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If I Die Before I Wake – Emily Koch

Hi Lovely People!

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

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

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

What’s it all about?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Final Thoughts

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

Big love all xxx

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

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society – Mary Ann Shaffer & Annie Barrows

  
Hey guys. 

Hope you’re all well on this wet and dismal Thursday evening. I wanted to use this rare opportunity of a free evening to write a review of this book, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society, for you all. This book is like a hug, honestly. I absolutely loved it! I hope you enjoy this as much as I did. 

On with the review…

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society is set in January 1946. It was a time where London was merely rubble due to the Second World War. The novels main protagonist, Juliet Ashton, is a known writer on the search for her next literary piece. During the war, Juliet wrote a column under the pseudonym, Izzy Bickerstaff. As the war ended, her publisher and close friend, Sidney Stark, published her columns. They were viewed as rather humorous and the made a complete book called Izzy Bickerstaff Goes To War. The novel opens with Juliet searching for a more serious topic that she can write about under her own true identify. 

“I no longer want to write this book- my head and my heart just aren’t in it. Dear as Izzy Bickerstaff is-and was- to me, I don’t want to write anything else under that name. I don’t want to be considered a light-hearted journalist anymore. I do acknowledge that making readers laugh- or at least chuckle- during the war was no mean feat, but I don’t want to do it anymore. I can’t seem to dredge up any sense of proportion or balance these days, and God knows one cannot write humor without them.”

The novel is structured using a series of letters and correspondences. Rather unexpectedly, Juliet receives a letter from a man called Dawsey Adams from Guernsey. By pure chance, Dawsey noticed Juliet’s name inside a book by Charles Lamb. These books are so rare on the island of Guernsey that he enquires for more, particularly for the island’s book club, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. 

“I wonder how the book got to Guernsey? Perhaps there is some secret sort of homing instinct in books that brings them to their perfect readers.” 

Dawsey’s first letter is the catalyst for many others off the island. The central person that featured in the correspondence is Elizabeth McKenna, a young woman who had sadly already died by the time Juliet begins her letters with the people of Guernsey. During the occupation of Guernsey by the Germans, Elizabeth had been deported to a concentration camp, where she was later killed. 

“Life goes on.” What nonsense, I thought, of course it doesn’t. It’s death that goes on.” 

Before she was taken away, she had fallen in love with Christian, a German soldier, and given birth to their daughter, Kit. Kit was raised for the first four years of her life by Dawsey and the Guernsey islanders. Via her correspondences, Juliet is drawn into a world of differing characters and members of the literary society. She learns that the society bring together a whole host of people who found peace in literature during a dangerous and tragic time. 

Through the letters, Juliet and the reader, learns the origins of the society. When the German soldiers controlled Guernsey during the occupation of the Channel Islands from 1940-1945, the islanders were living under strict rules and people were severely oppressed. Eating their own livestock was also prohibited. However, several islanders concocted a clever scheme that could save a pig for themselves. When one farmer’s pig died, several farmers would pass around the carcass, each reporting the death of their own pig to the German officials. Farmers could then hide away one of their pigs to a laughter in secrecy and eat with their friends and neighbours. 

“None of us had any experience with literary societies, so we made our own rules: we took turns speaking about he books we’d read …We read books, talked books, argued over books and became dearer and dearer to one another. Other Islanders asked to join us, and our evenings together became bright, lively times-we could almost forget, now and then, the darkness outside. We still meet every fortnight”

One evening, the islander’s feasted on one such secret pig. German soldiers discovered the gathering and immediately demanded to know why they had broken the curfew. Elizabeth McKenna saved them all by telling the story of how their meeting was the first gathering of a new livery club on the island. Thankfully, the story was bought. 

Thus, the society was born. They met every fortnight and grew close together: the own little community. Most members knew nothing of literature but discovered an author or genre that appealed to their own personalities. Literature help boost morale and spirits. They read all kinds of literary texts from Charles Lamb to the Brontë sisters. The society enabled the island to find solace and forget, briefly, the horrors of war. 

“We clung to books and to our friends; they reminded us that we had another part to us.” 

As letters and time passes, Juliet learns more and yearns to meet her new friends in Guernsey. It also gives her opportunity to get away from the overwhelming attention from a male suitor. Upon her arrival, relationships are strengthened and life in London doesn’t appear to be so appealing anymore. Most significantly, she grows increasing close to Kit and eventually applies for her adoption. 

