s absolutely devastated. This part of the novel is so poignant and beautifully written. I couldn’t help but feel desperately sad for her.

“One of the issues about the whole ‘being alone’ stance is not having anyone to share the world’s problems with. A person’s been scooped out of your life and so you speak into a pit of nothingness. Or you don’t speak at all, depending on your tendency towards soliloquy.

Life continues and back at Waterloo Station, Sofia recognises the man who called her a terrorist. She decides to follow him and sits in the seat she could see he wanted. In response, he calls her a ‘Paki bitch’. An elder lady and a man come to her defence but Sofia decides to embrace the lessons she’s learnt from Conall. She goes after him, hurls an insult at him and then punches him.

I don’t consider “prick” a swear word. For most people it’s just a state of being.

Conall emails her to say that he won’t be in Afghanistan much longer because he’s met someone and they’re heating to Pakistan to make a film. She isn’t too sure how to take this news but she knows she feels utterly deflated. Work isn’t much better as she finally realised something. She doesn’t want to write this book anymore. She’s reminded that she’s got a contract to fulfil and a book will be published in October. She reluctantly agrees but it won’t be the book she’s drafted. She also resigns.

Conall returns and asks her to come out to Pakistan with him. It doesn’t take her long to agree. The issue is the family, more specially, male members of the family. However, her mother steps up and informs them that times are very different now and she will be absolutely fine.

“I’ve always hated words of comfort. I don’t know if you should trust a person who says ‘It’s going to be OK’ unless they’re going to personally try and fix it.”

Sofia gets on a plane with him where she learns that he has converted to Islam for her. This is of the upmost importance to her and she is completely blown away by this gesture. It was a rule that she would not date anyone that didn’t share her faith as they wouldn’t understand the importance of it.

The book ends with the start of their blossoming relationship.

Final Thoughts

I loved this book for so many reasons. Sofia is just a gem – I honestly wanted to be her friend. I related to the family pressures immensely – it felt like I was part of her family! The exploration of different relationships was really good too. Why shouldn’t people from different believes and backgrounds fall in love? The most important thing for me was this was hilarious. The language was accessible and just so funny. I LOVED it.

Continue to stay safe and well.

Big love all!! Xx

Posted in Book review, Books, Children's Literature, Harry Potter

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince – J.K. Rowling

Hey Loves!

Firstly, I apologise for my absence. I’ve been a bit under the weather but I’m fighting fit again now, thankfully.

Time today for the penultimate Harry Potter book: Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. I’ve really been enjoying re reading the series and part of me is sad that it’s all coming to an end again. Nevertheless, the beauty of books is that you can read and reread, especially the ones we love. I find it soothes the soul, for sure.

I hope you enjoy this review. Thanks for sticking with me for the series!

What’s it all about?

Back with our favourite duo! The novel opens with Severus Snap, a member of the Order of the Phoenix, meeting with Narcissa Malloy and Bellatrix Lestrange. Narcissa expresses her grave concern for her son, Draco following his dangerous mission given to him by Voldemort. Snape makes an Unbreakable Vow with Narcissa, vowing to keep Draco safe.

An Unbreakable Vow?” said Ron, looking stunned. “Nah, he can’t have…. Are you sure?”
“Yes I’m sure,” said Harry. “Why, what does it mean?”
“Well, you can’t break an Unbreakable Vow…”
“I’d worked that much out for myself, funnily enough.

Dumbledore arrives at Privet Drive to take Harry to the Burrow. They detour to the home of Horace Slughorn, former Potions teacher at Hogwarts, and Harry manages to persuade him to return to teaching.

On the return to school via the Hogwarts Express, Harry suspects Draco has become a Death Eater. Using his invisibility cloak, Harry eavesdrops on Draco in his carriage where he is bragging about his mission. Draco catches Harry in the process, petrifies him and breaks his nose. Nymphadora Tonks finds Harry and takes him back to the castle. There, Dumbledore announces to the school that Snape will be teaching Defence Against the Dark Arts, while Slughorn teaches Potions.

One lesson, Harry borrows a textbook from a cupboard. This book once belonged to the mysterious “Half-Blood Prince” who clearly excelled at Potions. In the margin the owner wrote notes and tweaks to potions. Harry excels at the subject as well, winning a bottle of Felix Felicis or “Liquid Luck”. His success pleases Slughorn immensely but angers Hermione who is distrusting of the book.

