Reading Challenge 2023: The Cloisters – Katy Hays

Hello Loves.

I’ve been knocked off my feet with a bug again which has slowed me down but as promised in my previous post, I’m here to reveal my choice for my reading challenge with you all. For February, I decided to pick Read a book with a beautiful cover. I’m an absolute sucker for beautiful covers and sprayed edges. I love adding them to my vast collection. The Cloisters by Katy Hays is absolutely gorgeous. I picked this up when I went to Waterstones in Piccadilly (7 floors of unquestionable joy). I really hope you enjoy this review.

What’s it all about?

At the heart of this story is the protagonist, Ann Stilwell, Slightly awkward, slightly unsure of herself yet full of drive. She ends up in New York City hoping to out run the drama of her past by spending her time working at the Metropolitan Museum of Art over the summer. However, things don’t quite work out and she finds herself at The Cloisters, a gothic museum and garden renowned for its collection of medieval and Renaissance art. Ann is still excited to work here but she soon becomes drawn into the lives of her colleagues: Patrick, the. museum’s curator, Leo, the nonconformist gardener and Rachel, a rich, beautiful and well connected intern. Ann aspires to be more like her so pays a lot of attention to everything she does.

“The question was always: Could they change those futures, or were they predestined? Were they fate? This is the question that underlies what we are doing here today.” 

Ann is desperate to be a part of the research that Patrick and Rachel are working on. She decides to make herself invaluable to The Cloisters, joining Rachel in her every whim and indulging Patrick’s theories, regardless of how outlandish they are. As time passes, she discovers a mysterious deck of 15th century Italian tarot cards, thought to be lost to history, throwing Ann into the centre of a game with deadly consequences. Someone will end up dead with the rest of them under suspicion for murder. Things start to spiral out of control and Ann has a decision to make: is the future predetermined or is she free to defy the cards she’s been dealt?

“What if our whole life—how we live and die—has already been decided for us? Would you want to know, if a roll of the dice or a deal of the cards could tell you the outcome? Can life be that thin, that disturbing?” 

As a reader, we are thrown into the world of tarot and fate. It’s expansive, overwhelming and elaborate. When you’re reading it, you can feel the claustrophobia The Cloisters creates. The summer is sweltering, The Cloisters claustrophobic, the scene for desire, fixation, murder and betrayal is set. Desperate to fit in, Ann turns a blind eye to all warning sides. She’s spent her whole life feeling invisible and inconsequential so she yearns to be part of something, no matter how awful may seem. She wants to be heard and for her knowledge and opinions to be valued. The Cloisters gives her that, but at what cost?

“I think I do believe that people can tell the future,” I said quietly. 
“But I don’t know why anyone wants to know how their story ends,” she replied.” 

The dark academic world reveals itself to be full of toxic relationships, unhealthy rivalries and an atmospheric setting that influences the decisions each and every character makes. Following the murder, Ann’s personality changes. She becomes more bolder, more assertive and much more likely to get her own way. Ultimately, more like Rachel. However, it is what separates these two women that matters the most by the end.

“Like a true cloister, it was silent save for the sound of our footsteps.” 

Final Thoughts

There’s so much to this book. To be perfectly honest, I’ve missed plenty out but I’m hoping that this little taster is enough to get you hooked on this book. It’s visually stunning, it’s written beautifully to match. I feel in love and found myself being dragged deeper into the murky world of obsessive academia. Whilst some might be used to reading novels with academia at its core, I wasn’t so was completely thrilled by it.

I’m desperately trying to catch up with different books and your posts. Thankfully I’ve already read March’s book so I am back on track! I’ll see you next time for more bookish delights.

Big Love xxxx

Reading Challenge 2023: Nine Perfect Strangers – Liane Moriarty

Hello Lovelies!

