London Book Haul

This New Year’s, I, Jo, was in London for the first time in my life. I joined Thura and her husband, who went there with a choir to sing and play organ in three evensongs in Westminster Abbey and St Paul’s Cathedral. I’m insanely proud of them and so happy to have been with them and heard them! Still, the evensongs were only on three days of the nine or so we spent in the city. That left plenty of time to peruse the many bookshops of London and oh my, England does bookshops so well. There were nooks and stairs and the highest bookcases, with whole divisions dedicated to History or Biographies or Christmas Murder Mysteries or Young Adult for all ages. In addition, books are wonderfully cheap in England. It’s just as well that Thura had instructed her husband to bring an extra suitcase on his train. Our backpacks would never have held our glorious London book haul.

I, Thura, had the glorious pleasure of showing Jo around London over new years, so I dragged her around, showing her all the places that meant something to me, beautiful places, nostalgic places and, of course, bookshops. When I used to visit England with my parents, we’d often bring a spare suitcase or empty bag for all the books we’d buy in England, because they’re so dangerously cheap over there. We did the same. I’m a Dutch girl, who is forever homesick for England, and after spending so much time in England as a child especially, I feel at times more British than Dutch. Writing this post may cure some of the ache I feel these last couple of weeks, for missing London already.

In this post, we’ll mostly go into the bookshops we’ve visited and the books we’ve bought there. If you’re looking for good reasons to visit London, there are many, but the bookshops should be one of them.

Thura’s Books

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Lockwood: The Screaming Staircase by Jonathan Stroud, Waterstones Trafalgar Square
One of my favourite trilogies of all time is the Bartimaeus Trilogy by Jonathan Stroud. His style of writing is hilarious, his plots ingenious and he has really thought every element of the story through properly. So, when I came across a new series (well, new to me) by him at the Waterstones on Trafalgar Square, I wasn’t going to just walk by it, now was I?! I actually can’t wait to start this one.

The Poetry of Punk: the Meaning Behind Punk Rock and Hardcore Lyrics by Gerfried Ambrosch, All Ages Records Camden
One of the things I really wanted to do while we were in London, was to show Jo and Vincent a few places that are very special to me. One of those places is ‘All Ages Records’, and independent Punk record shop where I learned to love punk as just a little kid. Punk has been such a big part of my life for so long now and I often have difficulty explaining this to the people I love. But while we were there, Vincent bought me this book, as a way of showing me that it matters to him because it matters to his wife (me). This really was a lovely gift!

What to draw and how to draw it by E.G. Lutz, St. Martin-in-the Fields giftshop
I’m always doodling and this book simply caught my eye, because it gave me more ideas on things to draw, as is the title! Apparently, this book from 1913 inspired Walt Disney even, so it must be a good buy. It contains loads of cartoons and how to draw them in five simple steps. There’s how to draw faces, animals and even small landscapes, and it’s just one of those gorgeous old-fashioned books.

The big book of Christmas mysteries edited by Otto Penzler, Waterstones Trafalgar Square
In our last Christmas post, we compiled a list of books with the themes of death and Christmas, and you can find it here. Now, you probably don’t know that the three of us had a bit of discussion beforehand on if this really is such a common combination or not: I was convinced it was. As it turns out, this is where my British side had taken over, because the English bookstores are absolutely packed with books on murder at Christmas or something of the like. This volume contains over twenty stories by different authors, all murder. This ought to keep me happy for at least another ten Christmases to come!

Little & Lion by Brandy Colbert, Gay’s the Word bookshop
The bookshop closest to out hotel was ‘Gay’s the word’ and it couldn’t have turned out more perfect. I’ve often mourned the fact that there are very little bisexual characters in books, which hurt me a lot when I was a little bisexual girl myself, still unsure whether that was okay or not. But ‘Gay’s the word’ had all I needed and I found this lovely novel there. Little & Lion not only deals with a young girl’s sexual identity, but also with mental illness: two subject that deserve a lot more attention in my opinion.

Faith in the public square by Rowan Williams, Waterstones Bloomsbury
Apart from being an awkward little punk bisexual girl, I am also a theologian. Jo gifted me this book in London and it’s actually perfect. Rowan Williams is the former archbishop of the Anglican Church and he is theologian I admire very much. In this book he specifically focuses on what theology means or should mean to our culture today and how it can help: a field that interests me greatly. So, thanks Jo!

George’s Marvellous Experiments by Roald Dahl, Natural History Museum giftshop
Yet another random book I picked up! We were visiting the ‘Natural History Museum’ in London and when I came across this beauty in the gift shop I couldn’t resist. Roald Dahl is always a treat, but in this book George is actually trying to do some crazy experiments on his ever grumpy and grizzly grandma. And now you can do them yourselves, which recipes and all. Be very afraid.

Dress Codes for Small Towns by Courtney C. Stevens, Gay’s the Word bookshop
Another book I have high hopes for and one that I found at ‘Gay’s the Word’. The back of the book says that it’s a story about the tomboy daughter of a small town’s preacher, who has difficulty fitting the mould of what people believe she should be and now she might be in love with another girl as well. In short, this is exactly me as a teenager. This seems a very refreshing book and I’m curious to see if there’s more of me I will recognise in it.

Stalking Jack the Ripper by Kerri Maniscalco, Foyles
A book about a young woman, who becomes obsessed with Jack the Ripper and has a secret life she leads, which includes learning all she can about corpses. To be fair, this sounds like a horrible and cheap romance-horror novel, but it sounds like fun to me. And not all books we read have to be high literature! This sounds perfect for livening up those boring Sunday afternoons.

The House with a Clock in its Walls by John Bellairs, Foyles
Here’s a confession: I do judge a book by its cover and it’s the reason I bought this book specifically at Foyles. It just intrigued me and it’s the only book from this list I’ve read since returning from London. My review of this book you can find here, but just to give you an idea: it’s about a young orphan who lives with his uncle, who is actually a warlock. It’s a children’s book but actually quite scary at times, so it certainly did not disappoint.

Sparkling Cyanide by Agatha Christie, Hatchards bookshop
Agatha Christie: the queen of murder an mayhem. Oh, how I love her! Of course I already have a few shelves of her books, but one can never have enough. This book spoke to me on a personal level, because on the cover is a lovely skull with some kind of cocktail. Even better, the murder takes place in some dodgy London nightclub. How can anyone say no to that?

The Silent Companions by Laura Purcell, Waterstones Bloomsbury
After singing an evensong with my choir at St Paul’s, the actual reason for coming to London in the first place, I was very hyped up, but exhausted. However, we really wanted to visit a Waterstones we’d seen in Bloomsbury and this bookshop was simply magic. Floors and floors of old books, fiction and non-fiction: you could spend weeks in there. But I was also exhausted, so after walking around in awe for a little while, I sat myself down in a window seat (!!!) and read a few pages of this book. I had no intention of buying it, but it was unbelievably scary and I just need to know what happens next!

