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Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets – J.K. Rowling

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Hello Loves!

How are we all? I hope we continue to be safe and well. The weather here has taken a bit of a turn so I thought I would use the time to review the second book in the Harry Potter series: The Chamber of Secrets. Considering I am a huge Potter fan, you’ll probably be surprised to know that I’ve only ever read the books once – the year they were released. I was very much part of the Potter generation – the ones who queued up to buy the latest book and read it through the night so when you got to school the next day no one could spoil it for you. I decided I wanted to re-read them. At times of great change, I find it is always lovely to look back on some classic reads and relive them. So here goes!

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What’s it all about?

The book opens on Harry’s twelfth birthday where the Dursley family are hosting a dinner party for a potential client of Vernon’s drill manufacturing company. Naturally, Harry isn’t invited but he is happy to spend the evening in his bedroom. His thoughts drift to his friends, Ron and Hermione and why they haven’t been in touch with him. It is during his thinking that Dobby, a house elf, turns up in his bedroom. This is far from ordinary and Harry has a problem on his hands.

Dobby reveals that he has been intercepting Harry’s post from his friends and warns him not to return to Hogwarts because it is unsafe for him. Harry refuses to budge. After all, he loves Hogwarts and hates being at Privet Drive – there really is no chance that he would stay there. So Dobby continues to take matters into his own hands. He attempts to get Harry expelled for using magic by framing him smashing Aunt Petunia’s dessert to the floor. As a result, Uncle Vernon’s business deal collapses but Harry is given a second chance. The Ministry of Magic allows Harry to return to Hogwarts for the start of the school year.

“Beds empty! No note! Car gone — could have crashed — out of my mind with worry — did you care? — never, as long as I’ve lived — you wait until your father gets home, we never had trouble like this from Bill or Charlie or Percy —”

But the start of the school year wasn’t for some time. Uncle Vernon punishes Harry, fitting locks to his bedroom door and bars to the windows. One evening, Ron arrives with his brothers, Fred and George in their father’s enchanted Ford Anglia. They rescue Harry who then stays at the Weasley home, The Burrow. The Weasley’s and Harry travel to Diagon Alley where they are reunited with Hermione, introduced to Lucius Malfoy and Gilderoy Lockhart. Lockhart is a conceited autobiographer and the newly appointed Defence Against the Dark Arts teacher, following the death of Professor Quirrell. When Harry and Ron approach Platform 9¾, it refuses to let them pass, resulting in them missing the train. They decide to fly the enchanted car to Hogwarts but crash into the Whomping Willow on the grounds. The year is not starting off smoothly for Harry at all.

Harry and Ron end up in trouble. As punishment, Ron has to clean the school trophies and Harry has to help Professor Lockhart with addressing his fan mail. Whilst he is doing this, he learns about the wizards’ prejudice about blood status – pure blood (only wizarding heritage) and Muggle (non magical) parentage. More alarmingly, Harry can hear an unnerving voice, seemingly coming from the walls of the castle. Things get stranger still. Following a deathday party for Nearly Headless Nick, the Gryffindor House ghost Harry, Ron and Hermione run into Filch and his cat, Mrs Norris, who has been petrified. A warning was scrawled on the wall.

“The Chamber of Secrets has been opened. Enemies of the heir, beware.”

Because Harry was there when Mrs Norris was discovered, rumours quickly fly around the school regarding the Chamber of Secrets’ history. The rumour seems to be that Harry is the next heir. After some investigating Harry, Ron and Hermione discover from Cuthbert Binns, the ghostly professor of the History of Magic, that there was a terrible monster created by Salazar Slytherin after a disagreement with the other founders – Godric Gryffindor, Helga Hufflepuff and Rowena Ravenclaw. Slytherin believed that students of non magic parentage should be refused entry to Hogwarts and only the pureblood be educated. He built a chamber to finish the mission. Only the heir could open it and control the monster inside.

Later, during a seasonal game of Quidditch, a Bludger ends up chasing after Harry. It appears to be rogue, zigzagging around any player it can hit. Unfortunately, it ends up breaking Harry’s arm. To make matters worse, when trying to repair the bones, Lockhart ends up removing all of them instead. Whilst in the hospital wing, Dobby visits Harry in the dead of night, revealing that it was he who charmed the Bludger and sealed the gateway to the train. He also tells Harry that the Chamber of Secrets was opened before.

Another attack happens, this time on a first year Gryffindor student. Colin Creevey, a huge fan of Harry’s is the victim. The school takes on a sense of panic. In response to this, a duelling class is set up for the students, led by Lockhart and Snape, in order to prepare them. It is during this that Harry learns he is a Parselmouth, meaning he can speak to snakes and understand them. This is incredibly rare and again adds to the rumours flying around school that Harry is the heir. Salazar Slytherin was also a Parselmouth.

