Tag Archives: Literature

The Way of all Flesh – Ambrose Parry

Hey Lovelies!

August is running away with us again but thankfully for me it has been a summer of reading. I literally haven’t stopped. I even ran out of books on my holiday – thank goodness the hotel had a bookshelf completely filled by the guests.

I did promise to catch up with blog posts from the past few months and today is the first. I read The Way of all Flesh in May. I’d chose it for the Waterstones Book of the Month and it did not disappoint. Time to share my review with you all but without any spoilers. You’ll just have to read it to find out more! I hope you enjoy it.

What’s it all about?

Set and beginning in 1847 Edinburgh, Raven, a young and aspiring student doctor, is living in a less than desirable part of time. He discovers a friend, a lady of the night, is dead. At the same time, Raven is also being pursued for money by the local underworld, a Mr Flint. Previously, Raven borrowed the money to give to his now dead prostitute friend. It was never disclosed as to why she needed it.

Following a good beating in the street for failing to pay Mr Flint back, Raven arrives at the house and surgery of Dr Simpson, a wealth medical man with an excellent reputation. Despite Raven’s battered face, he is taken on as an apprentice which also provides him with the perfect opportunity to leave his lodgings and the insalubrious Old Town area. Naturally, this also could mean that Mr Flint’s debt collectors would be left behind too.

“He hoped the Simpson family appreciated how privileged they were to live in this place, safe not only from cold and hunger, but from the world of danger, anxiety and suspicion that he had grown used to.”

In his new lodgings Raven doesn’t quite have the best start with Sarah, a housemaid with a keen and unusual interest in medicine. She is a product of her time however, she has a wealth of experience in dealing with patients. Raven, initially makes himself look like a complete fool in front of her, alienating her at the same time. To make matters worse, Sarah discovers that all is not what it seems with regard to his deeply hidden past. There is a secret lurking deep beneath the surface…

Over a period of time within this incredible house, he is introduced to a number of other doctors, both established and new to the profession. At this time medicine is a frontier science and people were daily making new discoveries. After dinner, a common pastime was to imbibe new and untested chemical mixtures in order to see if they made a good anaesthetic.

“She found Raven, crouched over Dr Simpson, who lay face-down upon the floor. The bodies of Dr Keith and Captain Petrie motionless alongside. “He breathes” he announced.”

Raven makes a new acquaintance, John Beattie, who invites Raven to accompany him on a house visit. He needs Raven to assist whilst he performs a simple operation. Hoping that he will be paid well, Raven agrees. (This was how doctors made their money in 1847!) Unfortunately, the operation goes badly wrong and Raven is left believing that he is responsible for the death of the patient by mis-administering the ether.

Over time and throughout his duties, Raven has become deeply suspicious about a similar death to the one at the beginning of the novel. The way in which the body is contorted is identical and he begin to suspects foul play. Matters just are not adding up correctly in his mind. As a result, he decides to investigate these matters further. As the story unfolds, Raven makes an unlikely ally who helps him to research these deaths. They begin to discover and uncover a series of similar cases. Raven sets a trap, which fails… and the rest is for you to find out for yourselves!

The novel finishes with an array of events – good and bad – that shed new light on each of the characters. As suspected, no one can be trusted and no one is really who they say they are.

“As he stepped through the front door, the coat swirling about him like a cloak, a number of disparate fragments swirling at the forefront of his thoughts coalesced at once into a visible whole.”

Final Thoughts

This novel contains everything you want from a good book – murder, misadventure, tension, drama. It is packed! The pace is relentless and so it naturally becomes one of those ‘unputdownable’ reads. The time period of the 1840s appeals to me and it was fascinating to see this perspective of Edinburgh. I can’t wait to read the next book by Ambrose Parry – The Art of Dying. I expect it will contain the same trails and tribulations as this novel. Let me know if you’ve read it and your thoughts.

Enjoy the rest of August!! See you next time.

Big love xx

Advertisements

9 Comments

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

The Very Hungry Caterpillar Turns 50!

Happy Bank Holiday Monday Everyone!

I hope you’re well and making the most of the long weekend. Today is a very special day in the book world because it is the 50th birthday of The Very Hungry Caterpillar. It has its own hash tag on Twitter and everything! (#VHC50 if you’re interested).

I saw this as the perfect opportunity to review this book and look at how important this book has been in so many peoples lives.

What’s it all about?

The book starts on one Sunday morning where a caterpillar hatched from an egg under the moon. He’s absolutely starving, ravenous for gorgeous food. Thus, the Very Hungry Caterpillar is born. He goes off to search for food.

‘One Sunday morning the warm sun came up and – pop! – out of the egg came a tiny and very hungry caterpillar.

Over the course of five days, he eats increasing amounts of fruit. He starts on Monday with one apple, two pears on Tuesday, three plums on Wednesday, four strawberries on Thursday and five oranges on Friday.

On the Saturday, still hungry, he eats a ginormous amount of food! He eats one piece of chocolate cake, one ice cream cone, one pickle, on slice of Swiss cheese, one slice of salami, one lollipop, one piece of cherry pie, one sausage, one cupcake and one slice of watermelon.

However, that night, he gets a pain in his tummy from eating so much. By the next morning, he feels much better after eating a luscious green leaf. By now, he’s neither hungry nor little. He’s a very big caterpillar who looks like he’s fit to burst.

The caterpillar spins himself a cocoon where he sleeps for two whole weeks. After this time as passed, he emerges from it as a beautiful butterfly, with large and colourful wings.

Then he nibbled a hole in the cocoon, pushed his way out and…

he was a beautiful butterfly!

Final thoughts

It is easy to see why this book has turned 50 years old. I don’t know of anyone who hasn’t read it. However, what I find more meaningful than any age of a book, is where it goes next. Of course, this book has travelled through generations of readers. I read this book as a little girl and I still marvel in its wonder today as an adult. Reading this with smaller children in my own family is a joy as the legacy continues.

