Tag Archives: Books

Reading Challenge 2020: Between Shades of Gray – Ruta Sepetys

Hey Lovelies!

I can’t believe we are deep into February which means I’ve survived my first half term as Head of Department. Also, I’m quite proud of my progress so far too because I’ve read 16 books so far this year which I think is pretty good. I’m waiting for the slump to hit me though. I did have high hopes for half term but I’ve spent most of it with a lingering cold and dodging the relentless rain. Regardless, I hope you’re all well and staying safe in this weather. I am looking forward to catching up with you all!

You may remember from a previous post that I created my own reading challenge for 2020 (click here for a recap) and today I wanted to share with you the book I read for January: Between Shades of Gray – Ruta Sepetys. This book completely took my breath away. It is exquisitely written, moving, powerful and evocative. Get yourselves a copy as soon as possible.

What’s it all about?

Firstly, the criteria for January was a tale that represents a new beginning. When I first started reading this book, I wasn’t really sure it fit the criteria but I continued because the book was just so bloody good. Regardless, this book absolutely represents the grit and determination of people wanting to survive in some of the cruelest places on earth. There’s love, kindness, compassion and hope, even when on the surface it appears to have completely gone.

The book is based on true historical events that took place following the expansion of the Soviet Union into the surrounding countries, prior to the Second World War. The novel starts in Lithuania, in the house of Lina. There’s a ominous boom at the door which brings fear and trepidation. Lina, her younger brother Jonas and her mother Elena are taken one night by the NKVD (a forerunner for the KGB) and placed on a goods train along with many other ‘criminals’. Their crime? Unknown. No court, no charge. Just a journey in a train with ‘thieves and prostitutes’ painted on the side. 

“Three NKVD officers had Mother encircled. ‘We need more time, we’ll be ready in the morning.’ ‘You have twenty minutes or you won’t live to see morning,’ said the officer. He threw his burning cigarette onto our clean living room floor and ground it into the wood with his boot. We were about to become cigarettes.”

Lina’s father is absent for this as he never returned home. At this stage we can only assume or guess why. Has he spoken out against Stalin?

From Lithuania the train travels into Siberia, a long cold, dangerous journey. Siberia does not sound like a place I’d ever want to be to be honest. Overcrowded, with no food or sanitation the cattle trucks soon become filthy and disease ridden. One by one the dead bodies begin to mount up.

Lina’s mother becomes a ray of hope amongst the devastation as she takes charge and tries to forge a purpose and unity from the scared, hungry and increasingly weak companions in their cattle truck. Her unflagging, unrelenting spirit drives them on. Lina loves to draw but in this desperate place all she can do is draw in the filth on the floor.

“I counted the people – forty-six packed in a cage on wheels, maybe a rolling coffin. I used my fingers to sketch the image in a layer of dirt on the floor near the front of the train car, wiping the drawings away and starting over, again and again.”

During this journey she meets Andrius and together they manage to make contact with people on some other trains heading into Siberia. They find Lani’s father, imprisoned on a different train but alive! He will escape, they will be together as a family again…

42 days of travelling in a cattle car and Lina arrives at Altai Labour Farm inside Siberia. They’ve had to travel with dead bodies, endure the taunting and brutality of their guards, even had a to shower in cold water with leering guards looking on.

Through all of this Lina’s mother has kept her safe, bribing guards with jewellery and money she had hidden in her clothing. For the moment however, the travelling was over. However, they were not greeted with warmth or kindness. Yet more hostility presented itself.

“ ‘What’s she saying?’ asked Jonas. ‘She says she has no room for filthy criminals,’ said Mother. The woman grabbed my hair and pulled it, yanking me towards the door to throw me out. Mother yelled and ripped the woman’s hand from my head, slapped her, and pushed her away. Jonas kicked her in the shin. The Altaian woman stared at us with angled black eyes.”

At this point the characters are forced now to work on a farm, given the bare minimum food to survive with their ration docked for any infringement of the rules, life gets worse and worse. (There is a clear link to the theme for this monthI promise!!)

The NKVD want them to sign a confession and agree to a sentence of 25 years, in return they will give them more food and permission to visit the nearby village. In an act of solidarity the prisoners refuse to sign, the only act of defiance they can muster.

Their solidarity does not last, (did it ever begin?) and the NKVD find some who will inform on the others, find some who will serve them in other even lesssavoury ways. The prisoners turn on each other, not knowing who to trust. Some sign, then more. They stop being a people and become a collection of individuals desperate to live one more day, desperate to find any ray of hope in order to survive. This was the key. Not living.Surviving.

“ ‘Mother, will there be potatoes for us tonight?” When we asked we were told we had to work to earn food. ‘If you worked for the NKVD, Mother, would they give you food?’ asked Jonas. ‘No my dear, they would give me empty promises,’ she replied, ‘which is worse than an empty belly.’”

