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The Way of all Flesh – Ambrose Parry

Hey Lovelies!

August is running away with us again but thankfully for me it has been a summer of reading. I literally haven’t stopped. I even ran out of books on my holiday – thank goodness the hotel had a bookshelf completely filled by the guests.

I did promise to catch up with blog posts from the past few months and today is the first. I read The Way of all Flesh in May. I’d chose it for the Waterstones Book of the Month and it did not disappoint. Time to share my review with you all but without any spoilers. You’ll just have to read it to find out more! I hope you enjoy it.

What’s it all about?

Set and beginning in 1847 Edinburgh, Raven, a young and aspiring student doctor, is living in a less than desirable part of time. He discovers a friend, a lady of the night, is dead. At the same time, Raven is also being pursued for money by the local underworld, a Mr Flint. Previously, Raven borrowed the money to give to his now dead prostitute friend. It was never disclosed as to why she needed it.

Following a good beating in the street for failing to pay Mr Flint back, Raven arrives at the house and surgery of Dr Simpson, a wealth medical man with an excellent reputation. Despite Raven’s battered face, he is taken on as an apprentice which also provides him with the perfect opportunity to leave his lodgings and the insalubrious Old Town area. Naturally, this also could mean that Mr Flint’s debt collectors would be left behind too.

“He hoped the Simpson family appreciated how privileged they were to live in this place, safe not only from cold and hunger, but from the world of danger, anxiety and suspicion that he had grown used to.”

In his new lodgings Raven doesn’t quite have the best start with Sarah, a housemaid with a keen and unusual interest in medicine. She is a product of her time however, she has a wealth of experience in dealing with patients. Raven, initially makes himself look like a complete fool in front of her, alienating her at the same time. To make matters worse, Sarah discovers that all is not what it seems with regard to his deeply hidden past. There is a secret lurking deep beneath the surface…

Over a period of time within this incredible house, he is introduced to a number of other doctors, both established and new to the profession. At this time medicine is a frontier science and people were daily making new discoveries. After dinner, a common pastime was to imbibe new and untested chemical mixtures in order to see if they made a good anaesthetic.

“She found Raven, crouched over Dr Simpson, who lay face-down upon the floor. The bodies of Dr Keith and Captain Petrie motionless alongside. “He breathes” he announced.”

Raven makes a new acquaintance, John Beattie, who invites Raven to accompany him on a house visit. He needs Raven to assist whilst he performs a simple operation. Hoping that he will be paid well, Raven agrees. (This was how doctors made their money in 1847!) Unfortunately, the operation goes badly wrong and Raven is left believing that he is responsible for the death of the patient by mis-administering the ether.

Over time and throughout his duties, Raven has become deeply suspicious about a similar death to the one at the beginning of the novel. The way in which the body is contorted is identical and he begin to suspects foul play. Matters just are not adding up correctly in his mind. As a result, he decides to investigate these matters further. As the story unfolds, Raven makes an unlikely ally who helps him to research these deaths. They begin to discover and uncover a series of similar cases. Raven sets a trap, which fails… and the rest is for you to find out for yourselves!

The novel finishes with an array of events – good and bad – that shed new light on each of the characters. As suspected, no one can be trusted and no one is really who they say they are.

“As he stepped through the front door, the coat swirling about him like a cloak, a number of disparate fragments swirling at the forefront of his thoughts coalesced at once into a visible whole.”

Final Thoughts

This novel contains everything you want from a good book – murder, misadventure, tension, drama. It is packed! The pace is relentless and so it naturally becomes one of those ‘unputdownable’ reads. The time period of the 1840s appeals to me and it was fascinating to see this perspective of Edinburgh. I can’t wait to read the next book by Ambrose Parry – The Art of Dying. I expect it will contain the same trails and tribulations as this novel. Let me know if you’ve read it and your thoughts.

Enjoy the rest of August!! See you next time.

Big love xx

11 Comments

Filed under Book review, Reading, Waterstones Book of the Month

The Boy at the Back of the Class – Onjali Q. Raúf

Happy April Everyone!

What a beautiful start to the year it has been. The spring flowers are much to be celebrated and the light nights are ever increasing. Today I want to share with you the absolute joy that is, The Boy at the Back of the Class by Onjali Q. Raúf. Not only is this one of the books of the month for April, but this book also won the overall prize for the Waterstones Children’s Book Prize 2019. It’s current, relevant and an incredible read. I thought I’d take the photo in my garden with this little guy. The protagonist reminded me of him a bit. Look at his cute little face!

What’s it all about?

Told through the eyes of a group of friends, Tom, Josie and Michael, this novel is something we can all relate to in so many ways.

The story starts with an empty chair in a classroom following the absence of a student who had moved to Wales. A group of friends are naturally inquisitive and want to know why Mrs Sanders (the head of the school) and Mrs Khan (the teacher) are whispering at the front of the class. After a short amount of time, a young boy walks in behind Mrs Sanders. Ahmet became the focus of everyone’s attention. He looks very sad indeed.

‘I made a secret promise to myself right there and then that I would be friends with the new boy. I happened to have some lemon sherbets in my bag that morning and I thought I would try and give him one…’

Outside of lessons, Ahmet is nowhere to be found. After all, from the children’s point of view. it’s hard to make friends with someone when you rarely see them. However, one thing that is described so beautifully are his eyes. It’s the one thing that the character of Alexa (the story teller whose name we do not learn until the final chapter of the book) focuses on. The children wait until the end of the day and eventually they see him! They’re over the moon, but it doesn’t quite go as planned, despite having the lemon sherbets.

‘But the new boy grabbed her hand and hid his face behind her arm. I didn’t know what to do because I’ve never really scared anyone so much before that they wanted to hide from me.’

As days went by, the group of friends continually waited for Ahmet to give him gifts of sweets, chocolates and fruit. Over time, Ahmet started to make improvements with them. A smile here and a wink there. All signs he wanted to be their friends. After overhearing comments about how Ahmet is a ‘Refugee Kid’ the storyteller decides she doesn’t care and it really doesn’t matter. Finally, she gets a nod from Ahmet. A sign to her that it doesn’t matter that he’s a ‘Refugee Kid’.

