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

The Ravenmaster – Christopher Skaife

Hey Loves!

Happy Halloween! 🎃

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

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

What’s it all about?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Final Thoughts

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

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

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

Big love xxx

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

Reading Challenge 2020: The Familiars – Stacey Halls

Hey lovelies!

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

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

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

What’s it all about?

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

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

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

“Loyalty is earned, not demanded.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Final Thoughts

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

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

Keep safe and well everyone.

Big love

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

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

Hey Everyone!

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

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

What’s it all about?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘Here lies Dobby, a free elf.’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Not my daughter, you bitch!”

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

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

‘All is well.’

Final Thoughts

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

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

Big love all! Xxx

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

Reading Challenge 2020: Gulliver’s Travels – Johnathan Swift

Hey Lovelies!!

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

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

What’s it all about?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Final Thoughts

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

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

Big love xx

Posted in Book review, Books, Reading Challenge 2020

Reading Challenge 2020: One Year Later – Sanjida Kay

Hey Lovelies!

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

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

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

What’s it all about?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Final Thoughts

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

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

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

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

Big love xxx

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

Sofia Khan Is Not Obliged – Ayisha Malik

Hello Lovely Blogging Friends!

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

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

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

What’s it all about?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The book ends with the start of their blossoming relationship.

Final Thoughts

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

Continue to stay safe and well.

Big love all!! Xx

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

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

Hey Loves!

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

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

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

What’s it all about?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Final Thoughts

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

Continue to stay safe and well all.

Big love xxx

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

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire – J.K. Rowling

Hey Lovelies!

How are you all doing? Well, it’s the summer holiday. What a strange school year it has been but I’m glad for the break. I feel mentally exhausted. Like many of us, my summer holiday has been cancelled but rather than thinking what could have been, I’m focusing on what amazing opportunities I’ve got now: time and books. I’ve fallen behind with my posting but at least I’ll be able to catch up again now.

Time for my review on Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by J.K. Rowling. You may have remembered that I’m reading all the Harry Potter books again as part of my ‘list of 30 things I want to do’ which featured on my birthday post earlier this month. I hope you enjoy taking this journey with me!

img_2414

What’s it all about?

The novel opens with Harry seeing the three Riddles being murdered in a dream. They weren’t hurt but had a petrified face. Everyone assumed the culprit is Frank Bryce, the caretaker of the Riddle house, but he was released. Later in the dream, Frank Bryce is murdered by Voldemort. Harry is awoken by the searing pain in his scar. He knows what that feeling means…

The Weasleys invite Harry and Hermione to the Quidditch World cup where they meet Cedric Diggory, a Hufflepuff sixth year student on the way. The match is electric. Ireland beat Bulgaria despite them having Viktor Krum, their star seeker. Whilst at the match, the Ministry of Magic employees discuss Bertha Jorkins, a missing Ministry worker. However, her head of department, Ludo Bagman, isn’t worried in the slightest.  

As the match ends, things take a turn for the worse. Hooded and masked Death Eaters, followers of Voldemort, attack the camp site causing terror amongst the Muggle campsite owners. The Dark Mark is fired into the sky causing mass panic amongst the magic community. During this time, Harry discovers that his wand is missing. Sometime later it is found in the hands of Winky, Barty Crouch’s house elf, having been used to cast the Mark. Very few believe that Winky could have conjured the Mark but Barty Crouch dismisses Winky from his service.

Back at Hogwarts, Professor Dumbledore announces that Alastor ‘Mad Eye’ Moody will be the new Defence Against the Dark Arts teacher for that year. Dumbledore also informs the school that Hogwarts will host a revival of the Twiwizard Tournament, in which a champion of Hogwarts will compete against two other champions from European wizarding schools: Beauxbatons Acadmey and Durmstrang Institute. The champions are chosen by the Goblet of Fire following the admission of the names of those who want to enter. One condition: you have to be 17. Therefore, this means that Harry is unable to compete.

