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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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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

RTY: Exit West – Mohsin Hamid

Hey Lovelies!

Hope you’re all enjoying the August weather. Whilst it’s pouring down outside (I can’t believe it myself!) I thought I would take the time to review my August book for the Penguin Read The Year Challenge. The focus for this month was: Choose a book which tells a migration story. This is not something that I would usually pick so I relished the chance to branch out once again. I did a bit of research and found Exit West by Mohsin Hamid. I knew nothing about the author or the novel, so I read this with completely fresh eyes. I wasn’t disappointed!

What’s it all about?

The novel centres around Nadia and Saeed. They meet when they are working students in an unnamed city. The two are different, Saeed is much more conservative and still lives at home, as custom requires. Whereas, Nadia is much more independent, choosing to live alone and has been disowned by her parents for doing so. As war breaks out and militants start attacking their beautiful city, the two fall in love.

“To love is to enter into the inevitability of one day not being able to protect what is most valuable to you.”

The two are struck with devastation as a stray bullet kills Saeed’s mother whilst she’s searching for a stray earring in her car. The sense of loss, particularly for Saeed’s father is huge. Nadia moves in with Saeed and his father but she doesn’t want to marry Saeed, as propriety requires.

The militants successfully gain control of the city from the government and violence becomes a normal part of every day life. Nadia and Saeed hear rumours of doors in the city that serve as a means to get to safer places. However, these are only rumours at this stage and the doors that do exist are heavily guarded by militants. Nevertheless, they take a risk and bribe someone to let them through. Saeed’s father chooses to stay. He cannot possibly conceive of a life where he is not near his wife’s grave. He doesn’t want to be a burden to them or bring them down. He asks Nadia to promise him to never leave Saeed until they are safe and settled.

“We are all migrants through time.”

It was a risk that paid off as the couple end up in Mykonos amongst other refugees and settle in a tent city. Over time, they become friendly, Nadia in particular, with a Greek girl who feels really compassionate towards them. She helps them to further their journey, this time to a luxury home in London.

“When we migrate, we murder from our lives those we leave behind.”

When they arrive in this luxury home, they settle and make it their own, not really believing their eyes or their luck. The owners are no where to be seen thus granting themselves ownership of the property.

More and more migrants arrive in London which results in increased tension and hostility between migrants and native born individuals. There are cases of threatening behaviour and mob rule. After time the migrants are sectioned off into a ghetto type place with minimal food and electricity. This is named ‘Dark London’.

“It might seem odd that in cities teetering at the edge of the abyss young people still go to class—in this case an evening class on corporate identity and product branding—but that is the way of things, with cities as with life, for one moment we are pottering about our errands as usual and the next we are dying, and our eternally impending ending does not put a stop to our transient beginnings and middles until the instant when it does.”

Tensions come to a head when a raid goes horribly wrong. The natives decide to try and work together with the new migrants to clear the land for Halo London. The promise with this is that they will all receive 49 metres of space and a pipe, resulting in access to utilities. Nadia and Saeed are well aware of the distance growing between them to throw themselves into working.

Nadia and Saeed are one of the first on the list which means they will be one of the first to obtain a secure home. Despite this promise, Nadia has hopes for something more. They chance their luck through another portal, arriving in Marin County, California.

Both are welcomed there and seem to be quite happy. Nadia soon finds work at the food co-op whereas Saeed becomes even more religious. The pair realise that they have lost the spark between them, they no longer have feelings for one another. Nadia leaves Saeed and moves into a room at work, forming a new and vibrant relationship with the cook there. Meanwhile, Saeed married the native born daughter of a preacher.

“And so their memories took on potential, which is of course how our greatest nostalgias are born.”

Fast forward fifty years and Nadia returns to the country of her birth. She meets up again with Saeed who offers to take her to see the stars in Chile one day.

Overview

Despite this not being the type of book I would normally choose, I did really enjoy it. It opened my eyes to a time and a place where people had to fight for survival, where people took massive risks. It’s a short and powerful novel which does leave you grateful for what you have. It did me anyway. It’s a shame Nadia and Saeed’s relationship initially broke down. However, there was a sense of inevitability there. The ending gives me hope for the future, for their future. I’ve walked away from this novel thinking I need to take every chance I get. It’s not so easy for others in the world and it’s easy for us to forget that. Onto my next read!

