All Time Favourite Reads – Sunday Stack #1

I absolutely adore blog posts that give book recommendations. I’m always looking for new and exciting reads and love it when someone shares something that has given them an enormous amount of joy. As the time at the moment is a little uncertain, I know that I am certainly diving into books as a form of escape, as I am sure many of us are. Therefore I thought I would take today to share some of my ‘all-time favourites’. These are books that have given me an enormous amount of joy and that I have turned back to time and time again.

I have found this month that I have been enjoying using bookstagram a lot more, and have been spending a lot more time thinking about what I wanted to post. I decided to try and come up with a challenge to set myself for the next five weeks for a ‘stack’ post each week. Each week has a different prompt for your #sundaystack and I would absolutely love it if you wanted to take part as well. If you do feel free to tag me in your photos because I would love to see your creations. I just thought this would be a brilliant way for us all to interact a little more, and have more fun in the process.

The first prompt, which isn’t technically in May but, as today is my birthday, I just got excited and wanted to start, is to post your ‘all time favourites’. As I took the photo for bookstagram, I knew I wanted to share my favourites on my blog too, largely because these are such fantastic reads it seems a shame not to scream about them across the internet.

The first book on my stack is England’s Mistress by Kate Willaims. This is a non-fiction read that follows the life of Emma Hamiltan, who is largely known for being the lover of Horatio Nelson. However, Emma is a force to be reckoned with herself. Her determination and resilience meant that she unsettled many of the stereotypes of the 18th century, most signifnactly in the art world, where many artists used her form to create their masterpieces. Her story is truly a rags to ruin to riches tales, only possible because of her fierce determination to survive.

The second is The Kingdom by Jess Rothenburg, which I have reviewed here before, but its simply wonderful. For those who are fans of the Lunar Chronicles, this is a book you cannot miss! Set in a dystopian future, the book follows the ‘robotic’ princesses from a dark Disney style theme park, where happiness isn’t just a promise, but a rule. In a world that refuses to see them as humans and treats them objects they can throw away at anytime, the plot follows Ana, one of the robot princesses, who is on trial for the murder of a park worker. As the timeline dips from the past and the present, we uncover a hidden evil plot that runs in the ‘Kingdom’s’ core. This book honestly blew me away and I am so sad there has been no noise of a sequel.

The next is ‘The Corset’ by Laura Purcell, a historical fiction set in a Victorian period by an author I am obsessed with. The plot follows Ruth Butterham who has been imprisoned for murder. She is frequently visited by Dorothea Truelove, an upperclass lady whose charity work brings her to the prison, is fascinated by this seamstress come serial killer, and is desperate to prove her innocence. In a read that is simialr to Sarah Waters’ Affinity, this read is a beautiful masterpiece which will chill you to the bone.

In a similar theme, my final favourite read is ‘Things Half in Shadow’ by Alan Finn. Set is post-civil war America, this novel explores the dark and often criminal circles of the Spiritualist world. As strange and bizarre murders start spreading across the city, you are left debating whether the ghosts that follow the narrative are tricks of the trade, or possibly something more sinister. Mixed with murder, treachery, trauma, and hidden secrets, this book is one of the most innovative of its genre that I have found. And I absolutely loved it.

So there are some of my all time favourties. These are the reads I can, and know I will, turn back to regardless of how I’m feeling. Hopefully there’s some reads there for you to discover for the first time. What are your all time favoiutes? Don’t forget, I would love it if you decided to take part in this challenge-come-prompt list as well. Make sure to tag me if you do because I’d love to check out your posts!.

A House of Ghosts by W.C. Ryan

“In a House of Ghosts, the Living Await, Their Certain Fate.”

With an intimidating Gothic abbey imprinted in gold on the blunt black cover, an ornate map of an enclosed island on the front few pages, A House of Ghosts by W.C. Ryan promises to be a read that leaves you consumed with intrigue, uncertain of anything, and wondering what’s making that tapping against your bedroom window. It is a book that entices you with bribes of mystery, intrigue, scandal and treachery, combing seeming gentile characters of the early 20th century upper classes with the brutal and bloody realities of war, mixed to create the ideal ghost story…

Synopsis:

Winter 1917. As the First World War enters its most brutal phase, back home in England, everyone is seeking answers to the darkness that has seeped into their lives.
At Blackwater Abbey, on an island off the Devon coast, Lord Highmount has arranged a spiritualist gathering to contact his two sons who were lost in the conflict. But as his guests begin to arrive, it gradually becomes clear that each has something they would rather keep hidden. Then, when a storm descends on the island, the guests will find themselves trapped. Soon one of their number will die.
For Blackwater Abbey is haunted in more ways than one . . .

