Lockdown Secrets – Eleanor Tattersfield

Hello Lovelies!

After ending 2021 on a high with regard to reading, I found myself feeling so much pressure for this year which has meant that my reading has slowed right down. However, after work yesterday I went to collect a book as a present. My New Year’s Resolution was to not buy any books… but I failed all because of this amazing book I read and wanted to share with you straight away. It’s something I knew absolutely nothing about, the cover just caught my eye. We all know how it is with a beautiful or eye catching cover! They usually end up in our possession eventually. Anyway, I really hope this book gets to you as much as it does me. Enjoy!

What’s it all about?
This book quite simply is genius. If you know London, you may know Marby & Elm in Exmouth or have seen their super cute website here. However, back in February 2021, Eleanor Tattersfield came up with a clever idea following inspiration from a radio show for people to document their own lockdown confessions. After finding some postcards and seeing it as a sign, the project was born. Using the power of Instagram, followers could send their own confessions on postcards to the shop to be shared anonymously to unburden themselves. Literally anything and everything was shared and Tattersfield knew that these had to be seen. Using social media, these are still being shared today as well as within this book.

“As the secrets poured in, prominent themes emerged: food fetishes, masturbation, loneliness, breaking the rules, sex, love and surprisingly, the love of lockdown.”

I think the reason why I adore this book so much is because it is brutally honest. Part of me really wishes I documented my life better (or more) during lockdown. I look back and know that I baked a lot and sent a few thousand emails but I could have done so much more. This book is that. I also love the fact with it being anonymous, people will be absolutely honest and open. It really takes some nerve to share some of these confessions I must admit! The one below made me laugh so much because I had my own animal friends in lockdown. To be honest, they’re still around now! The only difference is mine are squirrels…

“Their wit, sincerity, creativity and diversity are completely and utterly compelling.”

As I was reading this, I just had an overwhelming feeling of pride really. That may sound silly but for people to share their lives with the world, to share their inner most fears and worries really is something. The postcards about family naturally made me think of my own and appreciate how much I did miss them in lockdown. This then led me to think about those people without family and people who were completely isolated from everyone. This one below really hit me…

Final Thoughts
Overall, this book is pure joy. I read it in one sitting and found myself wanting to be a part of this too. I also really appreciated the fact that there is a template in the back of the book to send my own. Maybe, one day, I will consider doing it! If you’re interested in sending your own, you can find out more information here. The next time I visit London, I absolutely will be dropping by this store. I couldn’t not!

“A unique record of the lockdown: sometimes amusing, often surprising, and occasionally heart-breaking.”

It’s relatable, believable and utterly memorable. What an incredible little book!

Until next time everyone!!

Big love xxx

Reading Challenge 2021: The Essex Serpent – Sarah Perry

Hi Book Lovers!

I hope you’re all well and had a brilliant Christmas. I’m sure you all got plenty of wonderful books that I’ll be keeping an eye out for, that’s for sure. I thought I was making a good dent into my reading pile but then more arrived… I love it though!

Today, I finished my Reading Challenge of 2021! I honestly had the best time with my Reading Challenge reading things that I wouldn’t normally pick, revisiting books that have been living on the shelves for far too long and for finding books that have changed my world. December’s book is no different. I’ve read the wonderful The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry. This was gifted to me far too long ago because of its gorgeous cover so I’m glad I’ve finally got around to reading it. The theme for December was: Read a book with a beautiful cover. There are just not enough words for how stunning the cover of this book is. If you’re wanting to review the themes for my Reading Challenge this year, please click here. I can’t wait to show you what I’ve got planned for my Reading Challenge 2022, but more on that later! Time to crack on with my review of this brilliant book.

What’s it all about?
This is one of those books where all is not as it seems… Along with that, it’s one of those books where you can’t really give it the justice it deserves because there literally aren’t enough words. Regardless, I’ll give it a good go!

The novel centres around Cora Seaborne who I immediately fell in love with. She’s a widow but her husband, despite being wealthy is also quite abusive. With her new found freedom, she decides to ignore the constraints of her London society life and decides to take up amateur palaeontology. Whilst on holiday in Colchester with her son, Francis, and her companion, Martha, Cora is fascinated by a ruin caused by an earthquake which was rumoured to have awakened the Essex Serpent, a mythical sea dragon. Over time, the children and the locals become increasing convinced that the serpent is real and waiting to attack them. This irritates Will Ransome, the local reverend. The two frequently disagree about his faith and his refusal to believe in the serpent. However, the regular arguing brings them closer together.

“Cora, you cannot always keep yourself away from things that hurt you. We all wish we could, but we cannot: to live at all is to be bruised.”

This doesn’t go unnoticed by Dr. Luke Garnett, Cora’s friend whom she invites (well, begs) him to visit following a disaster at school whereby after Cora visits, the children fall into fits. With permission from Stella Ransome, Luke hypnotises Joanna, their eldest daughter. Unfortunately, Will walks in on this scene and is furious. As a result, a serious rift is caused between him and Cora. As if things aren’t complicated enough, both Cora and Will realise that they are entailed within an emotional affair, as do Martha and Dr. Luke. To make matters worse, Luke has been in love with Cora for some time.

