Tag Archives: Reading

The Red Notebook – Antoine Laurain

Hello Everyone!

Happy September!! You’ll be pleased to know my great disappearing act has come to an end. In all seriousness, the last of my summer holiday went in the blink of an eye and my return to work came all too suddenly. Therefore, I apologise for all the wonderful things I’ve missed. I’ll endeavour to catch up with them all.

Now I’ve got a pocket of time to myself (meaning I’m currently ignoring the Macbeth scheme of work I need to write) I wanted to share with you a lovely little book I read over the summer. This book made me smile in abundance. It was one of those reads that grabbed you by the heart and whisked you on a little adventure.

What’s it all about?

The novel centres around Laure and Laurent and how their lives are brought together. For the majority of the novel, the main voice we hear is Laurent’s. However, it is through his narrative we learn about Laure.

On her way home from work, Laure is mugged. Her attacker knocks her head with a heavy object which causes her to fall to the ground. The attacker runs away, taking her handbag with him. Many people around her try and help but Laure believes she is completely fine. She doesn’t realise that she has sustained quite an injury to the back of her head. Laure doesn’t wish to return home, despite feeling ok. Therefore, she checks herself into a nearby hotel and meets a friendly night clerk. She explains how she’s been mugged and needs a place for the night so in the morning she can go and report it to the police where she will then be able to pay for the room. The night clerk agrees to let her stay and gives her a key to a room. She settles down for the night.

The following morning, the women working on the front desk reads a note left by the night clerk telling them what happened with the mysterious woman. They patiently wait then decide they should go and check on her. When they enter they room, what they find shocks them. She’s lying unconscious and in a pool of blood. She is then taken to a hospital where it is revealed that she is in a coma.

Meanwhile, Laurent decides to leave his bookstore to go for a walk around the city. He’s pondering his life, feeling rather dissatisfied and contemplating whether or not he should leave his overpowering girlfriend, Dominique. He spots a woman’s handbag from afar and reflects how his ex wife, Claire, used to never part with her bags. He has his suspicions about this bag being stolen. After conducting a little investigation, he discovers no wallet, adding to his earlier suspicion. He takes the bag home and rescues it from the trash.

‘How many things do we feel obliged to do for the sake of it, or for appearances, or because we are trained to do them, but which weigh us down and don’t in fact achieve anything?’

Once at home, he pulls out all the contents of the retrieved bag and among them finds a necklace with hieroglyphics on it and a red notebook. There are plenty of odds and ends such as a lipstick, perfume bottle, a book signed by a lesser known author and some hair pins. His attention is mostly held by the red notebook and he realises it is a diary. Temptation gets the better of him and he starts to read it. This gives him the window to learning about this woman. He learns that she is kind, creative, witty and passionate. He feels deep down that she is someone he would want to get to know.

‘He drank some more wine, feeling he was about to commit a forbidden act. A transgression. For a man should never go through a woman’s handbag-even the most remote tribe would adhere to that ancestral rule.’

However, back at the hospital, Laure is dreaming in her coma. Her dreams take her back to being a child playing in a beautiful garden. Her memories intrude on this blissful dream and her former husband, Xavier, appears in the garden. This then pulls her fork her dream to the reality of his death. She recalls the government phone call, informing her of his death in the Iraq War as he was taking war photographs. She fights back the reality and the pain of this situation and reverts back to the garden, holding Xavier’s hand.

Laurent finishes reading Laure’s diary and realises how Dominique pales in comparison to this woman he has never met. Ironically, at this moment, Dominique shows up at his apartment. Laurent quickly hides all of Laure’s items in her bag and hides it. Yet, as soon as Dominique enters, she can smell another woman’s perfume. Laurent is adamant that no other woman has been there but she doesn’t believe him. When they attend a party that evening, Laurent’s mind drifts to how Laure would behave at a party. He decides that this is unfair on her and ends their relationship.

‘She was an enigma. It was like looking at someone through a fogged-up window. her face was like one encountered in a dream, whose features disolve as soon as you try to recall them.’