I was reading somewhere that apparently one of these books is sold, on average, every minute. The story and the illustrations have lived in many a home and continue to do so today. It’s been translated into over 60 languages with more than 46 million copies being sold. There is, of course, a new edition for the 50th birthday which features a rather lovely gold cover. Regardless, this story is just a wonderful, humble piece of writing that we’ve all loved, since our childhood. Happy birthday Very Hungry Caterpillar! 🎂 🎉

Enjoy the rest of the long weekend my dearest friends.

Big love xx

15 Comments

Filed under Book review, Children's Literature, Reading

The Boy at the Back of the Class – Onjali Q. Raúf

Happy April Everyone!

What a beautiful start to the year it has been. The spring flowers are much to be celebrated and the light nights are ever increasing. Today I want to share with you the absolute joy that is, The Boy at the Back of the Class by Onjali Q. Raúf. Not only is this one of the books of the month for April, but this book also won the overall prize for the Waterstones Children’s Book Prize 2019. It’s current, relevant and an incredible read. I thought I’d take the photo in my garden with this little guy. The protagonist reminded me of him a bit. Look at his cute little face!

What’s it all about?

Told through the eyes of a group of friends, Tom, Josie and Michael, this novel is something we can all relate to in so many ways.

The story starts with an empty chair in a classroom following the absence of a student who had moved to Wales. A group of friends are naturally inquisitive and want to know why Mrs Sanders (the head of the school) and Mrs Khan (the teacher) are whispering at the front of the class. After a short amount of time, a young boy walks in behind Mrs Sanders. Ahmet became the focus of everyone’s attention. He looks very sad indeed.

‘I made a secret promise to myself right there and then that I would be friends with the new boy. I happened to have some lemon sherbets in my bag that morning and I thought I would try and give him one…’

Outside of lessons, Ahmet is nowhere to be found. After all, from the children’s point of view. it’s hard to make friends with someone when you rarely see them. However, one thing that is described so beautifully are his eyes. It’s the one thing that the character of Alexa (the story teller whose name we do not learn until the final chapter of the book) focuses on. The children wait until the end of the day and eventually they see him! They’re over the moon, but it doesn’t quite go as planned, despite having the lemon sherbets.

‘But the new boy grabbed her hand and hid his face behind her arm. I didn’t know what to do because I’ve never really scared anyone so much before that they wanted to hide from me.’

As days went by, the group of friends continually waited for Ahmet to give him gifts of sweets, chocolates and fruit. Over time, Ahmet started to make improvements with them. A smile here and a wink there. All signs he wanted to be their friends. After overhearing comments about how Ahmet is a ‘Refugee Kid’ the storyteller decides she doesn’t care and it really doesn’t matter. Finally, she gets a nod from Ahmet. A sign to her that it doesn’t matter that he’s a ‘Refugee Kid’.

‘I wish he had smiled back, because you can only ever know that a person’s really your friend when they like you enough to smile back. But it was OK because the nod felt like a promise, and I knew that I wouldn’t have to wait too long before the smile followed.’

What is beautiful in this novel is the storyteller clearly has an amazing mum. Working in the local library, books and knowledge centre their world. Naturally curious, the storyteller asks her mum questions about these children and their backgrounds. It all rings so true with the images we have all seen in the media. However, the child friendly language used makes it seem relatable by everyone; young and old.

Ahmet joining the class raises more questions than answers. Yet, the children are focused on being his friend and learning more about him. They had learnt that he was from Syria and had to flee from war. The storyteller and her mum decide to go off in search for pomegranate in the hopes that Ahmet would like this reminder from his home.

‘The new boy fell quiet. And then, for the first time since we met him, he smiled… a real, proper smile that went from one cheek to the other.’

One part of the novel that absolutely had my heart breaking was Ahmet telling his story, with pictures, to show the class what had happened and where he had come from. Story time is something so common in every classroom in the country. This one created a lump in my throat.

Ahmet tells his class all about his home in Syria, his mum and dad, as well as his sister and their cat. The war in Syria had led him to flee on a boat (like those seen on our television screens) to some form of safety. He went from Greece to the setting of the novel and his new school. To a new beginning. After telling his story hands shoot up around the classroom with yet more questions. The storyteller extends friendship further by offering her beloved Tintin comic to share together. We learn the truth about Ahmet’s family – his sister, mother, father and cat and why he is all alone.

‘I waited to see if Ahmet would show them the pictures and tell them about Syrah and the sea and his mum too. But, he didn’t, and I knew that he wanted me to keep it a secret.’

Then something happened that changed everything. Whilst travelling on the bus, the group overhear a conversation about the refugees. Again, it is a conversation we have all heard over time with some sympathetic views in comparison to the more judgemental views. Nevertheless, the children hear that the border is about to be shut, meaning Ahmet won’t see his family ever again. Despite telling their teachers, the group feel slightly fobbed off. It’s time to make a plan, or three, just to be on the safe side. These include writing to the Prime Minister or creating a Special Appeal. But, that wasn’t the greatest plan of all. The greatest plan in the world involved writing to our one and only Queen of England. They even create an emergency plan, just in case!

Time was plodding a long and the children were well aware about the discussion about the borders being closed. Therefore, it was time for them to work together and head for a London adventure! They had to help Ahmet and his family before it was too late. After navigating the trains and making their way around London, they need to get to the palace. They had presents for the Queen too! The first character they meet is Stan the Taxi driver. He’s a hit straight away!

Following Stan they then meet two Cold Stream Guards: Chris Taylor and Walter Kungu. After a mini adventure in itself, the guards promise to give another letter to the Queen and the presents they brought for the Queen too.

‘Getting into the back seat of the police car, we waved back. Lots of people began cheering and waving at us from all along the palace walls, so we waved back at them too, even though we didn’t really know why.’