Through all the brutality of the labour camp Lina continues to draw. This is a means of escape for the young girl, a sense of her old normal life. She manages to get paper and hides her drawings. She holds onto the dream of getting a message to her father, so he can come and rescue them.

Even though the prisoners are divided and manipulated by the NKVD, some sense of solidarity and humanity prevails. They celebrate birthdays, they find reasons to smile and sometimes they can help lift each other a little way out of the horror they are enduring. Illness comes, Jonas falls very ill. The NKVD refuse to feed him or provide a doctor. Elena manages again to protect her children, the fierce mother that she is. Amazingly, against all the odds, Jonas recovers.

Then, without warning, a number of them are selected. Herded again onto another train. Lina, Jonas and Elena are among those taken but Andrius is left behind. The journey leads them to a river and barges. They travel further and further north. Eventually they reach Trefimovsk, inside the Arctic circle. The conditions here make the farm seem like a luxury spa, freezing cold there are not even huts or shacks for shelter. The only buildings are for the guards, they are expected to build their own shelter from whatever is on the ground.

“It was completely uninhabited, not a single bush or tree, just barren dirt to a shore of endless water. We were surrounded by nothing but the polar tundra and the Laptev sea. ‘What you don’t like it? You think you are too good for this? Facist pig. Pigs sleep in the mud. Didn’t you know that?’ He moved closer to Mother. His corroded teeth protruded from under his top lip. ‘You pigs disgust me.’”

From here, life gets increasingly desperate. The prisoners are stick thin and fall ill easily. Elena’s indomitable spirit is finally crushed by the desperation of this place, by the brutality of their guards and most of all by the news that her husband has been shot. She slips into illness and her body slowly shuts down. Her only hope has been cruelty taken from her.

Winter comes and in this barren place on the edge of the world it is a terrible thing to endure. Especially when you are living in a makeshift shack with barely any food. The incrediable resilience of these wrongly accused people shines though. Desperate and down trodden though they are, the fact that they can still show compassion and still feel hope is remarkable.

The ending is a surprise for you! However, I will say it moved me to tears. It was the silent tears that you don’t even realise you’re spilling. That kind of emotion. So, in the words of the writer, I’ll end with this:

“Some wars are about bombing. For the people of the Baltics, this war was about believing. In 1991, after fifty years of brutal occupation, three Baltic countries regained their independence, peacefully and with dignity. They chose hope over hate, and showed the world that even through the darkest night, there is light.”

Final thoughts

This book is just incredible, in ever sense of the word. New beginnings were created by a sense of never ending hope for these people. The fact that it’s based on history means that I feel an overwhelming sense of loss when characters died, their pain was my pain and I desperately wanted them to survive. It’s the perfect book to start my reading challenge with.

February – Read a book that tells the story of love: good, bad or otherwise. For this I’ve chosen to read An American Marriage – Tayari Jones. I don’t know anything about it and I’ve not seen many reviews (haven’t looked to be fair!) so let’s see what this brings for the month of love! Obama and Oprah recommend it so that’s enough for me!

 

More to catch up on soon.

Big love to you all. Xx

 

 

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Filed under Book review, Historical Fiction, Reading, Reading Challenge 2020

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time – Mark Haddon

Hey Lovelies!

Hope you’re all well. January is racing by isn’t it? I can’t believe it’s the end of the month. I’m not entirely sure where that month has gone but I’ve been in a crazy blur of school. Would you believe me if I said I’ve been writing this post all week? Sigh. Anyway, today I’m here to review a book that I’ve recently re-read and that is the amazing The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. This book is so awesome in so many ways. Here goes!

What’s it all about?

Told through the eyes of fifteen year old Christopher John Francis Boone, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time tells the story of the discovery of a slain dog. Set in Swindon, Christopher discovers the neighbour’s poodle, Wellington, dead on the lawn. Christopher decides he is going to investigate this and find out exactly what happened to Wellington. Who is the murderer?

However, Christopher doesn’t have an easy life. As a reader we are given an insight into his life and how he copes with being autistic. Following an incident with a policeman, it is decided that Christopher should be taken into custody. They release him with a stern warning under one condition: he promises not to investigate the murder of Wellington.

Christopher writes his novel as part of a school project. He ignores regular pleas from his father and continues to investigate the murder more. He goes to the crime scene and conducts door to door interviews with the residents of his neighbourhood.

“All the other children at my school are stupid. Except I’m not meant to call them stupid, even though that is what they are.”

