Life Lessons from Roald Dahl

As well as blogging about books, I am a teacher.  In my school, I strive to foster a love of reading for all.  I’ve read quiet a lot of kids books over the years, but my all time favourite children’s author remains Roald Dahl.  I grew up reading his stories, and still LOVE them.   As well as being wonderfully humorous, Dahl’s books contain enduring messages, which are worth remembering, even as adults.

Good triumphs over evil 

In Dahl’s books, the characters that are pure-of-heart get a happy ending. Matilda, gets the family she so longed for in Miss Honey, Charlie gets his golden ticket and James escapes his aunts and ends up living in New York in a giant peach, surrounded by friends.

You don’t need material wealth to be happy

This is particularly prevalent in Danny, Champion of the world, where Danny and his dad are as poor as church mice, but wildly happy with a relationship that is rock solid. Also true in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

Be your own hero 

Many of the protagonists in Dahl’s books have been dealt a cruel hand by fate, and have ended up living with adults who are often unreliable and cruel. Sometimes, our parents or guardians are not infallible role models. We need to be our own heroes and rescue ourselves.

You don’t need to fit in to be wonderful 

Dahl’s books are populated by characters who don’t fit in the world around them. Willy Wonka is a successful and introverted eccentric; the BFG is unlike the other giants, but remains true to himself and bookworm Matilda doesn’t fit in with her telly-watching family.

Violence is never the answer 

The BFG refuses to stoop to the level of the other giants to defeat them. Instead, he tries the diplomatic approach and works with the Queen to capture them and punish them humanely.

Appearances can be deceptive 

We should never judge a book by its cover (pun intended). The BFG is actually extremely gentle and ends up being a wonderful friend, whereas the witches look like beautiful women but are evil and dangerous.

Reading Rocks! 

If your life is less than perfect, or if you need to escape for a while, reading can transport you to amazing worlds. This is what happens to all of those who pick up a Dahl book, and what Matilda does in her story

Believe in yourself and you can succeed 

Self-belief is an important part in achieving your dream. In The Fantastic Mr Fox, the main character exudes confidence in his goal, and achieves it

Those who abuse power should be challenged 

Many of Dahl’s books feature unsavoury characters who abuse power and mistreat others. They get their just deserts in the end, like Miss Trunchbull in Matilda or Mr Victor Hazel in Danny.

Mischief making is fine! 

Children are frequently a bit cheeky and mischievous. Pushing the boundaries and testing the limits is an important part of childhood, and as Matilda’s Naughty song says “sometimes you have to be a little be naughty!

Those who abuse power should be challenged 

Many of Dahl’s books feature unsavoury characters who abuse power and mistreat others. They get their just deserts in the end, like Miss Trunchbull in Matilda or Mr Victor Hazel in Danny.

 

My all time favourite?  It’s Danny.  What’s yours?

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The Wisdom of Sally Red Shoes by Ruth Hogan

What the blurb says:

Masha’s life has stopped. Once a spirited, independent woman with a rebellious streak, her life has been forever changed by a tragic event twelve years ago. Unable to let go of her grief, she finds solace in the silent company of the souls of her local Victorian cemetery and at the town’s lido, where she seeks refuge underwater – safe from the noise and the pain.

But a chance encounter with two extraordinary women – the fabulous and wise Kitty Muriel, a convent girl-turned-magician’s wife-turned-seventy-something-roller-disco-fanatic, and the mysterious Sally Red Shoes, a bag lady with a prodigious voice – opens up a new world of possibilities, and the chance to start living again. But just as Masha dares to imagine the future, the past comes roaring back …

My thoughts:

I am writing this just after I have just turned the last page of this book, and I feel a warm glow of satisfaction. #SallyRedShoes is a wonderful book, about hope and joy, about death, and about learning to live again.

There’s a sentence early in the novel, which really resonated with me:

“Life is full of small joys if you know where to look for them.”

