Reading Round-Up: December

Hi Loves!

It’s New Years Eve! I can’t believe it really. I’m fairly certain I won’t get anymore books read this evening so I wanted to share with you the final round-up for this year because I have a glass of fizz and ultimately lose the ability to type. I’m hoping being as it’s only late afternoon in the UK, that I’ve still got plenty of time to wish you all a Happy New Year too! Before all that excitement though, let’s check out what I’ve managed to read in the month of December.

Now, I must say, I am pretty proud of myself this month because I’ve managed to read a total of 19 books. This is the highest amount I’ve ever read in a month and the last time I managed to do that was in August. To be perfectly fair, I think this is down to school holidays because all I do is sleep and read with mealtimes thrown in. Out of these 19 books for this month, I’ve managed 16 during the two week break so it really is down to having that time. Long live the holidays! Anyway, before we get to my favourites, let’s check out the shelves!

I’m so chuffed because I’ve read a real range – some that have been on the shelf for a while, some that I’ve bought and read in one sitting. I’m also really pleased with the range of fiction and non-fiction. I’ve had a bit of a good run with non-fiction. I do find that I have phases with non-fiction but there seems to be some seriously good non-fiction out there at the moment which I’m desperate to read! Lastly, I’m also really pleased with the wintery / Christmassy reads I’ve got through too.

It’s no surprise that it’s been hard to pick a top three here (don’t I say this every month?) but here goes!

  1. Coming Up For Air – Tom Daley. I read this book in one sitting. I’d go as far as to say, I was incredibly rude to anyone that was near me at the time when I was reading this book because I barely came up for air myself. I was captivated, immersed and finished the book praying that I could be best friends with Tom. Whether or not you’re into sports, read this book. Every felt lost? Like you’ve let anyone down? That you want more from life? That someone has judged you? Read this book. What an inspirational young man Tom is. I am in awe.
  2. The Good Bear – Sarah Lean. This book was one I finished this morning. It was so beautifully written and reminds me (not that I need it as an animal lover anyway) how awesome animals are and how we need them in our lives. It’s a story of a bear who is misunderstood and a little girl who tries to save him. A perfect wintery tale!
  3. The Jolly Christmas Postman – Janet & Allan Ahlberg. The reason why this book has to feature is because on Christmas Eve, I read this book with my favourite tiny human. We had the absolute best time and I realised that it would be a memory that I will treasure for ever. Slowly but surely, I am passing the love of reading to children wherever I can. We even read all the letters and did the jigsaw that came in the letter to Humpty Dumpty too. What a magical time.

I’ll be back in the New Year for the launch of my reading challenge for 2022 which I hope you all join with me with and I’ll reveal just how many books I managed to read this year too. All that is left for me to say is, have a very Happy New Year. Have the BEST time and celebrate safely.

Big love all! xxx

Reading Challenge 2021: The Essex Serpent – Sarah Perry

Hi Book Lovers!

I hope you’re all well and had a brilliant Christmas. I’m sure you all got plenty of wonderful books that I’ll be keeping an eye out for, that’s for sure. I thought I was making a good dent into my reading pile but then more arrived… I love it though!

Today, I finished my Reading Challenge of 2021! I honestly had the best time with my Reading Challenge reading things that I wouldn’t normally pick, revisiting books that have been living on the shelves for far too long and for finding books that have changed my world. December’s book is no different. I’ve read the wonderful The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry. This was gifted to me far too long ago because of its gorgeous cover so I’m glad I’ve finally got around to reading it. The theme for December was: Read a book with a beautiful cover. There are just not enough words for how stunning the cover of this book is. If you’re wanting to review the themes for my Reading Challenge this year, please click here. I can’t wait to show you what I’ve got planned for my Reading Challenge 2022, but more on that later! Time to crack on with my review of this brilliant book.

What’s it all about?
This is one of those books where all is not as it seems… Along with that, it’s one of those books where you can’t really give it the justice it deserves because there literally aren’t enough words. Regardless, I’ll give it a good go!

The novel centres around Cora Seaborne who I immediately fell in love with. She’s a widow but her husband, despite being wealthy is also quite abusive. With her new found freedom, she decides to ignore the constraints of her London society life and decides to take up amateur palaeontology. Whilst on holiday in Colchester with her son, Francis, and her companion, Martha, Cora is fascinated by a ruin caused by an earthquake which was rumoured to have awakened the Essex Serpent, a mythical sea dragon. Over time, the children and the locals become increasing convinced that the serpent is real and waiting to attack them. This irritates Will Ransome, the local reverend. The two frequently disagree about his faith and his refusal to believe in the serpent. However, the regular arguing brings them closer together.

“Cora, you cannot always keep yourself away from things that hurt you. We all wish we could, but we cannot: to live at all is to be bruised.”

