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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.