Over time, Ron and Hermione grow closer but Ron learns from Ginny about Hermione’s history with Victor Krum. To make Hermione jealous, Ron decides to go out with Lavender Brown. Harry is aware of his own feelings for Ginny but is conflicted because of his friendship with Ron. Following a Gryffindor Quidditch win, Ron gives them his blessing.

Harry looked around; there was Ginny running toward him; she had a hard blazing look in her face as she threw her arms around him. And without thinking, without planning it, without worrying about the fact that fifty people were watching, Harry kissed her. After several long moments, or it might have been half an hour-or possibly several sunlit days- they broke apart.

Meanwhile, as the year goes on, Draco becomes more unhinged. As a result, he invites Harry to duel with him. During the duel, Harry uses an unknown spell from his borrowed book which nearly kills Draco. Snaps saves him but more questions about the book are raised.

Dumbledore tries to help Harry with his foretold battle with Voldemort using the Pensieve to examine memories of people who had met Voldemort before. One of the memories involves Slughorn talking with Tom Riddle during his time at Hogwarts. The problem with this memory is it has been tampered with. Dumbledore asks Harry to obtain the real one from Slughorn in order to find out exactly what was discussed.

To retrieve the memory, Harry uses the Felix Felicis. The memory shows Slughorn and Riddle discussing the process of splitting one’s soul and hiding it in Horcruxes, making the using immortal. Voldemort took this one step further by creating six Horcrux which must all be destroyed in order to destroy Voldemort completely. We know that two have already been destroyed – the diary from The Chamber of Secrets and a ring from Voldemort’s grandfather. Four remain…

Harry and Dumbledore journey to a cave to a cave where Dumbledore suspects a Horcrux to be. The focus of this adventure is Slytherin’s locket. They do manage to find the locket in a potion filled basin in the middle of an underground lake. The locket can only be reached by drinking the potion, something that Dumbledore demands he does. He begs Harry to make him keep drinking, despite what he may say. He does so, severely weakening Dumbledore. Nevertheless, they’ve got the locket and return to Hogwarts.

“Let us step into the night and pursue that flighty temptress, adventure.”

Upon their return, they see the Dark Mark over a school tower. The pair climb the tower and are all ambushed by Draco, who reveals that his mission from Voldemort is to kill Dumbledore. Draco cannot do it. He is consumed by fear. Whilst hiding in the shadows, Harry spots Snape arriving. He thinks he is there to help Dumbledore, but he is wrong. Snape kills him.

Harry ignores the fact that Hogwarts is being taken over by Death Eaters because his attention is on getting Snape. Snape surprises him by revealing he is the Half-Blood Prince and then escaped with the rest of Voldemort’s followers.

Harry slips into deep despair and decides he has to break up with Ginny. After all, he would just be putting her at risk. He also learns that the locket is a fake, containing a note from something named “RAB”. Harry announces to his friends that he is going to search for the remaining Horcruxes the following year, rather than returning to Hogwarts.

We’ll be there, Harry,” said Ron
“What?”
“At your Aunt and Uncle’s house,” said Ron, “And then we’ll go with you wherever you’re going.”
“No-” said Harry quickly; he hadn’t counted on this, he had meant them to understand that he was undertaking the most dangerous journey alone. 
“You said it once before,” said Hermione quickly, “that there was time to turn back if we wanted to. We’ve had time, haven’t we? We’re with you whatever happens.

Final Thoughts

It’s this book that reminds me what heart break feels like. The death of Dumbledore definitely shocked the Potter world when this book was initially published. The second time around hit me just as hard. I felt what Harry was feeling – the beauty of incredible writing. I’ve said it so many times but the language gets darker along with the magic. The penultimate serves its purpose – we have to know what happens at the end. Will Harry win? Will they find the Horcruxes? What will happen next?

Continue to stay safe and well all.

Big love xxx

Posted in Book review, Books, Children's Literature, Harry Potter, Reading

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix – J.K. Rowling

Hi Lovelies!!

How are you all? The sunshine has been beautiful and this also means it’s the perfect weather for reading. I’ve got some reviews I really need to catch up on so I hope you’ll be patient with me whilst I get through them. I hope you have been enjoying the weather and making some lovely memories this summer. Anyway, it’s time for me to review the next book in the Harry Potter series: The Order of the Phoenix. Here goes!

