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

Reading Challenge 2021: The Island of Sea Women – Lisa See

Hi Loves!

Well, term time began and that’s really when my free time ended. I didn’t expect the start of the new term to be this hard but it’s been nothing like I ever imagined. The words ‘Covid Catch-Up’ are haunting my ears and my zen like state from the summer seems a little less zen and a little more bleugh. I can only apologise for my absence and hope that you all forgive me. I’ve tried to keep up with you all, something I will endeavour to keep on doing. I’ve fallen behind in my own reading and blogging which frustrates me but I’m here now! Hopefully I can make up for it.

Today I am here to share with you my book choice for August for my reading challenge. The focus was: Read a book which takes you to the beach. Now, my default position would be to pick a sunny skies book, with beach vibes and the hint of suncream in my imagination. However, I opted for something more harrowing, more gritty than you’d probably expect. I read The Island of Sea Women by Lisa See. I hope you enjoy the review and the book!


What’s it all about?
Set in Jeju, you enter the matriarchal world of these fiercely independent women skin divers. In a culture where the men stay at home to look after the children, to discuss the latest gossip in the village square. These women head out into the sea day after day to provide food from the sea for their families. The book covers several decades, from 1930s right through to the modern world today. Mi-ja and Young-sook are two young girls in the 30s with ambitions to be a part of the diving collective. Their backgrounds are very different. Mi-ja is the daughter of a collaborator with the hated Japanese Occupation Forces whilst Young-sook lives at the heart of the collective, born into a long line of haenyeo (sea women) divers. Despite Mi-ja’s damaged reputation Young-sook befriends her and together they learn to dive.

‘From that day on, I believed I could trust her with my life. So did my mother. All of which meant that by the time Mi-ja and I turned fifteen – we were as close as a pair of chopsticks.’

The opportunity came for Young-sook to join her mother and the haenyeo diving for the precious abalone. These creatures are extremely valuable but can be incredibly dangerous to try and catch as you can easily become trapped against the rocks. Young-sook gets her abalone and surfaces triumphantly but soon realises that her mother is trapped under the water. Lacking the experience, she fails to free her despite repeated attempts and at the moment of her success she faces the bereavement of her mother, the breadwinner for her entire family.

She grabbed my knife and tried to slice through the leather. In her rush, she slit a deep gash in her forearm. Her legs began to kick frantically. I pulled on her arm, trying to help. I couldn’t last much longer…’

The death of Young-sook’s mother puts a massive strain on the family and on her in particular as she is now expected to provide for the whole family, including her father. So when the girls have the opportunity to participate in ‘Leaving-Home Water-Work’, Young-sook jumps at it. This is when they haenyeo were hired to dive in other countries. In this instance, Mi-ja and Young-sook were hired out for nine months in Vladivostok. On their days off, the girls would take rubbings of anything that caught their eye as a way of collecting memories and telling their stories. This opportunity would have been a great adventure for the girls as they were away from home in a strange country and had the opportunity to meet young men. At one point they were walking through the town when they were approached by two Russian sailors. The boys bought them ice cream which was an extravagance that they would never have been able to purchase for themselves. However, despite some serious flirting, the girls returned to the Korean district, leaving the boys disappointed.

‘I stuck my tongue out all the way – like I’d seen other people do – and took a big lick. The air was already cold, but this was so cold! It froze the top of my head just as intensely as diving off the boat into icy waters, but while the ocean was salty, this was sweeter than anything I’d ever tasted.’

On their return to Jeju the girls have a life changing encounter. In the port they are struck by the enormous number of Japanese soldiers, sailors and guards. Both girls feel unsafe and threatened by all these leering men. But, salvation comes in the form of Lee Sang-mun who helps them get themselves and all their luggage safely to the truck which will take them back to their village. Young-sook is convinced that there is a spark between them and her thoughts turn to weddings. However, it transpires that he is interested in Mi-ja and Young-sook feels rejected and for the first time, resents her friend. Lee Sang-mun is a wealthy man but works with the Japanese. Young-sook’s grandmother is pleased to see the back of Mi-ja as she is married off to a collaborator.

“He’s a collaborator and he has too much Japanese thinking in him.” ‘This was about the worse thing she could say about anyone since she so hated the Japanese and those who helped them.’