This doesn’t go unnoticed by Dr. Luke Garnett, Cora’s friend whom she invites (well, begs) him to visit following a disaster at school whereby after Cora visits, the children fall into fits. With permission from Stella Ransome, Luke hypnotises Joanna, their eldest daughter. Unfortunately, Will walks in on this scene and is furious. As a result, a serious rift is caused between him and Cora. As if things aren’t complicated enough, both Cora and Will realise that they are entailed within an emotional affair, as do Martha and Dr. Luke. To make matters worse, Luke has been in love with Cora for some time.

Will decides to confess his feelings to Cora in a letter shortly before he learns that Stella is sick with tuberculosis, where she is rapidly approaching the end of her life. Meanwhile, Luke also confesses his love to her via letter too. Cora, naturally very cautious and wary of men because of her turbulent time with her husband, is angered by both letters. She ignores the letter from Will and writes an angry reply to Luke. Sadly, Luke received the letter the very same day that a knife attack maims him permanently in a way that ends his medical career.

Later, a mysterious stench envelopes the town, making everyone physically sick. Thoughts soon fly to the Essex Serpent and panic starts to rise. Will and some other villages go to look where they find a gigantic fish on the shore that’s dying. The smell comes from that and its death means that the villagers rejoice and celebrate because the serpent was obviously never real. Cora is persuaded to see her friends and returns. This creates an opportunity for Will and Cora to patch things up. This is just the starting point for the both of them.

“We both speak of illuminating the world, but we have different sources of light.” 

Whilst Cora and Will result in consummating their relationship, Joanna discovers that the serpent actually turns out to be an old boat previously thought to have been washed away. This discovery leads to another: Stella, whilst delirious and confused from her illness, has gone to the boat to die. Thankfully, Cora and Will are able to rescue Stella and return her to safety.

The novel closes with the Ransome children living with their friends, the Ambroses, whilst Stella awaits her death. Will finds himself in a sense of flux – he is happy with Stella whilst still in love with Cora. Luke meanwhile finds peace living with his friend Spencer and Core moves to London. She now lives alone as her companion, Martha, has fallen in love and her son has gone to boarding school. Cora is happy living in solitude but she does continue to write to Will, urging him to reunite with her.

“CLEAVE. To cleave to something is to cling to it with all your heart, he said, but to cleave something apart is to break it up.”

Final Thoughts
Firstly, and most obviously, this book is stunning. The cover is beautiful, the flowers ornate and the gold oozes opulence. However, for me it is the writing style that I absolutely love. It flows, it’s seamless and the description is divine. I wish I could write like that. I also thoroughly enjoyed the many letters which make up the narrative too. Letters provide a more intimate experience, we tend to see true emotions within them and these really added to the narrative. As I said at the start of this post, I genuinely don’t have the words to give this book the praise it deserves. But, it is clear to see why this book has won many awards. I urge you all to read it. You won’t be disappointed. What a brilliant way to close my Reading Challenge!

See you next time loves!

Big love xxx

Reading Challenge 2021: The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde – Robert Louis Stevenson

Hello Loves!

I hope you’re all doing ok and enjoying the run up to Christmas. I am well aware there are a lot of unknowns on the horizon but I am doing what I always do: enjoying the holidays, resting and of course, reading plenty. I know I’m still playing catch up on my posts but behind the scenes I have been working on my reading challenge for 2022 which I really hope you get involved with! I can’t wait to share that with you all!

Before that, today I am here to review my book choice for November. The focus was: November – Read a book by an author who died more than 100 years ago. I put this into my challenge so I read another classic. After all, they are classics for a reason and I am someone that sees the new books out in shops and buys them, leaving the classics behind. Unfortunately, I didn’t manage to get this read in November BUT I did manage to finish it on December 1st so it isn’t too bad… My first choice was the poetry of Lewis Carroll but… we didn’t see eye to eye… Anyway, I then decided to read the gothic Victorian classic The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. I hope you enjoy my post!

What’s it all about?
The setting of this novel, heavily influenced by Stevenson’s life in Edinburgh, is set in London with a quintessential Victorian gentleman, Doctor Henry Jekyll. Stevenson contrasts this with the character of Edward Hyde. One evening, Gabriel John Utterson and his cousin Richard Enfield reach the door of a large house. Enfield tells Utterson about the scandalous events of months before. He saw a sinister and terrifying looking man (Edward Hyde) trample a young girl after accidentally bumping into her. Hyde was forced to pay £100 to avoid the public scandal that would have ensued. However, when Hyde bought the cheque, it was signed by the reputable gentleman later revealed to be Doctor Henry Jekyll. Utterson knew the doctor well – he was a client and a friend. Utterson fears the worst and assumes that Hyde is blackmailing him especially as Jekyll changed his will recently in order to make Hyde his sole beneficiary. As his friends, Utterson tries to talk to him about it, only to be repeatedly shut down.

