Normal People



Marianne – “I don’t know what’s wrong with me. I don’t know why I can’t be like normal people.”

Connell – “It’s funny the decisions you make because you like someone and then your whole life is different. I think we’re at that weird age where life can change a lot from small decisions. But you’ve been a very good influence on me overall, like I definitely am a better person now, I think. Thanks to you.”

Connell and Marianne attend school together in Sligo in Ireland, yet do not acknowledge each other publicly. Connell is part of the popular clique and Marianne is regarded as a loner. Yet outside of school, things are very different. Connell’s mother works as a cleaner for Marianne’s mother and the teenagers become drawn to each other, forming a connection that will change their lives forever…

Normal People is a coming-of-age novel about friendship, sex and love, and the powerful connections made between people. The novel explores themes of identity, isolation and intimacy, and raises awareness of mental health issues such as depression and anxiety. The book also deals with social issues of class, education, prejudice and morality.

Having previously read Rooney’s debut novel Conversations with Friends, for me there is a detached and self-aware quality to Rooney’s writing that makes her characters quite unlikeable. However, I did relate to the central characters of Connell and Marianne in many different ways, despite their often frustrating behaviour. Many of their actions though reflect real life and serve as a reminder of the mistakes that many of us do make, particularly during our younger years. I may be the wrong demographic for this book and I can understand why it appeals more to younger readers, but I did enjoy it overall.

Now that I am watching the tv adaptation, I already have the urge to reread the book, despite reading it just days ago. I will save my thoughts on the tv show for a later review, but it is difficult not to allow it to influence my thoughts on the novel as the show is amazing!

Have you read or watched Normal People? Do you think that age matters when reading a novel?


My Dark Vanessa



When Vanessa Wye hears the news that her former teacher Jacob Strane has been accused of sexual abuse, she is forced to confront what she considered the first and great love story of her life. Because Vanessa was just fifteen years old when she first had sex with her English teacher. As the #MeToo movement gains more and more momentum, Vanessa finds herself questioning if what she considered love was not love at all, but actually rape?

My Dark Vanessa is an unflinching story of sexual abuse and grooming that is compelling and powerful. The novel highlights how an abuser manipulates and grooms their victims and exploits their vulnerabilities for their own gain. The book raises the issue of consent and also challenges many people’s preconceptions of a stereotypical victim and forms of abuse, while examining the long lasting impact and psychological damage of sexual abuse. The devastating consequences of sexual abuse are explored in the novel as Vanessa struggles to grasp the reality of what she has experienced, as well as cope with adult life. As the narrative weaves between the present and the past, the story reveals graphic scenes, which often makes for uncomfortable reading. However, these scenes are essential to the story in order to truly give an accurate depiction of such serious subject matter.

For me, My Dark Vanessa is an absorbing read that is difficult to forget. A lack of clear cut resolutions in the story adds to the realistic tone of the novel and the depiction of central character Vanessa feels authentic. My only minor critiques are that the story felt slightly stretched out in parts and the contrast between teenage Vanessa and adult Vanessa wasn’t always that distinct. Vanessa is described as a talented writer during her teenage years, but the narrative sometimes feels just beyond the voice of a teenage girl. Overall though, My Dark Vanessa is a fantastic debut novel that is published today. I hope it receives the success it deserves, despite these challenging times for new book releases and author events.

What debut novel has captured your attention in recent years?

The Handmaid’s Tale Season 2 – Episode 1: June


The Handmaid’s Tale Season 2 Trailer

Rating: 5/5

“Nolite Te Bastardes Carborundorum”

In a world where fertility is rapidly declining, Offred is offered only one option by the new Republic of Gilead: to breed. If she refuses, the consequences are death or a sentencing to the radioactive Colonies. Serving as a handmaid for her Commander and his wife, her main function is to provide the childless couple with a baby. Soon, Offred is complicit in illicit meetings engineered by the Commander, while harbouring a mutual desire for one of his Guardians, who may be an Eye or a source of salvation. With such a precarious position, the value of her life is always a distant threat…

Margaret Atwood’s dystopian novel was published in 1985 and is a terrifying concept that is not all that unbelievable. Having studied the novel as part of a Margaret Atwood module at university, I have to admit that originally I couldn’t quite grasp the concepts of her books and so my enjoyment and understanding of her stories were limited. However, after rereading The Handmaid’s Tale, I am happy to say that I completely loved it! Perhaps as we grow older, we also grow as readers. Do you agree?

