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?

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?

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman

A friend of mine sent me a message asking me if I had this novel. As I hadn’t, I immediately knew it needed adding to my ‘to-be-read pile’, so after a trip to Liverpool, I found myself a copy and knew I had to give it a go.

This is a ‘wow’ novel – I had no idea what to expect when I started this book but the one word that sprung to mind as I read the final words was ‘wow!’.

This novel is narrated by Eleanor Oliphant, a complex character, it transpires, and rarely have I read a novel that really pulls you into the mind of character. As I read every word, I almost felt like I know Eleanor; well, the Eleanor at that moment, as she is such an intriguing character. As the story unfolds, you realise that maybe Eleanor does not know herself and that we are in fact on her journey of self-discovery with her. Has she really been living life for the last 30 years?

I can not reveal any spoilers because I believe that books are to be read and enjoyed by each reader. However, I will say that this books will stay with you when you finish it, as it has rather an open ending.

This is a debut novel that deserves all the credit it is receiving and I will certainly be recommending it to readers, just as it was recommended to me. Any great books been recommended to you recently?

Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell

So, if you read the posts regularly, you will know that Hayley (Hayley from Home) rather enjoy sharing books, and ‘Eleanor and Park’ was another gem that she passed my way.

I had no idea what to expect from this book, as it was not one that I had been particular aware of – but that is all part of the fun of sharing books, because it always takes you on a new adventure. This novel was one that I struggled to put down because I just wanted to find out more and more about Eleanor and Park. This is a book where the characters are really the most important aspect, possibly even more important than the tale itself, as they are the tale.

Eleanor is the quirky new girl in town; nothing about her conforms to the teenage ‘norm’, and this brings her to attention of Park, who has also not really been sure if he fits into the ‘norm’ that everyone expects him to. However, there is so much in Eleanor’s life that almost prevents her from being the ‘norm’ even if she wanted to, and creates barriers that she struggles to knock down.

The relationship that blossoms between Eleanor and Park is romantic and grounded in comic books and music – but becomes so much more. I do not like to write posts that are spoilers, and I am not about to change that now, but this book has one of the most wonderful last lines of any novel I have ever read. The fact it is so open to interpretation means that this novel will stay with you long after you have read the final words – as you find yourself trying to create the ending for characters that you wanted, or accepting that maybe it was not meant to be the ending you had always imagined.

This really is a tale about falling in love for the first time – the all-encompassing love that becomes the only thing that really matters, whatever the situation.

I enjoyed the style of this novel as it flitted between the thoughts of our two central characters. This kept the pace of the story going and allowed you to feel like you were really getting to know the characters. I am keen to read more titles by Rainbow Rowell and I am thankful that, through the shared love of reading, another new author has been brought to my attention to be added to the ever-growing ‘to be read’ pile.

The Single Girl’s Calendar by Erin Green

I am lucky enough to call the author Erin Green a friend. I have really enjoyed following her journey with her, and when the publication date of her second novel was brought forward to the 1st of January (after the enormous success of her debut novel ‘A Christmas Wish’), I made sure I had a copy.

The Single Girl’s Calendar is a wonderful concept at the centre of this novel. Esmé’s life ends up on a very different path to one that she intended and, to help her with this, the Single Girl’s Calendar gives her a task a day to get back on track. Although, Esmé ends up with another challenge of getting used to her new home: a house share with four of her brother’s friends. I can not reveal any spoilers, as I think everybody should give this bool a go, other that to say you will not want to put this book down and I defy you to not finish with a huge character crush on someone among these pages.

Esmé’s journey of self-discovery makes for a heart-warming read. There is a gentle humour throughout the novel, as well as moments where you can not help but shed a few tears of joy. Her adventures take place in the city of Birmingham too, so if you know the city, you can imagine observing the events as they unfold on the page.

If you want to read a book that leaves you feeling you have made a new friend – then make it your new year’s resolution to read ‘The Single Girl’s Calendar’. You might even find yourself setting a few day-by-day challenges.

Toto – The Dog-gone Amazing Story of the Wizard of Oz by Michael Morpurgo

One thing on the New Year’s Honours list was Sir Michael Morpurgo. This is a man who has done so much for Children’s literature, he has brought the love reading and appreciation of History to so many over the years that it was a well-deserved accolade. I still remember that ‘The Wreck of Zanzibar’ was the first Morpurgo book I read, and I have not stopped since.

I admire writers bringing the classics to a new generation or offering a new perspective of a well-loved tale – it is quite a talent. I admit that I have never read the original ‘The Wizard of Oz’ and I do have a little bit of a fear of the original film (although I do love ‘Wicked’) – however, the beautiful illustrations by Emma Chichester-Clark on the cover and the name of Morpurgo attracted me to this book.

The story is told from the perspective of Dorothy’s loyal companion Toto. From my knowledge of the original tale (and the skill of Morpurgo) it is faithful to the original and the characters have the same charm. I enjoyed this book from the word go – drawn in by the skill of the storytelling and the beauty of the illustrations. I am now tempted to finally read the original classic tale to have an even better understanding of the story. However, this book is a lovely way to introduce children to a classic novel.

Have you read any retellings of the classic? Any you would recommend?

How to Stop Time by Matt Haig

As soon as I knew that Chris Riddell had added his illustrations to ‘How to Stop Time’, I knew that was the edition that I had to read. I was very lucky that Mr BookwormandTheatreMouse had been listening to this wish and it appeared under the Christmas tree on December 25th. However, I did save reading it until I had finished my festive reads because I wanted to be able to give it my full attention and – oh wow – what a book!

This book is such a wonderful concept for a story, and there are so many thoughtful messages as you read the book that it is more than just a story. Our hero (although I am not sure he would see himself as one) is ageing slowly and has lived through so much history – more than anyone could imagine. This condition causes him to almost become invisible, as he never wants to draw attention to himself to avoid any difficult questions that he can not answer. However, despite all the people he has met and the adventures that he has had, he is lonely, as he has not been able to live a ‘normal’ life – especially as he has been convinced that this is something that will never be possible. In fact, pressure from those around you and society is, for me, one of the biggest thinking points in this novel, as it seems to have had quite an impact on the path or paths that ‘Tom Hazard’ has followed in his over-extended lifetime.

The lessons from history also really struck me in this novel. I have a real passion for history and often wonder what it would be like to have witnessed some of the events and met some of the key figures, and this book does that for you. Although, it does also make you really think about some of the decisions and events that happened and the real impact one person or one event can have on the future. The illustrations from Chris Riddell also really bring that history to life with his drawings of people such as Shakespeare. (And I love that Tom brings history to life for his pupils in the book – something I try to do all the time).

I have no desire to spoil this book for any of you readers, but I do insist that you should read it. You will be left thinking about the past, present and future. You will be left thinking about what is really important to you. You will be left with a desire to be a better and more confident person. You will be left wanting to read more books by Matt Haig.