Whilst doing this, Christopher untangles more of a separate plot which involves his father and the owner of the slain dog, Mrs Shears, had a romantic affair. This relationship is as a consequence of his mother’s affair with Mr Shears. Naturally, this becomes quite messy and difficult for an autistic boy to handle. What is worse, Christopher’s mother is not part of the narrative at this point and hasn’t been in his life for a while.

Back at school, Christopher prepares himself for an A level Maths exam that he is absolutely certain to pass. This will give him the pathway he needs to go to university. This has not been achieved by any other student in his school. Meanwhile, he continues to work on his book and his investigating. Following his return home from school one day, Christopher finds his father incredibly answer. He realises he left his book open on the kitchen table.

His father had read the book and as a result was incredibly angry at Christopher for continuing to investigate when he was told not to. His father takes his book and hides it.

This then leads to Christopher’s next mini investigation. Where is the book? Perseverance pays off and eventually he finds it in his father‘s closet. Along with it, he finds letters addressed to him from his supposedly dead mother.

“…and there was nothing to do except to wait and to hurt.”

 

In these letters his mother tells stories of her life that she has continued to lead with Mr Shears. They live in London together after wanting a fresh start. One common thing within each letter is the repeated requests for Christopher to respond. In complete shock, Christopher passes out in his bedroom surrounded by the evidence of his father’s deception.

When his father comes home and realises what has happened, he breaks down in tears. He apologises for his lies and trying to explain the rationale behind his decisions. He basically wanted to keep the truth of his mother’s affair from him as this resulted in her abandonment. Following this, Christopher’s father admits to killing Wellington after an argument with Mrs Shears.

Christopher becomes terrified of his father. All previous trust has gone. Therefore, he decides he has to leave and go off in search of his mother. This journey is full of obstacles and challenges for Christopher. He’s surrounded by social fears and limitations of his condition means that this is exasperated. He dodges police and almost gets hit by a train. Eventually, he makes it to London and more specially his mother’s flat.

His arrival there causes shock and surprise to his mother. After all, this has come out of the blue following the wall of silence. Over the next few days, Christopher settles in for a time but it does begin to cause tensions with her and Mr Shears. There is a lack of space and a lack of compassion and understanding from Mr Shears. A decision is made by Christopher‘s mother – she is going to return to Swindon.

Christopher moves into a new apartment with his mother and begins a new life. He does eventually have visits from his father. When his pet rat, Toby, dies, Christopher’s father gives him a puppy.

At school, Christopher sits his Maths A Level and receives an A grade – the best possible score he could get. He plans to take more A Level exams in Physics and Further Maths the following year. After this, he wants to attend university in another town. He knows that he can do all of this because he was the one that solved the mystery of Wellington’s murder. He was brave and faced many fears. He found his mother. He wrote his book and this is the book that we are reading now.

I think prime numbers are like life. They are very logical but you could never work out the rules, even if you spent all your time thinking about it.”

 

Final Thoughts

I love so many things about this book. I love Christopher. I completely sympathise with his autism. I love the routines he has and how he feels when things disrupt the routine. For anyone that knows me, Maths and numbers are not an enjoyment of mine but I love the fact that the chapters are all prime numbers. The language is honest and relatable – the swearing makes it all the more authentic. This book is an absolute gem and one of my favourites.

Have an excellent weekend!

Big love xx

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Filed under Book review, Books

The Boy In The Dress – RSC Production

“I think I might be different. I might not be the same.”

Hello lovely people!

Well the first two weeks in the new role has hit me like a brick in the face – that’s for sure. I hope everyone is having a lovely and positive start to January 2020.

I am hear today to tell you all about my evening at the RSC in Stratford – upon – Avon where I saw The Boy in the Dress.

You may remember back in April that I managed to bag myself a front row ticket, something I don’t think I’ve ever done before in my life. Therefore, I was VERY excited. Let’s get on with the review!

Plot

Back in April I did review the book written by David Walliams. You can read this here. In summary, the story follows a young boy called Dennis, who at 12 years old, is the schools star striker. However, when his mum leaves home, life isn’t all that great. The only reminder he has is a photograph of her in a yellow dress. A similar dress is also on the cover of Vogue magazine in Raj’s shop and Lisa James, the most beautiful girl in school, is sketching in her pad. How can the world of football and dresses collide? Especially when the mean headmaster, Mr Hawtrey, likes things to be very normal…

Cast

I always get myself a programme whenever I see anything and I’ve kept them all from any show I’ve ever seen. It’s just a bit of a routine to mooch through and see who I know in the cast. This was no exception. I saw faces and names that I knew and had seen them perform in other RSC shows. However, what was most excellent was seeing names from Matilda the Musical. Toby Mocrei played Bruce Bogtrotter in the production I saw and I was so thrilled to see him again as Dennis. He is an inspirational young chap indeed.