‘I wish he had smiled back, because you can only ever know that a person’s really your friend when they like you enough to smile back. But it was OK because the nod felt like a promise, and I knew that I wouldn’t have to wait too long before the smile followed.’

What is beautiful in this novel is the storyteller clearly has an amazing mum. Working in the local library, books and knowledge centre their world. Naturally curious, the storyteller asks her mum questions about these children and their backgrounds. It all rings so true with the images we have all seen in the media. However, the child friendly language used makes it seem relatable by everyone; young and old.

Ahmet joining the class raises more questions than answers. Yet, the children are focused on being his friend and learning more about him. They had learnt that he was from Syria and had to flee from war. The storyteller and her mum decide to go off in search for pomegranate in the hopes that Ahmet would like this reminder from his home.

‘The new boy fell quiet. And then, for the first time since we met him, he smiled… a real, proper smile that went from one cheek to the other.’

One part of the novel that absolutely had my heart breaking was Ahmet telling his story, with pictures, to show the class what had happened and where he had come from. Story time is something so common in every classroom in the country. This one created a lump in my throat.

Ahmet tells his class all about his home in Syria, his mum and dad, as well as his sister and their cat. The war in Syria had led him to flee on a boat (like those seen on our television screens) to some form of safety. He went from Greece to the setting of the novel and his new school. To a new beginning. After telling his story hands shoot up around the classroom with yet more questions. The storyteller extends friendship further by offering her beloved Tintin comic to share together. We learn the truth about Ahmet’s family – his sister, mother, father and cat and why he is all alone.

‘I waited to see if Ahmet would show them the pictures and tell them about Syrah and the sea and his mum too. But, he didn’t, and I knew that he wanted me to keep it a secret.’

Then something happened that changed everything. Whilst travelling on the bus, the group overhear a conversation about the refugees. Again, it is a conversation we have all heard over time with some sympathetic views in comparison to the more judgemental views. Nevertheless, the children hear that the border is about to be shut, meaning Ahmet won’t see his family ever again. Despite telling their teachers, the group feel slightly fobbed off. It’s time to make a plan, or three, just to be on the safe side. These include writing to the Prime Minister or creating a Special Appeal. But, that wasn’t the greatest plan of all. The greatest plan in the world involved writing to our one and only Queen of England. They even create an emergency plan, just in case!

Time was plodding a long and the children were well aware about the discussion about the borders being closed. Therefore, it was time for them to work together and head for a London adventure! They had to help Ahmet and his family before it was too late. After navigating the trains and making their way around London, they need to get to the palace. They had presents for the Queen too! The first character they meet is Stan the Taxi driver. He’s a hit straight away!

Following Stan they then meet two Cold Stream Guards: Chris Taylor and Walter Kungu. After a mini adventure in itself, the guards promise to give another letter to the Queen and the presents they brought for the Queen too.

‘Getting into the back seat of the police car, we waved back. Lots of people began cheering and waving at us from all along the palace walls, so we waved back at them too, even though we didn’t really know why.’

As you can imagine, what came next was complete stardom. The children were in the news and causing a stir around the whole world! They even had a reply from the Queen. Finally, the children and Ahmet had some good news. Alexa also had her birthday. In fact, it is here that we finally learn her name! Her birthday was a complete surprise but the best gift wasn’t for her at all. It was for Ahmet, her best friend.

‘I know that afternoon was one of the best afternoons I will ever have. Not because it was my birthday, but because it was an end to one of the best adventures a brand new ten-year-old could ever have…’

Final thoughts

This book should be read by absolutely everyone. I mentioned throughout about comments we would have all heard in the media or even in our every day lives. However, this novel brings a voice to so many children and families who have been in this situation. It’s about friendship and kindness and the fact that we can always do more to help. The childlike innocence throughout is endearing and beautiful. This book is a deserving winner and an excellent read. It stands for something so much more than we ever could realise.

Big love all. Xxx

13 Comments

Filed under Book review, Children's Literature, Waterstones Book of the Month

If I Die Before I Wake – Emily Koch

Hi Lovely People!

I hope you’ve been basking in the beautiful sunshine today. It’s glorious out there! Spring is in the air and boy is it fabulous!

Time for my choice of book for the Waterstones Book of the Month. There was one book for March that just grabbed my attention which, as a result, meant that the others didn’t get a look in! That is If I Die Before I Wake by Emily Koch.

Unlike my other reviews, this won’t be as detailed and thorough with the plot. I wouldn’t want to give anything away and ruin it for you! I hope you enjoy.

What’s it all about?

The novel centres around the first person narration of Alex. Unfortunately for Alex, two years ago he was involved in a rock climbing accident. As a result, he is living in a permanent vegetative state. However, we as a reader get an insight into Alex’s internal dialogue. He goes through phases of utter despair, depression, frustration, positivity and everything in between.

“I’ve always been fighting, since the moment I woke up in hospital. But I haven’t always been on the same side of the battle lines.”

However, he does have access to some of his senses. He can see a little through the slits in his eyes. He can hear exceptionally well and can smell too. It’s his sense of smell that enables him to work out who is in his hospital room and when.

‘She only has to walk into my room and I feel a little bit better. For a start, she smells motherly and comforting, like marzipan -‘

Since Alex’s fall two years ago, he has remained in an unresponsive state, according to the doctors treating him. To begin with, because of the pain he could see his family going through, he decides it would be better to die. However, the more various family members and his girlfriend, Bea visits, the more he wants to show them he’s alive inside. He desperately tries to move, to focus on one point to get it moving, even if just for an inch.

As the novel progresses and time passes by, his family have to make the incomprehensible decision whether or not to turn off his life support machine. His parents, sister and girlfriend push for continuous medical tests. All the results show the same: nothing. Unresponsive. They continue to hold on.