A House of Ghosts by WC Ryan

As an avid fan of Historical fiction, I found myself inexplicitly drawn to this book. That, combined with the presence of spiritualism and a definitively gothic setting, meant I could not help but devour it. I was particularly intrigued by the First World War setting, especially as I had not read books set in this period with a spiritualist plot, predominately only in books with a Victorian setting as this the time period most commonly associated with seances and mediums. However, considering the devasting impact that WW1 had on so many families, the presence of spiritualism seemed only natural. The characters in this novel are fuelled by a desire to reach their lost sons who gave their lives to the war, however the ‘ghosts’ that they are presented with certainly uncover more truths than they bargained for.

What made this read truly distinct for me was the gothic, spiritualist atmosphere mixed with a ‘spy’ novel plot. Whilst invited to the Island under the guise of taking part in a seance to reconnect with the dead, Donovan and Kate Cartwright, our protagonists, are also determined to uncover a threat to national security, with one in the party being a German spy. As a storm rages outside, and connections to the outside world as violently cut off (potentially by the Spy themselves), the characters each find themselves under scrutiny … as well as in mortal peril.

The narrative style of this novel is reliant on multiple perspectives and, whilst I often find this jarring, in this read it aids the investigation as it unfolds, must frustratingly when characters do not reveal clues to us! The use of the third person narrative perspective allows you to consider the motives of each character from multiple angles. Whilst I am always a fan of spiritualism in any text, with this read I certainly found myself obsessed with the investigation, each time trying to guess who the perpetrator was to no avail.

WC Ryan’s writing style perfectly mixes the logical with the superstitious. Whilst the two protagonists try to create an investigation that is rational, there is the simple fact that something unexplainable is happening. This, combined with Kate’s ability to see the dead, leaves you unsure as to what, or who, you can trust. This also allows for a slow reveal of facts and clues and the ‘locked room’ mystery style left for an intoicatingly claustrophic atmosphere. You share in the desperation of the characters in their pursuit for the truth, especially as more of their number seem to disappear by ghostly means …

Why I think this novel resonated with me so much is largely down to the ingenuity of the protagonists: Donovan and Kate Cartwright. Both were characters I felt I could trust, even when I knew they were keeping secrets from me, and I followed them entirely. Donovan, as an Irishman in a British context, is highly critical of the British war efforts, and their carelessness over their own men. It means that he will presume no one is innocent because his eyes have been opened so cruelly to the injustices of the classes in power. Whilst he has been hardened by the world, he shows a clear compassion for those in need, and a strong sense of justice. Kate Cartwright refuses to succumb to the stereotypes which would paint her as the weak, vulnerable assistant to the detective. Instead, she is powerful within her own right with her medium skills, and is entirely ruthless. I absolutely adored her as a character, and a hero.

Key themes: Betrayal; Suspicion; secrecy; deception; loss; trauma.

As I am sure is clear, I absolutely adored this book. The combination of the isolated setting, ghostly and gothic atmosphere, and undeniable threat of treachery meant this was a book that I needed to have answers from. I awarded this book four stars because, whilst I thoroughly enjoyed, there were moments where you could see what was going to happen. I think this inevitably follows a genre that is somewhat stereotypical, and the fact I have read so many historical fictions that deal with ‘seances gone wrong’, but it didn’t take anything away from the book for me. If you are looking for a sensationalist novel that will leave you thoroughly engaged and hooked for answers, this is certainly the book for you!

#Stayhomereadingrush TBR

In a bit of a whirlwind-last-minute decision yesterday, I’ve decided to take on two readathons this month and haphazardly threw together a TBR for the #stayhomereadingrush. Originally, I was set against taking part, deciding that as I was doing the OWLsreadathon already I would most definitely be putting too much on my plate. But as we are halfway through the month and I only have one book left on my TBR, I figured why not?!

The #stayhomereadingrush is run by the usual Reading Rush gang who put on the summer readathon, with this one designed to provide a little bit of escapism during this challenging time. You can find more information here, but it is made up of four prompts, and also includes fun instagram prompts which I will be taking part with on my bookstagram.

Read a book with a house on the cover: For this prompt, I have selected A House of Ghosts by WC Ryan, which has a lovely and creepy Gothic abbey on the front. This is a historical fiction set in the Winter of 1917. and follows a group who arrive at Blackwater Abbey to attend a spiritualist gathering. As the guests arrive, it becomes clear that each has something to hide. A storm leaves the party trapped on an island. As the storm ranges on, the guests learn that Blackwater Abbey is haunted in more ways than one, especially as one of their number dies.

This read has intrigued me for a long time, especially as it combines two of my favourite things: historical fiction and spiritualism, or ghosts. I haven’t actually read a ‘creepy’ read for a long time so am really looking forward to diving into this one.