Halloween arrives and the Goblet picks its champions. Fleur Delacour from Beauxbatons Academy, Viktor Krum from Durmstrang Institute and Cedric Diggory from Hogwarts. Unexpectedly, the Goblet of Fire also chooses Harry as it’s forth champion. Shock ripples around the Great Hall, anger permiates from the other schools. But, the rules dictate that once a champion is called, they have to compete. Not many fellow students believe that he didn’t enter his own name. Ron becomes jealous of Harry being centre of attention again and the pair end up falling out.

“Harry, Cedric, I suggest you both go up to bed,” said Dumbledore, smiling at both of them. “I am sure Gryffindor and Hufflepuff are waiting to celebrate with you, and it would be a shame to deprive them of this excellent excuse to make a great deal of mess and noise.”

Back to normal lessons and Defence Against the Dark Arts takes a more sinister turn. Professor Moody introduces the class to the Unforgivable Curses: Imperius, Cruciatus and Avada Kadavra. These curses give another wizard the ability to be controlled by another, cause immense pain and kill another, respectively.

The tasks are strictly secret but Hagrid covertly reveals to Harry that the first task is to get past a dragon. Madame Maxime and Professor Karkaroff also learn this information. Certain that they will tell their champions that information, Harry tells Cedric about the dragons in the interest of fairness. Harry really struggles to think of a way to get past a dragon – after all, it isn’t something they do every day! Professor Moody suggests flying and Hermione helps him to perfect a Summoning Charm, which he uses to call his Firebolt broomstick to fly past the dragon and retrieve the golden egg. As a result, Harry earns high marks from the judges and his friendship with Ron is repaired as he can see that Harry wouldn’t actively chose to be in that much danger. The retrieved egg is also the clue for the next challenge.

Meanwhile, Hermione has concerns of her own. Horrified by Barty Crouch’s treatment of Winky, Hermione creates a house elf welfare campaign. She takes Harry and Ron to the school kitchens to see the elves. There they see Dobby again, the house elf that Harry freed. They also find Winky there but she is significantly more distressed than Dobby. Dobby is the only house elf to appreciate his freedom despite his hardworking nature. The other house elves reject Hermione’s idea of payment and holidays which they find distressing.  

“Oh you is a bad elf, Dobby!”

In line with the Triwizard Tournament, the students are informed of the Yule Ball, a tradition of the tournament, which requires Harry finding a partner to open the dance with. He askes Cho Chang, who he likes, but she’s already going with Cedric. Harry then asks Parvati and Padma Patil to go with him and Ron. Hermione, deeply offended that Ron only considered her as a second resort, attends with Viktor Krum, resulting in more jealousy from Ron. At the ball, Cedric repays Harry the favour and tells him to take the egg into the bath in the prefects’ bathroom to work out the clue.

“The words came out before Harry had quite got his tongue around them.
“Wangoballwime?”
“Sorry?” said Cho.
“D’you — d’you want to go to the ball with me?” said Harry.
Why did he have to go red now? Why?

Harry, Ron and Hermione secretly meet in Sirius at Hogsmeade, who tells them that Barty Crouch was fanatical about catching and punishing dark wizards. The resulted in Crouch sending his own son to Azkaban where he later died. Sirius suspects that someone is attempting to attack Harry through the Tournament. There are suspicions but the name that is most suspected is Karkaroff, a former Death Eater.

Pondering on what Cedric told Harry, he takes the egg to the prefects’ bathroom. There he stumbles across Moaning Myrtle and where he learns that he will have to retrieve something dear to him from the Merpeople at the bottom of the lake in Hogwarts grounds. Whilst sneaking back to the Gryffindor Tower under the invisibility cloak, he seems Barty Crouch on the Marauder’s Map, despite him being too ill to judge the Triwizard Tournament. Unfortunately, Harry falls into a trick step and drops the egg which attracts the attention of caretaker Filch, Snape and Moody. Moody’s magical eye means that he can see Harry stuck under his cloak, but doesn’t reveal him.