Princess Princess Ever After by Katie O’Neill, Gay’s the Word bookshop
This gorgeous gem of a book is yet another find at ‘Gay’s the word’, and I love it already. It’s a graphic novel about a princess who saves another princess from a tower, an overweight pet dragon and their quest to rid their world of an evil sorceress. I absolutely love the fact that this is a classic fairy-tale, but with two princesses and I couldn’t be happier with the happy ending in the form of a royal wedding.

The Glass of Lead & Gold by Cornelia Funke, Foyles
I bought this book because it was tiny and beautiful. Again, judging a book by its cover. Also, I was in Foyles, on of the most magical and wonderful places of London and this book is about London. Well, I say London, but it’s about Londra, which is a sort of parallel-universe London. The main character is Tabetha, who collects scraps from the river Themse to sell. All in all, the book simply spoke to me.

The Mystery of Edwin Drood by Charles Dickens, Hatchards bookshop
My library contains many, many books by Dickens, but this one was still missing. London is a filthy place, with lots of homelessness, but it can also be magical at the same time, so it really is the stuff of Dickens. Where better to buy my missing Dickens than here? The mystery of Edwin Drood is one of those rare novels that was never finished, but still managed to turn into a classic somehow. I’ve always enjoyed this novel and I’m proud for it to be part of my personal library now.

Jo’s Books

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Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson, Waterstones Trafalgar Square
This is a wonderful adventure book that I only ever read in Dutch and would like to read in its original language. I bought this copy because it is so beautiful, honestly. I gave it to my youngest brother as a present for looking after my pet rats while I was away (so it’s not in the picture).

Miss Phryne Fisher Investigates by Kerry Greenwood, Waterstones Bloomsbury
I didn’t know there was a book series before there was the television series, although in most cases there is. Imagine my delight when I hit upon this book in the crime section of the enormous Waterstones in Bloomsbury. I love British murder mysteries, so I’m very curious to see if Australian ones compare well. Miss Phryne Fisher herself is a streetwise flapper, so I’m already inclined to love the story.

Harry Potter and The Half-Blood Prince and Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows by J.K. Rowling, Waterstones Trafalgar Square
I owned book 1 through 5 in the Harry Potter series, but not the last ones. In the past years I have collected them one by one and now I finally have the whole series! Also, the last book is a birthday present from Bella, who couldn’t give it to me herself because she’s still in Kenya (she gave me a Muggle Tour of London as well, on which we met Hagrid!).

Partners in Crime by Agatha Christie, Hatchards bookshop
Hatchards has two bookcases devoted entirely to Agatha Christie. I looked particularly for a book starring Tommy and Tuppence, a married couple who were spies in the War and now occasionally fight crime together. I loved these characters in By the Pricking of My Thumbs, my review you can find here, because they are clever, witty and very kind to each other. A collection of short stories about this witty couple sounds perfect for Sunday afternoons.

Agatha Christie: An English Mystery by Laura Thompson, Waterstones Trafalgar Square
Every time I read a biography I wonder why I don’t read biographies more often, because I enjoy them so much as a genre. I have resolved to buy and read more of them and who could be more worthy a subject of my first step in the right direction than the wonderful Agatha Christie?

Just Kids by Patti Smith, Gay’s the Word bookshop
And autobiography this time, by the punk poet Patti Smith. I know her music is phenomenal and that she looks absolutely fantastically (the ties, the waterfall of grey hair…), but I don’t know anything about her life. Soon, I will.

The Signalman by Charles Dickens, Waterstones Trafalgar Square
A horror story by Charles Dickens must be worth reading and the cover is so pretty. This is a short story with bonus short story (The Boy at Mugby) put in. Apparently, it’s about a railway worker who receives warnings from ghosts whenever a terrible accident is about to happen. I had never heard of it, philistine that I am, but I look forward to reading it.

The Lady in the Van by Alan Bennett, St Martin-in-the-Fields giftshop
I watched the excellent film adaption of this story with Maggie Smith and Alex Jennings, a few years ago and wanted to read Alan Bennett’s book ever since. It is about an old homeless woman who camps her van in Bennett’s driveway and stays there for fifteen years, and it is mostly based on real events. I came upon this book in the gift shop of St Martin-in-the-Fields, a church in the middle of London well-known for its programmes to help and welcome homeless people.

Warning: When I Am An Old Woman I Shall Wear Purple by Jenny Joseph, St Martin-in-the-Fields giftshop
Another find in the church gift shop: an illustrated booklet of a poem that I knew and adored. It’s a bit of an anthem to Bella, Thura and me. We have great plans for the future. The illustrations are by Pythia Ashton-Jewell.

Minority Monsters! by Tab Kimpton, Gay’s the Word bookshop
I try to be an ally to the LGBTQ+ community, but I’m always getting lost in terminology. This is a helpful, colourful and funny guide to sexuality, gender and the semantics of different terms that are floating around. These are all explained with the help of mythical creatures like Sir Fabulous the Bisexual Unicorn and Madame Lucie Decline the Asexual Succubus. It’s a very approachable, clear and sweet little comic book, actually.

The Trouble with Women by Jacky Fleming, Gay’s the Word bookshop
Why are there almost no brilliant women? The history books are full of male heroes, geniuses and tyrants but women are apparently not worth mentioning. This comic book helpfully and satirically explains why women aren’t important historical figures, ever.

The Shakespeare Cookbook by Andrew Dalby and Maureen Dalby, Foyles
I made a New Year’s resolution to make better food for myself and what I meant was that I really have to learn how to cook better. In a fit of optimism and ambition I bought this cookbook, that is full of recipes of Shakespearean meals. Only afterwards did I realise that I don’t even recognise most of the meals’ names. No matter, because it has a lot of interesting information about Shakespeare and culinary history as well.

In conclusion, our favourite bookshops were ‘Gay’s the Word’, for their vast array of LGBTQ+ books and a general atmosphere of welcoming and cosiness and the ‘Waterstones’ in Bloomsbury, for its sheer amount of books, both fiction as well as non-fiction. These really might be what heaven looks like. Another fun thing to mention might be the Dickens Museum that we stayed quite close to as well. They sell lots of books by Dickens  and it gives you a great insight into the life of this wonderful author. All in all, this post could go on for ages, but I think you get the message: London is a lovely, lovely, bookish place, because of all the bookshops, but also because of its Dickensian filth. I can’t wait to go back.

Silent Night, Ghostly Night

It’s a well-known fact that ministers or priests love crime novels and detective stories. Don’t ask me why, but as the daughter of a minister, I, Thura, grew up in a house filled with crime novels and the standard Saturday-evening viewing of a Miss Marple film. This also means that I associate Christmas with a good murder. All three of us think there’s something incredibly cosy and relaxing about reading detective novels over the holidays, pondering on who could have committed a fictional horrific crime this time, while enjoying some Christmas punch. And we’re not the only one: there are many, many books with titles like ‘murder at Christmas’. So we decided to do not only a Christmas book recommendation, but a Christmas and Death-themed recommendation. All three of our chosen books are very different, but all have the elements of Christmas, the coming together of people, death and a lesson learned.

