Posted in Blog, Books, Reading, Reading Challenge 2021, Reading Round-Up

Reading Round-Up: September

Hello Book Lovers!

How are you all? I’m taking full advantage of the gloriously summery weather today to catch up on reading and blogging. Let me start off by owning that September was a really poor reading month for me. I felt very much sucked into the daily stress of school and the repeated discussion and implementation of the ‘Covid Catch Up Curriculum’. I’ve never experienced a start of a term just as difficult as this one. As Coldplay once sang, “Nobody said it was easy. No one ever said it would be so hard.” Naturally, this had a knock on impact on my own free time – gone went the gym, reading and blogging. I noticed that my mental well-being suffered as a result of this too. This weekend I needed to take proactive steps to ensure that I could recenter myself and restore some of that harmony that I much needed. Part of that is reconnecting with you wonderful people.

As a result of September being so full on, with the distant sunshine, sun loungers and endless realms of time, I only managed to read 9 books. On the one hand, 9 is better than not reading at all! Regardless, these 9 books were really enjoyable! I knew I was struggling so I stuck to my ‘go to’ writers. So, let’s check out the shelves for September!

The only problem with sticking with my ‘go to’ writers is that picking a top three becomes very difficult. I love the thrill and the pace of Patterson, the mystery of Carpenter. Decisions, decisions…

  1. Gingerbread – Robert Dinsdale. Those of you who have been following my blog for a while know how The Toymakers is one of my favourite books of all time. I’ve discovered now I’ve cleared some of my TBR pile, that I have more books by him. Gingerbread brings together reality and folklore again with a young boy heading into the forest with his grandfather to scatter his mother’s ashes. The story goes from here.
  2. Grimms Fairy Tales – collection by Philip Pullman. I’ve always wanted to branch out into the world of fairy tales. I’ve dabbled and like any young child, grew up watching Disney, but I’ve never actually got around to reading some of the classics. This collection looks beautiful and was a really enjoyable read. You’ll see my review of this for my reading challenge.
  3. A Slow Fire Burning – Paula Hawkins. I managed to bag myself a signed copy of this book which I was thrilled about! Also, I really enjoyed seeing Hawkins back with another exceptional novel. A young man is found dead and so questions are asked about the three women who knew him. A great read!

Whilst the start of this post sounded like a mix of woe and excuses, I’ve always prided myself on being honest. It wouldn’t be fair to leave that and not acknowledge the amazing things that have happened. I have a great family – we celebrated my Mum’s birthday last weekend which was an absolute joy. I have a brilliant team around me at school and I continuously strive to be their leader which creates a warm and supportive community and I have you guys on here who leave me wonderful comments and shower me with kindness. I hope I give you guys the same feeling back. ♥️ I also got a free hot chocolate, carrot cake and a hug from someone who works in my local coffee shop. I even managed to grab myself an excellent book haul from Waterstones, chatting with the staff there about the amazing books that are out at the moment. Life is good. We just need to remember to keep a balance of the good and the bad.

I will strive to be more consistent and blog more frequently! I’ll see you next time for my review of Grimm and any other wonders that have come my way.

Big love all xxx

Posted in Books, New Books, Reading, Reading Round-Up

Reading Round-Up: August

Hello Loves!

Well, I’ve been back at school for three days and my holiday seems like a distant memory… I’m clinging onto it by recapping the glorious month of reading I’ve had. I’ve not taught any lessons yet but I already feel like I’ve been hit by a train but writing this is helping, that’s for sure. Lessons begin tomorrow so I wanted to be kind to myself this evening and share with you my round up for August. August was an awesome month for me because I was soaking up the sun in Cyprus, relaxing and reading. It was absolute bliss. As a result, I managed to read a brilliant 19 books. I’m so chuffed with this really and it has to be one of my best months for reading. I literally cannot wait to share this all with you so let’s check out the shelves!

Picking three favourites from this list is going to be really difficult because there were so many good ones! I’ve read a range as well from my usual crime and thriller to young adult to contemporary. However, after some careful consideration I’ve picked! I hope you love this list as much as I do. I also hope you can see how difficult it was too!

  1. Because of You – Dawn French. Wow. I honestly do not have enough words for how incredible this book is. I am not ashamed to say that I cried my eyes out by the end of it too. It follows the story of two mothers whose lives are linked. I absolutely do not want to spoil the plot here because I hope to review it at some point but it’s a beautiful novel. It’s also a very special book.
  2. The Woman Downstairs – Elisabeth Carter. This book was a really punchy little number and one of those that you stay up all night reading because you can’t put it down. It makes you question everything and will leave you feeling like you really have no idea who lives near or around you.
  3. These Tangled Vines – Julianne Maclean. This book is stunning. I think I had the added pleasure of reading this in a beautifully sunny climate which matched the scene of the story. Set in Italy, it tells the story of a girl who learns a huge secret and gains imaginable assets. It was so well written too that I can’t not recommend it.