Young-sook isn’t left behind as her grandmother also has her married off, this time to a school teacher called Jun-bu. This brings some stability to her life and a measure of settled calm. Her sister has joined the haenyeo which brings more income to their household. Inevitably, Young-sook becomes pregnant. During this time it becomes clear that the Japanese are fighting a desperate end to the war against the American forces. The build up of war materials on Jeju is intense and their lives are disrupted by the constant passage of planes overheard and war ships through the sea. Upon her return to the summer work in Vladivostok, four of the girls from Jeju give birth. In typical haenyeo style, this barely stops their work and the newborns accompany them on the boat from birth, as the women continue to dive.

‘In mid-June, Mi-ja went into labour in the sea. She kept working until the final hour, when In-ha and I joined her on the deck for the delivery. After all her foreboding, that baby practically swam out of Mi-ja.’

At the end of the war, the Japanese were driven out by the victorious American forces but as far as the people of Jeju were concerned, they just replaced one set of occupiers with another and worse, the American suspicion of communism meant that they were hostile to the naturally communal approach of the haenyeo. As tensions grew on the island, it culminates in an American strategy called ‘The Ring of Fire’. This is an attempt to trap the ‘insurgents’ and remove them entirely. Young-sook, her husband and her children are caught in this ‘Ring of Fire’. As the atrocities committed by the militia mount, the risk that they will kill everyone to hide what they have done is very real. However, Mi-ja and her influential husband have the power to save them but faced with the choice, Mi-ja turns her back and leaves them. Her son and her husband are murdered before her eyes in an event called the ‘Massacre at Bukchon’.

‘Sang-mun grabbed Mi-ja’s arm and began to walk away. “Mi-ja!” I screamed. “Help us!” She kept her face turned, so she didn’t see what happened when the soldier decided to stop wasting their time with Yu-ri… Her agony was my agony. Then she stopped screaming.’

The novel ends in a way that should give us a sense of hope. Things aren’t always as they seem and this is a prime example of this. But, can we really forgive or even acknowledge seeing things in a different way? That’s something that is explored as the novel closes. No spoilers here – you’ll need to read it to find out…


Final Thoughts
I did enjoy reading this book. Don’t get me wrong, it is harrowing, horrifying and a completely alien culture to what we are used to. It is nothing like our every day lives and so my eyes were opened to a new experience completely. It isn’t a traditional beach read – no summer vibes here! Regardless, this book is one that I am so grateful to have read. That’s the beauty of these reading challenges – reading something you wouldn’t normally read. This book is exactly that.

Thank you all so much for your patience, care and love. I’ll be back soon – I promise!

Big love all xxxxx

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, Reading Challenge 2021

Reading Challenge 2021: The Hobbit – J.R.R. Tolkien

Hello Fellow Book Lovers!

Happy July! July is my absolute favourite month for a few reasons really – birthday, end of the school year, time for rest and relaxation, time to sit and read all day… I can’t wait! Friday night is usually the time I collapse in an exhausted heap. However, this evening I wanted to share with you my book choice for the reading challenge. June’s focus was: Read a debut novel this month. There are so many excellent debut novels that still stand the test of time. I decided to read The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien. It’s a book I’ve never read (embarrassing – I know!) but it was recommended to me by a few of my friends so I thought I’d take their advice. Google also told me it was Tolkien’s debut novel! Perfect!

What’s it all about?
The novel centres around Bilbo Baggins. Bilbo is a hobbit which means he is half the size of humans and has exceptionally furry toes. He loves his food and drink but most of all, he’s quite happy living in his comfortable hole at Bag End. One day, rather unexpectedly, the world as he knows it is shattered by the unexpected arrival of an old wizard, Gandalf. Gandalf manages to convince the rather reluctant Bilbo to go on an adventure with a group of thirteen militant dwarves. They are on a serious quest to get their treasure back from the marauding dragon, Smaug. Bilbo’s role is to act as their burglar. The dwarves are less than impressed with Bilbo and Bilbo likewise really. One thing he does not want is adventure.

“We don’t want any adventures here, thank you! You might try over The Hill or across The Water.”

It doesn’t take long for the group to get into trouble. Shortly into their adventure, three hungry trolls capture all of them apart from Gandalf. Gandalf, rather fortunately, tricks the trolls into remaining outside when the sun comes up. As a result, they are turned into stone. The dwarves manage to find a whole host of weapons in the trolls camp. Thorin takes the magic swords with Bilbo taking a smaller sword for himself too.

From here the group decide to stop off at the elfish stronghold of Rivendell. Here, they receive advice from the great elf lord Elrond. Following this they decide to set out across the Misty Mountains. A snowstorm means that they are in desperate need of shelter. But, when they find one in a cave, they are kidnapped and taken prisoner by a group of goblins. Gandalf does manage to lead the dwarves to a passage out of the mountain but poor Bilbo is left behind, accidentally.