“Hearing voices no one else can hear isn’t a good sign, even in the wizarding world.”

A third attack happened, this time on a second year Hufflepuff, Justin Finch-Fletchley. Hermione, Ron and Harry began to suspect Draco Malfoy. His family history firmly rooted within Slytherin. They were also openly hostile towards Muggle born students. The three decide to use Hermione’s talents to create Polyjuice Potion. This will enable them to turn into Malfoy’s friends, Crabb and Goyle, and hope that Malfoy says something incriminating. Sadly, they learn nothing.

Moaning Myrtle, a very miserable and whiny ghost that haunts the girls’ bathroom, unwittingly provides the trio with a new clue: a diary which had been deposited in her stall. The trio discover the diary belonged to Tom Riddle, a student who knows all too well about the Chamber, having been witness to a fellow student’s death while the Chamber was opened fifty years ago. Riddle reveals the culprit to Harry, Rubeus Hagrid. Another attack takes place, this time Hermione and a Ravenclaw prefect, the school is put on lockdown. Dumbledore and Hagrid are forced to leave.

What Hagrid did do was leave a set of instructions for them: follow the spiders that are currently fleeing into the Forbidden Forest. Here they meet Aragog, who tells them that the real monster is one that the spiders fear above all others. When Ron and Harry try to leave, Aragog says they can’t because his sons and daughters haven’t eaten for a long time and they’re hungry. At this point, the enchanted Ford Anglia arrives to rescue them. Hermione then solves the mystery of what the monster is: a basilisk. This explains why Harry can understand it. It kills by a stare. The current victims haven’t seen it’s stare – it’s by a reflection which is why they are only petrified. It isn’t long until they realise that the student that was previously killed was Myrtle. When Ginny, Ron’s youngster sister, was taken by the monster into the Chamber, Harry and Ron discover that the entrance to the Chamber is through the girls’ bathroom. The boys, with Lockhart, enter the Chamber.

It is whilst they are in the Chamber that they realise Lockhart is a fraud. A rockfall happens whilst Lockhart tries to erase the memories of the boys, something he’s done previously for his books. This time, he manages to erase his own memory. Harry becomes separated from Ron and enters the Chamber of Secrets to find an unconscious and barely alive Ginny. Tom Riddle is also in attendance and reveals that his memory has been preserved in his diary. The diary that both Harry and Ginny have been using. Riddle shows Harry his full name: Tom Marvolo Riddle. This is an anagram for He Who Shall Not Be Named. It was he who opened the Chamber fifty years ago and framed Hagrid.

“I am Lord Voldemort.”

Riddle is the true Heir of Slytherin. By possessing Ginny through his diary, Riddle has been continuing his work he started fifty years before. This time was different: Harry. Throughout the battle, Harry remains loyal to Dumbledore. This results in Fawkes, his phoenix, arriving in the Chamber with the Sorting Hat. Fawkes blinds the basilisk, allowing Harry to remove the Sword of Godric Gryffindor from the Sorting Hat. Harry slays the creature and uses a fang, poisoned by the basilisk, to stab the middle of the diary. Riddle and his diary are destroyed and Ginny survives.

Harry, Ron, Ginny and Lockhart return to the main castle and reunite with Professor McGonagall, Dumbledore and Mr and Mrs Weasley. Ginny is given a reprieve by Dumbledore. After all, many a wizard had been persuaded and duped by Voldemort. Lucius Malfoy stormed into the meeting demanding to know why Dumbledore is back. He is accompanied by Dobby, revealing that Dobby is enslaved to the Malfoy family. How did the diary come into Ginny’s hand? Lucius Malfoy had slipped it into her books whilst in Diagon Alley, enabling the Chamber to be opened again.

“It is our choices, Harry, that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities.”

Harry decides to return the diary. However this time, it includes a sock which frees Dobby from the Malfoy’s employment. This results in an attack on Harry but Dobby jumps to save him. The petrified students are cured, Gryffindor wins the house cup again by earning 400 more points, Harry and Ron both receive the Special Services to School award and the end of year exams are cancelled. Hagrid returns during the final feast. Lockhart, now openly useless is dismissed from his teaching post. Like the novel opens, Harry returns to Privet Drive for another summer with the Dursleys.

Final Thoughts

I love The Chamber of Secrets because we are introduced to a range of new characters. My favourite is Dobby. I immediately felt great sympathy when I learnt he was the house elf for the Malfoys. Whilst on the surface, he comes across to Harry and the reader as a great menace, he only ever wanted to protect Harry. The second book in the series was just as good as the first and just as good this second time of reading. I genuinely love it. Having a little magic in our lives is really important and I’m so thrilled to be reading these again. Onto MY favourite book next: The Prisoner of Askaban.

Big love all! xx

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Filed under Book review, Books, Children's Laureate, Harry Potter

Away With The Penguins – Hazel Prior

 

Hi Guys!

