Posted in Book review, Books, New Books, Reading

Madame Burova – Ruth Hogan

Hey Loves!

How are we all? I hope you’re as excited as I am that Spring is here and we have more light and more colour outside. πŸŒΈβ˜€οΈ It’s the time of year when everything starts to come alive again and we all start to feel a little better. Now I am on Easter break, I can wait to share more books with you and no doubt all more books to my ever increasing TBR pile. I’m hoping to sneak a few naps in at the same time! I’m absolutely shattered!

Today I want to share a book with you all that I finished just as the clock crept into this morning. I was lucky enough to get a preview copy of Madame Burova by Ruth Hogan. It’s out on Thursday 1st April so if you’re tempted, you’ve not got long to wait! It was my first time reading Hogan and I have to be honest, I really enjoyed it! I hope you do too. Also, it has a pretty cover. Superficial I know, but it just looks gorgeous on the shelf.

What’s it all about?
The narrative is split between now and 1972/3. Madame Burova or Imelda, is central to the plot. Her occupation of Tarot Reader, Palmist and Clairvoyant means that she knows the secrets of many; secrets she cannot possible divulge. Following in her mother’s footsteps, Imelda took her role seriously. After all, it is a gift she has been given and something which she doesn’t take lightly. However, she is getting older and there is a secret that she isn’t sure she can keep to herself much longer. Two envelopes. Two truths.

‘The envelopes held a secret that had troubled Madame Burova more than most, and now the time had come for her to open them and fulfil a promise made long ago.’

Once Madame Burova has made her decision, the narrative swaps back to 1972 where we see a much younger Imelda obtains a job at Larkins holiday park. She will give readings to the customers and guests amongst other eclectic and talented performers like Magic Melvin, Titus Marlow, Sara-Jade Virtue, Jeanie Rogers and Cillian Byrne. Cillian caught her eye and something stirred deep within. However Vivienne, a guest of the holiday park, also had her eyes on him. The performers become a family of sorts and easily fall into a routine of performances and daily schedules. Fast forward to now and we learn of Billie. Billie’s childhood was wonderful – she had two loving parents who adored her. However, once both passed away, she learns that things weren’t really as they seemed. She receives a letter…

‘As she read what was written on the pages it contained, her whole world washed away like the chalked hopscotch squares of her childhood in a sudden downpour of rain.’

The contents of this letter tell Billie that she was adopted as a baby. Her parents weren’t really her parents. Does this make the memories and her childhood any less valuable? Can she still call them her parents even if they’re not her biological ones? Amongst her inner turmoil, she sets off in the hope of finding some answers. She heads towards St Pancras station. Her and her father would often visit the statue of John Betjeman and rub his tummy for good luck. It was here that she heard the music call her from below. A piano was playing ‘Smile’ her dad’s favourite song. That song was the cure for everything. She moved closer and closer to the music, not realising she was crying. The pianist: Henry Hayward. She’s so angry that they didn’t tell her. Yet, this doesn’t make her life, her childhood, any less real or meaningful.

“Your childhood was happy, your parents loved you and you them. That was the past and none of that will change. But the important thing now is what you will do with your future?”

Billie decides to visit Madame Burova. She knows that she has some of the answers that she is so desperate for. However, she cannot tell her who her parents are, she can only give her two things that were left for her: a bank account and a photograph. That isn’t to say that if she learns the truth it would be denied. Madame Burova just cannot break the trust and the secret she obtained years ago. However, she does befriend Billie and introduces her to the local people who may be able to help like Treasure and Clive. Billie learns that her father kept in touch with Madame Burova after she saw the baby left behind. She left the baby in the safety of the authorities but became invested in her life. She wanted to know that she was safe and well. All the correspondence she had with Billie’s father was there on the table for her to see. Billie decides to stay and rent the space that Madame Burova has. She will do readings part time and Billie will open a little shop with seaside souvenirs.

“They didn’t need to be related to you to be the best parents you could have wished for. It takes more than blood to raise a child as well as they did.”

As the plot develops, the fate of the two women collide and their stories are eventually told. Besides all that, they become the closest of friends too. Each have plenty to learn. Billie learns who her biological parents are. She learns the truth about her life and now is able to plan for her incredibly bright future. Madame Burova learns that the man she was in love with, was in love with her back. It was just tragic circumstances that kept them apart. By the end of the novel I felt like my heart was full. I thoroughly enjoyed this book and the ending provided the closure and resolution I needed. β™₯️

“Because of you…he was the happiest man alive. I can’t tell you how much of a comfort that has been to me all these years.”

Final Thoughts
There’s much more to this book but I don’t want to spoil it for you. As I said in my conclusion, I found it truly uplifting. I have a lot of love for Madame Burova and I was captivated by her story just as much as Billie’s. This book is perfect for anyone who needs a little pick me up, a little hope and a good distraction.

I’ll see you all next time my loves. I’ve still got to share with you the book I read for my reading challenge this month and a roundup of this month too. Continue to take care and enjoy the light that this season brings. As I’m typing this, I can see a beautiful carpet of daffodils. 🌼

Big love all xxx

Posted in Book review, Books, Historical Fiction, New Books

The Diplomat’s Wife – Michael Ridpath

Hey Loves!

Well, we’ve done week one of 2021 and it probably doesn’t feel very different to 2020… but let’s still keep the faith. There’s plenty of time for lots of reading and finding your next best read. For me, school is still as busy as ever. I’m spending my time teaching online which is not too dissimilar to writing blog posts – I just feel like I’m talking to myself. Hopefully someone, somewhere is listening! Regardless, today I want to share with you a book you all need to keep your eye out for: The Diplomat’s Wife by Michael Ridpath. This was one of those books where I literally couldn’t put it down. I hope you love it as much as I did!

What’s it all about?
The novel opens in Buckinghamshire, England where we meet Phil. It is just before his big adventure to abroad but his plans are in jeopardy following a slight accident with a car. However, all is rectified when Phil’s beloved Grandma, Emma, reveals her need to go on a trip but she cannot possibly go alone. Therefore, it’s set – Phil will drive his grandmother around Europe, to relive her life and to solve the mysteries of the past surrounding her brother, Hugh and her husband, Roland. From here, we see the interweaving of the past and present within the novel.

“One of the reasons I asked you to accompany me is that I want to tell you a story. My story. The story of what I did before the war. I’ve mentioned I’ve been thinking of revisiting my life then. But I wanted to share it, so someone knows about it when I’m gone.”

Grandmother and grandson travel to Devon, where the story begins. Emma was just a teenager, happily living in her brother’s shadow. She absolutely adored him, idolised him really. Whatever he believed, she did too. A theme that runs within the plot is politics – communism and socialism in particular. When her brother changes his views, she feels betrayed. There’s more going on than what is being shared on the surface, clearly. Tragically, Emma was unable to discuss this with her brother further, because he was killed.

‘I pulled back the rug from Hugh’s face. I will never forget what I saw – it was a mess. His forehead and cheek had been smashed. There was blood, but there was also pinkish stuff, which I later realised was brain matter. It was truly horrible.’

