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Third Year at Malory Towers by Enid Blyton

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RATING: 3/5

BLURB: “Darrell and her friends are delighted to be back for their third year at Malory Towers. This year there are some new faces too – the snobbish American, Zerelda, and the tom-boyish Bill. But it’s Mavis with her precious singing voice who causes the biggest upset of the year.”

REVIEW: The third book in the wonderful Malory Towers series opens with Darrell heading back to Malory Towers without her best friend, Sally, who is in quarantine for an illness, leaving her instead stuck with one of the new girls, an overconfident American girl named Zerelda who likes to pretend she is much older than the rest of the schoolgirls. Zerelda, with her make-up and fancy hairstyles, struggles to fit in at Malory Towers despite the admiration of Gwendoline, who it seems will never learn her lesson at the school. She is also joined in being an outcast by Mavis, a boastful young girl whose singing voice has given her dreams of becoming a famous opera star. The other new girl, Bill, however, fits in much better and provides some drama and excitement by bringing her horse, Thunder, along to Malory Towers, who provides for me the most upsetting moment of the series when he becomes unwell with colic and Bill struggles to save his life. Mavis also provides some drama when she decides to flee the school in the middle of the night in order to compete in a village competition, leading her to damage her voice possibly forever. This is one of my favourite books in the series, with the interactions of Zerelda providing some light relief, as well as the sneezing pellet trick – and once again, provides a heartwarming tale showing how people can change for the better.

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Second Form at Malory Towers by Enid Blyton

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RATING: 4/5

BLURB: “Back to Malory Towers and in the Second Form now, Darrell and her friends know that they should be a little more grown-up. But sometimes sheer mischief gets the better of them…and they think they can get the better of the mistresses. Are they about to go one trick too far?”

REVIEW: The second installment in Enid Blyton’s Malory Towers series is just as entertaining and heartwarming as the first, once again containing important messages about friendship and the difference between right and wrong. Malory Towers has welcomed three new girls at the beginning of this book; the quiet, serious scholarship girl, Ellen; the scatty and artistic Belinda; and the rich and boastful Daphne. Whilst Belinda fits in instantly, both Ellen and Daphne have a little more trouble, though for very different reasons. Ellen is struggling to maintain the high grades that led her to achieve the scholarship, and is worried that she will disappoint her parents, whilst Daphne has made friends with the spoilt Gwendoline and is hiding a dark secret behind her bragging. Combined with this, Alicia is causing friction among the second formers as she grows jealous of Sally’s position as head girl, which leads her to play a very amusing trick on the teachers – which, I do believe, will make any reader laugh out loud no matter how old they are! Things begin to get worse for poor Ellen, however, when she becomes unwell and is accused of stealing by the other girls when she is in fact trying to find test papers to cheat from. I will not reveal who the real thief is here, though I know many of you will have read the book, as it is always nice to leave you with some element of surprise! I am thoroughly enjoying re-reading these childhood favourites and would definitely recommend them to those who haven’t already been acqauinted with them.

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The Poet’s Tale: Chaucer and the Year that Made the Canterbury Tales by Paul Strohm

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RATING: 3/5

BLURB: “For Geoffrey Chaucer, 1386 was the year that changed everything, transforming him from a middle-aged bureaucrat to a disgraced and penniless exile in Kent. Such a reverseal might have spelled the end of his career; but instead, at the loneliest time of his life, Chaucer made the revolutionary decision to ‘maken vertu of necessitee’ and begin work on a radically new form of poetry which would become The Canterbury Tales.”

