Night School by Lee Child

I can not travel without so, this week, I ended up with a book emergency – A train journey without a book is just not something I can handle. So, with this choices limited to what was available at Manchester Piccadilly Station, I ended up with ‘Night School’ by Lee Child.

Now, I will be honest, despite the fact that Lee Child hails from Coventry, I have never read one of his books. I simply thought they would not be something I would enjoy or really have any interest in (I have never seen a Jack Reacher film either). However, I was a little surprised about how much I actually enjoyed this novel. Lee Child certainly knows how to write a page turner. Once the scene is set and I got my head around the character names and their roles, the pace was quick and I was keen to see how Jack Reacher would catch his man (or several men or maybe, even a completely different man to the one you think he wants). Set in Berlin, it also takes a little look at the relationship between the US and Germany after the Cold War.

Despite the fact that there are so many Jack Reacher novels, this book could be read as a standalone story. I suspect if you were a dedicated fan you may know a little more about Reacher as a character, but even from one book he is not a complete stranger.

So, I feel I need to put an apology out there for being a little judgmental about these books before I tried them. I won’t in future be too worried if Jack Reacher has to be my travelling companion.

The Explorer by Katherine Rundell

In January, I got a comment on Instagram asking if I was only reading books with Eleanor in the title, after two of my choices had just that. Then, I have noticed that in February I appear to have a thing for books by authors named Katherine. Funny how these things work out. Anyway, back to the point…

‘The Explorer’ is the third book I have read by Katherine Rundell and I am going to make the bold statement that it is my favourite. This books is a wonderfully traditional adventure story. It reminded me of all the great classics such as ‘The Famous Five’ and ‘Swallows and Amazons’.

The joy of the story is that it proves how resourceful children can be in the face of adversity, without the support of adults. I mean being stranded in the Amazon jungle is more or less as extreme as it can get. However, it also shows that the majority of the important lessons we learn in life come from experience. Our four heroes learn an awful lot about themselves while they are stranded – even the very young Max.

Another theme of the novel which really struck me (and my love of History) is the real desire of the Explorer to preserve the ‘world’ he has discovered. I really admire the way Rundell addresses the damage the desire to explore did to different parts of the world and some things are better left a secret.

This book, although for younger readers, is one that I think we should all read, as there is a beautifully nostalgic feel to this tale which should be shared with all.

The Bear and The Nightingale by Katherine Arden

One of the best things about books is the desire that people have to share books that they have enjoyed. This title was shared with me by a dear friend (who also lent me ‘The Lightkeeper’s Daughters’) and I am so glad that she shared it with me. This is a title that I would not have picked up, I am not sure why, but I now realise I would have missed out on so much for no real reason.

This is a fairy tale for adults, set in Russia (somewhere that is such a mystery to many of us) in so many magical winter months. Folklore is simply a way of life for all in the tale but for Vasya, it is life. The spirited young lady has ‘powers’ that many can only explain as magic, frowned upon by many in the village, especially in the Church. However, without her, will the village and its people ever really be free? Or will the dark magic in the woods take control?

Although, to start with I thought the book was a little confusing, I found that once the scene was set I was enthralled by the whole book. There was such a romantic, fairy tale element to the novel and it really does transport you back to the fairy tales that we all grew up with.

So, don’t be like me and unreasonably think that you just wouldn’t read a book for no real reason, because you could miss out on one of the greatest adventures in words.

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets by J K Rowling (Illustrated by Jim Kay)

There is very little point reviewing Harry Potter because I am sure the majority of the Book Blogging world will have encountered the young wizard in some way. So, I have decided to simply have a little ramble about my top 5 reasons why I love Harry Potter and the Hogwarts world.

  1. It encourages people to read

I am a huge advocate of encouraging people to read and if the adventures of Harry Potter and pals means people (of any age) will pick up a book – who are we to complain? Illustrated versions, young covers or adult covers, picking up a book and entering a new world is something everyone should have a go at.

2. There is a Harry Potter character for us all

Something that makes the world of Hogwarts such a wonderful place is there is a Harry Potter character for us all – and any situation. I think we can all relate to different characters in all sorts of life situations. I was even asked at an interview which character I related to in Harry Potter (the answer in that stage of my life was Hermione – I do not know if it would be now). So, occasionally, when we need some guidance there is someone from the wonderful wizarding world who can give us some guidance. After all, ‘when in doubt go to the library’.

3. Escapism

One of the charms for me is the pure escapism of the Harry Potter novels. I adore the fact that the Wizards and Muggles co-exist. I love to think that is really possible, especially on visits to London and you spot some of those familiar landmarks that make it into the books.

