Sunday, 29 December 2019

The Perfect Gift

Hi everyone,

I hope you're all enjoying the last few days of 2019! After the wonderful madness of the final week of school, wrapping presents and preparing Christmas dinner for 11 people, I am quite happily spending these few days curled up under a blanket in solitude. As much as I love the festive season and being surrounded by my family and friends, I also feel the need to recharge after what has been a busy and at times tough few months. So here I am, in my comfiest clothes under my biggest blanket writing about the latest book I have finally gotten a chance to read.

"The Perfect Gift" by Emma Hannigan has propelled itself straight into my "favourite books of all time" list. It tells the story of Róisín, a young single woman living in a small country village in the West of Ireland. Harbouring secrets from her years spent in France, Róisín returned to Ireland determined to fulfill her life long dream of opening her own artisan food cafe. Now, while still single, her cafe Nourriture is thriving and she is more than happy in the company of her adoptive family.

However as is often the case, all is not as it seems. A visit from her landlord brings some unwelcome news, her happy family soon begins to show cracks, and to top it all off she's not the biggest fan of her roommate's new boyfriend either! Struggling under the weight of it all, Róisín turns to the one support she has had since she was a little girl; the yearly birthday cards from her birth mother. Although unsure of who sends them or how they arrive on time every year, they always seem to contain exactly what Róisín needs to hear. When, on her 30th birthday a letter arrives in place of a card, it kick-starts her into action to make some changes. But is it too late?

Juxtaposed with the story of Róisín and her struggles with her job, family and love-life is the story of Nell, an elderly lady who lives in what many might see as solitary confinement, working as the lighthouse keeper. Visited once a week by her gossiping housekeeper Mo, Nell keeps herself to herself. That is until one night, in the middle of a storm, she discovers a young stowaway. "Mouse", a tiny slip of a thing, has run away from the flats in Dublin. Initially Nell takes her in out of a sense of duty, but soon little "Mouse" begins to chip away at Nell's stone wall and the pair develop a beautiful mother/daughter style relationship. It's not without it's problems though...and the longer they spend together, the more Nell fears her secret.

"The Perfect Gift" is an incredible story. The characters are real, the setting vivid, and before long you feel as if you are standing right on the edge of the page watching the story unfold before your very eyes. The story-telling is set at just the right pace, with enough story-lines to keep you guessing and entertained at the same time. I particularly loved how, the further into the book I got, the more the storylines began to weave together. There are so many little moments that fit together to make this story and I could be here all day if I wrote about them all! What I will say is this; I would highly recommend this book to anybody who enjoys good story-telling and is a fan of the great Irish authors such as Melissa Hill, Cecelia Ahern and Cathy Kelly.

That's it from me for the moment. I'm spending today re-watching the BBC adaptation of one of my all-time favourite books, "Emma" by Jane Austen. Realistically, as soon as I'm finished I'll probably pick up one of my many copies to read it all over again too! I hope that however you are spending the last few days of 2019, you are happy, healthy and looking forward to the New Year. As for me? I'm going to read as much as a I can, and look forward to setting myself many new reading challenges in 2020.

Catherine x

Wednesday, 30 October 2019

Reading Round-Up

Hello everyone!

I almost feel I need to introduce myself again as it's been a while since I last posted. However I have decided there's no need to apologise for it; after all we all know what it's like to be busy and sometimes, however hard we try, it's always our hobbies that fall on the back burner. I've been busy with work since the beginning of September, and trying to settle myself into a work-life balance that can work for me. Obviously it will never be perfect, but after three weeks back at school I was already beginning to suffer with burnout. I had to stop myself and realise that that just isn't a sustainable way of life, so I've been working on finding that balance ever since. I unfortunately haven't managed to find time to write, however I have been reading whenever I can get a moment. Rather than give an in depth analysis of them all, I thought I'd leave a quick snapshot of the books I have read over the past two months and whether I would recommend them or not. I hope you enjoy!

"Every Breath" by Nicholas Sparks
 At this stage of his career Nicholas Sparks need no introduction, nor do the concept of his novels. Another tale of lost love, troubled characters and a beautifully woven story-line which reduced me to tears can be found in his latest novel "Every Breath". I loved how he introduced and concluded the novel (although at the time I was too deeply invested to see the literary genius and was just furious at how my emotions were being toyed with). I highly recommend this latest installment in the romance genre. 10/10