Whilst wandering through the various tunnels, Bilbo stumbles across a strange, gold ring on the ground. He decides that this shiny item should be his and puts it inside his pocket. Of course, this ring is the link between the other Tolkien novels! This ring gives him the ability to become invisible. He hears a hissing sound and meets Gollum. Gollum is less than keen on Bilbo and decides that he wants to eat him. A battle of riddles commences – the outcome will determine the fate of poor Bilbo. Cleverly, Bilbo wins by asking a dubious riddle.

“What have I got in my pocket?”

Despite winning, Gollum still wants to eat Bilbo. Gollum goes and disappears to fetch his magic ring. However, this is the ring that Bilbo has already found. Amazingly, Bilbo uses this to advantage and manages to render himself invisible to escape Gollum and flee the goblins. He finds another tunnel leading up out of the mountain and discovers the dwarves and Gandalf has managed to escape. Evil wolves, known as Wargs, pursue them but Bilbo and his little friends are helped to safety by a group of eagles and by Beorn – a creature who can change from a man into a bear.

Desperate for the adventure to be over, the group enter the dark forest of Mirkwood. Here, Gandalf abandons them to see to some other urgent business he has. It is in this forest that the dwarves end up all caught in a horrendous spider webs. These spiders are like nothing they have ever seen before and can only be described in one way: horrendous. Bilbo must rescue them and uses his magical sword and ring to do so. From here, there is another issues as the group are captured by a group of wood elves who live near the river. Again, Bilbo uses the ring to help the all escape and manages to conceal the dwarves in barrels enabling them to float down the river. The dwarves at Lake Town, a human settlement near the Lonely Mountain, under which the great dragon sleeps with Thorin’s treasure.

“It does not do to leave a live dragon out of your calculations, if you live near him.”

After sneaking into the mountain, Bilbo meets the dragon. They have a chat where the dragon reveals a secret – he has a weak point in his scales near his heart. This information is crucial for the group to get the treasure back. Bilbo manages to steal a golden cup which results in the dragon being furious and vengeful. The dragon heads to Lake Town with the view of burning it to the ground. However, Bard knows how to shoot and arrow and manages to kill him, not before the town is burnt though.

The human population of Lake Town and the elves of Mirkwood march to Lonely Mountain to seek their own share in the treasure which they see as fair following the destruction of their town. They see it as their rightful compensation. But, Thorin completely refuses to share. The humans and elves begin to besiege the mountain, trapping the dwarves and the hobbit inside. Bilbo manages to sneak out to join the humans in order to try and bring peace. When Thorin learns what Bilbo has done, he is furious with him. Luckily, Gandalf appears to save Bilbo from the wrath of the dwarf.

Then, an army of goblins and Wargs marches onto the mountain and the humans, elves and dwarves are forced to work together in order to defeat them. At one point, the goblins nearly win but the arrival of Beorn and the eagles help them ultimately win the battle. After the battle, Bilbo and Gandalf return to Hobbiton where Bilbo continue to live. Sadly, he is no longer accepted by respectable hobbit society but he really isn’t bothered by that. He is quite happy to seek communication from the elves and the wizards. He is back to being completely contented and much happier surrounded by his comforts of home.

“May the hair on your toes never fall out!”

Final Thoughts
I have so much love for this book. I feel like I can relate to Bilbo on many levels – the want to be at home, the comfort of home, the love of cake. All big wins for me. But this book is actually really special. It’s written in such a way that makes you feel like you’re part of it. I felt like I was being transported to another world. Just like Bilbo’s reluctance to be on the adventure, I found myself completely understanding why he would rather be in his hole with his things all around him. It is only the second Tolkien book I’ve read and I genuinely really enjoyed it. I am really looking forward to rereading this one again actually which is something I don’t really say often!

I hope you all have a lovely, restful, bookfilled weekend.

Big Love xxx

Posted in Book review, Reading, Reading Challenge 2021

Reading Challenge 2021: Stella – Takis Würger

Hello Lovelies!

I hope you’re all safe and well. As always, I am still playing catch up but that’s ok. I’ve bought a lot of books this week which is always exciting but now I just need to find the time to read them all. Evenings and weekends are not enough. If only we could have a five day weekend and a two day working week… now that would be useful!