I also really wanted to mention my book for my reading challenge: The Island of Sea Women because that was a difficult book to read because it was so harrowing and yet, I really enjoyed reading it. I’ll be reviewing that book for you all at the weekend after some decent sleep! It’s one that I think many of you would enjoy. The history behind it makes it challenging but it’s the resilience of the women within it that inspired me.

Well, that’s it! I doubt I’ll have another month with this many books but you never know! I really hope you enjoy it. Have any of you read any of these? What did you think?

Looking forward to catching up with you at the weekend!

Big love xxx

Posted in Book review, Books, Reading

Where the Crawdads Sing – Delia Owens

Hello Lovelies!

I hope you’re all well and enjoying August. I absolutely love the summer. I’ve no idea what it is, maybe the longer summer days, but it always feels like the best time in the year. I also feel much more productive and I tend to get a lot more reading done over the summer. This may have something to do with not being at school! (I’m in complete ignorance of this until the night before we go back so moving swiftly on…)

I wanted to share with you today another book I read from my sun lounger but one I absolutely couldn’t not write about. It’s been a while since I had the urge to blog as soon as I’ve put a book down. That isn’t to say that I’ve not enjoyed books I’ve read, it’s just the reading and the writing really have to marry up and sometimes that just doesn’t happen. Regardless, this time it has and it’s all down to the AMAZING book, Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens. So far this is my favourite book of 2021. It’s a bold statement but I enjoyed it sooo much. I was a little late to the party with this one but I’m so glad I picked it up one day in my local book store. Let’s get on with the review! I hope you enjoy it!

What’s it all about?

Told in two parts, The Marsh and The Swamp, this novel follows the story of Catherine Danielle Clark, nicknamed Kya. At six years old (in 1952) she sees her mother abandon her and her family. Hopelessly, she waits for her mother to return but as time passes she stubbornly doesn’t. Not only that, she also sees her older siblings, Missy, Murph, Mandy and Jodie all leave home too because of their father’s drinking and physical abuse.

“If anyone would understand loneliness, the moon would.”

Being the only child left at home, her father gives up drinking and instead turns his attention to his daughter. He teaches her how to fish and gives her a collection of shells and feathers. Whilst she cannot read or write, she can paint and she enjoys painting the landscapes, birds and coastlines immensely.

“She knew the years of isolation had altered her behavior until she was different from others, but it wasn’t her fault she’d been alone. Most of what she knew, she’d learned from the wild. Nature had nurtured, tutored, and protected her when no one else would.”

One day she finds a letter in their mailbox which is from her mother. She leaves it on the table for her father to find but when he reads it he is infuriated and burns it. Whilst the fire is going he also burns most of her clothes and canvases too. Her father spirals back to alcohol and also takes long trips out for gambling. One evening, he fails to return home at all leaving her completely alone and isolated on the marsh. Kya has to learn self resilience quickly in order to survive. She learns gardening and trading in fresh mussels and smoked fish for money for gas from Jumpin’. Jumpin’ runs a gasoline station for boats and is one of the good guys along with his wife, Mabel. They become good friends with Kya, with Mabel helping to collect clothing donations for her.

Whilst growing up alone, Kya faced many prejudices from the people of Barkley Cove. They called her ‘The Marsh Girl’. She was laughed at by schoolchildren, called nasty and filthy by the pastor’s wife. The one person who does become friendly with her is Tate Walker. As an old friend of Jodie, he is arguably one of the few nicest people to her. When she gets lost one day, it is Tate who leads her home in his boat.

Time progresses and he starts to leave her feathers from rare birds because he knows she will like them and teacher her how to read and write. The intimacy between the two increases and they have a relationship until Tate leaves for college. He promises to return, yet realises Kya cannot possibly live in this more civilised world because of her wildness and independence. He leaves without saying goodbye.

Part Two begins with Kya in 1965 aged 19. Chase Andrews (their star quarterback and playboy) invited her to a picnic where he tries to have sex with her. He later apologises and the two embark on a relationship together. He takes her to the abandoned fire tower and she gives him a gift of a shell necklace. She doesn’t trust him entirely, she wants to, but she has doubts. However, she believes that he will marry her so the two consummate their relationship. Unfortunately, whilst shopping for groceries she stumbles across a newspaper where she sees that he is already engaged to another woman. She ends the relationship, leaving her a tarnished woman.