Read a book in the same room the whole time: For this prompt, I have picked The Secret Dead by S.J. Parris, simply because it is so tiny. It was one I was debating picking for the potion prompt for the OWLS so I’m looking forward to reading it anyway. This is also a historical fiction, set in the 1500s, and I think a murder mystery, but the blurb is very vague, only adding to my intrigue.

Read a book set somewhere you wish you could go. Read a book that will make you smile: I really struggled with these two prompts, largely because it turns out I basically only own historical fiction where the characters are permanently in turmoil. The best I could find is The Keeper of Lost things by Ruth Hogan, as the reviews seem to suggest it is uplifting and heartwarming but honestly I know nothing about this read as I found it tucked away on a bottom shelf. Oh, and the first prompt? I have been very creative as I had absolutely nothing and just decided, as this book involves characters stepping outside at some point, I’m just going to use the great outdoors as my place that I’d like to go. Not the best fit, I’ll grant you, and I may change it, but for now, it works.

And there you have it. That’s my TBR for the next four days. I’m really looking forward to diving into the reads. Are you taking part and if so, what are you reading?

The Ship of Brides – JoJo Moyes

“The only people who still have all the answers are those who have never been faced with the questions.”

The Ship of Brides by Jojo Moyes is an absolutely fascinating work of historical fiction and completely blew me away. I picked up this read for the OWLSreadathon, however it has been sat of my TBR for ages. This is largely because I just couldn’t imagine Moyes being anything other than a romance writer, and therefore just couldn’t find the energy to pick it up despite how fascinating it seemed. I know, shameless of me and I am very much ashamed! This read was completely captivating and surpassed all my expectations, heart wrenching and magnificant.

Synopsis:

1946. World War II has ended and all over the world, young women are beginning to fulfill the promises made to the men they wed in wartime.

In Sydney, Australia, four women join 650 other war brides on an extraordinary voyage to England—aboard HMS Victoria, which still carries not just arms and aircraft but a thousand naval officers. Rules are strictly enforced, from the aircraft carrier’s captain down to the lowliest young deckhand. But the men and the brides will find their lives intertwined despite the Navy’s ironclad sanctions. And for Frances Mackenzie, the complicated young woman whose past comes back to haunt her far from home, the journey will change her life in ways she never could have predicted—forever.

The Ship of Brides ~ JoJo Moyles

This was a segment of history that I had never heard of before and never really considered. My nan, having grown up in the second world war, has entertained my sister and I with tales of the exotic GIs who brought exciting gifts to intrigue the civilians they were surrounded by, but I had never thought about it the other way round, with the British soldiers doing the entertaining and flirting overseas. The Ship of Brides follows the aftermath of the war, following the women who were seduced and fell in love with the British men in uniform. Having been distanced by the fighting, these four women, with hundreds like them, finally begin the passage overseas to be reunited with their husbands in England, many of whom they haven’t seen for years, even since their wedding day! Over the course of the journey, the women are forced to face difficulties and uncertainties, especially as they try to imagine their lives in this new post-war reality, let alone in a different country. As the story progresses, it is heartbreaking to watch characters being devastated, especially as ‘Don’t come. Not Wanted’ messages are sent to the boat, husbands having decided they no longer want the woman they promised theirselves to, regardless of the dedication they have shown in the their journeying. The overwhelming theme in this novel has to be bravery, and I was simply astounded by the courage of the characters, in every way it was displayed.

The narrative style adopted by Moyes is simply magical as it allows you to touch upon each of the characters individually, taking moments to walk in each of the main characters’ shoes. Each of the four women that the narrative predominately circles around – Margaret, Avice, Jean, and Frances – are so complex and different that it allows Moyles to illuminate the lives of a wide range of experiences of women during the war. It is so heartbreaking to think that this is an area of history that is dismissed when these women literally uprooted their lives and took an amazing risk to be with the ones they loved. Along the route many have their lives ruined by the whims of others, now facing immense shame and impossible ruin. Yet, still, we are not discussing these women. Well, Moyes certainly puts this right.

The playfulness when it comes to timelines makes the narrative completely hypnotic. Not just dealing with the journey itself, the story takes you back to the lives of these women before, both as they meet the men they marry and their experiences through the war. For some, it is a life of high society and afternoon teas. For others, the world is unbelievably harsh and exploitative, where life becomes a matter of survival rather than experience. What I love about historical fiction is its determination to uncover the forgotten voices of our past, and that is definitely what Moyes does here.