Will decides to confess his feelings to Cora in a letter shortly before he learns that Stella is sick with tuberculosis, where she is rapidly approaching the end of her life. Meanwhile, Luke also confesses his love to her via letter too. Cora, naturally very cautious and wary of men because of her turbulent time with her husband, is angered by both letters. She ignores the letter from Will and writes an angry reply to Luke. Sadly, Luke received the letter the very same day that a knife attack maims him permanently in a way that ends his medical career.

Later, a mysterious stench envelopes the town, making everyone physically sick. Thoughts soon fly to the Essex Serpent and panic starts to rise. Will and some other villages go to look where they find a gigantic fish on the shore that’s dying. The smell comes from that and its death means that the villagers rejoice and celebrate because the serpent was obviously never real. Cora is persuaded to see her friends and returns. This creates an opportunity for Will and Cora to patch things up. This is just the starting point for the both of them.

“We both speak of illuminating the world, but we have different sources of light.” 

Whilst Cora and Will result in consummating their relationship, Joanna discovers that the serpent actually turns out to be an old boat previously thought to have been washed away. This discovery leads to another: Stella, whilst delirious and confused from her illness, has gone to the boat to die. Thankfully, Cora and Will are able to rescue Stella and return her to safety.

The novel closes with the Ransome children living with their friends, the Ambroses, whilst Stella awaits her death. Will finds himself in a sense of flux – he is happy with Stella whilst still in love with Cora. Luke meanwhile finds peace living with his friend Spencer and Core moves to London. She now lives alone as her companion, Martha, has fallen in love and her son has gone to boarding school. Cora is happy living in solitude but she does continue to write to Will, urging him to reunite with her.

“CLEAVE. To cleave to something is to cling to it with all your heart, he said, but to cleave something apart is to break it up.”

Final Thoughts
Firstly, and most obviously, this book is stunning. The cover is beautiful, the flowers ornate and the gold oozes opulence. However, for me it is the writing style that I absolutely love. It flows, it’s seamless and the description is divine. I wish I could write like that. I also thoroughly enjoyed the many letters which make up the narrative too. Letters provide a more intimate experience, we tend to see true emotions within them and these really added to the narrative. As I said at the start of this post, I genuinely don’t have the words to give this book the praise it deserves. But, it is clear to see why this book has won many awards. I urge you all to read it. You won’t be disappointed. What a brilliant way to close my Reading Challenge!

See you next time loves!

Big love xxx

Reading Challenge 2021: The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde – Robert Louis Stevenson

Hello Loves!

I hope you’re all doing ok and enjoying the run up to Christmas. I am well aware there are a lot of unknowns on the horizon but I am doing what I always do: enjoying the holidays, resting and of course, reading plenty. I know I’m still playing catch up on my posts but behind the scenes I have been working on my reading challenge for 2022 which I really hope you get involved with! I can’t wait to share that with you all!

Before that, today I am here to review my book choice for November. The focus was: November – Read a book by an author who died more than 100 years ago. I put this into my challenge so I read another classic. After all, they are classics for a reason and I am someone that sees the new books out in shops and buys them, leaving the classics behind. Unfortunately, I didn’t manage to get this read in November BUT I did manage to finish it on December 1st so it isn’t too bad… My first choice was the poetry of Lewis Carroll but… we didn’t see eye to eye… Anyway, I then decided to read the gothic Victorian classic The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. I hope you enjoy my post!

What’s it all about?
The setting of this novel, heavily influenced by Stevenson’s life in Edinburgh, is set in London with a quintessential Victorian gentleman, Doctor Henry Jekyll. Stevenson contrasts this with the character of Edward Hyde. One evening, Gabriel John Utterson and his cousin Richard Enfield reach the door of a large house. Enfield tells Utterson about the scandalous events of months before. He saw a sinister and terrifying looking man (Edward Hyde) trample a young girl after accidentally bumping into her. Hyde was forced to pay £100 to avoid the public scandal that would have ensued. However, when Hyde bought the cheque, it was signed by the reputable gentleman later revealed to be Doctor Henry Jekyll. Utterson knew the doctor well – he was a client and a friend. Utterson fears the worst and assumes that Hyde is blackmailing him especially as Jekyll changed his will recently in order to make Hyde his sole beneficiary. As his friends, Utterson tries to talk to him about it, only to be repeatedly shut down.

“It is one thing to mortify curiosity, another to conquer it. ” 

On a dark October night, a servant witnesses Hyde beating Sir Danvers Carew to death. All that is left behind is half of a broken cane. The police contact Utterson who takes them to Hyde’s apartment. Upon their arrival, they see how Hyde has vanished but has left behind the other half of the broken cane. Utterson recognises it immediately as one he previously gave to Jekyll. Utterson visits Jekyll who shows him a note. This note has allegedly been written to Jekyll by Hyde but Hyde’s handwriting is similar to Jekyll’s own, resulting in Utterson believing and concluding that Jekyll has forged the note in order to protect Hyde.