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What’s it all about?

As per all the other novels, The Order of the Phoenix begins in the summer holidays where Harry is back with his Aunt and Uncle Dursley. During one day, Harry and his cousin Dudley are attacked by Dementors. Harry openly casts his patronus to save Dudley and himself. Due to performing under age magic, Harry is expelled from Hogwarts. However, this is postponed pending a hearing at the Ministry of Magic. Harry is clearly at more risk than ever so it is decided that one evening, a group of wizards would whisk him away to 12 Grimmauld Place, the childhood home of Sirius Black. Grimmauld Place has become the headquarters of the Order. These wizards are willing to risk their own life for Harry. The likes of Mad-Eye Moody, Remus Lupin, Nymphadora Tonks and Kingsley Shacklebolt are all part of the guard to move Harry safely.

Ron and Hermione explain to Harry that the Order is a secret organisation led by Albus Dumbledore dedicating to fighting Lord Voldemort and his Death Eater followers. From here, they learn that Voldemort is seeking something he did not have prior to his first defeat. The Ministry of Magic, led by Cornelius Fudge, refuses to acknowledge anything about Voldemort’s return. They don’t want people to panic and live in fear again. After all, they only have the word of Harry and his friends. Instead, the Ministry decide to launch and run a smear campaign against Harry and Dumbledore with the Daily Prophet.

The day of Harry’s trial approaches but Harry doesn’t get to speak. Dumbledore does this for him. He questions the use of magic in self-defence and probes to know why the Dementors are out lose in suburban Britain. Harry saved his cousins life, for sure. As a result of Dumbledore’s questioning, Harry is cleared of all charges.

“You know, Minister, I disagree with Dumbledore on many counts…but you cannot deny he’s got style…”

Hogwarts should be a safe place for Harry but seeing the new Defence Against the Dark Arts teacher is none other than Dolores Umbridge, a senior employee in the Ministry of Magic. Like Fudge, she also refuses to acknowledge the return of Voldemort. Her and Harry clash daily, with her punishing Harry by having him write ‘I must not tell lies’ into the back of his hand with a cursed quill during detention. Despite being a Defence Against the Dark Arts teacher, she refuses to teach them or let them perform any defensive spells. Harry, Ron and Hermione know the need for these spells so decide to start their own group with any students willing to join if they wish to learn. Umbridge bans any clubs that are not approved by her but Dobby informs Harry about the Room of Requirement. Here they could meet in secret and practice defensive spells under Harry’s instruction. They named themselves, Dumbledore’s Army.

Whilst all of this is happening, the absence of Hagrid is ever apparent. Upon his return, Harry, Ron and Hermione learn that he was (unsuccessfully) trying to prevent the last of the giants from joining Voldemort. Umbridge continues to increase her power and influence within the school. She begins to inspect teachers with the intension of sacking them.

One night when Harry is sleeping, he dreams that he sees through the eyes of Voldemort’s snake, Nagini, who is possessed by him. What Harry sees is Nagini attacking Arthur Weasley. Harry, alarmed, heads straight for Professor McGonagall and Professor Dumbledore. As a result of this, Arthur is rescued and saved. He could have died if it wasn’t for Harry. Dumbledore is concerned that Voldemort could use Harry without him realising so organises Occlumency lessons with Professor Snape. This should mean that Harry would be able to protect his mind against any manipulation from Voldemort. Surprisingly, Snape is also a member of the Order.

Hogwarts is becoming a darker, more miserable place because of Umbridge. She makes many changes in the school. She publicly sacks Professor Trelawney, the Divination teacher. Soon after, Umbridge learns about Dumbledore’s Army after a tip off from Cho Chang’s friend, Marietta Edgecombe. To prevent Harry’s expulsion, Dumbledore takes full responsibility for the group and is forced into hiding. Umbridge then becomes headmistress but Fred and George happily cause pandemonium around the school in revenge.

