June Wrap Up

June has been a bit of an up and down month with regard to reading for me. I managed to get through four books this month, one more than last month but nowhere near my teenage records! I fell into a bit of a slump towards the end of the month and struggled to pull myself out of it. Fortunately, I enjoyed all the books I read this month. I’ll list them below in order of my most to least loved.

The Binding by Bridget Collins
I loved this book! It was such an engaging read, and completely unexpected. It turned out to be a completely different story to what I thought I was getting, and I’m so happy about it! I would definitely recommend it. If you want to know more, check out my full review here.

The Girl of Ink and Stars by Kiran Millwood Hargrave
This was a lovely book to read. The imagery and message about friendship was beautiful. It is aimed at a younger audience than my usual reads, but I really enjoyed it regardless. Check out the full review here.

This Is Going To Hurt by Adam Kay
This was a darkly funny and heartbreaking memoir of an NHS doctor. Its non-fiction, which I wouldn’t usually go for but I found it so engaging and enjoyable to read. Its actually prompted me to try and read at least one non-fiction book per month! You can find my full review here.

The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold
This book was a difficult read given the subject matter. It is a story of love and grief told by a murdered school girl watching her family deal with her loss from heaven. I found it to be moving and profound despite theological differences between myself and the book. See my full review here.

Tea Pairings

As for tea, I have really been enjoying Orange and Lotus Flower by Twinings. It’s a lovely summery flavour perfect for this time of year. The orange comes through first, with the delicate floral flavour of the lotus flower following. I would pair this tea with The Girl of Ink and Stars. The delicate floral undertones and citrus overtones suit the tropical island setting of the book.

I’ve also enjoyed English Rose by Whittard of Chelsea. Its another floral tea and you really can taste the rose. This one is a black tea which I think works well with the rose flavour and gives the tea a deep reddish colour. I paired this one with The Binding because I think the rose flavour and deep colour suit the tone and themes of the book.

I enjoyed Jasmine green tea (also by Twinings) with The Lovely Bones. As you may have noticed, I am a fan of floral teas. I think the delicate floral notes of this tea compliment the delicate nature of the story.

This Is Going To Hurt could only be accompanied by a strong cup of English Breakfast, with a dash of milk. I needed the strength of this tea to bolster me though the sometimes quite graphic medical descriptions and the heartbreaking parts of the book.

I’m hoping to read a few more books in July. I’m out of my reading slump and ready to dive back into another world! Watch this space for more book and tea recommendations and reading inspiration.

Book Review: The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold

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Rating: 4 out of 5.

I have been thinking of this book all day, having finished it this morning, and wondering how I will go about reviewing it. The issues tackled in the book are delicate and complex and I am not yet sure how I feel about what I have read. What is clear to me is that this book is indeed noteworthy. It deals with a subject most of us go out of our way not to think about, and forces the reader to confront some of their most primal and basic fears.

The book was first published in 2002 by Little, Brown and Company in the USA, and Picador in the UK. It is 323 pages long making it a nice, digestible length. My edition also contained an Afterword from Alice Sebold, which served to give more context to the story in direct relation to the author and her experiences.

As I have mentioned, the book deals with some dark and uncomfortable topics. It is written in the first person, from the perspective of a young girl, Susie, who is murdered at the age of 14. She observes her family, friends and community, dealing with her loss and growing up, from her heaven. It is a story of love, loss, grief and acceptance.

“We both listened together to the rain pour down and smelled the earth rising to greet us.

‘You look invincible,’ my mother said one night.

I loved these times, when we seemed to feel the same thing. I turned to her, wrapped in my thin gown and said:

‘I am.'”

Alice Sebold – The Lovely Bones (page 206/207)

As I sit here cradling a hot cup of tea, I am struggling to define how this book made me feel. It did not effect me in the way I thought it would. I expected it to be a tear-jerker for me. By all accounts it has had that effect on many people. I thought I would have my heart broken by this book, but I did not. I found it a profound and moving read, but this was more because of the honest and raw characters rather than the death of a child. It has left me questioning the unthinkable. How would I react if this happened to me? What would I do? Even the hypothetical thought of something like this happening to my child fills me with emotions too strong to describe, to powerful to examine closely when I don’t need to.

I think part of the reason I felt a little distant while I was reading the book, however, is that my theories on life after death differ greatly to those Sebold describes. I personally do not believe in a Heaven as such, and so I did find it a little difficult to connect with this aspect of the book. While religion is not an open theme in the novel, it is obvious that her depiction of heaven is drawn from the christian viewpoint. As I do not identify with this, I found it a little harder to connect with the book. Theological differences aside though, I did approve of how her heaven worked, and how each heaven was personal to each individual.

To stray briefly from the theological and philosophical elements of the book, I enjoyed the writing style. I was easy to read and ever so slightly poetic. She manages to convey the tone of a young teenager without the text sounding immature or simplistic. Despite the story playing out over many years, it doesn’t feel as though you miss anything. This is quite a skill, given the book is only just over 300 pages long.

