The Lollipop Shoes by Joanne Harris

I read and thoroughly enjoyed Chocolat (reviewed here) a few years ago, but didn’t get around to reading the sequels until now when I was in the mood for some escapism and decided to return to the delicious world of Vianne Rocher.

The story switches between three different narrators, Vianne (now going by the name of Yanne Charbonneau), her eldest daughter Anouk and a mysterious identity thief, calling herself Zozie, who wears the titular lollipop shoes.

Vianne and her daughters, eleven year old Anouk and four year old Rosette live in Paris, where Vianne runs a chocolaterie. Cautious and fearful, Vianne is a shadow of her former self, she and her daughters live like fugitives trying hard to fit in and trying to avoid drawing any attention to themselves, with the chocolaterie barely breaking even until Zozie arrives.

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While Chocolat took place between Lent and Easter, The Lollipop Shoes is set between Halloween and Christmas about four years later. The almost diary-style way the series is written adds suspense as the story counts down day by day to the inevitable, thrilling conclusion.

I love the supernatural elements of the story, the references to the wind that seems to push and pull Vianne from place to place, the tarot and charms, and the little spells (or cantrips) the witches cast.

Every bit as enjoyable as Chocolat, The Lollipop Shoes is an enchanting and sinister tale of secrets, temptation and revenge, mothers and daughters, friends and bullies, witchcraft and, of course, chocolate. Have a lovely week. X

Rainbows and Scenes from Lockdown

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Our world has shrunk since the lockdown began nine weeks ago, and life now revolves around our daughter, the garden and daily walks around the local area.

Despite the lockdown, life at home is bright and colourful as our nearly 4 month old daughter is alert, curious and animated, amusing us everyday with exaggerated yawns, sighs and sneezes, and delighting us with big, gummy grins and babbling.

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Over the last few weeks we’ve been playing with rainbow ribbons that help with her visual development as she tracks movement and fine motor skills by grabbing them. I use a set of soft blocks as a visual and tactile prop when I make animal noises or sing ‘Old McDonald Had a Farm‘ – though I’ve no idea what sound a tortoise makes or what one is doing on a farm. We’ve also been watching colourful propellers spin in the wind in the the garden. Simple penguin and polar bear finger puppets have also been a hit with our daughter smiling and babbling at them like they’re little friends.

I haven’t been able to join any baby groups but a few friends had their babies just before and after me, and it’s been great to have some peer support, share experiences and ask for advice from other new mums albeit through messages and calls.

We’re missing getting out to beaches and the countryside but still enjoying wandering around the neighbourhood for some exercise almost every day whatever the weather with the wee one in the pram or sling – depending on her mood.

In addition to the rainbows and chalk art we’ve seen decorating windows, fences and pavements, we spotted a Lime Hawk Moth on one of our walks recently, a reminder that nature is carrying on oblivious to the pandemic. We also had an exciting nocturnal visitor in the garden this week, a hedgehog!

One of our neighbours dropped off a homemade stained glass leaf as a little gift, which I’ve hung in the living room. We’ve really appreciated chatting to our neighbours from a safe distance over the garden fence, a little bit of face-to-face contact and community spirit that I value so much more now than before the lockdown.

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I’m missing our families and friends terribly, but I’m so thankful for the technology that makes it possible to keep in contact, and phone and videocalls have become a regular part of life under lockdown that help to bridge the distance with loved ones until we can meet in person again.

Hope everyone reading is safe and well. Take care. X

Tuesdays with Morrie by Mitch Albom

Albom finds out his old college professor, Morrie Schwartz, has been diagnosed with motor neuron disease (ALS) and has only a short time left to live, and sixteen years after they last saw each other, Albom resolves to reconnect with his mentor.

Albom was burning the candle at both ends, he worked constantly and conflated busy-ness with purpose, happiness and his own self-worth. When the unions went on strike at his newspaper, he was forced to confront the emptiness of his life. Suddenly with lots of time and no excuses, he decides to visit Morrie on a Tuesday, which become regular visits until the end of his mentor’s life.