Anyway, I am here today to share with you the book I read for the Reading Challenge for May. The focus for the month of May was: Read a book that is based on real life events. Now, in the current situation we find ourselves still living in, I wanted to avoid anything related to the pandemic. I’ve read some brilliant books centred on this during this but I think I’m just desperate for this all to be over now really. Therefore, I went for a war related story of which there are many! Stella by Takis Würger was heartbreaking in many ways but so well written it was bordering sublime. This book is dedicated to the great grandfather of the author, so it feels personal too. This novel was released back in March and I finally managed to get my hands on a copy. It fits the theme of the month perfectly being as it is a blended approach of fact and fiction, incorporating excerpts from witness statements documented at a postwar trial of the real-life Stella Goldschlag, who continued to inform for the Gestapo throughout the war. I knew little about her so really wanted to learn more from the novel and to have my eyes opened just a little bit further.

I can’t wait to share this with you now. This will probably be much shorter because I don’t want to spoil anything for you. The magic behind this book needs to be experienced when reading it, not by me now. Don’t forget, if you’d like to take part or find out more information on my reading challenge, please click here. Here goes!


What’s it all about?
Set in Berlin during World War II, the novel focuses around Friedrich, a Swiss national who is travelling through Europe. To begin with, the war seems a distant thing happening to others elsewhere and not something to be mindful of at this stage. Whilst in Berlin, Friedrich meets Tristan, an affable Berliner who takes him under his wing. He meets him in a jazz club on evening which has become illegal under the Nazi morality laws. He is obsessed with a singer at the club called Kristin. The trio then form a friendship together and start to attend a variety of different social events together. They socialise more often than not and appear to be very much a unit. Then, it is through these social events or parties that the the spectre of Nazi Germany begins to rear its ugly head. At a party attended by SS officers and other Nazi party officials, Friedrich sees both his friends joining in with anti-semitic songs and jokes. He begins to wonder who his friends are and how they can have such monstrous views.

‘Every day in Germany I had been going through this, acting as if I could live with what was happening to the Jews in Germany. I’d put up with the flags with swastikas and with the people greeting me and roaring at me with their right arms outstretched. At this moment, I felt how wrong this was.’

Over time, there is a growing sense that there is something hidden, something not quite known about Kristin. We know that she is a Jew and we know that she has to keep her identity hidden from everyone. Friedrich has fallen in love with her and couldn’t care less about her background or religion. They spend hours together but she never stays over night with him. However, there is unease throughout the whole narrative whereby we hear new rules specified by the regime as a constant reminder that war is ever approaching; coming one step closer to them each and every day. The narrative splits to give us police reports, representing a later period of time, where people are being questioned about what was happening at the time. This blended structure means that we are torn between the past and the present as the narrative evolves. Regardless, the war creeps closer and the rules become much tighter and the lives of the Jewish people are constrained further.

‘The eight commandment of Dr. Joseph Goebbel’s Ten Commandments for Every National Socialist is issued: “Don’t be a rowdy anti-Semite, but beware of the Berliner Tageblatt.”.’

It is really difficult to explore the plot further without revealing the secrets hidden within. However, we were right to feel that things are not as they seem regarding Kristin. Whilst Kristin returns Friedrich’s affection, she also disappears for days at a time with no warning or explanation. It becomes clear that she has another, hidden life where she is working for ‘undesirables’ who have some kind of hold over her. This doesn’t seem to be a choice she would make willingly, but it shows the corruption of the human soul in order to make people do atrocious things to others. We are much more used to reading books about the heroes of the war, who fight and stand up for what is right. Nevertheless, this book tells us a story which is more likely to be common which challenges a reader still today.

‘Her cheeks were sunken; she had a scarf wrapped around her head. She had bruises under both eyes. One of her eyeballs was also dark – blood had seeped into the vitreous body… “I thought you left me.” “I wasn’t careful enough,” she said again. “Not careful enough.”‘

Unfortunately, there is no happy ending in this book. That is the nature of life sometimes and especially during a period of time like this. One thing that is clear though, is that by the end of the novel all the mystery and elusive strands all come together to complete the narrative. We learn the truth about Kristin and the extent of her own story. Friedrich, Tristan and Kristin all make individual choices that lead them to very different experiences. They are tied or linked together as this trio of friends but they each ultimately have a different ending. This novel gives you a eyeopening, heartbreaking insight into what it would have been like during this period.


Final Thoughts
In many ways, this book was difficult to read and challenging to write about. I’ve made a very conscious effort to not ruin anything at all. One thing I can and will repeatedly say is that it is incredibly well written. The writer’s own personal links with this mean that, like I said at the start, it feels more real. It’s always problematic to say you enjoyed reading a book like this but the honest reaction of mine is that it was uncomfortable, unnerving and horrifying. It explores the nature of love and betrayal. It also gets us to challenge what we think is real or right. It’s a powerful piece, structured in months with an opening summary of the Nazi atrocities. When you become wrapped up in the characters, this serves as a reminder that it is built up on real life events. Friedrich serves as a moral compass – he thinks and notices – but he’s also a fool in love. To repeat, this book needs a read but it will be harrowing along the way.