It’s half term! Hurrah! I am so glad to see this Friday for sure. I am utterly exhausted and I’ve got myself into a pickle. I explained a bit in my previous post but it appears that I am still not able to do much reading which is a real shame. My head is still too much of a fog for me to see through it. However, whether I just write a sentence a day, I wanted to share with you my book choice and topic for my reading challenge of 2023! I know I launched this with you all around New Year. Doesn’t that seem like ages ago? Anyway, I wanted to get stuck in with this for sure so I decided to pick: Read a book with a number in the title. In the run up to Christmas I’d been watching Nine Perfect Strangers so I thought that would be a brilliant book to read. Thankfully, the series and the book were a little different so it made for a really exciting reading experience really. I hope you like my review!

What’s it all about?

Well, there will be gaps in this review because I don’t want to spoil anything. The premise is quite simple: a wellness resort and nine perfect strangers coming together for enlightenment and relaxation for ten days. Sounds perfect, right? However idilic the grounds of Tranquillium House are, it doesn’t make up for the fact that things do seem a little strange there. These nine people are: Frances, a semi famous romance novelist, Lars, a health retreat enthusiast, married couple Ben and Jessica, Carmel, a divorced single mother, Tony, an ex famous sportsman and the Marconi family which consists of Napoleon, Heather and daughter Zoe. Once they are all finally in the grounds, they embark on a period of silence. They also participate in activities like hiking, yoga and therapy. Whilst experiencing these delights, we learn more about each character and what had let them to this point. Tragically, the Marconi’s lost a son to suicide, Ben and Jessica won the lottery and thereby their whole relationship changed. Sucker for love Frances got scammed by a man pretending to love her. Carmel’s ex husband and daughter had gone off travelling with his new younger fiancée and she is obsessed with losing weight.

“Women and their bodies! The most abusive and toxic of relationships. Masha had seen women pinch at the flesh of their stomachs with such brutal self-loathing they left bruises. Meanwhile their husbands fondly patted their own much larger stomachs with rueful pride.” 

As fascinating as Traquillium House is, the resort director is even more intriguing. Masha along with her wellness consultants, Yeo and Delilah watch the guests closely and monitor how they act, behave and what they do. Half way through the ten day trip, Heather realises that something isn’t quite right. During their breakfast smoothies, Helen realises that they’ve all been drugged. Naturally, they’re all furious. However, Masha eventually reveals that they have been micro-dosing them with LSD. Heather only spotted it that day because the dose was higher. Masha stands by this decision because she believes that it would help them all with opening up and progressing along their spiritual wellness journey. Regardless, the guests are furious. But they’re much too high to be able to do anything about it. They’re all busy on the waves of the high. Lars sees how his parent’s unhappy marriage has made him afraid of marrying his partner, Ray. Heather feels guilty about the death of their son Zach because she gave him medication that had potential side effects of depression. On the flip side, Carmel decides that her body is perfect and she loves it.

“The risks were calculated. The risks were justified. No one ever ascended a mountain without risk.” 

Post high, the group all learn that they are locked in the confines of a room together. Masha had high expectations of the group working together to secure their release but she decides to try something new with them. Deliah takes off, stealing Ben and Jessica’s Lamborghini as she believes that Masha has crossed a line. Yeo also tries to protest but Masha drugs him too. Left to her own devices she has nothing to do but try this new idea out. Yet, there is a problem. She cannot stop thinking about her own loss; the loss of her baby boy who strangled himself with a curtain cord accidentally. It took one slip of attention for that to happen and as a result, she’s never really forgiven herself. She too then takes LSD and is clearly out of her mind. The strangers humour her but they are distracted when they can hear and smell fire. Tony mentally goes back to his pre-injury athleticism and tries to jump, causing some pain. Panic ensues but after a while, they realise the door is open. Upon leaving the room, they see that it’s just a recording of a fire with a small wastebasket with burnt items in.

“Only those who have feared they will lose everything feel true gratitude for their lucky lives.” 