Whilst everyone involved are in agony, Alex’s internal agony is so much worse. He can hear all the discussing about what decision to make regarding Alex’s current position. Eventually, they agree that it is time to move on and let him go. Alex knows that this will result in his life and there is absolutely nothing he can do about it.

‘I must have exhausted myself after several hours of panic. I found I was asleep, trapped in the same visionwatching from the corner of our flat, trying to help her, trying to shout to her but realising that saline drip lines bound my wrists and ankles, and the sponges used to clean my mouth were stuffed into it, gagging me.

Whilst heating the conversations about his impending death, Alex doesn’t have the energy to communicate (or try to) that will make the doctors and his family pay attention.

Something is different though, Alex has got some new visitors: the police. Recently, they have been around Alex’s hospital trying to unearth clues and information regarding Alex’s rock climbing accident. It appears that accident isn’t quite the correct word to describe what had happened to him.

‘The question I would have asked myself back then, if I’d known what I know now, was: But what if it wasn’t fate that made you fall?’

Alex has all the time in the world lying there to try and work out what happened to him. Everything is a blur though. His memories are severely damaged, if not gone. Yet, he still tries. He has a unending sense that something bad is happening with Bea too. The two link together in his mind and we see utter frustration from Alex because there isn’t nothing he can do apart from think.

Alex knows that he needs to use the senses he does have to try and work out what happened to him. As the pages fly by, time is running out for Alex (and everyone else) to solve the mystery of what exactly happened to him. After all, murder is a crime and Alex‘s accident might not be an accident at all. Time is running out for them all. This needs solving before they can say their last goodbyes.

“And so, I hope if you can hear me, you will forgive me…After I read this to you, I’m going to talk to your dad. You know what I’m going to say to him.”

Final Thoughts

Everything Alex’s character felt, I felt. I desperately wanted to shout and scream and get people to see what I was reading. A novel like this makes me feel great allegiance with the tragic character. Emily Koch did an amazing job at giving someone in a vegetive state a voice. Every nuance, every feeling was well thought out. I was gripped until the very end. I don’t want to ruin this for you but I urge you strongly to go and read it. You won’t be disappointed.

Big love all xxx

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Filed under Book review, Thriller, Waterstones Book of the Month

RTY: The Life & Adventures of Santa Claus – Lyman Frank Baum

Hey Everyone!!

Happy December! I can’t believe we are in the last month of 2018. Where has the time gone?! This does of course mean that this is the last book of the Penguin Reading Challenge. I’ve had immense fun doing this challenge and I’m so glad I’ve done it. I’ve read things I’ve never even heard of before. The focus for December is: Finish the year with a book that embodies the festive spirit. This was arguably the easiest month for me because I love Christmas. As is by magic, I spotted this beautiful book: The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus. It was a warm festive hug of a book!

What’s it all about?

The novel opens with a baby being found in the Forest of Burzee by Ak, the Master Woodsman of the World. This baby, Claus, is put into the care of the lioness Shiegra and then adopted by Necile, the Wood Nymph. These characters are immortal whereas Claus is not.

His childhood is filled with love and happiness. However, upon reaching young adulthood, Claus is introduced by Ak to human society. What he sees bothers him greatly. Visions of war, brutality, poverty, neglect and abuse. As an adult, Claus cannot reside in Burzee so he decides to settle in the nearby Laughing Valley, where the immortals assist him. To keep him company, Necile gives him a little cat called Blinky.

The next part of the novel focuses on Claus inventing toys. He becomes well known for his kindness towards the children. Every so often, his neighbours son, Weekum, visits him. Because of having Blinky, Claus decides to make a carving of the cat calling it a toy. This is the start of something beautiful. The immortals begin assisting him in the production of other carvings, with the Ryls colouring the toys in with their infinite paint pots.

Claus decides to make a clay figure reminiscent of Necile: Dolly. Claus gives the first to Bessie Blithesome, a local noblewoman, after checking with Necile and the Queen of the Fairies about whether he should give toys to wealthy children. The dolls created later then start to resemble Bessie herself and other counterfeit infant girls.

We then see the the Awgwas, evil beings who can become invisible, stealing the toys that he gives to the children. They are rather furious because the toys mean that the children no longer misbehave. As a result, Claus starts to make journeys during the night, travelling down chimneys when he is unable to enter the locked doors.

In all this world there is nothing so beautiful as a happy child.’

But, the Awgwas prevent so many of Claus’s deliveries that Ak declares war upon them. With the help and support of other immortal creatures such as the dragons, three eyed giants and goblins as well as the Black Demons, the Awgwas we’re confident that they were the superior side. Nevertheless, they are defeated and destroyed. Claus is absent for the whole battle, just being told that they have perished.

Claus continues delivering toys to the children. However, he is now aided by two deer: Glossie and Flossie. The deer pull his sleigh which is full of toys. With them he can deliver much quicker than before, spending less time per chimney. It is with their help that Claus reaches the dominions of the Gnome King, who wants numerous toys for his own children. He trades a string of sleigh bells for each toy given by Claus.

In restriction of the deer’s service to a single day annually, their keeper and supervisor Wil Knook decides upon Christmas Eve. He believes this will mean a year without taking presents and taking the reindeer from their home. Yet, the fairies retrieve the toys that were previously stolen. This enables Claus to continue with his first Christmas as planned. Thus, the title Santa is attached to him.

‘Every man has his mission, which is to leave the world better, in some way, than he found it.

As time progresses and the journeys Claus takes increases, we see that the children start to leave stockings places by the fire. But not all leave stockings. He discovers a family of Native Americans living in a tent with no fireplaces. He decides to place the gifts on the branches of the trees just outside.

As Claus reaches older age, the immortals come to the realisation that he is approaching the end of his life. Necile, devastated, still sees him as the baby she adopted and cared for. They call a council, headed by Ak, Bo (Master Mariner of the World) and Kern (Master Husbandman of the World), with the Gnome King, the Queen of the Water Spirits, the King of the Wind Demons, the King of the Ryls, the King of the Knooks, the King of the Sound Imps, the King of the Sleep Fays, the Fairy Queen, Queen Zurline of the Wood Nymphs, and the King of the Light Elves with the Princes Flash and Twilight. It is here that they decide the fate of Santa Claus.