“It is one thing to mortify curiosity, another to conquer it. ” 

On a dark October night, a servant witnesses Hyde beating Sir Danvers Carew to death. All that is left behind is half of a broken cane. The police contact Utterson who takes them to Hyde’s apartment. Upon their arrival, they see how Hyde has vanished but has left behind the other half of the broken cane. Utterson recognises it immediately as one he previously gave to Jekyll. Utterson visits Jekyll who shows him a note. This note has allegedly been written to Jekyll by Hyde but Hyde’s handwriting is similar to Jekyll’s own, resulting in Utterson believing and concluding that Jekyll has forged the note in order to protect Hyde.

Gradually, over time Jekyll reverts to his former self. He’s sociable and back to his status of quintessential gentleman. However, in January the following year, he starts refusing to see visitors. This change in character leads to more suspicions. Furthermore, Dr Hastie Lanyon, a mutual acquaintance of Jekyll and Utterson, dies of shock after gaining some information relating to Jekyll. Before his death, Lanyon gives Utterson another letter to be opened after Jekyll’s death or disappearance. In late February, during another walk with Enfield, Utterson begins a conversation with Jekyll at his laboratory window. Out of nowhere, Jekyll slams the window and disappears, shocking Utterson to the core.

“There comes an end to all things; the most capacious measure is filled at last; and this brief condescension to evil finally destroyed the balance of my soul.” 

In early March, Jekyll’s butler, Mr Poole visits Utterson in a state of frantic worry. He reveals how Jekyll has completely secluded himself in his laboratory for weeks. The pair decide that they have no choice but to break into the laboratory where they find the body of Hyde wearing Jekyll’s clothing. With this and a letter from Jekyll to Utterson, it is assumed that this is suicide. Utterson reads Lanyon’s letter followed by Jekyll’s. Lanyon reveals that his shock was caused by seeing Hyde drink something that turned him into Jekyll. Jekyll’s letter explains how he indulged in unstated vices and feared discovery. Therefore, he found a way to transform himself and thereby indulge his vices without fear of detection. Whilst this was originally under control and under the control of Jekyll, one night in August this happened involuntarily.

Eventually, Jekyll resolved to stop becoming Hyde and go back to his respectful life. Yet, one moment of weakness resulted in him drinking the serum to change. This led to him murdering Carew due to him burying his desires for so long. As a result of this though, Jekyll resolved to stop the transformations. The police were hunting him as a murderer so Hyde needed to help him avoid capture. He wrote a letter to Lanyon in Jekyll’s hand asking for his friend to deliver various chemicals from his laboratory. In Lanyon’s presence, Hyde mixed the chemicals, drank the serum and transformed into Jekyll. The shock of this sight resulted in Lanyon’s death.

Finally, one of the chemicals ran low and new batches failed to work. Jekyll speculated that one of the original ingredients must have some unknown impurity that enabled it to work. Knowing there was no way out, Jekyll wrote out a full disclosure of events and locked himself in his laboratory. Here, he could keep Hyde impressed and Poole and Utterson would find him dead.

“If I am the chief of sinners, I am the chief of sufferers also.” 

Final Thoughts
For such a small novel, there is so much to discuss. There have been many many theories and schools of thoughts about the novel but for me, it shows the impact of hiding those desires deep down. Also, I am fascinated by the duality of man – how we are all capable of good and evil. There’s a reason this novel has stood the test of time – after all it’s been around since 1886… I also really enjoyed the letter elements of the novel. Letters are a dying art form so I really like it when they’re within the plot of a story and this is truly the case here – letters reveal the truth. All in all, this is a short novel that you can easily read in a day but one that throws up many questions and thoughts about the behaviours of man and the difference between out outward presentation of ourselves and our true inside.

I’ll be back before Christmas so I’ll wait until then to wish it to you all! In the meantime, enjoy the build up to the big day and stay safe and well.

Big love all xxx

Reading Round-Up: November

Hey Loves!
How are you all? Well, we are progressing our way through December aren’t we? Those jingly bells are definitely in my ears as I cling on desperately for the Christmas break. We just have to hang on in there! Mind you, whilst the world outside continues to turn, I’ve been trying to catch up with everything. Today, I want to share with you my round up post for November. One the one hand, November feels like a long time ago now. However, I did read some great books that month and I cannot wait to share them with you all. This month I managed to read a total of 8 books which I am quite pleased about considering it was mock season. You’ll see that the majority are children’s books. It’s not a secret that I love a children’s book, especially when I’m exhausted and marginally overwhelmed. It’s an easy way to switch off. I am also really pleased about the two non fiction books of this month too!