As you can imagine, what came next was complete stardom. The children were in the news and causing a stir around the whole world! They even had a reply from the Queen. Finally, the children and Ahmet had some good news. Alexa also had her birthday. In fact, it is here that we finally learn her name! Her birthday was a complete surprise but the best gift wasn’t for her at all. It was for Ahmet, her best friend.

‘I know that afternoon was one of the best afternoons I will ever have. Not because it was my birthday, but because it was an end to one of the best adventures a brand new ten-year-old could ever have…’

Final thoughts

This book should be read by absolutely everyone. I mentioned throughout about comments we would have all heard in the media or even in our every day lives. However, this novel brings a voice to so many children and families who have been in this situation. It’s about friendship and kindness and the fact that we can always do more to help. The childlike innocence throughout is endearing and beautiful. This book is a deserving winner and an excellent read. It stands for something so much more than we ever could realise.

Big love all. Xxx

13 Comments

Filed under Book review, Children's Literature, Waterstones Book of the Month

If I Die Before I Wake – Emily Koch

Hi Lovely People!

I hope you’ve been basking in the beautiful sunshine today. It’s glorious out there! Spring is in the air and boy is it fabulous!

Time for my choice of book for the Waterstones Book of the Month. There was one book for March that just grabbed my attention which, as a result, meant that the others didn’t get a look in! That is If I Die Before I Wake by Emily Koch.

Unlike my other reviews, this won’t be as detailed and thorough with the plot. I wouldn’t want to give anything away and ruin it for you! I hope you enjoy.

What’s it all about?

The novel centres around the first person narration of Alex. Unfortunately for Alex, two years ago he was involved in a rock climbing accident. As a result, he is living in a permanent vegetative state. However, we as a reader get an insight into Alex’s internal dialogue. He goes through phases of utter despair, depression, frustration, positivity and everything in between.

“I’ve always been fighting, since the moment I woke up in hospital. But I haven’t always been on the same side of the battle lines.”

However, he does have access to some of his senses. He can see a little through the slits in his eyes. He can hear exceptionally well and can smell too. It’s his sense of smell that enables him to work out who is in his hospital room and when.

‘She only has to walk into my room and I feel a little bit better. For a start, she smells motherly and comforting, like marzipan -‘

Since Alex’s fall two years ago, he has remained in an unresponsive state, according to the doctors treating him. To begin with, because of the pain he could see his family going through, he decides it would be better to die. However, the more various family members and his girlfriend, Bea visits, the more he wants to show them he’s alive inside. He desperately tries to move, to focus on one point to get it moving, even if just for an inch.

As the novel progresses and time passes by, his family have to make the incomprehensible decision whether or not to turn off his life support machine. His parents, sister and girlfriend push for continuous medical tests. All the results show the same: nothing. Unresponsive. They continue to hold on.

Whilst everyone involved are in agony, Alex’s internal agony is so much worse. He can hear all the discussing about what decision to make regarding Alex’s current position. Eventually, they agree that it is time to move on and let him go. Alex knows that this will result in his life and there is absolutely nothing he can do about it.

‘I must have exhausted myself after several hours of panic. I found I was asleep, trapped in the same visionwatching from the corner of our flat, trying to help her, trying to shout to her but realising that saline drip lines bound my wrists and ankles, and the sponges used to clean my mouth were stuffed into it, gagging me.

Whilst heating the conversations about his impending death, Alex doesn’t have the energy to communicate (or try to) that will make the doctors and his family pay attention.

Something is different though, Alex has got some new visitors: the police. Recently, they have been around Alex’s hospital trying to unearth clues and information regarding Alex’s rock climbing accident. It appears that accident isn’t quite the correct word to describe what had happened to him.

‘The question I would have asked myself back then, if I’d known what I know now, was: But what if it wasn’t fate that made you fall?’

Alex has all the time in the world lying there to try and work out what happened to him. Everything is a blur though. His memories are severely damaged, if not gone. Yet, he still tries. He has a unending sense that something bad is happening with Bea too. The two link together in his mind and we see utter frustration from Alex because there isn’t nothing he can do apart from think.

Alex knows that he needs to use the senses he does have to try and work out what happened to him. As the pages fly by, time is running out for Alex (and everyone else) to solve the mystery of what exactly happened to him. After all, murder is a crime and Alex‘s accident might not be an accident at all. Time is running out for them all. This needs solving before they can say their last goodbyes.

“And so, I hope if you can hear me, you will forgive me…After I read this to you, I’m going to talk to your dad. You know what I’m going to say to him.”

Final Thoughts

Everything Alex’s character felt, I felt. I desperately wanted to shout and scream and get people to see what I was reading. A novel like this makes me feel great allegiance with the tragic character. Emily Koch did an amazing job at giving someone in a vegetive state a voice. Every nuance, every feeling was well thought out. I was gripped until the very end. I don’t want to ruin this for you but I urge you strongly to go and read it. You won’t be disappointed.

Big love all xxx

19 Comments

Filed under Book review, Thriller, Waterstones Book of the Month

A Pinch of Magic – Michelle Harrison

Hello Lovelies!

Firstly, I offer my warmest apologies. It’s been a really busy time at work as we are in the middle of another mock cycle. We’re done two papers out of four in English so I seem to spend my time marking plenty! I’m just so sorry I’m so rubbish!

However, I am back to catch up with you all and to share with you the book I chose from Waterstones Book of the Month list for February: A Pinch of Magic. As you can see, this book is beautiful!

What’s it all about?

The novel opens with the story of a girl gazing out of the window in Crowstone Tower where she is being kept prisoner. The next day she knew she was being taken to the gallows for being a supposed witch.

“Using the stone, she scratched on the inside walls as if she were writing with chalk. She wrote out a single word: a name… the one who had wronged her.”