After much heated debate, they decide to grant Santa Claus immortality, just as the Spirit of Death arrives for him.

Everything perishes except the world itself and its keepers…But while life lasts everything on earth has its use. The wise seek ways to be helpful to the world, for the helpful ones are sure to live again.

By the end of the book, the immortal Santa Claus gathers more reindeer to help fly the sleigh. He also takes on four special deputies: Wisk the Fairy, Peter the Knook, Kilter the Pixie, and Nuter the Ryl. We hear how generations of children have received their presents from the beloved, Santa Claus.

Childhood is the time of man’s greatest content. ‘Tis during these years of innocent pleasure that the little ones are most free from care. […] Their joy is in being alive, and they do not stop to think. In after-years the doom of mankind overtakes them, and they find they must struggle and worry, work and fret, to gain the wealth that is so dear to the hearts of men.

Overview

Reflecting back on this book, I just feel a festive glow about me. The tale of Father Christmas/Santa Claus is one we’ve all grown up with. It’s universal and it’s where the extraordinary happens. It’s magical, it’s enchanting and it’s such an amazing thing when you’re younger. It’s having that belief that some jolly old man will come and deliver presents for those who have been good.

For me, the beauty of this book is it gives us an interpretation of Santa Claus. The notion of one person seeing the bad in the world and doing what they can to make it better. Toys bring the children happiness. This much is true of today too. I really like how it’s such a simple yet warmly read. It’s given me the festive feels for sure.

Wrap up warm everyone!!

Big love xx

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Filed under Book review, Read The Year Challenge, Reading

RTY: Crooked House – Agatha Christie

Hi Everyone!

I’m back today to review my November choice for Penguin’s Read The Year Challenge. I was feeling really bad that I missed October’s deadline by a day so I wanted to crack on with November’s right away. The focus for this month is: Pick up a book about the country you live in. Agatha Christie is such a prolific English writer and yet, shamefully, I’ve never read anything by her. However, this changed when I read this book. Set in and around London in 1947, this book fits the brief perfectly. The bonus was I absolutely flew through it because I was completely hooked. I just had to find out what happened!

What’s it all about?

The novel opens towards the latter stages of the Second World War with character Charles Hayward in Cairo. He meets and falls in love with Sophia Leonides. She’s a small and very successful English woman who works in the Foreign Office. Despite being madly in love, they decide to leave their engagement until after the war, when they can be reunited in England.

It is always a shock to meet again someone whom you have not seen for a long time but who has been very much present in your mind during that period.

Once home, Charles sees a death notice in The Times. Sophia’s grandfather, Aristide Leonides, the wealthy business entrepreneur, has died ages 85. As a consequence of the war, the whole family have been living with Aristide in their mansion “Three Gables”, the ‘crooked house’ of which the novel is entitled. Following the autopsy, it is revealed that Leonides was poisoned with his own eserine based eye medicine, via an insulin injection. Sophia tells Charles that she cannot possibly marry him in these circumstances. The culprit has to be found first.

The most obvious suspects from the start are Brenda Leonides, Aristide’s vastly younger wife and Laurence Brown, the private tutor of Sophia’s younger siblings, Eustace and Josephine. The rumour: the illicit love affair conducted right under Aristide’s nose. What’s even more interesting is that the family are desperate for it to be Brenda as they openly despise her. The age gap causes suspicion amongst them, seeing the marriage as an opportunity for her to be rich, rather than one for love.

I think people more often kill those they love, than those they hate. Possibly because only the people you love can really make life unendurable to you.

Charles decides to help his father who is an Assistant Commissioner of Scotland Yard, to investigate the murder and hopefully get to the bottom of it. By becoming a guest of the house, he hopes that someone will reveal a clue or let something slip, enabling him to progress in his deductions.

As the novel progresses it becomes clear that each member of the family has a motive and opportunity to kill him. They are all well aware of the eye medicine and how poisonous it was. Aristide was open with them all following questioning from Josephine.

Following the discussion of his will, it is apparent that they all stand to gain a healthy bequest from the estate. Only the servants do not as their wages have been annually increasing. Therefore, this removes them as suspects.

What are murderers like? Some of them, have been thoroughly nice chaps.

The family members also have very little in common with one another. Edith de Haviland, his unmarried sister in law, is a rude woman in her 70s who lives with them to supervise the upbringing of the children. The eldest son, Roger, is Aristide’s favourite despite being a complete failure at business. His catering business is balancing precariously on a knife edge. His wife, Clemency, is a scientist with unsentimental tastes. She’s never been able to enjoy the wealth of the family. Roger’s younger brother Philip, has suffered because of being in his brothers shadow. As a consequence, he removed himself to a world of books and historical facts and figures, spending his time in the library. Philip’s wife Magda is a semi successful actress who views every day life as if being on stage. Naturally, she always wants the leading role.

Eustace, 16, has polio. Handsome and intelligent, he is bitter and cynical as a result of his illness. His 12 year old sister, Josephine, is ugly, intelligence and obsessed with detective stories. Taking this as her inspiration, she spies on the rest of her family, listening at doors, making notes in her little black notebook.

What characters don’t quite realise at the start is that Aristide has secretly rewritten his will to leave everything to Sophia. It was his belief that she was the only one who had the strength of character to take his place as the head of the house. When the family are told this information, it is a complete surprise.

Throughout the investigation, Josephine has been mocking the police for their stupidity. She brags that she knows who the killer is. Soon after, she is found lying unconscious in the yard, after a blow to the head from a marble doorstop.

Child’s evidence is always the best evidence there is. I’d rely on it every time. No good in court, of course. Children can’t stand being asked direct questions. They mumble or else look idiotic and say they don’t know. They’re at their best when they’re showing off.