Gradually, over time Jekyll reverts to his former self. He’s sociable and back to his status of quintessential gentleman. However, in January the following year, he starts refusing to see visitors. This change in character leads to more suspicions. Furthermore, Dr Hastie Lanyon, a mutual acquaintance of Jekyll and Utterson, dies of shock after gaining some information relating to Jekyll. Before his death, Lanyon gives Utterson another letter to be opened after Jekyll’s death or disappearance. In late February, during another walk with Enfield, Utterson begins a conversation with Jekyll at his laboratory window. Out of nowhere, Jekyll slams the window and disappears, shocking Utterson to the core.

“There comes an end to all things; the most capacious measure is filled at last; and this brief condescension to evil finally destroyed the balance of my soul.” 

In early March, Jekyll’s butler, Mr Poole visits Utterson in a state of frantic worry. He reveals how Jekyll has completely secluded himself in his laboratory for weeks. The pair decide that they have no choice but to break into the laboratory where they find the body of Hyde wearing Jekyll’s clothing. With this and a letter from Jekyll to Utterson, it is assumed that this is suicide. Utterson reads Lanyon’s letter followed by Jekyll’s. Lanyon reveals that his shock was caused by seeing Hyde drink something that turned him into Jekyll. Jekyll’s letter explains how he indulged in unstated vices and feared discovery. Therefore, he found a way to transform himself and thereby indulge his vices without fear of detection. Whilst this was originally under control and under the control of Jekyll, one night in August this happened involuntarily.

Eventually, Jekyll resolved to stop becoming Hyde and go back to his respectful life. Yet, one moment of weakness resulted in him drinking the serum to change. This led to him murdering Carew due to him burying his desires for so long. As a result of this though, Jekyll resolved to stop the transformations. The police were hunting him as a murderer so Hyde needed to help him avoid capture. He wrote a letter to Lanyon in Jekyll’s hand asking for his friend to deliver various chemicals from his laboratory. In Lanyon’s presence, Hyde mixed the chemicals, drank the serum and transformed into Jekyll. The shock of this sight resulted in Lanyon’s death.

Finally, one of the chemicals ran low and new batches failed to work. Jekyll speculated that one of the original ingredients must have some unknown impurity that enabled it to work. Knowing there was no way out, Jekyll wrote out a full disclosure of events and locked himself in his laboratory. Here, he could keep Hyde impressed and Poole and Utterson would find him dead.

“If I am the chief of sinners, I am the chief of sufferers also.” 

Final Thoughts
For such a small novel, there is so much to discuss. There have been many many theories and schools of thoughts about the novel but for me, it shows the impact of hiding those desires deep down. Also, I am fascinated by the duality of man – how we are all capable of good and evil. There’s a reason this novel has stood the test of time – after all it’s been around since 1886… I also really enjoyed the letter elements of the novel. Letters are a dying art form so I really like it when they’re within the plot of a story and this is truly the case here – letters reveal the truth. All in all, this is a short novel that you can easily read in a day but one that throws up many questions and thoughts about the behaviours of man and the difference between out outward presentation of ourselves and our true inside.

I’ll be back before Christmas so I’ll wait until then to wish it to you all! In the meantime, enjoy the build up to the big day and stay safe and well.

Big love all xxx

Reading Round-Up: November

Hey Loves!
How are you all? Well, we are progressing our way through December aren’t we? Those jingly bells are definitely in my ears as I cling on desperately for the Christmas break. We just have to hang on in there! Mind you, whilst the world outside continues to turn, I’ve been trying to catch up with everything. Today, I want to share with you my round up post for November. One the one hand, November feels like a long time ago now. However, I did read some great books that month and I cannot wait to share them with you all. This month I managed to read a total of 8 books which I am quite pleased about considering it was mock season. You’ll see that the majority are children’s books. It’s not a secret that I love a children’s book, especially when I’m exhausted and marginally overwhelmed. It’s an easy way to switch off. I am also really pleased about the two non fiction books of this month too!

Without further ado, let’s check out the shelves!

My top three for this month were actually much easier to pick than previous months. Now, I can’t really explain why but I think it’s because I enjoyed all the books this month. It’s also a bit easier because I’ve reviewed two of them already! Check out Sooley here and Big Panda and Tiny Dragon here.

  1. Before & Laughter – Jimmy Carr. I know Jimmy Carr is controversial however, I learnt so much from this book. Inspired to write after becoming a father, it was amazing to see him being so unforgivingly honest. I am a fan of the show 8 Out of 10 Cats so when I spotted this I had to read it. But this book is so much more than the comedy. There’s some really insightful moments from Carr’s youth that I knew nothing about. I really enjoyed reading this and would recommend it for anyone who is into comedy, any fans of Carr and also anyone who wants to branch into more non-fiction.
  2. Drinking Custard – Diary of a Confused Mum – Lucy Beaumont. Another 8 Out of 10 Cats link here but this time focusing on motherhood. Now, I am not a parent but I found this book completely (and strangely for me) relatable. I think that if I were to become a parent, I’d be a bit like this. I thoroughly enjoyed this book and found myself laughing throughout really. Love it!
  3. A Christmas Carol – Charles Dickens. Every year I teach this novella and every year my love for it grows. It makes me believe that we all have the ability to change and I always find myself wanting to do more after I’ve read it. For example, one of my classes are now writing letters to our local rest home for Christmas. Anyway, this is a short for punchy novella with one of the most iconic characters in the history of literature.