"The Tattooist of Auschitz" by Heather Morris
It's very hard to convey the emotions of this story in a short blog post. Anyone my age or older knows the stories of WWII, has heard the horrors of the concentration camps and may perhaps even have visited the site of one (I myself have visited Bergen was an eye-opening, emotional but important trip). However, to learn about it in your school history lesson is one read the horrific, sickening and traumatising experience almost first-hand is another. This book is not an easy read. It is not something you should take upon yourself lightly - it is a book that deserves your time and respect in being read. That being said, for anyone who feels they can handle reading first-hand the encounters of a Jewish man enslaved in Auschwitz, who becomes the Tätowierer (which puts him in a horrific situation morally and physically) then I implore you to read this story. It may not be easy, but it certainly will remind you why it is so important we never let such travesties happen again. 10/10

"The Fault in Our Stars" by John Green
Many of you may know this story from the 2014 film starring Shailene Woodley and Ansel Elgort, however it was originally a young adult novel written by John Green. Although I had read this before, I recently watched the film when it was on TV and decided I wanted to read the original story again. John Green writes in a very effective manner. Although writing about sensitive subject matter (cancer, and cancer in teens) he writes in such a way that you don't spend the entire novel feeling sorry for the characters. Don't interpret me incorrectly; you certainly feel empathy for their situations. But Green writes in a way which encourages us to see the other sides of the characters, away from their diagnosis, and also to remind us that cancer does not make up the entire person - it is a disease they have, but they are not the disease. It's a very well-written story, and certainly one that is relevant today. 8/10

"Seven Days in Summer" by Marcia Willett
Would it be me if there wasn't a typical chick-lit option in here somewhere?! This is a novel my granny picked up which she passed on to me. It follows a range of characters during (you've guessed it) seven days during the summer. It covers all manners of love topics; divorce, death of a partner, unrequited love, falling out of love, temptation, and retaliation. It's an enjoyable read to pass the time, but I was disappointed at the ending as I felt there was still a lot to tell; and no sequel. A grand read if you're looking for something light and enjoy the chick-lit genre. 6/10

"The Sunday Philosophy Club" by Alexander McCall Smith
This was a book kindly lent to me by a colleague, and it's a genre I'm not as familiar with as others (mystery). Having only read a handful of Agatha Christie novels under the same genre, I don't feel qualified to comment on the genre quality, but it was an enjoyable story and it certainly kept me guessing! The language was a bit tough at times; being based on the concept of a philosophy club there is a lot of language relating to philosophers and philosophical concepts which I found difficult to follow. That being said, it was an enjoyable read and I was glued to the pages until I finished it! It is apparently part of a series, of which I have now been lent another three, so hopefully there will be some updates to follow. 7/10

And that's it for my reading round-up! Looking forward to getting stuck into some new books now that the darker nights are here, so hopefully there will be some blog updates soon. Thanks for reading!

Catherine x

Thursday, 15 August 2019

Summer Book List

Hello everyone,

where did that last month go? I sat down to read a new book last night, and was suddenly struck by the fact that I hadn't updated my blog recently. Since mid July in actual fact! I was sure that having the summer off would result in me writing oodles of blog posts, as I was powering through books during the first few weeks. Naively, I forgot that I'm a person who always finds something to keep her busy, be it a new project or a mad fitness regime. Low and behold, it's late August and I haven't read half the books on my "Summer To-Read" List. That being said, I have read a few which never made it to the blog. Between being outdoors, turning off all my social media while on holidays, and just catching up with friends I have rather neglected my writing. So, I decided today to write a brief overview of some of the novels I've been reading this summer. Here we go!

"Single for the Summer" by Mandy Baggot
A €3.99 bargain in Aldi, this was a typical feel-good romantic comedy for some light summer reading.
  • I loved the characters, even if they were slightly (...or very) predictable. 
  • Having it set in Greece trebled its romantic appeal to me immediately. I'll get there eventually, but until I do I'm determined to believe it's every bit as picturesque and romantic as this novel suggests!
  • Predictable story-line, but nevertheless enjoyable - I found myself rooting for the characters throughout.
  • Well-written and easy to escape into - a perfect escapism novel for your summer holiday, or just relaxing in the back garden.  

"Nothing Tastes as Good" by Claire Hennessy
I got this book in a haul from a friend and wasn't too sure what to expect. It's a story largely about two young girls, Annabel and Julia. Annabel is dead...but she can't go to heaven. Stuck in some sort of "guardian angel hell", Annabel must work as a spirit helper to Julia, an old classmate, before she can finally move on. The question is, who needs the help more?
  • Took a while to get into; I wasn't overly keen on it initially.
  • You need to get into the book to finally understand Annabel's character at the start; initially I disliked her immensely and didn't like how she was written at all. The language she used to describe Julia made me uncomfortable, however that's my personal opinion and may not have the same impact on others. 
  • Be aware of the trigger subjects before you start to read. Luckily these didn't affect me, but I don't feel they were adequately advertised. (Incl. eating disorders, death, fat-shaming, and dangerous relationships).  