Despite the day of the second task approaching, Harry, Ron and Hermione are completely unable to find a way of surviving underwater. On the morning of the task Harry gets a visit from Dobby who gives him Gillyweed. Dobby overheard a conversation involving Moody and decides to tell his friend Harry. Gillyweed gives Harry the ability to breathe underwater where he find Ron and the other hostages at the bottom of the lake. Whilst Harry retrieves Ron, he feels like he cannot leave behind any other hostages behind. After looking around for Fleur, Harry decides to retrieve her sister. Harry finishes last but is given marks for his moral fibre.

With a few weeks to go until the final task, Harry and Krum are talking near the Forbidden Forest where they encounter Barty Crouch, who stopped appearing to work at the Ministry several months ago. He is clearly suffering in many ways, jabbering in a hysterical and crazy manner. He confesses he’s done something terrible, that Bertha Jorkins is dead and begs for Dumbledore. Leaving Krum with Crouch, Harry fetches Dumbledore but returns to find Krum stunned and Crouch gone. Krum comes round to claim that Crouch attacked him from behind.

During a Divination lesson, Harry experiences another dream involving Voldemort where he is punishing Wormtail for a mistake. Harry reports this to Dumbledore and stumbles across a memory keeping device: a Pensieve. Inside the Pensieve, he discovers that Ludo Bagman was accused and acquitted of Death Eater activity and that Barty Crouch’s son was sent to Azkaban for his part in torturing Neville Longbottom’s parents into insanity.

Harry is consumed by preparing for the final task – a hedge maze filled with dangerous creatures and obstacles, the goal being to reach the Twiwizard Cup at the centre. Inside the maze, Harry stuns Krum as he was using the Cruciatus Curse of Cedric. Helping each other by becoming a team, the two reach the cup. They agree to touch it at the same time, making them both winners. However, upon touching it, they discover that it is a Portkey that transports them to a graveyard. There Wormtail appears and kills Cedric. Harry is tied up and gets to watch this happen. Wormtail cuts Harry so he can use his blood to restore Voldemort to a body.

Now restored, Voldemort summons all his Death Eaters and ridicules them for believing him dead. He mentions his faithful servant who is concealed at Hogwarts, who has led Harry to the graveyard. He tortures Harry and challenges him to a duel. But, when Voldemort and Harry fire spells are each other, their wands connect unexpectedly, causing echoes of Voldemort’s previous magic to appear. These include manifestations of Cedric and Harry’s parents. Whilst these provide a distraction for Harry, he manages to escape with Cedric’s body to the cup and is able to return back to Hogwarts.

“He knew one thing only, and it was beyond fear or reason: He was not going to die crouching here like a child playing hide-and-seek; he was not going to die kneeling at Voldemort’s feet . . . he was going to die upright like his father, and he was going to die trying to defend himself, even if no defense was possible. . . .”

Harry’s return causes panic. Moody takes a traumatised Harry to his office. He reveals himself to be Voldemort’s faithful servant and explains that he put Harry’s name into the Goblet of Fire. He’s been guiding Harry to make sure he would touch the cup first. He discussed flying, staged a conversation about Gillyweed that was heard by Dobby, cursed obstacles from outside the hedge maze and used the Imperius Curse on Krum to force him to curse Cedric. As Moody prepares to kill Harry, Snape, Dumbledore, McGonagall all step in, intervene and stun Moody. Slowly, the appearance of Moody changes to become Barty Crouch Jr, the supposedly long dead son of Barty Crouch. By using Polyjuice Potion, he has been able to impersonate Moody thus making him the faithful servant inside the castle.

“Remember Cedric. Remember, if the time should come when you have to make a choice between what is right, and what is easy, remember what happened to a boy who was good, and kind, and brave, because he strayed across the path of Lord Voldemort. Remember Cedric Diggory.”

Using Veritaserum, truth telling potion, they learn that the older Barty Crouch rescued his son from Azkaban as a favour to his dying wife. The Crouch who died in Azkaban was his mother, disguised under Polyjuice Potion. The son was kept imprisoned at home. Winky convinced Crouch to allow his son to see the Quidditch World Cup where he stole Harry’s wand. It was he that conjured the Dark Mark. Wormtail had captured Bertha Jorkins and used her for information. This meant that Voldemort was able to discover the younger Crouch’s whereabouts and form a plan to get him inside Hogwarts and lead Harry to him.