Without further ado, let’s check out the shelves!

My top three for this month were actually much easier to pick than previous months. Now, I can’t really explain why but I think it’s because I enjoyed all the books this month. It’s also a bit easier because I’ve reviewed two of them already! Check out Sooley here and Big Panda and Tiny Dragon here.

  1. Before & Laughter – Jimmy Carr. I know Jimmy Carr is controversial however, I learnt so much from this book. Inspired to write after becoming a father, it was amazing to see him being so unforgivingly honest. I am a fan of the show 8 Out of 10 Cats so when I spotted this I had to read it. But this book is so much more than the comedy. There’s some really insightful moments from Carr’s youth that I knew nothing about. I really enjoyed reading this and would recommend it for anyone who is into comedy, any fans of Carr and also anyone who wants to branch into more non-fiction.
  2. Drinking Custard – Diary of a Confused Mum – Lucy Beaumont. Another 8 Out of 10 Cats link here but this time focusing on motherhood. Now, I am not a parent but I found this book completely (and strangely for me) relatable. I think that if I were to become a parent, I’d be a bit like this. I thoroughly enjoyed this book and found myself laughing throughout really. Love it!
  3. A Christmas Carol – Charles Dickens. Every year I teach this novella and every year my love for it grows. It makes me believe that we all have the ability to change and I always find myself wanting to do more after I’ve read it. For example, one of my classes are now writing letters to our local rest home for Christmas. Anyway, this is a short for punchy novella with one of the most iconic characters in the history of literature.

Overall, eight books are still a good number but I’m really pleased that I read more non fiction. I do really love non fiction but it’s never my first choice. I know that doesn’t make much sense but I do always enjoy it and then vow to read more. Yet, I end up going to my usual crime/thriller/psychological thriller novels.

I’ll see you in my next post where I’ll be writing my review of my book choice for November and December. I’ll try to get some Christmas reads in there too! See you when I break up for the holidays!

Big love all xxx

Reading Challenge 2021: Sooley – John Grisham

Hey Loves!
I hope you’re all doing well and enjoying the fact we are now into December! Last week I woke up to SNOW! I wasn’t expecting it and I was mesmerised! It rarely happens where I live so I loved it. With that and it being December and the countdown to Christmas, I can barely contain myself. I mean, I’ve already got three Christmas trees up… Anyway, I was so taken with my London weekend that I’m really behind with my reading posts! Forgive me… I’m going to start the catching up process now though. Today’s post is my review of my book choice for October: Sooley by John Grisham. Now, I’m not massively into Halloween but I do love to see all the pumpkins (hence my photo of this book to be honest!) The theme of October was: Read a book with an orange cover. I found this book in my local bookshop; it was orange and by a writer I really want to read more of so it was perfect. Thankfully, I also really enjoyed reading it! I hope you enjoy my review!

What’s it all about?
The novel focuses around a topic I know very little about: basketball. If you’re expecting a classic Grisham courtroom drama, then you won’t find it here. However, what you do find is a blend of dreams, ambition, conflict and poverty. As always Grisham weaves his tale effortlessly, the characters are well developed and the plot still remains challenging, without reading like a challenge. The protagonist of the novel is Sooley, a seventeen year old, ginormous human being at six feet two inches. He is from a small rural village in South Sudan. His dream is to become a world famous basketball star. However, his location means that he is hardly living in the land of dreams or opportunities. Regardless, Sooley is lucky enough to get himself onto the under 18s national team to go on a tour of the USA. This is his golden opportunity to get noticed by a talent spotter and therefore get himself a college place in America. Maybe he could even get himself a deal with an NBA team and play in the worlds biggest basketball league.

Meanwhile, back in Sooley’s home town, life is not peaceful. Even on the bus journey to the airport, a gunfight breaks out between government soldiers and rebel bandits. However, Sooley manages to keep himself alive. As the training begins in earnest, it becomes clear that Sooley is very fast and can jump very high but he cannot get the ball in the basket. Nine times out of ten, he misses. Playing in America is a completely different world from the hard dirt courts Sooley is used to in South Sudan. Even though the richer teams have better kit and look smarter, he personally feels like a prince in his sponsored Reeboks and dowdy grey uniform. His coach, Ecko Lam believes that Sooley can become a superstar and starts pushing his case to a scout who he knows.

“Lonnie, Samuel could be the steal of the tournament. He’s not getting looks because he’s not scoring. But he will. When I first saw hi back in April he had the worst jump shot in Africa. He’s come a long way and he’s still working hard. And growing.”