Big love all xxx

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Filed under Book review, Read The Year Challenge, Reading

RTY: Cartes Postales From Greece – Victoria Hislop

Hello Campers!

Hope you’re all well and have had a spectacular July. August is upon us and the beautiful weather is set to continue. It’s been amazing!

Nevertheless, summer for me is a time to rest and read. I wanted to share with you all today my review of the book I chose for July’s Read The Year theme which was: Travel anywhere in (or out of) the world with a book. I couldn’t think of a better choice than Cartes Postales From Greece. I absolutely loved this book! I was like being on holiday and the stunning coloured pictures really helped me to immerse myself there.

What’s it all about?

Ellie Thomas received a number of postcards in the post, each showing a glorious picturesque image of Greece. She came to obsess about them and when the next would arrive. However, she was not S. Ibbotson, the intended reader and the tone was always rather sad. Yet, this did not stop her from reading them, pinning them up and admiring them. Feeling the ever increasing need to get away and explore the places being shown to her, she booked a flight. On the morning of her departure to Greece, she finds a package. Little does she know how much this will shape her whole trip.

“Even though she was an hour later than intended, she felt compelled to retrieve it. The package had more than a dozen stamps stuck on it at different angles and was the size of a hardback…She recognises the writing straightaway and her heart beat a little faster.”

This package, a blue book full of Greek adventures, creates an episodic narrative. Whatever the author of the postcards saw is what Ellie and we see as a reader. The two marry together: the postcards and the notebook. We learn that the author was meeting S. Ibbotson but she failed to appear at the airport. Despite shock and disbelief, the author, only knows as A, continues to travel on his journey.

“The waves were wild, endlessly rolling in and crashing on the sand, their mood reflecting the turmoil that I felt inside. It did not seem to subside. I could not eat or speak. Men are meant to be the stronger sex, but I have never felt so powerless.”

The stories shared in this novel are all part of A’s healing process (later revealed as Anthony.) It starts with a story about heartache and the effects of this. We learn about a vendetta between two families due to a bride fleeing on her wedding day. Consequently, revenge is sought after and people live in constant fear. The author finds it ironic that this is the story he has been told after he himself has been jilted. However, he doesn’t feel revenge is the correct answer.

“Even if I had been brought up with the culture of revenge, I wouldn’t have the energy to lift a gun, let alone fire one, sorrow weighed me down so heavily.”

Yet, despite the start being so forlorn, the novel does change its tone. The scenery helps him heal, it’s just so beautiful. The tales divulged are often positive and enjoyable. The recount of Antoni, the violin player, is rather special. The soulful playing attracted men, women and children all around to listen and feel the music. One of those women was Magda. She too was attracted by the music and the effect it had on her. Because she was alone, she was regarded with suspicion but not the player. He reveals the story of the violin and who it belongs to. He shares the knowledge and passion. After an unforgettable evening together, a change comes. The next morning, he has gone.

“Now the stillness of the sea seemed to magnify the music and, even when the violin ‘whispered’, its voice could be heard across the space. When it rose to a crescendo, the notes burst through conversation like an explosion.”

As we travel around the different islands of Greece, we meet a number of different characters, each with a story to tell. Messolonghi had its own story to tell regarding a celebrity: Byron. Crowds gathered to catch a glimpse of this charismatic man. Unfortunately, he was unwell after such a long journey. Nevertheless, this did not stop everyone, particularly Despina, a sprinted young woman who was full of admiration for him. Byron’s health was deteriorating. His servant believed it was the ‘eye’, the evil eye. Someone has cast this upon him. His health deteriorated, he became increasingly worse. Sadly, Byron was not going to see this trip completed as he sadly died. Again the crowds formed but this time with melancholy.

“Once again, he was surrounded by a crowd, though now they were mourning his departure rather than celebrating his arrival. His closed eyes could no longer charm.”