As soon as Masha learns that they’ve all got themselves out, she is delighted albeit still high. She asks them if they’re pleased with their results but Heather is less than kind. She is filled with grief and rage and attacks Masha. Masha fights back and Frances steps in and knocks Masha out, protecting Heather. Finally, Deliah returns, Ben is relieved to see his car again and Masha and Yeo are arrested. The story doesn’t quite end here though. Afterwards, the guests do end up resolving the various root issues of their problems – the ultimate reason why they all went to the resort anyway. Many years later, Masha is out of prison and is publicising a book she as written. She still has an exclusive secretive LSD based therapy programme going on too. Arguably most surprisingly, Tony and Frances marry.

“It’s called guided psychedelic therapy,” said Masha. “As your ego dissolves you will access a higher level of consciousness. A curtain will be drawn back and you will see the world in a way you’ve never seen it before.” 

Final Thoughts

I really did like this book and found myself compelled to get to the end. I also liked loved each character, their flaws and their development. Each were explored brilliantly and had their own edges to them. It felt like different characteristics really were explored well. I also really appreciated that I had no idea which way the narrative was going to go – I liked that I was kept hanging really. Overall, I’d definitely read something by Liane Moriarty again. She’s got a really good style and way of making the plot evolve.

I really hope half term gives me the opportunity to reset and feel better soon. I hope I can pick up my books and do some reading too. Fingers crossed.

Stay safe and well all.

Big love xxxx

Reading Round-Up: 2022

Hello Lovelies!

Happy New Year! I am super excited to round up on last year and also launch with you my reading challenge for 2023! 2022 was a great year for my little blog because I found that I really enjoyed posting more. I hope you didn’t get sick of me in the process though! I’m on a particular high today because I should have gone back to school but the heating had broken! Yes! An additional day off. More reading time for me!

First of all, I want to round up 2022. I was really pleased to see that I managed to read 145 books in 2022. Definitely down from 2021 but that’s because we weren’t stuck at home! You can remind yourself of last year here, should you wish to. Along the way, there have been some amazing books. I’ll give you my top 5 later but I’ve honestly loved it. It’s all been about trying to get down my to be read pile and I’ve put a dent in it, that’s for sure! It hasn’t been easy, like most readers there have been slumps along the way and the inability to find a book I can get into. There’s so many factors in play at times so I don’t tend to share which books I didn’t finish because I know it isn’t the book, usually it’s me. But, I am ruthless. I do give up and move on because life is too short.

Regardless, let’s check out the books of 2022!