Back home things are continuing to get worse. The guerrilla forces have launched an attack which has overrun Sooley’s village. The loss of life is staggering. His mother, brothers and sisters are all missing. The news that makes its way into the US media is fragmented and unreliable. Sooley has no idea where his family are or if they are even alive. His sister is taken away by the rebel forces and his father is shot dead. The rest of his family are now refugees fleeing the fighting. All they have now is whatever they can carry and keep safe on them.

The narrative switches from the endless stream of mostly unsuccessful basketball games and the horror and harsh reality of the people who are starving and suffering at home. Sooley is torn between constantly thinking about home whilst being thousands of miles away, trying to secure himself a safe future.

‘The water was wretched but it quenched their thirst. The peanuts tasted by chocolate candy. “Eat slow,” Beatrice whispered to James and Cool. “Make it last.” But they couldn’t eat slow.’

Partly due to sympathy for the tragedy that has overtaken him, Sooley manages to secure a scholarship to an American college. As he gets settled into the campus and college life, his new coach manages to make contact with his family in a refugee camp in Uganda. Sooley’s life becomes a bit more ‘normal’ (or normal in our terms) as he shares a room with someone else from the team and gets a job working in the locker room of the football team. Now he has access to the gym in the quiet periods, he starts to practice for as long as he possibly can. His training has officially begun. Nevertheless, he still cannot dribble and he still cannot shoot. As a result, Sooley is likely to spend his first season sitting on the bench. Early one morning, his phone rings with an International call. It’s his mother. Finally, after this wall of silence and doubt, he is able to make contact. It’s taken two months for him to hear her voice again and the news that his sister is missing hits him hard.

Despite working hard and showing some signs of improvement, Sooley is still resigned to the bench. He is still growing taller and he is putting on muscle mass. His shooting is getting better and better. For the team however, things are not going so well. A series of defeats means that morale is low. Finally the coach decides to give Sooley the opportunity to play on the court. This was his opportunity to show just how much he had improved. In that game, all his practice, hard work and dedication comes to fruition.

‘The legend of Sooley began with fifteen minutes to go in the second half. He sprang high and aimed at the rim. It was not a hopeless effort to beat the buzzer. I was not a Hail Mary. Instead, it was a smooth, confident, perfect jump shot from 42 feet that found nothing but net. He glanced at Coach Britt, who stood frozen, his mouth wide open.’

Over the next few games, Sooley establishes himself as the star of the team. Despite his obvious skill, he remains humble and likeable, never letting the adulation of the crowd go to his head. Alongside this success, he starts working with an immigration lawyer to see if he can get his family to safety in America with him. He sends them money and speaks to the at least once a week and whilst their situation is difficult, it is no longer desperate.

But all this wasn’t destined to last. Like any young man, decisions are made that are later regretted and lessons have to be learnt. The ending isn’t what we expect…

Final Thoughts
Grisham strikes again with this book! I wasn’t bothered by the fact that I know very little about basketball. I was taken in with Sooley’s story, felt increasingly uncomfortable with the descriptions of life when you are living in a state of fear and utter survival as well as refugee camps. Ultimately, I was desperate for Sooley to become a success story. I completely appreciate that this novel doesn’t end in the way I expected it to either. That is the skill of Grisham – he creates an ‘easy’ read which is hard-hitting, challenging and thought provoking. Regardless, it was a book that I did enjoy to read and once again, I am grateful for finding this by pure chance on the shelves at the store.

I once again apologise for the fact that this post is very late. I’ve got the round-up and November’s book choice left to catch up on!

Continue to stay safe and well everyone!

Big Love xxxx

Reading Round-Up: October

Hello Loves!

How are you all? I’m been so lucky and had a week in the sun before heading back to work. I went back to my ‘heaven is a place on earth’ place: Cyprus. It’s such a beautiful country which always helps me reset and restore the harmony and resilience I need for school! Anyway, back in the UK, Now the clocks have gone back, we are firmly into Autumn – arguably the most beautiful season in the UK. I really hope you’re all enjoying it!

I was utterly exhausted so where I had a bumper summer of reading, October wasn’t quite like that. When I find I’m struggling, I always go back to books for children. I think there is a real art to writing a children’s book. There are lessons in there that help us as adults. I’ve found that this month I have read more children’s book than I have for a while previously! Also, I’ve defaulted back to writers that are my ‘safe bets’. I know I’ll enjoy them so I pick them to take the pressure off!

Regardless, I managed to read a total of 13 books in October which I’m quite pleased with! Let’s check out the shelves!

As always it is a difficult decision to pick a top three but I’ve given it my best! I’ve also picked ones that I think and hope you guys would love too!