Emma’s feeling of unease only grew at Hugo’s funeral. She meets Dick Loxton, Hugo’s best friend and Kay Lesser, Hugo’s girlfriend. Here we learn that Hugo had a secret life – a life as a spy. His death could be as a result of this. It is this information that starts the journey of discovery. From here, the two head to Paris. Emma was, as the title suggests, a diplomat’s wife. This gave her the opportunity to meet people the average person wouldn’t meet. She moved in circles that seem so different to life in the present. Something else was about to disrupt her world: an affair and a pregnancy.

‘Then a darker thought occurred to me. Was the whole thing camouflage? Had their affair already been going on when my mother invited Roland down to Devon? Which meant his wooing of me was just an elaborate cover…’

Emma has a choice to make: one that will dictate her whole future. Kay advises her and she has a plan. She will follow in her brother’s footsteps but to do that, to get information, she needs to remain with her husband. Lothar and Kay get her set up with the relevant equipment she needs. She is now one of them. Back in the present, the trip isn’t exactly what Phil had in mind. He does frequent a couple of bars and meets Heike. Can he trust her? She seems to be perfect and the two love spending time together. It almost feels odd when she asks to join him and his grandmother, something Phil knows his grandmother absolutely would not like. They settle for talking. Lots and lots of talking. Meanwhile, the next step of their journey is decided: Annecy. It is in this section that Phil sees his grandmother in a new light.

‘Nothing in his life up till now had prepared him for this. But he had to concentrate on the road ahead. On getting out of France safely without the police stopping them. Then he could think properly about what happened, what was happening.’

Berlin, Germany: the next stop. The threat of war is imminent in 1939 and it is here that Emma’s information is key. Kay needs her to keep providing but there isn’t anything to say or offer. There’s just no new information circulating. Until the news of Russia. This is the ultimate game changer. This information is huge. It is here though, that Emma learns the real truth. Once again, we know that all is not as it seems.

‘The anger evaporated, or rather it retired, waiting for a new target. Yes, I had been misled. But so had Kay. Both of us had been misused, drawn to betray our countries on the basis of false promises.’

The final part of the novel is in Spain. Emma is obsessed, literally, with finding out the truth and eventually putting her brother to rest. Likewise, Phil has never known about this side of his grandmother. This journey is as eyeopening for him as it is for Emma. In Spain, Phil sees a face that he recognises and Emma realises they are in immediate danger. As the novel closes, Emma’s story is finally told. We have a voice for Hugh, a resolution.

“To Grams…and her brother.”

Final Thoughts
This book is a must read for 2021. Due for release in February, it needs to be promoted to the top of your TBR lists. There are many strands to this that make it an interesting read. The grandmother/grandson element. It was really lovely to see the strength of the family ties here, especially when Emma did not have these as a child. Along with that, I really enjoyed the historical element of it. Novels set in the war are fascinating because there are so many ways you could present it. I loved the espionage take here was incredible. Who can you trust? You won’t know until the end of the book. Michael Ridpath isn’t a writer I’d heard of but this book has absolutely put him on my radar.

Keep yourselves safe and well.

Big love all xxx

Posted in Books, Reading, Reading Challenge 2021

2021!

Hello Lovelies!

Happy New Year to you all. We can all agree that 2020 challenged us in so many different ways – ways that we just didn’t expect. What 2020 did give us was time to read some amazing books. I know last year gave me the opportunity to really lose myself in books. I read more than I think I’ve ever done before. It gave me the release from the real world that I know we all found necessary at times. When my school closed and we went into a lockdown, I felt really lost for a while. I’d gone from seeing hundreds of people every day to seeing no one. It had been a really surreal year but one I doubt we’ll ever forget. Regardless, there’s nothing I love more than reading a good book and then sharing it with you amazing people. πŸ“š

2020 was also the first year I wrote my own reading challenge and I’m so proud to say that I completed it too! A different theme each month really encouraged me to broaden my horizons and read things that had either been sat on my shelf for years or branch out into new writers and genres I’d never considered or knew about. I joined various book subscriptions which also gave me new and exciting reads. I’m so chuffed with it that I’ve written a fresh new challenge for 2021 which I am exceptionally excited about.

Naturally, 2020 wouldn’t have been the same without you. I say it regularly but the blogging community is the gift that keeps giving. You’re all so inspiring and lovely. It’s such a privilege to be a part of it. πŸ’– I’m sure I’m not the only one who really felt that despite the world being in isolation, we were really more together than ever before. Thank you.

So, let’s round up 2020 and launch the reading challenge for 2021!