“Female fireflies draw in strange males with dishonest signals and eat them; mantis females devour their own mates. Female insects, Kya thought, know how to deal with their lovers.”

Meanwhile, Tate returns from college having since graduated and apologises relentless for leaving her. He confesses his love for her but Kya, still hurting from his actions and her previous revelation rejects him. What she does do, however, is allowed him inside her shack and he is impressed by her collected, now much expanded, of seashells.

He persuades her to publish a reference book on seashells. At the age of 22 she achieves this and publishes her own book on seashells and then in seabirds. Following the success of this and the royalties she hires someone to install running water, a water heater, tub, sink, flushing toilets and kitchen cabinets. she also orders soft furnishings to make her place more homely.

Jodie also returns expressing regret that he too left her. He also tells her that their mother suffered from mental illness and died two years ago from leukaemia. Kya decides to forgive her mother for leaving but can’t understand why she didn’t once return. Before leaving for Georgia, he also tries to convince her to give Tate a second chance.

“Go as far as you can—way out yonder where the crawdads sing.”

Chase also makes an appearance but ends up as an argument where Kya is attacked. He beats her and attempts to rape her. Kya manages to defend herself and manages to escape. Two men witness the attack too… Kya knows that reporting will be futile because everyone will naturally blame her. She decides to leave it.

Kya has the opportunity to meet her publisher in Greenville which she gracefully accepts. Whilst she’s away, Chase is found dead beneath the fire tower. The sheriff, Ed Jackson, believes it to be a murder on the basis of having no tracks or fingerprints. To make matters more complicated, the statements he receives are all conflicting too. One thing he does learn is that the shell necklace he was wearing the night before was no longer on his body. Evidence does seem to pin Kya there but is it to be believed?

There’s a trial. There’s a verdict. Lives continue to be lived. By the end of the novel, Kya is with Tate in a loving relationship knowing that they were the ones for each other. Also, Kya sadly passes away aged 64 in her boat leaving behind a wealth of secrets and stories.

“Some parts of us will always be what we were, what we had to be to survive…”

Final Thoughts

I loved this book so so much. I was totally taken in with the story right from the beginning. I love Kya and felt for her in so many way. She was a really well written and developed character and I found myself feeling a wealth of emotions about her. This is a book I’ll be giving to friends and family as well. In fact, as soon as I finished it my mum read it and was the same as me – she couldn’t put it down. This book is contemporary and so well written. It absolutely deserves the accolades it has. It’s a stunning read.

Posted in Books, Reading, Reading Round-Up

Reading Round-Up: June

Hello Lovelies!

I’m a little late with this one but I’ve realised that I’ve not got round to doing my round-up post for June. Still, better late than never! I hope you’re all well and enjoying the warmer weather. I have enjoyed the glorious sunshine but have also appreciated the rain – it’s really helped clear the air. Sorry for the absence last week, it’s been a busy one as we approach the end of term. Also, I had my birthday this week🎂. My closest work friends organised a surprise meal for me (6 of us as per regulations) which was really lovely 🥳. June and July have started to feel much more positive and hopeful. I was also lucky enough to see Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Cinderella in London on its second day of previews. I’ll be reviewing that in a future post! I can’t wait to tell you all about that!

Anyway, back to my round-up for June. I managed to read 12 books this month. There were some shorter reads to help with the utter exhaustion I was feeling. I can’t recommend the ‘Quick Reads’ enough. If you’re in a slump or looking for something that won’t take you long to read but that is still a quality book, then check these out. They’re also only £1 which is brilliant value for money. Let’s check out the shelves!

My top three choices for June are as follows:

  1. The Hobbit – J.R.R. Tolkien. I loved this book so much and I am thrilled I’ve finally got round to reading it. I cannot confirm if that means I’ll read the Lord of the Rings books but at least I’ve ticked this one off! You can read my review here.
  2. Miracle on Cherry Hill – Sun-mi Hwang. To be perfectly honest, this book was really beautifully from cover to illustrations to plot. It follows the story of Kang Dae-su. We learn how his life is a miracle – a true rags to riches story. In his later life, he is diagnosed with a brain tumour. He returns to his childhood home of Cherry Hill where he acquires a house in dire need of repair but some people aren’t too pleased and question the ownership of the property. Who does the house really belong to?
  3. We Must Be Brave – Frances Liardet. Another beautiful book that follows the story of Ellen Parr during the Second World War. This story shows the encompassing love a parent has for a child. As bombs fall in Southampton, people flee to the villages for safety. Ellen stumbles across a child asleep who is separated from her mother. However, as the war comes to it’s end they learn that the child isn’t theirs to keep…

And that’s the lot! Another successful reading month for me and it means that at the half way point in the year, I’ve managed to read a total of 82 books. Considering my target every year is 100, I’m really pleased! Lockdowns have really helped boost my numbers this year, but let’s see what the next six months of reading bring!

