Tag Archives: Literature

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

11 Comments

Filed under Book review, Books, Reading, 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

12 Comments

Filed under Book review, Books, Reading Challenge 2020

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

16 Comments

Filed under Book review, Books, Box of Stories, Reading, Romance

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

14 Comments

Filed under Book review, Books, 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!

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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

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Filed under Book review, Children's Literature, Harry Potter

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.

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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

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The Flatshare – Beth O’Leary

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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!

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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

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Reading Challenge 2020: An American Marriage – Tayari Jones

Hello Loves!

I hope you’re all well and keeping safe and isolated. The world seems to be in a complete mess at the moment so I hope we can keep each other company and spread a little kindness and good books to read to keep us distracted and busy during this difficult time.

I wanted to share with you today the book I read for February for my reading challenge. You can catch up with my reading challenge here. The book I read for February was An American Marriage by Tayari Jones.

What’s it about?

The focus for February was Read a book that tells the story of love: good, bad or otherwise. For the month of love I thought this was the perfect topic and this book the perfect fit. Oprah and Obama rate it so I had high hopes. I wasn’t disappointed! This was a great read, honest and truthful. I hope you love it as much as I do!

To start in Atlanta, the novel centres around Roy, a sales rep for a textbook company and Celestial, an artist specialising in custom made baby dolls. They’re newlyweds and ready to start their new lives together. After their first year of marriage, they decide to travel to Eloe in Louisiana. Roy’s parents live there and a visit is well overdue.

‘Marriage is between two people. There is no studio audience.’

They spend the night at the local Motel 6 where they argue after Roy tells Celestial that his father isn’t his biological father. In the middle of their fight, they usually take 15 minutes to cool off. During this time, Roy leaves their room and meets a woman around his mother’s age. She’s got a broken arm so he helps her to his room. Later that evening, the woman is raped and calls the police. She believes it’s Roy who has raped her. Roy is sent to jail. Whilst he awaits his trail, Celestial discovers that she is pregnant. The two decide that she should have an abortion because of their circumstances. At the trial, Roy is sentenced to 12 years in prison.

For the first few years of Roy’s sentence, he and Celestial keep in touch regularly. However cracks do start to show when Roy gets frustrated at Celestial’s career as an artist. Her increasing popularity means the gaps between letters grow longer. There’s nothing Roy can do about this but wait.

‘A marriage is more than your heart, it is your life. And we are not sharing ours.’

It is also during this period that Roy discovers who his real father is – his cell mate, Walter. Roy informs Celestial with conflicting consequences. Sadly, during this period, Roy’s mother, Olive, dies.

‘But how you feel love and understand love are two different things.’

After three years, Celestial tells Roy that she no longer wants to be his wife. Roy naturally takes this quite badly and refuses communication with her for the next two years. During this time, Roy’s case gets overturned on an appeal basis. The local DA decides not to pursue the case and Roy optimistically reaches out to Celestial. There’s been no contact for two years BUT she hasn’t divorced him. In Roy’s eyes, this is a sign that there is still hope for their marriage.

Meanwhile, unbeknown to Roy, Celestial has fallen in love with another man. Andre. Her childhood friend, the one who has always been there. The night that Roy learns he will be a free man, Andre proposes and Celestial accepts. Despite feeling consumed with guilt, she knows that divorcing Roy and marrying Andre is the right thing to do. Her family also see this as a good decision too all apart from her father.

Roy is released from prison early and is collected by the man who has always been the father figure, Roy Senior. He’s well aware that Celestial has plans to have Andre pick him up, but Roy decides to leave for Atlanta just as Andre is leaving to collect him. This way, it ensures that he will have some alone time with his wife to talk to her.

‘There should be a word to for this, the way it feels to steal something that’s already yours.’

Before he leaves, Roy runs into a former classmate, Davina, who invites him over for dinner. She shows him compassion and attention. It’s been a while since Roy has had this level of intimacy also. The couple have sex and Roy knows it’s meaningful but his pull towards Atlanta is too strong.

Upon his arrival in Atlanta, Roy is surprised and relieved to learn that his key still works in the house. He surprises Celestial by being back home when she comes home from her doll shop. Roy tries to have sex with her, she’s fairly passive but asks if he has protection, which he does not.

‘A woman doesn’t always have a choice, not in a meaningful way. Sometimes there is a debt that must be paid, a comfort that she is obliged to provide, a safe passage that must be secured. Every one of us has lain down for a reason that was not love.’

The next day, Andre returns home and an argument all breaks out. Roy wants to know exactly what’s been going on whilst he was rotting away in prison for something he didn’t do. They fight on Celestial’s lawn. The police are called but Celestial managed to diffuse the situation. Finally, she returns to Roy to her house and the following morning tells Andre that she has to remain with him. That night, Roy confesses to Celestial about his night with Davina. Celestial has absolutely no reaction whatsoever. This tells Roy she truly no longer has any romantic feelings towards him. She is willing to have sex with him but Roy declines, saying he never has and never will be a rapist.

In the epilogue, Roy and Celestial exchange more letters, each informing the other of their lives. Celestial and Andre are going to have a baby but have no plans of marrying. Roy plans to marry Davina – the woman who saved him.

‘Much of life is timing and circumstance, I see that now.”

Final Thoughts

I found this book to be a really compelling read. It was one of those where you really struggle to put it down because you become so invested in the characters, you have to know what happens. I do think the ending is perfect and accurate. I did feel incredibly sorry for Roy but prison and the length of time was a barrier they could not overcome. I think it was the perfect choice for February’s read!

Next month, March. The theme for March is: Try a book with a non human narrator. For this, I picked The Call of the Wild by Jack London. The main animal in this: dogs! Let’s see what this brings.

In the meantime I wish you all health and peace during such strange times. I’m here if you need to branch out. Take care everyone.

Big love xx

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Filed under Book review, Books, Reading, Reading Challenge 2020

Reading Challenge 2020: Between Shades of Gray – Ruta Sepetys

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Hey Lovelies!

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

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

What’s it all about?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

Final thoughts

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

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

More to catch up on soon.

Big love to you all. Xx

 

 

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

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

Hey Lovelies!

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

What’s it all about?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Final Thoughts

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

Have an excellent weekend!

Big love xx

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Filed under Book review, Books