When Charles finds letters from Brenda to Laurence, sharing their love for one another, it seems that it fits with the death of Aristide. Therefore, they are arrested. However, whilst they were both in custody, the children’s Nanny dies after drinking a hot chocolate, laced with digitalis (heart medicine). Apparently, this was for Josephine and once again the family are twitchy as the murderer is still lurking around them.

Fearing for Josephine’s life, Charles (in vain) to get her to tell him the murderer’s name. Edith de Haviland invites Josephine to have an adventure with her to get ice cream sodas. However, the car drives over a cliff and both are sadly killed.

Back at Three Gables, Charles finds two letters from Edith. Upon inspection, one is a suicide note for Chief Inspector Taverner, where by she takes full responsibility for the murder of both Aristide and Nanny. In the second letter, which is only for Sophia and Charles, Edith reveals the full truth of the matter. The murderer was in fact Josephine. As proof and evidence, Edith attaches her black notebook which discloses “Today I killed grandfather.”

The novel closes with the reasoning why Josephine kills her grandfather and the Nanny. Her grandfather refuses to pay for her ballet lessons. The attention she received following the murder she relishes so this convinced her into another murder. She planned her own with the marble door stop as a means of diverting the attention away from her. We learn that she poisoned Nanny for encouraging Magda to send her away to Switzerland. Josephine also disliked being called a “silly little girl”.

Edith found her notebook inside a dog kennel and felt compelled to protect the child. She devised the suicide/murder car crash as she did not want the child to suffer in prison or an asylum which is where she would have ended up when the police learned the truth.

The novel closes neatly with the engagement between Charles and Sophia confirmed.

Because this is just what a nightmare is. Walking about among people you know, looking in their faces- and suddenly the faces change- and it’s not someone you know any longer- it’s a stranger- a cruel stranger.

Overview

I really enjoyed this pocket rocket of a book. I didn’t know what to expect really. I just knew Christie is such a prolific writer. I was not disappointed and I was hanging on till the very end. I hope you all had a fabulous November and enjoy the weekend ahead.

Big love xxx

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Filed under Book review, Books, Read The Year Challenge, Reading

RTY: The Girl In The Tower – Katherine Arden

Hey Everyone!

November is here, the clocks have gone back and the evenings are getting much darker. That’s all awesome though because it gives us time to sit back and snuggle down with a good book.

Today I want to share with you my post for Penguin’s Read The Year Challenge for October. The theme for this was: ‘Tis the season for spooky stories: take your pick.’ I’m not really a fan of the ghost/vampire/scary stories. So, I decided to read the sequel to The Bear and the Nightingale, The Girl in the Tower by Katherine Arden. However, it is the first month where I didn’t finish the book in October. I finished it November 1st! (Close enough?)

This was just as amazing as the first book which is why I’m reviewing it pretty much straight away. Here goes!

What’s it all about?

Following from the first novel, The Bear and the Nightingale, the second begins with Olga telling her children and her ladies a story about a couple who cannot have children. Therefore, they bring a snow sculpture to life to be their daughter. The sad thing is, she falls in love but eventually fades away. Olga’s daughter, Marya, is convinced she sees the ghost of one of the ladies from a different story in the corner of the room they’re in.

Sasha (Brother Alexander) finally returns home and back to he palace to visit Olga. He brings with him an injured priest. Sasha tells Dmitrii about the battles his country are facing. Olga speaks with the priest, Konstantin, who tells her of Vasya’s evilness and her father’s death. He also reveals her stepmother is dead and Vasya, also presumed dead.

Another priest advises Sasha that Dmitrii is becoming unhappy with his childless wife and needs a sense of adventure. Sasha decides to take him out to the villages Before they leave, a man named Kasyan appears telling them he needs their help to defend against whoever is attacking his villages and people. Kasyan accompanies then on their journey but eventually leaves them to it. As they proceed along their journey, they continued to see burned villages with desperate citizens.

Every time you take one path, you must live with the memory of the other: of a life left unchosen. Decide as seems best, one course or the other; each way will have its bitter with its sweet.

They find themselves at the old monastery where Sasha first trained and where his friend, Sergei still lives. A boy, actually Vasya, brings three homeless children into the camp.

The story travels back in time to the end of book one where Vasya enters Morozko’s home in the woods. Absolutely exhausted and feeling quite hopeless, she wants the dowry Morozko offered her. However, she doesn’t want to marry anyone for it. Eventually, he concedes and the money is hers. Vasya wants to use it to be a traveller and see the world. She dreams about a pale women in white who tells her she should leave at once.

The first night of her adventure brings her a new visitor, a demon woman called Midnight. She refuses to tell Vasya who has sent her but she says she’ll visit twice more during her journey.

Her days are long and arduous and she soon catches a cold from the freezing Russian weather. With her companion, Solovey, she finds a caravan and follows it into a town. Due to the size, she believes it is Moscow. But, they’ve not quite reached that part yet.

Solovey doesn’t trust the town walls and refuses to go inside. However, Vasya is insistent. Disguised as a boy, she is able to explore her surroundings. She’s completely enthralled. A strange and rather ominous man, Kasyan, believes he recognises her in the city market. However, Vasya manages to escape him.

She visits a bathhouse on the way back and decides to stop for food and a hot bath. Whilst she’s bathing, she hears Solovey making a noise in the stable. It is clear why as two men break into her bathroom. She barely manages to escape the town. However, a snowstorm descends directly on the town, helping them to hide their tracks.

Vasya gets colder and sicker and is unable to get any warmth in her body. When she’s on the brink of death, Morozko arrives to nurse her back to heath. He assumes that because her trip was a disaster, she will return home. Yet, Vasya has other ideas. She wants to see the world and continue being a traveller. Morozko’s horse tells him he knows he loves Vasya. His fear is Morozko choosing between love and his immortality.

Morozko knows he has to let her go but he makes her a parting gift of a pair of knives. He teaches her how to fight over a few days. Vasya questions him and their discussion ends in in Morozko kissing her.