Fast forward to Betty Windershins’s 13th birthday where she learns about the family curse. It’s a busy Saturday night in The Poacher’s Pocket, the local pub and their home. Betty lives there with her grandma, Betty (Bunny to avoid confusion) and her sisters, Fliss and Charlie. It’s Halloween too and Betty is determined to go out and play. However, she wants to travel a little further, across the ferry to Marshfoot where there was a fairground. Fliss declines the invitation, becoming more of a killjoy in Betty’s opinion since her own birthday. They board the ferry almost tasting freedom when all doesn’t seem quite as expected. Bunny appears!

‘The boat lurched again as a familiar figure looked over the two girls. Betty gave a squeak of surprise as someone pushed their face to hers, almost nose to nose.’

Absolutely certain that Granny had not been on the boat when they left, this journey raised more questions than answers. Naturally, Bunny was furious with the girls. Betty being naturally curious, tries to work out how their granny knew where they were and what they were doing. She desperately wants answers which she finally gets after a short journey in which they all hold onto each other and use a carpet bag for their travels. It is time for the girls to sit down with their grandmother to find out exactly what all that was about. Much to Betty’s surprise, her sister Fliss doesn’t see phased by it at all. It is revealed that she was told the story on her own birthday. It was Bunny’s time to tell them all.

“There are three items… three gifts, if you like. Each of them is an everyday object. Each of them holds a different kind of power. I call it a pinch of magic.”

The three everyday objects that held hidden secrets were the carpet bag, a mirror and a set of nesting dolls. These items had been passed down the family for 150 years and would continue to do so. Each item belongs to a specific person and they each do different magic things. The girls are naturally quite fascinated. Betty knows that the items could help them with seeing their father who is currently in prison. As amazing as these items are, they come with a price. The Widdershins family are cursed.

“The truth is, we’re cursed… all of us. No Widdershins girl has ever been able to leave Crowstone. If we do, we’ll die by the next summer.”

Betty hopes it’s just wishful thinking. However, Bunny has seen for herself what happens. The crows’ chorus followed by the person becoming colder and colder. Despite feeling like ice, the last thing you feel is the cold kiss. Then it’s the end. They know the curse has been triggered because a stone falls from the Tower over at Repent island where all the prisoners, including their father are. Despite all the warnings, Betty has this deep desire to break the curse, no matter what the costs. And so the adventure begins.

After searching at home, Betty finds some letters from her grandmother to her father and vice versa. All is not what it seems as it appears that their father has been moved from prison. Bunny had stopped replying to him but continued to visit the prison. Prisoner number 513 becomes of great importance to Betty so she decides she must visit him with Fliss to see why her grandmother kept returning there. The prison looked cruel by daylight, worse by evening light. It oozes misery. Prisoner 513, Colton by name it disappointingly ordinary. But it is his knowledge that the girls are desperate to acquire. He said he knew how to break the curse. The cost of this information, the bag. His ticket out of prison. His freedom card.

‘Four tiny words, with such enormous power. Betty tensed, like a bow string that had been pulled back, ready to fire.’

A regular visitor to The Poacher’s Pocket who could hold the key to some information is Fingerty. He’s an ex prisoner but also incredibly rude and cold. It would be very difficult to get information from him but Betty firmly believes that it is worth a try. After some free alcohol he tells the story of Sorsha Spellthorn. The general belief was that she was a witch which resulted in her being locked in the tower. The narration then changes to Sorsha and we hear about her awful childhood where she was a clear target. She ended up trusting someone who she shouldn’t have. This information inspires a deep need within Betty to try and break the curse. The girls decide to leave.

Granny, it said, we’re sorry. We’ve taken your bag and gone to break the curse. We’ll be back as soon as we can. Please don’t come looking for us, and please don’t be too angry. Betty & Fliss.”

However, Charlie catches them. Despite Betty following the instructions about the bag, it doesn’t work. They’ve forgotten one crucial piece of information: the items only work for their owner. Granny owns it now and then it will be Charlie’s. Charlie takes matters into her own hands, shouting the command of where they wish to go, much to Betty’s surprise. A larger surprise was waiting for them when they got to the prison. Unfortunately, Charlie got the number confused and they ended up in a cell with a rather awful prisoner called Jarrod.

“Why would you be carrying an empty bag, eh? This is how you got in here? Is it a portal or summat?”

‘He held the bag out in front of him, fitting it over his huge foot like an ugly, misshapen slipper.’

They get Colton out but Jarrod is nowhere to be found. They’ve no choice but to continue to get information from Colton. Betty desperately wants to break the curse but in a rather heartbreaking way, we learn that Colton lied for his freedom. He knows nothing. What’s worse, Jarrod appears after lurking in the shadows knowing everything. He takes Charlie, Fliss and the bag with him. Betty absolutely will not leave them. The curse is triggered.

What happens next over the course of the novel is adventure and desperation. Betty is determined to break the curse and get Fliss, Charlie and the bag back. Betty and Colton get a boat and travel over the very dangerous and notorious Devil’s Teeth. They hear the wardens however, there is also another surprise. Fingerty. He joins them and continues to tell the rest of Sorsha’s story. It’s a story of help, broken trust and envy.

‘Jealous… wants what you have… a mother always knows.’

Back to the now and the girls use the dolls to see each other. Betty is adamant that she is not going to leave her sisters behind, no matter what the cost. Whilst they continue the journey, Fingerty tells Betty and Colton the rest of Sorsha’s story. Her sister was jealous of the magic she possessed. She wanted it for herself which was exactly what their mother had thought all along. Whilst in deep betrayal caused by her sister, Sorsha picks ordinary looking objects to transfer her powers to. Her earlier help has to come to and end. However, it’s too late. She ends up in the tower. When her sister Pru arrives to see her, she’s changed and she lies. Sorsha is so angry that she curses her sister and all future Widdershins after her.

