Review: The Trouble with Goats and Sheep by Joanna Cannon

 

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I’ve always been told that you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover. But, when you are faced with a book with a goat on the front, you’re hardly going to walk away are you?

I must say, however, I nearly didn’t buy this book. I was just about to leave the bookshop empty handed, after gushing over the leather bound classics, when I spotted this on a table by the door. Retail tactics to lure you in to impulsive buys, that is. Well played Waterstones, well played. As soon as I put it back down on the pile, determined not to spend any more money, a lady came over to tell me how great it was. She said that if I liked Elizabeth is Missing, then this was the book for me. And so I bought it, because who doesn’t like a classic ‘whodunnit’ and a glowing recommendation?

This book was wonderfully written, with every chapter I was more and more engrossed, ready for the climax. 10 year-old Grace is on a mission with her friend Tilly, sparked by the mysterious disappearance of her neighbour Mrs Creasy, to find God and to keep everyone safe. The narrative flows seamlessly between Grace’s charming, honest and humorous perspective and a third person narrative showing flashbacks that focus on her neighbours 10 years ago.

Set in the famously hot summer of 1976, the secrets of the avenue are beginning to spill. The disappearance of Mrs Creasy has caused a stir and as the tale unfolds everyone realises no one is safe from the truth. Kidnapping, arson, murder and Walter Bishop; the mysterious Boo Radley-esque figure of the neighbourhood, are all adding to the mystery that is Mrs Creasy’s disappearance.

Hidden under the ruse of a missing person, the book explores more than just an elderly lady gone walkabout. It touches on the truth behind what happened 10 years ago. Grace and Tilly embark on their mission, visiting every house on the street. With each visit and every conversation, the two young girls learn more and more about the mysterious circumstances surrounding Mrs Creasy and why it might not be so good for everyone if she returns. But, nothing people say to them seems to be adding up.

Behind each door, every home has it’s troubles. Secrets wade in on relationships and Grace watches as her parents grow further apart. Even her relationship with Tilly is put to the test when Grace aspires to be more like Lisa Dakin. This coming of age story reminds us of the importance of friendship in the midst of the unknown.

Cannon’s story is portrayed under an umbrella of togetherness. The avenue and their secrets aren’t safe unless they’re all in this together. The street is united together by their secrets and their distaste towards Walter Bishop. Grace and Tilly come to realise that it only takes two people to believe in the same thing to feel like a part of something. With every chapter and conversation you get closer and closer to uncovering the truth behind why and, if you’re like me, you feel sad for the outsider that is Walter.

This book shows the everyday life of a British community within the 1970s and is charming and compassionate; interesting from the first page and completely understated. Unfortunately, a little too understated.

With the mystery of missing Mrs Creasy coming to a close, the threat of the truth coming out is more real than ever. But nothing happens. Mrs Creasy returns on a bus and the first spot of rain in weeks appears. While the rain suggests a change in the street, (classic pathetic fallacy), you are only left to assume what comes next and that is just so deeply unsatisfying. Will life carry on as it always did or does the street unravel? Where is the drama, Joanna Cannon? Where is the climax I’ve been waiting for?

Favourite quotes:

“Remington padded into the kitchen. He used to be a Labrador, but he’d become so fat, it was difficult to tell.”

“‘I’m going for a pint with the lads, Mam.’
‘The lads?’ She took a Turkish Delight.

‘Yes, Mam.’
You’re forty-three, Brian.’

“We sat on two giant plant pots at the back of Mr Morton’s Shed. You couldn’t really call it Mrs Morton’s shed, because even after a person has disappeared, there are still some places left in the world which will always belong to them.”

And so, with a heavy heart and shattered expectations, I award this book:

2.5/5 Mockingbirds

Love,
Beth xo

 

Things I Want To Do When I Turn 22

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Since finishing university, I’ve felt that my life has fallen into a bit of a rut. My days of late night studying, late nights partying and the constant struggle to have the best or most ridiculous costume on a Wednesday are, unfortunately, no more. It’s time to put down the glitter glue and grow up (wah).

And I feel like I’m flailing a little.

I’m applying to every job I think I have a shot at – whether I genuinely want it or not.
I’m working every shift at my part-time job and yet I’m struggling to save any money.
I’m hopping on trains here and there to catch up with friends and I’m going out for lunch as often as I can – just so I can feel in touch with my long-lost social life (baby, come back to me).

But I haven’t got a plan.

I realised recently that the reason those post-uni blues are hitting so hard is because I’ve placed so much pressure on myself to magically find the fabulous full-time job of my dreams and to settle into adult life almost instantly. Yet, I have no idea how I’m even suppose to do that. I don’t even know if that’s what I want right away.

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I am currently in life limbo. I have no commitments or responsibilities. I’ve finished education and am yet to sell my soul to the pits of full-time employment. I could, quite honestly, do anything if I wanted to.