The following day Laurent’s friend Pascal tells him how foolish he has been in terminating his relationship. After all, Laure is still unknown to him really. Pascal had different morals to Laurent and he wishes his friend followed in his own footsteps of being more of a ladies man. As they part ways, Laurent is determined to find Laure and reunite her with her bag. The police are less than interested in the matter, claiming the paperwork is too lengthy.

Laurent decides to track down the author of the signed book which was in the bag. Upon finding him, he cannot remember who the owner of the book is but can describe what she looks like. Rather conveniently, he has another author in the store doing another book signing who can read hieroglyphics. He translates the necklace which reveals her full name. The overwhelming sense of relief is immense from Laurent. He knows her name which means he now has a better chance of finding her.

Unbelievably, he does find her, in a coma in one of the hospitals. Upon his arrival he sees another man there called William. He is a colleague of Laure’s and has been taking care of her pet cat. The doctor introduces him as Laure’s brother but Laurent and the doctor know that this isn’t true. It is assumed that he is Laure’s boyfriend and he fails to contradict him. Laurent feels bad about lying about his relationship but when he is asked by William to stay at her house to cat sit, he doesn’t look back.

Laure is still deep in her dream but more and more of the real world invaded them. She hears nurses discussing a television show and is aware that she is in hospital. But, she is not willing to wake up just yet.

Laurent stays at Laure’s house for several days. He spends time looking through her personal items, like her photo albums, books and collections. It helps to add and further create an image of her in his head. He starts to feel an increasing amount of guilt because of his behaviour.

‘There, it was over. How was it so easy to disappear from someone else’s life? Perhaps it was with the same ease that you enter it. A chance meeting, a few words exchanged, and a relationship begins. A chance falling out, a few words exchanged and that same relationship is over.’

Later in the day he meets with his daughter, Chloe. She asks him to pretend to be her boyfriend when her friends appear. Initially, this upsets him but he plays along to keep his daughter happy. He is also aware that the boys are less likely to come near her if they think she’s got an older boyfriend. He confides in Chloe about what he has been doing with the handbag and the notebook. Chloe finds it all very romantic despite her father sharing his guilt with her.

‘Chloe sighted, then continued, ‘She’s very attached to the past – the mirror is ancient, a famili heirloom; perhaps it was her grandmother’s. And she uses an unusual perfume – no one wears Habanita any more – she writes weird things in her notebook, she has a book signed by an author you admire…’ Then she concluded with an ironic smile, ‘She’s the woman for you.’

As Laure finally wakes up from her coma, William is by her side but Laurent is not. Earlier in the day, he dropped the keys to Laure’s house off at William’s office. She is released from hospital and returns to her home. She stumbles upon a note from Laurent apologising for what he has done. Amazingly, she is not upset, but rather, more moved by his efforts to get her belongings back to her. Thus, she begins her own mission to find him.

Nevertheless, Laurent is morose. Chloe knows why this is and manages to convince her mother and stepfather that one of their picture frames need touching up. She does this because she has learnt from Laurent that Laure was a framer in the town. She goes to several framing stores until she finds the one where Laure works. She tells her exactly where she can find Laurent.

Immediately, Laure goes to the bookstore. She approaches the counter and asks him about a book that features a woman whose handbag had been taken and a man who runs all around town to find her. It dawns on Laurent that it is Laure and takes her into his arms. They live blissfully ever after.

‘It’s the story of a bookseller who finds a handbag in the street one day, takes it home with him, empties out its contents and decides to look for the woman who owns it. He succeeds but when he finds her, he runs off like an idiot.’

Overview

This book gave me such a warm fuzzy feeling inside. Whilst the attack was absolutely awful, I was desperate for the two to meet. Sometimes I just really appreciate a happy ending. This short little book was such a joy and gave me the happy ending I so desperately wanted. Chloe gave me the biggest surprise character wise as she initially appeared to be a bit of a diva. Yet, she’s the one that brings the two together. This is a perfect little book for a quick read on a drizzly afternoon.

Enjoy the rest of the week lovely people!