Overall, eight books are still a good number but I’m really pleased that I read more non fiction. I do really love non fiction but it’s never my first choice. I know that doesn’t make much sense but I do always enjoy it and then vow to read more. Yet, I end up going to my usual crime/thriller/psychological thriller novels.

I’ll see you in my next post where I’ll be writing my review of my book choice for November and December. I’ll try to get some Christmas reads in there too! See you when I break up for the holidays!

Big love all xxx

Reading Challenge 2021: Sooley – John Grisham

Hey Loves!
I hope you’re all doing well and enjoying the fact we are now into December! Last week I woke up to SNOW! I wasn’t expecting it and I was mesmerised! It rarely happens where I live so I loved it. With that and it being December and the countdown to Christmas, I can barely contain myself. I mean, I’ve already got three Christmas trees up… Anyway, I was so taken with my London weekend that I’m really behind with my reading posts! Forgive me… I’m going to start the catching up process now though. Today’s post is my review of my book choice for October: Sooley by John Grisham. Now, I’m not massively into Halloween but I do love to see all the pumpkins (hence my photo of this book to be honest!) The theme of October was: Read a book with an orange cover. I found this book in my local bookshop; it was orange and by a writer I really want to read more of so it was perfect. Thankfully, I also really enjoyed reading it! I hope you enjoy my review!

What’s it all about?
The novel focuses around a topic I know very little about: basketball. If you’re expecting a classic Grisham courtroom drama, then you won’t find it here. However, what you do find is a blend of dreams, ambition, conflict and poverty. As always Grisham weaves his tale effortlessly, the characters are well developed and the plot still remains challenging, without reading like a challenge. The protagonist of the novel is Sooley, a seventeen year old, ginormous human being at six feet two inches. He is from a small rural village in South Sudan. His dream is to become a world famous basketball star. However, his location means that he is hardly living in the land of dreams or opportunities. Regardless, Sooley is lucky enough to get himself onto the under 18s national team to go on a tour of the USA. This is his golden opportunity to get noticed by a talent spotter and therefore get himself a college place in America. Maybe he could even get himself a deal with an NBA team and play in the worlds biggest basketball league.

Meanwhile, back in Sooley’s home town, life is not peaceful. Even on the bus journey to the airport, a gunfight breaks out between government soldiers and rebel bandits. However, Sooley manages to keep himself alive. As the training begins in earnest, it becomes clear that Sooley is very fast and can jump very high but he cannot get the ball in the basket. Nine times out of ten, he misses. Playing in America is a completely different world from the hard dirt courts Sooley is used to in South Sudan. Even though the richer teams have better kit and look smarter, he personally feels like a prince in his sponsored Reeboks and dowdy grey uniform. His coach, Ecko Lam believes that Sooley can become a superstar and starts pushing his case to a scout who he knows.

“Lonnie, Samuel could be the steal of the tournament. He’s not getting looks because he’s not scoring. But he will. When I first saw hi back in April he had the worst jump shot in Africa. He’s come a long way and he’s still working hard. And growing.”

Back home things are continuing to get worse. The guerrilla forces have launched an attack which has overrun Sooley’s village. The loss of life is staggering. His mother, brothers and sisters are all missing. The news that makes its way into the US media is fragmented and unreliable. Sooley has no idea where his family are or if they are even alive. His sister is taken away by the rebel forces and his father is shot dead. The rest of his family are now refugees fleeing the fighting. All they have now is whatever they can carry and keep safe on them.

The narrative switches from the endless stream of mostly unsuccessful basketball games and the horror and harsh reality of the people who are starving and suffering at home. Sooley is torn between constantly thinking about home whilst being thousands of miles away, trying to secure himself a safe future.

‘The water was wretched but it quenched their thirst. The peanuts tasted by chocolate candy. “Eat slow,” Beatrice whispered to James and Cool. “Make it last.” But they couldn’t eat slow.’

Partly due to sympathy for the tragedy that has overtaken him, Sooley manages to secure a scholarship to an American college. As he gets settled into the campus and college life, his new coach manages to make contact with his family in a refugee camp in Uganda. Sooley’s life becomes a bit more ‘normal’ (or normal in our terms) as he shares a room with someone else from the team and gets a job working in the locker room of the football team. Now he has access to the gym in the quiet periods, he starts to practice for as long as he possibly can. His training has officially begun. Nevertheless, he still cannot dribble and he still cannot shoot. As a result, Sooley is likely to spend his first season sitting on the bench. Early one morning, his phone rings with an International call. It’s his mother. Finally, after this wall of silence and doubt, he is able to make contact. It’s taken two months for him to hear her voice again and the news that his sister is missing hits him hard.

Despite working hard and showing some signs of improvement, Sooley is still resigned to the bench. He is still growing taller and he is putting on muscle mass. His shooting is getting better and better. For the team however, things are not going so well. A series of defeats means that morale is low. Finally the coach decides to give Sooley the opportunity to play on the court. This was his opportunity to show just how much he had improved. In that game, all his practice, hard work and dedication comes to fruition.