And to do that I realised I need to be more deliberate in my plans and intentions for my life; set out my wants and goals. Decide what it is I want and then figure out how I can make that happen. And oh boy, do I love an excuse to write a list.

And so, I have compiled a list of all the things I intend to do when I turn 22 (shout out to Tay Tay up in here). This gives me time to knuckle down, save up and make things happen.

  1. Travel – ever since watching Eat, Pray, Love I have always wanted to escape to Bali and spend time focusing on myself. While my time at university helped me grow confidence, I want to step further out of my comfort zone and explore life beyond essays. I am a massive home buddy. I love a good ol’ cuppa tea whilst watch First Dates with my cat. So, leaving that behind for a while will certainly be a bit of a shock to the system, but it might be exactly what I need to inspire some get-up and go. To make this a little more specific, I intend on visiting 5 different destinations.
  2. Focus on my well-being – now, more than ever, I’ve truly got some time to focus on my body and mind. Years of stress and education has left me feeling completely burnt out. I want to eat better, do better and try new things. I’ve recently embraced vegetarianism; something I see as a positive lifestyle change that I’m proud of. I’ve never been a fan of exercise, but I want to embrace a healthier lifestyle. I’ve considered yoga for years, but have never found the place or time to do it. or I could take up belly-dancing or something exotic, who knows.
  3. Sky dive – For years now, I have wanted to do the completely sensible and safe act of jumping out of a plane and plummeting to the earth. I can’t imagine something that could be more freeing and exhilarating and probably more vomit-inducing than this. I feel like finally crossing something so big off my list would be liberating in itself – and I could always raise some money for charity.
  4. Start to learn a language – I have wanted to learn a language for years. I failed miserably at GCSE French and it put me right off. I haven’t decided which language yet, but I feel like French and Italian are the most beautiful languages I’ve encountered. (Again, very Eat, Pray, Love of me. I just want to be Julia Roberts. Who doesn’t want to be Julia Roberts.) Learning a language is just another thing that would embrace me to travel and immerse myself in another culture and country and, who knows, it could open up some new opportunities that I might not otherwise have.

Voilia, there it is. The list of things I want to do when I turn 22. Now it’s out in the world and people can see it. So if it doesn’t happen, you can all tell me off for being lazy.

Are you feeling a little stuck, too?
How are you going to break out of your rut?

Love,
Beth xo

 

Review: The Versions of Us by Laura Barnett

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Have you ever looked back on a moment in your life and wondered: what if?
What if your life isn’t destined to go a certain way? That one seemingly small moment could change everything? If you haven’t, this book certainly will spark those thoughts. The Versions of Us offers three alternative narratives, showing how one moment can change the course of your lives forever. For Eva and Jim, that moment starts with a bike ride and a nail in the road.

In version one, Eva’s bike goes over the nail and Jim, a passer-by, offers to fix it for her. When she meets Jim, she is faced with a decision: go with him, ultimately leave her boyfriend David and marry Jim. In version two, Eva’s bike misses the nail; she doesn’t meet Jim, and she carries on in her life and marries David. In version three, she meets Jim and instantly falls in love, but instead of following her heart, she tries to do what she thinks is right and ends up in a loveless marriage with David.

I can’t choose my favourite version. In each there is love, heartache, loss and happiness. Both Jim and Eva are successful in their careers, except, unfortunately, not in the same version. They marry each other and they marry others. There are affairs when they are together and affairs that bring them together. Each version runs parallel, running the same course, marked by chance meetings, events and death and yet, each version is completely different.

I have always believed that you can meet the right person at the wrong time. Someone you have the potential to fall madly in love with and yet, your lives aren’t ready to become intwined. And, because of this, I think my favourite version is the one where she doesn’t meet Jim and goes on to her unhappy marriage with David.

The third person narrative has you absolutely rooting for Jim and Eva as a couple, giving you insight into both of their thoughts and feelings. In version one, you fall in love with them as they do with each other and it absolutely devastates you when Jim betrays her. Even though in version two Eva suffers through her loveless marriage with David, she eventually re-marries to an older man named Ted and you can see how fulfilling and happy her new life has become. To me, Eva enduring her first marriage was worth it when she is adored by Ted. It is then when Ted, in his old age, gets gravely ill, needs to be cared for and eventually passes away, that Eva then eventually meets Jim. It is at this moment, that they are ready. They can love and appreciate each other, however short their time together might be. Both characters have had their successes, they have had love and they both have experienced loss.When their lives cross over in the other versions, neither are fulfilled and neither appreciate each other wholly.

In all versions Jim, in my opinion, is very unlikeable. He’s continually self-pitying and constantly believes the grass is greener elsewhere; in the bed’s of other women, mostly. I became so emotionally involved in each version, I just wanted the best for Eva. She was my favourite character and I was so disappointed when her marriage with Jim wasn’t as perfect as they thought it would be.