Bella’s Christmas Recommendation: A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens

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This story, about Scrooge who is visited by the ghosts of Christmas past, present and future to teach him about the meaning of Christmas, is one of the most famous Christmas stories. It made the phrase ‘humbug’ popular, because that’s what Scrooge keeps saying, thinking about Christmas and all the festivities. However, the fact that it is such a well-known story doesn’t mean you should not read it again this Christmas. It is a thrilling ghost story that stays interesting with every re-read and the message of redemption and discovering the true meaning of Christmas remains relevant.
One reason this book fits the theme is that it starts with the death of Marley, the companion of Scrooge only in the business sense. There was never a real attachment between the two. Scrooge has no attachment to anyone or anything and is an old man without any kindness or friendliness inside him – you could say he is dead inside. He is even annoyed to grant his clerk, Bob Cratchit, a paid day off for Christmas. At the eve of Christmas, the ghosts show him why Christmas is an important day for his clerk and other people, including Scrooge himself. Also, the ghosts show him what will happen if he keeps thinking Christmas is humbug by showing his own lonely death and the death of a much loved small boy.
The reason you should read this book, though, is that it is not only about death. It is much more about being reborn by accepting God’s grace and human kindness. Scrooge learns that Christmas is a time of warmth, friendship and family through the visions of the ghosts. He learns that loving people will enrich his life and make him a better person. That makes this book about redemption and second chances a perfect read during Christmas, when it’s all about being together with the people you love. It is the perfect book for people like me, who have trouble getting themselves into the happy, festive spirit. Reading this book will remind you what Christmas is all about.

Jo’s Christmas Recommendation: Hercule Poirot’s Christmas by Agatha Christie

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You cannot write a blog post about Christmas murder without mentioning the Queen of Crime, Dame Agatha Christie. Her novel Hercule Poirot’s Christmas is just short enough to read over the holidays, in between church visits and family gatherings. Just as in the other books on this list, the peaceful and hopeful spirit of Christmas is offset by death. In this case, death arrives in the form of a brutal murder. What should be a season of reconciliation becomes a time of suspicion and uncertainty. The added element of Christmas makes the murder all the more incomprehensible for the story’s characters, and all the more seasonable for us.
The Lee family has come together for Christmas for the first time in more than twenty years, but their celebration is disturbed by a bloodcurdling scream. As they break through the locked door of their elderly patriarch’s room, they arrive upon a scene that seems both unreal and impossible: the old man lies in a pool of his own blood, his throat slit, all the furniture in the room overturned and the windows closed. There seems to be no way in which the murderer could have escaped. Luckily, our favourite Belgian detective is called upon to help the police solve the crime. In the story, the violence and suspicion that come with murder are constantly contrasted with what Christmas should be: a time of ‘peace and goodwill’. One member of the Lee family, a young woman who grew up in Spain, longs to celebrate an English Christmas like the ones she read about in books, but the crackers and decorations stay in the cupboard.
This story has all the classic ingredients of an Agatha Christie murder: a limited pool of subjects who all seem to have a motive for killing the victim, a few strange elements in the murder scene, a large house, complex family dynamics and a plot twist. The joy of Agatha Christie’s novels are her attention to detail and human nature, a talent which she uses superbly in this story. To the reader, of course, this murder means an attractive mystery to put your teeth in. I imagine, if you have that kind of family, this would be an excellent book to read out loud so you can try to solve it together. I’ll reveal that the ending is bittersweet and that the Lee family might have a better Christmas next year. In which case, we’ll move on to another fictional family that is struck by death at Christmas time.

Thura’s Christmas Reccomendation: I Am Half-Sick of Shadows (Flavia de Luce #4) by Alan Bradley

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As mentioned before, I find detective stories to be incredibly cosy. This of course has a lot to do with the fact that they’re fictional and the fact that we get to solve this murder from a calming and safe place, preferably with a Christmas tree nearby! So my Christmas recommendation is indeed murder, investigated by my favourite eleven-year-old know-it-all chemist and sleuth Flavia de Luce. I’ve written a review on the first book in the series before and you can find it here if you would like to know more about young Flavia. But just to give you a short overview: Flavia is eleven years old, a bit of a genius, and she lives on a large estate during the 1950s in England. Her hobbies include all things chemistry, poison in particular, and butting in whenever someone in the village gets done in.
In I Am Half-Sick of Shadows, Flavia spends her Christmas at their family manor called Buckshaw with a film crew shooting at their estate. When half the village gathers at their manor for an evening performance by one of the stars of the film, they get snowed in. And of course, how could it not, past midnight Flavia discovers the body of the movie star, who was strangled with a piece of film. Immediately she gets to work, with both her brilliant mind and her chemistry gifts, in trying to find the murderer among the kind villagers all trapped at their house for the night. And one of these trapped villagers is actually a woman who is about to have a real life Christmas baby at any moment. Eventually, Flavia manages to capture the killer at her own peril and with the help of some homemade dodgy fireworks. This is not a brilliant or complicated crime novel, but it will give you that excitement of a detective and the warm fuzzy feeling that Christmas often brings.
Flavia is incredibly precocious for her age, but she is also just a child. Because she is the narrator of this story, this book is the perfect Christmas read for me: it’s a classic who-dun-it, but from the point of view of an eleven year old who still gets incredibly excited about Christmas and refuses to believe that Santa Claus isn’t real. The little village of Bishop’s Lacey offers the perfect background for a cosy and very British Christmas, where people will celebrate Christmas no matter what gets thrown at them (a body in this case). And of course, I particularly loved the added heavily pregnant woman and the awe and peace this suddenly brings to the story. Flavia may believe she knows everything there is to know about the world, but the beauty of a new-born child puts all of her science and logical conclusions into perspective. And isn’t that really what Christmas is all about?

We might enjoy murder over Christmas, but not everyone does, so let us know below what you would like to read or are reading over Christmas! If you love a good ghostly tale like we do, definitely give these books a try.

Either way, we would like to wish all of you a blessed and bookish Christmas!

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Bookworms United 

Reading abroad: what to bring when you go away

So, I am going away to Kenya for fieldwork for about four months! This fieldwork is part of the master thesis I have to write to finish my studies, but it is, of course, also a great opportunity for an adventure. The subject of my studies is the conflicts that arise between people when wildlife causes problems: think elephants destroying crops or lions killing livestock. Those conflicts are usually not about the wildlife per se, but about other things such as land use, resource shortages or past injustices. Hopefully, my research will be a small contribution to find out about those underlying reasons.

