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, Historical Fiction, Reading, Reading Challenge 2020

Reading Challenge 2020: Between Shades of Gray – Ruta Sepetys

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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

 

 

Posted in Alternative Heritage, Hull, Photography, Places, UK

Hull’s Alternative Heritage Plaques

Morning Beautiful People!

First of all, I’M FREE! No more marking, no more school and finally summer is here. Don’t get me wrong, I’m absolutely exhausted but at least another academic year is over. I hope all you lovely people are well and are enjoying the weekend.

Today I wanted to share with you a little discovery I’ve made in Hull. My previous post was about my birthday meal and walking home from there I passed a quirky blue sign. Hull has numerous heritage signs all around the city, but this one was ‘alternative’.

I researched into this and was absolutely amazed! I spent a couple of nights this week going round Hessle, the city centre and Newland Avenue to find more.

Firstly, some background information. The original Heritage Plaques, produced by English Heritage, originated in London from 1866. They celebrate notable figures and the buildings they lived or worked in. However, there was strict rules into obtaining one of these blue plaques. So, a local company, Drunk Animal Creative Studio created these plaques to celebrate the people of Hull who make up its beating heart now.

“The weird, the wonderful, the obscure, the fascinating stories and facts that permeate every street and every community in the city are now celebrated through out Alternative Heritage plaques.”

Clearly, this was going to be an opportunity for explorations. I started off dashing to Hessle for a food related sign. The heart wants what the heart wants, after all.

Then I drove back to the centre of down and had a mile and a half walk to locate the following, including finding the studio where these gems are created.

These were in the local shopping centre to celebrate the amazing Bee Lady, parks, on pub walls and on the wall by the always busy A63. As you can see, they celebrate the every day, the people in our community now.

The second evening where I went exploring was the other side of Hull really, around the Drypool Bridge area. Here I found links to mathematicians, food inventors (that can only be found in the city) and the controversial sporting decisions.

My final little walk was along Newland Avenue. I used to spend a lot of time down here at a student. It is down here that one of my favourite signs is. I’ll leave you to work out which one it is!

There’s 22 of these plaques in and around Hull so I guess I consider this part one. It’s become a bit of an obsession of mine to try and find them all. If I accidentally bump into you because I’m looking on walls instead of in front of me, you’ll at least know why.

I love everything about this. Hull has a deep and rich history, something which it’s residents are adding to daily. This is like something I’ve never seen before and it is awesome. Time to start researching where the next ones will take me!

Lastly, I hope you all have a fantastic summer. I’ll be catching up on everything I’ve missed – both commenting on your amazing posts and catching up with my own. My little blog has been a bit neglected but I’ll be back on it! I’ve also got some more books to hide for Left & Found this weekend too.

Big love all! Xx

 

Posted in Days Out, Photography, Places, UK

Brick History

Hello you lovely lot!

Hope January is treating you well and you’re all embracing the joy that 2019 has offered so far. For me, it’s work as usual. However, I have managed to keep reading and visit a local exhibition that I want to share with you all today. It bought out the inner child in me again and I was completely amazed as I was walking around. Of course, I am talking about Lego. Who didn’t play with Lego when they were younger? It provided hours of fun!

Brick History is a free event which is currently on at the Hull History Centre. It takes famous moments in history and creates them all out of Lego blocks. Lego artist, Warren Elsmore and his team have created a celebration of our most famous moments in time. It features Mozart, Martin Luther King, the discovery of DNA, Viking Invasions, castles at war and everything in between. It was awesome!

One of my favourites was the Lego picture of Martin Luther King. I Have A Dream is one of the most important events in history so to see this represented in Lego was truly special. What a way to inspire the next generation.

I also really admired how they made a globe from Lego too. It has numerous lights on it and it spins to replicate our real globe. I was amazed to learn that the making of the globe is over 2000 years old. I never knew this before and I was really really shocked about its age. Fantastic really!

Next, I really loved the Lego model of the Viking Invasion. The colours were really bold. It’s so intricate and wonderful to see. It’s also incredibly lifelike too.

As we all know, I love my books, so I was excited to see a Lego version of Charles Darwin’s Origin of Species. Written in 1859, it has stood the test of time as this contains our believes and accepted understanding of how things evolve.

2018 marked the 100 year anniversary of women getting the vote. Therefore, it is only fitting that the suffragettes were also part of this Lego exhibition. In this piece, you can see a female Lego character chained to a railing, mirroring many protests from the suffragettes.

2009 brought another significant even in American history: the first black president was elected and sworn into office. Barak Obama changed the face of America for his years in office. I was chuffed to see this in Lego too.

The largest pieces are two castles depicting peace and war. Once again, the detail is just incredible. It’s hard to believe that everything is made just from Lego.

I was really blown away by this exhibition. I thought it was genuinely fascinating to see how such amazing moments in time could be made in Lego. It really does show you that the opportunities with Lego are endless. I think projects like this are so important for the next generation. For me, this was an excellent way to show history ready to inspire the next generation.

For information on Brick History at the History Centre, click here.

I hope you enjoyed this as much as I did. Big love all xx

Posted in Days Out, National Trust, Photography, UK

Chedworth Roman Villa


Hey everyone! 

Hope you’re all having a great weekend. I took one last opportunity to go exploring, this time with my lovely Mum and Dad. We all work ridiculous hours, like many families, so we always try and make our time count. 

Followers of my blog will know how much we love our National Trust membership; this time we visited Chedworth Roman Villa. 

What blew me away was the fact that it was literally tucked away in the middle of nowhere. How did the Romans find it? Why that spot? So many unanswered questions. 


The biggest fascination I had was with the  fact that there’s still more to be discovered. Inside the museum, which was added in the Victorian period, parts of mosaic and stone were being still being found last year. It’s always quite inspiring to know there’s secrets hidden beneath the earth. 


The mosaic they have found so far are so beautiful. It’s incredible what has been preserved so far. 

Places like this require imagination. There are only parts left. But, I find that quite magical really. It’s giving you an active piece of history that you can interpret yourself. My favourite part: the bathhouse rooms and the outdoor water shrine. 

I enjoyed getting my geek on in terms of history this weekend. I hoped you enjoyed my photos! If you’d like more information, check out The National Trust Website


Big love to you all xxx

Posted in Days Out, National Trust, Photography, UK

Brockhampton Estate


Happy Sunday everyone!

I’ve survived my first week back of a new term! However, I wanted to hold onto one last little piece of my holiday, a visit to the Brockhampton Estate. 

What I loved about here is there are two gorgeous, timber framed, medieval buildings surrounded by a moat. These date back to the 14th century. Imagine the comings and goings these buildings have seen. It fascinates me! 


It’s a shame it was fairly cloudy when I visited; it’s still rather impressive though.

The house is surrounded by 1000 acres of farmland and 700 acres of woodland. It’s a place where you can walk around and not bump into anyone. It’s rather peaceful for a working farm. 

 
Inside the house, there’s a lot of solid wood furniture, fires and glorious beds. You could even try out fashions of that period. (I had to of course!) 

I don’t want to ruin anymore surprises for you, but I would definitely recommend a visit. 

For more information check out The National Trust website. 

Big love! Xx