This book is a beautiful and elegant read that spans across Jim and Eva’s life time from young adults to an elderly pair. While the chop and change between different versions slowed the progress down, it wasn’t like anything I had ever read before. Watching these characters lives unfold before me and seeing how much of an impact one moment can make had me gripped. I absolutely could not put this book down. While no version has that fairytale ending we all hope for, they end with their characters having reconciled and at peace with their lives; each appreciating what they’ve been through and the efforts of others.

The novel’s concept and emotive characters are a credit to Barnett’s writing talent and I can’t wait to read more of her work.

Favourite quotes:

‘Alicante: a city of dust and heat and unfinished skyscrapers.
This, at least, is how Jim imagines it: he has received only one postcard from Helena, sent soon after she moved to Spain. A tall, mud-coloured hotel of brutal ugliness; on the back, she had written,
For Jim – because even the most hideous building here is lovelier than the home I shared with you. H.

‘He should not have left Helena. He should never have tried to go back in time, to the moment when he and Eva had their entire lives before them. He has gone against the natural law of things: the law that says you get one chance at happiness, with one person, and if it falls apart, you do not get that chance again.’

3.5/5 Mockingbirds.

Love,
Beth xo

 

Monday Blues: Quotes to get you by

So it’s Monday and, even though I’m not stuck working in an office five days a week, I’m feeling a tad bit blue after a lovely weekend visiting friends; unfortunately, the dread to go to work is setting in and the buzz from good times is slowly fading. So, here are a few motivational words to remind you how important you are and to get you through the day because sometimes you deserve a pat on the back just for being you and getting out of bed in the morning:

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‘Life begins at the end of your comfort zone.’

‘Your value doesn’t decrease based on someone’s inability to see your worth.’

‘It’s a good day to have a good day.’

‘You are the most important person in your life.’

‘Integrity is doing the right thing, even when no one is watching.’

‘Take courage and be kind.’

‘What someone says about you, says a lot more about them.’

‘Take care of yourself, so you can take care of others.’

‘A bad day does not mean a bad life.’

‘No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.’

Love,
Beth xo

Review: The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared by Jonas Jonasson

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I feel as though the title of this book perfectly represents my thoughts about the book itself: incredibly long-winded. When I first picked up this book, I actually had quite high hopes that it would be a funny and entertaining read. It’s an ‘international bestselling sensation’ after all. The only way that I can describe this book is that it is bursting with unbelievable and completely non-sensical events. It reminds me of Forest Gump almost, except that I actually like Forest Gump.

Allan Karlsson is turning one hundred years old and the care home he lives in is throwing him a birthday party. But, unbeknown to them, Allan won’t be attending. Instead, he’s climbing out the window and leaving a trial of chaos behind him; a stolen suitcase full of money, a triple-murder, an elephant and plenty of vodka.

As Allan’s journey unfolds, so does his life story. Half the world leaders from 1920 onwards, atomic bombs, secret missions, dynamite, Albert Einstein’s less intelligent brother, communists and, of course, vodka. Allan’s life is saturated with near death experiences, continually and miraculously saved by his complete aversion to politics.

I found this book quite difficult to get through. For the first time in a long while, I had to force myself to finish a book. It was so repetitive, in what I assume was an attempt to be a little humorous, but it eventually just grated on me and I had to drag myself through every single page. Perhaps some things were lost in translation, perhaps it just wasn’t my cup of tea and perhaps the numerous typos didn’t help, either.

“Anyhow, he ordered Bucket out into the field, because the Boss thought that the idiot Bucket was still quite as big as an idiot as idiot Caracus. The idiot Bucket would thus have a greater chance of finding an idiot Bolt, and perhaps even the suitcase with the money.”

Despite my overall disappointment with the book, here are a few quotes I may have found a little funny, so as to not leave this review on an entirely sour note:

“Allan got out several sticks of dynamite and set about a familiar task before packing his bike trailer with the few valuables he owned. At dusk on 3rd June 1929, he took off. The dynamite exploded as it was meant to exactly thirty minutes later. The little house was blown to bits and the neighbour’s cow had another miscarriage.”

“The solution was first to tidy up the assistant as best they could, then let him go, but only so that he could immediately be run over by a truck, which then disappeared from the scene. That is how you avoid diplomatic crisis, the police chief reasoned, pleased with himself.”

“So it came about that the typesetter with the shattered nerves made a little addition to the very last verse in the very last chapter in the Swedish Bible that was just about to be printed. The typesetter didn’t remember much of his father’s tongue, but he could at least recall a fairy tale that was well suited in the context. Thus the Bible’s last two verses plus the typesetter’s extra verse were printed as:

20. He who testified to these things says, Surely I am coming quickly. Amen. Even so, come, Lord Jesus!
21. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. Amen.
22. And they all lived happily ever after.”

1.5/5 Mockingbirds

Love,
Beth xo