To do this fieldwork I’ll have to travel around quite a bit. Also, I will be travelling there alone, so it is best to pack light and only bring the essentials. ‘But what about books?’, I hear all the booklovers reading this mutter. Well, those people do not know me very well, because books are essential! In this post, I’ll show you which ones I’m going to bring and also give some tips to get away with as many books in your luggage as possible. These tips are especially useful when you have a mother, or other family members, who start questioning your packing policy whenever you add a book to the pile and remove a pair of socks. Books are essential to bring because they will bring solace, warmth and a way to relax much more than a pair of zip-off pants will ever do.

While I am away I will keep on writing reviews so not much will change for all our readers. The only thing I can think of is that more pictures with elephants will appear because they are the focus of my research. Here are the books I plan to bring. I know it doesn’t look like much yet, but I plan to sneak in some extra books at the last moment.

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The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden

This book was given to me by Thura to take abroad. The reason becomes clear when you see the last names we use on this site (Bear and Nightingale). The Goodreads description recommends this for fans of Uprooted, the Nightcircus and Neil Gaiman and I love the first two, so I ready to love this book. The first two books are even reviewed on this site! You can find the reviews here: Uprooted by Naomi Novik and The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern. The book sounds like a mysterious story with dark unknown forces in the cold of Rusland. I always like to read books about cold places when it is warm or vice versa: it’s a good way to cool off. Thanks for the great gift Thura!

Plato and a Platypus walk into a bar: understanding philosophy through jokes by Thomas Cathcart and Daniel Klein

This book was gifted to me by another friend. She thought it a funny book and knows I like sociology, philosophy and comedy. I am really curious how the balance between proper philosophy and jokes will be in this book. Also, I am eager to see if I will learn much new philosophical theories through this book or mostly lame jokes. I welcome both.

The four loves by C.S. Lewis

This book is a theological work with a philosophical approach that goes into the concept of love from a theologian’s point of view. I bring it because I want to educate myself more on the different concepts of love and ways of loving people adhere to. It is a subject many people struggle with nowadays, including me, so it’s good to learn more about it. Reading about love, and to an extent philosophy, is a good way to get to know yourself and the world around you better. Trips abroad tend to get me in a philosophical mood anyway, so might as well give myself some new theories to ponder.

E-reader and e-books on phone

Personally, I am not a fan of reading novels with an e-reader. I miss the feel of a book, the smell and the act of turning pages. However, I do see its use for reading non-fiction and scientific articles, because the e-reader and my phone are easier on my eyes than a laptop. Also, it gives me something to read when I finish the books I brought because I put many E-books on both my E-reader and phone. A digital book is better than no books at all after all. Therefore, I will also bring my e-reader stuffed with many academic and non-academic works.

An assortment of notebooks

Notebooks to write down notes, in the hope I’ll finally write my own book, finally. Like many great readers, I have the aspiration to write a book myself one day. A big trip abroad tends to give me lots of free time. Other ways to occupy my time such as friends, television and the internet are not easily available. Also, a change of scenery is often a great motivation to pick up new habits.

The Essex serpent by Sarah Perry

I might sneak this book in at the last moment because I just started it and want to know the ending. It is a story that drags you in and makes you lost to the outside world, which is ideal for long plane journeys. This is one of those books you are never quite sure whether it is fantasy or not. The setting is rural England in the 1890s and surrounds the myth of the Essex Serpent, a dragon-like creature causing havoc. Is the creature real or is it all superstition? I have no idea! I would love to find out though, so this book is coming with me as well.

Tips for the reader who is going away for a long time

  1. Put some books in your handbag or pocket. Contrary to your carry on luggage, these are often not weighted for the maximum amount of kilo’s you’re allowed to bring.
  2. Bring books you don’t mind leaving behind. Often there are places where you can trade books for new ones which will bring some welcome variety in your reading material
  3. Put books on your e-reader and/or phone and bring audiobooks. It’s not the same as real books, but still closer to real books than no books.
  4. Bring a notebook to finally start writing your own book. Travelling involves a lot of waiting, which will give you time to ponder plot lines or character development. Also, writing involves a lot of editing and re-reading so your own book will count for at least five books!
  5. Do not only bring books you ‘should’ read, but also bring books you definitely love to read. This is for the moments you are tired, lonely and homesick and want something fun and easy to read. We all want to read Tolstoy, but there is a time and moment for everything.

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Back To School Reading Recommendations

Today the schools are starting again for a new school year, or at least that’s the case here. So what would be a better time to post a list of books that we think all teenagers should read! Together we’ve compiled a list of twenty books, in no particular order, that we would recommend to every school-going teen.

When we were teenagers, when we met each other at school, one of the things that really drew us to each other was our love of books. We were very different people: the saint, the geek and the rebel, that is if we’d been part of some fifties film, that’s how we would be described. So we read very different books, but we read, a lot. When you’re a teenager, the books you read turn you into the grown-up you become, we very strongly believe this. So even though we’ve left school a few years ago, here are the books we’d recommend for teenagers during their secondary school period. These books may teach you a thing or two about history, make you question conventionalities or carry the strong  message of ‘you are not alone’, that we believe every teenager needs to hear every now and then.

  1. Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky (1999)
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    Many feel like an outsider during high school, doubly so when you’re weird and / or a bookworm. This book shows the good times and amazing friends a weird person can have at school and shows you that strange people are by no means on their own. Charlie, the protagonist, was very afraid to go to high school, but learns that through participating with the right people, strange people can make amazing friends. While doing that, the book does not ignore the tougher things a teenager has to deal with in life, such as mental illness, fights among friends and the expectations of parents: everything while trying to grow up to become a decent person. This book will have you strengthened in the conviction that you are not alone and will give you faith that ultimately weirdos rule the world. Plus the book has a great soundtrack, which can be found here, along with Bella’s review of this book.

  2. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë (1847)
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    This book tells us a lot about nineteenth century society in England, which is valuable in and of itself, but relevant to today as well. Modern society has been a long time in the making and Victorian times have brought us much of what we know and love. Feminism, for example! Jane Eyre is the heroine of this book and she breaks with conventions in surprising ways, always clinging to her values and principles. She puts down people who try to break her and even stands up to people whom she loves when she has to. She isn’t perfect, but neither are we. Jane Eyre teaches us that we can make decisions for ourselves and that it is alright to say ‘no’. Add the mystery, the drama and even some horror, and you have a book that is both challenging and thrilling. You can find more reasons to love it here, in Thura’s review.

  3. 1984 by George Orwell (1949)
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    In 1949, George Orwell painted a picture of the world as is could become in 1984. This world has turned into nothing short of a totalitarian and bureaucratic nightmare, where all things are observed and controlled, and individuality is in the past. This may seem like a grim prediction on his part, but today, 2018, we have to admit that he wasn’t that far off. I sometimes imagine the ghost of Orwell standing on the corner of every street, screaming: ‘See?!’ But the book is not only a warning of how we are prone to believe in an ideology that only distracts us from the increasing control others have over our lives, it’s also about a man who does try to be an individual. This message cannot be missing from the education of young people: maybe you will understand that this book was meant as a warning, not a guide.