‘The legend of Sooley began with fifteen minutes to go in the second half. He sprang high and aimed at the rim. It was not a hopeless effort to beat the buzzer. I was not a Hail Mary. Instead, it was a smooth, confident, perfect jump shot from 42 feet that found nothing but net. He glanced at Coach Britt, who stood frozen, his mouth wide open.’

Over the next few games, Sooley establishes himself as the star of the team. Despite his obvious skill, he remains humble and likeable, never letting the adulation of the crowd go to his head. Alongside this success, he starts working with an immigration lawyer to see if he can get his family to safety in America with him. He sends them money and speaks to the at least once a week and whilst their situation is difficult, it is no longer desperate.

But all this wasn’t destined to last. Like any young man, decisions are made that are later regretted and lessons have to be learnt. The ending isn’t what we expect…

Final Thoughts
Grisham strikes again with this book! I wasn’t bothered by the fact that I know very little about basketball. I was taken in with Sooley’s story, felt increasingly uncomfortable with the descriptions of life when you are living in a state of fear and utter survival as well as refugee camps. Ultimately, I was desperate for Sooley to become a success story. I completely appreciate that this novel doesn’t end in the way I expected it to either. That is the skill of Grisham – he creates an ‘easy’ read which is hard-hitting, challenging and thought provoking. Regardless, it was a book that I did enjoy to read and once again, I am grateful for finding this by pure chance on the shelves at the store.

I once again apologise for the fact that this post is very late. I’ve got the round-up and November’s book choice left to catch up on!

Continue to stay safe and well everyone!

Big Love xxxx

Big Panda and Tiny Dragon – James Norbury

Hello Loves!

Happy Sunday! I hope you’re all well and enjoying this typically autumnal weekend. 🍁

It’s been a while since I’ve read a book and felt the urge to blog about it straight away but here we are. I just couldn’t wait to share this beautiful book with you all. I had no idea it existed until I saw the pretty cover. Naturally and unsurprisingly, I left with arm fulls of books to add to my ever increasing shelves that I’m barely making in a dent in. However, I read this first and I haven’t been able to stop talking about it since. I’m here to share with you today the stunning book of love, courage, hope and friendship: Big Panda and Tiny Dragon by James Norbury. I hope you fall in love with this just as much as I have.

What’s it all about?
This book definitely has The Boy, The Fox, The Mole and The Horse vibes but it’s stunning and heartfelt in its own right. Inspired by Norbury’s volunteering experience with the Samaritans, this gem of a book follows Big Panda and Tiny Dragon, two unlikely friends, that follow the seasons sharing hope and lessons for us all to learn from.

Throughout the book there are a series of conversations, sometimes silly, sometimes serious, which show a range of emotions and fears. The words of wisdom within this little book are all inspired by Buddhist philosophy and spirituality which gave Norbury hope during difficult times. I personally believe in fate and I found this book at this point in time for a reason. It gave me the heartwarming hug I needed. I’m passing this hug (virtually) onto you.

Big Panda and Tiny Dragon embark on a journey through the four seasons of the year together. Whilst on this journey, the journey of life, they get lost more often than not. This is something we all can relate to – whether it is getting lost on a journey of losing ourselves in times of doubt and question. However, it is what Big Panda and Tiny Dragon find when they are lost that makes the journey that little bit more special. They discover beautiful sights they have never seen before and would never have seen if they had gone the right way. Good things can come from mistakes we make.

“My head feels like this storm sometimes,” said Tiny Dragon.
“If you really listen…you can hear the raindrops splashing on the stone. It’s possible to find a little peace, even in a storm.”

It isn’t just the words that aid this beautiful story but the drawings too. I always appreciate things like this because I am not artistic in any way. Norbury’s use of bold brush strokes, the fluffy, cuddly Big Panda and the small, wiry Tiny Dragon, the meadows, lakes, forests and hills mean that each page is as beautiful as the last.

Big Panda and Tiny Dragon explore the thoughts and emotions surrounding hardships and happiness. This connects every single one of us together, reader or not. Whilst they see the offerings of nature through the seasons of Spring, Summer, Autumn and Winter, they learn to live in the moment and to embrace those gifts of nature. Big Panda and Tiny Dragon also learn how to be at peace with uncertainty and how to find the strength to overcome life’s obstacles. They do it together. These conversations show us friendship, inner wisdom and self acceptance.

Final Thoughts
This book felt like a breath of fresh air. It’s been so easy for us to feel overwhelmed with life pausing and starting up again. We each have been tested and tried in our lifetimes and sometimes it is easier to give up. This little book has the biggest heart and is there for you when you need it. Read it cover to cover, look for your favourite conversation, find the lesson that suits your current experience. The series of vignettes mean that you can read this however you want to really. It is there as in inspiration, a reminder that not all is lost. Pause. Breathe. Enjoy. Look at life in a positive way.

I just have so much love for this book. It reminded me of me, of the most amazing group of family and friends I’ve got around me. Like I said at the beginning, I found this book for a reason and I’ll be spreading the message of this book near and far. I adore the drawings that bring the lessons to life too. All I keep thinking now is, I really want my own Big Panda and Tiny Dragon. To finish my review, my favourite quote.

