Tag Archives: Literature

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

Reading Challenge 2020

Hello Everyone!

Happy January and equally, happy 2020! A new decade is upon us to make our mark and do the things we love. Where have the last 10 years gone though..?

You may remember from a previous post that I was frantically researching for a reading challenge for this year. There’s plenty out there but each had bits to them I wasn’t really keen on. I also didn’t want to use The Book of the Month from Waterstones either because that was too rigid and a slight problem if there was something I didn’t quite fancy. Therefore, whilst having lunch with a friend, I decided to try and create one.

The categories are as follows:

January- A tale that represents a new beginning

February – Read a book that tells the story of love: good, bad or otherwise

March – Try a book with a non human narrator

April – Focus on a story of nature and/or the spring season

May – Read a book about hope and growth

June – Find a novel with a child narrator

July – Murder and intrigue abound this month

August – A summer read to an exotic place

September – A tale that leads to adventure and excitement

October – A spooky story that reflects the Halloween season

November – Something that has been sat on your bookshelf / TBR list that casts a backwards glance

December – Time for a festive story to close the year.

That’s it! I wanted to keep it seasonal and also provide the scope for variety too. I believe there’s room to branch out into different books I wouldn’t normally have thought of too as well as the flexibility to finally read those books that have been sat on my shelf for a year or five. (Please tell me it’s not just me who has this issue…) Each of these will be accompanied by a review on here too.

This month: new beginnings. Just a quick Google search brings up a fair few ideas for this one. January is the time for resolutions and changes after all. After some extensive research, I’ve decided to go for this:

Synopsis:

One night fifteen-year-old Lina, her mother and young brother are hauled from their home by Soviet guards, thrown into cattle cars and sent away. They are being deported to Siberia. 

An unimaginable and harrowing journey has begun. Lina doesn’t know if she’ll ever see her father or her friends again. But she refuses to give up hope.

Lina hopes for her family.
For her country.
For her future.
For love – first love, with the boy she barely knows but knows she does not want to lose . . .

Will hope keep Lina alive?

Set in 1941, Between Shades of Gray, is an extraordinary and haunting story based on first-hand family accounts and memories from survivors.

I’ve never heard of the book or the film before so I’m starting the year with something new and exciting. I like the blurb too so here’s hoping that it will be a good book to start the reading challenge with. I can’t wait to get going!

What about you, my lovely blogging friends? Are you taking part in any reading challenges? Feel free to dip into this one if you like! Regardless, let me know how you’re getting on. After all, you guys are the reason why my shelves are overflowing!

Wishing you all the best for 2020! Until next time. Happy reading. 📚

Big love xx

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Filed under Books, Reading, Reading Challenge 2020

Twas The Nightshift Before Christmas – Adam Kay

Hello Everyone!!

We are in that very strange period of time in between Christmas and New Year where it is perfectly acceptable to have biscuits for breakfast, chocolate for lunch and mince pies for dinner. Heavenly Christmas food! I hope you’ve all had a peaceful festive period and enjoyed yourselves immensely.

Today I want to share with you a book that I’ve now read twice this year because it is just that good. Adam Kay is back with his festive tales from the NHS frontline: Twas The Nightshift Before Christmas. You may remember my review of Kay’s first book, This Is Going To Hurt, which you can find here. I hope you enjoy this as much as I did!

Overview

This book is much like Kay’s previous one but with a more festive edge. You may recall that Kay spent a number of years as a junior doctor in our beloved NHS and the novels come from his diaries he was writing whilst working. Kay omitted any festive stories from the first book so it didn’t become too Christmassy and here they are for us all to laugh, cry and read.

It starts off with a open letter really to the reader reminding us that despite it being Christmas time, there will be doctors and nurses who are working Christmas Day. Written with humour, it is a humbling start to jolt us back into the grim reality of the present regarding the NHS.

“A&E departments are busier than turkey farms, thanks for black eyes from carelessly popped champagne corks, fleshy forearms scares by roasting tins, and children concussing themselves by hurtling down the stairs in the box their Scalextric came in.”

Following this introduction, the book takes a simple structure: one chapter for each Christmas Kay spent in the profession. He openly admits to working 6/7 Christmas Days in obstetrics or gynaecology during his practising years. In his first year, Kay tells the story of a family member who has taken a turn for the worst, with the reality of there not being too much the doctors can do now. This moving aspect is something we can all relate to. However, I bet a fair few can say that they ended up laughing hysterically.