The portrayal of grief is what makes this book both moving and profound. Sebold does not sugar coat anything. Each of her characters reacts to Susie’s death in their own way, and it changes each person gradually, and shapes who they become. It is the raw honesty of this book that, I think, makes it special. It is difficult to discuss this element of the book without revealing spoilers, but I imagine each person who reads it will be affected differently by it based of their own life experience.

“You don’t notice the dead leaving when they really choose to leave you. you’re not meant to.”

Alice Sebold – The Lovely Bones (Page 319)

Frankly, I’m amazed I made it 26 years into my life without reading this book. Perhaps that is down to it not being my usual genre, but, if there is one thing I have learnt since I have started reviewing my reads, its that I should not limit myself. Good books are to be found in all genres. This book is fast become one of those you should read, if you call yourself a reader. It has sold over 10 million copies and seems to divide opinion amongst those who have taken it up. I have certainly come across a host of scathing and glowing reviews since picking it up. I would argue that any book that prompts that sort of passionate response is worth a read.

If you would like a copy, you can pick one up here.

Book Review: This Is Going To Hurt by Adam Kay

This post may contain some affiliate links, which means if you purchase an item through the link, I will receive a small commission at no extra cost to you. This helps me cover the costs of running my blog.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

This was a bit of a wild card for me. I’m not usually drawn to non fiction books but I had heard good things about this and I was not disappointed. The book was published in 2017 by Picador. It is a collection of diary entries made by Adam Kay during his time as a junior doctor in the NHS. He worked for the NHS for six years as a junior doctor, working his way up the ranks in the gynaecology and obstetrics department before finally giving up his career due to the pressures he faced.

I would pair this book with a very strong cup of English breakfast tea. The strong but bright flavour matches perfect with the light but intense tone of the book. There are some heavy themes discussed during the book, so a good strong cup of English breakfast will steel the reader for some eye opening truths and intimate discussions of a medical nature.

Much like most of the population of the UK, I am extremely proud of our National Health Service. They have always been there for me, through childhood illnesses to the birth of my son. I can visit the doctor and not have to worry about bankrupting myself, and that is a freedom we should never take for granted. We must protect our NHS with everything we have because free healthcare, along with free education, should be a basic human right. It was partly my experience of the NHS, particularly my recent pregnancy, which prompted me to pursue this book. I know what it is like to be a patient, so now I wanted to know what it is like to be a doctor.

The book itself is hilarious. I found myself laughing out loud at multiple points while I was reading. The text is witty and darkly humorous, and quite grim in places. Doctors seem to deal with an awful lot of bodily fluid, I shuddered at some of the horrors Kay describes during his time as a doctor. He keeps the tone of the book light for the most part, but there is a clear undercurrent of anger. It is obvious that Kay went into the NHS with all the right intentions. He wanted to help people and was excited at the prospect of working for the NHS. However as the book goes on, it becomes evident the toll working as a doctor takes on your personal life. Not only are you responsible for people’s lives at work, you are expected to work so hard there is no time left for yourself.

This book was a huge eye opener for me. I think most non-medics are guilty of not really seeing doctors as the people they are, myself included. To be fair, its much easier to get your bits out in front of someone if you just think of them as some sort of medical android, but this thought does doctors an injustice. It shocked me just how tough the working conditions are in hospitals. Shifts are too long and the pay is too low, and yet these people still show up to work and try to help you as best they can. The book does not disparage the NHS however, its more a cry for help to protect and improve what we have.

Behind the humour and the heartbreak, the overall message of the book is clear. Protect the NHS at all costs, and don’t forget that doctors are people with feelings too. Ask them how they are every now and again.

You can get a copy of the book here.

Book Review: The Binding by Bridget Collins

This post may contain some affiliate links, which means if you purchase an item through the link, I will receive a small commission at no extra cost to you. This helps me cover the costs of running my blog.

The Binding by Bridget Collins, best enjoyed with a hot cup of English rose tea.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Published in 2019 by Borough Press this gothic fantasy novel is 438 pages in length. It follows the story of Emmett Farmer who is sent to become a book binders apprentice when he can no longer work on his fathers farm due to illness. Books in this world are not mere stories, but captured memories entombed in beautifully handcrafted books. Emmett is learning the trade, helping people to forget their secrets and keep them hidden in a vault below his masters workshop, when one day he happens upon a book with his name on it.

I adored this book. It is beautifully written and a sheer joy to read. The language is descriptive and rich with imagery and emotion. I found myself lost in this book and unable to put it down for even a second. This past weekend all I have done is wander around my house with my nose in this book bumping into things. It took me a few pages to get into the flow of the story, but once I was absorbed I couldn’t draw myself back out. I had to know what happened. I found myself heavily invested in the characters and the outcome of their journey.

“Well, knowledge is always a kind of magic, I suppose.”

Bridget Collins – The Binding (Page 89)

The book is set in a world similar to that of 19th century Britain. Emmett is a hand on his fathers farm but it is clear right at the start of the book that his illness has prevented him from fulfilling his duties. After a discussion with is family, he is sent to the book binder to learn the trade. There he meets his new master and begins his tutelage.

The characters are wonderfully written. They are deep, three dimensional people governed by their own motives and secrets. I found Emmett to be deeply relatable and enjoyed watching him grow into himself throughout the novel. His journey of self discovery is something I think we can all relate to in some way.