Having read Have a Little Faith (reviewed here) before this, it’s clear they share similar themes as Albom considers what it is to have lived life well. We live like our time is infinite, yet when confronted with death, many of us regret how much time we’ve wasted. Knowing that their time is limited and determined not to waste it, Albom writes a list of topics he wants to discuss with Morrie such as aging and death, wealth, consumerism and charity, friendship and marriage.

Albom doesn’t shy away from describing Morrie’s deteriorating health and the descriptions of the progression of Morrie’s disease are humbling, yet even as his body fails him, his spirit does not. Self-pity is not in Morrie’s nature, instead he’s grateful he can spend the last months of his life with the people he loves most and has the chance to say goodbye – a privilege denied to many.

Tuesdays with Morrie is about the profound influence that mentors can have on our life and the lessons they teach us, it’s an incredibly poignant but inspiring little book about living and dying. Have a lovely week. X

Making Friends

It feels like life is on hold as the lockdown continues in our country, yet the last few months have been a whirlwind for us since our daughter was born, and our once quiet, peaceful home is now more lively and full than ever.

It’s been a huge transition for us, but wanted to share a little update on how our cat Mara is adjusting. We adopted Mara four and a half years ago, and it’s honestly hard to remember life before she joined our family because so many of our decisions and daily routines revolve around her. We’re very much “til death do us part” pet owners and re-homing Mara was never an option we were willing to consider when I found out I was pregnant. Fortunately, Mara has a gentle temperament and she’s much more likely to flee to a safe, quiet location than to scratch or bite.

 

Mara’s a creature of habit and routine, most of which were thrown into chaos and disorder by the arrival of our baby daughter. I did worry that Mara thought she’d been replaced at first but my husband and I are very conscious of making sure Mara gets some time and attention every day to play with her, brush her, pet and cuddle her, giving her a few extra treats (including the cat-grass we grow, much to my father-in-law’s amusement) and encouraging her to sit on our laps when we’re not holding the baby.

We were initially worried that Mara might climb into the bedside crib with our daughter, but she usually gives it a wide berth due to the unpredictable and noisy occupant. We’re lucky that our daughter generally sleeps well, and Mara still chooses to sleep at the bottom of our bed most nights.

So far introductions have all been supervised, and most of their interactions have been limited to Mara peering into the crib when the wee one is sleeping, and giving her a tentative sniff when we hold them close enough to see each other. For her part, our daughter isn’t quite sure what to make of Mara either, but usually studies the feline member of our family with a combination of wide eyes and furrowed brows. Little by little, they’re becoming more confident and curious about one another, and I’m hopeful that they’ll become friends as time goes by. Hope everyone is safe and well, have a lovely week. X

The Thief of Always by Clive Barker

I’ve been reading in fits and starts since my daughter was born, a few pages here or a chapter there during her feeds and naps, but this was such a short, gripping story that I read it in a couple of sittings.

Ten year old Harvey Swick is bored, when one dreary February day he’s visited by a strange creature called Rictus who invites him to visit the mysterious Mr Hood’s Holiday House.

One by one, Harvey meets Mr Hood’s servants, kindly Mrs Griffin and her cats, as well as the mysterious “brood” of siblings Rictus, Jive, Marr, and Carna, each of them performing a different role for their master and threatening in their own way, though Hood himself remains hidden.

Mr Hood’s house is a wondrous place where there are four seasons in one day everyday, spring mornings turn into summer afternoons with Halloween every evening and Christmas every night.

Yet things take a sinister turn when a Halloween trick goes too far, and Harvey and the other children realise that they’re prisoners in Hood’s world of illusions.

This is a thrilling and sinister children’s horror story that reminds us to live in the present and not to wish our lives away – a pertinent message during lockdown when it feels like life is on hold. Have a lovely week. X