Posted in Book review, Books, Reading, Reading Challenge 2021

Reading Challenge 2021: Pine – Francine Toon

Hello Lovelies!

It’s been a couple of weeks since I last posted and as I am sure many of you guessed, going back to school after the Easter break was like being hit by a train again. So I apologise for the gap in between posts. I’ve been marking a lot and only just barely functioning really. At least I’ve had a restful weekend before the next week of fun… I thought I’d use my Sunday night in the best possible way and share with you all the book I chose to read for my reading challenge this month. The theme of this month was: Read a book with a one word title. Now, this was trickier than I originally had thought. However, I managed to find a sneaky little book that has been sat on my bookcase for a while. I picked it up because I loved the cover and I bought it because I loved the premise. Pine by Francine Toon did not disappoint. (If you’d like anymore details on my reading challenge, as always you can click here.)

What’s it all about?
Set in the Highlands of Scotland, the novel centres around the broken and dysfunctional family of ten year old Lauren and her alcoholic father, Niall. Following the disappearance of Lauren’s mother, Christine, the family appear to be sunk into an existence where each day starts and ends without ever really being lived. Lauren’s life is full of ten year old concerns: her friends and enemies at school, who she will play with and roam the Highland Moors and woodlands with. However, she also has to deal with a home that is cold, damp and ramshackle – a place where her father is often absent, either working or drinking. There is no real sense of privacy here as the local community knows each other and are always involved in each other’s business. Therefore, Lauren has a number of people who look out for her.

‘He said he would build her a treehouse, but he never has. Now he buries all thoughts and potential for thoughts. He has become quite skilled at this over the years.’

On Halloween evening, following an evening of guising (trick or treating), Lauren and Niall come across a strange woman, in the road, dressed only in a white dressing gown. They decide to take her to the safety of their home. The next morning she has vanished. Do they know who she is? Why is she alone in the road? It becomes clear that Lauren has the potential for understanding supernatural events. She uses tarot cards and has a sixth sense for the unseen world. Christine, Lauren’s mother, was an alternative healer and filled the house with healing crystals, salt lamps and often made Niall uncomfortable with her talk of auras and cleansing. As we progress though the novel, the circumstances of her disappearance become murky. The people of the town all throw their suspicions towards Niall. Although no one will discuss anything with Lauren.

“Some girls were talking and it made me wonder. Where do you think my mum went?” ‘Lauren’s words rush out like water. She seems Ann-Marie go still as she continues.’ “I once asked Kirsty about it, but she said I have to ask my dad and my dad doesna want to talk about it.”

As the novel progresses, the deterioration of Niall increases. Holding everything inside, he continues to work as a carpenter until one day, the years of repression come bursting out in a fit of rage and aggression. When he returns to his senses, the cabinet he was removing from the wall is in splintered pieces by his feet and his horrified GP client is standing in the doorway clearly terrified of him. Niall carries with him a sense of total sadness and potential for explosive outbursts. He knows he is failing as a father but is unable to open up to any of the people around him who try to help.

‘It’s come apart now but he keeps hacking, because it feels too good.’ “Absolute fucking bastard.” ‘He is stamping on wood and tearing plaster, his arms and hands catching against splinters.’

The woman in the white dressing gown is seen repeatedly but no one can remember seeing her after she has gone. All sense of reality is questioned. Strange events happen, rings of stones and rocks, fetid rotten smells and breaths of icy cold air all begin to manifest in and around the people of this remote Highland town. Eventually things come to a head with the disappearance of another local girl. The last person to see her: Niall. Of course, he was drunk…

“As I’ve said before, people talk a lot here, Niall. A lot. Not just the internet, it’s wherever you go. They’ve been telling me you knew her. And people seem to know a lot about you too. Your past.”

The novel rushes to a shocking and unnerving conclusion. Lauren is convinced that the supernatural is at play although her spell to protect her from the bullies at school failed to do just that. By the end of the novel, it is still unclear as to whether or not Lauren has a gift. Is it a childish fancy or does she have hidden talent? It is left to the reader to make their own judgement as to what is real and what is not. Her mother wanted her to be wild and throughout the novel there is a sense of wildness as she roams the dark, pine forests and damp moorlands. This is not the childhood of a normal girl. Everything we know is questioned and challenged.