Harry learns from Dumbledore that the wands of Harry and Voldemort connected because they share a core of a feather from the same phoenix. This phoenix is Fawkes. Dumbledore announces to the whole school that Voldemort has returned. However, many people refuse to believe it. Cornelius Fudge is one of those non believers. He has the Dementor’s Kiss performed on the younger Crouch meaning his is unable to testify about Voldemort. As a result, Dumbledore decides to put his own plans in place against Voldemort.

“Decent people are so easy to manipulate, Potter.”

The novel ends with Harry giving his winnings secretly to Fred and George Weasley to enable them to open their own joke shop. He returns for yet another summer with the Dursley’s.

Final Thoughts

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, I love these books. This was the one where I started to feel genuinely frightened as a child reading it. Reading it a second time didn’t make me any less frightened, even though I know what happens. As the trio get older, the threat becomes more harrowing and the magic much darker. I love the constant battle between good, bad and overcoming evil. Cedric is the unsung hero of this book really. He is yet another innocent victim of Voldemort’s long campaign for dark magic. I loved the addition of him and also Winky. Everyone knows I have a soft spot for Dobby too so I’m thrilled he is able to Harry for the underwater challenge. His devotion to Harry is just such a lovely touch. Regardless, book four is just as compelling as book one. Here’s to the next…

Have a great week and I hope to catch up with you all again soon!

Big love all xxx

img_2847

Posted in Book review, Books, New Books

What Makes Us Stronger – Freya Lewis

Hey Loves!

How are you all? I hope you’re all enjoying the incredible sunshine we are getting at the moment. I must say, I do feel quite lucky to be living near a little park to enjoy it. I wanted to share a review with you today about a book I read recently. I finished it in a few hours and I finished it thinking, wow what a girl. I’m talking about What Makes Us Stronger by Freya Lewis. I remember the reading the news before I left for school. It was a very strange day for me, because I saw students in front of me that were the same age. It puts things into perspective completely.

Monday 22nd May 2017. Ariana Grande was performing in Manchester to a packed arena. Freya Lewis was there with her best friend Nell. At the end of the show a bomb went off. This is her story.

img_2120

What’s it all about?

The book opens with Freya talking about what her life was like before the concert. Freya was just a normal, fourteen year old school girl with a loving family around her feeling excited about her upcoming concert. This one was different: she could take a friend. She knew just the girl to take – Nell, her beautiful best friend. Freya wanted it to be a surprise so played along with the notion that she was unable to get tickets, until Nell’s birthday.

“For the rest of the day I basked in a halo of happiness as Nell jumped up and down telling everyone at school that we were going to see Ariana. It was the first concert she’d ever get to go to, which made it all the more special.”

Each chapter splits between before and after the concert. The following days were a strange haze for Freya. No part of her body had escaped injury from the explosion. However, the kindness and strength from those around her helped her to recover. In the early days Freya felt like she was recovering at a snail’s pace. Yet, slowly slowly, over time she did make some huge leaps. Her family visited and continued to give her the courage she needed, especially her sister, Georgia. The NHS professionals around her motivated her to believe she could and would get better. Eventually, Freya felt like she was beginning to make progress starting with scratching her head.

“A week ago, the mere suggestion that I’d be able to make such a tiny movement had seemed impossible. I’d achieved two big small things in one day: sitting up and scratching my head. They were definitely steps forward. And having Dad and the nurses celebrating with me in that moment, at this crazy house of four o’clock in the morning, made it all the more special.”

Ariana made the decision to visit the hospital in Manchester to see those who had been injured. I remember this being documented on the news. Reading Freya’s experience of this shows how innocent these victims all were. They were just out, listening to the music that they loved, watching their idol on stage, living their lives. The fact that their hero then went to visit them was something else. Freya admits it is something that she will never forget. I doubt anyone would! Ariana is presented in this as humble and dedicated to her fans. It is Freya’s mother that evoked the strongest emotion from me. The words of a mother.