2020 – Books read: 148

Dr. Nick Edwards – In Stitches: The Highs and Lows of Being an A&E Doctor
Gillian Flynn- The Grownup
Mark Haddon -The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time
Lee Child – Past Tense
Meg Rosoff – There Is No Dog
Nicci French – Beneath the Skin
Antoine de Sait-Exupery – The Little PrinceΒ 
Ruth Sepetrys – Between Shades of Gray
Lindsay McCrae – My Penguin Year – Living with Emperors – A Journey of Discovery
Mitch Albom – For One More Day
Vanessa Curtis – Zelah Green – One More Little Problem
David Walliams – The Midnight Gang
Terence Frisby – Kisses on a Postcard
Annie Spence – Dear Fahrenheit 451
Greta Thunberg – No One is Too Small to Make a Difference
Val Emmich – Dear Evan Hansen
Sara Pennypacker – Pax
Tayari Jones – An American Marriage
Onjali Q Rauf – The Day We Met the Queen
JP Delaney – Believe Me
Laure Ellen Anderson – Amelia Fang and the Bookworm Gang
Mona Awad – 13 Ways of Looking at a Fat Girl
Jack London – The Call of the Wild
Kate DiCamillo – The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane
Graeme Simsion – The Rosie Project
Hazel Prior – Away with the Penguins
Harlen Coben – The Stranger
Margarita Montimore – The Rearrange Life of Oona Lockhart
Peter James – The Secret of Cold Hill
Claire Pooley – The Authenticity Project
David Walliams – Slime
Beth O’Leary – The Flat Share
Isabella Wilding – Wilding
Lia Louis – Somewhere Close to Happy
Chloe Coles – Bookshop Girl
Brian Bilston – Diary of a Somebody
Jo Middleton – Play Groups & Prosecco
Harper Lee – Go Set a Watchman
Michelle Harrison – A Sprinkle of Sorcery
Rory Dunlop – What We Didn’t SayΒ 
Beth O’Leary – The Switch
Katharine Arden – The Winter of the Witch
J.K. Rowling – Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone
Phil Earle – Mind the Gap
Nick Spalding – Fat Chance
Alice Munroe – Queenie
J.K. Rowling – Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets
J.K. Rowling – Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
Freya Lewis – What Makes us Stronger
Graeme Simsion – The Rosie Effect
Claire Hutson – Art & Soul
Chloe Coles – Life’s a Beach
E Lockhart – Again, Again
Emma Carroll – Letters from the Lighthouse
Fredrik Backman – My Grandmother Sends her Regards and Apologies
J.K. Rowling – Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire
Graeme Simsion – The Rosie Result
David Foenkinos – The Mystery of Henri Pick
Stephanie Green – The Heathrow Doctor
Sophie Kinsella – Finding Audrey
Beatrix Potter – The World of Peter Rabbit (1-23)
Annika Perry – Oscar’s Quest
J.K. Rowling – Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
Durian Sukegawa – Sweet Bean Paste
J.K. Rowling – Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
Elisa Shua Dusapin – Winter in Sokcho
Claire Chambers – Small Pleasures
Michael Connelly – The Black Echo
Patrick Hoffman – Clean Hands
Zoe Folbigg – The Distance
Katherine Heiny – Standard Deviation
Nadia Marks – One Summer in Crete
Holly Seddon – Love Will Tear us Apart
J.K. Rowling – Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows
Sophie Kinsella – The Secret Dreamworld of a Shopaholic
Robin Sloan – Mr Penumbra’s 24 Hour Bookstore
Sophie Kinsella – Shopaholic Abroad
Laura Imai Messina – The Phonebox at the Edge of the World
Rose Black – The Unforgetting
Dorothy Strachey – Olivia
Mhairi McFarlane – If I Never Met You
Sophie Kinsella – Shopaholic Ties the Knot
Taylor Jenkins Reid – Evidence of the Affair
Lynda Le Plante – Buried
Olivia Beirne – The Accidental Love Letter
Sarah J Naughton – Mothers
Phaedra Patrick – The Secrets of Sunshine
Kate Bradley – I Took You to Keep You Safe
Alex Quigley – Closing the Reading Gap
Katerina Diamond – The Heatwave
Sanjida Kay – One Year Later
Ayisha Malik – Sofia Khan is Not Obliged
Helen Moffett – Charlotte
Michelle Campbell – The Wife Who Knew Too Much
Sam Carrington – One Little Lie
Jessica Jarlvi – When I Wake Up
Christian White – The Nowhere Child
Johnathan Swift – Gulliver’s Travels
Jim Dwyer & Kevin Flynn – 102 Minutes
Matt Haig – The Midnight Library
Ayisha Malik – The Other Half of Happiness
Dominic Pimenta – Duty of Care
Lisa Unger – Confessions on the 7:45
Gill Sims – Why Mummy Drinks
Hong Ying – K: The Art of Love
John Boyne – The Boy at the Top of the Mountain
William Shakespeare – Macbeth
Chris & Rosie Ramsey – Sh**ged. Married. Annoyed.
Nicola Yoon – Everything Everything
Ferdinand von Schirach – The Girl Who Wasn’t There
Deryn Mansell – Tiger Stone
Gill Sims – Why Mummy’s Sloshed
Anton du Beke – A Christmas to Remember
Stacey Halls – The Familiars
Christopher Skaife – The Ravenmaster
Carmel Harrinton – The Woman at 72 Derry Lane
Vanessa Tait – The Pharmacist’s Wife
Karen Dionne – Home
Vicky Zimmerman – The Woman Who Wanted More
Mark Roberts – Blood Mist
Romesh Ranganathan – As Good as it Gets
Chan Ho-Kei – The Borrowed
S.J. Bennett – The Windsor Knot
Heather Morris – Cilka’s Journey
Brad Parks – The Last Act
Shaun Bythell – Seven Kinds of People You Find in Bookshops
Maria Timon – City of Spies
Deborah Bee – Every Move You Make
Marilyn Shimon – First One In, Last One Out
Anton du Beke – One Enchanted Evening
Anton du Beke – Moonlight Over Mayfair
J.R.R. Tolkien – Letters From Father Christmas
Helley Acton – The Shelf
Charles Dickens – A Christmas Carol
Dr Seuss – How the Grinch Stole Christmas
Giovanna Fletcher – You’re the One I Want
Peter Swanson – All the Beautiful Lies
Grace Dent – Hungry
Andreas Pfluger – In the Dark
Katharine Kirlalea – Ok, Mr Field
Sarah Franklin – How to Belong
Elly Griffiths – The Postscript Murders
Gill Sims – Why Mummy Swears
B.A. Paris – Behind Closed Doors
Tara Moore – Victorian Christmas Ghost StoriesΒ 
Tom Allen – No Shame
Christopher de Vinck – AshesΒ 
Richard Osman – The Thursday Murder Club

Looking at that list, I feel immensely proud. Reading the titles again where some jump out at me – gifts from friends, amazing stories that I’ve finally read etc. Whatever the context, I’m so glad I’ve got books. πŸ“–

Time to look to 2021! I’ve thought hard about this reading challenge. They’re meant to be fun and achievable and that’s exactly what I’ve gone for. If you’ve got any book suggestions based on these themes let me know!

January – Read a book that is set anywhere in the world you want to visit.Β 
February – Read a book by an author who was born in this month.Β 
March – Read a book that was gifted to you.Β 
April – Read a book with a one word title.Β 
May – Read a book that is based on real life events.Β 
June – Read a debut novel this month.Β 
July – Read a book where your name is on the cover (title or author)
August – Read a book which takes you to the beach.Β 
September – Read a traditional fairy tale.Β 
October – Read a book with an orange cover.Β 
November – Read a book by an author who died more than 100 years ago.Β 
December – Read a book with a beautiful cover.Β 

Ta-da! And there it is in all its glory. I didn’t want to repeat previous themes and I wanted it to be as open as it could be so I could read plenty. I hope you accompany me on the reading journey of 2021.

Have an amazing 2021. I’ll be right there with you!

As always, big love to you all. xxx

Posted in Book review, Books, New Books, Reading, Thriller

The Postscript Murders – Elly Griffiths

Hello Lovelies!

I hope you all had a wonderful Christmas. I tried to wish it to as many people as I could. Normally I’d write a Christmas Eve post but things are very different this year so I decided to use that time for quiet reflection and for sharing time with my much needed support bubble. To be honest, it’s taken me this week to recover from school. Anyway, I wanted to share with you a book I read in a day – it was just so good! The Postscript Murders by Elly Griffiths was a book I knew nothing about until I joined My Chronicle Book Box. For more information, click here: https://mychroniclebookbox.com It’s a stunning book company that I’m so glad I found. If books are you life, definitely check them out. On with the review! I hope you love this one as much as I did!

What’s it all about?
The novel centres around Peggy, a ninety year old murder consultant, living in the sleepy seaside town of Shoreham. She would spend her time plotting murders for famous writers. Therefore, her knowledge of murders is second to none. However, when she dies of what is assumed to be a heart condition, something doesn’t quite sit right with her carer, Natalka. The mystery thickens and the investigation begins.

The novel opens with an entry in Peggy’s Investigation Book, disguised as A Seaside Lady’s Diary. Peggy notes the many people who walk past the windows of her apartment. However, two men arouse her suspicions because they don’t fit into the pattern of dog walkers, cyclists, walkers or pensioners.

‘There’s an alertness about them that Peggy finds most troubling of all, and they both have their backs to the sea. Who comes to Shoreham beach and doesn’t even glance at the shimmering water, looking at its very best today, dotted with sailing boats and accessorised with seagulls?’

The following morning, Natalka knows immediately that something is wrong. She knows Peggy well enough to just be able to feel it. Sadly, Peggy had died and her son wanted the apartment to be cleared out as soon as possible. Obliged, Natalka does this but soon finds something of interest along the way. She takes her new information to DS Harbinder Kaur in the hope that it sheds some light on the matter. What is this information? Well, Peggy, an avid reader, accumulated many books. The difference with these books – they’re all dedicated to her. Natalka continues to feel convinced that Peggy didn’t just die naturally – thinks she has been murdered and ropes Peggy’s two friends, Benedict and Edwin in to help her solve the mystery. Following the funeral, Edwin was allowed to have something as a memento. He chose the last book Peggy was reading.