Also, the role of Dennis’s Father is played by none other than Rufus Hound who was excellent! His part was emotive, relatable and sensitive which struck a chord with the adults in the theatre.

I also really liked Asha Banks who played Lisa James. She has an incredible voice and because I was lucky enough to be at the front and her stage position was mainly in front of me, I could hear her most. That being said, her powerhouse voice filled the whole theatre. She played the part really exceptionally well.

One particular highlight is the casting of Oddbod the dog. I won’t spoil that for you but it really is genius! I’ve never seen a better dog in a theatre ever.

I could use the same superlatives for all the casting really. You can get more information regarding casting via the RSC website.

Staging

Like Matilda, the staging for The Boy In The Dress is full on! There’s doll houses, footballs, numerous disco balls and a variety of different back drops. Basically, the stage is constantly moving and changing. I took a picture at the start, during the interval and at the end, just to give you an idea.

Singing & Dancing

There are a number of quite complex dance numbers with up to twenty actors on stage at one time so I was really mesmerised and found myself wanting to join in. (I didn’t because that would have been embarrassing!)

The music team on this production has some big names: Robbie Williams, Guy Chambers and Chris Heath, to be exact. It’s easy to see why the songs are catchy and good fun.

There’s 19 songs to this musical, opening with Ordinary and closing with Disco Symphony. Some notable songs are Mr Hawtrey’s I Hate Children and Is There Anything More Beautiful Than Lisa James and If I Don’t Cry sang by Dennis and his father.

Overall

I left feeling positive, upbeat, singing the songs, wearing the t shirt from the shop and wanting to install a disco ball when I got home. I also booked tickets to see the show again. It’s just THAT good. So far in my life, I’ve only seen the same production of a show twice and that was Matilda. I just can’t wait to go back and see this all again.

Also, the fact that the novel has translated so well onto the stage is a real bonus. All the characters are included, the plot is the same. It’s just brought to life the whole book. The biggest thing for me is the joy of celebrating the fact that you can be different. Boys can wear dresses and play football. People are just people. This should always be championed and this show is the epitome of that.

View the trailer for the show here and book your ticket right now!

Big love all xx

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Filed under Children's Literature, Musicals, Play, RSC, Stratford upon Avon, Theatre Review, UK

Reading Challenge 2020

Hello Everyone!

Happy January and equally, happy 2020! A new decade is upon us to make our mark and do the things we love. Where have the last 10 years gone though..?

You may remember from a previous post that I was frantically researching for a reading challenge for this year. There’s plenty out there but each had bits to them I wasn’t really keen on. I also didn’t want to use The Book of the Month from Waterstones either because that was too rigid and a slight problem if there was something I didn’t quite fancy. Therefore, whilst having lunch with a friend, I decided to try and create one.

The categories are as follows:

January- A tale that represents a new beginning

February – Read a book that tells the story of love: good, bad or otherwise

March – Try a book with a non human narrator

April – Focus on a story of nature and/or the spring season

May – Read a book about hope and growth

June – Find a novel with a child narrator

July – Murder and intrigue about this month

August – A summer read to an exotic place

September – A tale that leads to adventure and excitement

October – A spooky story that reflects the Halloween season

November – Something that has been sat on your bookshelf / TBR list that casts a backwards glance

December – Time for a festive story to close the year.

That’s it! I wanted to keep it seasonal and also provide the scope for variety too. I believe there’s room to branch out into different books I wouldn’t normally have thought of too as well as the flexibility to finally read those books that have been sat on my shelf for a year or five. (Please tell me it’s not just me who has this issue…) Each of these will be accompanied by a review on here too.

This month: new beginnings. Just a quick Google search brings up a fair few ideas for this one. January is the time for resolutions and changes after all. After some extensive research, I’ve decided to go for this:

Synopsis:

One night fifteen-year-old Lina, her mother and young brother are hauled from their home by Soviet guards, thrown into cattle cars and sent away. They are being deported to Siberia. 

An unimaginable and harrowing journey has begun. Lina doesn’t know if she’ll ever see her father or her friends again. But she refuses to give up hope.

Lina hopes for her family.
For her country.
For her future.
For love – first love, with the boy she barely knows but knows she does not want to lose . . .

Will hope keep Lina alive?

Set in 1941, Between Shades of Gray, is an extraordinary and haunting story based on first-hand family accounts and memories from survivors.

I’ve never heard of the book or the film before so I’m starting the year with something new and exciting. I like the blurb too so here’s hoping that it will be a good book to start the reading challenge with. I can’t wait to get going!

What about you, my lovely blogging friends? Are you taking part in any reading challenges? Feel free to dip into this one if you like! Regardless, let me know how you’re getting on. After all, you guys are the reason why my shelves are overflowing!