Juliet also falls in love with Dawsey and proposes marriage to him. Juliet’s time on the island has changed everything. She even begs Sidney to visit her and see for himself the charm and friendliness of these people. Finally, with Sidney’s help, she decides her next book would be: the life of Elizabeth McKenna. Her life was central to life on this island. What is rather touching, Elizabeth helps Juliet find herself too. Julie’s life decisions provide the self-fulfilment and happiness she had been longing for. 

“I don’t want to be married just to be married. I can’t think of anything lonelier than spending the rest of my life with someone I can’t talk to, or worse, someone I can’t be silent with.” 

As the novel closes, Juliet is dedicated to writing her new book to honour the life of Elizabeth. After all, she is the heart and soul of this group. 

“If I could have anything I wanted, I would choose story without end, and it seems I have lots of company in that.”

This book is pure magic. I laughed and felt the pain of the islander’s when they lost Elizabeth. It’s heartwarming and I couldn’t recommend it highly enough. The use of letters as the narrative structure emphasises the emotions and the secrecy of this society. I was sad this novel came to a close. 

Big love x

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Wendy and Peter Pan – RSC, Stratford upon Avon 

  

Happy new year everyone! 

Hope you’re all well and 2016 has started off in the best way for you. My new year started with a visit to the Royal Shakespeare Company theatre in Stratford upon Avon with my best friend to see Wendy and Peter Pan. There aren’t enough words to describe how amazing, clever, magical and funny this show is. Being the grand young age of 25 means that we got tickets for £5 too. Such a bargain! 

I should just state here that all photos used in this post are from the RSC website: https://www.rsc.org.uk/wendy-and-peter-pan/about-the-play

  


Plot:

As I’m sure you’ve noticed, the title of this production is an inversion of the original, placing emphasis on Wendy as well as Peter. Ella Hickson, writer and adapter of Wendy and Peter Pan, was really clear that in the original it was Peter having all of the fun, whereas Wendy was just playing mother. She wanted to tell her version from Wendy’s perspective. 

There are many aspects that are true to the original: Peter, the Lost Boys, Neverland, flying, Tink, Hook. They have just been tweaked and changed for a modern audience. It must be noted that a modern audience is both adults and children. There is humour for youngsters and intricate plot details for the adults. From start to finish the laughter echoed from the walls from young and old alike. A particular favourite part of mine, when Wendy was teaching the Lost Boys how to shake hands and say “How do you do” Curly says: 

“How do I do you?”

Also, to differ from the original plot, Hickson invents a third sibling, Tom, who suffers from an sickness. This is where the older, more metaphorical interpretations of the novel are explored through drama. 

  


Casting and characters:
Firstly, I need to say how brilliant this production cast were. There were a range of ages within the production team as well as experience, but all were equally amazing. 

Wendy, played by Mariah Gale, was exceptional. She portrays her devotion, rejection, hurt and happiness all explicitly and effectively. She was a fabulous Wendy. Her brother, Tom, is always at the front of her mind. She’s desperate to find him, for him to be with the Lost Boys. Thus, she can make herself happy again. 

Peter Pan, played by Rhys Rusbatch, was sublime. He played the part of Pan really well, focussing clearly on how he never wants to grow up. The cheeky chappy is portrayed not only through dialogue but also his gestures. His flying, and his shadow should be praised equally too. 

Hook and Smee, played by Darrell D’Silva and Paul Kemp respectively, were the epitome of the villain character. The banter between the two was hilarious and true to the original text. The relationship was portrayed really accurately. They made me smile, but I could see the children in the audience really boo-ing them. Always the sign of a good villain. 

Martin, played by Adam Gillen, was the pirate who couldn’t ARRR. I recognised his voice, he has naturally humorous tone to his voice. (I finally remembered he was from ITV’s Benidorm!) The audience naturally feels for him because he’s quite clearly not a pirate and he’s clearly not a Lost Boy, so he doesn’t really fit with anyone. 

Finally, and perhaps my favourite of all the characters in this production, Tinkerbell, played by Charlotte Mills. A cockney, naughty pixie. Who’d have thought it?! Her one liners, her reactions, her movements were just incredible. I laughed so hard at her. She’s just amazing. 

“Oh, a little blab, did you? Lack of oxygen up there on your high horse?” 

  

Setting:

Staying true to the original, the production was set in the children’s nursery or Neverland. The nursery, with swords, beds, teddies and a mobile was really picturesque. (Image by me) Then when it came to Peter’s home, the stage came alive from the ground upwards, with Tink hanging on from a bed, a bath tub and fairy lights. Hook’s ship was also an incredible piece of craftsmanship. A whole ship on stage. Just wow! 