REVIEW: This book tells the story of the year 1386 as it was in England, using Chaucer as a case study to focus a wide narrative that looks at how factors out of Chaucer’s control – like his sister-in-law’s affair with John of Gaunt – impacted his life and livelihood and led to his exile in Kent. In exploring the life of Chaucer through this lens, often linking sections of his poetry to contemporary affairs or things that we know Chaucer personally witnessed or experienced, Strohm also gives us a brief overview of what life was like in medieval England. Therefore, although Chaucer is the main focus of this book, which is engagingly written and easy to read, the reader also gains a great deal of information about practical matters in medieval London, such as the impact of marriage, Parliament, lodgings, society, ect. Strohm’s use of Chaucer’s poetry here is also very well done, as it fits seamlessly into the bulk of non-fiction text despite its fictional nature, giving us a much more complete picture of what Chaucer’s tales were actually about and how they fit in to the landscape of medieval England. This book provides much to enjoy for both historians and lovers of literature, serving a dual purpose to those interested in both, and provides a brief but fascinating snapshot into the life of one of England’s most famous writers.

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First Term at Malory Towers by Enid Blyton

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RATING: 3.5/5

BLURB: “Scared and excited, Darrell Rivers has just arrived at Malory Towers. It’s fantastic – but huge! How is she going to remember everyone’s names, let alone find her way round? And will she ever have a special friend of her own?”

REVIEW: I’ve been seriously stressed out with uni at the moment, with a pile of deadlines and the dissertation due date looming, so I’ve been treating myself to re-reading the Malory Towers books a bit each night before bed. Enid Blyton was my favourite childhood author, and my Mum read all the Famous Five, St Clair’s and Malory Towers books to me back then; because of this, they hold very fond memories for me and always feel reassuring and familiar when I read them. This book, the first in the series, tells the story of the protagonist, Darrell Rivers, and her first term at her new boarding school. She feels she has little in common with the other two new girls, the spoilt Gwendoline and the reserved Sally, and instead is desperate to form a friendship with the sharp-tongued trickster Alicia, who already has a best friend in fellow mischief-maker Betty. As Darrell struggles to find her place at Malory Towers, and experiences terrible worries when she loses her temper and fears she has damaged the health of Sally, the reader feels a real connection with her, remembering times that they have also felt lost and out of place in a new environment. Once Darrell finds out the reason why Sally is so reserved and cold, the two become firm friends, and are joined by the shy but golden-hearted Mary-Lou; the book therefore ends with the reader knowing that the series will continue with Darrell having friends by her side. These stories may be simple, and old-fashioned to modern eyes, but they are heartwarming, and provide comfort – particularly during times of stress!

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Letters from Skye by Jessica Brockmole

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RATING: 3.5/5

BLURB: “Elspeth is fond of saying to her daughter that ‘the first volume of my life is out of print’. But when a bomb hits an Edinburgh street and Margaret finds her mother crouched in the ruins of her bedroom pulling armfuls of yellow letters onto her lap, the past Elspeth has kept so carefully locked away is out in the open. The next day, Elspeth disappears. Left alone with the letters, Margaret discovers a mother she never knew existed; a poet living on the Isle of Skye who in 1912 answered a fan letter from a mysterious young man in Illinois. Without having to worry about appearances or expectations, Elspeth and Davey confess their dreams and their worries, things they’ve never told another soul. Even without meeting, they know one another.”

REVIEW: This epistolary novel spans both the First- and Second- World Wars, and takes us on a journey of romance and discovery as we flit between the two wars through the use of Elspeth and Davey’s letters during the First World War, and through Margaret’s letters during the Second. Elspeth and Davey’s story begins with a fan letter, written by Davey, praising the beautiful poetry Elspeth right; and this becomes a deep connection between the two of them, leading to a deep love and understanding as well as passion, longing and hope for the future – despite the fact that Elspeth is already married and the two live on different continents. Margaret’s story, however, begins upon her finding Elspeth with a pile of letters, after quizzing her mother about her father, whom she has never known. When Elspeth runs away with the letters, Margaret begins a desperate attempt, through her own letter-writing, to contact those who might be able to find Elspeth – and help her find out more about the mysterious American from the letters. Margaret’s letters are also punctuated by her updates of events to her fiance Paul, who is off fighting in the war, and the two become caught up in Elspeth and David’s love story. I do not want to ruin the ending of this delightful book which is romantic, easy to read and often bittersweet, but I will say that I thoroughly recommend it as a light read with a heartwarming message.