This is certainly true about the life of the main character of the story, Masha.  She’s a single woman living alone with her wolfhound, Haizum.  Masha’s life is cloaked in sadness.  She suffered a tragic loss twelve years prior to the book’s beginning, and she has never been able to move on.

However, Masha’s world is peopled with ‘ordinary extraordinary people’ who are colourful and joyous, and help give her life structure and purpose.  She spends most of her early mornings punishing herself in the freezing waters of her lido, and dedicates a significant amount of time to wandering amongst the headstones at her local Victorian cemetery, reading the epitaphs and imagining the lives of those who lie beneath her feet.  As the story unfolds, Masha encounters two stand out heroes; Kitty Muriel, and the book’s namesake, Sally Red Shoes.  Between them, they help Masha to accept the past, and she finally allows herself to ‘live’ again.

Woven into Masha’s narrative, is the tale of Alice and her son Mattie.  These two different story lines appear unconnected, but come together beautifully at the end.

Ruth Hogan has a real gift for observation, and making you think.  I adored her descriptions, and while reading the book, I just wanted to melt into her prose.  She has created a story which might appear dark, where death is essentially a character, but she does so in an upbeat and joyful way.  It is a book that I recommend whole-heartedly to all my book blogger friends, book-reading friends and family.  It’s fabulous.  Read it!

About the Author (in her own words)

I was born in the house where my parents still live in Bedford: my sister was so pleased to have a sibling that she threw a thrupenny bit at me. As a child I read everything I could lay my hands on: The Moomintrolls, A Hundred Million Francs, The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe, the back of cereal packets and gravestones. I was mad about dogs and horses, but didn’t like daddy-long-legs or sugar in my tea.

I studied English and Drama at Goldsmiths College which was brilliant, but then I came home and got a ‘proper’ job. I worked for ten years in a senior local government position (I was definitely a square peg in a round hole, but it paid the bills and mortgage) before a car accident left me unable to work full-time and convinced me to start writing seriously. It was going well, but then in 2012 I got cancer, which was bloody inconvenient but precipitated an exciting hair journey from bald to a peroxide blonde Annie Lennox crop. When chemo kept me up all night I passed the time writing and the eventual result was The Keeper of Lost Things.

I live in a chaotic Victorian house with an assortment of rescue dogs and my long-suffering partner (who has very recently become my husband – so I can’t be that bad!) I am a magpie, always collecting treasures, and a huge John Betjeman fan. My favourite word is ‘antimacassar’ and I still like reading gravestones.

 

 

 

 

The Rival by Charlotte Duckworth

What the blurb says:

NOW
Helena is a career woman with no job and a mother without a baby. She blames Ashley for destroying her life. But is what happened really Ashley’s fault?

THEN
When Helena hires Ashley to work for her, she’s startled but impressed by her fierce ambition. They form a dream team and Helena is proud – maybe this is the protégée she’s always wanted to have. But soon Helena realizes that nothing will stand in the way of Ashley’s drive to get to the top. And when Helena becomes pregnant, everything she has worked so hard for is suddenly threatened, with devastating consequences…

My thoughts:

It’s so exciting when you take a chance on a book and it turns out to be brilliant.  I hadn’t heard anything about The Rival before agreeing to review it, but by the end the first two chapters I was completely invested, and I desperately wanted to know what had happened between these two characters, Ashley and Helena.

From the off, we know that something has gone disastrously wrong for Helena: she is suffering from mental health issues, and she is a mother without a child, but what on earth happened, and was it all Ashley’s fault?

Charlotte Duckworth skilfully controls the narrative of this psychological thriller, and slowly reveals the tale of these two women, dropping just the right amount of information to keep the reader wanting more.

The book is structured in three parts, and the chapters are headed either NOW or THEN, telling the stories of the two protagonists from when Ashley starts to work for Helena at a trendy company in London. Once we have most of the back story, part three gets really dark and twisty, and the tension really ramps up.