“I thought it would bring me closer to Peggy somehow. Anyway, when I opened it, this fell out.” ‘It’s a plain postcard and on it are the words: We are coming for you.’

The three friends decide there is much more to do now they have this information. They head back to the apartment to see if there are anymore clues there. However, it is when they are doing this they hear footsteps in the background and eventually, are confronted by a masked figure pointing a gun at them. The only thing this figure takes is a very rare, out of print book called Thank Heaven Fasting by Sheila Atkins. Why this book? What is so important about it? The group now need to add this to their independent investigation to see if they can work out exactly what is going on. A flyer promoting Dex Challoner’s event promoting his new books brings about a new opportunity to dig a little deeper. He was at the funeral but wasn’t very talkative and snuck out the back. All the attention is now on him. After the reading event, they decide to go for a drink to find out more about his relationship with Peggy. The night doesn’t end too well though.

“Is it murder?… It’s murder all right. He was shot in the head.”

Two murders and books seem to be at the centre of it all. But what does it all mean? Natalka and Harbinder meet up for a drink because Natalka has this weight on her mind, her past could potentially be coming back to haunt her. She reveals about her life in the Ukraine and the reasons why she left that country. Due to her disclosure, Natalka pushes Harbinder for information about the case. We learn that another author, Julie Monroe, who also credited Peggy in her books received the same postcard as her. Natalka immediately jumps to the conclusion that she is the next victim. Nevertheless, there is a problem – she is off to Aberdeen for a literary festival. An impromptu road trip means the trio of friends are hurtling towards Aberdeen. It does throw up new clues – yet another writer, Lance Foster, also received the same postcard. They persuade him to meet them for a chat but when he doesn’t arrive, they get increasingly worried and head to his hotel room to see if he is ok. What they are met with is something Natalka is all too familiar with recently.

‘Benedict lowers his head to Lance’s chest to listen for a heartbeat but he already knows. Lance’s body has a horrible leaden quality to it.’

It is at this point that I can’t really tell you much more. There’s still so much left of this novel but I don’t want to spoil it for you. However, by the end of the book, the many strands all come together, the plot is wrapped up and it is absolutely brilliant. The novel closes where it begins: with Peggy. It was her Investigation Book that helped solve the murders, that helped the group of friends piece together exactly what happened to those writers.

‘”To Peggy,” the others reply. And the sun streams in through the bay window.’

Final Thoughts
I’ve got so much love for this book that I don’t really know where to begin. I was taken in by Peggy from the very first page. She is an absolutely fascinating character. It’s only right and fitting that the plot evolves around her. There are many strands to this novel: murder, crime, novels, friendship, family and love. It would be impossible to explore them all here in this review but I do hope I’ve done this some justice. Elly Griffiths is definitely a writer I will be looking out for again. She’s got her own unique style which fits beautifully in with the ‘Who done it?’ plot style.

I’ll see you all before the new year where I’ll share with you the books I’ve read in 2020 and also launching my new reading challenge for next year. Until then, stay safe and well.

Big Love all xxx

Posted in Book review, Reading

Sweet Bean Paste – Durian Sukegawa

Hey Loves!

How are you all? Hope everyone is enjoying July. This year has been so strange you know. I can’t believe we finish for summer this week but it doesn’t feel right. Anyway, it’s completely out of our control. I am looking forward to a break. I’ve got lots of reading planned and a HUGE pile of books to get through. I love that though!

Today I want to share with you a book I read in one sitting. It’s just utterly beautiful and I know you’d love it. I just had to share it with you! It’s criminal not to. I’m talking about Sweet Bean Paste by Durian Sukegawa. This book is a translation but it’s strikingly beautiful. I hope you enjoy!

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What’s it about?

Set in the beautiful Japanese cherry blossom, the novel centres around Sentaro, a middle aged man with a criminal record, a habit of drinking too much and a dream of becoming a writer. The reality is he spends his time watching the blossom come and go making and selling dorayaki – a type of pancake with a sweet bean paste. The mundane reality of his life is getting to him; he longs for more. One day whilst he was working in the confectionary shop, he notices a woman looking at him. He politely nods. This image repeats over time, he recognises her and she seems to spend a long time watching from afar under the Japanese blossom. She approaches the shop after reading a sign asking for workers. Despite her age, seventy six, she wants the job. She offers to work for less but is still rejected. However, she seems to know plenty about the bean paste and wishes to share that knowledge. With over fifty years experience, the reader sees that she clearly has a life before that has led her to this moment and persistency in returning to the shop.

“I couldn’t tell anything about the feelings of the person who made it.”

Little did he know, this little old lady, Tokue, would change his world for the better. Deeply in touch with nature, Tokue watches the trees and their movement. She is certain that feelings make food better. She wants to impart this knowledge to Sentaro because he clearly needs saving from the situation he finds himself. He needs saving from himself. There is one major problem: her hands. Nevertheless, after tasting her sweet bean paste he offers her a job there. He has to learn how she does it to help the business. He is well aware that he only has the job because he has a debt to repay to the owner. At first, his motivation was this.

“Sentaro didn’t really care where she made it. He didn’t care who she was, either. All that concerned him was if she could make a good-quality, sweet bean paste to draw in the customers and help him get away from this shop as soon as possible.”

Tokue begins to make the paste by teaching Sentaro what she knows and her technique for creating something so utterly divine: like nothing he has ever tasted. Over time, the two become close. They talk, make bean paste and see an improvement in the confectionary store. Because of the earlier concern about her hands, Tokue tried incredibly hard to stay in the back and out of the way. She does have an Achilles heel: babies. If any young children or babies come into the shop, she naturally gravitated towards them. She seemed to grow and blossom around her. With the success of the product, the increased sales and therefore increased production, Sentaro became more positive and more exhausted. There is no time for drinking! Eventually, this catches up with him and he ends up unable to work. The following day he learns that Tokue creates and opens the shop on her own. She manages the money and writes everything down to help him. Sentaro is completely shell shocked.

‘Sentaro felt like sitting down in shock. How had she managed it? What was her pancake batter like? She had handled all the money with those gnarled fingers…? What had the customers thought of that?’

One of the younger customers, Wakana, takes a liking to Tokue and finds the courage to question her about her life, with a particular focus on her hands and fingers. This image is recurring and we are constantly reminded as a reader that there is a tale to be told here. Tokue is very reserved about it, holding the majority of the story to herself. We learn that she wanted to be a teacher, hence the appreciation and excitement towards children, but an illness when she was younger meant that she was never able to fulfil her dream. Whilst things had been incredibly good, like the seasons and the weather, time brings about change. There is a rumour about a cursed lady working at the shop causing customers to stay away. In his naivety, he accepted the illness story. What he didn’t realise what the extent of that illness or what that illness was. It turns out that as a child Tokue had leprosy. Tokue is old enough and wise enough to know that the drop in sales and the rumours are down to her, so decides to quit. As if beautifully timed, the trees have lost their blossom too…

“There was a time when I’d given up all hope of ever going outside those gates into the world again. But look at me. I could come here. I met so many people. All because you gave me a job.”