I’ll see you next time for the next book review and of course, that theatre review on Cinderella as promised at the start.

Continue to take care and stay safe everyone.

Big love to you all xxxx

Posted in Books, Reading, Reading Round-Up

Reading Round-Up: May

Morning Loves! ☀️

I hope you’re all enjoying this beautiful weather we are having. I must say, the heat and a multi-story tower block of a school isn’t quite the best mix but we are going with it and embracing the utter joy that the sunshine brings. After a lengthy working week, it’s time for us all to sit back with a book and enjoy the luscious weather. I went for a walk in the city centre last night to my local Waterstones (came out with two bags full which doesn’t help my bookshelves at all…) but it was great to be able to share amazing books of 2021 so far. What is does also mean for me is that I can catch up on a couple of posts that I’ve been meaning to do. My post today is my reading round up for May. I really hope you find some books here to add to your own TBR piles.

May felt like a bit of a slow month for me. Historically, it is the month that starts the examination season and things tend to feel like they are coming to a natural close. With the cancellation of exams this year, it does mean that that feeling hasn’t quite happened. In fact, we were still evidence gathering and sorting this week. Nevertheless, I manage to read 11 books this month which is still pretty good going I think. One thing I did notice was that I opted for ‘lighter’ reads because I was utterly exhausted. Anyway, let’s check out the shelves!

As I said above, this month was where I saw a slight change in my reading choices but there are some brilliant books here. My top three books for May are:

  1. Stella – Takis Würger. This book was what I had chosen for my reading challenge and is the next post that I will be writing about. I don’t want to spoil it for you but it’s a love story (but not as we know it) set in wartime Berlin. It’s an incredibly beautiful, torturous and powerful book that I can’t wait to share with you all.
  2. The Road Trip – Beth O’Leary. I have enjoyed Beth O’Leary’s book and this new release was no different. She has a really unique style of writing I think and she’s also very relatable and funny. I managed to bag a signed copy which is also very lucky. It’s a merging of past and present – all in the hopes of making a wedding on time. It’s a great read for the summer if you’re planning your summer reading list!
  3. The Alphabet Murders – Lars Schütz. This was my only crime thriller book this month and it was such a pocket rocket of a book. It’s really hard to describe this without giving anything away but basically the race is on, after finding numerous murders with letters from the alphabet next to them, to try and work out who would be next and if the murderer could be stopped at all.

And that’s it! Another vaguely successful reading month in the context of life and work. I always find that I get frustrated when I am too tired to read though! Never mind. It’s the weekend and I’ve plans for not very much else.

Have a lovely weekend all. Stay safe and cool.

Big love to you all xxx

Posted in Book review, Books, New Books, Non Fiction, Reading

Sleeping With A Psychopath – Carolyn Woods

Hello Loves!

Can you believe we are in June? I’m embracing the lighter days and the gloriously summery weather we have been having in the UK this week. It’s felt like a long time coming but gosh, isn’t it a breath of fresh air really? I hope you’re all okay and embracing the longer and brighter days. Would you believe me if I told you I had to put sun cream on his week?!

Anyway, we’ve celebrated my blogs birthday well. Thank you so much for all your lovely messages – I’ve loved reading them! I’ve got a couple of posts that are in the pipeline but I wanted to share with you today a book I’ve just finished. I love it when I finish something and want to write about it straight away! Anyway, prepare yourself for the thrilling real life story of Carolyn Woods. Her novel, Sleeping With a Psychopath reads like a work of fiction. However, I find it utterly terrifying that this is actually a true story. I hope you find it as compelling as I did!

What’s it all about?
The novel opens with a prologue where Woods reflects back over the past eighteen months of her life. Her journey is one of our own worst nightmares yet she has a story to tell, a cautionary tale of the modern day. Looking back, Woods sees herself as vibrant, positive, successful and happy. Following her divorce, she rented a beautiful cottage in a Cotswold town and got herself a little job in a shop which she thoroughly enjoyed. What could possibly go wrong? She was about to find out following a visit from a handsome stranger. Little does she know that this man is about to ruin her life, take away her independence and her reasons for living.

“He has isolated me and I have become frightened, depressed and introverted. I am very confused. It feels as though someone has opened the top of my head and put a blender into my brain.”