Harry also struggles with his Occlumency lessons. During one lesson, Snape is called away, leaving behind Dumbledore’s Pensieve, on which he had been storing members he did not wish Harry to see. Driven by curiosity, Harry uses the Pensieve and sees a memory of Snape being bullied by his father, James Potter and Sirius. Snape catches Harry and ends the lesson furious with him. More concerning for Harry is the fact that his father wasn’t particularly nice or friendly. He needs to speak to Sirius to find out what exactly went on. He decides to sneak into Umbridge’s office to use Floo powder to speak with Lupin and Sirius in the fireplace. This wouldn’t have been possible without the help of Fred and George. The two decide that their talents are wasted at Hogwarts so decide to leave and open a joke shop in Diagon Alley.

“The mind is not a book, to be opened at will and examined at leisure. Thoughts are not etched on the inside of skulls, to be perused by an invader. The mind is a complex and many-layered thing.”

Umbridge takes a natural disliking to Hagrid due to him being half giant, and his inspection goes badly. Hagrid confides to Harry, Ron and Hermione that he has brought his giant half brother, Grawp, to Hogwarts and has hidden him in the Forbidden Forest. He’s asked the trio to look after him if Hagrid is forced to leave Hogwarts. During the student OWL exams, Umbridge attacks Hagrid one night with a pack of Aurors. Hagrid overpowers them but flees the school for his own safety. McGonagall is injured in the attack and is put in St. Mungo’s Hospital, meaning that Harry has lost two people who support and protect him.

On the last day of the OWL exams, Harry has a vision of Sirius being tortured by Voldemort in the Department of Mysteries. Once again, Harry uses the fireplace belonging to Umbridge to connect with Grimmauld Place to see if the vision was genuine. Kreacher, the house elf, confirms this. Harry is caught by Umbridge and she summons Snape, intending to use Veritaserum to question Harry. Surprisingly, Snape claims he has none left. Harry cryptically warns Snape about Sirius but Snape feigns misunderstanding.

Umbridge reveals that she ordered the Dementor attack on Harry and Dudley over the summer to silence him. She also decides to use the illegal Cruciatus Curse on Harry to interrogate him, but Hermione intervenes, convincing Umbridge that they are hiding a weapon of Dumbledore’s in the Forbidden Forest. Following Hermione’s lead, Umbridge follows Harry and Hermione to the forest which is inhabited by centaurs. Umbridge provokes them and they take her captive. With Grawp’s help, Harry and Hermione escape.

Luna, Ron, Ginny and Neville join them in the forest and they fly to the Ministry of Magic on Thestrals in order to save Sirius. Once they are at the Ministry, they cannot find him anywhere. What they do find though is a glass sphere with Harry’s and Voldemort’s name on it. Death Eaters arrive, led by Lucius Malfoy and attack in order to secure the sphere, which happens to be the object that Voldemort has been trying to locate. This sphere is a recording of a prophecy concerning the two. As the subjects of the prophecy are the only ones who can remove them, Harry is brought there under false visions planted by Voldemort. Harry and his friends are soon joined by members of the Order and battle the Death Eaters. During the battle, Neville accidentally destroys the prophecy and Bellatrix Lestrange kills Sirius.

Harry chases after her but is clearly no match. Voldemort arrives to kill Harry himself but Dumbledore also chooses this moment to come out of hiding. Voldemort, unable to kill Dumbledore, possesses Harry in an attempt to get him to kill Dumbledore. Harry fights off the possession and Voldemort escapes just as Fudge appears. Now he has seen Voldemort himself, Fudge has no choice but to accept the truth now. He is back.

Later, in his office, Dumbledore explains that Snape understood the warning from Harry and after Harry failed to return from the Forest, alerted the Order, enabling them to save Harry and his friends. Dumbledore also shares that Kreacher had informed Narcissa Malfoy, of the close relationship between Harry and Sirius. This information was crucial for Voldemort as he knew exactly what false memory to plant to make Harry do exactly what he needed.

Harry has to stay with the Dursleys for one last summer. He learns that because Aunt Petunia, Lily’s sister, took Harry into her home, she seals the protection Harry gained from his mother when she died. As long as he is at Number Four, Privet Drive, he is safe from Voldemort and his followers. Dumbledore shares the prophecy, made by Professor Trelawney, with Harry. The prophecy had foretold the birth of someone with the power to defeat Voldemort. One of Voldemort’s followers heard this and informed him. Although the prophecy pointed at either Harry or Neville, Voldemort believed it to be about Harry, which is why he tried to kill him as a baby. The rest of the prophecy hinted that Voldemort would unknowingly mark his opponent as an equal. Eventually, one would have to kill the other.