‘As she turned to leave, Mum was hovering by the bed. She and Ariana looked at each other for a moment, then Mum’s face went serious. “Don’t worry, it wasn’t your fault”.’

Whilst her recovery was slow and steady, Freya was consumed by guilt. She knew she would putting her parents under significant strain. She knew that she was alive and her best friend wasn’t. She wondered how Nell’s family were and if they hated her for surviving. The same thoughts were had about school. Would they hate her for surviving? After these thoughts, Freya decided she was going to be positive and recovery quickly to help the pressure on her family. Knowing that the whole world was sending her cards, gifts and get well messages meant that it wasn’t just her family and friends that were willing her on. It was the public too. She would do it for all of them. Whilst her dad continued to update the world on her progress with his blog, Freya knew that if she gave up, the terrorist would win. She wouldn’t let that happen.

“The love those cards contained was really beyond words, and I wished with all my heart that Nell, who had been so loving and caring herself, was here to see it.”

Writing became therapy for Freya and thankfully, for us, that means that this book was born. We hear through Freya’s own words what the concert was like and immediately after. We see the people who went out of their way to stay with her until help came – the incredible Kim and Phil. We learn about the professionals who were there at the time, keeping her safe and alive. I don’t think any of us can imagine what the people that night saw, felt and experienced. It is here that Freya’s narrative splits so we hear her Dad and her Mum’s experience. It was her Dad that went to pick them up from the concert only to be greeted with chaos and destruction.

“In total, Freya was missing and in our minds probably dead for almost exactly one hour. The depth of pain that we felt during this hour, which was the longest of our lives, is indescribable. If I then reflect upon the situation for the families of those who were lost in this tragedy, including Nell, many of whom were uncertain of the fate of their loved ones for up to forty-eight hours in some cases, I simply become numb.”

Freya’s mother was at home waiting for her husband and daughter to return. Her experience is one of waiting and waiting. There was absolutely nothing she could do and no where to go. What really broke me was the fact that she was completely alone. She sat and cried silent tears, not wanting to wake Georgina as she had an exam at school the very next day. It is unimaginable to think how time felt at that moment: never ending I guess, but that is putting it lightly. Eventually, she receives news and heads to hospital. What is waiting for her there is similar to what greeted Freya’s father. Utter despair and carnage.

“We were able to observe her injuries and see just what a terrible state she was in; it was like a scene from the worst horror movie you could imagine. When they cut her clothes, they were recovered very carefully and placed in plastic bags which were then labelled. We were told that they were being sent to Forensics and would be used as evidence.”

Hearing the narratives of her parents inspired Freya further to make as much progress as quick as possible. Her parents were exhausted and she still felt bad for putting people out. However, the realisation of that night on them, spurred her on further. She started to feel hungry and begged for her mother’s spaghetti bolognaise. She was desperate to improve further and get herself into a wheelchair. Whilst physically she was recovering nicely, the emotional trauma was still something that she was struggling with. Missing her friends funeral also caused her upset. What is beautiful, is we do hear Nell’s voice throughout this narrative. It is dedicated to her and closes with a poem for her so this means that she is the first and last mention in the book.

“I think that the strength and bravery that I have now was passed on from Nell, because I always admired her courage and determination in life.”

Freya was now able to go home and this in itself created new challenges. But, with love, tough love and support she was able to succeed. Freya gave a speech at school, went out for lunch with her family and became exceptionally close to her sister. Freya had the opportunity to meet another idol, Harry Styles, at a concert where he dedicated a song to her and the new normal seemed to be falling into place. Jack, her personal trainer was helping her to build her strength at home and eventually she was able to walk again. This meant that it was also time to go back to school – after all, there was still learning to be had. Lastly, after all the fundraising, Freya won the NHS Hero Young Fundraiser Award. Freya’s attention was firmly on giving back to those who had helped her.

“Later, when we all gathered around the computer at home to look at our JustGiving page, we couldn’t believe the figure staring back at us: £40,000. In two days time, it would be the one-year anniversary of the attack – and the day our lives changed for ever… it gave me strength to know that, out of our heartbreak, we would be giving hope to others.”