  4. Macbeth by William Shakespeare (1606)
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    It’s a sad fact that many think of William Shakespeare as dull. We believe that everyone should read some Shakespeare and you can’t start early enough. Not only would we not have the English language and literature as it is today without him, but his plays are also a lot more accessible than people think and were actually written for ‘common’ people! Macbeth is said to be one of the darkest and most depressing plays by Shakespeare, but it’s actually one of the most exciting and funny plays. So many sword fights, betrayal, an evil wife, witches, ambition and blood! So we think Macbeth is the best play to start with and maybe you will discover some of his famous quotes and English sayings that we still use today. In short, read this story to impress your friends and acquaint yourself with the tales and language that became the start of all great English literature.

  5. Zoo station: The story of Christiane F. by Christiane F. (1979)
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    This book is an autobiographical work about a teenager who gets addicted to heroin, and her struggle in trying to kick the habit. Christiana grows up in a poor part of West Berlin in the 70s. She comes from a backgroud of poverty and neglect, which drove her to soft drugs at the young age of twelve and heroin at the age of fourteen. When she was sixteen she opened up to the police about the Berlin drugs scene. The book emerged out of those talks. The book shows from the perspective of someone who understands it how easy it is to get addicted and how near-impossible it is to get clean. The perspective of the young girl who never really manages to kick her drugs habit makes this an important book to read for everyone. This story demonstrates how easy it is to trick yourself when using drugs that you still have control until it suddenly turns out you hadn’t all along. It is not a cheerful book, but not all books one should read have to be uplifting, especially when a book containts a valuable lesson.

  6. Butchers Crossing by John Williams (1960)
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    John Williams is a man who, unfortunately, didn’t sell many books in life, but now, after 50 years, is immensely popular all of a sudden. Though it’s a sad fact, this happens to many authors, which might be a lesson of perseverance in itself. But this is not the reason Butcher’s Crossing has ended up on our list: it is one of the best American novels ever written, or so we think. The Wild West is often a source for fiction and I’m sure we’ve all seen Clint Eastwood many a time, but ‘Butcher’s Crossing’ paints an entirely different image of that time. This story centres on the buffalo and what has happened to this once mighty animal. The full review can be found here, but the central themes of the book are loss, waste and naivety. In the most realistic writing style, John Williams uncovers the myth of some great American dream. In a world where some might simply be living too comfortably, a book about greed could be just the thing we need.

  7. The Book Thief by Markus Zusak (2005)
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    This is a historical novel about the Second World War, loss, and the great power of words. Words can revive us, comfort us, make us angry or scared or loved or empowered. The child Liesel Meminger, the protagonist, doesn’t know all this but she suspects it from the moment when she steals her first book. Her mother is a communist, which is forbidden under the Nazi regime of Germany in 1939. Liesel is put with foster parents and has to deal with past traumas while grief and fear are still the order of the day. Books bring her solace, which is especially meaningful in a time when the wrong words could get you killed. The story deals with ordinary German people instead of convinced Nazis – Jews, gentiles, soldiers and civilians – during the time of the war. The narrator is no less than Death itself, who pulls you into the story and doesn’t let go until you finish the book, a wreck of emotions.
    Someone wrote on Goodreads that ‘we’ve all heard enough about the Holocaust’. We disrespectfully and vehemently disagree: read about the Holocaust as much as you can, so maybe we can bring true two very powerful words: ‘NEVER AGAIN’.

  8. Atonement by Ian McEwan (2001)
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    This book is interesting for two reasons: first because of the historical setting of World War Two, and it’s written both from the point of view from people at the front and the people staying behind in England. Secondly, the book deals with themes of forgiveness and redemption and how one mistake can haunt you for the rest of you life. Briony was a little girl when she saw her sister Cecilia having an affair with the housekeeper’s son Robbie and misunderstood.  This led her to lie, which unjustly convincts Robbie of rape. This book explores how that lie changed the lives of all the people who were involved. It also shows how one lie can change the lives of people and the things people do to redeem themselves. Besides that, this is also a brilliantly written book, which will be a good introduction to contemporary British literature. Thura has reviewed this book if you want to know more, which you can find here.

  9. The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton (1967)
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    We feel that it is important to mention immediately that this book was written by a seventeen-year-old girl! It’s about teenagers, written by an actual teenager who knows what she is talking about. The story, about two rivalling groups of teenagers, was inspired by the hostility Susan Hinton saw around her in Tulsa, Oklahoma. The rich ‘socs’ fight the ‘greasers’ from the wrong side of town. The protagonist, the fourteen-year-old greaser Ponyboy Curtis, feels like he is stuck in a never-ending conflict that he didn’t ask for and doesn’t want. This book teaches about social hierarchies and their consequences, and the power of young people to overcome this injustice as well. You can read a full review of The Outsiders here.

  10. Island Beneath the Sea by Isabel Allende (2010)
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    In our opinion, Isabel Allende is one of the greatest storytellers of our time. As a teenager, you are supposed to fall in love with language and great stories. Stories that sweep you off your feet, and there’s no one better than Allende for this very purpose. But she also writes about characters that come from very humble backgrounds, often women, who are disadvantaged, poor or simply different. But these characters are no victims and they fight against their unfair circumstances. In ‘Island beneath the sea’, Tété looks back on her life at Haiti, where she was born a slave, and her own determination through life to find love, humanity and, above all, her own identity. Every time I read Allende, it makes me feel like I can do anything, and all of that because I am a woman. Shouldn’t every young girl feel this way, and every boy by the way, that it is possible to rise above the cruellest circumstances, just like Tété?

  11. The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank (1947)
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    This is the only book on our list that was never meant to be published. It’s just a diary of a teenage girl, like there are probably millions in existence. What makes this one so special is that it was written by a German Jewish girl, during the two years that she hid from the Nazis in Amsterdam. She writes eloquently about the things that happen in her world that has become so little. At other times, she’s childlike, clearly still growing up. Above all, she is honest and so very hopeful. Throughout the horrible Second World War, she somehow retains her belief that all people are inherently good. You probably know what happened to her in the end. But, by telling her own story, she refuses to be dehumanised: Anne Frank was a girl with hopes and loves and big dreams, and that is how we will remember her.

  12. Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson (1999)
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    This book starts off with Melinda, who decides to test how long it will take anyone to notice that she has simply stopped speaking altogether. She believes communication is something people appear to emphasize very much, but isn’t practised often. So she stops speaking, slowly, and no one notices. All of this, because she carries a secret around with her, her trauma, that she can’t find the words for and even if she could, would anyone hear her? This book not only deals with the struggles one can have as a high school student, but it also deals with trauma and rape. More importantly, it deals with finding the courage to fight back and stand up for yourself when necessary. We are often told to speak up for ourselves, but it’s really not as easy as it seems, especially when you’re a teenager. However, this book might teach you a thing or two about speaking up, even when you believe no one is listening, but doing so anyway, for no one but yourself. It’s about finding your voice (again).