Like I have said earlier, the characters in this novel are so diverse, both in terms of social class and their experiences during the war, and this paints a complex world in which we consider the impact of trauma. Prejudice and stereotypes circulate the women and we see how it affects their perpectives of the other women they are surrounded with. There is also this conflict between Men and Women, as the wives travel on a Naval ship, as this confliction presents both companisonship and danger. It paints a complex picture of life post-war, old hostility and entitlements seeping into the life with seems to promise a new future. What I loved with Moyes’ exploration of this is that there was no ‘black and white’ goodies and baddies in this novel. She paints characters honestly and truthfully, and this is most accurately shown in the way the two genders interract. My heart went out to each and the scars left upon them by the hardships they had faced, even if that may make them hard to others.

I absolutely adored this book. It was a work of magic itself, completely compelling and intriguing. If you are an avid historical fiction fan like me, or are just looking for a completely thrilling read, you need to give this one a go!

The House of Earth and Blood by Sarah J Maas

Through love, all is possible.”

Sarah J Maas, when you look through the internet, seems to be regarded as one of the Queens of YA fantasy writing. I am shameful to admit that I have never read Maas’ previous novels, despite having actually owned quite a few in the past. I think it was the classic case of, when something is so hyped up, you just can’t be bothered to read it. Like, in those cases, I instantly get the ikk. Which doesn’t make sense, I’ll grant you, but are we really going to start questioning the inner workings of consciusness?

The House of Earth and Blood is Sarah J Mass’ debut into the realm of adult fiction, having preivously only been involved in YA. For this read, that seems to mean the majority of the narrative circling explicit topics, such as sexualisation, racism, drug abuse, physical and emotional abuse, neglect, slavery etc. I think this is worthwhile mentioning as these are quite triggering topics. I think fantasy, especially adult fantasy, is often guilty of not advertising these, often traumatic for some, topics, and therefore I don’t want to start this review properly without mentioning them.

Unlike some adult fantasy reads that surround these issues, I didn’t find their mentioning too jarring, as they were embedded into the narrative and characterisation. They work to present the reality of Crescent City as a corrupt, exploitative, and brutal place to live, leaving scars in its residents who have been force to adapt to survive.

Synposis:

Bryce Quinlan had the perfect life—working hard all day and partying all night—until a demon murdered her closest friends, leaving her bereft, wounded, and alone. When the accused is behind bars but the crimes start up again, Bryce finds herself at the heart of the investigation. She’ll do whatever it takes to avenge their deaths.

Hunt Athalar is a notorious Fallen angel, now enslaved to the Archangels he once attempted to overthrow. His brutal skills and incredible strength have been set to one purpose—to assassinate his boss’s enemies, no questions asked. But with a demon wreaking havoc in the city, he’s offered an irresistible deal: help Bryce find the murderer, and his freedom will be within reach.

As Bryce and Hunt dig deep into Crescent City’s underbelly, they discover a dark power that threatens everything and everyone they hold dear, and they find, in each other, a blazing passion—one that could set them both free, if they’d only let it.

The House of Earth and Blood by Sarah J. Maas

Having a look around social media, the main reason that a lot of people seem hesitant to dive straight into this read is its size. I won’t lie, it shocked me too when I first held it in my hands. Coming in at 800 pages, this read is the definiton of a rollercoaster. It truly felt like a saga and the writng was very episodic, the journies the characters and plot went through truly feeling like a huge milestone and event, rather than the natural progression of a normal narrative. At every turn I thought I had met the ‘big shock’ of the read, the climax of the action, but in fifty pages I was reeling once more. The last 100 pages of this novel were truly shocking and I felt completely immersed in the world and action. The phrase ‘hanging by the edge of my seat’ certainly couldn’t be more appropriate for the conclusion of this read. I thought I would find it quite difficult because of the size to lose myself in this read, but everytime I returned back to this read, I lost myself within it instantly. Because the narrative is so action led, with focus on events rather than descriptions, there was a distinct ‘Dark Artifices’ feel to it, but I think that came from the fact it was dark and gritty – and probably because I loved both.

What stops this read feeling too much like a mammoth and an ordeal is the fact that the writing is incredibly multi-layered. Combining humour, brutalism, horror, and violence whilst seemingly being set in an Earthlike setting created a world which was completely compelling and intriguing. I was particularly fascintated with the aspects of social heirarchy in this novel, each time being fascinated by the different rules and customs the character are led by. The world Maas creates is so complex and intricate, full of mysteries and scandals, that I felt myself tearing thorugh every page.

For me, the real selling point of this novel was the main character, Bryce Quinlan. Half-Fae and full of sass, Bryce refuses to simply be rescued and dominated by those who regard her as weak and abhorrent. Bryce commands her identity, refusing to conform to prejudices of her world. I loved her tenacity, how she used other people assumptions about her against them. Maas also uses Bryce to call out many of the fantasy cliches that would paint her as a victim, and this level of metafiction certainly allowed for comedy.