“Hoping to show empathy through my body language, I lean in to say all we can do is keep her comfortable and concentrate on her dignity. As I do so, I inadvertently lean on my tie. It is a seasonal tie…Crucially, and disastrously, underneath Rudolph’s red nose – and now the pressure of my elbow – is a button that activates a tinny speaker to blast out a frantic MIDI rendition of Jingle Bells.”

Thankfully the family took it well – hence the laughing!

Christmas Eve 2006 and a number of doctors are being quizzed about a child with an impressively luminous green nose. What could it be? How on earth did this child become so green?

“Answer: he’d dismantled his mum’s novelty earrings and shoved an LED up his nose…”

Kay writes with what I’d call, ‘knife edge humour’. We laugh yet we know we shouldn’t. However, these type of events happen on a daily basis with NHS, all 1.4 million of them, dealing with the consequences of our behaviours which are arguably worse over the Christmas period.

Nevertheless, it is always the harsh reality that brings us to tears. 2006 brought Kay an opportunity that would shape him and change him. Patient SH has a cardiac condition which means that if she continues with her pregnancy, she is unlikely to live. The procedure is grim, not for the faint hearted and highly emotionally charged. In Kay’s words:

“If Patient SH is brave enough to go through this, then I should at least have the balls to step up for her.”

Kay admitted for previously keeping this out of his first novel and still feels the pang of uncertainty in the editing process of this one. Yet, it stays because it was such an impactful moment. Again, it is reality.

Another Christmas Day, another day on the ward. Kay doesn’t even bother to complain and routines are forming – alarmingly. For the next Christmas on the ward, Kay was treated to a nice festive fragrance, cinnamon and mulled wine scent, mixed with every smell to do with childbirth. This did make me laugh out loud.

“It hangs in the air like some kind of acrid death-gas in a James Bond film, its putrid cloud choking every airway, blunting every nerve ending. We’re having the room deep cleaned, but they may well have to knock down the entire hospital.”

It’s Christmas and more often than not workplaces hold an annual Secret Santa and it’s sod’s law that you pick someone out that you don’t like. You hope and pray for the person you desperately want or even for the person you could merely tolerate in the name of the season. Life, or Secret Santa, never seems to go that way. Kay also picked out someone he despises and who despises him in return. H suggested a guinea pig, which was declined.

“I bought him a set of sandalwood styling wax and hair pomade. He is bald.”

I have so much admiration for our doctors and nurses. The hours are relentless, the breaks nonexistent and the patients and their families are sometimes downright rude. However, it is the glimmers that mean the most. The acts of kindness, the ‘thank you’ which make the job bearable. The only other thing that makes the job easier is humour. Those stories that stay with you forever. There’s some right corkers in this book but I think the story next is my favourite.

A child asks his mother if his father was there the day he was born. The answer is no. The reason why – hilarious.

“Well, darling, he made it to the hospital on time, but he was so drunk that he whipped out his cock when the doctor was putting forceps on your head, and they had to call security to boot him out.”

Is it just me or is this hard to believe? Only in England…

The final Christmas is one where, amazingly, Kay doesn’t need to work. Here we see descriptions of Christmas day’s as we know it. The food, the fizz, the party games and the television. Deep down though, any NHS worker will know, it is in your blood and you come to miss it. I feel the same about teaching. I’m so grateful for my time off but in a strange way I do miss not being in the classroom. I feel it more in summer though to be fair.

Finally, The Queen’s Christmas Message is a very important part of Christmas Day for some. Kay offers his own alternative message for us all to reflect upon. Thank your doctors, nurses and ward staff, if you’ve been in hospital. If not, remember the following:

“Stop sticking root vegetables, remote controls, chocolate wrappers, fairy lights – or indeed anything else that’s irretrievable and inanimate (or, god help us, animate) – up your interval cavities for one day a year. It’s only twenty four hours, guys, and you’ll make all their Christmases come at once.”

Final Thoughts

I loved this book just as much as I loved the first. It’s incredible to believe what people get up to over the Christmas year and what foolish and sometimes humorous decisions people make. Kay has such a unique writing style. He can make his readers laugh and cry and feel utterly dismayed. Massive respect for those NHS workers this Christmas and New Year. We wouldn’t be healthy without you. For all that you do, thank you.

Read this book. Feel it with your heart.

See you before the New Year guys!

Big love all xx

7 Comments

Filed under Book review, Christmas

A London Adventure

Hello Loves!