Big love xx

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18 Comments

Filed under Book review, Books, Reading, Romance

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

21 Comments

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

14 Comments

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

24 Comments

Filed under Book review, Read The Year Challenge, Reading

Meet Me At The Museum – Anne Youngson

Hi Lovelies!!

The English exams are finally over so now I’ve got time to breathe again. It’s always a ridiculously busy time of year. I feel like I’ve blinked and missed May. I cannot believe it’s June. However, it’s so sunny and lovely that I just don’t mind. I spent the weekend with my family at Nostell Priory which was lovely (see photo above) and I also managed to read quite a beautiful book that I want to share with you all today.

This short little surprise took me little time to read because it was just that good. I think the cover is really lovely too.

What’s it all about?

The novel opens with a letter from Tina Hopgood to Professor Glob. Over fifty years ago, Professor Glob dedicated a book to Tina and thirteen other school friends, as well as his daughter, on The Bog People of Denmark. She is writing because she still hasn’t made it to see the Tollund Man homed by the Silkeborg Museum despite it being a plan for many years. Tina doesn’t expect any further replies to her letters. However, she uses her first two letters to try and get her head around her life, the choices she’s made and the events that have happened to shape her.

“…I am forced to consider what might be the real reasons, because you’re answer to an unasked question has made me want to be honest with myself. Please be aware, I am writing to you to make sense of myself.”

We learn about the character of Bella and the impact she had on Tina’s life. From being friends since school, the girls had big plans, all of which are shared with the stranger Curator of the museum in which she is writing to. This dialogue is not one sided. Anders Larsen, the Curator also gains a great deal from the letters shared between them. He claims it makes him think about history and the world. Yet, as time progresses, their dialogue does change to be more personal.

“I end, as always, with an apology. This is not why you started this correspondence, to read my views on ideas too grand for me to express them as I would like to do, even if my English, like yours, was perfect.”

The tone changes as the letters become more personal, more entwined in the sharing of their own personal lives. Tina tells of her life on the farm, the daily routine, how her husband embodies the farm; he is at one with it. However, Tina feels like she sacrificed her life and what she wanted, even though she is happy. In Anders’s response, he discloses the story of how his wife, Birgitt, died. His hopes and dreams died that day too. He’s merely been breathing not living since then. He shares her last words, arguably quite a bold step to share this with a complete stranger. There is a feeling, quite early on that these letters will come to have significant meaning for the both of them.

“I never saw her again. Her body has never been found. She left my side as if all her life she had been dreaming and now she wanted to wake a new day.”

As they continue to share their lives: stories of their children, their work and their pleasures, we come to realise that there is a sense of ease between the two. You can feel the excitement that each letter brings them both. There’s also a sense of urgency as Anders suggest they email and attach their letters to share their thoughts immediately. What is quite endearing is the process they go through, the printing of each letter, keeping them all together. As a reader, you get the feeling that each are waiting for the others name to appear in their inbox. The biggest need for both though is for Tina to visit the museum to see the Tollund Man. The narration centres around this and isn’t forgotten.

“I am looking forward to standing beside you when you meet the Tollund Man for the first time. I hope it is soon, but I trust you to know when the time has come.”

As each divulge and share more about their own children, Anders shares the new of his daughter’s pregnancy. He wants Tina’s opinion on Karin’s decision to keep the baby but not tell the father. Anders wants to share his thoughts but something is holding him back. He needs advice and reassurance from Tina: the bond between the two ever strengthening. Likewise, Tina wanted to share her discussion of this topic with her daughter, Mary and her partner, Vassily. The split narrative of Tina and Anders means we learn more about their children as we hear their voices through their parents. Each personality is strong and shines through the letter form. Their children shape how they think; the attitudes they have.

“We should look inside ourselves for fulfilment. It is not fair to burden children or grandchildren with the obligation to make us whole. Our obligation is them is to make them safe and provide them with an education.”

Tina shares the news that life is changing on the farm too as Mary and Vassily are moving to their own place, meaning they are leaving and need replacing. To deal with this change, each focus on a room and describe it to one another. They each teach the other to look hard and see what’s really there. Anders’s job is to look at objects and catalogue. However, it appears difficult when people are involved; the objects mean more. Ander’s talks about the objects his wife collected, no knowing the context to most. However, they’ve been sat for the time his wife has been gone bringing him no joy. He shares with his children the want to getting rid of them. It’s a sign of moving on.