Vasya continues her adventure and soon finds another burned village. A mother tells her how her daughter was kidnapped and her husband killed. Vasya vows to find her daughter, so she sets off with Solovey to find them. After a time, she does find her and two others held by bandits who oddly, leave no trace. Solovey distracts the men whilst Vasya whilst she rescues the girls. They manage to escape just in time.

All through the night they are chased by the men. Cue the second visit from the Midnight, the female demon, where she offers advice to Vasya, against her orders. Her advice: to ride west. Vasya trusts her and at daybreak, they come upon a walled monastery. On this journey, the girls, hiding in Vasya’s clothing, nearly froze. Vasya begs the monks to let her in. Amazingly, Sasha is there.

Vasya continues to be deceptive and plays the part of a boy. Sasha also plays along with the act. Dmitrii is overjoyed to meet his new cousin. He orders food and baths for them all and asks Vasya to go hunting the bandits with him. After feeding, the party leave. Upon finding the bandits, fighting breaks out until Kasyan and his men arrive.

Upon returning to the monastery, Vasya busies herself with looking after her beloved horse so she doesn’t have to bathe with the men. Sasha and Sergei go to a separate bath house. Sergei reveals to Sasha his knowledge about Vasya. When they finally get to talk, Vasya tells Sasha everything from when Sasha left the family, to the death of their step mother and father.

That evening, Vasya dreams of the Bear. Morozko appears and to his surprise, Vasya grabs his cloak and pulls him close. He’s there because he heard her cry. However, Vasya can not cope with him appearing and leaving her. So, Morozko vanishes.

It is decided that Vasya should be kept quietly away with Olga so the story of his ‘brother’ may disappear. However, they both know that remaining quiet is not something Vasya does well. We have seen this in book one too!

Sasha begs Sergei to send Rodion to them when they find the captain they are currently unable to pin down. They discuss and assume who Kasyan is as they’d never heard of him before now, each equally as suspicious as the other.

Katya, the oldest of the three girls rescued, informs her that the men are saying they have to lie as payment for what Vasya has done for them. Vasya reveals her true identity as a girl and promises to make sure they’re returned home safely. As they approach the village, Katya asks Vasya what her true name is. This secret further units the girls and Vasya gives Katya a dowry for each one.

Continuing to Moscow enables Vasya to see the beautiful city: the sights and sounds. Sasha takes her to her sister, Olga. However, Olga cannot believe her eyes as she believed her sister to be dead. Initially disappointed that Sasha did not inform Dmitrii of the secret, Olga decides that they’ll have to sneak Vasya away and then reintroduce her as someone else. In order for this to be successful, Vasya needed to be inconspicuous.

That evening, Vasya spots the man who was the captain of the bandits. Actually, he is a Tatar (Russian royalty) called Chelubey. Vasya leaves to tell Sasha immediately what she has seen. But, there is a problem. He doesn’t know what to believe as Vasya did not reveal the full truth. Vasya vehemently assures him of her certainty.

The next morning, Marya overheard her mother discussing Vasya. She knows it is her aunt, not her uncle. Rather cleverly, the two make a deal to keep Vasya’s identity hidden. Marya also tells her aunt how she sees everything Vasya does: the ghost and the domovoi. The two go riding in the city together, having a terribly exciting time. A domovoi tells Marya a prophecy. She’s frightened, so Vasya reassured her that prophecies can be deceiving and to not think too much on it.

Whilst out, Chelubey appears and recognises Vasya’s horse. As he questions her, it is obvious that they recognise each other. He wishes to purchase Solovey but Vasya is clear that the horse will not let anyone ride him apart from herself. Tension rises as neither side wish to back down. Vasya refuses to let her horse go resulting in Chelubey’s men surrounding and blocking her in.

Thankfully, Kasyan appears and rescues her. He keeps Marya hidden and sneaks her back into the castle. Olga is waiting to speak to her sister immediately. The sisters argue and their relationship appears beyond repair at this point.

Chelubey rides again towards Vasya. She bets him that she can tame the mare he just bought. The set the terms of the bet. If she can ride it, she can keep it. If she can’t, he gets Solovey. People place their bets while Vasya takes the time to build trust between her and the horse. She eventually is able to ride it and named the horse Zima. On the surface, Chelubey accepts he has been defeated. Muttering, he tells her that she will pay for that.

Observing all, Kasyan tells her she has made and enemy but admired her riding skills. He wants to know why Chelubey recognises her. Vasya, hurt, explains that her own brother didn’t believe her, so why would he. After some gentle coaxing, she tells him. He believes her but knows she needs more evidence. Vasya agrees to wait for a small while until other evidence is found.

Following a very long, detailed church service, the Maslenitsa celebration begins. Sasha begs Vasya to stay out of the limelight, to be inconspicuous and live in the shadows of her sister. Vasya absolutely refuses, knowing full well this hurts him to lie, as a monk. Knowing full well she is hurting her family, she makes a plan to leave. She feels like she’s got no choice. Consequently, she decides to tell Dmitrii about Chelubey that very moment.

There is a problem: Kasyan hears Vasya trying to tell Dmitrii and decides to stop her. Instead, he challenges her to a horse race in the morning. She accepts but continues to try and tell Dmitrii. Yet, she sees the other world. The domovoi is serving at the banquet and Morozko is in the doorway. Vasya invites him to sit at the table with her. He has other ideas and wishes to go for a ride instead.

As they race through the night, they decide to talk. Vasya wants him to tell her what to do. They kiss for a long time. However, Morzoko is conflicted. He wants to share something with her but he decides against it, just warning her to be wary. He will fade as spring comes. As each turn away from one another, a red streak glows across the sky.

In winter it is impossible to be still. Even sitting by the fire, one is watching the coals, stirring the soup, fighting – always fighting – the eager frost.

Vasya is visited by Kasyan whilst she is grooming her horse for the race the following morning. He wishes to tell her something, but he doesn’t seem able to, partly because he keeps being interrupted. Sasha wants a private word with Vasya. He’d been investigating Chelubey and is unable to find anything out. Therefore, this convinces him to believe Vasya and wants to tell Dmitrii about it.