So, I appears that I disappeared again. I wish I could pinpoint a reason for this absence but I honestly feel like I say the same thing repeatedly. The only thing I seem to do is work and go to the gym. This is indeed new! More on that another time. I made it to half term thankfully and jetted off to Cyprus for some last minute summer sun.

What this does mean however, is that I completely abandoned you all again. For this I can only apologise. Work feels like a battle at the moment so it’s very much a case of ‘head down, get through it’ mentality. I’m not feeling particularly great this weekend so it’s an opportunity to catch up! I promise I’ll catch up with you all as soon as I can. Please forgive me.

I wanted to share with you the utter joy that was my adventure last weekend. After waiting for three whole years I finally got Harry Potter and the Cursed Child theatre tickets. This of course meant a weekend away full of all things Harry Potter related and Christmas shopping. 👦🏻⚡️🚂

Saturday

Saturday started with waking up in a BEAUTIFUL hotel near Buckingham Palace and getting ready for a day of hitting the shops. 💂🏻‍♂️🛍 I went to Christmas World inside Harrods which was just incredible. I got some beautiful Christmas decorations and presents for my family. It’s a really glorious place with stunning presents. 🎄 The window displays are lovely too. (Sorry about the reflection!)

One of the things I really love about Harrods are the staff. They’re just so so polite, courteous and lovely. This gentleman below, was one of the stars from my weekend. 🌟

From shopping it was time to get ready for the theatre. I was fortunate enough to see both parts in the same day so the first show was in the afternoon and the second was a couple of hours after in the evening. Every Potterhead knows to #keepthesecrets but all I will say is: it was awesome, amazing, incredible and the best show I’ve ever seen.

That’s all you’re getting from me about it but honestly it doesn’t disappoint. It’s funny, dark and incredibly clever. Get your house scarf on and head down there. 🧣 (I absolutely did not end up buying a Cursed Child hoodie, programme, tote bag, pens, owl toy and ANOTHER Gryffindor scarf…)

After the show I took a walk back to my palace of a hotel to see all the pretty lights and sights of London. The outside of the theatre was absolutely stunning.

First stop, Fortnum and Mason. Their Christmas windows are SO divine. I bought my own body weight in biscuits so I’m already feeling pretty festive to be fair! 🍪

I genuinely believe we are so lucky to have a capital city that is just so beautiful. Millions of people visit every year just to be a small part of it. The London eye was looking lovely as was Westminster Abbey which was all lit up ready for the night time. What I enjoyed most was that the streets were pretty quiet which meant a clear view for photos! 📱

Sunday

Day two in my palace of a hotel and time to check out. The plan for the day was to visit Hyde Park, the Princess Diana Memorial and Kensington Gardens. The sun was shining and it’s that time of year when we can wrap up and bring our the fluffy scarves we bury ourselves in.

I’ve never been to Hyde Park so I was really thrilled to see it. It’s beautiful! You kind of forget you’re in the middle of a big city. The leaves are changing as we embrace Autumn with open arms. 🍁 It was also VERY exciting to see them setting up Winter Wonderland.

Kensington Gardens are equally lovely and home to the Peter Pan statue that I’ve always wanted to see but never quite got there. Just like Hyde Park, the leaves are changing but the sun was shining down offering some autumnal warmth.

The last part of my weekend away was to visit the Cenotaph. It was the Remembrance weekend so there was a real buzz around the city. I was fortunate enough to hear the cannon to mark the silence first hand. It was a humbling experience to be in the city at the same time as this occasion. It’s so so important that we remember all those who served and fought for our protection and freedom. #lestweforget

Overall

This weekend was amazing. I feel so lucky to have these opportunities and experiences. I hope you all enjoy the post and hopefully feel like you can experience this with me! Right now, I’m off to check out all the posts I’ve missed from you wonderful people.

Big love all

Xx

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Filed under Days Out, Harry Potter, London, Photography, Play, Remembrance Day, Theatre Review, UK, Weekend Trips

To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before – Jenny Han

Hi Everyone!

I hope you’re all well and are having a great weekend. Whilst the rain is sloshing down my windows, I thought this the perfect opportunity to review one of the books I’ve recently finished: To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han. It was an absolutely gem!

What’s it all about?

Told through the eyes of Lara Jean Song Covey, this novel oozes personality and nostalgia. Lara Jean is a sixteen year old, half Korean, half white girl living in Virginia, USA. Her family is very important to her and she is close to them all. She has an older sister, Margot and a younger sister, Kitty. Her lovely mother died when she was young.