‘Perhaps there was a way she could have her revenge, even if she couldn’t save herself. For while she no longer had her magic, a curse was something different. A curse could come from darkness. And what could be darker than death.’

Eventually the girls are reunited and Betty has an idea of how she can break the curse. It’s always risky but it has to be worth it. After all, the Crow’s Chorus is only ever getting louder. However, this is where Colton’s part comes to an end. He doesn’t want to return to be put back into prison. So he stays behind. The girls press onward to the tower to prevent the curse. Betty meets Sorsha and tries to make her see sense. They become friends, real sisters and each girl gives Sorsha their magic items back. By the end of the novel, harmony is restored. There is no curse. It’s all over.

‘She was Betty the Brave, Betty the Explorer. And with her sisters at her side, she was ready for anything.’

Final Thoughts

This book was truly magical. There’s a reason why it’s Waterstone’s book of the month for February and March. It’s a real adventure and I was gripped the whole time I was reading. Magic does funny things to readers as it completely takes you in and you become a part of it. I loved Sorsha and felt her pain. I also admired Betty’s sheer determination and resilience. A great book!

Big love to you all!! I promise to be better. Off to catch up with you all now. ❤️

12 Comments

Filed under Book review, Waterstones Book of the Month

RTY: Crooked House – Agatha Christie

Hi Everyone!

I’m back today to review my November choice for Penguin’s Read The Year Challenge. I was feeling really bad that I missed October’s deadline by a day so I wanted to crack on with November’s right away. The focus for this month is: Pick up a book about the country you live in. Agatha Christie is such a prolific English writer and yet, shamefully, I’ve never read anything by her. However, this changed when I read this book. Set in and around London in 1947, this book fits the brief perfectly. The bonus was I absolutely flew through it because I was completely hooked. I just had to find out what happened!

What’s it all about?

The novel opens towards the latter stages of the Second World War with character Charles Hayward in Cairo. He meets and falls in love with Sophia Leonides. She’s a small and very successful English woman who works in the Foreign Office. Despite being madly in love, they decide to leave their engagement until after the war, when they can be reunited in England.

It is always a shock to meet again someone whom you have not seen for a long time but who has been very much present in your mind during that period.

Once home, Charles sees a death notice in The Times. Sophia’s grandfather, Aristide Leonides, the wealthy business entrepreneur, has died ages 85. As a consequence of the war, the whole family have been living with Aristide in their mansion “Three Gables”, the ‘crooked house’ of which the novel is entitled. Following the autopsy, it is revealed that Leonides was poisoned with his own eserine based eye medicine, via an insulin injection. Sophia tells Charles that she cannot possibly marry him in these circumstances. The culprit has to be found first.

The most obvious suspects from the start are Brenda Leonides, Aristide’s vastly younger wife and Laurence Brown, the private tutor of Sophia’s younger siblings, Eustace and Josephine. The rumour: the illicit love affair conducted right under Aristide’s nose. What’s even more interesting is that the family are desperate for it to be Brenda as they openly despise her. The age gap causes suspicion amongst them, seeing the marriage as an opportunity for her to be rich, rather than one for love.

I think people more often kill those they love, than those they hate. Possibly because only the people you love can really make life unendurable to you.

Charles decides to help his father who is an Assistant Commissioner of Scotland Yard, to investigate the murder and hopefully get to the bottom of it. By becoming a guest of the house, he hopes that someone will reveal a clue or let something slip, enabling him to progress in his deductions.

As the novel progresses it becomes clear that each member of the family has a motive and opportunity to kill him. They are all well aware of the eye medicine and how poisonous it was. Aristide was open with them all following questioning from Josephine.

Following the discussion of his will, it is apparent that they all stand to gain a healthy bequest from the estate. Only the servants do not as their wages have been annually increasing. Therefore, this removes them as suspects.

What are murderers like? Some of them, have been thoroughly nice chaps.

The family members also have very little in common with one another. Edith de Haviland, his unmarried sister in law, is a rude woman in her 70s who lives with them to supervise the upbringing of the children. The eldest son, Roger, is Aristide’s favourite despite being a complete failure at business. His catering business is balancing precariously on a knife edge. His wife, Clemency, is a scientist with unsentimental tastes. She’s never been able to enjoy the wealth of the family. Roger’s younger brother Philip, has suffered because of being in his brothers shadow. As a consequence, he removed himself to a world of books and historical facts and figures, spending his time in the library. Philip’s wife Magda is a semi successful actress who views every day life as if being on stage. Naturally, she always wants the leading role.

Eustace, 16, has polio. Handsome and intelligent, he is bitter and cynical as a result of his illness. His 12 year old sister, Josephine, is ugly, intelligence and obsessed with detective stories. Taking this as her inspiration, she spies on the rest of her family, listening at doors, making notes in her little black notebook.

What characters don’t quite realise at the start is that Aristide has secretly rewritten his will to leave everything to Sophia. It was his belief that she was the only one who had the strength of character to take his place as the head of the house. When the family are told this information, it is a complete surprise.

Throughout the investigation, Josephine has been mocking the police for their stupidity. She brags that she knows who the killer is. Soon after, she is found lying unconscious in the yard, after a blow to the head from a marble doorstop.

Child’s evidence is always the best evidence there is. I’d rely on it every time. No good in court, of course. Children can’t stand being asked direct questions. They mumble or else look idiotic and say they don’t know. They’re at their best when they’re showing off.

When Charles finds letters from Brenda to Laurence, sharing their love for one another, it seems that it fits with the death of Aristide. Therefore, they are arrested. However, whilst they were both in custody, the children’s Nanny dies after drinking a hot chocolate, laced with digitalis (heart medicine). Apparently, this was for Josephine and once again the family are twitchy as the murderer is still lurking around them.

Fearing for Josephine’s life, Charles (in vain) to get her to tell him the murderer’s name. Edith de Haviland invites Josephine to have an adventure with her to get ice cream sodas. However, the car drives over a cliff and both are sadly killed.