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Frenchman’s Creek by Daphne du Maurier

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RATING: 5/5

BLURB: “Lady Dona St Columb seems to revel in scandal: she is involved in every intrigue of the Restoration court. But secretly, the shallowness of court life disgusts her, and in her heart she longs for freedom and honest love. Retreating to Navron, her husband’s Cornish estate, she seeks peace and solitude away from London. But Navron is being used as the base for a French pirate, an outlaw hunted by all Cornwall. Instead of feeling fear, Dona’s thirst for adventure has never been more aroused; in Jean-Benoit Aubery she finds a sensitive man who would, like her, gamble his life for a moment’s joy. Together they embark upon a quest rife with danger and glory, one which will force Dona to make the ultimate choice; will she sacrifice her lover to certain death, or risk her own life to save him?”

REVIEW: Daphne du Maurier’s books always promise a gripping and adventurous read, and this novel was no different. ‘Frenchman’s Creek’ tells the story of the bored and beautiful courtier Dona, who escapes to the Navron estate in Cornwall with her children after a scandal at court forces her to realise how much she hates the pretense of courtly life. Living in relative freedom and developing a friendship with the mysterious servant William, Dona is interested to learn of the pirate activity taking place in the surrounding waters, which the local elite are determined to put an end to. Sneaking out of the house one day, she meets the man she discovers to be William’s master – the pirate Jean-Benoit Aubrey – whose ship, La Mouette, is residing in the creek close by Navron. The two soon become fascinated with one another, both similar personalities but from completely different worlds, and begin a passionate affair full of riotous quests. Things are complicated, however, by the arrival of Dona’s husband Harry and his close friend, Rockingham, who has long held an interest in Dona, at Navron. As the hunt for the pirates begins to gain momentum among the Cornish elite, finding its base in Dona’s own household, Dona has to make the choice of which side she is truly on, and work out where her loyalties – and her dreams – lie. The romance that develops between Dona and her Frenchman, and the adventures they share, makes for gripping reading, and we feel freed with Dona as she escapes the confines of the noble court life. I thoroughly enjoyed this book and wish the ending hadn’t been quite so mysterious, as I am desperate to know precisely what happened – but I shall say no more, for fear of ruining it!

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We Should All Be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

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RATING: 5/5

BLURB: “In this personal, eloquently argued essay – adapted from her much-admired TEDx talk of the same name – Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie offers readers a unique definition of feminism for the twenty-first century, one rooted in inclusion and awareness. Drawing extensively on her own experiences and her deep understanding of the often masked realities of sexual politics, here is one remarkable author’s exploration of what it means to be a woman now – an of-the-moment rallying cry for why we should all be feminists”

REVIEW: Everyone should read this book. It won’t take you any longer than ten or fifteen minutes and it truly amazes me that Adichie can so eloquently and movingly describe the state of modern feminism in such a short piece of writing. Addressing many of the misconceptions surrounding modern feminism, Adichie uses many of her own experiences growing up in Africa to address the problems that still face women – and men – today. What truly pleased me about this work is that it dispells the popular belief that feminists are men haters, by pointing out that, by definition, feminism aims to achieve equality for both sexes in terms of politics, society and culture. Adichie even addresses some of the problems that surround the cultural expectations that are put upon men, as well as the more frequently talked about problems faced by women. By interweaving the social problems faced by both sexes and discussing how these have been inbuilt into cultures across the world, Adichie makes the reader think and reflect about these issues and how we could address them – even if, like myself, the reader was already a feminist. I wish books like this were compulsory reading in schools across the world; perhaps then we could some day hope to achieve the goal of redefining our expectations of both men and women.