“Some people are like candles. They burn themselves out to create light for others.”

With so much love to you all but especially to my candles…

Big love xxx

Reading Challenge 2021: A Double Life – Charlotte Philby

Hello!

I hope you’re all doing well. Today I need to catch up with you all regarding my reading challenge book for July. You may remember from my previous post that it was the first time this year that I didn’t read this book in the month it was from. Eek! Never mind. I made sure it was the first book I read in August so it’s not too bad…

Anyway, the focus for July was: Read a book where your name is on the cover (title or author) Now for me, there are some really obvious ones: the Charlotte Bronte novels, Charlotte’s Web by E.B.White, Charlotte by Helen Moffatt, The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman etc. However, I wanted to go for one I’ve never read before and hopefully never heard of before. The whole point of the reading challenge is to push myself. My final decision was A Double Life by Charlotte Philby. I liked the cover and the blurb was intriguing so it made sense to me. Let’s get on with the review.

What’s it all about?

First of all, my review may not be as long as usual. I don’t want to ruin any surprises for you – so forgive me for the elusiveness of it! However, I’ve given you just enough to tempt you in – hopefully!

The novel centres around two very separate and very different and contrasting women: Gabriela and Isobel. These women are worlds apart but by the end of the novel, we see how there’s ‘two sides to every story’ and then we know the truth too.

Firstly, Gabriela who is a senior operator in a FCO counter terrorism unit, leading a small Whitehall based team. She’s ambitious and is desperate to be promoted and acknowledged with accolades in that field. She’s also the family breadwinner whilst her partner (an interesting character in itself – he comes across as quite feeble) Tom, a freelance architect, looks after their children.

In stark contrast to her ordered life, complicated only by the over familiar FCO creep of a boss, Emsworth, Isobel is a mess. A journalist who has failed to see just how good she could be and as a result, drifts this an alcohol and drug endured haze of an existence. She works for a local paper in Camden, writing local news stories with very little enthusiasm.

One evening Isobel witnesses a horrific attack whilst walking home from a party. She didn’t feel like she could report it because of being under the influence of alcohol and drugs. She made the assumption that no one would believe her or that her statement wouldn’t be reliable. Yet, someone knows she was there and makes themselves known to her in a number of frightening ways. The journalist in her knows there’s a story here so starts to investigate. Little did she know that she would end up in the murky waters of a dark network of human trafficking and exploitation.

‘As I talk him through the details, I feel the events of Saturday morning begin to fade, the woman’s face sweeping in and out of focus in my mind like a figure stepping in and out of the shadows, until, for the moment, she vanished altogether.’

When Gabriela returns from her seven month trip to Moscow, her life begins to fall apart at the seams. The promotion she so desperately wanted eludes her, she actually ends up losing her job instead, and it makes her completely disillusioned, questioning the value of her life and all that’s within it. She loves her children but is adamant she doesn’t want to be a stay at home mum.

Whilst working in Moscow, she meets a very charming and charismatic gentleman, Ivan. She falls for him and they start to have an intimate relationship. She barely knows anything about him and the information she gives him about herself isn’t exactly the truth… She falls pregnant and flees back to Moscow leaving her two children behind with Tom. In Moscow, she decides to have the baby, a little girl, and have a double life. Meanwhile, Isobel is getting closer to finding out what is actually happening. The links between the two women are getting clearer…

‘But she loved Ivan, that was also a fact. He was the antidote to everything she resented about her life with Tom, and so, unlikely as it might seem to some, she reasoned that moving between these two worlds was the perfect solution. As long as no one found out, and maybe they didn’t have to.’

These two women are so desperate that the novel is essentially a story of hide and seek. One is desperate to hide the truth whilst the other is desperate to reveal it. The lives of the two women converge through the auspices of Madeline, Gabriela’s former FCO mentor, now leading a unit at the National Crime Agency, investigating trafficking and prostitution. By the end of the novel, everything becomes clear and the truth is out.

‘For a moment, as Madeline had spoken, she’d felt sorry for him. All along, he was waiting for her to tell him she’d chosen him. Despite all the evidence telling him she would never leave her family, he had still chosen to believe she would.’

Final Thoughts

Well, as books go, this one was quite a good read. However, I didn’t realise it was part of a series. I’ve never read or heard of the first book so I feel like I need to go back there to see if some of the clues are given. By the end of this book, I must say I had many questions. But, it seems there is a third book coming out which I’m sure will answer them. For me, I’m not great with series – sometimes the commitment puts me off. Also, there’s nothing more disappointing than a really good start and a poor finish. (Not that I’m saying this has happened here!) I did enjoy reading this book and found myself not liking the women either way really which was an interesting reaction. You could argue that it takes a while to find out how the two are linked as it isn’t revealed until right at the end of the book but it’s questionable. I guess it’s to keep the sense of mystery. Regardless, I like the mix of Russia and London and found this really helped with the double life ideal of the novel.

All in all, this was an enjoyable read if not frustrating because I didn’t have all the information. Would I have picked this book if I’d have known? Probably not. BUT I am grateful I did because it was a worthwhile read. The writing style is good and as Charlotte’s go, Philby clearly is a talented one!

I’ll see you next time for more reviews from my sun lounger! Long live the summer! Take care all!