My reread of The Handmaid’s Tale was in anticipation of seeing Margaret Atwood at the Hay Festival at the end of the month and also the return of the second series of the book’s tv adaptation on Channel 4 on Sunday night. What a return it was! Season 2 opened with a harrowing sequence, played out with added poignancy to Kate Bush’s This Woman’s Work and moved me to tears before the opening credits had even aired. The sheer brutality continued throughout the episode and, for me, makes quite a statement on the horrifying attacks that continue to occur against women all over the world. Sometimes extreme scenes are necessary as a wake up call to make people sit up and take notice or shock people into taking positive action. The violence and degradation depicted towards the handmaids  made me think about so many events going on in the world, such as the barbaric act of female genital mutilation, which has previously been depicted in Season 1.

In this dystopian world where women are merely seen as vessels and need their husband’s signature to acquire contraception, the timing of the show’s return feels eerie with the referendum in Ireland taking place this week. Other scenes in the show highlighted the difficulties and judgements that working mothers face, a challenge that men are never expected to experience.

Season 2 is now working from new source material, with Atwood acting as a consultant on the show. This new and unknown direction will allow for even more scope and development of secondary characters and has the ability to highlight even more topical issues. With women’s rights remaining at the forefront of so many causes and campaigns, Season 2 is proving to be as compelling and relevant as ever.

Did you watch the return of The Handmaid’s Tale on Sunday night? If so, what did you think?

Bookstagram Hay-on-wye Meet Up 2017

Recently, I attended the first Hay-on-wye Bookstagram Meet Up, which took place from 31st March-2nd April. This fantastic event was an idea conceived by Anne from Addyman Books and Ruth from Richard Booth’s Bookshop, which came into fruition with the aid of  Bookstagrammer Siobhan from @thehalycondaysofsummer. With Bookstagrammers visiting from all over the world, this event looked set to be the biggest Bookstagram meet up ever.

I turned up on the Friday evening for the welcome reception at Richard Booth’s Bookshop, nervously not knowing what to expect. I was given a warm welcome from Ruth, who ushered me over to a group of Bookstagrammers. I tried to mask my sudden shyness while I took in the flurry of new faces. I was quickly put at ease as I recognised Jude from @mybookbath and soon I realised how many bookstagrammers I knew already. If I remember correctly, the group included Kimberlee @reading.wanderwoman, Charlotte, Annie @2manybeautifulbooks, Dannii @dannii.elle.reads, Kerstin @lostinphrases, Micol @literaryjourney, Elke @meetpenguingirl and Gemma @gemkarita. The initial introductions became an amusing routine over the rest of the weekend as usernames were deemed necessary rather than actual names. The repeated suggestions of name tags for next year might prove to be ideal advice!

In between mingling, I listened to a book talk that evening at Richard Booth’s Bookshop. Author and journalist Oliver Balch gave a speech on Hay-on-wye and his experiences that inspired him to write his book Under the Tump: Sketches of Real Life on the Welsh Borders. Once the book talk was over, I joined a group of bookstagrammers for tapas. This group included Charlotte @pagesandplays, Dannii @dannii.elle.reads, Kerstin @lostinphrases, Charlotte @theroamingreader, Jack @that.english.guy.who.reads and Charlie @thebookboy. We discussed our top five books and I recall Harry Potter featuring on all of our lists!

Afterwards, we headed to The Old Electric Shop for a literary-themed cocktail evening. As I was driving, I could only indulge in the non-alcoholic cocktails, but they were still pretty tasty! Here, I introduced myself to Rima from @pardonmywritings, who was instantly warm and friendly. The first evening proved a success and was a brilliant indication of what was yet to come over the weekend.