I hope you enjoyed this review. I apologise that I didn’t manage to get this done in May but I’ve been sitting on it and the uncomfortable nature of it. I’ve also been battling with what to reveal and what not to.

I’ll be back next time to share with you the book I read for June and hopefully sharing some other excellent reads along the way too! Stay safe and well everyone!

Big love xxx

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

Reading Round-Up: April

Hi Loves!

How are we all? Well, I feel like I blinked and missed April to be honest. Where did it go? Also, how is it now the start of May? Anyway, it is painfully clear that I didn’t have a very successful month with my little blog last month. Work is just absolutely crazy. I don’t have the words for it really. My fellow bloggers in education will know exactly what I am talking about. Just know that I’m right there with you all!

However, I did manage to read 12 books in the month of April. All things considered, I’m still pleased with this. I’m less pleased that I didn’t blog as much but hopefully May will give me plenty of opportunities to do more. There is a half term this month so I am thinking all positive things! Anyway, let’s check out the shelves!

Just like last month, I’ve experienced novels by writers I’d never heard of before. It really is indescribable when you stumble across a writer or book you just absolutely loved. You’ll see that I’ve got more T.M. Logan in my shelves this month. Sadly, I’ve ran out now! Regardless, my top three books for this month are as follows:

  1. Exit – Belinda Bauer. I really enjoyed this book. It centres around Felix Pink and his acts of kindness. However, one act doesn’t quite go to plan. The novel is a fresh and fun take on the crime genre. I really enjoyed reading it and found myself becoming quite attached to Felix. The ending of the novel too gave me just what I needed at the time.
  2. Long Lost – Harlan Coben. I first heard of this writer from The Stranger series of Netflix. Following this, I read the book version (it is different) and really liked Coben’s style of writing. Punchy chapters, thrilling plot line, well developed characters. Perfect! I really want to read some more of Coben’s work now – where to begin?
  3. Pine – Francine Toon. I reviewed this book on my previous post (click here to see) and really enjoyed it. It was so atmospheric and eerie. It felt like I was in the depths of Scotland, not knowing who to trust or what to believe. I said in my previous post that I didn’t know what I think about it and that is still very much the case. It’s interesting that it’s still a book I’m thinking about though!

And that’s it! As I said before, I’m hopeful for a good reading and reviewing month! I think it is only really coming to light now just how much lockdown and the pandemic has affected people. May brings new hope – easing of measures, the chance to see more people, the opportunity to go back outside and back to the places we love and have missed dearly. There are so many more good times to come. For me, it’s the ability to go to the bookshops and top up my ever increasing bookshelves.

Continue to stay safe and well. I will see you next time, hopefully sooner, for another review.

Big love all xxx

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

Reading Challenge 2021: Pine – Francine Toon

Hello Lovelies!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reading Round-Up: March

Morning Book Lovers!

I hope you’re all well and settling into the Spring weather nicely. I say that… I went from wearing a strappy top because of the warmth created by the glorious sunshine one day to snow and a big jumper the next. British weather really is a surprise sometimes! Now I am back by the fire, today’s post is a round up of the books I’ve read in the month of March – a little late, I know. Please forgive me! I’ve spent my Easter break catching up and having the best time really. It’s wonderful to be back with my support bubble.

I managed to read a total of 14 books which is just one less than last month. Considering we have had children back in school and life has become a different kind of hectic, I’m really thrilled with this number. I must confess, the last six books on the list were ones I read on holiday though… Regardless, I’ve experienced some new writers this month and ones where I have already added more of their titles to my book order… Please reassure me that it isn’t just my TBR list that doesn’t seem to go down… Anyway, let’s look at the shelves for March!