Big love xxxx

The Book Lover’s Bucket List – Caroline Taggart

Good Evening Book Lovers!

How are you all? I do hope May is treating you well and is providing you with some much needed sunshine and lighter days. I have say, it’s glorious not arriving and leaving work in the dark. It definitely does something to your mindset – that’s for sure.

Well, on the eve of the UK opening up a little bit further, following our roadmap out of lockdown, I wanted to take this opportunity to share with you a stunning book I received this week: The Book Lover’s Bucket List by Caroline Taggart. Like the rest of the world, I’ve really missed visiting places, seeing new things and making memories. Don’t get me wrong, I love home and the comforts of home, but I’ve missed exploring too. It’s like we all pressed a pause button on the past year. Yet, we have made it and there are many more beautiful times to come. I, for one, am using this delightful book to make plans for the not too distant future and I literally cannot wait! Thank you so much to The British Library for this copy.

What’s it all about?
First and foremost, this book is stunning. It’s got a beautiful cover and gorgeous coloured and black and white photographs inside – some of which I will share with you. It takes some thought to piece together out literary heritage. There are the obvious places in the United Kingdom that are synonymous with the writers that come from there or wrote there. For example, my beloved hometown of Stratford upon Avon and the playwright William Shakespeare. What this book does beautifully is takes the four corners of the United Kingdom and gives bookworms an itinerary and ‘to visit list’.

The book starts with our capital, London, a hive of literary history. As we read this chapter, we travel from Poets’ Corner in Westminster Abbey to P.G. Wodehouses’s Mayfair, from the Dickens museum to Dr Johnson’s house. London is a home across decades of literary genius. It also is a home to Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre (a place I am still yet to visit!) to Primrose Hill and Regent’s Park – prominent features of the works of Dodie Smith and A.A. Milne. Platform 9 3/4s aside, my second favourite place in London is Paddington Station. Who doesn’t love that little bear and his marmalade sandwiches?

‘…It’s the bronze statue in the station that brings Paddington (Bear not Station) to life…In fact, if you look a little closer, you’ll see that Paddington’s muzzle is a good bit shinier than the rest of him. Lots of passers-by have succumbed to the urge to stroke it.’

From here, we travel to the Southwestern points of England where we encroach upon Agatha Christie’s sublime Devon. The picturesque scenery is one that always makes me feel like I’ve probably rested and rejuvenated myself. One of the most popular and prominent places is of course, Hardy’s Dartmoor.

Central England boasts such names of literary heroes like Philip Pullman, C.S. Lewis and George Bernard Shaw. Years of my own existence have been spent in the Royal Shakespeare Theatre in Stratford upon Avon, home of Shakespeare’s plays. Somewhere else I really want to visit is D.H. Lawrence’s Birthplace and Museum. I feel in love with Lawrence’s work whilst at university but I fear this is a love I have since neglected.

‘…If you want to make a day of it you can take a walk in Lawrence’s footsteps. Heading northwest out of the village you soon read Colliers Wood Nature Reserve, whose reservoir features as Nethermere in The White Peacock and as Willey Water in Women in Love.’

From here we head towards Eastern England which gives us the locations for George Elliot, Rupert Brooke and W.H Auden and Anna Sewell. Let’s continue to the North of our country where we see names like Elizabeth Gaskell, Ted Hughes, Winifred Holtby and Philip Larkin. I studied at the University of Hull. Larkin runs in the academic blood of the north. One of the most breathtaking places I’ve ever visited is Lyme Park which is a National Trust property. Lyme is infamous for it’s setting of Jane Austen’s BBC adaptation of Pride and Prejudice. Know the novel or not – you will absolutely know Colin Firth as the ridiculously handsome, Darcy. The North also gives us the indescribable Lake District, home of Beatrix Potter and the Peter Rabbit stories. Again, I am lucky enough to have visited here but I am desperate to get back.

Wales and Northern Ireland have produced some of the most influential poets we have ever experienced. Poets like William and Dorothy Wordsworth, Dylan Thomas and Seamus Heaney. The beauty of these two locations are seen in countless poems, for us all to enjoy and experience together. Lastly, Scotland too has gifted us with some talented writers over the years too. Who could forget Robert Burns, Sir Walter Scott and J.M. Barrie. Whether it be their childhood setting or where the most famous books and poems are set, we really are incredibly lucky to have all of these at our fingertips. Who could forget Dunsinane Hill and Birnam Wood, from Macbeth?

‘And here you are, in the very same wood, nearly a thousand years later. Gosh. Pause. Time for tea? There was a nice-looking place just over the bridge. What do you fancy? Eye of newt? Toe of frog? No? Well, I expect they have scones. And we don’t have to talk to each other. We can just sit and read a book.’

Final Thoughts
This book has given me a real boost. Just as the world is waking up again from what feels like a very long hibernation period, we can start to plan and explore and live again. Pick a writer and visit all the places associated with them. Pick a location and see what you learn. Either way, if you love books as much as I do, this book is a must for your shelf. It’s more than that. It needs to be with you at all times, just in case you get an opportunity to explore someone or some place new.