As a result of this, Sentaro finds himself back in bleak sadness. He feels as though he has sent his own mother away. Over time, he decides he needs to go back and see her. He takes Wakana with him and they bring a canary for her to look after. It is clear that they all need each other so the gap between them has meant that they’ve missed each other terribly. Yet, he had to make the business work in order to repay his debt. The quality dropped again following Tokue’s departure but Sentaro took his lessons seriously. Because of his huge amount of feeling, this was in the bean paste. It really does change the taste. During the winter months, Tokue sent a letter as a reminder and a shove that Sentaro needs. She felt something in the wind that told her to contact him. Beautifully, she know that something wasn’t quite right. She was correct.

“It’s important to be bold and decisive. When you can say with certainty that you have found your style of dorayaki, that will be the start of a new day for you. I firmly believe this. Please have the courage to go your own way. I know that you can do it.”

More time passed, more letters sent and received and more pressure from the owner to make the shop more profitable. Eventually, Sentaro decides to quit and move onto something else. However, the calling of dorayaki and everything he gained from Tokue called to him. Seeing the vision of Tokue and hearing her words gave him the shove again he so desperately needed. It just so happened that this time he was too late to tell her. The novel closes with one last beautiful letter, a death and a new beginning. Sentaro will never forget the impact that Tokue had on him.

‘Sentaro and Wakana stood close, gazing in silence at the trees all around them. The forest murmured with every ripple of wind that rustled its branches and leaves. As if Tokue was somewhere close nearby, telling them to open their ears and listen.’

Final Thoughts

I’ve used the word beautiful copious amounts in this review because it absolutely is. It moved me in ways I didn’t expect. I was worried regarding the translation and if it would lose its eloquence but its simplicity makes it elegantly sublime. By noticing nature and listening to the messages in the wind, we can all learn to live differently. Tokue’s character showed us that when times are incredibly difficult, we always have hope. Her hope was young people and babies. They animated her and brought light to her. They showed her that she wasn’t foolish to have those dreams. The illness may have taken her opportunity as a young adult, but she had a different opportunity in that shop as an elderly lady. The bond between the older generation is a gift. Like Sentaro, we can always learn something and better ourselves. There is always light, even in the darkest of times.

I genuinely loved this book. I’d say, so far, that this is my favourite book this year. It was blown away by its simplicity, it’s tenderness and love. I highly recommend to absolutely everyone. Everywhere.

Big love all xxxx

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Posted in Book review, Books, New Books

What Makes Us Stronger – Freya Lewis

Hey Loves!

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

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

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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: Β£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 ThoughtsΒ 

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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Posted in Book review, Books, New Books, Reading

Away With The Penguins – Hazel Prior

 

Hi Guys!

How are we all? I hope we’re all safe and well. I also hope that any keyworkers amongst us as taking the time to rest and recharge too. One thing I’m really appreciative of is the time I’ve now got because I’m working from home. It’s given me chance to catch up with you all and meet new fellow bloggers. I’ve also been working on the curriculum for my department for 2020/2021 which is exciting. I think we can all agree that we’d like to get back to a sense of normality. The new normal is a bit strange really!

Today I wanted to share with you a book I’ve recently read and absolutely loved. It’s a feel good read that I think we will all appreciate right now. Away with the Penguins is a funny, charming and utterly irresistible novel.

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What’s it all about? 

Set in Ayrshire, Scotland, the novel centres around the assertive and headstrong Veronica McCreedy. Eileen, her general helper, looks after Veronica’s huge house and undertakes day to day tasks at Veronica’s request. Veronica is not the easiest person to work for or spend time with, so there is an element of sympathy for Eileen here. Veronica loves Darjeeling tea, a wildlife documentary and collects litter from the beach. Despite her age, she trusts her memory because she knows she can recite Hamlet speeches. One evening she discovers her favourite TV show, Earth Matters, has ended. She stumbles across another programme: The Plight of Penguins. She only agrees to watch it because of the presenter, Robert Saddlebow. The programme will follow a different group of penguins each week. This week: emperors. Veronica is completely transfixed. She’s devastated that these beautiful animals are at risk of extinction and an idea starts to form in her head.

‘It is perhaps feasible that my demise might be useful in some way. Unless it is proved otherwise, I must work on the assumption that I have no blood ties at all. It would be pleasing if I could make some small difference to the planet. The more I think about it, the more I am attracted to the idea.’

Throughout the novel, there are entries from ‘Terry’s Penguin Blog’ which share facts and discoveries from the team of Scientists who are working in the Antarctic observing and monitoring the penguins. Sooty, an Adelie penguin, steals my heart for sure! We’re introduced to him in the first entry that features in the novel and I found myself immediately drawn to him.

‘…he’s almost entirely black. Just a few paler feathers in a patch under his chin. His mate, a normal black-and-whiter, was with him for the last four seasons. But where is she? Did she fail to get through the Antarctic winter? Was she eaten by a leopard seal? Or do we have a rare case of penguin infidelity? We’ll never know.’

The novel also features Patrick, a broken hearted, weed smoking, messed up young adult. He is the complete opposite to Veronica but amazingly he is her grandson. Veronica was under the impression that she had no living relatives but after a DNA investigation, Patrick turned out to be a blood relative. These two could not be more different from one another. However legal documentation confirms their blood line. This new knowledge of Patrick raises more questions than answers! Veronica writes to her grandson to inform him of her new knowledge and to arrange a meeting. We learn that Veronica had a son but had given him up as a baby.  With little notice, Veronica turns up on Patrick’s doorstep. Their meeting is anything but positive or heart warming.

‘How is it possible that this disgraceful, smeary, drug-befuddled creature could be my grandson? Doesn’t he know about the existence of soap and water? And his bedsit! I simply do not understand how anyone could live in this squalor.’

Following this, both parties appear quite disappointed. Naturally, neither like each other very much. Veronica decides that there is absolutely no way that Patrick is going to get her money. We learn that Veronica has a substantial amount of money, millions in fact. It is this that she wants to create a plan for the future for. The penguins then enter her mind, helped by a reminder in pencil on the mirror! Here, she creates a plan. She is going to use her money to help the penguins. However, before she commits she wants to see them and meet the scientists in Antarctica. Veronica isn’t someone that you can easily say no to. After a few emails between Veronica and Dietrich from the science team and a reluctance from Veronica to back down at all, flights and boats are all booked. Veronica is off to the Antarctic, waved off by Eileen and more surprisingly, Patrick.

“Mrs McCreedy is very set on the idea of going to see you and your penguins. I can’t change her mind, I’m afraid. She’s really quite independent and stubborn. When you meet her you’ll see. I’m sure everything will be fine.’

The team have other ideas though. Upon her arrival there is a mixture of warmth and worry and frank hostility from Mike. It is clear that Veronica has forced her way in and in their eyes, is very unprepared for the realities of what living in this climate is really like. Terry is the only one who embodies warmth at this stage. Surprisingly, a girl, but we finally have a face to match the blog entries we have been seeing within the narrative.  Aware of a boat leaving the island, they show Veronica around the camp and try and send her on her merry way. However, the walk back for Veronica proves more difficult than originally anticipated and she is late back. Therefore, she misses the boat and consequently has to stay there for three weeks. Veronica’s plan to remain there has worked! The team are not particularly happy about it though. Terry is the unsung heroine at this point.