“I DON’T CARE!” Harry yelled at them, snatching up a lunascope and throwing it into the fireplace. “I’VE HAD ENOUGH, I’VE SEEN ENOUGH, I WANT OUT, I WANT IT TO END, I DON’T CARE ANYMORE!”
“You do care,” said Dumbledore. He had not flinched or made a single move to stop Harry demolishing his office. His expression was calm, almost detached. “You care so much you feel as though you will bleed to death with the pain of it.”

The loss of Sirius, the feeling of guilt and the weight of the prophecy results in Harry becoming quite low. At least now the wizarding community know that he was telling the truth and in turn gains him more respect. His friends and loved ones give him the motivation he needs to return to the Dursleys for one final summer.

Final Thoughts

You guys all know how much I love the Harry Potter books but what is even better now is reading them again as an adult, I appreciate things I probably didn’t notice as a young reader. The language is darker the deeper we get into the series, the threat becomes more menacing and Voldemort gets worse with age. I do firmly believe that my generation grew up with Harry. What is amazing now is that we have a whole new generation doing the same. It’s so special and so magical.

Take care all. Big love xxxx

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Posted in Book review, Books, Reading

The Secret Dreamworld of a Shopaholic – Sophie Kinsella

Hello Lovelies!

Happy August. Can you believe it? All the months seem to be blurring into one very strange year. However, the sun is shining and the birds are singing and that is the most important thing. I’m making the most of my time in the garden reading, slowly forgetting the mountain I need to climb for work. I’d do a rubbish job if I’m tired anyway!

I wanted to share with you a book I read quite quickly yesterday, Sophie Kinsella’s – The Secret Dreamworld of a Shopaholic. For my friends across the pond, you may know this book as Confessions of a Shopaholic. It’s an ongoing joke in my family that I’m such a good shopper and that the economy has been saved by me. Regardless of the humour, I love to browse the shops so this book had me hooked on all levels. (I’ve quickly learnt Rebecca Bloomwood is a whole other level of shopper to me! Wow!)

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What’s it all about?

Written twenty years ago, this book centres around the loveable Rebecca Bloomwood. She lives in a trendy flat in Fulham with her best friend Suze who seems to have significantly more luck than she does. Becky works as a financial journalist for the magazine, Successful Savings, but has no interest in the financial world at all. She happily attends conferences for catching up with her friend Elly Granger,  the champagne and free biscuits. The biggest issue for Becky is the fact that she is in debt because of her love of shopping. She’s completely out of control. She convinces herself that she needs the designer clothes, homeware and beauty products. After all, in her eyes, they are an investment. The novel is punctuated with various emails and letters from banks and lenders – he responses hilarious for the reader, less so for the business she is writing to. Her parents offer her advice: cut back spending or make more money.

Another day, another press conference this time held by Brandon Communications. Becky notices a sale sign in the window of the Denny and George shop. They NEVER have sales. She sees the scarf she has obsessed over at a 50% discount. However, she’s left her Visa card at the office. Thankfully, the shop assistant she likes lets her hold it until the end of the day. Perfect! Becky can easily make the press conference and then pick up the scarf.

“That moment. That instant when your fingers curl round the handles of a shiny, uncreased bag—and all the gorgeous new things inside it become yours. What’s it like? It’s like going hungry for days, then cramming your mouth full of warm buttered toast. It’s like waking up and realizing it’s the weekend. It’s like the better moments of sex. Everything else is blocked out of your mind. It’s pure, selfish pleasure.”

When she arrives at the press conference, she is greeted by a staff member of Brandon Communications who, prompted by the Financial Times under her arm, asks her opinion on a surprising update in the world of banking. Becky has no idea what this lady is jabbering about and nods her way through. Luke Brandon, also in attendance, realises that she has no idea what is happening tells her that one financial group recently brought another and was rumoured to that Flagstaff Life would be going the same way.

Crisis averted but Becky is then given another problem. Her boss gives her another errand to do being as she is closer in the city. What this means for Becky though is she won’t have time to go back for her Visa card in order to pay for the scarf. She also needs twenty pounds cash to reach the total. She begs her friend Elly Granger if she can borrow some money but she’s in the same state that Becky is – broke! The press conference continues to happen in the background but Luke Brandon hears the conversation about twenty pounds. He stops the conference to give it to her, once Becky has spiralled another story – this time about it being a present for her aunt in hospital.