Wishing you all the best for 2020! Until next time. Happy reading. 📚

Big love xx

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Filed under Books, Reading, Reading Challenge 2020

Bye 2019! Hello 2020!

Hello Loves!

I can’t believe it’s New Years Eve. I think I say this every single year but I’ve no idea where the time has gone. I’m sure as I’m getting older, time is going quicker. Is that just me?

Besides, I’m not really a fan of New Year. I’m not really sure why either. It’s always been an evening well spent with family and a glass of fizz. I guess one thing I’m not such a fan of is the fact that New Year seems to be a time when people tend to make bold statements about how they’re going to change and they usually fail by the second week of January. For me, I wanted to try and read 100 books again this year. Amazingly, I succeeded! I read a total of 105 books.📚

My 2019 reading list:

Abrahamson, Emmy: How To Fall In Love With a Man Who Lives in a Bush
Ahern, Cecelia: Postscript
Alderton, Dolly: Everything I Know About Love
Anderson, Sophie: The House with Chicken Legs
Beckerman, Hannah: If Only I Could Tell You
Blake, Sarah: The Postmistress
Brahmachari, Sita: Where the River Runs Gold
Braithwaite, Oyinkan: My Sister, The Serial Killer
Buchan, Elizabeth: The Museum of Broken Promises
Bythell, Shaun: Confessions of a Bookseller
Campbell, Jen: Weird Things Customers Say in Bookshops
Campbell, Jen: The Bookshop Book
Candlish, Louise: Our House
Candlish, Louise: Those People
Child, Lee: The Midnight Line
Child, Lee: Gone Tomorrow
Chirovici, E.O.: The Book of Mirrors
Clanchy, Kate: Some Kids I Taught and What They Taught Me
Coelho, Paulo: Manuscript Found in Accra
Coleman, Alistair: Angry People in Local Newspapers
Cooper, Roxie: The Day We Met
Cormier, Robert: Heroes
Coules, Bert: Flowers for Algernon
Cumming, Laura: On Chapel Sands
Dashner, James: The 13th Reality Journal of Curious Letters
Dickens, Charles: A Christmas Carol
Didierlaurent, Jean-Paul: The Reader on the 6.27
Eliot, T.S.: Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats
Fargher, Anna: The Umbrella Mouse
Feret-Fleury, Christine: The Girl Who Reads on the Metro
Fforde, Katie: A French Affair
Fletcher, Carrie Hope: All That She Can See
French, Kat: A Summer Scandal
French, Nicci: The Lying Room
George, Nina: The Book of Dreams
Greene, Jayson: Once More We Saw Stars
Greer, Andrew Sean: Less
Griffin, Anne: When All is Said
Griffin, Kate: Kitty Peck and the Music Hall Murders
Gustafson, Michael & Uberti, Oliver: Notes from a Public Typewriter
Han, Jenny: To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before
Han, Jenny: P.S. I Still Love You
Han, Jenny: Always and Forever, Lara Jean
Hanks, Tom: Uncommon Type
Harris, Anstey: The Truths and Triumps of Grace Atherton
Hazard, Leah: Hard Pushed: A Midwife’s Story
Hislop, Victoria: The Return
Hislop, Victoria: The Island
Hislop, Victoria: The Sunrise
Hislop, Victoria: Those Who Are Loved
Jakobse, Mette: The Vanishing Act
Johns, Ana: The Woman in the White Kimono
Kawaguchi, Toshikazu: Before The Coffee Gets Cold
Kay, Adam: Twas the Nightshift Before Christmas – read twice – October when published and December.
Kerr, Judith: The Tiger Who Came to Tea
Kinney, Jeff: Diary of a Wimpy Kid The Getaway
Kinsella, Sophie: I’ve Got Your Number
Kinsella, Sophie: I Owe You One
Kinsella, Sophie: Christmas Shopaholic
Kirby, Carolyn: The Conviction of Cora Burns
Koch, Emily: If I Die Before I Wake
Lane, Andrew: Young Sherlock: Death Cloud
Mackesy, Charlie: The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse
Maguire, Gregory : Wicked
Meehan, Thomas: Annie
Mercer, Jeremy: Books, Baguettes & Bedbugs
Morpurgo, Michael: Pinocchio by Pinocchio
Murata, Sayaka: Convenience Store Woman
Noble, Elizabeth: Letters to Iris
Norton, Graham: A Keeper
Parry, Ambrose: The Way of all Flesh
Pentland, Louise: Wilde Women
Priestley, J.B: An Inspector Calls
Rauf, Onjali Q: The Boy at the Back of the Class
Rauf, Onjali Q: The Star Outside My Window
Roper, Richard: Something to Live For
Rowling, J.K, Tiffany, John & Thorne, Jack: Harry Potter and the Cursed Child
RuPaul: Guru
Salisbury, Martin: The Illustrated Dust Jacket 1920-1970
Samader, Rhik: I Never Said I Love You
Shaw, Dale: Painfully British Haikus
Shepherd, Andy: The Boy Who Grew Dragons
Sims, Gill: Why Mummy Doesn’t Give a F***
Smith, Alex T: How Winston Delivered Christmas
Sorosiak, Carlie: I, Cosmo
Steadman, Catherine: Something in the Water
Stempel, John Lewis: Still Water: The Deep Life of the Pond
Stempel, John Lewis: The Glorious Life of the Oak
Stempel, John Lewis: Meadowland: The Private Life of an English Field
Tate, June: Born to Dance
Thomas, Angie: The Hate You Give
Tyce, Harriet: Blood Orange
Valentino, Serena: The Beast Within
Walliams, David: Fing
Walliams, David: Bad Dad
Walliams, David: The Boy in the Dress
Walliams, David: The World’s Worst Teachers
Walsh, Rosie: The Man Who Didn’t Call
Watson, Christie: The Language of Kindness – A Nurses Story
Wilkinson, Sheena: Star by Star
Williams, Beatriz: A Hundred Summers
Williams, Laura Jane: Our Stop
Wood, Laura: Under a Dancing Star
Zouroudi, Anne: The Messenger of Athens