Back at Three Gables, Charles finds two letters from Edith. Upon inspection, one is a suicide note for Chief Inspector Taverner, where by she takes full responsibility for the murder of both Aristide and Nanny. In the second letter, which is only for Sophia and Charles, Edith reveals the full truth of the matter. The murderer was in fact Josephine. As proof and evidence, Edith attaches her black notebook which discloses “Today I killed grandfather.”

The novel closes with the reasoning why Josephine kills her grandfather and the Nanny. Her grandfather refuses to pay for her ballet lessons. The attention she received following the murder she relishes so this convinced her into another murder. She planned her own with the marble door stop as a means of diverting the attention away from her. We learn that she poisoned Nanny for encouraging Magda to send her away to Switzerland. Josephine also disliked being called a “silly little girl”.

Edith found her notebook inside a dog kennel and felt compelled to protect the child. She devised the suicide/murder car crash as she did not want the child to suffer in prison or an asylum which is where she would have ended up when the police learned the truth.

The novel closes neatly with the engagement between Charles and Sophia confirmed.

Because this is just what a nightmare is. Walking about among people you know, looking in their faces- and suddenly the faces change- and it’s not someone you know any longer- it’s a stranger- a cruel stranger.

Overview

I really enjoyed this pocket rocket of a book. I didn’t know what to expect really. I just knew Christie is such a prolific writer. I was not disappointed and I was hanging on till the very end. I hope you all had a fabulous November and enjoy the weekend ahead.

Big love xxx

31 Comments

Filed under Book review, Books, Read The Year Challenge, Reading

RTY: The Girl In The Tower – Katherine Arden

Hey Everyone!

November is here, the clocks have gone back and the evenings are getting much darker. That’s all awesome though because it gives us time to sit back and snuggle down with a good book.

Today I want to share with you my post for Penguin’s Read The Year Challenge for October. The theme for this was: ‘Tis the season for spooky stories: take your pick.’ I’m not really a fan of the ghost/vampire/scary stories. So, I decided to read the sequel to The Bear and the Nightingale, The Girl in the Tower by Katherine Arden. However, it is the first month where I didn’t finish the book in October. I finished it November 1st! (Close enough?)

This was just as amazing as the first book which is why I’m reviewing it pretty much straight away. Here goes!

What’s it all about?

Following from the first novel, The Bear and the Nightingale, the second begins with Olga telling her children and her ladies a story about a couple who cannot have children. Therefore, they bring a snow sculpture to life to be their daughter. The sad thing is, she falls in love but eventually fades away. Olga’s daughter, Marya, is convinced she sees the ghost of one of the ladies from a different story in the corner of the room they’re in.

Sasha (Brother Alexander) finally returns home and back to he palace to visit Olga. He brings with him an injured priest. Sasha tells Dmitrii about the battles his country are facing. Olga speaks with the priest, Konstantin, who tells her of Vasya’s evilness and her father’s death. He also reveals her stepmother is dead and Vasya, also presumed dead.

Another priest advises Sasha that Dmitrii is becoming unhappy with his childless wife and needs a sense of adventure. Sasha decides to take him out to the villages Before they leave, a man named Kasyan appears telling them he needs their help to defend against whoever is attacking his villages and people. Kasyan accompanies then on their journey but eventually leaves them to it. As they proceed along their journey, they continued to see burned villages with desperate citizens.

Every time you take one path, you must live with the memory of the other: of a life left unchosen. Decide as seems best, one course or the other; each way will have its bitter with its sweet.

They find themselves at the old monastery where Sasha first trained and where his friend, Sergei still lives. A boy, actually Vasya, brings three homeless children into the camp.

The story travels back in time to the end of book one where Vasya enters Morozko’s home in the woods. Absolutely exhausted and feeling quite hopeless, she wants the dowry Morozko offered her. However, she doesn’t want to marry anyone for it. Eventually, he concedes and the money is hers. Vasya wants to use it to be a traveller and see the world. She dreams about a pale women in white who tells her she should leave at once.

The first night of her adventure brings her a new visitor, a demon woman called Midnight. She refuses to tell Vasya who has sent her but she says she’ll visit twice more during her journey.

Her days are long and arduous and she soon catches a cold from the freezing Russian weather. With her companion, Solovey, she finds a caravan and follows it into a town. Due to the size, she believes it is Moscow. But, they’ve not quite reached that part yet.

Solovey doesn’t trust the town walls and refuses to go inside. However, Vasya is insistent. Disguised as a boy, she is able to explore her surroundings. She’s completely enthralled. A strange and rather ominous man, Kasyan, believes he recognises her in the city market. However, Vasya manages to escape him.

She visits a bathhouse on the way back and decides to stop for food and a hot bath. Whilst she’s bathing, she hears Solovey making a noise in the stable. It is clear why as two men break into her bathroom. She barely manages to escape the town. However, a snowstorm descends directly on the town, helping them to hide their tracks.

Vasya gets colder and sicker and is unable to get any warmth in her body. When she’s on the brink of death, Morozko arrives to nurse her back to heath. He assumes that because her trip was a disaster, she will return home. Yet, Vasya has other ideas. She wants to see the world and continue being a traveller. Morozko’s horse tells him he knows he loves Vasya. His fear is Morozko choosing between love and his immortality.

Morozko knows he has to let her go but he makes her a parting gift of a pair of knives. He teaches her how to fight over a few days. Vasya questions him and their discussion ends in in Morozko kissing her.

Vasya continues her adventure and soon finds another burned village. A mother tells her how her daughter was kidnapped and her husband killed. Vasya vows to find her daughter, so she sets off with Solovey to find them. After a time, she does find her and two others held by bandits who oddly, leave no trace. Solovey distracts the men whilst Vasya whilst she rescues the girls. They manage to escape just in time.