"Love by the Letter" by Melissa Jagears
A free kindle download to keep me engrossed on a trip away. Not the most compelling of reads, but it kept me engrossed and I enjoyed the storyline.
  • Set in Missourisi, 1858, it's a historical romance novella (which I wish I'd read in the description properly, before being gutted when I was finished at only 68% on the Kindle!)
  • Dex Stanton is setting off for Kansas, and he wants a wife for the trip. The problem is, the only woman he's ever loved in the town isn't interested, and so he resorts to a mail-order bride. However when his mail-order bride mocks his atrocious spelling in her return letter, Dex feels he has no choice but to turn to the one woman he's pined for all his life - the town's resident brain-box Rachel Oliver. Sure enough sparks begin to fly...but there's a mountain of trouble to come in between. And just who is the beautiful, smartly dressed woman who appears in the town looking for Dex?
  • This story is told is equal parts from the points of view of Dex and Rachel, which adds a nice touch. Often times, the books I read have several narratives but they're all female, so this was a nice change.

There you have it, some of my summer reads! I've just started the latest Nicholas Sparks novel and I'm hoping to finish it before starting back to school. I hope you all have something lovely planned for the last few weeks of summer, whether it be a holiday or simply a coffee with friends. I, for one, plan on disappearing into my book world for as long as I can!

Catherine x

Monday, 22 July 2019

"The Girl on the Train" by Paula Hawkins

For Rachel, every day is the same. She gets the 8.04 train in the morning, the 17.56 in the evening. Each day she travels along the same piece of track, stopping at the same signal, glancing into the backyards of the same houses. For many commuters, this is simply the daily grind on their way to work, but for Rachel it is the highlight of her day. You see, from her carriage she can see into the backyard of number fifteen - the house whose occupants she has created a life for - a happy life she could only dream of.

Albeit odd, Rachel's intrigue is harmless - until one day she sees something from the train she can't erase. Then, suddenly, every news channel is alive with a story from number fifteen and Rachel finds herself involved in the middle of the imaginary family she created, only to discover it is anything but.

Many people may know "The Girl on the Train" from the 2016 film starring Emily Blunt, and I'll admit that was my first experience* with the story too. Interesting, after the movie came out I heard numerous people commenting on how it didn't do the book justice. Now if you've read my previous posts you'll know this sort of book is not my cup of tea, but when a fellow teacher passed on her copy I felt compelled to give it a chance.

I won't lie - one night I finished it at a particularly bad spot and spent two hours lying awake too terrified to turn off the light and go asleep, but you might be fine! Other than that particular night, I actually enjoyed this book. It's dark
, twisted and low on humour, but it's brilliantly written. The story is told from the point of view of three female characters; Rachel, Anna and Megan. Although initially these women couldn't seem more different, the author does a fantastic job of weaving their stories together without necessarily weaving the women together in friendship. I thought this was an excellent narrative strategy and really lent itself to the story.

If you like thrillers, or watched the movie and enjoyed it, this book is definitely worth a read. Personally though, I'm going back to a light-hearted chick-lit novel before attempting something more adventurous!

Catherine x

(*I saw half the movie. The other half was spent behind my hands/in my boyfriend's shoulder).

Tuesday, 16 July 2019

"The Pets at Primrose Cottage" by Shelia Norton

If you were running away and looking for a fresh start, where would you go? A new city? A deserted island? Hiking through rain-forests? Or maybe, like Emma, you would reinvent yourself in a small English village as a pet-sitter.

Emma Nightingale is running away. Although we know it’s from her husband, we don’t quite know why. All we know is she has left her family surrounded by paparazzi in her hometown and found her way to Crickleford – a tiny English village hidden from the world; and WiFi. Renting a room with a local family, Emma has no plans and no idea what to do next. While contemplating her next step, the answer accidentally falls into her lap – while the family are away she minds the cats, only to have her name spread around town as the newest pet sitter. With Crickleford’s nearest kennels closed down and the last pet sitter gone, Emma soon finds herself with more than enough business to keep her busy!

It’s not plain sailing, as anyone who has a pet knows, but Emma finds herself enjoying her new job and the simple life she has found. But why is Matt, the local reporter, sniffing around? Despite her fear of all things media related, Emma finds herself drawn to Matt, and it terrifies her. A tentative friendship begins to blossom, but its foundation is largely fictitious, and sooner rather than later Emma knows it’s going to explode. The question is, which side is Matt going to be on?