  1. Appanah, Nathacha – The Sky Above the Roof
  2. Tattersfield, Eleanor – Lockdown Secrets
  3. Rauf, Onjali Q – The Lion at the Door
  4. Colwin, Laurie – Happy All The Time
  5. Grisham, John – The Racketeer
  6. Flack, Caroline – Storm in a C Cup
  7. Patterson, James – The Last Days of John Lennon
  8. French, Dawn – Oh Dear Silvia
  9. Jennings, Luke – Codename Villanelle
  10. Priestley, J.B – An Inspector Calls
  11. Tremayne, S.K. – The Assistants
  12. Hazelwood, Ali – The Love Hypothesis
  13. Morris, Heather – Three Sisters
  14. James, Erica – Mothers and Daughters
  15. Wilson, Antoine – Mouth to Mouth
  16. Hitchings, Henry – Love Letters to Bookshops Around the World
  17. McCartney, Sophie – Tired & Tested
  18. Dowd, Siobhan – The London Eye Mystery
  19. Zgheib, Yara – No Land to Light On
  20. Lepionka, Kristen – The Last Place You Look
  21. Halls, Stacey – Mrs England
  22. Prose, Nita – The Maid
  23. Donaldson, Julia & Scheffler, Axel – The Gruffalo
  24. Debona, Katherine – Love Me, Love Me Not
  25. Allen, Anthea – Life, Death and Biscuits
  26. Ware, Jessie – Omelette
  27. Shrager, Rosemary – The Last Supper
  28. Schwab, V.E. – Gallant
  29. Halls, Stacey – The Foundling
  30. Ryn, Jessica – The Extraordinary Hope of Dawn Brightside
  31. Logan, T.M. – The Curfew
  32. Maher, Kerri – The Paris Bookseller
  33. Penner, Sarah – The Lost Apothecary
  34. Blackburn, Lizzie Damilola – Yinka, Where is Your Husband?
  35. Hockney, David & Gayford, Martin – Spring Cannot be Cancelled
  36. Mas, Victoria – The Mad Woman’s Ball
  37. Strout, Lucy – My Name is Lucy Barton
  38. Cox, Katy – M is for Mummy
  39. Osbourne, Bella – The Library
  40. Wahrer, Caitlin – Damage
  41. Ireland, Sandra – The Unmaking of Ellie Rook
  42. Gold, Hannah – The Last Bear
  43. Williams, Candice-Carty – Queenie
  44. Keyes, Marian – Rachel’s Holiday
  45. O’Leary, Beth – The No-Show
  46. Grohl, Dave – The Storyteller
  47. Hargrave, Kiran Millwood – Julia and the Shark
  48. Gold, Hannah – The Lost Whale
  49. Steinbeck, John – Cannery Row
  50. Fforde, Katie – Saving the Day
  51. Keyes, Marian – Again, Rachel
  52. Lockhart, E – We Were Liars
  53. Hawkins, Paula – Blind Spot
  54. Buchanan, Daisy – Insatiable
  55. Vine, Lucy – What Fresh Hell
  56. Craven, M.W. – The Cutting Season
  57. McCaughrean, Geraldine – The Supreme Lie
  58. Sams, Saba – Send Nudes
  59. Wilson, A.K. – The Manager
  60. Sims, Gill – The Saturday Night Sauvignon Sisterhood
  61. Oseman, Alice – Nick and Charlie
  62. Patterson, James – Honeymoon
  63. Bennett, Alan – The Uncommon Reader
  64. Malik, Ayisha – Sofia Khan and the Baby Blues
  65. Paris, Helen – Lost Property
  66. Wilson, A.N. – Lilibet – The Girl who Would be Queen
  67. Carvan, Tabitha – This is not a Book About Benedict Cumberbatch
  68. Hogan, Ruth – The Keeper of Lost Things
  69. Buchanan, Daisy – Careering
  70. Benson, Jen – The Wild Year
  71. Han, Jenny – The Summer I Turned Pretty
  72. Cox, Sara – Thrown
  73. Sutanto, Jesse – Dial A For Aunties
  74. Wickers, Kate – Shape of a Boy
  75. Chen, Kirstin – Counterfeit
  76. Stonex, Emma – The Lamplighters
  77. Candlish, Louise – The Other Passenger
  78. Heydenrych, Amy – The Pact
  79. Sunim, Haemin – The Things You Can See Only When You Slow Down
  80. Cha, Steph – Your House Will Pay
  81. Backman, Fredrik – Anxious People
  82. Bly, Mary – Lizzie & Dante
  83. Takhar, Helen Monks – That Woman
  84. Heller, Miranda Cowley – Paper Palace
  85. Campbell, Michele – A Stranger on the Beach
  86. Jewell, Lisa – The Family Upstairs
  87. Corry, Jane – We All Have Our Secrets
  88. Cave, Jessie – Sunset
  89. Han, Jenny – It’s Not Summer Without You
  90. Hui, Angela – Takeaway
  91. Swanson, Peter  – Before She Knew Him
  92. Rowell, Rainbow – Fangirl
  93. Han, Jenny – We’ll Always Have Summer
  94. Mulhern, Stephen – Max Magic
  95. Osman, Richard – The Man Who Died Twice
  96. Newson, Karl & Anganuzzi, Clara – The World at Your Feet
  97. Sutanto, Jesse – Four Aunties and a Wedding
  98. Jestin, Victor – Heatwave
  99. Brook, Kate – Not Exactly What I Had In Mind
  100. Bourne, Holly – How Do You Like Me Now?
  101. Bochis, Iulia – The Sun, The Sea & The Stars
  102. Hazelwood, Ali – Love on the Brain
  103. Taylor, Matson – All About Evie
  104. Kay, Adam – Undoctored
  105. Norbury, James – The Journey
  106. Gayle, Mike – The Museum of Ordinary People
  107. Felton, Tom – Beyond the Wand
  108. Kawaguchi, Toshikazu – Before the Coffee Gets Cold: Tales from the Café
  109. Shakespeare, William – Macbeth
  110. Kawaguchi, Toshikazu – Before Your Memory Fades
  111. Murray, Lily & Surplice, Holly – Five Little Penguins
  112. Tucci, Stanely – Taste: My Life Through Food
  113. Osman, Richard – The Bullet That Missed
  114. Sanghani, Radhika – Thirty Things I Love About Myself
  115. Doughty, Louise – Platform Seven
  116. Theroux, Louis – Theroux the Keyhole
  117. Du Beke, Anton – We’ll Meet Again
  118. Moore, Ian – Death and Papa Noel
  119. Donati, Alba – Diary of a Tuscan Bookshop
  120. Kemp, Roman – Are You Really Ok?
  121. Coles, Richard – Murder Before Evensong
  122. Bennett, S.J. – Murder Most Royal
  123. Miller, Madeline – Galatea
  124. Swanson, Peter  – Rules for Perfect Murders
  125. Sharma, Nisha – Dating Dr. Dil
  126. Smith, Alex T – The Twelve Days of Christmas
  127. Dickens, Charles – A Christmas Carol
  128. Jewell, Lisa – The Family Remains
  129. Collins, Bridget & co – The Haunting Season
  130. Duffy, Carol Ann – Advent Street
  131. Herron, Mick  – Slough House
  132. Grimm Brothers & co – A German Christmas
  133. Pooley, Claire – The People on Platform 5
  134. Taylor-Bessent, Mel – The Christmas Carrolls
  135. Sampson, Freya – The Girl on the 88 Bus
  136. Macomber, Debbie – Jingle All The Way
  137. Ayoade, Richard – The Book That No One Wanted to Read
  138. Herron, Mick – Stanging By The Wall
  139. Du Beke, Anton – Ballroom Blitz
  140. Dean, Will – The Last Thing to Burn
  141. Carroll, Lewis – Through the Looking Glass
  142. Hendricks, Jaime Lynn – His Missing Wife
  143. Lockhart, E – Family of Liars
  144. Perry, Matthew – Friends, Lovers, and the Big Terrible Thing
  145. Garmus, Bonnie – Lessons in Chemistry 