Final Thoughts
This book was a funny one for me. I definitely know I didn’t dislike it. It’s a book that grapples with our own emotions. It’s written in a way that makes you feel uncomfortable as you read it. That being said, you do feel that things will be better by the end. It’s a book that is very hard to categorise but it is a chilling read. Part of me wishes I’d read it over the Halloween period – just to get into the spooky mood. It’s exceptionally well written because it makes the reader imagine, even if you’re not wanting to. You’re forced down this path and the only way to get off is to keep reading. In that sense, only utter exhaustion made me put it down. It’s a book that has left me with more questions than answers. Despite it being a one word title book, it is multilayered, complex and explores a variety of themes. Its simple title is a mask for the gravity of what is inside.

Posted in Book review, Literature, Magic

The Toy Makers – Robert Dinsdale

Hi Everyone!

Happy 1st March and World Book Day! Today I wanted to share with you a book I’ve just finished reading. I have to say, I absolutely loved it. I cannot emphasise that enough. It was just so magical, so gripping, so enchanting. It’s become one of my favourite books ever. Therefore, I absolutely had to share this with you. A bonus: the cover is absolutely beautiful too.

What’s it all about?

Set in the early 1900s in London, this book is told mainly through the eyes of 15 year old Cathy Wray. It centres around a magical Emporium, owned by Papa Jack, which opens at the first frost and closes on the appearance of snowdrops. The toys are magical and awe inspiring. It’s a place where children’s dreams are fulfilled.

‘Come, go in after him. You would not be the first. Children are already tugging on their parents’ hands; a pair of young lovers hurry to make secrets of their gifts to one another; an old man unwinds his scarf as he hobbled in, if only to feel like a boy again.’

However, Cathy has a problem. She’s 15, pregnant and her parents are none too pleased. They arrange for her baby to be given away once it’s born. Until then, Cathy is kept in hiding at home. Her sister, Lizzy, brings her a newspaper as something to read and entertain herself with. Little did she know that this would be where her adventure begins.

‘Are you lost? Are you afraid? Are you a child at heart? So are we.’

When Cathy reaches the Emporium, she meets Papa Jack. It becomes clear he has a different name, a past life much more tragic than his life now. Papa Jack set up his extraordinary toyshop after arriving from Eastern Europe and Tsarist Russia. He is the father of two young boys he had not seen for many years. Originally a carpenter, Papa Jack crafts exquisite toys out of a variety of materials, such as pine cones and twigs.

‘The most terrible things can happen to a man, but he’ll never lose himself if he remembers he was once a child.’

His two sons, Kaspar and Emil, are also incredible toymakers. Each are thoughtful regarding the sibling rivalry about who will inherit the Emporium in the future. Each make amazing and magical toys; soldiers who battle, night lights with changeable scenes, toy boxes which deal with space, paper trees and my favourite in the Emporium, a complete Wendy House.

‘When you are young, what you want from toys is to feel grown up… Yet, when you are grown, that changes: now, what you want out of toys is to feel young again. You want to be back there, in a place that did not harm or hurt you in a pocket of time built out of memory and love.’

Both Emil and Kaspar take a keen interest in Cathy. When the end of the season arrives and Cathy has to leave, a decision is made for her to live in the Wendy house on the shop floor. Each realise that she’s getting bigger! Both brothers visit her as well as the patchwork dog (desperately wanting one of these now!) Cathy has her baby, a girl named Martha. Time to come clean. Papa Jack allows her to stay at the Emporium. He shows her, using the crank of a toy, the story of Jekabs Godman, his role in a war and how he survived. The tragic tale coming to life.

‘I’d found a kind of… a magic, if you will. A way of reaching the soul of a man.’