I absolutely adored this read and cannot wait for the sequel that I heard rumoured. I read this for the OWLS readathon, which is happening throughout April, having swapped my original choice for Care of Magical Creatures ( a book with a beak on the front cover) for this read. If you’re looking for a bit of escapism, this is definitely a world to lose yourself in.

The Mermaid by Christina Henry

The ocean has a rhythm, but it has no heart…

‘The Mermaid’ by Christina Henry has sat on my TBR for years. In fact, I cannot exactly remember when I picked it up, only that it is one I have thought about reading a great many times, but never actually picked up. Well, with a sudden and suprisingly large amount of time on my hands, I expectantly picked up this read, not really wanting much but a brief moment of escapism, and devoured it in a day. You may know Christina Henry for her other retellings, such as ‘Alice’ and ‘The Lost Boy’, however I hadn’t encountered her before. Indeed, when I went to read the blurb and saw the other books mentioned, a momentary dread came over me as I thought I had picked up another new read only to find it was a mid-series book – something I have an innate skill for by the way. But let me assure you if you are worried too, that this book, whilst marvellous, is also a stand alone. That’s not to say I won’t go back and look at the other reads, but they don’t necessarily have to work together.

The Mermaid by Christina Henry

I always love retellings, especially as it often gives the narrative a chance to return to its original, macabre, un-disneyed integrity, and that is certainly true for this read. Having been caught between the ocean and her true love, the once memaid Amelia suddenly finds herself trapped between worlds, and not belonging to either. Soon, tales of the widow mermaid travel across America, falling into the ears of PT Barnum, who soon grows wicked with the idea of a fortune. But will he be able to catch the mermaid, or will he face her wrath instead?

Amelia, without doubt, is the shining ember in this novel. Her tenacity and determination drives the story forward and leaves for a captivating narrative. Eager to discover more about this human world and not lose herself in her grief, she travels to New York city to accept PT Barnum’s propostition. The world she suddenly finds herself wrapped in is one that is cruel and oppressive, but Amelia refuses to allow herself to be forced into submission just because the laws of human society deem that she should. Her commentary on the human society that surrounds her is completely unforgiving and full of judgement, a blunt and brutal force against the opressive notion of ‘reason’. Her internal certainity as to what is ‘right’ unsettles the domineering (and male) powers at be, but she refuses to spare their blushes. Instead, she pushes herself into the limelight, the architect of her own destiny, a hero in the making.

I thought the presentation of Barnum’s tyranny was also really interesting. He too is a figure who seems to have been ‘disneyfied’ through productions such as ‘The Greatest Showman’, but is actually a person who inspires great controversy. The argument that he was ‘a product of his time’ does not fit Barnum as, even within his own context, he was the source of much scandal. I felt as though Henry’s portrayal was very honest, filled with the venom created by Barnum’s greed but also humanising him with his desires. I was left completely captivated by his character, aghast by his actions and eager to know more. The exploration around freak shows and the carnivorous society that surrounds them is completely immersive and compelling, brushing over nothing and simply presenting a ‘truth’.

I managed to devour this read in one sitting, and if that isn’t testament to how fantastic it is, I don’t know what is! Henry’s writing style is completely addictive and heartwrenching. I found myself reading not necessarily because I wanted to but because I felt like I needed to, as though Amelia’s plight was my own. If you are searching for some escapism and to dive into a little bit of historical fantasy, I cannot recommend this enough.

Magical O.W.L.S readathon TBR – April 2020

Having suddenly found myself with a lot more reading time, I decided to challenge myself this year to try the O.W.L.S readathon to fill my month of April. If you are not sure what this is, this is a readathon designed by G at BookRoast and takes inspiration from the Hogwarts examinations students had to take in their fifth year. In this readathon, the OWLS you take allow you to progress into a specific career based on the subjects you have taken (especially when combined with NEWTs later in the year). You can find more information here if you are interested.

I literally made the decision to take part in this readathon last night, meaning this morning I had to decide a career in a bit of a mid morning panic. The career I have chosen is ‘Hogwarts Professor’, which I suppose isn’t that exciting considering the fact I am literally a secondary school teacher in real life but, as the pandemic which shall not be named has presented a few hurdles, it will give me a chance to live vicariously through a Harry Potter medium. As this is my first time completing the readathon too, I thought this would be quite a good career to start with as, other than Defense against the Dark Arts, there are no essential OWLs, only that you take seven in total. Therefore, it gave me an opportunity to be fluid with the prompts that I have chosen.

Defense against the Dark Arts: Grindylows: book set at the sea/coast

For this prompt, I have selected Jojo Moyles’ ‘The Ship of Brides’. This book is a historical fiction, following the young women who had married soldiers during wartime, and now , in 1946, are en route to meet (and live with for the first time) the husbands who were forced to leave them behind. This novel follows four women as they leave Sydney, Austrailia, and are bound to the UK. This is a little nugget of history that I was unaware of before and am really looking forward to diving straight in. I am about thirty pages in and just didn’t have the energy to pick it up and read properly in the final few days of March, but I’m hoping this will change in April with the right motivation.