  13. Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens (1839)
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    If people tell you that you have to read ‘the Classics’: don’t feel daunted! It is not true that old books are boring or long-winded or necessarily difficult to read. Charles Dickens especially can be enormously funny and his books are packed with great characters and action scenes. Oliver Twist is a good book to start with. It’s not too long, has a great plotline and many young characters. Oliver Twist is an orphan boy who manages to escape from a terrible workhouse and flees to London, where he gets entangled with a gang of street children and a rich family who have their own secrets. There’s the Artful Dodger, a cocky pickpocket (and incidentally, Thura’s first crush), the kind Mr Brownlow, Bull’s Eye the dog, a callous undertaker called Mr Sowerberry and a badass and lovely working girl called Nancy. In the end, it’s the women who save the day for once, instead of the men!

  14. Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger (1951)
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    Yes, Holden is an asshole, but that does not mean this book should be rejected. If you look beyond Holden, the protagonist, and his nasty personality, you will see that most of us have much in common with him than you would think. We all have been in that moment in our lives where it is unclear what we’re supposed to do, and everything seems too dark and useless to figure it out anyway. Holden has left school ungraciously, but hasn’t gone home to face his parents yet. He walks around New York City and tries to make sense of his life and future. Everything seems pointless to him and all the people he meets appear fake. He is struggling with depressive thoughts and who he is, and is unable to find a way out. There are many times during one’s educational career these kinds of feelings come up, where feelings of failing or not meeting expectations come up, especially when you are a teenager. This book can help you to make sense of those thoughts when they do come and to feel less alone.

  15. I know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou (1969)
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    We think history is important for everyone, and especially for high school students who haven’t experienced much yet. We think this book is especially important because it deals with a significant part of history, which still influences today’s society and people. Additionally, this is a good book for teenagers because it is told from the perspective of a little girl. This book is the first part of Maya Angelou’s autobiography and tells from the time she was a little girl until somewhere in her teens. She grew up in the American south when the segregation between black and white people was still in place. In the book, you learn what it is like growing up marginalised, poor and with all the racism she experienced as a young girl and woman. Beside that it also tells about other things young girls can experience such as abuse and growing up with unloving family. But most importanty, it shows you how you can rise above a bad start in life and become a great woman full of spirit and kindness.

  16. Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer (1996)
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    High school is usually the first time pressure will be put on you by other people to excel, grow up, become normal, to forget about your dreams and passions, to become athletic, to be smart, to make many friends, to… You see, the list never seems to end. This book is about a guy who also felt that pressure and decided to turn his back on it. Christopher McCandless disappears from university to travel to Alaska. Before he goes there, he travels around the United States to experience life and to become free of all the oppressions of society. Although we do not recommend you to do the same as Christopher, it is good to read a book about someone who is not afraid to follow his passion. Also, Christopher shows you an alternative instead of following society’s standards and expectations. Maybe Christopher’s efforts to deal with his own issues and others’ expectations will help you to deal with your own struggles and it will help you to focus on what’s important in life. After all, that is also what Christopher McCandless learns at the end of the book: “happiness is only real when shared”.
  17. The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro (1989)
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    First person point of views in a novel are always tricky, but here’s an example of a book that pulled it off perfectly, and that is one of the reasons we would recommend this book to teenagers. In The remains of the day, Stevens is one of the last ‘great’ butlers, who narrates his life as if from a diary. This means that his recollections are often incorrect and his memories subjective, but you slowly become aware of this. Stevens is a butler who is ever devoted to his work and the family he is in service to, and he can never step out of his role. Dignity, decorum and social constraints are therefore important themes when he tells his story of his work in the years leading up to the Second World War. But I think what’s so great about this novel, is that it is not about what is said or what he recollects, but it’s about what is not said out loud. It makes for a very subtle, very British, though heart-wrenching story, about the façade of ‘just a’ butler.

  18. The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho (1988)
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    Most young people think a lot about who they are and who they want to be. That’s wonderful and you should never stop doing this! Books can help: they give you ideas, teach you about other worlds and people or simply plants ideas in your head that make you think. The Alchemist is a book in that last category. It’s about a boy called Santiago who travels through the Sahara to find his destiny, his ‘Personal Legend’. The story is highly symbolic, something to read more than once so you can find something new on every re-reading. Rather than selling one particular viewpoint on life, spirituality or faith, the story presents a collection of colourful characters with their own ideas and convictions. It helps to make up your own mind, and to change it again. You can never be too young or too old to think and talk about things like destiny, faith and your life’s dreams.

  19. Mrs Dalloway by Virginia Woolf (1925)
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    Virginia Woolf wrote this brilliant book in 1925, which means that it’s a pioneering modernist work, but quite difficult to read. So, why do we think teenagers should attempt it anyways? Because not all books have to be an easy read to enjoy them, but that’s a bit of a lame answer to that question. Because it’s a book from the 1920’s where the protagonist, Clarissa Dalloway, has a love interest who is a woman and they even share a kiss at some point? This may seem like I’m only trying to sell this book through sensation, but in this book many people try to break free from the bonds of conventionality. Women dress like men and smoke cigars; people stop trying to appear happy all the time and Woolf comments on mental illness, and its treatment, due to the First World War. If you can get past the curious way Woolf uses time in her books and her complex explorations of the unconsciousness, it really is a marvellous piece of work that says a lot about her time, as well as the woman who dared write it.

  20. I am Malala : How one girl stood up for education and changed the world (Teen Edition) by Malala Yousafzai (2014)
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    As our last non-fiction book on this list, we’ve chosen the autobiographical book by Malala Yousafzai: a young girl who lived in Pakistan under the Taliban regime from when she was only ten years old. Also, she was shot in the head, point blank, when she was only fifteen. Just these two facts chilled me personally to the core, but this is the world we live in today. We often hear the news and think there is very little that can be done, but the truth is that young people can make all the difference in the world: we can shape the world and its future. Malala is a true hero in the shape of a teenage girl: at only sixteen she became a symbol of resistance, but mostly famous as a fighter for peace and education for girls. These days she’s a human rights activist, a writer and she devotes herself to humanitarian work. We’d recommend this teen edition for our readers, because Malala wrote this version especially for her own generation. The adult version offers a bit more detail and a broader perspective in terms of the political history, and if you are a bit older you should definitely give that one a go. But she is trying to reach all teenagers through this teen edition, and she really is an inspiration to all girls, of all ages, women and men all over the world.

