Bon Voyage 

 
The time has come. One bag is packed, one is waiting to full of the neat piles of clothes spread over the sofa and I’ve said cheerio to my family and all the animals. Yes I am finally off to Australia.  All I need to do is wait for boyfriend to get home and take me to the airport and then I’m off.  I haven’t been organised enough to schedule blog posts whilst I’m away but I will be keeping a journal when I’m out there and I’m sure at some point I’ll transfer my notes on to here.

Have a lovely summer! 

Toby’s Room

 
Title: Toby’s Room

Author: Pat Barker

Published: 2012

Challenges: TBR Pile 2015

Rating: Five out of five stars

Synopsis

When Elinor Brooke’s older brother, Toby disappears on a French battlefield in 1917 she wants to get to the bottom of the ‘Missing, Believed Killed’ report her family received.  Throughout her life her relationship with Toby has been close, close to the point where it is hard for them to explain and discuss their relationship, and she can’t accept the reports of his death.  Elinor wants to discover the truth about Toby’s death, so she writes to an old friend from Art College, Kit Neville, who has been horrifically wounded and was the last man to see Toby alive.  Neville ignores Elinor’s letters so she relies on her former lover and fellow ex Art student, Paul Tarrant to help solve the mysterious death of her much loved brother. 

My Thoughts

I always forget that, as well as drawing on the real life horrors of the First World War, Barker uses real life war figures as some of the inspiration behind her novels and their stories are often subtly interwoven into the background of her main characters.  In Toby’s Room Barker writes about the real life portraits of soldiers with horrific facial injuries – painted by Henry Tonks – to bring a wounded Kit Neville back into Elinor’s life and thus enabling her to discover the truth about her brother’s death.  I love it when real life figures unexpectantly turn up in fiction as it makes me eager to carry out more research and to learn more about these people; such a geek! And of course this makes me extra happy as I love anything about the First World War.  Again I forget that Barker’s writing has this effect on me and Barker’s writing is truly beautiful.  Her understanding and depiction of the horrors of the war is just heart wrenching and yet hauntingly beautiful at the same time.  I’m usually pretty rubbish at remembering to highlights quotations or parts of novels I particularly like, but I did it this time and the following is just one of sentences I found so perfect and relatable: 

‘ A hole opened up in the conversation and we all stared in to it, until several people at once rushed in to fill the silence.’ 

How beautiful is that sentence? 

Throughout Toby’s Room there is the mystery surrounding Toby’s death; a mystery that was actually quite unexpected but in hindsight makes sense, which I guess is the sign of a good mystery. It is clear from the beginning that there is more to Toby’s death than meets the eye but this is not thrown down the readers’ throats and is actually subtly explored, with more focus placed on the living and them getting to grips with their own life changing injuries than the dead, which certainly makes sense when thinking about war.  The hospital scenes and the descriptions of the injuries and the procedures and operations these soldiers went through is both fascinating and horrifying in equal measure.  This aspect of the First World War is so interesting to read about, especially when you think about how limited they were in terms of technology and this is just another reason why I loved this book. 

I enjoy anything that teaches me new facts about the First World War, even if they do make me incredibly sad. Perhaps one of the saddest facts I learnt when reading Toby’s Room was about all the poor dachshunds (sausage dogs) that were killed because they were a German breed.  I also found the methods doctors and surgeons used to help those with facial injuries an interesting area for further research.

If you haven’t ever read any of Barker’s novels about the First World War I can strongly recommend them, especially The Regeneration Trilogy. 

Long Haul Flight Essentials

 
When I jet off to the other side of the world in just over a few day’s time I will be spending approximately 23 hours on two different planes; this is not including the 4 hour stop over in South Korea.  Up until now the longest flight I have ever been on is a 4 hour flight and I have certainly never been on a flight with TV screens in the headrest, so this is going to be an interesting experience right from the start.  In preparation I have been doing lots of research on Pinterest and asking friends about essentials I need to take on long haul flights.  Below is my personal list of hand luggage essentials to help me survive the long flights and leave the plane looking somewhat normal.

Books and Magazines

This was an obvious one from the start.  I’m planning to take Vanity Fair and a lighthearted read to break it up.  I will also be taking a magazine or two for when I need a break from heavy reading. My magazine of choice at the moment is Women’s Health as I find the articles really interesting and inspiring, although I am rubbish at following up on fitness techniques.  I will be taking my Lonely Planet Guide to Australia and some post it notes and a pen for any last minute planning and searching of good places to eat etc and I am bound to buy another book (or two) at the airport.