When someone’s been gone a long time, at first you save up all the things you want to tell them. You try to keep track of everything in your head. But it’s like trying to hold on to a fistful of sand: all the little bits slip out of your hands, and then you’re just clutching air and grit.

However, she treasures a beautiful hatbox that was given to her by her. Inside she keeps love letters she written to every boy she’s ever loved.

Her older sister is at the age where she is preparing for university. Margot decides she wants to study in Scotland. In her eyes, this means that she cannot stay in her relationship with her boyfriend Josh Sanderson, so she decides to break up with him. This causes shock to Lara Jean because they’d been together a while and Josh was also their next door neighbour.

Following this break up, Lara Jean finds herself in her past as she previously had a crush on Josh. She finds these feelings start to come flooding back. When Margot left, Josh does admit to Lara Jean that she was his first serious crush. To understand these feelings, Lara Jean writes a long postscript for the letter she wrote when she was fourteen, after Josh chose her sister Margot, instead of her.

If you were mine, I would never have broken up with you, not in a million years.

Whilst walking down the school corridor, Lara Jean is stopped by Peter Kavinsky. He is one of the guys that Lara Jean wrote a letter too. He tells her he is not attracted to her and Lara Jean, at first, is confused. She soon realises that he is referring to a letter she wrote to him years ago after he himself received it in the mail.

Lara Jean is completely mortified but also doesn’t know how these letters have been delivered. She tells him what caused her to write the letter in the first place. When she was in seventh grade, she and Peter were with a group of friends when Peter kissed her.

Lara Jean leaves school and heads straight home to try and locate her hatbox. But it isn’t anywhere. She’s completely confused. That night, she heard Josh come over and hides in their treehouse. The following morning at school Josh asks her about the letter to him. She lies and denies that she has feelings for him and makes up the fact that she has a boyfriend.

Josh questions her further and Lara Jean says it’s Peter as his was the first name that came into her head as she sees him walking down the hallway. Lara Jean decides to jump into his arms and kiss him, much to everyones surprise. Lara Jean has to explain the situation to Peter who decides to go along with it to make his ex girlfriend, Genevieve, jealous.

Lara Jean and Peter set up a list of ground rules on how to act and behave around each other. The more time they spend together, the more confused Lara Jean feels confused about her feelings about him. Josh becomes jealous of Peter and when she confronts him about it, he kisses her and tells her he wants to be with her. The consequence of this is Lara Jean realises that she no longer has feelings for Josh and wants to date Peter for real.

“I didn’t fall for you, you tripped me!”

Lara Jean is convinced by Peter to go on the school ski trip. Peter tells Lara Jean that he also wants to date her and they end up kissing in the hot tub. The following day, Genevieve tells her that there is a rumour that the two had sex in the hot tub and Peter did not deny it. Utterly humiliated, Lara Jean avoids Peter all Christmas break.

I delete the picture of him from my phone; I delete his number. I think that if I just delete him enough, it will be like none of it ever happened and my heart won’t hurt so badly.”

With Margot returning for Christmas it is decided that they will hold a Covey recital party, which they had every year before their mother died. Kitty unfortunately invites Peter to the party and he tries to talk to her. However, Josh tries to protect her and Margot ends up hearing about how Josh and Lara Jean kissed.

Margot and Lara Jean eventually reconcile but Lara Jean remains angry at Peter. Eventually, Kitty admits that she stole her sister’s hatbox and sending all the letters that were within. She wanted to get back at her sister for almost revealing her crush on Josh. All three sisters eventually forgive each other. Lara Jean also learns from Kitty that Peter really does care about her.

Kitty returns the hatbox to Lara Jean but this time filled with notes from Peter when they were fake dating. Lara reads them and has a change of heart. She takes out her trusty pen and starts to write a real love letter to Peter.

Love is scary: it changes; it can go away. That’s the part of the risk. I don’t want to be scared anymore.”

Final thoughts

This is one of the cutest books I’ve read in a long time. It felt like reliving my youth a little bit. Lara Jean is absolutely hilarious – I couldn’t think of a better teen narrator. I also love the close bond between the three girls. They’re each individual enough with their own voices and character traits which really helps the narrative. There are two other books in this series which I will absolutely read. It’s done nothing but made me smile.

Enjoy the rest of Sunday everyone!

Big love xx

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Filed under Book review, Teen Fiction

The Way of all Flesh – Ambrose Parry

Hey Lovelies!

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

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

What’s it all about?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Final Thoughts

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

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

Big love xx

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