“Lastly Erik laid the nest of twigs on the water of the lake and we watched as the waves and the breeze played games with it, tossing it away from us then towards us as if inviting us to decide we did not really want to let it go.”

There’s further sense of life progressing and moving on towards the end as Tina wants to end their correspondence because she doesn’t want to spread her unhappiness to Anders, who finally seems more content within his own circumstances. However, he persuades her to continue to share and reveal what is deeply troubling her. She discovers her husband’s affair. Life as she knows it is now completely different again. She leaves to live in Bella’s old flat. The letters slow down but do not diminish. She also starts to feel guilty because of her involvement with Anders.

“When I first found out I reacted with outrage. I felt like an innocent woman, grossly deceived by those she had trusted, those she had served. But once I calmed down, I began to challenge my own innocent. Because of you.”

Like a true friend and confidant, Anders offers solutions in his reply. This letter is one of the largest in the novel and you can tell that there has been serious thought and consideration in the words chosen. Underneath all of the advice, he just wants her to be happy. The novel goes full circle as we return to Tina reading The Bog People. The big question: will she go and see the Tollund Man? The final letter is from Anders, repeating the words echoed through the collection of letters.

“I am waiting for you. I will wait, every day, between twelve o’clock and two o’clock in the cafe in the museum. I will be watching the door, waiting for you to arrive.”

Overview

This novel is beautiful in its purest sense. The letters change from formal, to friendly to compassionate. As you are reading you can feel the walls of each character gradually tumble. They each learn from one another, their families change because of the friendship also.

This book taught me a valuable lesson, or reminded me that everyone needs to feel love regardless of age. I’m desperate to know if Tina went to the museum. Yet, I fear the magic would be lost if we ever did find out. This ending means we can create our own ending for these characters. In my heart, I just want happiness for them both but maybe I’m just being optimistic. Maybe they never meet and the letters are all they have. Who knows. Regardless, it’s a really beautiful read.

Big love to all!

Xx

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Filed under Book review, Reading

RTY: The Bear and the Nightingale – Katherine Arden

Hey Everyone!

I hope you’re all well and getting excited for Easter. As we are approaching the end of March, I am well aware I haven’t posted about my choice of book for March’s instalment of Read The Year. The criteria for March was: Read a book about a woman you hadn’t previously heard of. The suggestions were all non fiction. However, I was inspired by a fellow blogging friends review of The Bear and the Nightingale. Thank you so much Orangutan Librarian! I’ve never heard of it, didn’t know about the characters and I didn’t know the writer. Without you, I probably wouldn’t have known about it. The author is female as is the protagonist. Therefore, it fits the criteria perfectly.

 

What’s it all about?

The novel opens in the middle of a cold night in the home of Marina and Pyotr Vladimirovich. The setting made me feel incredibly cold (helped by the description and the snow on the ground here whilst I was reading it!)

The family’s Nurse, Dunya, is telling the children a tale about a girl sent to marry the frost demon (Morozko). The tale shows how the girl was incredibly brave when the frost demon came to her. He rewards this by sending her back to her family with a large dowry.

The reader also learns that Marina is frail and pregnant once again. Whilst this causes concern, she decides she will have the baby as she knows this daughter will be special. Sadly, Marina dies in childbirth. As prophesied, Vasya is a special girl and she has the ability to see and speak to a number of spirits who live in her house and the surrounding forest. My favourite is the spirit who lives in the oven. These sprints embody helpfulness, mischievousness and also danger. For example, the water nymph likes to lure men to their death so she can feast on their death.

Vasya is a wild girl who lives to run away from her chores to be outside. When she is a child of 6 years, she gets lost in the forest and stumbles upon a sleeping man. She awakes him and asks for help. Whilst doing this she notices he only has one eye. She is naturally quite frightened. To save her, another man appears on a white horse.

“Wild birds die in cages.”