The next part of the book jumps to 1914 where the threat of war is more than possible. Cathy and Kaspar are the perfect parents to little Martha. The Emporium acts as a safety blanket for most. And yet, war is fast approaching. Emil tries and fails to sign up to serve his country but Kaspar succeeds. As promised, he writes to Cathy every day. However, the narrative is too positive and Cathy is suspicious. She speaks Papa Jack who reveals a magic book in which father and son have been communicating in. The harsh reality of war is revealed. The narrative here is tear jerking, heartbreaking with every description.

‘For the boys I travel with, tomorrow will be their first taste of foreign air. They ask me about the world as if I know anything of it, when the truth is, that, to me, those years before the Emporium are a dream.’

Rather accurately, Kaspar returns from war a changed man. He’s a ghost of his former self, rarely speaking. However, it is the change in the Emporium that bothers him most. The toys have lost a little magic, the shoppers are different, the men are broken in search of a simpler time. It is Emil’s soldiers that cause the biggest reaction in him.

‘And then he was back there. Back where his fingers were grimed in scarlet and black. Back in his uniform, with pieces of his second lieutenant’s brain smeared across his face. His ears were full of the sounds, his nose was full of the smells. He screamed and screamed.’

It was from this moment that the toys needed to change. The death of Papa Jack meant that there was no number one in charge. The sibling rivalry continued. Kaspar was working on something, something different, something big. Martha knew it too. She wasn’t a little girl anymore. Yet, when her father disappeared, more was left unanswered. All that remained were Emil’s toy soldiers, changed.

‘But Papa Jack’s Emporium must endure where I cannot, and so must you my darling.’

The novel ends with an older Cathy living with Martha as a nanny for her two children; the next generation of children to be wowed by tales from the Emporium. It’s pure magic to the last page. I don’t want to spoil the ending for you. But I completely didn’t expect it!

Overview:

Read it and love it. Experience your childhood again. Revel in the absolute joy of incredible toys. Worry and feel fear through the war years with the family. Feel like a child again. Dream in magic. I cannot praise or rate this book enough. I love it.

Big love all xx

Posted in Days Out, Harry Potter, London

Harry Potter Studio Tour!

Hello Everyone!

Wow. January soon came and went. We are now into February which feels like quite a shock really. Anyway, I hope you’re all doing well.

Today’s post is rather exciting. After two years of waiting, this weekend I finally managed to get to the Harry Potter Studio Tour in London. There aren’t enough words for how amazing this was. I was completely awestruck. I grabbed myself a Harry Potter passport and I was off on a magical adventure.

Without ruining any of the surprises, I just want to share with you some of my favourite bits (which could be difficult because I love every second.)

Firstly, The Great Hall. That was amazing. The magical ceiling, the carved animals, the character costumes. It’s really a sight to behold.

Next, Dumbledore’s office. That was just as mysterious and eclectic as it seemed in the films. It’s really quite small which makes it even more fascinating.

The Weasley Burrow was also really amazing to see up close. I walked around quite silently really. It was so overwhelming to see the magic right before my own very eyes.

Platform 9 and 3/4 is very special. I remember being desperate as a little girl, wishing for my letter so I could go and experience everything my favourite characters were experiencing. Seeing it 20 years after the first book was published, it still filled me with absolute wonder. The little girl in me was screaming. Dreams can come true.

Seeing Privet Drive really surprised me. It’s so small! Now, in reality, it’s obvious that it should be. I was still quite taken aback though. I’ve no idea how the cast all fit with the cameras too.

Next was Diagon Alley. Wow. Just wow. The shops, the cobbles. I could feel all the energy oozing from the floor. It’s incredible. To stand where those amazing actors have stood is just something else. My favourite was the Weasley shop; full of life and colour.

Lastly, and most amazingly was the castle. The home of Hogwarts for so many years. It took 8 weeks for the team to make it and you could see how the characters were placed within. It’s another world, literally.

A dream come true. A childhoods desires explored. Magic coming alive and being real. There’s not enough words for how incredible this place is. Every turn is a surprise, every moment is a joy. I am so so glad I’ve seen it. It’s a must for any fan. It’s a way of keeping the magic alive. Once it’s in you, it stays forever. I never want to lose the feeling I have whenever I read the books or visit a place linked. It’s so special. Get your ticket. Unleash your inner wizard!

Big love xx