  

  
All in all, it was pure magic. Glitter, flying, ships and laughter. I want to see it again! It was just the best way to start this year off. 

So I left feeling like I always do, incredibly lucky to have the RSC on my doorstep at home. 

  

Big love x

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Filed under RSC, Stratford upon Avon, Theatre Review

The Night Before Christmas – Clement C Moore

  

 
Happy Christmas Eve everyone! Or, if it is Christmas already where you are, merry Christmas! 

It seems like a perfect time to firstly, wish all my lovely followers and stoppers- by a very, merry Christmas and also to review a very festive poem. The Night Before Christmas brought so much joy to my life as a youngster. I just read it again, being as it’s Christmas Eve. It still brings me joy today and I just feel so excited. Everything is ready for the big day tomorrow! 

Onto the poem:

The poem tells the story of a Christmas Eve night. A father awakens to noises outside his own house, whilst his wife and children slept. 

”Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house

Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse’

He looks out the window to see St. Nicholas in his sleigh being pulled along by eight reindeers. If only this was real life!! 

‘When what to my wondering eyes did appear,

But a miniature sleigh and eight tiny rein-deer,

With a little old driver so lively and quick,

I knew in a moment he must be St. Nick.’

St. Nicholas lands his beloved sleigh on the roof. He enters the house through the chimney, carrying a sack of toys and gifts with him. 

‘His eyes—how they twinkled! his dimples, how merry!

His cheeks were like roses, his nose like a cherry!’

The father observes St. Nicholas filling the children’s stocking, which were hanging by the family fire place. He laughs to himself. He notes specifically how he looks. It’s clear to see how the iconic image of Santa has originated over time. 

‘He had a broad face and a little round belly

That shook when he laughed, like a bowl full of jelly.’

The men share a private moment together, before St. Nicholas heads off up the chimney again. As he flies away with his reindeer he exclaims:

“Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good night.”

The magic created in this short poem, which has been reprinted with various illustrations, is really rather special. There is a reason why it has lasted so many years and has been a feature of many Christmases around the globe. Can you believe it’s nearly 200 years old?! 

I’m not old enough or proud enough to admit that I still find it enchanting. The rhyme makes it easy to follow the poem and experience the feelings expressed by both father and St. Nicholas. It boasts atmosphere, excitement and enjoyment, all the things I hope your Christmases have! 

So, to all my wonderful friends and followers, I’m sending my festive love and well wishes to all. 

Big love x

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Filed under Book review, Christmas, Poetry

The Girl On The Train – Paula Hawkins

 

I’ve been wanting to read this book for a while now, as I’d heard and read a lot about it. I was really surprised at the array of emotions I felt when reading this novel: anger, confusion, surprise, shock etc. I was completely hooked, and it’s one of those novels that’s incredibly difficult to put down. 

The novel follows the lives of three, somewhat unreliable women, Rachel, Anna and Megan. It begins with Rachel. She gets the same train every day, to commute to and from London for work (or so she says). Whilst looking out the windows, Rachel people watches, conjuring up a perfect fantasy life for a couple whom she is particularly interested in. She names them Jess and Jason. The train stops outside the back of their house each morning. 

The location of this house is significant, as, Rachel used to live on this street before. However, her marriage failed, she couldn’t get pregnant,  she started to drink heavily and her husband Tom cheated on her and divorced her. Her life, is somewhat of a train wreck. 

“When did you become so weak?” I don’t know. I don’t know where that strength went, I don’t remember losing it. I think that over time it got chipped away, bit by bit, by life, by the living of it.” 

The illusion of the perfect fantasy life of Jess and Jason that Rachel created couldn’t be further from the truth. On one of her daily commutes to pretend to go to work, she notices Jess kissing a man that isn’t her husband. A few days later, Jess disappears. The true identity of the couple are revealed: Jess and Jason are actually Megan and Scott. Rachel spends days scanning newspapers, obsessing over the details of Megan’s disappearance. Noticing that nothing is mentioned about her affair, Rachel decides to contact Scott and inform him of what she knows. 

Together, Rachel and Scott reveal the mans identity: Dr. Kamal Abdic, Megan’s therapist. The case gathers pace as he’s called in for questioning by the police, but falls flat. Rachel still obsesses about him, so she books an appointment to see if he can help with her drinking, and significant memory loss. 