The women contrast fabulously; Ashley’s character is terrifying, but absolutely fascinating, and Helena is very likeable in the THEN (She is shrunken and almost unrecognisable in the NOW, mired in a fog of what seems to be depression.)  I loved them both.

For me, what is most remarkable about The Rival, is that it shines a light on some of the issues faced by working women in industries where pregnancy and motherhood are seen as a weakness (nearly all?). Everyone is guilty of creating this environment, and often women are each other’s worst enemies. It would be nice to think that this book might start some conversations about how best to support new mothers at a time when they are most vulnerable.

Also explored, is the impact  pregnancy, motherhood and mental health issues can have on the partners and families of those who suffer.

I really applaud the way early motherhood is written about.  It’s definitely not the clean and beautiful image we are presented with in baby catalogues and shops.  In reality, motherhood is terrifying and messy and ‘vomity’, and sometimes literally shitty.  I was fortunate enough not to suffer from PND, but I was often overwhelmed by the responsibility of a tiny baby, and felt terrified that I was not ‘getting it right’.  I feel The Rival will come as a huge comfort to those for whom the early days of motherhood are/were a struggle (i.e. nearly all women who have had babies).

I loved it.  I urge everyone to read it.  Smart, well-written and full of surprises.  What’s not to love?

The Rival is out in hardback from 6th September and is available on Kindle for 99p at the moment!!!

Thanks to @ellakroftpatel @QuercusBooks via @Bookbridgr for the review copy.

About the author:

Charlotte Duckworth has spent the past fifteen years working as an interiors and lifestyle journalist, writing for a wide range of consumer magazines and websites. She lives in Surrey with her partner and their young daughter. You can find out more on her website: charlotteduckworth.com.

 

From a Low and Quiet Sea by Donal Ryan

From inside the flap:

‘An engrossing, unpredictable, beautifully crafted novel’ RODDY DOYLE

Farouk’s country has been torn apart by war.

Lampy’s heart has been laid waste by Chloe.

John’s past torments him as he nears his end.

The refugee. The dreamer. The penitent. From war-torn Syria to small-town Ireland, three men, scarred by all they have loved and lost, are searching for some version of home. Each is drawn towards a powerful reckoning, one that will bring them together in the most unexpected of ways.

My thoughts:

I need to make  confession.  This is my first Donal Ryan book.  Readers in Ireland will probably be screaming at me, asking where I’ve been for the past six years! Shamefully, he passed me by.  No more!  I shall be seeking out his previous books, and going down a rabbit hole of wonderful writing.

Of this, I am confident.

From a Low and Quiet Sea is just beautiful.  Ryan’s writing is enchanting and eloquent – not a single word is wasted, and every word chosen has maximum impact.

The novel itself is structured into four parts, telling the tales of three very different men, and finally, bringing them together in an unexpected and heart-breaking twist.

Firstly, we meet Farouk, the refugee; next it’s the turn of Lampy, the dreamer – living at home with his mother and grandfather; and finally, the penitent, John – an unlikeable man whose narrative is his confession.

Each man’s section has a distinctively different voice, and shows off Ryan’s skill as a writer.  Definitely one of my favourite book’s of this year.

About the Author

Donal Ryan is from Nenagh in County Tipperary. He is the award-winning author of four novels and one short story collection. A former civil servant, Donal lectures in Creative Writing at the University of Limerick. He lives with his wife Anne Marie and their two children.

For more author information:

https://www.penguin.co.uk/authors/donal-ryan/1071419/

 

Histories by Sam Guglani

What the blurb says:

Histories is a hypnotic portrait of life in one hospital, over one week. In the corridors and consulting rooms, by the bedside, through the open curtain, we witness charged encounters within the emotional and physical world of medicine. Old insecurities surface as junior doctors try to save a man from dying; an enraged chaplain picks a fight with a consultant; a porter waxes lyrical on his invisibility.