All through the night they are chased by the men. Cue the second visit from the Midnight, the female demon, where she offers advice to Vasya, against her orders. Her advice: to ride west. Vasya trusts her and at daybreak, they come upon a walled monastery. On this journey, the girls, hiding in Vasya’s clothing, nearly froze. Vasya begs the monks to let her in. Amazingly, Sasha is there.

Vasya continues to be deceptive and plays the part of a boy. Sasha also plays along with the act. Dmitrii is overjoyed to meet his new cousin. He orders food and baths for them all and asks Vasya to go hunting the bandits with him. After feeding, the party leave. Upon finding the bandits, fighting breaks out until Kasyan and his men arrive.

Upon returning to the monastery, Vasya busies herself with looking after her beloved horse so she doesn’t have to bathe with the men. Sasha and Sergei go to a separate bath house. Sergei reveals to Sasha his knowledge about Vasya. When they finally get to talk, Vasya tells Sasha everything from when Sasha left the family, to the death of their step mother and father.

That evening, Vasya dreams of the Bear. Morozko appears and to his surprise, Vasya grabs his cloak and pulls him close. He’s there because he heard her cry. However, Vasya can not cope with him appearing and leaving her. So, Morozko vanishes.

It is decided that Vasya should be kept quietly away with Olga so the story of his ‘brother’ may disappear. However, they both know that remaining quiet is not something Vasya does well. We have seen this in book one too!

Sasha begs Sergei to send Rodion to them when they find the captain they are currently unable to pin down. They discuss and assume who Kasyan is as they’d never heard of him before now, each equally as suspicious as the other.

Katya, the oldest of the three girls rescued, informs her that the men are saying they have to lie as payment for what Vasya has done for them. Vasya reveals her true identity as a girl and promises to make sure they’re returned home safely. As they approach the village, Katya asks Vasya what her true name is. This secret further units the girls and Vasya gives Katya a dowry for each one.

Continuing to Moscow enables Vasya to see the beautiful city: the sights and sounds. Sasha takes her to her sister, Olga. However, Olga cannot believe her eyes as she believed her sister to be dead. Initially disappointed that Sasha did not inform Dmitrii of the secret, Olga decides that they’ll have to sneak Vasya away and then reintroduce her as someone else. In order for this to be successful, Vasya needed to be inconspicuous.

That evening, Vasya spots the man who was the captain of the bandits. Actually, he is a Tatar (Russian royalty) called Chelubey. Vasya leaves to tell Sasha immediately what she has seen. But, there is a problem. He doesn’t know what to believe as Vasya did not reveal the full truth. Vasya vehemently assures him of her certainty.

The next morning, Marya overheard her mother discussing Vasya. She knows it is her aunt, not her uncle. Rather cleverly, the two make a deal to keep Vasya’s identity hidden. Marya also tells her aunt how she sees everything Vasya does: the ghost and the domovoi. The two go riding in the city together, having a terribly exciting time. A domovoi tells Marya a prophecy. She’s frightened, so Vasya reassured her that prophecies can be deceiving and to not think too much on it.

Whilst out, Chelubey appears and recognises Vasya’s horse. As he questions her, it is obvious that they recognise each other. He wishes to purchase Solovey but Vasya is clear that the horse will not let anyone ride him apart from herself. Tension rises as neither side wish to back down. Vasya refuses to let her horse go resulting in Chelubey’s men surrounding and blocking her in.

Thankfully, Kasyan appears and rescues her. He keeps Marya hidden and sneaks her back into the castle. Olga is waiting to speak to her sister immediately. The sisters argue and their relationship appears beyond repair at this point.

Chelubey rides again towards Vasya. She bets him that she can tame the mare he just bought. The set the terms of the bet. If she can ride it, she can keep it. If she can’t, he gets Solovey. People place their bets while Vasya takes the time to build trust between her and the horse. She eventually is able to ride it and named the horse Zima. On the surface, Chelubey accepts he has been defeated. Muttering, he tells her that she will pay for that.

Observing all, Kasyan tells her she has made and enemy but admired her riding skills. He wants to know why Chelubey recognises her. Vasya, hurt, explains that her own brother didn’t believe her, so why would he. After some gentle coaxing, she tells him. He believes her but knows she needs more evidence. Vasya agrees to wait for a small while until other evidence is found.

Following a very long, detailed church service, the Maslenitsa celebration begins. Sasha begs Vasya to stay out of the limelight, to be inconspicuous and live in the shadows of her sister. Vasya absolutely refuses, knowing full well this hurts him to lie, as a monk. Knowing full well she is hurting her family, she makes a plan to leave. She feels like she’s got no choice. Consequently, she decides to tell Dmitrii about Chelubey that very moment.

There is a problem: Kasyan hears Vasya trying to tell Dmitrii and decides to stop her. Instead, he challenges her to a horse race in the morning. She accepts but continues to try and tell Dmitrii. Yet, she sees the other world. The domovoi is serving at the banquet and Morozko is in the doorway. Vasya invites him to sit at the table with her. He has other ideas and wishes to go for a ride instead.

As they race through the night, they decide to talk. Vasya wants him to tell her what to do. They kiss for a long time. However, Morzoko is conflicted. He wants to share something with her but he decides against it, just warning her to be wary. He will fade as spring comes. As each turn away from one another, a red streak glows across the sky.

In winter it is impossible to be still. Even sitting by the fire, one is watching the coals, stirring the soup, fighting – always fighting – the eager frost.

Vasya is visited by Kasyan whilst she is grooming her horse for the race the following morning. He wishes to tell her something, but he doesn’t seem able to, partly because he keeps being interrupted. Sasha wants a private word with Vasya. He’d been investigating Chelubey and is unable to find anything out. Therefore, this convinces him to believe Vasya and wants to tell Dmitrii about it.