On Saturday, I returned for a bookplate and printmaking demonstration by John Watson @johnwatsonprintmaker, which was held at The Globe At Hay. This was quite an interesting event as John hosted a demonstration of linocut printmaking and bookplate creation and we all received a special keepsake of the event. Here, I was delighted to meet the lovely Beth @beth.bonini, who gave me a huge hug and was even friendlier in person. Afterwards, I headed into town with Dannii and we watched a book themed fancy dress parade, which ended with a town gathering at the Honesty Bookshop in the Castle grounds. We took in the rest of the celebrations, which was marking the 40th Anniversary of Independence and included a ceremonial raising of the Hay Town flag.

We then returned to The Globe At Hay for the next event, which was a panel discussion chaired by Siobhan. The panel featured @pardonmywritings, @mybookbath, @literaryjourney and These lovely ladies discussed how they began their Bookstagram accounts and gave insights into how they run their accounts, as well as providing some useful Bookstagram tips.

Just before the panel began, I had the excitement of meeting Elle from @theartfulelle. Elle was the first person who I became friendly with on Bookstagram and we greeted each other like old friends with a massive hug. Elle gifted me with a beautiful Boddington edition of Wuthering Heights, which is my favourite book. I will treasure this book, now proudly displayed on my bookshelves. I’m so grateful to Elle and it is heartwarming that people can be so kind and generous. After the panel discussion, I joined Elle, Emma @mistyangelofsky and Clare @literarianlife for tea and cake and we had a lovely afternoon gossiping about all things Bookstagram.

Later that evening, I bumped into Jude, Micol and Anne and we headed back to Addyman Books for after hours book browsing. I also popped over to Anne’s Murder and Mayhem bookshop, where I got to properly introduce myself to Agatha Christie fan Sahiba from @dumbwitnesses. Fittingly, I bumped into Sahiba by the Agatha Christie shelves as she was struggling to contain a bunch of Christies in her arms!

Many of us then headed back to The Old Electric Shop, where I got to have a great chat with Kelly @contraryreader, whose son Charley was instantly recognisable in his adorable Sherlock Holmes costume. Book lover Charley is often featured on the @addymanbooks account and it’s lovely to see someone so young showing such a healthy interest in books, as well as having such great reading taste!

In between catching up with Jude, Micol and Annie again at The Old Electric Shop, we were lucky enough to receive amazing goodie bags full of books from Siobhan. Inside mine was a beautiful edition of Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky from Vintage Books, 99 Stories of God by Joy Williams from Serpent’s Tail, The Pirate Who Does Not Know The Value Of Pi by Eugene Ostashevsky from Nyrbooks and Leopard At The Door by Jennifer McVeigh from Penguin Books. As well as these books, I had also received more free books earlier in the day at The Globe At Hay and some gorgeous @obviousstate goodies. Needless to say, I also couldn’t resist a bit of book buying, so I came home with bulging bags of books!

On Sunday, I returned to Hay-on-wye for the Booksellers Breakfast, which was provided by local chef Hugh Sawyer at The Globe At Hay. Hugh is the founder of the sustainable food company Off Grid Gourmet and, last summer, my friends and I had a private dinner cooked by Hugh. It was a very generous birthday treat from my friends and we had a delicious dinner in a beautiful countryside setting. As a result, I was eagerly anticipating this breakfast and I can safely say it did not disappoint, with a feast of food on offer. I took the opportunity to say hello to Hugh and he did tell me that he recognised me, although I’m sure he was just being polite!

As well as getting to meet Hanneke @hannekehermes, the breakfast was a lovely opportunity to catch up with everyone else again before the inevitable goodbyes. Once breakfast was over, I joined Kimberlee, Sahiba and Rima for an afternoon of book browsing and, as it was such a warm sunny day, we even got to sit and indulge in an ice cream. We also had a private tour behind the scenes of Addyman Books from Anne, who showed us her own incredible book collection, as well as sharing some insightful stories and anecdotes. Anne has such a vast wealth of knowledge, particularly when it comes to politics, current affairs and, of course, books. I could listen to Anne all day and I was lucky enough to receive an offer to come back and stay over for a night above the bookshop, so I’m already looking forward to this opportunity. Waking up surrounded by books is every book lover’s dream turned reality!