Looking back, this list brings me so much joy. I started the year with The Language of Kindness and I ended the year with rereading Twas The Nightshift Before Christmas, both of which are about the NHS. I have such amazing memories of my holiday reads from my summer break in Cyprus, Hislop being a firm favourite of mine.

Another thing I’m really pleased about is the mixture of fiction and non fiction. Surprisingly, non fiction has been something I’ve read more of over the past two years so I’d like to keep that going into the next decade. Finally, there’s a few titles here that are Children’s Literature. I’m really proud of the fact that 2019 was the year I set up and successfully ran the Accelerated Reader Programme in my school. Getting boys into reading is so important so there’s some titles here, namely Walliams, that make me smile because of the conversations I’ve had with various students about it.

So, what is on the agenda for 2020? Post more! (Hopefully…) Another 100 books – or try to! I’m going to make sure I jot down what I read in each month too so I remember the journey rather than just one big list. I did try and complete another reading challenge this year, picking one of the titles from the Waterstones Book of the Month list but I missed a couple of months. I’d like to complete another reading challenge but I need to research more. Any ideas? I’ll keep you posted on this! The current pile looks like this:

Also, personally, 2020 brings me a promotion at work to Head of Department which I’m super excited about. AND, after a lot of hard work and time at the gym, 3 stone lighter. Let’s hope I can keep this up.

Lastly, just a shout out to you all, my faithful blogging friends. Thank you for being there every step of the way, for sending me messages when I’ve vanished off the face of the year and checking I’m alright. I wish you all a Happy New Year and a peaceful 2020. Let’s do this!

Big love xx

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Filed under Blog, Books, Follows, Friends, New Books, New Year

Twas The Nightshift Before Christmas – Adam Kay

Hello Everyone!!

We are in that very strange period of time in between Christmas and New Year where it is perfectly acceptable to have biscuits for breakfast, chocolate for lunch and mince pies for dinner. Heavenly Christmas food! I hope you’ve all had a peaceful festive period and enjoyed yourselves immensely.

Today I want to share with you a book that I’ve now read twice this year because it is just that good. Adam Kay is back with his festive tales from the NHS frontline: Twas The Nightshift Before Christmas. You may remember my review of Kay’s first book, This Is Going To Hurt, which you can find here. I hope you enjoy this as much as I did!

Overview

This book is much like Kay’s previous one but with a more festive edge. You may recall that Kay spent a number of years as a junior doctor in our beloved NHS and the novels come from his diaries he was writing whilst working. Kay omitted any festive stories from the first book so it didn’t become too Christmassy and here they are for us all to laugh, cry and read.

It starts off with a open letter really to the reader reminding us that despite it being Christmas time, there will be doctors and nurses who are working Christmas Day. Written with humour, it is a humbling start to jolt us back into the grim reality of the present regarding the NHS.

“A&E departments are busier than turkey farms, thanks for black eyes from carelessly popped champagne corks, fleshy forearms scares by roasting tins, and children concussing themselves by hurtling down the stairs in the box their Scalextric came in.”

Following this introduction, the book takes a simple structure: one chapter for each Christmas Kay spent in the profession. He openly admits to working 6/7 Christmas Days in obstetrics or gynaecology during his practising years. In his first year, Kay tells the story of a family member who has taken a turn for the worst, with the reality of there not being too much the doctors can do now. This moving aspect is something we can all relate to. However, I bet a fair few can say that they ended up laughing hysterically.