Care of Magical Creatures: Hippogriffs: Creature with a beak on the cover.

I am currently in lockdown at my parents which means, although I managed to take some of my bookcase with me, the majority of books in my room are a mystery to me. My bookcase here, in fact the room as a whole, has become a bit of a dumping ground. Whilst clearing the bookcase yesterday, which included rehoming two camping lanterns, an expired first aid kit, and a sandwich bag of empty battery cells, I uncovered a treasure trove of books I hadn’t seen before or forgotten about. On these shelves, I found books that hadn’t made the cut for the many housemoves I had made, as well as books my parents had just slotted into my shelves. One such book – and the only one I could find with a beak – is ‘Conspiracy’ by S.J. Parris. This is another historical fiction – no prizes for guessing my family’s favourite genre – set in Paris 1585 and, from what I can gather, is a murder mystery surrounding the increasing tensions between France and England. It is again an area of history I’m not overally familiar with so I’m looking forward to getting stuck in.

Charms: Lumos Maxima: A book with a white cover.

For this prompt, I have picked up Philip K. Dick’s ‘The Man in the High Castle’. This is a book that I have been intrigued by for years, and I think I actually bought when the Amazon series first came out, but just never picked up to read. It doesn’t seem like it will take too long to read as it is only about 250 pages long, which is good as a lot of my other reads are huge chonkers.

History of Magic: Witch hunts: Book featuring witches/wizards.

Now, this was a prompt I didn’t anticipate having difficulty with but I could not find a book that fitted into the catagory for ages. Magic I had. Ghosts, a plethora. But witches and wizards? Nada. In the end, as I didn’t just want to pick a Harry Potter book as that felt a little too on the nose, I picked up the ‘monster’ of a book, ‘Jonathon Strange and Mr Norrell’ by Susanna Clarke. I vaguely remember watching this series on BBC but cannot for the life of me remember what it is about, other than there is magic of some kind. I won’t lie, the size is quite intimidating, but I’m looking forward to getting stuck in anyway.

Muggle Studdies: Book from the perspective of a muggle (contemporary).

Now, it’s no secret that I have been thoroughly enjoying Menna Van Praag’s writing recently. The last one on my shelves I have left to read is The Lost Art of Letter Writing. I’m not sure how perfectly this fits the prompt, as I’m fairly sure magical realism will be in there somewhere, but it was the best fit I could find, and from my experience reading the others it isn’t usually the humans who are magical but buildings and objects so I think I can get away with it.

Potions: Shrinking Solution: A book under 150 pages.

For this prompt, I have picked ‘The Castle of Otranto’ by Horace Walpole. As an English teacher, I have used so many extracts from this novella to act as unseen fiction that the students need to analyse, but have never actually read the book in full. At only 105 pages, I can’t wait to get stuck in! The book is acclaimed to be the first superanatural English novel and takes inspiration from a mysterious medieval Italian tale about a devilish prince who forces his son’s bride to marry him. Taking heavy inspiration from Bluebeard, I am thoroughly intrigued to see what this novella involves.

Divination: Third eye: assign numbers to your TBR and use a ranom number generator to pick your read.

For this, I picked a series of books off my shelf that either intrigued me, or that I hadn’t read in a while, and then followed the generator to pick a book. The book selected was ‘Switched’ by Amanda Hocking, which is YA fantasy novel about a girl who finds out she belongs to a mystical race of beings called the Trylle. It is the first book in a series and I’m really looking forward to rereading it.

Seminars and Courses

I’ve also made the ‘somewhat’ adventurous decision to have a go at ‘Merpeople Linguistics’ which meant I needed to complete the Herbology OWL too. For this, I needed to complete a book whose title begins with the letter M, and I have decided to read ‘Me’ by Elton John. I recieved this at chrsitmas and has been really looking forward to starting it, but just couldn’t find the right now. And this gives me the perfect opportunity.

I think I have been quite ambitious with my TBR for this month but, like I say, as my days are now filled wiht a lot more free time as I am only required to set work remotely, it shouldhopefully be manageable if still challenging. I may swithc out some of the reads but I am determined to get those OWLs.

If you’re taking part, what books are you reading and what career did you pick?

The Dress Shop of Dreams by Menna Van Praag

Great love only comes once in a lifetime, if you’re lucky.”

Menna Van Praag is fast becoming one of my favourite writers. I reviewed her ‘The House at the End of Hope Street” recently and am honestly still reeling from the after effects of such a masterpiece. Now currently lockdown-ed at my parents, it wasn’t long until my mum was urging me to read another of her great works: The Dress Shop of Dreams.