‘”Come on, give her a bit longer, will you?” pleads Terry. “We can’t send her away yet. She’s only just arrived and – ”
“- And we already hate her,” says Mike.’

In the meantime, Veronica has sent a box to her grandson. It’s locked with the promise of the code coming at another time. Patrick, still fairly messed up by this new news and his break up, shoves it under the bed for another day. Back at camp, Veronica makes herself at home as best she can. Yet she finds herself quite emotional. She pushes that deep down and continues with her visit. She loves spending time with the penguins and learning their ways and characteristics. As time goes by, Patrick has this overwhelming niggle to check on his Granny V and read the emails from the science team and Eileen. Soon, he receives the code to open the box that was sent to him. Inside, it includes diaries from Veronica when she was younger. Her childhood, teenage years and the story of her son is revealed. Consequently, Patrick has completely thawed towards his grandmother and is even particularly fond of her. The emotions she displays in her diary entries, he feels with her. A bond between the two is finally formed.

“I’ll never be happy again. I’d give anything to be back there, stuck in yesterday for ever. How can I face anything? How can I go on? This happens to other people. Not me. God oh God.”

The bond between grandmother and grandson is also forming for Veronica, despite being thousands of miles away. When out observing the penguins, Terry probs and asks for more information about Veronica’s life. Gradually, over time her character does thaw and starts to divulge information to her. They discuss the war and Veronica finds again that she becomes increasingly emotional. The true identity of Patrick’s father is revealed: Giovanni who disappeared during the war. Yet, Veronica doesn’t stop thinking about him or lose memory of him. Naturally, she wonders where he is, if he survived, if he even thinks of her still. Like the penguins, Veronica is naturally curious. This in turn leads her to think about her grandson and why he is facing the problems he has. It is during this conversation that Veronica spots a bedraggled and lonely penguin. Her heart melts but it is the scientists policy to not get involved with nature. Veronica has another battle on her hands. The motherly instinct in her wants to help and save this penguin. After a heated discussion, Veronica wins and little baby penguin Patrick joins the fold.

‘Even more astonishing is the fact that my baby penguin seems to have taken a liking to me. If I lift him on to the bed he will crawl into the crook of my arm and press up against me. I am aware that any baby creature will seek something warm to cuddle up to, but I cannot help but be wholly delighted that the something, in this instance, is me.’

The friendship between Veronica and Terry strengthens. The two have plenty in common. I’d go as far as saying, Terry is very much a younger embodiment of Veronica. Veronica opens up about her son and what happened. I won’t ruin this for you but it is incredibly moving. As it happens, Veronica takes a turn for the worst and becomes desperately ill. Terry nurses her and spends time with her, as does the little penguin who because of Veronica’s hand rearing, is becoming stronger every day. It’s touch and go with Veronica. Patrick arrives to the scientists camp with more questions than answers. However, the overwhelming emotion he feels is concern. After all, he’s only just got his Granny V into his life and now he was at risk of losing her. Patrick gets renamed: Pip following the reading of Great Expectations by Dietrich. Over time, Veronica gains strength, Terry and Patrick become close and Pip is showing signs that he will be safe in the wild with the other penguins there.

‘I have ventured out to the rookery with the scientists, Patrick and Pip several times over the past two weeks. I am both joyous and emotional to observe how well my little chick gets on with his penguin mates. It may be my imagination, but I could swear he examines his human family in a new way, as if debating with himself whether we are massive, gangly penguins with strange markings.’

The novel ends with Veronica sponsoring Patrick so he can join the team of scientists and continue to be with Terry. Their relationship is clearly blossoming and neither party want to lose that. Also, Terry’s blog is going from strength to strength. The use of social media accurately showing the modern world. We have all seen how a good social media campaign can change things. Rather happily, I was pleased to see that Sooty and his partner were back together around the nest! Patrick and Veronica are close, cemented more by Terry. Most poignantly and arguably most importantly, we finally hear the voice of Giovanni as the novel closes. Veronica and us as a reader, get to hear the answers to those questions Veronica was asking earlier in the novel. I end with the feeling that that relationship could have continued to be a beautiful thing.

‘Veronica: true, headstrong and gloriously vivid. How she shines! No matter what life throws at her, she will defy the odds. Whatever she does, she will be extraordinary.’

Final Thoughts

Sometimes we all just need to read a book that feels like we are getting a good hug. For me, this was that book. I fell in love with Veronica’s character. Terry is such a beautiful girl too. I felt for Patrick and saw that the reason why he was so angry at the world was because he had many unanswered questions. The additional of penguins was just amazing. I thought it was incredibly clever to use the baby penguin for Veronica to try being a mother for. It showed us exactly what she would have been like for the child she wasn’t allowed to keep. I thoroughly loved this book for so many reasons. It came to me at the right time and I was completely carried away with it.

Stay safe everyone. Keep in touch.

Big love to you all. x

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Posted in Book review, Books, New Books

Notes from a Public Typewriter – Michael Gustafson & Oliver Uberti

Hello Beautiful People!

I hope all you beautiful people are well and enjoying the much deserved and wanted sunshine. August is here, though I’ve no idea where June and July went.

So, you may have realised I’ve done a bit of a vanishing act. I always find the end of the school year utterly exhausting so I wanted a bit of underground time to recover. We all need a break from everything sometimes, so I knew you’d all be supportive of that. Also, rather amazingly, I have been on holiday to Cyprus. Two weeks of sun, sleeping, reading and eating. It was everything I needed and more. I had the BEST time. I’ll share some snaps and experiences in future blog posts. I’ve got a bit of a backlog of writing that needs to happen – May, June, July and August book reviews based on the Waterstones Book of the Month, other reviews of books I’ve read and loved, some glorious Picture Perfect Posts to share with you all and explorations from Cyprus I cannot wait to show you all. Likewise, I hope you all are having a well deserved break. Today’s post: a book I spotted, bought and read all in one afternoon: Notes from a Public Typewriter.

As wonderful as the modern world is, I think there is something quite special about a typewriter. I personally love the fact that there is no ‘delete’ button. Whatever is typed, remains; a piece of history forever. This is even one of the comments left by the typewriter. I remember watching my lovely Grandma on her typewriter. I was allowed to try it once – it is harder than it looks but I loved everything about it: the shapes of letters, the font, the slight smearing. Therefore, as I was shopping yesterday, this book naturally jumped off the table to me. I had to get it and boy, it did not disappoint. Let’s do this!

What’s it all about?

Told through the eyes of Michael Gustafson and his wife, Hilary, this is a tale of a bookshop, typewriters and the people who leave messages on them. Like me, Gustafson saw a 1930s Smith Corona typewriter on his grandfather’s writing desk. This typewriter became a gift from his grandmother when he was struggling to write.