Pyotr knows he needs someone to bring his daughter into line; she needs a mother figure. He travels to Moscow to find another bride for himself and a husband for his daughter, Olga.

More descriptions of a freezing, bitterly cold Russia envelope Pyotr’s time there. The current Prince wants to make sure his son, who is still a child, will be safe to rule the land when he dies and that no one will try and derail him. He decides to marry off one such potential to Olga. After a scuffle. Pyotr returns with a necklace.

“I do not understand “damned.” You are. And because you are, you can walk where you will, into peace, oblivion, or pits of fire, but you will always choose.”

The prince also decides to marry off his daughter Anna. She is a slightly obscure character who comes across as quite cold. It is revealed that she is considered mad. She can also see the spirits but she’s convinced they are demons. By marrying Anna off, she will be hidden away.

Pyotr marries Anna and they return home. But, Anna is much worse because there are even more spirits there. She spends most of her time crying and alone. She is constantly seen praying or looking for the church. Olga is married off and goes to Moscow. Anna decides that Vasya can join her when she’s grown up, something that Vasya takes great comfort from.

The necklace from before is given from Pyotr to Dunya, to pass onto Vasya. Dunya recognises it as a talisman and is immediately afraid. She decides to keep it hidden. Yet in her dream, the strange man, we later learn to be Frost (or the frost demon) comes to her quite upset. She bargains with him to wait for the necklace to be passed on.

Much to Anna’s distaste, life continues as it was. Vasya continues to give offerings to the spirits and communicate with them. She continued to be happier outside exploring, rather than inside.

There is a new visitor to the community, a priest, Konstantin. His deployment at first bothers him as he views it as being dumped in the middle of nowhere. When he meets Anna, she reveals all about seeing demons. Konstantin decides God has sent him there to save everyone from their wicked ways. He feeds off their fears to convince and persuade them to give up the offerings to the sprints.

As a result of the decline in offerings, they start to weaken and call on Vasya to help feed them. There are much larger problems though. The weather is colder, the logs are burning faster and people are seriously struggling. Many beasts start to roam the village and people die in mysterious ways.

Vasya is warned by the spirits that there are vague evils that are coming because people have ceased to leave the offerings. The dead are signs of how it is worsening.

Dunya is visited again by the strange man (Morozko) pushing for the talisman to be given to Vasya. As before, Dunya bargains for one more year as she believes Vasya isn’t ready yet. Meanwhile, Anna believes and decides that all these problems are caused by Vasya. She is aware that she still speaks to the spirits and is stubborn and will not give up the old ways. Anna wants to marry her off to rid them of this problem. Both Pyotr and Dunya are fretful about the talisman and what it means. They know from the tales of the frost demon are always centred about maidens. Therefore, if she is married, he will lose interest in her.

Pyotr finds a suitable match for his daughter, in his opinion, and celebrations start in preparation for the wedding. However, Vasya doesn’t trust her fiancée because she can tell her horse does not like him and is scared of him. Trouble is foreshadowed as following this, Vasya’s nephew tries to ride her pony. The pony gets spooked when she sees a demon shadow and bolts. Vasya jumps onto the nearest gore and goes after them, saving the nephew. Despite, or because of her valiant efforts, her fiancée is embarrassed, sees that all is not what it seems (after all she isn’t your bog standard woman) and calls off the wedding. The only other option for women at this time was to be sent to a convent. Anna is all for this! She wishes she herself had been so lucky…

“Married! Not to retreat, but to be the mistress of a lord’s domain; not to be safe in a convent, but to live as some lord’s breeding sow.”

Once again Dunya is visited by another time, however this time it is Pyotr’s dead children because she continues to not give the talisman to Vasya. Her hand freezes when she wakes up and she grabs the necklace. She begins to die. She protects Vasya until the end. Just before she passes, she passes the talisman to her. Little does Vasya know what it holds for her.

Konstantin becomes besotted, almost obsessed with Vasya. It is his belief that she is a temptress, sent to seduce him from his holy art. He’s attacked several times by the spirits by Vasya saves him. He’s under the impression that this was her fault anyway.