  
 Eye Mask, Neck Pillow and Ear Plugs

Every article I read and every person I speak to has told me I needed to take these to make my flight as comfortable as possible.  I have two night flights – one leaving the evening of the day I fly and then I arrive in Sydney in the AM – therefore it is essential that I sleep on the last flight in particular to stop me feeling crazy jet lagged and to adjust my body clock as quickly as possible.  I favour a bean bag style neck pillow as opposed to an inflatable one and luckily my friend is going to lend me hers.   I have my eye on this eye mask, which was a satin back and comes with free ear plugs, although I might buy some foam ones as well. 

 
Beauty

It is so important to look after your skin on a long haul flight, especially because of the re ventilated (is that how I want to describe it) air circulating which can make your skin really tight and dry.  As it is a night flight and I highly doubt I will go a day without make up, I have my eye on these Yes To face wipes for the trips, followed by Clarins HyrdaQuench to keep my skin lovely and soft.  I have picked up a mini hand cream to keep my hands soft as well as some Burt’s Bees Lip Balm as I can’t forget about my lips.  I am going to take a mini roll on deodorant and a teeny bottle of Batiste Dry Shampoo to keep me feeling normal. Of course no trip will be complete without a dozen hair bands and grips so I can go from lovely hair down to tying it up in a messy bun when it becomes a little too skanky and in need of a wash.   I have accepted that I am no going to leave this flight, or indeed travel around Australia looking like some kind of cat walk model, so I am prepared for this.

Health

Beauty leads nicely to health and I am going to do everything I can to prevent myself from picking up any nasty germs floating about in that aeroplane air system.  I feel this cute little bottle of hand sanitiser is going to become one of my best friends, coupled with mini antibacterial wipes I should hopefully fend off any germs.  I am also determined to arrive and suffer from as little jet lag as possible, at least on the way there, so my friend suggested these Nytol Herbal Sleeping Tablets that I am planning to use on the second flight to make sure I definitely sleep. 

Fashion 

One of my biggest dilemmas has been deciding what to wear on my journey as I want to be as comfortable as possible, warm and wear any bulky clothes so that they don’t have to go in my luggage.  With this in mind I have decided on comfy black leggings, a t-shirt dress and oversized jumper, I will top this off with a tartan cape type thing I have (incase it is a tad chilly over there) and a hat because I love a good hat.  This might look a tad at odds with my geeky backpack hand luggage, but I don’t think I can realistically do backpacking any other way. 

All of this stuff, as well as the stuff I’m planning to pack in my bigger bag is currently lying on the bedroom floor in some kind of divided piles ready for packing tomorrow.  I can’t believe I have finished school and my trip is finally here. 

The Big Four

 

Title: The Big Four

Author: Agatha Christie

Published: 1927  

Challenges: Reading the Twentieth Century

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Synopsis

Captain Hastings returns from South America to visit his old friend Poirot, only to find the Belgian detective wrapped up in cases and when a mysterious stranger talking about The Big Four arrives in the flat and then promptly dies, Poirot soon becomes engrossed in this mystery.  Hastings and Poirot are soon putting their own lives in danger as they come up against The Big Four, an international crime group who are planning something big.  This Poirot novel sees our detective and his hapless friend travel across Europe and Poirot’s ‘little grey cells’ are truly put to the test.

My Thoughts

Of course I’m going to say I liked this book as I always like a good Poriot novel. It has everything I love in it: a mystery; Poirot; some tricky crimes and another chance for me to attempt to solve the mystery before I got to the end.  Poirot novels are usually known for cosy crime committed in quaint little British villages and a choice of criminals from a small circle of the victim’s intimate acquaintances, however The Big Four is slightly different in its choice of criminals, an international gang.  The book still has the typical Agatha Christie touches but I also felt it had a little bit of a James Bond style, even though this was written decades before Fleming wrote any Bond novels and even though it is still a little cosy.  There isn’t much more I can say about Christie books, I just love them. 