Four days into her Grecian trip, Ellie continues living and breathing the island and the notebook. It evoked a feeling of complete calm and serenity. She continued to read on in the evenings, waiting to see what other wonders lay ahead such as the unveiling of a sublime statue. Costas was unhappy at home, his wife seemed to stop paying any attention or care and he was becoming distracted. He spent time at his allotment planting when he found something in the ground. He returned repeatedly in the evenings to unearth what he had discovered. Over time he unearthed a whole body. He spent time carefully brushing the dust away from this masterpiece. However, once the statue of Aphrodite was revealed, Costas felt aches and pains. He’d suffered a heart attack but died with a smile on his face.

“I have an image of Costas, happy and fulfilled at the moment of death. Maybe this is what really matters. I think that, for those few weeks, his feelings for Aphrodite gave him a zest for life that he had lost.”

Towards the end of the novel we have that inevitable sense of something coming to an end. Anthony met Athina, a young girl from Greece had returned to her home after working in Düsseldorf. Each day blurred together and she only felt a sense of existing rather than living. She felt homesick and a longing to be back there. So she returned and went to the Temple of Apollo. Walking the steps of thousands before her, she was searching for some form of enlightenment. As time continued; her exploration did also. Evening drew on and she saw the most beautiful sunset. At that moment she felt like she had been set free. She knew exactly what she needed to do.

“Her eyes showed that she sympathised with what I had gone through. For both of us, Delphi was a turning point.”

But what about Ellie and Anthony? Would they ever meet? He’s shaped her holiday dramatically and as a reader I was desperate for them to meet. But how could that happen? The back of the notebook provided the answer: an address. She decided, being as it was her last day, she would find him and return the book. The result of this is completely charming; a new opportunity arises from this. Ellie and Anthony would continue to be in each other’s lives.

“Of all the moments she had lived, this was the one in which Ellie felt most peaceful, but most alive. Above them all, swallows ducked and dived on the evening air.”

Overview

There are not enough superlatives to describe this book. I’ve absolutely loved it. The highs, the lows, the experiences that shaped both Anthony and Ellie also had a resounding effect on me too. As I was reading, I too felt like I was travelling around Greece. The description was breathtaking, the stories admirable. For me, this book has been a suitable and extraordinary summer read. I must investigate more Hislop novels now for more Grecian adventures from my sofa!

Enjoy summer everyone! Don’t forget your factor 30!

Big love xxx

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Filed under Book review, Read The Year Challenge

RTY: The Shadow Of The Wind – Carlos Ruiz Zafron

Hi guys!

Amazingly, I have a spare couple of hours now whilst I’m sitting on a train, so I thought I would post my review of my choice of book for June for the Read The Year Challenge. I wholeheartedly promise that I did read it in June, I just didn’t quite get around to posting it in time. But it’s here now!

This month proved slightly challenging as the topic was ‘Pick up a book that delves into the experience of fatherhood’. Now I have some clear limitations here, obviously, but I think I found a book that fits. The Shadow of the Wind. Whilst not explicitly being centred around fatherhood, there are a number of fathers and/or father figures in it. The beauty of this reading challenge means that I have read something I’ve never even heard of. The bigger present – I enjoyed it!

What’s it all about?

Set in Barcelona, the novel centres around a young boy, Daniel Sempere. Just after the Spanish Civil War, Daniel’s father takes him to the secret Cemetery of Forgotten Books. This is a place where old, forgotten books are loving preserved by a select few people. According to tradition, everyone initiated into this secret place is allowed to take one book and must protect it for life. The book Daniel chooses: The Shadow of the Wind by Julián Carax.

He takes the book home and reads it cover to cover. This sparks the need in Daniel to try and find other books by this unknown author but can’t find any. What he does discover are strange narratives of a man calling himself Laín Coubert. What is extraordinary about this is that name is the name of one of the characters in the book – the Devil, who has been finding Carax’s books for decades, buying and burning them.

“Books are mirrors: you only see in them what you already have inside you.”

Structured as a story within a story, Daniel starts a quest to find Julian’s other works. In turn, he becomes involved in tracing the entire history of Carax. One of the father figures in the novel is Fermin Romero de Torres. He was imprisoned and tortured in Montjuic Castle for his involvement in an espionage against the Anarchists during the war. His background in government intelligent helps Daniel in numerous days. However, their probing into he past of people who are long dead or forgotten takes him to the path of Inspector Fumero, whom he had dealings with previously.