He then starts to hear a voice quite frequently; his belief being that it is God. He urges all villagers to fear and despise Vasya in the hope that she is driven away. Konstantin convinces Anna to send Vasya to a convent now, her father can wait and will understand. Vasya obviously doesn’t wish to go. They have to tie her up ready for the departure the next day.

But Vasya is wise and is able to escape. She flees to the woods and ends up lost, exhausted and freezing. She stumbles again onto the one eyed man from her childhood (Medved) and is almost attacked by Dunya whom has been turned into a vampire. Morozko shows up just in the crack of time to save her and take her to his magical abode.

Vasya slowly recovers and she is told by Morozko that his brother needs her in order to escape the bounds placed upon him. The consequences would be disastrous if he ever did become free as he would cause war and feed on people’s fear. Vasya is given her own magical horse, Solovey, who follows her around. It is clear that these two care for each other. But, she wants to return home, despite how they behaved towards her.

“You are too attached to things as they are,” said Morozko, combing the mare’s withers. He glanced down idly. “You must allow things to be what best suits your purpose. And then they will.”

Konstantin discovers that the voice talking to him isn’t God but it is Medved. He is told that the voice will leave him in peace if he brings him someone who can hear the spirits. He realises that Anna would be perfect so he ticks her. Anna goes into the forest to meet her demise.

It is for the best was on the tip of the priest’s tongue. But he thought again of years, of childbearing and exhaustion. The wildness gone, the hawk’s grace chained up… He swallowed. It is for the best. The wildness was sinful.”

Vasya returns in the nick of time to discover that Anna is missing. She enlists the help of her brother Alyosha to help. Vasya knows that Medved can use Anna to free himself. When she finds Anna, she sees a zombie attacking her. Anna dies and a battle breaks out between the spirits. They each take sides between Morozko and his brother, who has now turned into a bear.

Amazingly, Vasya is able to speak to the actual Dunya. She gets her to remember her past life and asks Morozko is take her to die properly. He does so, leaving the battle. This leads Vasya and her brother to fight the bear on their own. Her father turns up to save the day. Medved says if Pyotr let’s him have Vasya, he will leave everyone else alone but her father will not and can not do it. He sacrifices himself for his daughter. He does this without fear meaning Medved becomes bound once again and transforms back to the one eyed man.

Vasya realises she is now completely isolated and alone and that she must leave the village. No one trusts her, they all think she is still a witch. She decides she must leave but before she does she goes and warns Konstantin. She flies away on her horse with plans to see the world. Her first visit: Morozko’s house, where she is welcomed in from the relentless cold.

“Solovey will take me to the ends of the earth if I ask it. I am going into the world, Alyosha. I will be no one’s bride, neither of man nor of God. I am going to Kiev and Sarai and Tsargrad, and I will look upon the sun on the sea.”

 

 

Overview

I really enjoyed this book. It was magical on every page, but an adult magic. The characters are compelling. I loved the little spirits, especially the one who lived in the oven. I could feel the cold from the descriptions and I could feel the fear from the villagers when things were going wrong. At the back of my copy is a little sample from the next novel. More magic awaits.

Big love xxx

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Filed under Book review, Books, Read The Year Challenge

The Toy Makers – Robert Dinsdale

Hi Everyone!

Happy 1st March and World Book Day! Today I wanted to share with you a book I’ve just finished reading. I have to say, I absolutely loved it. I cannot emphasise that enough. It was just so magical, so gripping, so enchanting. It’s become one of my favourite books ever. Therefore, I absolutely had to share this with you. A bonus: the cover is absolutely beautiful too.

What’s it all about?

Set in the early 1900s in London, this book is told mainly through the eyes of 15 year old Cathy Wray. It centres around a magical Emporium, owned by Papa Jack, which opens at the first frost and closes on the appearance of snowdrops. The toys are magical and awe inspiring. It’s a place where children’s dreams are fulfilled.

‘Come, go in after him. You would not be the first. Children are already tugging on their parents’ hands; a pair of young lovers hurry to make secrets of their gifts to one another; an old man unwinds his scarf as he hobbled in, if only to feel like a boy again.’