The Girl on the Train

  

Title: The Girl on the Train

Author: Paula Hawkins

Published: 2015

Challenges: Reading England 2015

Rating: Three and a half stars out of five

Synopsis

Every morning on her journey to work Rachel watches the couple who live in a house a few doors down from her ex husband. She imagines the life ‘Jess and Jason’ live and how happy they are in their relationship; it is fair to say that she envies them a little bit.  But what Rachel doesn’t know is that Megan and Scott are just like any other married couple, they have arguments and make up…and then Megan disappears.  Rachel is determined to help and is convinced that she knows something about the disappearance, unfortunately Rachel isn’t the most reliable  witness.  She is an alcoholic.  Her divorce from husband Tom and his subsequent marriage to Anna pushed her into drink and although she knows she was there, on the street Megan, Scott, Tom and Anna live, she doesn’t quite know what she did.

My Thoughts

The Girl on the Train has been much talked about this year.  It is a physiological thriller meant to fill the void for fans of Gone Girl and has certainly been one of this year’s bestsellers.  The narrative flicks between three different female voices and recalls the events leading up to Megan’s disappearance and what happens afterwards as Rachel tries to piece together her part in this mystery.  Rachel’s voice is the most prominent throughout and we discover what pushed her into alcoholism and follow her on her journey to recovery; it is Megan’s disappearance and the mystery of this that spurs Rachel into staying sober.  We also hear from Megan, who also has a difficult past and Tom’s new wife, Anna, who is struggling to cope with the harrassment a drunk Rachel inflicts on their family.   I found all three narrative voices equally engaging and I love this narrative style as it always allows the author a chance to create suspense at the end of each chapter/section and Hawkins certainly does this.  I also liked how we would discover snippets of information about each character’s life throughout the novel, meaning there was always some tension.

I am usually pretty rubbish at solving any kind of mystery or who dunnit in films, TV dramas or novels, but  I was pretty quick in figuring out the ending of The Girl on the Train.  Now this doesn’t mean it was a bad ending, it’s just that maybe it was a little bit too predictable for me.  I found that as soon as I had put the pieces together I was hoping to get to the end sooner, not only to prove myself right but just because I was ready for the end.  I certainly love the inspiration behind the novel and I myself love sitting on trains and imagining the lives of people we whizz past, but I just felt this novel needed a little bit more.  That being said it was a great form of escapism from every day life and I can see why it has been so popular. 


Wicked 

 Title: Wicked

Author: Jilly Cooper

Published: 2006

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars (re read)

Synopsis

Janna Curtis is the recently appointed headteacher of Larkminister Comp, a failing school where roughly 6% of students achieve The Magic Five (5 A*-C grades in GCSE).  Janna is young  and determined to make a success of the school and inspire the students to achieve their goals, even though the vast majority of them have little support from home and are living in poverty, so school is hardly top of their list of priorities.  Unfortunately the Local Authority are keen to see Janna and Larks fail and throw many obstacles in her way.  But Janna has a saviour in the form of Hengist Brett-Taylor, the head of the local private school, Bagley Hall.  Hengist is charismatic and willing to help Janna and offer her students opportunities they could only have imagined.  Wicked explores the lives of those in the two schools and those connected to the schools, whether as parents, Govenors or council members, with Cooper’s usual charming and witty flair. 
My Thoughts

It’s no secret to those who often read my blog that I love Jilly Cooper and I mean LOVE! Ever since I was a teenager I have devoured her novels time and time again so I know that whenever I read one I will be swept up in the lives of the glamorous and just have the chance to escape from reality.  Wicked is one of the few Jilly Cooper novels that have been published since I discovered her writing so I can remember pre ordering the hardback copy of the book and just adoring it.  It’s the familiarity of the whole world she writes about; I know I will love it so it is the perfect read for me.  I like Wicked because it moves away from the world of horses to the world of schools, something I know a little bit about.  I completely relate to the hardships and stress that the teachers in the state section experience throughout the novel and some of the funny anecdotes about school life, although I think there is a little bit too much under age sex in the novel to make it 100% believable, but then I try not to listen to anything of that kind of school gossip so maybe I’m being naive.  

Although Wicked introduces many, many new characters there are some old favourites, such as Rupert Campbell-Black, his family and Dame Hermione and her tearaway son, Cosmo.  Rupert is goaded into taking GCSE English and as an English teacher I liked seeing what books he was studying and as always, any novel that mentions other books makes me keen to read more.  I always like this aspect of Cooper’s writing as she makes many asides to literature throughout all of her books.  I’m looking forward to rereading Jump next as I have only read this once, when it was first released.  I am also eagerly awaiting her next novel.