If you intend to read this book (and I highly recommend that you do), I suggest you do not read any further in this review. Below I will talk in more detail about how the book affected me, but there will be spoilers and I think it will ruin your experience of the book if you know them before you read it. I truly loved this book and I hope anyone planning to read it finds as much joy in it as I did.

Grab a copy here before you read on!

SPOILERS BELOW

This was not the story I was expecting from the synopsis. I am a huge lover of fantasy and magic, and it was that which tempted me to pick up this novel. I was pleasantly surprised then, when about half way through I discovered it was a romance! I was expecting a tale of hardship in learning the magical binding craft, when really that is an aside in a story that is predominantly a tale of forbidden love and self discovery.

I am not usually the romance type. I often find it all a bit contrived and sickly, but this book has prompted me to reconsider my stance. Perhaps I am denying myself an enjoyable reading experience. I certainly enjoyed every second of this love story. It was believable and captivating. It was forbidden and heartbreaking. I was fully invested in it and felt everything the characters were feeling. This is mostly down to the fantastic writing. The way Collins describes her world thought the eyes of her infatuated characters is beautiful. Colours are brighter and the world a more vibrant place when they are together, and their love for each other is conveyed beautifully throughout, even before they realise it.

“We stare at each other. The sun flares behind him, spilling red through a gap between the tenements. It glitters in his hair. His temple and jaw and the tip of one ear glow scarlet. Unexpectedly, as sudden as the flood if sunlight, he smiles at me. It changed his face completely. I cant remember anyone looking at me like that, ever. It makes the sunset redder, the scent of soot and paraffin sharper, the cold ache in my fingers more intense. The wind sings in a chimney somewhere above us. A crumple of paper whispers and swoops across the cobbles. The horn of a distant factory blares.”

Bridget Collins – The Binding (Page 363)

I love Collins ability to convey emotion in her prose without outwardly stating how everyone is feeling all the time. She uses description and imagery to demonstrate the passion and feeling in a situation, leaving it up to the reader to interpret it how they will. It is this technique that gives the writing its extra edge and really allows the reader to fully immerse themselves in the novel.

The book has rocketed to one of my all time favourites and I cant wait to read it again. It is one of those books that is so well written, there will still be new things to discover the second time round.

You can grab a copy here.

Book Review: The Girl of Ink and Stars by Kiran Millwood Hargrave

This post may contain some affiliate links, which means if you purchase an item through the link, I will receive a small commission at no extra cost to you. This helps me cover the costs of running my blog.

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Rating: 5 out of 5.

This is a beautifully written story of a young girl, Isabella, and her best friend, Lupe. When Lupe goes missing, Isabella does everything she can to be part of the search party. She is in possession of an ancient map and uses this and her knowledge of the stars to navigate the forgotten territories of her island home. The land is dangerous and shrouded in myth. Isabella must find Lupe before these myths become more than just stories.

The book was first published in 2016 by Chicken House. The story is told in 228 pages, making it a relatively short read, but the setting, characters and plot are developed beautifully. The cover alone was enough to entice me into this book, and I was not disappointed. On the inside cover is a map of the island and each page is bordered with small illustrations, which only adds to the beauty and magic conjured up by the story.

The story is simply written, and aimed at older children and young adults. This does not detract from the expert writing style and difficult issues tackled however, and it can certainly be enjoyed by people of all ages. Overall it is a story of friendship and love, both for ones home, and the people who make it a home. Isabella just wants to protect the land she comes from, and the people she loves, something I think we can all relate to.

Isabella is a deep and well developed character. She is relatable and reminded me how I felt as a child. Everything down to the choices she makes, and the way she acts makes her seem real. I think it is remarkable that in such a short book, the author is able to conjure up such tangible characters and settings. When I was reading, I felt as if I could almost smell the sea air and taste the dust from the roads.

“India is a place where colour is doubly bright. Pinks that could scald your eyes, blues you could drown in.”

Kiran Millwood Hargrave – The Girl of Ink and Stars (Page 107)

Personally, I cannot name a single thing I didn’t love about this book. Everything from the beautifully written prose, to the underlying messages about the value of friendship and not making assumptions about people, was expertly done. The story was captivating and fast paced, but without feeling that there were any holes in the plot, or parts missing.

This book reminded me something I think all adults could do with thinking about. Children are their own people, capable of making their own choices separate to those of their parents. They are resilient and feel things deeply. Although the adults in their lives may make poor choices and let them down, it does not mean they will make those same mistakes. I think it can be easy to forget what it was like to be a child, and so reading books like this as an adult (and a parent) is important. They reconnect you with your inner child.

“We are all of us products of our surroundings. Each of us carries the map of our lives on our skin, in the way we walk even in the way we grow.”

Kiran Millwood Hargrave – The Girl of Ink and Stars ( page 109)

I read this entire book in one morning, and I would recommend it to anybody who just loves a magical story. I think a particular strong point for me is that it is a story of friendship, not romance. It is two young girls who love each other and just want to look after one another.

You can pick up a copy here.