The book ends with the closing reflective remarks from Freya. The lessons she’s learnt at such a young age, how she has had to rebuild her life despite the fact that is has been completely changed forever. Freya is honest about her up and down days but now knows that this is absolutely normal. What is especially lovely is the book ends with her thank yous to those who have been there from the moment she was found on the floor following the explosion, to those who helped her move and walk again. The book closes with a poem for her best friend.

“I will, and always will love you, my gorgeous Nell Jones.”

Final Thoughts 

There were a lot of tears from me when I read this book. It is always very refreshing and shocking to read a child’s perspective. Whilst showing maturity beyond her years, Freya and her family faced unimaginable challenges. Not only did they come out the other end stronger, they have used this to do so much good. This book obviously means so much to Freya and I genuinely enjoyed it. It makes you reflect upon just how lucky we really are. This book was an emotional rollercoaster but it was an excellent gift from a teenage girl. Hope will always win. Good will defeat evil. I urge you all to read this.

Big love all xx

img_2847

Posted in Book review, Books, Reading

The Flatshare – Beth O’Leary

img_2230

Hello Lovelies!

Another week in lockdown has passed and I’m hopeful that we are finding our way around this new normal. I know I’ve said it before but I am grateful for the time to read and watch plenty! Today I want to share with you a hilarious read that I know you’ll all love just as much as I did.

The Flatshare by Beth O’Leary was everything that I needed it to be and more: funny, sensitive, full of hope and some really incredibly characters. I hope you love it!

IMG_1638

What’s it all about?

The novel opens with Tiffy looking around a grim, disgusting yet affordable flat in London with her friends Mo and Gerty. Her previous living arrangement is no longer available since Justin broke up with her, again. As an Assistant Editor of craft books earning below minimum wage means that Tiffy lacks options and opportunities currently. She is caught between a rock and a hard place, for sure. However, it doesn’t have to be this shabby flat. There is an interesting advert for a flat share of a different sort – the same flat, the same bed but at different hours in the day. Bottom line: it is affordable. Tiffy goes for it, knowing she doesn’t really have an option.

“You’d be sleeping with him, Tiffany! Everyone knows the first rule of flatsharing is don’t sleep with your flatmate.”

But who is the new flat mate? Leon, a palliative nurse who Tiffy has Facebook stalked and convinced herself that he doesn’t look like a murderer so it’s pretty much a done deal. Leon’s current girlfriend, Kay is unbelievably angry about this arrangement. She wants to take complete control so Leon never meets this girl. Communication is done through her with Leon seemingly being kept in the dark. Vetted and cleared, Tiffy moves herself and her copious amounts of stuff in. There’s clothes, blankets, crafting books EVERYWHERE. There’s barely any room left. However, Leon needs that extra £350 a month if he is going to help his brother Richie…

‘This woman owns more clothes than a respectably sized shop would stock. Has clearly not been able to manage with half of wardrobe I freed up for her, so has hung dresses on back of door, all along wall – from picture rail, actually quite resourceful – and over back of now-almost-invisible chair under window.’

The two settle into their new living routine with their specific hours in place. The two start to leave little notes for each other and thus a beautiful relationship is formed. Each leave baked goods and left over meals for each other. Tiffy notices a huge bag of scarves at the end of the bed. Not in a snoopy way. However, they could be really useful to Tiffy, especially with Katherin’s new crochet book release pending. The scarves are created by a patient at Leon’s work, Mr Prior, and produce some much needed revenue for Leon. One day at home, Richie calls his brother, only to hear Tiffy on the other end of the phone. It is here that we learn the story about Richie – he is in prison for armed robbery, a crime that he didn’t do. Naturally, Tiffy’s good nature means that she feels immediate empathy for him, something that Leon’s current girlfriend doesn’t embody. Tiffy wants to help and knows who to call.

‘The next morning I reread the letter in bed, the duvet pulled up around me like a nest. I’m all cold in my stomach, and my skin has gone kind of prickly. I want to cry for this man. I don’t know why this is hitting me so hard, but whatever it is, this letter has woken me up at half five on a Saturday morning. That is how much I cannot bear it. It is so unfair.’