  1. The Cat Who Saved Books – Sosuke Natsukawa. You absolutely need to add this book to your list now. I cannot praise this book enough. I really need to review it properly because it’s wonderful on so many levels. It’s just pure magic. We follow a cat who sets challenges for those who see its presence. These challenges are all challenges we can relate to so read it and find out! I have a really big soft spot for translated books as well and I think we are so lucky to be able to have access to these as well as our own classic British writers.
  2. Fledgling – Lucy Hope. Another book that I strongly urge you to put to the top of your reading list. I LOVE it. I was so lucky to receive an advanced copy of this. It’s released in the UK on November 4th so all head out and buy it. It tells the magical story of a gothic adventure set in Bavaria. It includes angels and owls and a boy where things are not as they really seem. It’s stunning.
  3. The Audacity – Katherine Ryan. I love Katherine Ryan. She’s deadpan, brutal, honest and fierce. Within this non fiction piece, there are many examples and scenarios that I can relate to within here. Even if Katherine’s comedy isn’t your style, her writing is something else. I really enjoyed this book and found it incredibly insightful.

That’s it! There’s some absolute beauties in this months reading, some of which I’ve never even heard of and I’ve just found them on my travels. I’m so grateful that I have the reading bug to be honest – I can’t imagine my life without it and I’ve realised that it isn’t about how much you read, it is about what you read and the impact they have on me and my life.

Lastly, I hope you’re all continuing to stay safe and well. I can’t stop looking at my holiday photos so here’s another one for you all! Enjoy!!

Big love all xxx

Reading Challenge 2021: Grimm Tales for Young and Old – Philip Pullman Collection

Good afternoon lovelies!

How are you all? I hope you’re well and enjoying the beauty in the change of nature right now. Outside my window I can see leaves dancing and their colours changing. Autumn is a really beautiful time of year – it’s so important that we notice it. In fact, I’ve been worried recently that I’m missing all of this happening around me so I’ve taken time this weekend to relax, read and observe. We are so lucky to have our natural world in all its beauty. We need to take care of it.

As promised in my previous post, I’m here today to share with you my book choice for my reading challenge. September’s theme was: Read a traditional fairy tale. Now, this is where I have to admit that my knowledge of fairy tales really only extend to the Disney versions I spent my childhood watching. I knew a couple of tales from growing up too but these really were quite hazy and the more modern fairy tales or the modern adaptation of them I knew also fell into that category. Therefore, my choice for this month came at the right time as these were an easy read (helps massively with school) and also thoroughly enjoyable… if that’s the right word! I’m really looking forward to sharing my favourite three with you all!

What’s it all about?
First of all, I just have to say that my edition here, the Penguins Classics edition, really is stunning. There’s something truly magical about owning a clothbound book I find. This collection contains the classics: Snow White, Hansel and Gretel, Rumpelstiltskin and Rapunzel to name a few but also some that I’ve never even heard of. However, I have to start with my favourite: Cinderella.

Cinderella
Written in 1812, the tale begins with the death of a young girl’s mother, leaving her with the lesson of being good and praying faithfully. The following Spring the girl’s father marries an evil woman with two daughters of her own. They turn the young girl into a servant and make her sleep on the floor in the fire cinders, hence the name Cinderella. She remains true to her beloved mother and remains humble despite the years of abuse and suffering she suffered.

Meanwhile, the King announces a three day festival so that the prince can pick his bride. Cinderella is desperate to attend but her step-mother has different plans. She purposely throws lentils into the ashes and forces Cinderella to clean them up instead of attending. However, Cinderella gets a helping hand from her trusty birds and the mess is quickly cleared. The magic tree, one which has helped her often, gives her a dress and slippers of the most beautiful gold, silver and silk. Once she’s at the ball, she is the most stunning girl there! Under her disguise, nobody knows it’s her and rather fortunately, the prince sees her and falls in love.

At the end of the festival, Cinderella escapes leaving one slipper behind. The prince knows that the woman he loves can fit into that shoe and so the search begins to find her. The step-sisters are desperate for him to think it’s one of them. One decides to cut off her toe to enable her foot to fit and the other cuts off her heel. Yet, it’s the birds who show how the shoe rightfully belongs to and punish the evil step-sisters of their behaviour towards Cinderella.

“Roocoo-coo, roocoo-coo
No blood in the shoe!
It’s not too tight,
This bride is right!”

The Elves
Written in 1806, this little collection of tales all feature one thing: elves. In the first tale, we see a hardworking but poor shoemaker struggling to make shoes due to his lack of leather. In fact, he was only able to make one single pair. He left the pair unfinished, for the morning, heading for bed to commend himself to God. After waking the following morning, saying his prayers, he returns to his workbench. What he sees is a miracle! A completed pair of shoes in perfect condition.

A customer entered the shop and offered a huge sum for the shoes, more than they usually sold for. Following this, the shoemaker decides to stay up and see exactly who had helped them. Hidden in the corner of the room, they waited patiently. What they saw were two little men working quickly and nimbly on a pair of shoes, running away once they were completed.