I think we can all agree there’s some incredible books here! Picking a top five is tough but they are:

  • Beyond the Wand – Tom Felton. When I reviewed it, I called it. I just knew that it was going to take a really special book to beat it.
  • Friends, Lovers, and the Big Terrible Thing – Matthew Perry. I’m a huge Friends fan so I couldn’t not read this book. It was utterly heartbreaking and hopeful at the same time.
  • Paper Palace – Miranda Cowley Heller. One of my summer reads that I couldn’t put down. I absolutely loved it. It gave me Crawdad vibes that I’d been desperately looking for!
  • The Lamplighters – Emma Stonex. Another beach read that I reviewed but fell in love with the plot after the first few pages.
  • The Lost Apothecary – Sarah Penner. A beautiful cover, a wonderful story with strong female characters.

That’s it! There’s so many others that I could have chosen but I decided to stick with these. What do you think? Have you read any of these?

2023: My focus has now changed to 2023 and what exciting books the future holds for me here. I’ve decided I need to continue with my efforts of getting down my to be read pile. Whilst going through my monthly reading challenge last year, I spotted that some of the criteria were quite similar so I’ve worked on it and please let me introduce to you all, the reading challenge for 2023!

I’ve tried to make sure that I’ve got some things that motivate me (e.g. a beach read. Who isn’t longing for summer?) as well as things that will definitely challenge me and broaden my reading horizons. Feel free to join in with this and make suggestions for me! I get a lot of my reading list from you guys so I’m keen for any books you think are good! I really hope you join in with me!

So, onto the next book and preparing myself for the next half term.

Big love all xxxx