I hope my small glimpse into this book gives you a gentle push to get out there and explore again. Thank you so much to the British Library for sharing this with me. I’ve loved it and will continue to love it the more I experience it. If you see a girl with her head in this book and a range of post-it notes sticking out of the top, the likelihood is, it’s me on my next literary adventure.

Big love all xx

Reading Challenge 2020: Letters From Father Christmas – J.R.R. Tolkien

Hey Loves!

Happy December! 🎅 🎄 Can you believe we are in the final month of 2020. What a strange and unique year it has been for so many reasons. Whilst the majority of this year has been spent apart, I’ve never felt closer to my blogging community. Together we’ve read and written and kept our own sense of normality going. It’s been really truly wonderful.

I must apologise for the absence. Anyone in education right now will tell you how challenging it is. I’ve been reading to keep my sane but the writing aspect has escaped me. I’ve written posts and deleted them, getting stuck half way.

However, I’m here today to share with you my book choice for the Reading Challenge 2020. The theme for this month was: Time for a festive story to close the year. The book I chose was Letters from Father Christmas by J.R.R. Tolkien. There’s so many things I love about this book, I just couldn’t wait to tell you all about it.

What’s it all about?

First of all, I genuinely think this is one of the most beautiful editions of a book I own. This version is the centenary edition, published on the 100 year anniversary of the first letter ever sent to Tolkien’s eldest son, John, in 1920. It includes pictures of the letters, envelopes and drawings that Tolkien did for his children from 1920-1943. Every December, a envelope would arrive bearing a stamp from the North Pole and a letter from Father Christmas.

These letters are so utterly beautiful and magical that it was really hard for me not to pick them all to write about. However, that would ruin this remarkable book for everyone else. As well as writing from Father Christmas, we also see entries from the Polar Bear and one of the elves too. Each character is unique, their voice clear, their hearts pure.

“Inside you will find a magic wishing cracker: pull and wish for what you want, and see if you don’t get it next Christmas.”

Polar Bear gets himself into all sorts or antics, for he seems to be quite clumsy. The year 1925 shows us how the Polar Bear went onto the roof to collect Father Christmas’s hood that had blown off in bad weather, only to fall through the roof and into the house. Not only did the Polar Bear fall in, but vast amounts of snow did too causing the fires to go out and the cellar being flooded where all the toys were for that year.

In 1926, the reindeer broke loose and escaped. What would Father Christmas do without them? We see how they have ran away, throwing presents all around and tossing them in the air. We see worries from Father Christmas and hope that theirs aren’t broken. Christmas is a huge operation that with everyone helping out, even the Snowman.

“The Snow Man is addressing our envelopes this year. He is Father Christmas’s gardener – but we don’t get much but snowdrops and frost-ferns to grow here. He always writes in white, just with his finger.”

With each year that passes, another letter arrives and we see the acknowledgement that the children are getting older. In 1928, Father Christmas mentions John, who he believes is too old to write so guessed his presents. Chris and Michael are still sending him letters though, keeping the magic alive. We also see the reference to many more children being born with Father Christmas mentioning how different countries like England, Norway and Denmark, to name a few, have more children than previous Christmases. We see the joy and fears, the excitement and worries of Father Christmas. The writing throughout really brings him and the Polar Bear to life. 

“It is a good thing that clocks don’t tell the same time all over the world or I should never get around, although when my magic is strongest – at Christmas – I can do about a thousand stockings a minute, if I have it all planned out beforehand.”

1933 brings about a new problem: goblins. In the previous year, the goblins were severely punished for stealing all the presents. Polar Bear said he could smell something bad and as a result, became incredibly restless. One evening, the goblins had set fire to the stores and captured several gnomes in the process. They also broke into the stables and stole the reindeer! Thankfully Polar Bear was there to save the day.

 Towards the end of the book in 1936, we see the new addition of red and green elves living with Father Christmas to help with the packing. Ilbereth the elf pens a letter to tell the children all about their adventures and excitements. Unfortunately, after working quite hard Polar Bear became quite tired and fancied a bath. He fell asleep, covering the overflow, causing a huge flood in the Delivery Room. Disaster! 

“Well, there is one thing: those children at Northpole Road, Oxford (he always says that) may lose some of their presents, but they will have a letter worth hearing this year.”

Towards the end, Father Christmas is just writing to Priscilla. I found this part of the book most poignant and it made me a bit teary actually. Growing up is inevitable and it means we lose the magic of Christmas. The final letter is Father Christmas saying goodbye. 

“I suppose you will be hanging up your stocking just once more: I hope so for I still have a few little things for you. After this I shall have to say “goodbye”, more or less: I mean I shall not forget you…”

And with this, the letters stop and the novel ends. 

Final Thoughts
Well, what a way to finish and complete my Reading Challenge 2020! What a beautiful, magical, sublime little book. It made me value the traditions I made with my own family at Christmas. I also really wished that I had something like this as a little girl too. Imagine being fortunate enough to grow up with this. Sadly, as we all know, growing up means we lose the magic of Christmas. However, for me, a little part of it has remained alive because of this book. I love Christmas and this book has got me right in the festive mood. Two weeks of school left…

Continue to keep safe and well everyone.

As always, big love to you all. xx

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