However, Cathy has a problem. She’s 15, pregnant and her parents are none too pleased. They arrange for her baby to be given away once it’s born. Until then, Cathy is kept in hiding at home. Her sister, Lizzy, brings her a newspaper as something to read and entertain herself with. Little did she know that this would be where her adventure begins.

‘Are you lost? Are you afraid? Are you a child at heart? So are we.’

When Cathy reaches the Emporium, she meets Papa Jack. It becomes clear he has a different name, a past life much more tragic than his life now. Papa Jack set up his extraordinary toyshop after arriving from Eastern Europe and Tsarist Russia. He is the father of two young boys he had not seen for many years. Originally a carpenter, Papa Jack crafts exquisite toys out of a variety of materials, such as pine cones and twigs.

‘The most terrible things can happen to a man, but he’ll never lose himself if he remembers he was once a child.’

His two sons, Kaspar and Emil, are also incredible toymakers. Each are thoughtful regarding the sibling rivalry about who will inherit the Emporium in the future. Each make amazing and magical toys; soldiers who battle, night lights with changeable scenes, toy boxes which deal with space, paper trees and my favourite in the Emporium, a complete Wendy House.

‘When you are young, what you want from toys is to feel grown up… Yet, when you are grown, that changes: now, what you want out of toys is to feel young again. You want to be back there, in a place that did not harm or hurt you in a pocket of time built out of memory and love.’

Both Emil and Kaspar take a keen interest in Cathy. When the end of the season arrives and Cathy has to leave, a decision is made for her to live in the Wendy house on the shop floor. Each realise that she’s getting bigger! Both brothers visit her as well as the patchwork dog (desperately wanting one of these now!) Cathy has her baby, a girl named Martha. Time to come clean. Papa Jack allows her to stay at the Emporium. He shows her, using the crank of a toy, the story of Jekabs Godman, his role in a war and how he survived. The tragic tale coming to life.

‘I’d found a kind of… a magic, if you will. A way of reaching the soul of a man.’

The next part of the book jumps to 1914 where the threat of war is more than possible. Cathy and Kaspar are the perfect parents to little Martha. The Emporium acts as a safety blanket for most. And yet, war is fast approaching. Emil tries and fails to sign up to serve his country but Kaspar succeeds. As promised, he writes to Cathy every day. However, the narrative is too positive and Cathy is suspicious. She speaks Papa Jack who reveals a magic book in which father and son have been communicating in. The harsh reality of war is revealed. The narrative here is tear jerking, heartbreaking with every description.

‘For the boys I travel with, tomorrow will be their first taste of foreign air. They ask me about the world as if I know anything of it, when the truth is, that, to me, those years before the Emporium are a dream.’

Rather accurately, Kaspar returns from war a changed man. He’s a ghost of his former self, rarely speaking. However, it is the change in the Emporium that bothers him most. The toys have lost a little magic, the shoppers are different, the men are broken in search of a simpler time. It is Emil’s soldiers that cause the biggest reaction in him.

‘And then he was back there. Back where his fingers were grimed in scarlet and black. Back in his uniform, with pieces of his second lieutenant’s brain smeared across his face. His ears were full of the sounds, his nose was full of the smells. He screamed and screamed.’

It was from this moment that the toys needed to change. The death of Papa Jack meant that there was no number one in charge. The sibling rivalry continued. Kaspar was working on something, something different, something big. Martha knew it too. She wasn’t a little girl anymore. Yet, when her father disappeared, more was left unanswered. All that remained were Emil’s toy soldiers, changed.

‘But Papa Jack’s Emporium must endure where I cannot, and so must you my darling.’

The novel ends with an older Cathy living with Martha as a nanny for her two children; the next generation of children to be wowed by tales from the Emporium. It’s pure magic to the last page. I don’t want to spoil the ending for you. But I completely didn’t expect it!

Overview:

Read it and love it. Experience your childhood again. Revel in the absolute joy of incredible toys. Worry and feel fear through the war years with the family. Feel like a child again. Dream in magic. I cannot praise or rate this book enough. I love it.

Big love all xx

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Filed under Book review, Literature, Magic