Upon arriving for the race, Kasyan arrives on a golden mare that is no normal horse. A bet is made – if he wins, Vasya must marry him. Startled, she realises he knows her secret disguise. None of this matters yes as Solovey narrowly wins the race.

In revenge, Kasyan pulls of Vasya’s cap to reveal her long flowing hair. Dmitrii is absolutely furious. He demands Kasyan cuts off all her clothes so everyone can see her true form. Sasha is bound and taken away because he knew about the lie. Vasya is taken captive in Olga’s tower.

Despite her anger, Olga ensures that Vasya is bathed, clothed and fed. She’s distraught that she cost their father his life, Sasha his freedom and likely her family if they think she knew. Vasya knows this is continuing to hurt her family and wants to make it right, if she can.

Meanwhile, Kasyan visits Konstantin in his cell, well aware the priest loves and hates Vasya. He’s given a task and promises vengeance on Vasya if he complies. Konstantin has always been disturbed by the feelings evokes by Vasya (particularly in book one) so he agrees.

Whilst locked in the tower, a ghost visits Vasya’s room. She cuts her arm work her necklace so the ghost can drink her blood to gain strength. She is told to leave and return home that very night. Morozko appears and promises to help her. However, Olga appears as Kasyan is calling on her, meaning Morozko disappears.

Kasyan blackmails Vasya: marry him or her family die. Failing to buy time, she reluctantly agrees to marry him. Vasya knows exactly what type of man he is. She knows his involvement in everything to belittle Dmitrii and to put himself in a position of power.

Olga goes into labour and is taken to the bath house. Sadly, the labour is not progressing well and Olga’s life is at risk. Morozko arrives to take Olga through to death. Vasya begs for her sister’s life. But, one of them has to die. Olga wants her baby to survive but Vasya continues to beg for Olga’s life. The baby is stillborn resulting in Olga demanding Vasya leaves.

Morozko finds her in the courtyard. She demands the truth which eventually he reveals. He gave her father exactly the same choice as Olga. Pyotr made exactly the same choice as Olga, to sacrifice himself for his family. The link between the two? Morozko made the necklace when she was a child and chose her. He needs to be tied to flesh and blood to prevent him from fading away. Vasya pulls off the necklace and returns it to him. She wants to flee but she cannot because of the plans Kasyan has for her but because they’re not veiled in magic, he can’t see them.

There is no magic. Things are. Or they are not.’

Thankfully, Rodion arrives at the cell where Sasha is and reveals what he has seen. Kasyan’s home is a tower of bones and he knows he is the one who is burning all the villages. Vasya arrives to tell them that Kasyan plans to act tonight and they need to get into the palace to warn Dmitrii.

Sneaking into the courtyard, there is nothing but chaos ahead. Kasyan and his man are already there. They hear Dmitrii making an announcement so know he is still alive at this point. Sasha goes to rescue him, Vasya goes to find Solovey. In the process she finds Kasyan’s golden horse. Upon freeing her, she turns into a golden fire bird (nightingale) and flies away, leaving the barn on fire.

Vasya spots her niece, but so does Kasyan. Konstantin tells her the deal he struck with Kasyan. He could have Vasya if he got Marya for Kasyan. Vasya forgives him as he baptised her sister’s baby but will kill him the next time she sees him. Chelubey appears with warriors both dead and alive. Dmitrii’s warriors continue to suffer in defeat.

Vasya hears Sasha’s voice in the crowd. They rush to search for Dmitrii. He’s surrounded by four enemies unable to move. They manage to kill the enemies and save him. Sasha promises to never lie to him again. All is forgiven and they head towards Kasyan.

Vasya goes to rescue her niece but on her way sees ghost of those she loves most. However, the ghost has been seen by her and Marya before. She notices Marya has a glazed, inexpressive look on her face, caused by a necklace with a red jewel in it. Vasya offers to trade her life for Marya’s. Kasyan hits her and kicks her in the stomach and ribs.

The ghost reveals itself to be Tamara, Vasya’s grandmother. They snap the necklace off her neck and the spell is broken. Vasya tries to take Marya away but Kasyan stops her, telling her he’s invincible. She remembers the fairytale Dunya told her when she was younger. She realises how he’s stayed alive and why her grandmother’s ghost is there. She seized the invisible necklace from the ghost but Kasyan puts his sword to her throat. When he’s distracted, she crushes the jewel in her hand. Kasyan dies. Morozko is there to take Tamara to death. Just before they disappear, Vasya sees her grandmother as she was before.

The battle is over, however a new one is forming: the city is on fire. Midnight appears for the final time and Vasya begs her to save the city. She reveals that by breaking her jewel, she banished Morozko who could have sent a snow storm. She confides in Vasya and tells her that Morozko loves her.

Whilst everyone is fleeing the city, Vasya runs back into the fire. Morozko said she’d only see him again in death so she tries to die in the flames. He sees her and sends a storm to distinguish the flames of the city. But he can’t live in the sun after midwinter. He begins to fade away but as he does so, he looks quite human. Vasya begs him to live but he fades away.

Think of me sometimes,” he returned. “When the snowdrops have bloomed and the snow has melted.

Marya is returned safely to her mother who wishes to see Vasya. It is time for Vasya to tell them everything that has happened from the arrival of Konstantin to the present day. Marya can see what her aunt sees. Olga wants her daughter to be protected from sorcerers and men. The novel ends.

Overview

It’s very uncommon for me to read a series of books. I’ve only ever done it with one author: J K Rowling. However, I’ve really enjoyed this series. I can’t wait for the final book to come out. It’s magical, it’s intriguing and it’s an adventure not to be missed. I loved this book just as much as the first, if not more. I’ve got used to the Russian names (the glossary is very useful too) so in that sense it was better for me than the first book. I absolutely whizzed through this book too – that’s always a good sign!

Have an excellent November everyone! Keep warm and cosy!

Big love xxx

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Filed under Book review, Read The Year Challenge, Reading

RTY: I Capture The Castle – Dodie Smith

Hey Everyone!