These are only some of the stories that so seamlessly connect, collide and create an unforgettable panorama of being. Sam Guglani’s vivid prose has the raw intensity of poetry that pulls the reader in on every page.

My thoughts:

Without a doubt, this is a beautifully written book.  I was not surprised to learn that Sam Guglani is a poet and a writer of prose, as well as being a doctor!  His turn of phrase just had me marvelling, and making notes about how he made the mundane seem magical.

Initially, the book appears to be a collection of short stories about life in a hospital, told from the view points of a host of characters connected to the hospital: consultants, nurses, chaplains, patients and porters.  There are threads connecting the stories and I enjoyed seeing characters I had met before pop up in later chapters.

It is beautiful, and very touching.

Thank you to @AnaBooks @riverrunbooks

About the author

Sam Guglani is a doctor and writer. He completed his Masters in Creative Writing at Oxford, his poems have won prizes and he writes for The Lancet. In 2009 he founded Medicine Unboxed, an event series bringing together medicine and the arts, which he directs and curates every year. He is a Consultant Clinical Oncologist in Cheltenham.

The Girl in the Letter by Emily Gunnis

Book Synopsis: 

A heartbreaking letter. A girl locked away. A mystery to be solved.

1956. When Ivy Jenkins falls pregnant she is sent in disgrace to St Margaret’s, a dark, brooding house for unmarried mothers. Her baby is adopted against her will. Ivy will never leave.

Present day. Samantha Harper is a journalist desperate for a break. When she stumbles on a letter from the past, the contents shock and move her. The letter is from a young mother, begging to be rescued from St Margaret’s. Before it is too late.
Sam is pulled into the tragic story and discovers a spate of unexplained deaths surrounding the woman and her child. With St Margaret’s set for demolition, Sam has only hours to piece together a sixty-year-old mystery before the truth, which lies disturbingly close to home, is lost for ever…

Read her letter. Remember her story…

 

My thoughts:

Anne Carter’s #RandomThingsTours on Twitter put The Girl in the Letter on my TBR list.  I saw so many positive reviews about the book, I just had to get my hands on a copy.  Thanks to #Netgalley for making that possible.

I must also admit that it is a book I wish I had written!  I too have researched the horrendous history the Catholic church had with single mothers, and have a half-written book which looks at the impact that being forced to relinquish your child had on generations of women.  Emily Gunnis did an amazing job at creating a story around these horrors, and really depicted the terror and control that the church had on young women and girls throughout most of the 1900s.

I loved this book.  I tore through it, found it compelling and I cared about the characters.  I really liked how it was structured, and how we were given a view of the story from so many different aspects.

I admired the way Emily Gunnis highlighted the fact that it was not just the nuns who were to blame – they were the face of the mother-and-baby homes, but they were supported by doctors, adoption officials, psychiatrists in in some cases in Ireland, the unwanted / unadoptable children were used by pharmaceutical companies for medical trials. I feel so mad and heart-broken when I think about it all.

While the subject matter is tragic, the novel manages to avoid making the reader feel depressed.  There is a mystery at the heart of the book; who is the girl in the letter?  Why have so many of the people involved with the running of St. Margaret’s mother-and-baby home in Sussex died so young?  Will journalist Samantha Harper find the answers to these questions?

It’s one I would definitely recommend.  I think it would be enjoyed by readers who are fans of Lucinda Riley.  I will certainly be on the look out for Emily’s next book, and even hope that I might get on the next blog tour, so I can be among the first to read it!

 

About the author

I’ve wanted to be an author since my mum, Penny Vincenzi, got her first book deal when I was 13. We’d spend hours walking and talking about the worlds her characters inhabited and unpicking any plot dead ends she’d found herself in. I absolutely loved it – this is what I wanted to do!

Fast forward 30 years and I’ve discovered it’s a great deal harder than my mother made it look! But still, here I am.