So here we are, like three old aunties, being nostalgic over secondary school and the books that we associate with that period. The truth is, we were just outsider kids in school and no one thought we would amount to anything. But we did and so we really do believe young people can change the world. Just think of Emma González, as one of the many brilliant examples. Books will not only teach you, but can make you believe in yourself and we wish that for anyone. So here’s our message to all teenage kids: read, educate yourself, so you can fight back and let your voice be heard. Because it really all boils down to this old saying: knowledge is power.

 

Magical Readathon: Final Grades

Last night, August the 31st, the last day of Magical Readathon Challenge, Jo and I sat reading together to try and finish our book before midnight. We both did it! In a little while I’ll let you know how we both did, but we were both very pleased with our results. Our expectations and possibilities were different of course, as I was just enjoying a little bit of holiday, though I did have quite a few things to do, and Jo was working a 9 to 5 job at the time. However, we both enjoyed this reading challenge a lot and found that it really does help to imagine that you’re taking your exams at Hogwarts, just to give you that little extra push to read more often.

You can find which books we had to read for this challenge, which books we chose and the subjects we took our NEWT’s in here. Remember that you had to achieve at least one Outstanding and one Acceptable to pass your NEWT’s, so two subjects at least. There was also the dreadful possibility of failing a subject all together, like a P (poor) when you read about 80% of a book but didn’t finish it, or a D (dreadful) when you hadn’t managed even half of the book and, worst of all, a T (troll) when you didn’t even start the book or only read a little. Fortunately, we both passed all of our chosen subjects, and these embarrassing marks were avoided.

Jo’s List

These are the subjects Jo chose and the books she managed to read. As you can see, she passed Herbology with an Acceptable, History of Magic with an Exceeding Expectations and Ancient Runes with an Outstanding! Here we have a true Hogwarts scholar in the making.

For History of Magic, you must read:
– to pass with an Acceptable: a book that you think would fit right in at the Hogwarts’ Library. In de houten broek by D. van der Stoep and H.H. Felderhof
– to pass with an Exceeding Expectations: a book published at least 5 years ago. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

For Ancient Runes, you must read:
– to pass with an Acceptable: a book set in the past. The Other Typist by Suzanne Rindell
– to pass with an Exceeding Expectations: one of the most ancient books left on your shelves that you haven’t yet read. The Phantom of the Opera by Gaston Leroux
– to pass with an Outstanding: a book translated from another language. For Two Thousand Years by Mihail Sebastian

For Herbology, you must read:
– to pass with an Acceptable: a book with a green cover. Peter Pan by J.M. Barrie

Jo’s Experience 

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I made it! While I didn’t manage to read all of my nine books, I did better than I expected. I can’t remember the last time I finished six books in one month.
I loved how quickly I got in the good habit of reading a lot. For some time, I had been annoyed at myself for spending too much time on Facebook or Tumblr or Netflix while not really enjoying it. I wanted to do more useful things with that time but I didn’t seem to be able to break the habit. Now I know that books were the answer all along. Instead of doing more chores, I spent the time really resting and genuinely enjoying my pastime.
Some of the books were easier to get through than others, but I didn’t really experience a slump during this month because I wanted so much to do well on my NEWT’s. The Dutch non-fiction book on my list took the most time. In de houten broek is a collection of accounts of church services in 1939/1940, incredibly interesting (to me) but a book that takes time to read. I combined it with the fiction that made up the rest of my list and finished it over a couple of weeks.
Other stories I read quickly and because I forced myself to read at every opportunity I got, I was regularly so emerged that I had difficulty switching to the real world. I remember an instance when I was on a bus, and happened to catch a glimpse of a roadside announcement of some October festival. Immediately, I thought ‘isn’t that a bit early?’ until I realised that it was almost September and not, as in the book I was reading, early April. At that point I was scrambling to finish the book (Pride and Prejudice) before my time was up. That bus trip was my salvation. I spent about three hours in total on the bus through very scenic landscape that day, and I didn’t see any of it because my mind was with Elizabeth Bennet at Pemberley and Longbourn estate. She finally consented to marry Mr Darcy on the very last day of the challenge.
Thura and I frequently read together at one of our homes. It was lovely to spend time together without the pressure of having to come up with something to do. We both enjoy it, so I don’t know why we didn’t do it more often before. We’ll certainly do it again in the future, hopefully while working on the next challenge!

Thura’s List

Again, I’ve only listed the books I did finish this month. As you might remember, I went for the more practical Hogwarts subjects and in the end I finished my NEWT’s with an Outstanding for Defence Against the Dark Arts, an Outstanding for Transfiguration, and Outstanding for Care of Magical Creatures and an Outstanding for Potions. History of Magic, the only non-practical subject, I ended with an Exceeding Expectations, so I guess we now know where my strength lies.

For History of Magic, you must read:
– to pass with an Acceptable: a book that you think would fit right in at the Hogwarts’ Library. The Golem by Gustav Meyrink
– to pass with an Exceeding Expectations: a book published at least 5 years ago. The Pale Horse by Agatha Christie

For Defence Against the Dark Arts, you must read:
– to pass with an Acceptable: a last book in a series. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J.K. Rowling
– to pass with an Exceeding Expectations: a foiled book. The Marvels by Brian Selznick
– to pass with an Outstanding: a book with the word ‘dark’ in the title or series name. His Dark Materials: Northern Lights by Philip Pullman

For Transfiguration, you must read:
– to pass with an Acceptable: a book with a grey cover. Grimm Tales by Philip Pullman
– to pass with an Exceeding Expectations: a book from an author you haven’t read anything of before. The Island of Dr Moreau by H.G. Wells
– to pass with an Outstanding: a book that’s set in a kingdom / has royals. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis

For Care of Magical Creatures, you must read:
– to pass with an Acceptable: a book with an animal on the cover. Night Bird by Alice Hoffman
– to pass with an Exceeding Expectations: a book under 160 pages long. A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens
– to pass with an Outstanding: a book that includes dragons in any way. Dragonology: the Complete Book of Dragons by Dugald Steer

For Potions, you must read:
– to pass with an Acceptable: a book that has a name of a colour in the title. A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess
– to pass with an Exceeding Expectations: a book with a male lead character. Stoner by John Williams
– to pass with an Outstanding: a book over 350 pages long. Zorro by Isabel Allende

