Tag Archives: Reading

RTY: Crooked House – Agatha Christie

Hi Everyone!

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

What’s it all about?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Overview

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

Big love xxx

Advertisements

26 Comments

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

24 Comments

Filed under Book review, Read The Year Challenge, Reading

Sea Prayer – Khaled Hosseini

Hello Loves!

Hope you’re all well and enjoying kicking up the leaves that Autumn is kindly offering us.

Today, I want to share with you a book I saw, bought and read after work yesterday. After a really long, difficult week, I decided to treat myself to a hot chocolate and a little read so headed to my sanctuary: Waterstones. I saw this book in the window and decided it was time to read it. Thank goodness I did. I soon realised that my long and difficult week was just that, only a week, a moment. Not a lifetime.

What’s it all about?

In less than fifty pages, this book has made me question so many things: life, attitudes, the world. This poignant and powerful book is a collaborative piece between Hosseini and Dan Williams. The illustrations are stunning and harrowing, just like the words within.

Written as a response to the refugee crisis, Hosseini has given a voice to the thousands of people who made the same journey from war torn Syria across the Mediterranean Sea to safety. Unfortunately, as we all know too well, thousands did not survive.

Structured as a letter from a father to his son, the night before their journey, this book starts with memories of their past, safe life in Homs. Memories of family members, the animals, the sounds of the city are all shared, creating this beautiful homage to their old life. However, this is something the son, Marwan, cannot remember.

‘But that life, that time, seems like a dream now, even to me…’

The illustrations then become much darker in hue, the words more troubled to show that life has changed. References to the protests, the siege and bombs dropping on their beloved city. Sadly, this is what Marwan knows; what he has grown up seeing on a daily basis. He and many other innocent children.

‘You have learned dark blood is better news than light.’

It is the night before their journey and on a moonlit beach people agonisingly and nervously wait for the morning. Yet, fear of what is waiting for them at the other side is also on their minds. Hosseini references the attitudes reported, the fact that they are ‘unwelcome’ and ‘uninvited’. Sadly, I too have heard reactions like this. It is answered from the words of the mother, making it, in my opinion, all the more heart breaking. The role of the mother is to nurture and protect, to understand.

‘Oh, but if they saw, my darling, even half of what you have. If only they saw. They would say kinder things, surely.’

Everyone prays for their safety, well aware of how deep and large the sea is. Everyone knows the risk they are taking. But it’s the only option. The Sea Prayer is exactly that, a prayer to keep them safe at sea. As parents, they are powerless, their protection cannot deter great seas. But they need safety.

‘Because you, you are precious cargo, Marwan, the most precious there ever was.’

The final two pages, blank and harshly white, are where Hosseini declares what inspired this moving book.

‘Alan Kurdi, the three year old Syrian refugee who drowned in the Mediterranean Sea trying to reach safety in Europe in September 2015.’

Yet, it wasn’t just this little boy. It was 4,176 other lives that were taken in that same year.

Overview

It is when I stop and think about that statistic that I really consider the world we live in today. Nobody should have to live in a place where they don’t feel safe. That little boy, like the many other little boys and girls deserve to know the good of the world like we do.

This book is easily the most beautiful in so many ways. Firstly, the illustrations are sublime. But it is so much more than that. It book shows life before the hell, it shows people’s strength and it teaches us all a lesson. We must care more about each other.

With that, I’m off to hug someone I care about because we are so lucky we have the lives we do.

Big love to you all. Xx

29 Comments

Filed under Book review, Books, New Books, 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 fiancĂ©. 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

23 Comments

Filed under Book review, Books, Read The Year Challenge

Matilda At 30 – Roald Dahl & Quentin Blake

Hey Everyone!

Welcome to October! The leaves are changing, it’s definitely getting colder and Autumn is fast upon us. What is perfect about this time of year is it’s the right time to get cosy on the sofa, in a chunky blanket with a book.

Before my Read The Year post for September, I wanted to share with you the news that Roald Dahl’s Matilda was published 30 years ago today. Happy birthday Matilda!!

I can’t believe it’s 30 years old – only two years older than me! It’s fascinating how it’s stood the test of time. That’s because it’s absolutely brilliant!! I have so much love for Matilda in my heart. The message that good will always conquer evil is one to remember, even when we feel most defeated. Also, the comfort and joy we can get from a good book cannot be understated. For Matilda, it’s all she has at some points in her life.

By pure coincidence, I’ve had a really Matilda orientated weekend. I went to Manchester to see the touring cast of Matilda the Musical. It was awesome! Just as amazing as when I went to see it in London. (see here for information!) I have a huge swell of pride about this as it started in my beloved Stratford upon Avon. It’s grown into this incredible production which is now being shared across England. Go and see it if you get chance, you won’t be disappointed!

To celebrate 30 years, Quentin Blake has released a number of drawings and illustrations which reimagine Matilda as an adult. Blake shows Matilda as a poet laureate, an astrophysicist, a special FX artist, a world traveller and the CEO of the British Library. I chose the latter cover to buy to mark this special occasion. Also, in my opinion, it’s the most likely career I think Matilda would have. Also, how beautiful is this cover?!

In true Quentin Blake style, the illustrations are just awesome. It’s so clever to be able to see the potential lives Matilda could have had. The opportunities are indeed endless. Regardless, it’s a beautiful book with the original story and illustrations within. What a relief this has been republished for the world to consider where the incredible little girl would be now.

So, happy birthday Matilda! I hope this novel continues to give hope to those who need it, shows that good will conquer evil and shares the love of learning. Matilda, you are a beauty.

Happy reading everyone!

Big love.

18 Comments

Filed under Books, Children's Literature, New Books, Weekend Trips

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

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