How are we all? I hope we’re all safe and well. I also hope that any keyworkers amongst us as taking the time to rest and recharge too. One thing I’m really appreciative of is the time I’ve now got because I’m working from home. It’s given me chance to catch up with you all and meet new fellow bloggers. I’ve also been working on the curriculum for my department for 2020/2021 which is exciting. I think we can all agree that we’d like to get back to a sense of normality. The new normal is a bit strange really!

Today I wanted to share with you a book I’ve recently read and absolutely loved. It’s a feel good read that I think we will all appreciate right now. Away with the Penguins is a funny, charming and utterly irresistible novel.

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What’s it all about? 

Set in Ayrshire, Scotland, the novel centres around the assertive and headstrong Veronica McCreedy. Eileen, her general helper, looks after Veronica’s huge house and undertakes day to day tasks at Veronica’s request. Veronica is not the easiest person to work for or spend time with, so there is an element of sympathy for Eileen here. Veronica loves Darjeeling tea, a wildlife documentary and collects litter from the beach. Despite her age, she trusts her memory because she knows she can recite Hamlet speeches. One evening she discovers her favourite TV show, Earth Matters, has ended. She stumbles across another programme: The Plight of Penguins. She only agrees to watch it because of the presenter, Robert Saddlebow. The programme will follow a different group of penguins each week. This week: emperors. Veronica is completely transfixed. She’s devastated that these beautiful animals are at risk of extinction and an idea starts to form in her head.

‘It is perhaps feasible that my demise might be useful in some way. Unless it is proved otherwise, I must work on the assumption that I have no blood ties at all. It would be pleasing if I could make some small difference to the planet. The more I think about it, the more I am attracted to the idea.’

Throughout the novel, there are entries from ‘Terry’s Penguin Blog’ which share facts and discoveries from the team of Scientists who are working in the Antarctic observing and monitoring the penguins. Sooty, an Adelie penguin, steals my heart for sure! We’re introduced to him in the first entry that features in the novel and I found myself immediately drawn to him.

‘…he’s almost entirely black. Just a few paler feathers in a patch under his chin. His mate, a normal black-and-whiter, was with him for the last four seasons. But where is she? Did she fail to get through the Antarctic winter? Was she eaten by a leopard seal? Or do we have a rare case of penguin infidelity? We’ll never know.’

The novel also features Patrick, a broken hearted, weed smoking, messed up young adult. He is the complete opposite to Veronica but amazingly he is her grandson. Veronica was under the impression that she had no living relatives but after a DNA investigation, Patrick turned out to be a blood relative. These two could not be more different from one another. However legal documentation confirms their blood line. This new knowledge of Patrick raises more questions than answers! Veronica writes to her grandson to inform him of her new knowledge and to arrange a meeting. We learn that Veronica had a son but had given him up as a baby.  With little notice, Veronica turns up on Patrick’s doorstep. Their meeting is anything but positive or heart warming.

‘How is it possible that this disgraceful, smeary, drug-befuddled creature could be my grandson? Doesn’t he know about the existence of soap and water? And his bedsit! I simply do not understand how anyone could live in this squalor.’

Following this, both parties appear quite disappointed. Naturally, neither like each other very much. Veronica decides that there is absolutely no way that Patrick is going to get her money. We learn that Veronica has a substantial amount of money, millions in fact. It is this that she wants to create a plan for the future for. The penguins then enter her mind, helped by a reminder in pencil on the mirror! Here, she creates a plan. She is going to use her money to help the penguins. However, before she commits she wants to see them and meet the scientists in Antarctica. Veronica isn’t someone that you can easily say no to. After a few emails between Veronica and Dietrich from the science team and a reluctance from Veronica to back down at all, flights and boats are all booked. Veronica is off to the Antarctic, waved off by Eileen and more surprisingly, Patrick.

“Mrs McCreedy is very set on the idea of going to see you and your penguins. I can’t change her mind, I’m afraid. She’s really quite independent and stubborn. When you meet her you’ll see. I’m sure everything will be fine.’

The team have other ideas though. Upon her arrival there is a mixture of warmth and worry and frank hostility from Mike. It is clear that Veronica has forced her way in and in their eyes, is very unprepared for the realities of what living in this climate is really like. Terry is the only one who embodies warmth at this stage. Surprisingly, a girl, but we finally have a face to match the blog entries we have been seeing within the narrative.  Aware of a boat leaving the island, they show Veronica around the camp and try and send her on her merry way. However, the walk back for Veronica proves more difficult than originally anticipated and she is late back. Therefore, she misses the boat and consequently has to stay there for three weeks. Veronica’s plan to remain there has worked! The team are not particularly happy about it though. Terry is the unsung heroine at this point.