Picking a top three for this month is going to be pretty difficult – there’s just so many good ones. This month has been the month for some absolutely brilliant books for lots of different reasons. Sometimes a book comes along at just the right moment. It seems that I fell on my feet so much with regard to this. It’s a real blessing when it happens. I’ve decided for my top three this month, I’ll pick books I’ve not reviewed yet. However, if you’re wanting to see the reviews for Many Different Kinds of Love, Madame Burova and Oskar’s Quest please click herehere and here

  1. Trust Me by T.M. Logan. Logan has become one of my favourite writers. I literally cannot get enough of him. I received a review copy of Trust Me and I have been recommending it to everyone and anyone that will listen to me. It was thrilling, gripping, frightening, unnerving and utterly sublime. I’m now working my way through the rest of his work too. I really need to review more of his work on my blog so you can see how brilliant he is. 
  2. The Beekeeper of Aleppo by Christy Lefteri. Despite this book being about the harsh realities of life in Aleppo, fleeing conflict and the horrors that come with it, I found this book to be more about hope than anything else. I literally couldn’t put it down and read it in one sitting. To see the resilience and complete faith in the worst circumstances is really inspirational and humbling.
  3. Your Truth or Mine? by Trisha Sakhlecha is my third choice for this month. A writer I have never heard of before but certainly won’t forget now. This book had me utterly gripped from start to finish. I also didn’t quite work out the twists and turns either. I was so thrilled to have received this in one of my many book subscription boxes and it is a writer that I will keep my eyes out for in the future. 

Another successful month I feel, despite the challenges faced in education right now. I thank you all for your patience and interaction with me on my blog. I do try really hard to keep up with you wonderful people. I blame you all for my ever increasing TBR list as well! 

Hopefully I’ll be able to squeeze another review out before I head back to work next week. I’m embracing the inclement weather and reading opportunities with a hearty gusto, I must say! Next month sees another focus for my reading challenge and hopefully many more wonderful books that I can’t wait to read. Take care everyone!

Big Love xxx

Posted in Book review, Books, Children's Literature, Illustrations, Reading, Reading Challenge 2021

Reading Challenge 2021: Oskar’s Quest – Annika Perry

Hello Lovelies!

I hope you’re all well and are getting into the Easter spirit 🐣! I’m thoroughly enjoying my Easter break – reading plenty, spending time with my family (my support bubble), in the garden and spending time soaking up the warmer days. I seem to have got my writing mojo back so whilst I appreciate it is now April, I have a couple of posts I need to catch up with. Today’s post is the book I chose to read for the reading challenge. The focus for March was: Read a book that was gifted to you. If you’d like to catch up or take part in my reading challenge, please click here for more information. I’m sure all my avid reader blogging friends get books for birthdays, Christmas and then when you decide to treat yourself… or is that just me? Anyway, I had the perfect book in mind for this month from my dear friend, Annika Perry. Those of you who have seen my blog will remember that a couple of years ago, I blogged about Annika’s first book, The Storyteller Speaks. You can see this post here. Annika is a blogger who was here from day one of my journey and I’ve been so honoured to be a part of her writing journey. You can find her wonderful blog here. I was privileged to receive a copy of Oskar’s Quest, Annika’s second book. I can’t wait to share this with you all today.

What’s it all about?

This children’s book hits all the right notes. It’s about courage, kindness and friendship – all the ingredients for a meaningful and happy life and all the lessons we teach children and young people today. There is a simple premise behind the book but it stands for so much more which is why it personally appeals to me as an adult. Oskar is a blue bird who finds himself on Roda, a little lost. This mysterious island is filled with beautiful flowers and interesting creatures but Oskar is afraid. He sees the red bell-flowers and notices they look lonely.

‘The flower nodded sadly as one more leaf drifted to the ground. A drop of water followed.’

The reason for all the sadness is because their songbird, Maya has been taken by Drang, the darkest cloud in the sky. What can Oskar possibly do? He’s just a little blue bird. He decides he wants to be brave and help. He makes the decision to go to Drang and ask for her back. After all, the island needs her beautiful music to bring them happiness once again. But he can hear the fear and the names inside his head. This doesn’t deter him, he will get the songbird back. As he gets closer to the cloud, the worse the weather is. He has to really hold his nerve and be the bravest bird he’s ever possibly been.

‘Maya opened her golden beak but stopped, swallowed her screech and hiccuped loudly. Her body trembled with fear and hope.’

Drang booms and bangs and scares both the birds. However, he is misunderstood. He saw the happiness of the other birds and felt left out. He has no friends so he thought that by taking Maya, she could make him happy too. But she stopped singing and cried instead making Drang cry too. It was this that caused the terrible weather! Oskar’s bravery and kindness meant that they could all head back to the island together and be friends there.

‘At her words, all the birds, flowers and trees of Roda sang a song of celebration. The music made Drang so happy he could not help but shed a few tears of joy.’

Oskar has to return home where he hears the calls again, mocking him for being scared. Yet this time was different because he was not scared and because he had new friends. He was a much braver bird than he was before. Rather than act in nastiness towards the birds, he invites them to join them on their new adventures.