Set in dreamy Cambridge again, this novel follows Etta, the owner of the magical clothes shop ‘A Stitch in Time’, as she tries to help the women who come into her shop, many who do not even know they need help. One such woman is her granddaughter Cora who, after the death of her parents twenty years ago, cut herself off from her emotions. With one little stitch, Etta demands that Cora feels again, and feel she does. With a world of emotions crashing around her, Cora sees the world anew, but with new mysteries coming to light, can she stay above it all?

The Dress Shop of Dreams ~ Menna Van Praag

Once again, for me, the shining feature of this piece is Menna Van Praag’s writing style. Mixing multiple narratives and timelines with magical realism, you are met with a world that is completely intoxicating and all-consuming. With each page, you feel yourself being immersed further as you attach yourself to the characters, willingly drowning yourself in their lives. I desperately tore through this book simply because there is something so special held in each word. I have never quite encountered a writing style like Praag’s but I think it is honestly one of the most magical in the world.

Like with her previous book, the plot of this novel is made up of a patchwork of characters who, although seemingly unrelated, crash into each other, leaving repercussions with shake the narratives. You find yourself yearning for characters to meet, to confess themselves and their darkest secrets. For me, the two characters that particularly conjured these feelings were Father Sebastian and Dylan, though I shan’t spoil it and say why! Each character was written in a way that it genuinely felt as though you were absorbing some part of them, wishing desperately that you could guide them on the right path.

I will say that this novel focuses much more on love than The House at the End of Hope Street. I liked the previous read because it felt as though life was taking centre stage, as though the characters were trying to work out who they were for themselves alone. In this read, it is clear from the beginning that love will be the determining factor of success for the characters. Whilst I didn’t completely dislike this, I did find that is made some moments predictable and a little cliche, but it was also the reason why I squealed and blushed when some many characters found their happy ending.

If you are looking for a bit of escapism at the moment, which I am sure many of us are, I cannot recommend this book enough. It is a delightful read and truly is a piece of magic.

Comfort Reads – #Bookedin

The world is in a very odd place right now and, with all crisises, we are busy trying to find a way to escape and find some sort of normalcy. When I saw on twitter that Emma (@Nverjudgeabook) was holding a blog series as a way to have some fun, I just knew I had to jump on board. The first list was ‘Comfort reads’ and you can read Emma’s post here.

For me, comfort reads means anything that I can curl myself up and lose myself in. They don’t necessarily need to be happy and light- though often are – but something that is so immersive and tantalizing that you just can’t help but devour. I have also chosen books that I find myself returning to, as surely that’s the definition of a comfort?

Now, I’m the kind of person who never keeps books. Once I have read something it is either gifted to someone else to read or sent on to be loved by someone else. It takes a very rare and special kind of book for me to keep. As the UK is currently in a lockdown and, when the news was announced, I decided to stay with my parents and, more importantly, their massive and well-stocked kitchen, this gave me an opportunity to see which books had survived the many house changes, the clear out, and frustrated discardings. The books that survived these troublesome times are the books that are truly special to me, and books I am certain can be special to you too.

The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton

I’ve included this on my list because it is one of the first books I can remember ever truly loving. The first time I picked up this book, having been told we were studying in class, I felt my heart absorb the characters, my heartstrings playing with in every dilemma they faced. I couldn’t imagine being so torn and obsessed with characters until I read this book.

The novel follows a 14 year old boy named Ponyboy Curtis as he struggles to understand right and wrong in a society which believes he does not belong, that he is an outside. There are two kinds of people in Ponyboy’s world: greaser and socs. The Socs have money and get away with anything while the greasers are outsiders and look down upon by society. Ponyboy, as a greaser, is involved in all kinds of mischief but, one terrible night, his best friend Johnny kills a soc. Stuck on the run, Ponyboy’s deals with acceptance and tolerance.

Something to tell you by Lucy Diamond

This book is one of the most immersive and intoxicating books I have ever read. I have written a more detailed review for this book here, so I’ll just dwell on the most important bits here as to why I love it. The novel follows Frankie as she searched to find her birth father, but explores the repurcussions of this secret being shared on the whole of his family. Although seemingly about this one secret, every character in this novel is trying to hide something and you can’t help but be so desperate that the share it. The characters are so complex and complicated that it just makes this the most wonderful read.

Things Half in Shadow by Alan Finn

The reason that this book is so special to me is because it was one of the books I read for my dissertation. As a result, I have devoured it over and over again, littering every page with minute notes. I absolutely adore this book because it combines my two favourite things: history and mystery. I’ve written a full review here, but let’s just have a quick summary! Set in 1869 America, the novel follows Edward Clark who is still tormented with images of the civil war and he deals with his trauma. Set to uncover the city’s fradulent spiritualist, Edward is entangled in the murder of Lenora Grimes Pastor. In order to clear his name, Edward must uncover the real murderer, before secrets best hidden consume him whole.