The novel then takes us back to the beginning, June 2012, when Woods was working in the little clothes shop. As the sun was setting on another day in the Cotswolds, the door announced a visitor: immaculately dressed, handsome in his features and incredibly attractive. His name was Mark and he certainly said all the right things. Woods admits she liked him instantly and felt that he liked her back. She guessed that he was a spy – there was something very James Bond about him after all. He did nothing to dissuade this, claiming he was a rich Swiss banker. She is captivated. After all, it’s not every day a handsome stranger walks into your life and likes you! Woods decides to do something she hasn’t done before. She gives him her phone number and the end of yet another working day has come. What follows next is text conversations where plans are made and the intimacy between the two increase. Upon reflection, Woods punctuates her narrative with comments showing how naive she has been and statements that were originally said showed no signs for concern, are obvious red flags now.

“Thinking back on those first early encounters, with the knowledge I have now, I can see exactly how Mark was operating. I believe him to be a psychopath.”

The pace of the narrative increases again. This time we see lavish gifts that Mark gave to Carolyn: the brand new Audi, the need to get away, the promise of luxury wherever they went. You can see how easy it was to be swept away by the magic and mystery of it all. They started to look for a house with a budget of 2-3 million pounds. Their whole future was planned out before them quite rapidly. However, Mark took control of her mobile phone, saying that all messages had to be deleted because of people watching. He also claimed to know a lot of wealthy, powerful people of status – Hilary Clinton and Vladimir Putin, to name two. He also asked her to marry him, something which she accepted and was excited to do. But, the lavish lifestyle, the new cars and the expensive budget for a house doesn’t match up to the day where Mark asks to borrow £26,000 due to a cash flow problem. She fell deeply and head first. She was in love with him so said yes.

“As I tell my story, I can understand how astonishing people find it that I should have been taken in so easily, and looking back, I cannot believe I behaved so recklessly. But Mark is a conjuror – I was spellbound…”

For a time, life continued. The wedding was being planned, the dress exquisite and Mark was here, there and everywhere: London, Bath, Spain, Italy and Syria. Woods became more and more isolated and was spending the vast amount of time alone. More time alone meant that frustrations and anxieties grew. Mark was around less and less. His narrative becomes more alarming the deeper we progress into the novel. He appears to get injured abroad, has a brain tumour and continues to blow hot and cold with Woods. More and more money was being transferred and Woods found herself in a desperate situation: alone, broke, fragile. Trips together turned into nightmares where Mark didn’t show. Hotels that were booked for her, weren’t paid for meaning she was stranded in a foreign country. Things finally came to an end when the truth about Mark was clear. He wasn’t Mark Conway. He was Mark Acklom, a known criminal from his childhood, forever taking money from different people for promises he could not keep. Eventually, his actions caught up with him and he was arrested and imprisoned.

“Before I met Acklom, I was a happy, sociable, positive person; by the time he was through with me, I could barely function and had become deeply suspicious of people.”

By the end of her story, Woods has lost £850,000 – her entire savings pot. Despite this, it is the love and strength of her daughters and the friends who stood by her that carried her through. Justice was eventually (and legally) served but that also wasn’t as simple or ‘black and white’ as it should have been. Woods now has the opportunity to tell her story, the set the world straight and to start and rebuild her life.

“Mum has lost everything: her money, her job, her home, her security… but the one thing he couldn’t take away from her was the love of her daughters.”

Final Thoughts
I was completely captivated by this book for so many reasons. Firstly, I think Woods really discusses and highlights the gender inequality in this book. As a divorced, middled aged female, her perception is that she was ‘stupid’ and she ‘should have seen it coming’. Yet, the male businessmen that were conned were ‘sensible’ and ‘right’. I also found it interest (and horrifying) that the police both here and abroad didn’t believe her. This story is years of fighting, years of a life taken away by one person. It is easy for us to sit here and judge today and see the warning signs for that they are. But, I can see how easy it would have been. This book shows us the art of manipulation. It didn’t read like it was a true story – it reads like a fictional thriller. Personally, I think it takes a lot of bravery from Woods to be as frank, honest and as reflective as she has been.

And that’s it! Definitely read this book, especially if you love thrillers as much as I do. I am off to read something lighter now so I don’t become completely paranoid.

Have a wonderful weekend!

Big love xx

Posted in Book review, Books, Exploring, Literature, New Books, Places, Reading, The British Library, UK

The Book Lover’s Bucket List – Caroline Taggart

Good Evening Book Lovers!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Big love all xx

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. 🌸☀️ 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. ♥️

“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. 📚

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. 💖 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 Prince 
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 Say 
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 Stories 
Tom Allen – No Shame
Christopher de Vinck – Ashes 
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. 📖

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

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