“Your aunt must be a stylish lady.” “She is,” I say, and clear my throat. “She’s terribly creative and original.” “I’m sure she is,” says Luke, and pauses. “What’s her name?” Oh God. I should have run as soon as I saw him, while I had a chance. Now I’m paralyzed. I can’t think of a single female name. “Erm … Ermintrude,”

Another bullet dodged, more letters ignored and Suze invites Becky out for dinner with her cousins. Becky can’t really stand them but goes because Suze is a good friend. Whilst out at dinner, Becky spots Luke so goes to speak to him, not realising he is there with his step mother. She notices her scarf and compliments her on it. Luke challenges her about it being for her aunt and once again, Becky blunders her way through that conversation. Apparently her aunt gave it to her. Luke invites her shopping – now this is something she can get on board with and they end up buying luggage in Harrods. This is an all new shopping experience for Becky as she hadn’t considered luggage before. Luke picks the one Becky likes the most, surprising her. However, she has the best time until Luke reveals it’s for his girlfriend, Sacha.

“Rule of life. If you bother to ask someone’s advice, then bother to listen to it.”

Back at home, Suze and Becky happen to be flicking through a magazine and stumble across a list of eligible millionaires which include Suze’s cousin, Tarquin. Suze reveals that Tarquin has a soft spot for Becky which Becky has always ignored. Nevertheless, Becky decides to give it a go and they have a date. Whilst Tarquin is in the bathroom, Becky looks at his chequebook feeling incredibly unimpressed. Helped by alcohol, Becky decides to give up on the date as she just isn’t attracted to him. Tarquin tells Suze that it was obvious that she didn’t like him, making it a tad awkward at home too.

“Don’t think about it. Don’t think about what could have been. It’s too unbearable.”

Meanwhile, throughout the novel Becky’s bank manager, Derek Smeath is constantly trying to contact her about the money she owes and to find a way in order for her to repay it. Becky being Becky, comes up with story after story to avoid him. She claims to have broken her leg, have glandular fever, her aunt died etc. because she is afraid of the mess she is in. What is clear to the bank is that she cannot send a cheque or repay because she has no additional money. He writes to her, rings her home, rings her parents and eventually she goes into hiding at her parents house.

Whilst hiding there she learns that the neighbours made a financial decision based on advice that Becky gave. However, Becky didn’t really know what she was saying! The result of this meant that they lost twenty thousand pounds as a result of the bank take over. Becky feels distraught and horrified that people could be treated in this way and sets to make things right by writing an article that exposes the bank’s duplicity.

“They said I was a valued customer, now they send me hate mail.”

The article is a huge success, taking the financial world by storm. This leads to Becky appearing on a daytime television show, The Morning Coffee. But, what she doesn’t know is the bank is a client of Luke Brandon’s PR firm. Luke is furious with her, believing she wrote the article to get back at him. Becky and Luke end up battling it out on the show but events take a turn for the strange and unexpected. Luke admits that Becky is right and announces that Brandon Communications will no longer be representing the bank. Becky is so good she ends up taking calls and offering advice and is given a regular slot on the show. Awkwardly, she bumps into Derek Smeath. She apologises for her behaviour and finally agrees to a meeting.

More excitingly, Becky is invited for a business dinner at the Ritz Hotel with Luke. She dresses to impress but upon arrival, it is clear that business is not on the agenda. Instead they eat and laugh and end up spending the night together there. What this means though is Becky misses her appointment with the bank manager. Just in time, he writes to her to say that he enjoyed her slot on the morning television show but because her account is looking rosy, he will postpone the meeting whilst continuing to keep an eye on her account.

Final Thoughts

This book made me laugh out loud. For all her flaws – there are many, such as making up dead aunts, broken legs and illnesses, Becky is a completely lovable protagonist. She’s feisty yet flitty, passionate yet obsessive, loveable yet infuriating. I’m embarrassed to admit that I’ve only read a couple of the later books. I’m not sure how I missed the boat on this considering it was published twenty years ago! As you all know, I’m not very good with a series but this is one I’m definitely going to chip away at.

Take care all. Big love xxx

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