By the time the evening came, Kimberlee and I were the last Bookstagrammers remaining and we sat out under the sun with a drink. It was lovely to have one last catch up and, after discovering we are the same age, it also turned out that we have many similarities in our lives. If I didn’t have work the next day, I would loved to have sat there chatting all evening.

While it was sad to say goodbye to everyone after such a short time, there was a sense in the air that something really special had taken place. When I returned to work the following Monday, my close colleague commented that I seemed different as a result of the weekend’s events and what a positive effect it appeared to have on me. I do feel that the weekend has inspired me in so many different ways and it felt empowering to do something just for myself and now it feels like it’s the beginning of a new adventure. I never would have imagined that I could make friends through social media and it was wonderful to meet so many like minded people. I feel so lucky to have been part of such a special weekend and I believe that this is an event that will continue to grow in the future. Next year’s Bookstagram Meet Up has already been extended to ten days and will take place from March 30th to April 8th. For all the latest updates, make sure to follow @bookstagramhay on Instagram. If you’re a Bookstagrammer or a book lover, this event should be at the top of your list. Trust me, you won’t regret it!

The Snow Child – Eowyn Ivey

Rating: 4/5

The Snow Child is a story that takes place in Alaska in the 1920s and focuses on Jack and Mabel, who have undertaken a fresh start in a remote area, after the death of their baby many years previously. When a mysterious young girl starts to appear on their land, they are wonderstruck and begin to let her in to their lives. But will the little girl let them into hers or will she disappear again?

The Snow Child is a book I have wanted to read for many years, yet somehow I have never gotten around to it. When the opportunity came to join a readalong on Bookstagram, I jumped at the chance. I am so glad I have finally read this wonderful story. The harsh Alaskan landscape is depicted through beautiful imagery that doesn’t detract from the brutal cold climate. Ivey has a remarkable way with words and portrays winter in such a wondrous manner that really entices me to visit and explore Alaska. I read this book in January, which was the perfect time of year for this novel. To my delight, snow even arrived while I was reading the book, which enhanced the atmosphere as well as providing some fantastic photo opportunities.

The Snow Child deals with many themes, including love, loss and family. The loss of Jack and Mabel’s baby threatens to fracture their relationship and their struggles to cope in the harsh Alaskan climate continues to have a negative effect, taking a financial toll on the couple. The arrival of the mysterious girl not long after they build a snow child has a positive influence on their lives as they begin to form a family unit. The girl’s appearance certainly has a magical quality and parallels the Russian fairy tale Snegurochka that Mable refers to in the story. Using this story implies the possibility of magic, yet hints at tragic undertones.

In the light of day, her dreams were drained of their nightmarish quality, and they seemed whimsical and strange, but the taste of loss remained in her mouth. It was difficult to focus on her tasks and she often drifted aimlessly through her own mind. A faint memory emerged again and again – her father, a leather-bound fairy tale book, a snow child alive in its pages. She couldn’t clearly recall the story or more than a few of the illustrations, and she began to worry over it, letting her thoughts touch it again and again. If there was such a book, could there be such a child? If an old man and woman conjured a little girl out of the snow and wilderness, what would she be to them? A daughter? A ghost?”

The third part of the novel veers in a surprisingly unexpected direction and I agree with other reviewers that it felt rather rushed. Yet I still adored this book, which gave me a sense of appreciation of life’s conveniences in today’s modern world. At the heart of the story is the love between family and how it can take shape in all forms.

While the book has a fairytale quality, it harks back to the more darker fairytales such as the Grimms fairytales, where its origins lie as apposed to today’s Disney retellings. This creates a sense of realism in the novel and the reader constantly has a sense of dread at what may lay ahead.

I would definitely recommend this beautiful story, especially to read during the winter months. While inspired by fairytales, it feels unique and memorable. I’m just surprised that it hasn’t been adapted into a movie version as the imagery created in the novel is stunning. Perhaps though it is best that it remains just as a novel, without any interference from Hollywood. Some fairytales don’t need to be retold…