The wife decides that they have to show thanks to the little people because they truly have changed their lives. Noticing they have no clothes, she makes them little clothes for them and the shoemaker finishes each outfit with a pair of shoes. Once they had finished the clothes and shoes, they left them for the men and saw how happy it made them. They danced out of their home, never to be seen again. However, the shoemaker prospered in his business.

The second tale centres on a girl this time. A poor but hardworking servant girl was sweeping out the house when she found a letter. She couldn’t read so instead took the letter to her masters. They told her the contents of the letter – that she had been invited to an elf baptism and asked to be a godmother. She hesitated not really sure of what she should do but her master manages to persuade her to accept.

Upon arrival the girl saw just how beautiful it was where the elves lived. They did everything to keep her comfortable and happy but she wanted to leave. The elves continued to work hard but after three days she was desperate to return. They ave her gold but let her leave. Once she got back home she learnt that it wasn’t three days but seven years that she had spent with them.

The final tale shows a woman who had her child taken from the cradle by elves and substituted with a changeling. She was advised by a neighbour to set the changeling on the hearth, make a fire and boil water within two eggshells. This should make the changeling laugh and he would leave. The woman did everything in her power to follow her neighbour’s instructions. Finally, the changeling laughed and a band of elves appeared to swap the child and changeling back.

“We’re finer than before –
We shan’t be cobblers anymore!”

The Golden Bird
Every year, a king’s apple tree is robbed of one golden apple during the night. Frustrated with this regular theft, the king sets his gardener’s sons to watch to find out who it is. The first two sons fail in their mission as they both fall asleep. However, the youngest son manages to stay away to see that the thief isn’t a person, but it is in fact a golden bird. He tries to shoot it but only manages to knock a feather off. The king decides that this feather is so valuable that he must also have the bird that it belongs to.

The king sends the sons again onto their next mission – capture the bird. On route, they meet a talking fox who gives them some advice. The first two sons ignore the advice but the third doesn’t. He obeys the fox so the fox further advises him to use the wooden cage from the castle and not the golden one. However, this he disobeys and the bird rouses the castle, resulting in his capture. The fox offers further advice – to use a grey leather saddle, not a gold one, but the son disobeys too. He now has a bird and a horse. He is sent after the princess from the golden castle. The fox advises him not to not her say her farewell to her parents but he disobeys again. As a result, princess’s father orders him to remove a hill for eight days as the price of his life.

The fox removes it and then they set out together again. He further advises the prince on how to keep all the things he has won since then. It then asks the prince to shoot it and cut off its head. When the prince refuses, it warns him against buying gallows’ flesh and sitting on the edge of rivers.

On route back home, he finds his older brothers who have been living in sin throughout this ordeal. Because of their actions, they are to be hanged on the gallows. He buys their liberty and they find out exactly what he has been up to. When he sits on the river’s edge, they push him in. They steal all of his things and the princess and begin back to their father. Nevertheless, the bird, horse and princess all grieve for the youngest son. The fox also rescues the prince. When he returns to his father’s castle dressed in a beggar’s clock, the bird, the horse and the princess all recognise him as the man who won them and become cheerful once again. The older brothers are punished for their deeds and he marries the princess.

Lastly, the third son cuts off the fox’s head and feet at the creatures request. The fox is revealed to be a man, the brother of the princess who had been enchanted by a witch after being lost of may years.

“And from then on nothing was missing from their happiness as long as they lived.”

Final Thoughts
I think there is (obviously) rather something magical about fairy tales. I found reading this a complete joy really. The majority are cautionary and I do wonder how younger audiences would find them now. Some are fairly barbaric and brutal but all have their own lessons. We all are desperate for good to overcome evil, for light to beat darkness, for kindness to be rewarded and that’s really what these tales show us. I’m so glad that I had this as a theme on my challenge because without it, I’m sure I wouldn’t have got to them! The reading list is forever growing, let’s face it. But I’ve loved reading them! No regrets.

I’ll continue catching up with you all whilst getting through my final week before half term break. I feel like I’ve been counting down since week two to be honest but it will be good to switch off and recover. The reading pile isn’t going to read itself, is it? Until next time my loves.

Big love all xxx

Reading Round-Up: September

Hello Book Lovers!

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

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

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

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

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

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

Big love all xxx

Reading Challenge 2021: A Double Life – Charlotte Philby

Hello!