‘”Come on, give her a bit longer, will you?” pleads Terry. “We can’t send her away yet. She’s only just arrived and – ”
“- And we already hate her,” says Mike.’

In the meantime, Veronica has sent a box to her grandson. It’s locked with the promise of the code coming at another time. Patrick, still fairly messed up by this new news and his break up, shoves it under the bed for another day. Back at camp, Veronica makes herself at home as best she can. Yet she finds herself quite emotional. She pushes that deep down and continues with her visit. She loves spending time with the penguins and learning their ways and characteristics. As time goes by, Patrick has this overwhelming niggle to check on his Granny V and read the emails from the science team and Eileen. Soon, he receives the code to open the box that was sent to him. Inside, it includes diaries from Veronica when she was younger. Her childhood, teenage years and the story of her son is revealed. Consequently, Patrick has completely thawed towards his grandmother and is even particularly fond of her. The emotions she displays in her diary entries, he feels with her. A bond between the two is finally formed.

“I’ll never be happy again. I’d give anything to be back there, stuck in yesterday for ever. How can I face anything? How can I go on? This happens to other people. Not me. God oh God.”

The bond between grandmother and grandson is also forming for Veronica, despite being thousands of miles away. When out observing the penguins, Terry probs and asks for more information about Veronica’s life. Gradually, over time her character does thaw and starts to divulge information to her. They discuss the war and Veronica finds again that she becomes increasingly emotional. The true identity of Patrick’s father is revealed: Giovanni who disappeared during the war. Yet, Veronica doesn’t stop thinking about him or lose memory of him. Naturally, she wonders where he is, if he survived, if he even thinks of her still. Like the penguins, Veronica is naturally curious. This in turn leads her to think about her grandson and why he is facing the problems he has. It is during this conversation that Veronica spots a bedraggled and lonely penguin. Her heart melts but it is the scientists policy to not get involved with nature. Veronica has another battle on her hands. The motherly instinct in her wants to help and save this penguin. After a heated discussion, Veronica wins and little baby penguin Patrick joins the fold.

‘Even more astonishing is the fact that my baby penguin seems to have taken a liking to me. If I lift him on to the bed he will crawl into the crook of my arm and press up against me. I am aware that any baby creature will seek something warm to cuddle up to, but I cannot help but be wholly delighted that the something, in this instance, is me.’

The friendship between Veronica and Terry strengthens. The two have plenty in common. I’d go as far as saying, Terry is very much a younger embodiment of Veronica. Veronica opens up about her son and what happened. I won’t ruin this for you but it is incredibly moving. As it happens, Veronica takes a turn for the worst and becomes desperately ill. Terry nurses her and spends time with her, as does the little penguin who because of Veronica’s hand rearing, is becoming stronger every day. It’s touch and go with Veronica. Patrick arrives to the scientists camp with more questions than answers. However, the overwhelming emotion he feels is concern. After all, he’s only just got his Granny V into his life and now he was at risk of losing her. Patrick gets renamed: Pip following the reading of Great Expectations by Dietrich. Over time, Veronica gains strength, Terry and Patrick become close and Pip is showing signs that he will be safe in the wild with the other penguins there.

‘I have ventured out to the rookery with the scientists, Patrick and Pip several times over the past two weeks. I am both joyous and emotional to observe how well my little chick gets on with his penguin mates. It may be my imagination, but I could swear he examines his human family in a new way, as if debating with himself whether we are massive, gangly penguins with strange markings.’

The novel ends with Veronica sponsoring Patrick so he can join the team of scientists and continue to be with Terry. Their relationship is clearly blossoming and neither party want to lose that. Also, Terry’s blog is going from strength to strength. The use of social media accurately showing the modern world. We have all seen how a good social media campaign can change things. Rather happily, I was pleased to see that Sooty and his partner were back together around the nest! Patrick and Veronica are close, cemented more by Terry. Most poignantly and arguably most importantly, we finally hear the voice of Giovanni as the novel closes. Veronica and us as a reader, get to hear the answers to those questions Veronica was asking earlier in the novel. I end with the feeling that that relationship could have continued to be a beautiful thing.

‘Veronica: true, headstrong and gloriously vivid. How she shines! No matter what life throws at her, she will defy the odds. Whatever she does, she will be extraordinary.’

Final Thoughts

Sometimes we all just need to read a book that feels like we are getting a good hug. For me, this was that book. I fell in love with Veronica’s character. Terry is such a beautiful girl too. I felt for Patrick and saw that the reason why he was so angry at the world was because he had many unanswered questions. The additional of penguins was just amazing. I thought it was incredibly clever to use the baby penguin for Veronica to try being a mother for. It showed us exactly what she would have been like for the child she wasn’t allowed to keep. I thoroughly loved this book for so many reasons. It came to me at the right time and I was completely carried away with it.

Stay safe everyone. Keep in touch.

Big love to you all. x

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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