“Hoping to show empathy through my body language, I lean in to say all we can do is keep her comfortable and concentrate on her dignity. As I do so, I inadvertently lean on my tie. It is a seasonal tie…Crucially, and disastrously, underneath Rudolph’s red nose – and now the pressure of my elbow – is a button that activates a tinny speaker to blast out a frantic MIDI rendition of Jingle Bells.”

Thankfully the family took it well – hence the laughing!

Christmas Eve 2006 and a number of doctors are being quizzed about a child with an impressively luminous green nose. What could it be? How on earth did this child become so green?

“Answer: he’d dismantled his mum’s novelty earrings and shoved an LED up his nose…”

Kay writes with what I’d call, ‘knife edge humour’. We laugh yet we know we shouldn’t. However, these type of events happen on a daily basis with NHS, all 1.4 million of them, dealing with the consequences of our behaviours which are arguably worse over the Christmas period.

Nevertheless, it is always the harsh reality that brings us to tears. 2006 brought Kay an opportunity that would shape him and change him. Patient SH has a cardiac condition which means that if she continues with her pregnancy, she is unlikely to live. The procedure is grim, not for the faint hearted and highly emotionally charged. In Kay’s words:

“If Patient SH is brave enough to go through this, then I should at least have the balls to step up for her.”

Kay admitted for previously keeping this out of his first novel and still feels the pang of uncertainty in the editing process of this one. Yet, it stays because it was such an impactful moment. Again, it is reality.

Another Christmas Day, another day on the ward. Kay doesn’t even bother to complain and routines are forming – alarmingly. For the next Christmas on the ward, Kay was treated to a nice festive fragrance, cinnamon and mulled wine scent, mixed with every smell to do with childbirth. This did make me laugh out loud.

“It hangs in the air like some kind of acrid death-gas in a James Bond film, its putrid cloud choking every airway, blunting every nerve ending. We’re having the room deep cleaned, but they may well have to knock down the entire hospital.”

It’s Christmas and more often than not workplaces hold an annual Secret Santa and it’s sod’s law that you pick someone out that you don’t like. You hope and pray for the person you desperately want or even for the person you could merely tolerate in the name of the season. Life, or Secret Santa, never seems to go that way. Kay also picked out someone he despises and who despises him in return. H suggested a guinea pig, which was declined.

“I bought him a set of sandalwood styling wax and hair pomade. He is bald.”

I have so much admiration for our doctors and nurses. The hours are relentless, the breaks nonexistent and the patients and their families are sometimes downright rude. However, it is the glimmers that mean the most. The acts of kindness, the ‘thank you’ which make the job bearable. The only other thing that makes the job easier is humour. Those stories that stay with you forever. There’s some right corkers in this book but I think the story next is my favourite.

A child asks his mother if his father was there the day he was born. The answer is no. The reason why – hilarious.

“Well, darling, he made it to the hospital on time, but he was so drunk that he whipped out his cock when the doctor was putting forceps on your head, and they had to call security to boot him out.”

Is it just me or is this hard to believe? Only in England…

The final Christmas is one where, amazingly, Kay doesn’t need to work. Here we see descriptions of Christmas day’s as we know it. The food, the fizz, the party games and the television. Deep down though, any NHS worker will know, it is in your blood and you come to miss it. I feel the same about teaching. I’m so grateful for my time off but in a strange way I do miss not being in the classroom. I feel it more in summer though to be fair.

Finally, The Queen’s Christmas Message is a very important part of Christmas Day for some. Kay offers his own alternative message for us all to reflect upon. Thank your doctors, nurses and ward staff, if you’ve been in hospital. If not, remember the following:

“Stop sticking root vegetables, remote controls, chocolate wrappers, fairy lights – or indeed anything else that’s irretrievable and inanimate (or, god help us, animate) – up your interval cavities for one day a year. It’s only twenty four hours, guys, and you’ll make all their Christmases come at once.”

Final Thoughts

I loved this book just as much as I loved the first. It’s incredible to believe what people get up to over the Christmas year and what foolish and sometimes humorous decisions people make. Kay has such a unique writing style. He can make his readers laugh and cry and feel utterly dismayed. Massive respect for those NHS workers this Christmas and New Year. We wouldn’t be healthy without you. For all that you do, thank you.

Read this book. Feel it with your heart.

See you before the New Year guys!

Big love all xx

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Filed under Book review, Christmas

To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before – Jenny Han

Hi Everyone!

I hope you’re all well and are having a great weekend. Whilst the rain is sloshing down my windows, I thought this the perfect opportunity to review one of the books I’ve recently finished: To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han. It was an absolutely gem!