Where the Light Gets in by Lucy Dillion

It’s a rather rubbish kept secret that I adore Lucy Dillion’s writing. I have recently reviewed her latest novel – Unexpected Lessons in Love – and have written a review of this read here. What I love about Lucy’s writing is that, although love features in the stories somewhere, they tend to be narratives about life, where love is an addition and not an absolute. The characters are always so fully complex that you are instantly attracted to each one. This novel follows Lorna as she returns home to Longhampton, determined to be brave and fullfill a life long dream. However, as always life get in the way and her own secrets start to come to light.

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

One of my favourite classics has to be Pride and Prejudice and therefore it seemed remiss not to include this. This particular copy is my favourite – I have three! – and I have turned its pages more times that I can count. This is a story I always find myself turning back to, no matter how many times I say I’m going to read her other books first. For me, this is the ultimate comfort read.

And there you have it. My five comfort reads. I know times are scary at the moment but, with a good book in tow, we can accomplish anything.

The House at the End of Hope Street by Menna Van Praag

Continuing with my book buying ban this year, I decided to pick up this beautiful novel with its captivatingly enticing cover at the recommendation from my Mum. My Mum and I often differ in our reading choices, with hers normally centering around non-fiction and true crime, and mine strongly sat in the realms of historical fiction. However, her passion for both this book and the assurance that I would love it meant that, last time I was at my parents, I just had to take it home. And my goodness! This book was the perfect thing to welcome spring in with, to curl up with during the storms, and to lose myself in with the delightful and simply magical narrative.

The House at the End of Hope Street – Menna Van Praag

“Distraught that her academic career has stalled, Alba is walking through her hometown of Cambridge, England, when she finds herself in front of a house she’s never seen before, 11 Hope Street. A beautiful older woman named Peggy greets her and invites her to stay, on the house’s usual conditions: she has ninety-nine nights to turn her life around. With nothing left to lose, Alba takes a chance and moves in.

She soon discovers that this is no ordinary house. Past residents have included Virginia Woolf and Dorothy Parker, who, after receiving the assistance they needed, hung around to help newcomers – literally, in talking portraits on the wall. As she escapes into this new world, Alba begins a journey that will heal her wounds – and maybe even save her life.” – Good Reads

It would be remiss of me to begin this review without further mentioning just how wonderful the writing style of this novel is. As the book began, no sooner had I finished the first page, did I know that this was a book I was going to fall in love with. The world created by Praag is so detailed and whimsical that you can feel yourself being pulled into the page, a nameless character observing the actions of those within. Her use of language was so unique and creative that I was captivated at every word, desperate to find out what would happen next. I keep a record on my phone of fantastic examples of writing that I can show my somewhat disillusioned students (they are teenagers – do I need to say more?) and this, I feel, should definitely go first. I always find that I need the first chapter to fully appreciate a book, often making note of the correlation between books I love and how ill-frequently I am disrupted reading that first chapter, but as I curled up with the book in front of me, I couldn’t help but devour it.

Building upon this, the narrative is heavily reliant on magical realism and it truly brings an element to the cliched ‘finding yourself’ story. The house that Alba stumbles upon is anthropomorphised, somehow managing to know what the characters need before they even know themselves. As the characters work their way towards their destiny, they are coached by the former residents of the house, all famous female figures throughout history. I thought this might be cliched and jarring, but Praag handles each figure in such a beautiful manner that they seem individual and as complex as the ‘real’ characters too. The magical realism turns this novel into something astounding, and I simply can’t imagine it without it.

Of course, the true ‘make-or-break’ of a novel is the characters. If they are too ‘cardboard-cutout’, I often find myself resenting the read and cannot wait to DNF it. However, the characters that this novel circulates around are all so complex and gorgeous that you find yourself drowning in their stories, truly invested in the lives they lead. I laughed, I cried, I smiled. It was though every emotion the characters felt, I felt twofold. Every character felt like a true individual, their backstories so developed and detailed that you lose yourself in the narrative, waiting to see if it is possible for them to reach their true purpose and their true happiness. Each somehow outside of their lives looking in, you could not help but empathise with them, desperate to see them rejoin, either rebuilding those connections that had become tainted or finding some way, or someone, to create something new.

This is one of those reads that you find yourself thinking about long after you have closed the final page. I connected with the characters so much and genuinely feel like I am carrying them around with me still. If you are looking for something to lose yourself in, something light-hearted but complex, you simply must pick this read up. I promise you will not regret it!