Final Thoughts
There’s a real art to writing children’s books and I think Annika has produced an excellent one. It teaches us that we can be brave and we can use kindness to defeat anything. It’s also made me reflect back to my own childhood and how I could have done things differently, if only I were a bit more brave. The illustrations are also stunning and support the story wonderfully. I naturally loved Oskar and Maya’s illustrated beauty was matched perfectly to the writing about her. I am really in awe of Gabrielle Vickery’s drawings.

This book fulfils my criteria for this month perfectly because it is a treasured gift and it always will be. I have read this book three times now and it’s magical with each read. Annika really knows how to keep her audience entertained whilst also teaching them that kindness, bravery and friendship mean the world. Adult or child – read this book. Felling sad or lost – read this book. Gift it to anyone that has ever been afraid fo anything. Thank you so much, Annika. ♥️

See you all next time for my round up post. Take care all and HAPPY EASTER.

Big love xxx

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

Reading Round-Up: February

Hello Loves!

First of all, let me wish you a happy March. March is the month that gifts us with Spring 🌻. It’s a month that is bringing us all hope for the future too. We definitely have light at the end of the tunnel after a difficult winter. Nevertheless, the evenings are lighter and there is a lot to celebrate. ☀️

I really enjoyed writing my round-up last month so I thought it would be something I do every month now. February was a shorter month (my excuse anyway?) but I did manage to read 15 books which I’m quite pleased with. It’s a little less than last month but that’s really ok. It is the joy of reading that matters more than the numerical amount. There’s been some personal challenges for me this month so once again the writing left me but the reading remained. Regardless, I’ve read some brilliant books in February and I can’t wait to share them with you. Let’s check out the shelves!

As I say, there’s some fantastic books here and some reviews I really need to post. Picking a top three has been difficult. However, my top three books of February are:

  1. Breathtaking by Rachel Clarke. I don’t have the eloquence or the words really to explain how sublime this book is. Like I said in my previous post, we have all been affected by the pandemic, myself included. This book shows us inside the beating heart of the NHS at the start of the pandemic. What the NHS staff have seen and experienced this time is incomprehensible. My heart broke when I was reading about how they make sure nobody dies alone.💜
  2. All On The Board by Ian Redpath and Jeremy Chopra. Based at North Greenwich station two underground workers, Ian and Jeremy, try and make the day a little better by leaving messages and poems on the board for people passing through the station. This collection shows some of their work. It’s a really uplifting book and you can see more on their Facebook page here.
  3. The Silent Patient by Alex Michaelides. This book kept me gripped from start to finish. It’s been doing the rounds recently so it is clearly a popular choice and I can totally see why. It was also a book where I didn’t work out the ending either which can happen with thrillers. A great, pacy book. (Mind you, Fifty Fifty by Steve Cavanagh was just as pacy too.)

Also, there was a new focus for the reading challenge this month and I read my first John Grisham book. Some of you lovely people also recommended other Grisham books that I have added to my ‘never ending and will probably out live me’ reading list. Thank you so much. If you missed it, you can catch up with it here.

I wish you a happy, bright and healthy March. I’m hoping to share with you more books I’ve loved as well and to keep catching up with you all. Happy Spring everyone! 🌸 🌺 🌻

Big love all xxx

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

Reading Challenge 2021: The Rooster Bar – John Grisham

Hello Lovelies!
Well, January flew by us and now we are into February – the month of love and pancake day. Today I want to share with you the book I chose and read for the reading challenge this month. The theme for February was February – Read a book by an author who was born in this month. I wanted to avoid the obvious theme for this month – love – and wanted to pick something that took me out of my comfort zone. This took some research and I am pleased to report that there are plenty of writers with birthdays this month – happy birthday to you all! So, I opted for The Rooster Bar by John Grisham. I have to confess that before this book, I’d never read any Grisham so when I saw his name on the list for a birthday this month, it was the perfect opportunity to rectify that. I must say, I feel a bit silly to be honest. Grisham is such a prolific writer, I almost can’t believe that I’ve not read anything by him. At least I have now and I am thrilled to also say that I really enjoyed it! As always, if you’d like more information on my reading challenge for 2021, please click here. I hope you like the review.

What’s it all about?
Written in 2017, The Rooster Bar is inspired by real life events happening in America chronicled in the magazine article ‘The Law-School Scandal‘. It centres around Mark Frazier, Todd Lucero and Zola Maal. Each are third year law students at Foggy Bottom Law School, Washington. Unfortunately, this law school doesn’t have a particularly good reputation – they seem fairly lax on standards and the firm is considered to be a place where students don’t get a rigorous education in law. Why would people study there then? Well, it promises the world.