“I have lost control over everything, even the places in my head.” 

Rachel, struggling and obsessing with her own personal problems, her drinking, knows she was in the neighbourhood the night Megan went missing. But, because she was drunk, she blacked out and doesn’t remember anything else. The only image coming to mind is the underpass. Rachel’s roommate, Cathy, disapproves of her drinking, but tries to be a good friend to her. Cathy soon realises that Rachel lost her job months ago, and feels resentment at Rachel wasting time and money on the train ride rather than finding a job. 

Why was she in the area? She doesn’t know, meaning we as readers also can’t know. We can assume. Obsessed with her ex husband, his new wife and baby much? 

Some time later, Rachel finally remembers something bad happening in the underpass. Although she can’t quite remember what it was, she can remember her ex Tom, and his new wife Anna, being there. Rachel spends a lot of time in the book obsessing over her marriage, over Tom and Anna. Rachel constantly calls Tom, leaves notes. Anna wants her to go away and leave them alone. The strange thing is, Anna is living in the martial home, where not much has changed in terms of its furniture. What links Anna and Megan together? She baby sat for her and Tom. (A twist that develops later!)

“One for sorrow, two for joy, three for a girl . . . Three for a girl. I’m stuck on three, I just can’t get any further. My head is thick with sounds, my mouth thick with blood. Three for a girl. I can hear the magpies—they’re laughing, mocking me, a raucous cackling. A tiding. Bad tidings. I can see them now, black against the sun. Not the birds, something else. Someone’s coming. Someone is speaking to me. Now look. Now look what you made me do.” 

When Megan’s body, or what’s left of it, is discovered buried in the woods, Scott and Rachel have a brief one night stand. Rachel insists she’s being supportive and wants to help. To an outsider, it’s strange behaviour. Especially when Scott has been treated as a suspect. Anna informs the police that Rachel is a creepy, obsessed stalker. Once Scott gets wind of this, he too gets drunk, angry and violent towards Rachel. Scott locks her in the room. Is this the anger of a murderer? 

Rachel is still desperate to answer the questions clouding her mind. She bumps into a red haired man on the train who remembers Rachel from the night of Megan’s disappearance. By talking to him, Rachel is able to piece together more details of that night. Importantly, Tom wasn’t with Anna that evening. He was with Megan. 

Whilst Rachel is suspicious of Tom, Anna too stumbles into a problem. She finds a secret phone in Tom’s gym bag. The pre-paid mobile turns out to be Megan’s. Why would Tom have this? Rather coincidentally, Rachel turns up trying to convince Anna that it was Tom who murdered Megan. Unfortunately for Rachel, Anna is unable to put her dislike for Rachel aside to leave with her. So, the evidence against Tom mounts. 

“I am no longer just a girl on the train, going back and forth without point or purpose.”

Hawkins, to increase the tension further, flashbacks the narration to the night Megan revealed to Scott that she had had an affair. Her therapist has advised her to come clean, and had given her a friendly kiss after their talk. That’s the kiss that Rachel saw, and misinterpreted. Scott doesn’t take this news too well, assaults Megan, and she leaves running towards her lover, Tom. 
Tom comes home, surprised to see his wife and ex wife in the same room together. It doesn’t take long before Tom reveals everything that happened: he was having an affair with Megan and she was pregnant. Tom demanded she have an abortion, not realising Megan in the past lost a baby accidentally when she fell asleep in the bath. Megan reacted badly at the abortion demand, and started screaming claiming she would reveal their affair. Tom had to shut her up. 

After the confession, Rachel runs from Tom, but he attacks her. She stabs him in the neck with a corkscrew she took from the kitchen. Anna, clearly angry that Tom lied to her, finishes the job by twisting the corkscrew deeper. 

Tom dies. His lies are exposed. Everyone knows him for what he is. Anna and Rachel, ultimately become a team. The novel ends with Rachel taking the train. 

“So who do I want to be tomorrow?” 

The great strength of this novel is the fact that the characters all have their own traits that we as readers will naturally hate. Rachel’s drinking causes her own frustration, yet she doesn’t stop. Anna plays the good wife, but why move straight into the marital home of the ex? It’s just a bit weird. 

This novel is compelling, gripping and full of suspense. When stripped back, the plot comes from ultimately looking out of the window on a train. Millions of people do that every day. It’s clever to take something we all do, and manipulate it to turn it into something sinister as part of a wider plot. A brilliant read. 

Big love x

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Filed under Book review, Literature, Thriller