I hope you’re all doing well. Today I need to catch up with you all regarding my reading challenge book for July. You may remember from my previous post that it was the first time this year that I didn’t read this book in the month it was from. Eek! Never mind. I made sure it was the first book I read in August so it’s not too bad…

Anyway, the focus for July was: Read a book where your name is on the cover (title or author) Now for me, there are some really obvious ones: the Charlotte Bronte novels, Charlotte’s Web by E.B.White, Charlotte by Helen Moffatt, The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman etc. However, I wanted to go for one I’ve never read before and hopefully never heard of before. The whole point of the reading challenge is to push myself. My final decision was A Double Life by Charlotte Philby. I liked the cover and the blurb was intriguing so it made sense to me. Let’s get on with the review.

What’s it all about?

First of all, my review may not be as long as usual. I don’t want to ruin any surprises for you – so forgive me for the elusiveness of it! However, I’ve given you just enough to tempt you in – hopefully!

The novel centres around two very separate and very different and contrasting women: Gabriela and Isobel. These women are worlds apart but by the end of the novel, we see how there’s ‘two sides to every story’ and then we know the truth too.

Firstly, Gabriela who is a senior operator in a FCO counter terrorism unit, leading a small Whitehall based team. She’s ambitious and is desperate to be promoted and acknowledged with accolades in that field. She’s also the family breadwinner whilst her partner (an interesting character in itself – he comes across as quite feeble) Tom, a freelance architect, looks after their children.

In stark contrast to her ordered life, complicated only by the over familiar FCO creep of a boss, Emsworth, Isobel is a mess. A journalist who has failed to see just how good she could be and as a result, drifts this an alcohol and drug endured haze of an existence. She works for a local paper in Camden, writing local news stories with very little enthusiasm.

One evening Isobel witnesses a horrific attack whilst walking home from a party. She didn’t feel like she could report it because of being under the influence of alcohol and drugs. She made the assumption that no one would believe her or that her statement wouldn’t be reliable. Yet, someone knows she was there and makes themselves known to her in a number of frightening ways. The journalist in her knows there’s a story here so starts to investigate. Little did she know that she would end up in the murky waters of a dark network of human trafficking and exploitation.

‘As I talk him through the details, I feel the events of Saturday morning begin to fade, the woman’s face sweeping in and out of focus in my mind like a figure stepping in and out of the shadows, until, for the moment, she vanished altogether.’

When Gabriela returns from her seven month trip to Moscow, her life begins to fall apart at the seams. The promotion she so desperately wanted eludes her, she actually ends up losing her job instead, and it makes her completely disillusioned, questioning the value of her life and all that’s within it. She loves her children but is adamant she doesn’t want to be a stay at home mum.

Whilst working in Moscow, she meets a very charming and charismatic gentleman, Ivan. She falls for him and they start to have an intimate relationship. She barely knows anything about him and the information she gives him about herself isn’t exactly the truth… She falls pregnant and flees back to Moscow leaving her two children behind with Tom. In Moscow, she decides to have the baby, a little girl, and have a double life. Meanwhile, Isobel is getting closer to finding out what is actually happening. The links between the two women are getting clearer…

‘But she loved Ivan, that was also a fact. He was the antidote to everything she resented about her life with Tom, and so, unlikely as it might seem to some, she reasoned that moving between these two worlds was the perfect solution. As long as no one found out, and maybe they didn’t have to.’

These two women are so desperate that the novel is essentially a story of hide and seek. One is desperate to hide the truth whilst the other is desperate to reveal it. The lives of the two women converge through the auspices of Madeline, Gabriela’s former FCO mentor, now leading a unit at the National Crime Agency, investigating trafficking and prostitution. By the end of the novel, everything becomes clear and the truth is out.

‘For a moment, as Madeline had spoken, she’d felt sorry for him. All along, he was waiting for her to tell him she’d chosen him. Despite all the evidence telling him she would never leave her family, he had still chosen to believe she would.’

Final Thoughts

Well, as books go, this one was quite a good read. However, I didn’t realise it was part of a series. I’ve never read or heard of the first book so I feel like I need to go back there to see if some of the clues are given. By the end of this book, I must say I had many questions. But, it seems there is a third book coming out which I’m sure will answer them. For me, I’m not great with series – sometimes the commitment puts me off. Also, there’s nothing more disappointing than a really good start and a poor finish. (Not that I’m saying this has happened here!) I did enjoy reading this book and found myself not liking the women either way really which was an interesting reaction. You could argue that it takes a while to find out how the two are linked as it isn’t revealed until right at the end of the book but it’s questionable. I guess it’s to keep the sense of mystery. Regardless, I like the mix of Russia and London and found this really helped with the double life ideal of the novel.

All in all, this was an enjoyable read if not frustrating because I didn’t have all the information. Would I have picked this book if I’d have known? Probably not. BUT I am grateful I did because it was a worthwhile read. The writing style is good and as Charlotte’s go, Philby clearly is a talented one!

I’ll see you next time for more reviews from my sun lounger! Long live the summer! Take care all!

Big love xxxx

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