Upon arriving for the race, Kasyan arrives on a golden mare that is no normal horse. A bet is made – if he wins, Vasya must marry him. Startled, she realises he knows her secret disguise. None of this matters yes as Solovey narrowly wins the race.

In revenge, Kasyan pulls of Vasya’s cap to reveal her long flowing hair. Dmitrii is absolutely furious. He demands Kasyan cuts off all her clothes so everyone can see her true form. Sasha is bound and taken away because he knew about the lie. Vasya is taken captive in Olga’s tower.

Despite her anger, Olga ensures that Vasya is bathed, clothed and fed. She’s distraught that she cost their father his life, Sasha his freedom and likely her family if they think she knew. Vasya knows this is continuing to hurt her family and wants to make it right, if she can.

Meanwhile, Kasyan visits Konstantin in his cell, well aware the priest loves and hates Vasya. He’s given a task and promises vengeance on Vasya if he complies. Konstantin has always been disturbed by the feelings evokes by Vasya (particularly in book one) so he agrees.

Whilst locked in the tower, a ghost visits Vasya’s room. She cuts her arm work her necklace so the ghost can drink her blood to gain strength. She is told to leave and return home that very night. Morozko appears and promises to help her. However, Olga appears as Kasyan is calling on her, meaning Morozko disappears.

Kasyan blackmails Vasya: marry him or her family die. Failing to buy time, she reluctantly agrees to marry him. Vasya knows exactly what type of man he is. She knows his involvement in everything to belittle Dmitrii and to put himself in a position of power.

Olga goes into labour and is taken to the bath house. Sadly, the labour is not progressing well and Olga’s life is at risk. Morozko arrives to take Olga through to death. Vasya begs for her sister’s life. But, one of them has to die. Olga wants her baby to survive but Vasya continues to beg for Olga’s life. The baby is stillborn resulting in Olga demanding Vasya leaves.

Morozko finds her in the courtyard. She demands the truth which eventually he reveals. He gave her father exactly the same choice as Olga. Pyotr made exactly the same choice as Olga, to sacrifice himself for his family. The link between the two? Morozko made the necklace when she was a child and chose her. He needs to be tied to flesh and blood to prevent him from fading away. Vasya pulls off the necklace and returns it to him. She wants to flee but she cannot because of the plans Kasyan has for her but because they’re not veiled in magic, he can’t see them.

There is no magic. Things are. Or they are not.’

Thankfully, Rodion arrives at the cell where Sasha is and reveals what he has seen. Kasyan’s home is a tower of bones and he knows he is the one who is burning all the villages. Vasya arrives to tell them that Kasyan plans to act tonight and they need to get into the palace to warn Dmitrii.

Sneaking into the courtyard, there is nothing but chaos ahead. Kasyan and his man are already there. They hear Dmitrii making an announcement so know he is still alive at this point. Sasha goes to rescue him, Vasya goes to find Solovey. In the process she finds Kasyan’s golden horse. Upon freeing her, she turns into a golden fire bird (nightingale) and flies away, leaving the barn on fire.

Vasya spots her niece, but so does Kasyan. Konstantin tells her the deal he struck with Kasyan. He could have Vasya if he got Marya for Kasyan. Vasya forgives him as he baptised her sister’s baby but will kill him the next time she sees him. Chelubey appears with warriors both dead and alive. Dmitrii’s warriors continue to suffer in defeat.

Vasya hears Sasha’s voice in the crowd. They rush to search for Dmitrii. He’s surrounded by four enemies unable to move. They manage to kill the enemies and save him. Sasha promises to never lie to him again. All is forgiven and they head towards Kasyan.

Vasya goes to rescue her niece but on her way sees ghost of those she loves most. However, the ghost has been seen by her and Marya before. She notices Marya has a glazed, inexpressive look on her face, caused by a necklace with a red jewel in it. Vasya offers to trade her life for Marya’s. Kasyan hits her and kicks her in the stomach and ribs.

The ghost reveals itself to be Tamara, Vasya’s grandmother. They snap the necklace off her neck and the spell is broken. Vasya tries to take Marya away but Kasyan stops her, telling her he’s invincible. She remembers the fairytale Dunya told her when she was younger. She realises how he’s stayed alive and why her grandmother’s ghost is there. She seized the invisible necklace from the ghost but Kasyan puts his sword to her throat. When he’s distracted, she crushes the jewel in her hand. Kasyan dies. Morozko is there to take Tamara to death. Just before they disappear, Vasya sees her grandmother as she was before.

The battle is over, however a new one is forming: the city is on fire. Midnight appears for the final time and Vasya begs her to save the city. She reveals that by breaking her jewel, she banished Morozko who could have sent a snow storm. She confides in Vasya and tells her that Morozko loves her.

Whilst everyone is fleeing the city, Vasya runs back into the fire. Morozko said she’d only see him again in death so she tries to die in the flames. He sees her and sends a storm to distinguish the flames of the city. But he can’t live in the sun after midwinter. He begins to fade away but as he does so, he looks quite human. Vasya begs him to live but he fades away.

Think of me sometimes,” he returned. “When the snowdrops have bloomed and the snow has melted.

Marya is returned safely to her mother who wishes to see Vasya. It is time for Vasya to tell them everything that has happened from the arrival of Konstantin to the present day. Marya can see what her aunt sees. Olga wants her daughter to be protected from sorcerers and men. The novel ends.

Overview

It’s very uncommon for me to read a series of books. I’ve only ever done it with one author: J K Rowling. However, I’ve really enjoyed this series. I can’t wait for the final book to come out. It’s magical, it’s intriguing and it’s an adventure not to be missed. I loved this book just as much as the first, if not more. I’ve got used to the Russian names (the glossary is very useful too) so in that sense it was better for me than the first book. I absolutely whizzed through this book too – that’s always a good sign!

Have an excellent November everyone! Keep warm and cosy!

Big love xxx

26 Comments

Filed under Book review, Read The Year Challenge, Reading