‘She fell for the scam that easy federal money could make law school possible for everyone, and took the first bold steps that would lead to Foggy Bottom.’

At the start of the book we meet Gordon Tanner, Zola’s boyfriend. This character has a few battles of his own, bipolar disorder mainly, but he discovers evidence that Hinds Rackley, the lead investor and owner of Foggy Bottom (amongst other diploma centres) uses a complicated but technically legal scheme to gain millions dollars from unassuming students. Students end up in a cycle of spiralling debt with no job prospects at the end of it. Gordon wants to expose Rackley and show the world how he really is and the reality behind students falling for the glossy magazine adverts for Foggy Bottom and it’s equals. Gordon becomes increasingly more erratic and acting out of character when it is realised that he has stopped taking his medication. The three try and detain him at home so he can rest and recover but manages to leave one night, resulting in an arrest for a DUI. The three manage to get a street lawyer, Darrell Crowley, to convince the judge to release Gordon on bail. Gordon manages to once again sneak out from the watchful eyes of his friends and girlfriend, resulting in his suicide.

‘And now, with one semester to go, Mark was staring miserably at the reality of graduating with a combined total, undergrad and law school, principal and interest, of $266,000 in debt.’

The following pages after this are the most emotional. Mark and Todd are blamed for the death of Gordon because they were the ones who were meant to be watching over him. As a result of this, they each were finding their job prospects dwindling down to nothing. There were no jobs. The jobs they had been promised are withdrawn. They each decide to work for Maynard, the guy who owns the Rooster Bar. They also rent the office space above to set up their own fake law firm: Upshaw, Park and Lane. They sort themselves false identities and forged credentials. They are certain that this is the only way that they will be able to make any kind of money at all whilst avoiding paying any back to Foggy Botton. Zola is the most reluctant out of the three of them but likewise, has little to no options. She joins them.

Like any story, they’re successful to begin with. They have numerous victories in the D.C. courts. Zola suggests that they expand to reach out to personal injury victims. These cases tend to have good revenue but none of them have much knowledge with these types of claims. Mark locates Ramon Taper, who files a lawsuit against the hospital where his son died. The trio branch out to get some legal advice for this type of case and are reassured that the case is sound. However, Mark later learns that the statute of limitations has already passed, meaning there is literally nothing he can do. Unfortunately, what this means for them is that they can be sued by Ramon for legal malpractice and for giving him demonstrably unsound legal advice. There’s not a lot they can do, In fact their only option is to reveal with Ramon’s new lawyer, Edwin Mossberg, that he is not a real attorney. Legal malpractice cannot be filed against a fake lawyer, so remarkably Mossberg drops the case. However, the scheme the trio set up is now revealed to the D.C. Bar Association, meaning that time is going to run out for them, not that they know it…yet.

“These are mistakes, not regrets. Regrets are over and done with and a waste of time to rehash. Mistakes, though, are bad moves in the past that might affect the future.”

They soon realise that the D.C. Bar is aware of their deception, it’s time for a plan B. They hatch another scheme involving Swift Bank, a financial institution associated with Foggy Bottom Law School founder Rackley. It involves a class action settlement and is set to pay billions of dollars to defraud customers. Again, the trio create thousands of fake customers, filling in fraudulent claims on their behalf, with the hope to earn enough money to escape the US and the Bar Association’s investigation. However, they have forgotten the fact that the police will also be investigating them. Mark and Todd are arrested but Zola is forced to return to her parents home country of Senegal, to protect them from corrupt officials. With the money in her account from their previous work, she hires Idina Sanga who manages to get Mark and Todd released on bail.

Using the earlier evidence of the Foggy Bottom fraud, Mark and Todd manage to persuade Rackley to pay out the Swift Bank settlements at a rapid pace, including to those fraudulent clients they created. The result of this is that they accumulate a huge amount of money. They use it to buy fake passports to travel to Senegal. Whilst they are travelling, the news of the fraudulent cases begin to surface but by this point the money the trio have is secured. By the end of the novel, the trio clear their debts and have to live in exile.

Final Thoughts
As I said at the start, I enjoyed this book. It was a great introduction to Grisham and I will absolutely be looking for more of his books in the near future. I guess this is where I miss being able to mooch about second hand book shops – but maybe we will get back to that soon.

I hope you’re all keeping safe and well.

Big love all xx