In 2013, the pair decided to leave their jobs in New York City and open the Literati Bookstore in Ann Arbor, Michigan. This was the perfect setting for their next project as Ann Arbor has a proud tradition of independent bookshops. In 1971, the original Borders was opened there but only survived until 2011. They weren’t worried. They both knew they offered something unique. Their logo is a typewriter and his grandfather’s Smith Corona is proudly on display by the cash till. The two decided they would leave a light blue Olivetti Lettera 32 on the lower level of the shop with a clear, fresh piece of writer paper. They left it to see what would happen with arguably low expectations. At the end of the first day, there were messages. This really was going to be something special.

“The world’s smallest publishing house, waiting for an author.”

Since then the public typewriter has become part of the shop’s identity. People use it every day to propose, admit feats, to apologise, to joke, to love and to philosophise. The best ones have been used to be a part of the fabric of the shop – painted onto the wall behind the typewriter, scraps of paper stuck around the typewriter, sharing these messages of the world. The artist, Oliver Uberti, the book’s designer, copied perfectly these messages to the wall, using the exact font from the old Smith Corona.

“smudgy e’s, q’s, and all.”

This beautiful book contains a range of these anonymous notes showing how successful the typewriter is. I for one am now desperate to see it and add my own part of history. One day.

Without spoiling the whole book, I’ve selected three that I want to share with you. They each resonated with me for different reasons really. They made me think of family and new friends, love, life, loss and everything in between. It is perfect because it is anonymous. Each and any of us could have written those words. We’ve probably all thought them, or will do in the future. It is universal.

Final Thoughts

It is my personal belief that the best books make you think. They evoke an emotional response, whether that be happy or sad etc. This little book did exactly that for me. It is beautiful in every sense of the word. It was by pure chance that I spotted it so for me it feels like a real gift. It was meant to be; I was meant to read it. It moved me, it made me smile and it will absolutely be a book I shall treasure on my bookcase forever. I urge all of you, each and every one of you, to read this. You will hopefully see why I think it is an inspirational piece of our living history.

Finally, I am going to be a better blogger and catch up with you all. Stay tuned for more posts as I slowly but surely catch up. Thank you for sticking around. You’re all awesome in so many ways.

Big love to you all. xx

Posted in Book review, Non Fiction, Reading, Waterstones Book of the Month

The Language of Kindness – Christie Watson

Hello Lovelies!

Happy 2019! We’re already 12 days in so I hope it’s treating you kindly. I am reading my third book of 2019, so I’m feeling quite pleased. My reading challenge for this year is to pick one book from the Waterstones ‘Book of the Month’ list. This is one of their choices! And what a choice it is!

Today I want to share with you a review of one of the books I’ve read: The Language of Kindness by Christie Watson. This book moved me and left me feeling immense admiration of our NHS and the people who work for them. She gives nurse a voice.

What’s it all about?

Written through the eyes of Christie Watson, a nurse for 20 years, we see what life was really like during her career. The novel moves from her first days as a student days, to becoming a mentor for fresh and new nurses to being a senior nurse, leaving the profession. It all begins when Watson is seventeen years old. A touch I really liked what a quotation about nursing at the start of each chapter. This is her story.

‘Twenty years in nursing has taken so much from me, but has given me back even more.’

As a resuscitation nurse, the role is incredibly varied across the whole hospital. We see through her eyes the memory of Crash Calls, where time is crucial in saving lives. One of the first places we see is A&E. Like myself, you all have probably seen what A&E looks like in this country, particularly over the weekend. However, everyone has to pull together as a team, as shown by Watson’s narrative. Life is so fragile and delicate. A&E reminds us of this on a daily basis.

‘Every day is intensely felt and examined, and truly lived. But my hand always shakes when I push open the door – even now, after many years as a nurse.’

The decision for Watson to become a mental-health nurse was influenced by many things, especially her mother. On her first day, we as readers get to feel the same sense of trepidation as she does. Unable to sleep due to feelings of nervousness, Watson prepares herself for the first day of the rest of her nursing career. Following her mentor, Sue, Watson meets one of her first patients: Derek. Derek had stopped taking his medication and was convinced that people were trying to steal parts of his body. Over time Watson could see improvements in Derek. He seems calmer, less angry and more centred. Sadly, Derek tries to commit suicide.

‘Derek’s face is full of fear. I want to scoop him up somehow. To wrap him in a blanket and keep him safe.’

We are then taken to see the journey of new life: the labour and birth of a baby. Shadowing a midwife, Frances, we are allowed into the world of a new mum-to-be, Scarlett. The description of childbirth is all too familiar for many of us but this was Watson’s first birth. We feel her fears that scream out of the page. The description oozes accurate emotions. The retelling of these events make the strongest of us feel slightly squeamish. However, it’s the strength of women that shine through. Women are having babies all the time and midwives are the ones helping to bring them safely into this world.

‘The air is different. The world is different. My student nurse’s dress collar is wet with tears, but they continue to fall. I am in total amazement at women, at midwives, at humanity.’

Nurses know, only too well, the balance between life and death. After changing to be a children’s nurse, Watson shares an emotional day at work. The death of a child is always incomprehensible but it’s worse when you know the families. Stuart, a fellow nurse, has had a beautiful baby boy who is healthy. However, he becomes terribly sick with no signs. He’s admitted to the ward where Stuart works. The team of staff there are experts with years of clinical experience. However, this little baby doesn’t survive.

‘There is a terrifying pause, then a few seconds of silence, before she slowly shakes her head. Sometimes, even as a novice, I understand that there simply is no meaning.’

The majority of nurse show real compassion. Baby Emmanuel was born prematurely at twenty-four weeks. He’s tiny and the odds are stacked against him. However, since his birth the nurses are aware that his mother, Joy, has not yet had the chance to hold her baby son, to have the contact they need to strengthen their bond. Watson gives this mother the moment she needs. It’s high risk, he’s attached to many tools keeping him alive, but it is something that that mother needs. This scene moved me immensely. The compassion and consideration nurses have for their patients fills the room.

‘He looks at his mum for the longest time without blinking, and she looks back at him, and in a few short minutes they fall in love.’

Not every story has a happy ending, life teaches us that. Yet, nurses fill their days with care, trust and compassion. The most emotive part of the book was Watson sharing the illness (lung cancer) and subsequent death of her father. Watson isn’t the nurse this time, she is the patient’s daughter. Nurse Cheryl is there. She knows pain before her father feels it. She laughs with him, keeps the family together in their final moments. She knows to open his eyes so husband and wife can see each other. She knows to give a gentle nod of strength at the funeral. This nurse remains with the family until the very end. For Watson, her nurse instincts tell her to try and save his life, even though she knows it is futile.

‘Today I am not a resuscitation nurse. I am not even a nurse. I am a daughter. And it hurts. Everything hurts.

It is this part of the book that had me crying my eyes out. Nurses feel our pain. We are all human and the only thing we can ever be sure of is death. We see mini episodes where nurses will wait until relatives are there, know what the families need to hear. That resilience to keep going to give families their last moments together is very special. Nurses are the beating heart of the NHS.

‘Of course she was a professional. But she was more than that. To my family, she was our nurse. To my dad, she was his friend.’