Gerty agrees to look into Richie’s case for Tiffy but with no promises. Letters between them seem to reveal gaps in the evidence which become of interest to Gerty. There’s clearly something they can do to help Richie unlike his current solicitor. The kindness and support from Tiffy causes problems for Leon and Kay. Tensions reach a peak when she discloses that she does not believe that Richie is innocent. As a result, the pair split up. This is noticed immediately by Tiffy as Leon’s notes change. As of yet, the two haven’t met. After a boozy night with Justin making an appearance at a work party, Tiffy wakes up the following day with a horrific hangover and minutes to get ready to work. What this does mean, however, is Tiffy and Leon finally meet, naked in the shower…

‘In a sudden panic I swivel to look at myself in the mirror, wiping the condensation from its surface to reveal my pale, gaunt face. My lipstick has ingrained itself into the dry skin of my lips, and my eyeshadow and eyeliner have blurred into a black mess around each eye. I look like a toddler who’s attempted to use it’s mother’s make up.’

Following the initial awkwardness, the two resolve to move on and continue with their living arrangement. The past six months have flown by and their contract has now been extended by another six months. This means that there’s many more notes to be written and chocolate tiffin to be eaten. Richie still needs both of them and Gerty. Tiffy has numerous books that need editing. There’s plenty of unfinished business between the two of them. They decide to meet, properly this time, but Tiffy can’t seem to stop talking about Justin. He’s caused much more damage than she initially realised. What this does mean though is that Leon becomes the stereotypical knight in shining armour. The two are becoming closer but Justin still seems to have a hold on her.

‘There’s nothing like a man in a novelty T-shirt to brighten up your morning – especially when he’s holding a very promising paper bag with Patisserie Valerie written on the side.’

What is clear is that Tiffy and Leon are utterly adorable and they are liking each other more and more. With that comes a natural nervousness that they both have too. Just as Tiffy starts to relax into it, Justin makes an appearance at their flat. Leon sends him away but feels uneasy. He knows Tiffy enough to know that she wouldn’t have shared the information that he quoted. The two have commitments which mean they have a weekend where they are not together. Tiffy is away with work when a very outrageous thing happens. I won’t spoil it for you but it has the potential to ruin everything Tiffy and Leon currently have. However, Tiffy has some excellent friends that won’t let this happen. After some painful days, plenty of interference and some explaining it is resolved. Tiffy and Leon are now officially together. Yay! Richie is freed from prison and things seem to be settled. Tiffy was correct to think that Justin kept turning up where she was. She was absolutely right! He was being tipped off with her every move. The last visit from Justin is at the flat, but thankfully Richie and the police intercept it.

‘We inspect the door. He’s dented the wood with kicking, and chipped off chunks of paint with his fists. There’s blood too. Tiffy turns her head aside as she sees it. I wonder what it can possibly feel like, seeing that, after everything she’s been through. Knowing that she loved this man, and he loved her, in his way.’

The novel ends two years in the future where Tiffy and Leon are as loved up as ever. One evening after returning from work, Tiffy finds a note on the door. In it are a set of instructions for one last adventure together with the love of her life, Leon. The ending filled me with nothing but joy. It was JUST what we need right now.

“You are home… The bed, the flat… It was never home until you were there, Tiffy.”

Final Thoughts

This book was like a good hug. I appreciate the neat tied up ending, where each character has the ending they need and deserve. This book gave me everything I wanted. I laughed and I was desperate for Tiffy to break free from Justin. I SO wanted a happy ending and that was exactly what I got. Despite this, there are real issues being explored here, namely controlling relationships. Tiffy’s friends let her find out for herself whilst always being there for her. It took time for Tiffy to work out exactly what Justin was like. Leon was the perfect gentleman shown through his work, his love of his brother and his notes to Tiffy. I especially loved the use of post it messages in the novel – there’s nothing sweeter than a cute love note. I will definitely be reading the next book from O’Leary – after this, I have high expectations!

Stay safe all. Big love xx

img_2847