After graduating I wrote scripts and had two episodes of BBC Doctors commissioned but didn’t like all the input from Script Editors and Producers. So, while I worked in various PA jobs I decided to go for it and just kept learning as much as I could until I sold my debut novel, The Girl in the Letter, which is published on eBook on 1st August 2018 and paperback in April 2019. I really hope you enjoy it, and my follow-up novel which I’m busy researching now!

I live in Sussex with my husband Steve and our two beautiful girls, Grace and Eleanor.

Available now on kindle for 99p https://www.amazon.co.uk/Girl-Letter-gripping-heartwrenching-page-turner-ebook/dp/B079RMFFCJ

Available in paper back in April 2019

VOX by Christina Dalcher

What the blurb says :

In a world where women are silenced, would you speak up? Greetings, to all Pure Women.

You should all be fitted with your new wrist counters. A symbol of your purity and devotion to your family. Life is simpler now. Just 100 words a day.

Your role is in the house. Your husband takes care of everything else.

You’re free.

Instead, you should focus on values of modesty, submission, humility and purity. Love, honour and most importantly, obey. You know the rules. Just one word over 100 and your wrist counter will send 1,000 volts through your body. Choose your words carefully.

You have the right to remain silent.

My thoughts on VOX #VOX #100words

VOX is a fast-paced page-turner that demands a binge read. Especially in these times we live in. Unfortunately, it’s not that hard to imagine a dystopian future, where ‘common sense’ has evaporated; in the UK, we managed to sleep-walk into Brextit, and America…well, you know what I mean!

There are strong similarities between VOX and The Handmaid’s Tale. VOX is set in a modern, dystopian America. A country where the Bible Belt, became more like a corset, and quickly mutated into fully body suit. For the female population, literature and the written word are forbidden , wrist counters are fitted to all from 3 months upwards, and sanctions and punishments applied to those who do not follow the rules.

Meet our protagonist and narrator, Dr Jean McClellan – feisty, intelligent, belligerent and unwilling to shut up. She is perfectly positioned to portray the full horror of this dystopia; her husband works for the government, she has three sons who are growing up being brainwashed by the ‘Pure’ teachers at their schools, and a six year old daughter who is learning that silence is best. And she’s a kick-ass scientist, who the government reluctantly turn to in a time of need.

VOX is a very emotive book; I really felt Jean’s anger and frustration throughout, but particularly in the scenes with her eldest son (a fifteen year old, brimming with the arrogance of youth and indoctrination). My heart ached for her in the scenes with her daughter.

VOX aims to make the reader think, to make them feel angry, and it’s a warning that we should never underestimate politicians – even if they appear harmless.

It does all of this, and serves it up with a sprinkling of hope, and a reminder that there is power in good deeds. There will always be an underground movement, and there are always people with big hearts.

I think most readers will enjoy VOX, but there will be some who won’t. Christina Dalcher tweeted the other day that she had been compared to Dan Brown, and that really made me think about the press that VOX will receive.

I would say it is a dystopian novel, but not a literary one.

Take it for what it is – a book whose premise is to make us think, to ensure we are politically aware, and to ensure we make our voices heard.

It’s a darn good yarn. I really enjoyed it.

Some passages that stuck with me:

“Maybe this is how it happened in Germany with the Nazis, in Bosnia with the Serbs, in Rwanda with the Hutus. I’ve often wondered about that, how kids can turn into monsters, how they learn that killing is right and oppression is just, how in one single generation the world can change on its axis into a place that’s unrecognizable.”

And the much quoted quote:

“All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.”

Thank you to Izzy at Harper Collins for inviting me to be part of VOX Blogger Day and to #NetGalley for my advance copy for an honest review.

About the author

Christina Dalcher earned her doctorate in theoretical linguistics from Georgetown University, specializing in the phonetics of sound change in Italian and British dialects. She and her husband split their time between the American South and Naples, Italy. VOX is her debut novel.