As promised in my previous post, today I wanted to share with you my review of the book I chose for Penguin’s Read the Year Challenge. The focus for the month of September was: dive into a coming of age story you haven’t read before. I have to confess that I Capture the Castle wasn’t my first choice for this month. The first book I chose was Black Swan Green by David Mitchell but I found it really difficult to get into. So after the first couple of chapters I gave up. However, my second choice was much more fruitful. I’d heard of Dodie Smith as a little girl because I loved the story The Hundred and One Dalmatians. I really enjoyed the opportunity to read something else by this fascinating, (arguably) lesser known novelist. This coming of age story has everything, love, jealousy, frustration, upset and complete joy.

What’s it all about?

I Capture the Castle tells the adventures of the Mortmains family, struggling to life in genteel poverty in a crumbling castle during the 1930s. The novel is told through the eyes of Cassandra Mortmain, an intelligent teenager who writes everything in shorthand in her journal.

Cassandra’s father is a writer suffering from writer’s block. He hasn’t written anything since his first book, Jacob Wrestling, was published. The novel, a reference to Jacob wrestling with the angel, is an innovative and challenging modernist novel that was hugely popular. This book made Mortmain’s name huge, especially in the United States.

Ten years before the novel begins, Mortmain takes out a forty year lease on a dilapidated but beautiful castle. This is the seed of inspiration for him, or isolation! However, as Cassandra tells the story, they are having to sell the furniture to survive and buy food.

Walking down Belmotte was the oddest sensation– every step took us deeper into the mist until at last it closed over our heads. It was like being drowned in the ghost of water.

Topaz, Mortmain’s second wife, is a beautiful artist’s model who enjoys being with nature, often naked in its presence. Rose, the eldest daughter, is a classic English beauty. Her focus is to meet a wealthy young man to settle with. She tells Cassandra, who tells us, that she wants to live in a Jane Austen novel.

Cassandra has literary ambitions and spends her time writing and capturing everything around her in her beloved journal. The final characters in the household are Stephen, the handsome and loyal live in son of the late maid and Thomas, the youngest Mortmain child who is just as intelligent as Cassandra. Stephen is very much in love with Cassandra but she doesn’t really notice.

While I have been writing I have lived in the past, the light of it has been all around me…

The novel changes pace when the Cottons, a wealthy American family, inherit the nearby Scoatney Hall and become the Mortmains’ new landlords. The girls are intrigued by the two handsome, unmarried brothers, Simon and Neil Cotton. These new men give the girls something new to focus on and to investigate further. Neil was raised in California by their English father. He’s very carefree and wants to become a rancher one day.

Whereas, Simon is scholarly and serious, with a passion for the English countryside. As the eldest, Simon is the heir and is already much wealthier than Neil. Although Rose isn’t attracted to him, she decides to pursue him into marriage if she can. Rose admits she’d marry the devil if it meant she could escape poverty.

When the two families first meet, each are as intrigued as the other about them. When the Cottons visit the following day, Rose openly flirts with Simon. However, she ends up humiliating himself due to her inexperience. Both brothers are less than amused by the experience and as they walk away, Cassandra overhears them saying they will cease further acquaintance with the family.

However, after an amusing episode with a fur coat and an alleged sighting of a bear, all is forgiven between the two families and they become close friends. Rose convinced herself that she really is arrested and taken with Simon so Cassandra and Topaz devise a scheme to get Simon to propose to her. This has an excellent result for the family as he falls in love with her and proposes shortly after.

Time in the novel following this is split between the castle and London. Rose and Topaz head to the city with Mrs Cotton to purchase Rose’s wedding trousseau. Whilst everyone else is away, Cassandra and Simon spend the evening together when they inevitable kiss. Cassandra becomes obsessed with Simon; it’s all she thinks about. However, she does end up feeling incredibly guilty. Simon, is of course, Rose’s fiancé. With Rose being away, Cassandra feels more and more lonely and isolated.

It came to me that Hyde Park has never belonged to London – that it has always been , in spirit, a stretch of countryside; and that it links the Londons of all periods together most magically – by remaining forever unchanged at the heart of a ever-changing town.

Over this time, Stephen continues to copy poems for her and save his money to buy her gifts. Cassandra decides that she has to tactfully let Stephen down in terms of his offer of love. She encourages him to pursue his model and film career, which has recently taken off.

…surely I could give him–a sort of contentment... That isn’t enough to give. Not for the giver.

Cassandra decides to join forces with him and Thomas to help their father overcome his writer’s block. They lock him in one of the towers, delivering food parcels to him. He becomes quite frustrated, but eventually it seems to be for a good cause. Cassandra, meanwhile, is acutely aware that her attraction is increasing. Cassandra continues to record everything in her journal.

In the background, unknown by all the characters in the novel other than Stephen, Rose and Neil have been falling in love. To conceal their growing love, they pretend to hate each other. When they eventually elope together, Simon is left heartbroken. However, for Cassandra, this means there is a sign of hope. Before Simon leaves to go back to the United States, he visits Cassandra.

“I found it quite easy to carry on a casual conversation it was as if my real feelings were down fathoms deep in my mind and what we said was just a feathery surface spray.”

Despite her feelings for him, Cassandra decides to deflect the conversation at the moment when she believes he may propose marriage, in the belief and understanding that he was still in love with Rose.

The novel ends on a rather ambiguous note. Cassandra reminds herself that Simon has promised to return to her. She closes her journal for good, still loving him.

I get the feeling I do on finishing a novel with a brick-wall happy ending – I mean the kind of ending when you never think any more about the characters.

Overview

This book is an excellent coming of age story. The family as absolutely fascinating and I found myself feeling many of the emotions described in the novel. Rose just wants to fall in love with the right person, Cassandra adores her sister and wants her to be happy. They each want their father to be able to write something so they can have furniture. Finally, who wouldn’t want to live in a castle? This is a charming book, perfect for everyone.

Hope you enjoy the autumn everyone! Get out there any kick up the vast array of colourful leaves.

Big love xxx

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Filed under Book review, Books, Read The Year Challenge