“Fools talk, cowards are silent, wise men listen.”

This narrative has long since been buried. However Daniel starts unravelling it, clue by clue. Daniel and Fermin find a love story, the beautiful yet tragic story of Julián and Penélope, both of whom have been missing since 1919, thirty years earlier. Julián, the son of a hatter, Antoni Fortuny and his wife Sophie Carax and Penélope Aldaya, the only daughter of the extremely weather Don Ricardo Aldaya and his narcissistic American wife developed an instant love for each other and lived a clandestine relationship, only through faint smiles and few glances for around four years. After this time they decided to elope to Paris. They were completely unaware that the shadows of misfortune had been creeping their way upon them ever since they met.

“Every book, every volume you see here, has a soul. The soul of the person who wrote it and of those who read it and lived and dreamed with it. Every time a book changes hands, every time someone runs his eyes down its pages, its spirit grows and strengthens.”

Miquel Moliner, also the son of a wealthy father, was Julián’s best friend. He helped meticulously plan their elopement. It is eventually revealed that the loved Julián more than any brother and finally sacrificed his life for him. Julián eventually got to Paris. Penélope did not.

“Destiny is usually just around the corner. Like a thief, a hooker, or a lottery vendor: its three most common personifications. But what destiny does not do is home visits. You have to go for it.”

The memory of Penélope burns inside Julian’s heart and eventually this forces him to return to Barcelona in the mid 1930s. What greets him is nothing less than heartbreaking. She was nothing more than a memory. She had never been seen or heard of again by anyone after 1919. Daniel discovers from the note left for him by Nuria Monfort, that Julián and Penélope were actually half brother and sister. Her father had had an affair win his mother and Julián was the result. Tragically, after he had left Barcelona, it is revealed that Penélope’s parents imprisoned her because they were full of shame about her commuting incest with him. She was also pregnant with his child. The child, named David Aldaya, was stillborn. Penélope died during childbirth because her parents ignored her screams. Her body was placed in a family crypt along with her child’s.

“Memories are worse than bullets.”

When returning to Aldaya Mansion, Julián is bitter and angry by the news of his love’s death along with their child. He hates everyone and everything. Every second feels wasted; his books pointless. So he sets upon burning them all. Thus, the adventure of then and now is joined. Along the way. Fermin and Daniel know they’re in trouble with Inspector Fumero. They’re followed, they’re beaten up. Yet still their quest continues.

“A story is a letter that the author writes to himself, to tell himself things that he would be unable to discover otherwise.”

After Daniel finishes reading the book, he marries Beatriz ‘Bea’ Aguilar. He’s loved her for a long time, since 1956. Shortly after Bea gives birth to a son. They name him Julián Sempere, in honour of Julián Carax. 10 years later, Daniel takes his son to the Cemetery of Forgotten Books where the copy of The Shadow of the Wind is kept.

“Once, in my father’s bookshop, I heard a regular customer say that few things leave a deeper mark on a reader than the first book that finds its way into his heart. Those first images, the echo of words we think we have left behind, accompany us throughout our lives and sculpt a palace in our memory to which, sooner or later—no matter how many books we read, how many worlds we discover, or how much we learn or forget—we will return.”

Overview

The role of fathers or father figures in this book is paramount. Daniel’s father is a strong and quiet character. He doesn’t push Daniel to discuss what is going on. He’s quietly there for him.

Fermin takes a natural role of a father figure, becoming that partner in crime person for Daniel. He even sacrifices his life to help find out what he wants to know about Carax. Daniel and his father took him in and saved him from his past. He sees fatherhood as part of his future with his blossoming love and romance.

Julián’s loss of fatherhood is all the more tragic. You can tell he’s been grief stricken ever since Penélope failed to arrive. When he learns the truth he is a broken man.

Daniel too is a father at the end of the novel and how these role models have shaped him, lead us to know that he will be an excellent father to his own child.

This book was a complete surprise for me. I’d never heard of it before and I didn’t know anything about the author. However, I’ve really enjoyed it. Sometimes stories within a story can be quite confusing but this was weaved together seamlessly. I’m so glad I found it.

Enjoy the sunshine all!!

 

Big love xx

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Filed under Book review, Read The Year Challenge, Reading