What’s it all about?

Told through the eyes of Lara Jean Song Covey, this novel oozes personality and nostalgia. Lara Jean is a sixteen year old, half Korean, half white girl living in Virginia, USA. Her family is very important to her and she is close to them all. She has an older sister, Margot and a younger sister, Kitty. Her lovely mother died when she was young.

When someone’s been gone a long time, at first you save up all the things you want to tell them. You try to keep track of everything in your head. But it’s like trying to hold on to a fistful of sand: all the little bits slip out of your hands, and then you’re just clutching air and grit.

However, she treasures a beautiful hatbox that was given to her by her. Inside she keeps love letters she written to every boy she’s ever loved.

Her older sister is at the age where she is preparing for university. Margot decides she wants to study in Scotland. In her eyes, this means that she cannot stay in her relationship with her boyfriend Josh Sanderson, so she decides to break up with him. This causes shock to Lara Jean because they’d been together a while and Josh was also their next door neighbour.

Following this break up, Lara Jean finds herself in her past as she previously had a crush on Josh. She finds these feelings start to come flooding back. When Margot left, Josh does admit to Lara Jean that she was his first serious crush. To understand these feelings, Lara Jean writes a long postscript for the letter she wrote when she was fourteen, after Josh chose her sister Margot, instead of her.

If you were mine, I would never have broken up with you, not in a million years.

Whilst walking down the school corridor, Lara Jean is stopped by Peter Kavinsky. He is one of the guys that Lara Jean wrote a letter too. He tells her he is not attracted to her and Lara Jean, at first, is confused. She soon realises that he is referring to a letter she wrote to him years ago after he himself received it in the mail.

Lara Jean is completely mortified but also doesn’t know how these letters have been delivered. She tells him what caused her to write the letter in the first place. When she was in seventh grade, she and Peter were with a group of friends when Peter kissed her.

Lara Jean leaves school and heads straight home to try and locate her hatbox. But it isn’t anywhere. She’s completely confused. That night, she heard Josh come over and hides in their treehouse. The following morning at school Josh asks her about the letter to him. She lies and denies that she has feelings for him and makes up the fact that she has a boyfriend.

Josh questions her further and Lara Jean says it’s Peter as his was the first name that came into her head as she sees him walking down the hallway. Lara Jean decides to jump into his arms and kiss him, much to everyones surprise. Lara Jean has to explain the situation to Peter who decides to go along with it to make his ex girlfriend, Genevieve, jealous.

Lara Jean and Peter set up a list of ground rules on how to act and behave around each other. The more time they spend together, the more confused Lara Jean feels confused about her feelings about him. Josh becomes jealous of Peter and when she confronts him about it, he kisses her and tells her he wants to be with her. The consequence of this is Lara Jean realises that she no longer has feelings for Josh and wants to date Peter for real.

“I didn’t fall for you, you tripped me!”

Lara Jean is convinced by Peter to go on the school ski trip. Peter tells Lara Jean that he also wants to date her and they end up kissing in the hot tub. The following day, Genevieve tells her that there is a rumour that the two had sex in the hot tub and Peter did not deny it. Utterly humiliated, Lara Jean avoids Peter all Christmas break.

I delete the picture of him from my phone; I delete his number. I think that if I just delete him enough, it will be like none of it ever happened and my heart won’t hurt so badly.”

With Margot returning for Christmas it is decided that they will hold a Covey recital party, which they had every year before their mother died. Kitty unfortunately invites Peter to the party and he tries to talk to her. However, Josh tries to protect her and Margot ends up hearing about how Josh and Lara Jean kissed.

Margot and Lara Jean eventually reconcile but Lara Jean remains angry at Peter. Eventually, Kitty admits that she stole her sister’s hatbox and sending all the letters that were within. She wanted to get back at her sister for almost revealing her crush on Josh. All three sisters eventually forgive each other. Lara Jean also learns from Kitty that Peter really does care about her.

Kitty returns the hatbox to Lara Jean but this time filled with notes from Peter when they were fake dating. Lara reads them and has a change of heart. She takes out her trusty pen and starts to write a real love letter to Peter.

Love is scary: it changes; it can go away. That’s the part of the risk. I don’t want to be scared anymore.”

Final thoughts

This is one of the cutest books I’ve read in a long time. It felt like reliving my youth a little bit. Lara Jean is absolutely hilarious – I couldn’t think of a better teen narrator. I also love the close bond between the three girls. They’re each individual enough with their own voices and character traits which really helps the narrative. There are two other books in this series which I will absolutely read. It’s done nothing but made me smile.

Enjoy the rest of Sunday everyone!

Big love xx

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Filed under Book review, Teen Fiction