The novel ends with the right now. Staff are facing burn out, exhaustion and anxiety. Watson is well aware and has seen for herself ‘bad’ nursing. There’s no excuse for patronising, dismissive and a lack of sympathy. As a patient you are vulnerable, embarrassed, feeling like you’re taking up too much time for the staff who have probably been at work for twelve hours. Yet, there is hope. For Watson’s final day as a nurse, it is just as eventful as the rest of her career: crash calls, a birth, A&E. Life goes on but the message is, we do it together.

‘Hold my hand tightly. Let us fling open the door and find whatever we find, face all the horror and beauty of life. Let us really live. Together, our hands will not shake.’

Final thoughts:

This novel reminds me so much of This is Going to Hurt by Adam Kay. From a nurses perspective we hear their voice. Life is hard in hospitals. Helping the very sick and vulnerable has a massive impact on those administering care. I’m grateful for those wonderful nurses who spend their lives bringing comfort to their patients. This book moved me immensely and it is a book we all absolutely have to read.

Big love. X

Posted in Books, New Year, Reading, Top Ten

2018 Summary

Hello Everyone!

As we approach the end of 2018, I wanted to take the opportunity to reflect upon the books I’ve read this year and share some of my favourites with you all. Some of these books I’ve discovered because of you lovely people.

This year I managed to read a total of 64 books. Whilst I’ve not met my 100 target, it’s much improved from the total read last year which was 36.

My list is as follows:

Anonymous The Secret Teacher
Anonymous William and Evelyn De Morgan
Arden, Katherine The Bear and the Nightingale
Arden, Katherine The Girl in the Tower
Banksy Wall and Piece
Barr, Emily The Truth and Lies of Ella Black
Baum, Lyman Frank The Life & Adventures of Santa Claus
Botton, Alain de The Course of Love
Bramley, Cathy Hetty’s Farmhouse Bakery
Briggs, Raymond The Snowman
Brookner, Anita Hotel du Lac
Bythell, Shaun The Diary of a Bookseller
Callow, Simon Dickens’ Christmas: A Victorian Celebration
Christie, Agatha Crooked House
Curtis, Richard Four Weddings and a Funeral
de Waal, Kit The Trick to Time
Dickens, Charles A Christmas Carol
Dinsdale, Robert The Toy Makers
Elphinstone, Abi Sky Song
Fletcher, Stephanie E-mail: A Love Story
Folbigg, Zoe The Note
Galbraith, Robert Lethal White
George, Nina The Little Breton Bistro
Griffin, Ella The Memory Shop
Hamid, Mohsin Exit West
Hamid, Mohsin The Reluctant Fundamentalist
Harris, Joanne The Lollipop Shoes
Hislop, Victoria Cartes Postales from Greece
Hosseini, Khaled Sea Prayer
Kay, Adam This is Going to Hurt
Kerr, Judith When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit
KET Planet Banksy
Lafaye, Vanessa Miss Marley
Laurain, Antoine The Red Notebook
Lewis, Christina & Fuller, Katy Land of Green Ginger
Maria Rilke, Rainer Letters to a Young Poet
McCaughrean, Geraldine Where the World Ends
Miller, Andy The Year of Reading Dangerously
Miller, Ben The Night I Met Father Christmas
Morpurgo, Michael The Snowman
Morris, Heather The Tattooist of Auschwitz
Obama, Michelle Becoming
Pavese, Cesare The Beautiful Summer
Perry, Annika The Storyteller Speaks
Priestley, J.B An Inspector Calls
Purcell, Laura The Silent Companions
Purcell, Laura The Corset
Quigley, Alex Closing the Vocabulary Gap
Rae, Simon The Faber Book of Christmas
Rowling, J.K. Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone
Rudnick, Elizabeth Christopher Robin
Schwartz, Kyle I Wish My Teacher Knew
Smith, Dodie I Capture the Castle
Sparks, Nicholas Safe Haven
Stempel, John Lewis The Wood
Trigiani, Adriana The Supreme Macaroni Company
Vickers, Salley The Librarian
Waller, Robert James The Bridges of Madison County
Winterson, Jeanette Christmas Days
Woodfine, Katherine The Midnight Peacock
Young, Louisa My Dear, I Wanted to Tell You
Youngson, Anne Meet Me At The Muesum
Yousafzai, Malala I Am Malala
Zafron, Carlos Ruiz The Shadow of the Wind

2018 has been an amazing year for books. There’s been some absolute knockouts that I’ve thoroughly enjoyed reading. Some I’ve reviewed to share with you all, others I’ve not quite had chance to review yet.

I personally believe that this year has been one of the best for books. Just look how beautiful The Faber Book of Christmas is with its fabric covering from Liberty’s. So lush!

This year I’ve decided to share with you my top 5 Fiction and Non Fiction books that I’ve read. Non Fiction is normally not my cup of tea. Nevertheless, I’m equally surprised to confess that this list was easier to compose than the Fiction list!

My top 5 Non Fiction books of 2018

  1. Becoming – Michelle Obama. What a lady! She’s such an inspiration and I felt even more strongly about this after finishing this book. A honest and humble lady making this is lovely read.
  2. I am Malala – Malala Yousafzai. Wow. What an absolutely incredible young lady. A trust inspiration who is still comparing for girls education today. Read my review here.
  3. The Diary of a Bookseller – Shaun Bythell. This book really strengthened my love for independent booksellers. This book provided a brutally honest and often funny account. Read my review here.
  4. This is Going to Hurt – Adam Kay. I laughed and I cried whilst reading this book. Refreshingly honest and all too real as it provides an insight into our National Health Service. Read my review here.
  5. Wall and Piece – Banksy. I am ever so slightly obsessed with Banksy and this book is a beautiful collection of his work. I was especially excited when a Banksy appeared in Hull back in January. Hull has a Banksy!

My top 5 Fiction books of 2018:

  1. The Toy Makers – Robert Dinsdale. This book has been my favourite book of 2018. I absolutely loved it, every chapter, every page. It took me on a journey where I just could not put it down. I would go as far as saying this is one of my favourite books ever. Read my review here.
  2. The Silent Companions – Laura Purcell. This book was absolutely terrifyingly good. It’s easily a book that grips people. I loved loved loved it. I really need to review this to spread the word. However, at this stage: trust me!
  3. The Bear and the Nightingale – Katherine Arden. This book was a complete surprise. I’d never even heard of it until The Orangutan Librarian posted about it. I’ve never looked back. I can’t wait for January when the third book is out. Read my review here.
  4. Lethal White – Robert Galbraith. As we all know, I am a huge fan and this book was just as excellent as the first, second and third. I enjoy the thrill of solving out the puzzle and the ‘who done it?’ concept.
  5. The Storyteller Speaks – Annika Perry. This is my dear friend Annika, her first book, which was amazing. Filled with numerous short stories about an eclectic mix of topics. Read my review here.

2018 was also the first year I took part in a reading challenge. Penguin’s Read The Year Challenge was awesome because I was able to read new and exciting book based on a variety of themes. As a reader, I tend to stick to what I know – classics and new fiction really. However, this really gave me new opportunities to branch out. You can recap all my RTY posts here. I’ll be doing the same next year so stay tuned. RTY with Penguin.

All that is left to say is Happy New Year!! I can’t wait to continue my WordPress journey with you lovely bloggers. I hope 2019 brings you peace, happiness and plenty of good books!

Big love all xx