The Pets at Primrose Cottage is a light summer read, with just the right balance of romance and a decent story-

line. It’s the story of finding yourself, learning to trust yourself, and the life lesson that no matter what may have happened in the past, there will always be people willing to support you on your journey to change. I really enjoyed this story, and the pet sitter element was an added bonus which I felt added to the humour of the tale. If you’re looking for a book to throw into your suitcase and read by the pool, or simply want to sit out and enjoy the Irish sunshine with a nice cocktail, then this is definitely a recommendation from me. If you’re lucky, you might still be able to pick up a copy in Aldi from their summer books selection. I can’t resist books at cheap prices – it’s my kryptonite…

I’ve just finished another book, not quite so summery this time, so keep your eyes peeled for that one coming soon. Until then, I hope you’re all enjoying the summer!

Catherine x

Wednesday, 3 July 2019

"Room" by Emma Donoghue

*This post contains references to sexual abuse, miscarriage, and other trigger topics*

Jack is a five year old boy. He likes to do what every five year old boy likes to do: play make-believe, watch cartoons on television, and run races. But Jack isn't like every other five year old. He doesn't even know other five year old boys exist.

Since he was born, Jack has known nowhere else but Room. To Jack, Room is the world. The Outside is a dream-world, like TV. Nothing really exists out there. Room is where he eats, where he plays, where he bathes, and where he sleeps every night in Wardrobe. To Jack, Room is simply the norm. To the rest of the world, Room doesn't exist.

Eating an entire dinner of green beans because the power has cut off - that's his norm. Building a snake out of eggshells because he has no toys - that's his norm. Sleeping every night in the Wardrobe so Old Nick doesn't see him, and counting the creaks in the bed - that's his norm. But as the story goes on, we quickly learn that Jack's norm is far from ok. In fact, it's downright terrifying.

"Room" tells the story of Jack and his Ma from Jack's perspective. Having been born in Room, Jack knows no different, however from his interactions with Ma, we as readers soon discover the dark, twisted undertones to their story. Kidnapped when walking to college one day, Jack's Ma has been locked away in Room ever since. "Old Nick", as Jack calls him, runs the show. Jack and his Ma are hostages in a garden shed, reinforced against the world so no one can find them. Although Jack's innocence protects us from too much upsetting detail, his childlike descriptions of Old Nick visiting in the night and counting the creaks in the bed soon makes clear to us, the readers, exactly what sort of situation they're in.

Emma Donoghue has done an amazing job with this novel. The subject matter is quite clearly dark, disturbing, and at times quite upsetting. However, this dark theme is juxtaposed with Jack's childlike innocence in how he views the world, and as a result we get a pared back view of the situation. Enough is said for us to interpret the situation, without having it explained explicitly, something I find fascinating and what makes this book stand out.

I went into this book having judged it by the whispers I heard, worried that it would be too upsetting for me (I'm very easily triggered when reading...or watching movies...or in life really!). I'm delighted I challenged myself to try this story, as I actually found it a compelling read and one which opened my eyes to a new narration style. While I would like to recommend this book to others, please do be aware that it addresses multiple subjects which some may find upsetting or triggering, such as sexual abuse, miscarriage and mental illness. The book is worth a read, but not at your expense, so if you feel these topics would be too difficult for you, I'd suggest waiting a few days for my next post about a much lighter, summer read. On that note, I'm off to enjoy what's left of the su
n for today, and I'll be posting here again very soon!

Catherine x

Saturday, 22 June 2019

Short Story "Coffee Cups"

Hello everyone,

what a beautiful day it is outside! I finished up school yesterday for the summer, and so today is a day for enjoying the sun and doing what I love. So what better then finally share my story?! As mentioned in my previous blog post "Returning to my Roots", I stopped writing stories for a number of years for personal reasons. It took a while to get back into it, and I definitely lost a lot of my confidence as a result. This blog has been a great way for me to keep my toe dipped in the writing pond, and it's been so nice to hear feedback from friends who enjoy reading it. After chatting to a few people, I decided it's finally time to bite the bullet.

I finished this story about two weeks ago, but my fear of sharing it has led to me spending the last two weeks proof-reading, editing, and making excuses as to why it wasn't ready. It will never be perfect though, and what I need to learn to realise is it will never be everyone's cup of tea. I'm proud of it, and I think that's what matters.

After a lot of research, I was disappointed in the self-publishing websites on offer. As a result, I've decided to keep my blog here as my base. Below I am posting a google drive link to view the file (if anyone knows a better way of sharing a file like this, please let me know). Constructive feedback is always appreciated! While I've very happy for people to download the story to read, if you are sharing it anywhere please don't forget to link it back to my blog here, as copyright of the story does belong to me.

Well, all that's left to do is post the link and say happy reading everybody!

Catherine x