4. ‘Always’

The pure loyalty and strength of friendship shown throughout the novels is inspiring. This struck me from the very first story, that the importance of friendship and loyalty is central to the stories. It is highlighted at different moments by different characters but it is always there in the background. Just as the friendships we all develop through the love of Harry Potter are important to us.

5. We all wish we had been to Hogwarts

Surely, the most important reason we love Harry Potter is because we all wish we had been to a school as fabulous as Hogwarts. Every time I pick up one of the novels I wish I could have boarded the ‘Hogwarts Express’ (because is there anything better than a steam train?) and have been whisked away to the stunning Hogwarts. The Quidditch, the feasts, the houses – even the lessons sound fun. Who could not enjoy such an adventure?

So J K Rowling, I thank you again for introducing us to this world and Jim Kay, I thank you for giving this wonderful wizarding world another lease of life with the stunning illustrations. And, finally, just from me, Hufflepuff forever!

Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell

This is my second Rainbow Rowell book (Eleanor and Park was first earlier this year) and another share from Hayley from Home.

I am not sure I will do this book as much justice as it deserves, as there is just so much to say, but there will be no spoilers from me. This is a very YA fiction book, which is not a problem at all, because it simply transports us older readers back to our teenage years. I could fully relate to Cath (other than us almost being name buddies) as her view of starting uni was pretty similar to mine. Not really sure about it all, avoiding situations you can’t control (I was exactly the same about attending the Dining Hall) and not convinced you are cool enough to be there. However, by the end, you find your way to fit with the people who make you happy – and realise it is not about being ‘cool’.

The relationship that ‘Cath’ has with her sister ‘Wren’ (did not work that play on words out – doh!) explores those difficult university dynamics too. It is interesting as their journeys unfold which one is truly happy and which one could really be struggling with the next step in life. We all, after all, have different battles to face in so many ways.

This book should be compulsory reading for anyone who doubts who they are, because we are all different and we should all be proud of who we are.

Since discovering the work of Rainbow Rowell, I am ready to read ‘Carry On’ – especially as it is a nod to Cath’s Simon Snow fan fiction from ‘Fangirl’. Have you read any books that transport you back to your past?

Beautiful is Beautiful

One of my favourite gifts for people is a theatre experience. This Christmas, I got my Mum tickets to the UK touring production of Beautiful at the Birmingham Hippodrome.

Beautiful tells the story of singer/songwriter Carole King as she starts to make her way in the world of music, and real life, until the release of, possibly, her most famous work: ‘Tapestry’. An album that most certainly came from the heart. I had a fair idea, (or so I thought) of the work of Carole King mainly thanks to Radio 2. However, I was surprised about how many of my favourite songs she has penned with her then husband, Gerry Goffin. I mean who does not love ‘Up on the Roof’?

The cast of this production were all brilliant. You could sense the enjoyment they each felt for being part of this show. A particular favourite of Mum and I was each appearance by The Drifters; there was so much joy and humour in each song they performed. (Neil Sedaka was a good giggle too). Of course, Bront√© Barb√©’s performance as Carole King was stunning. It always seems a very brave act to take on such a well-loved star, but she certainly did justice to the role.

The whole production was a joy to watch and there was a real buzz among the audience throughout, some even absent-mindedly singing along – but that added to the overall enjoyment of the show.

You certainly leave this show still singing along to the many wonderful songs and, for my Mum, it was chance for her to tell me about all the gigs she has been to (jealous? me? never). If you enjoy a good night out, this is the show for you!

The Lightkeeper’s Daughters by Jean E Pendziwol

When a fabulous friend of mine clocked that I wanted to read 52 books in 2018, she thought she would give me a helping hand by lending me two titles. ‘The Lightkeeper’s Daughters’ was the one I decided to try first. I was drawn in by the stunning cover of the hardback edition. I have always loved Lighthouses as they remind me of family holidays to France, so the suggestion that they were central to the story appealed to me (especially as January has been a tough month).

This tale is beautifully crafted for the reader, and you are instantly drawn in as an apparently shipwrecked boat is found on the shores of a great lake. The tale is continued by two unlikely focal protagonists. Elizabeth, an elderly lady who needs to discover the secrets of her past hidden among the pages of her father’s long missing journals. And Morgan, a slightly troubled teenager who strikes up an unlikely friendship with Elizabeth as she reads the journals to her. Although, as the narrative unfolds, it becomes clear that they are not, in fact, too different and both desire to know the truth about their past.

This novel is a roller coaster of emotions as you follow both Elizabeth and Morgan on their journey of self-discovery. I found the novel difficult to put down once I started it because I was as keen to know where the characters came from as they were.

I am glad that a friend wanted to support my reading challenge because I have discovered a gem. Have friends helped you find some hidden treasures of the book world?