Thura’s Experience 

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As I mentioned before, I’m a bit of a perfectionist. Therefore, it bothers me that I read fourteen out of fifteen books to get full marks. I’m sorry Isabel Allende, ‘Paula’ didn’t make it, but it’s first on my list for this month. Another funny thing, I was a student of history and that being the only subject that I didn’t get full marks in makes me laugh. Again, sorry to all my professors who tried so hard back then.
I loved this challenge, because I do read a lot, but this gave me just that little extra incentive to read. When I woke up, I went straight to my book and whenever I was a little bored and one usually turns to YouTube or Tumblr, I thought to myself: why not pick up a book? Also, challenges like these make you read books you normally wouldn’t pick up first, so your TBR pile remains much the same. But as it turns out, I really enjoyed some of these books! They might not have a flashy new cover, but ‘don’t judge a book by its cover’ and all that. These are good habits to keep and I’ll definitely work on that.
As for the books I’ve read, some I practically flew through, like Zorro or Harry Potter and the Deadly Hallows. Others, like The Golem were very difficult to read. This book especially contained lots of references that required some extra research and the timeline in this book makes very little sense. In the end you can’t even be sure if the main character has hallucinated most of it or not. This is one of those books that I might not have dared to read, but I’m so glad I did. In the end, I loved The Golem, with all its Jewish references and history, and found it a rewarding experience.
Grimm Tales is another book that took me while. Philip Pullman retells the stories of the brothers Grimm here and this means that you never quite get into the book, as each tale is only about ten pages long. However, it was fun to read a few every now and then.
Lastly, I want to mention Stoner by John Williams. The challenge means that you have to keep on reading in order to finish as many books as you possibly can in order to receive great marks, but Stoner made such an impression on me, that from time to time I just had to lay it down and think about it. It was just too beautiful and impressive to rush through, and so I didn’t. I took the time this novel deserves with it.
Overall, I am quite pleased with myself but mostly because of all the stories I’ve been able to absorb during this challenge. As for my final grades, I think Hogwarts’ professors would be quite impressed as well, and this makes me absolutely glow with pride!
So there we are: the end of our challenge. What did you think of this challenge and would you ever try anything like this? What did you think of our books and achievements? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below, because the only thing remotely as good as reading books, is talking about books.

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Thura Nightingale 

Magical Readathon Update

August the first: the day we started traveling home after our honeymoon. As my husband was driving home, I started reading for our August Reading Challenge: the Magical Readathon. You can find the particulars of this challenge here.

As it is now the sixteenth and we’re halfway through the month, Jo and I thought it would be fun to let you all know how we are doing so far. We have both been very much committed to this challenge, I have been reading so much, whenever I have time off from writing people thank-you-notes and other post-wedding activities. I think I’ve done pretty well so far.

Below you can find the books we’ve chosen for this challenge and I’ll just mark the books we’ve finished so far in green.

 

Jo’s list:

For History of Magic, you must read:
– to pass with an Acceptable: a book that you think would fit right in at the Hogwarts’ Library. In de houten broek by D. van der Stoep and H.H. Felderhof
– to pass with an Exceeding Expectations: a book published at least 5 years ago. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
– to pass with an Outstanding: a book that’s at least 400 pages long. David Copperfield by Charles Dickens

For Ancient Runes, you must read:
– to pass with an Acceptable: a book set in the past. The Other Typist by Suzanne Rindell
– to pass with an Exceeding Expectations: one of the most ancient books left on your shelves that you haven’t yet read. The Phantom of the Opera by Gaston Leroux
– to pass with an Outstanding: a book translated from another language. For Two Thousand Years by Mihail Sebastian

For Herbology, you must read:
– to pass with an Acceptable: a book with a green cover. Peter Pan by J.M. Barrie
– to pass with an Exceeding Expectations: a book with illustrations. Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea by Jules Verne
– to pass with an Outstanding: a book with either one of these words in the title: light/air/sun/water. Watership Down by Richard Adams

Jo still has quite a bit to read, but she is halfway through In the houten broek already. I’m full of confidence she’ll get through her NEWT’s, but remember you must have at least one Acceptable and one Outstanding to pass your NEWT’s. So far, she has only passed Ancient Runes and Herbology with an Exceeding Expectations and an Acceptable, but, again, she’ll make it! And don’t forget: all this she combines with a 9 to 5 job! What a woman!!

My list:
For History of Magic, you must read:
– to pass with an Acceptable: a book that you think would fit right in at the Hogwarts’ Library. The Golem by Gustav Meyrink
– to pass with an Exceeding Expectations: a book published at least 5 years ago. The Pale Horse by Agatha Christie
– to pass with an Outstanding: a book that’s at least 400 pages long. Paula by Isabel Allende

For Defence Against the Dark Arts, you must read:
– to pass with an Acceptable: a last book in a series. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J.K. Rowling
– to pass with an Exceeding Expectations: a foiled book. The Marvels by Brian Selznick
– to pass with an Outstanding: a book with the word ‘dark’ in the title or series name. His Dark Materials: Northern Lights by Philip Pullman

For Transfiguration, you must read:
– to pass with an Acceptable: a book with a grey cover. Grimm Tales by Philip Pullman
– to pass with an Exceeding Expectations: a book from an author you haven’t read anything of before. The Island of Dr. Moreau by H.G. Wells
– to pass with an Outstanding: a book that’s set in a kingdom / has royals. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis

For Care of Magical Creatures, you must read:
– to pass with an Acceptable: a book with an animal on the cover. Nightbird by Alice Hoffman
– to pass with an Exceeding Expectations: a book under 160 pages long. A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens
– to pass with an Outstanding: a book that includes dragons in any way. Dragonology: the Complete Book of Dragons by Dugald Steer

For Potions, you must read:
– to pass with an Acceptable: a book that has a name of a colour in the title. A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess
– to pass with an Exceeding Expectations: a book with a male lead character. Stoner by John Williams
– to pass with an Outstanding: a book over 350 pages long. Zorro by Isabel Allende

I do admit now that I might have been a little optimistic when I chose no less than five subjects. I’m confident I’ll pas my NEWT’s though, as I have passed four out of the five subjects already and therefore have read 7 of the 15 books already. However, I am a bit of a perfectionist when it comes to my studies, so I’d really like to do well. I had decided beforehand that I wanted to do especially well in Defence Against the Dark Arts and Potions: so far I’ve gotten an Exceeding Expectations in both, so I’m quite pleased with that. However, Transfiguration still requires a bit of work and as a former History student, my final grade for History of Magic should really be above an Acceptable. And do I really want to let Hagrid down? Back to the books!

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Thura Nightingale 

Update: Reading Challenge for August

I am left all alone: Bella is frantically packing for Kenya while Thura travels through England on her honeymoon (congratulations, darling!). What else is there for me to do in the lonely evenings but meticulously plan our August Magical Readathon?

A few weeks ago, Thura and I announced that we would partake in Book Roast’s Harry Potter-themed NEWT Reading Challenge. You can find the explanation of the challenge here, together with Book Roast’s video. As August draws near, now is the time to actually pick the books we want to read in order to pass the Nastily Exhausting Wizarding Tests (NEWT’s). So here we go:

Jo’s list

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I picked three subjects, which is the minimum amount, but I’m not a fast reader and sadly have to work all summer. I’m determined to pass these three! I chose my books mostly from my TBR, a towering pile on my nightstand, and I’m really excited to finally get to them! I’m a Hufflepuff, by the way. I’m not sure if that’s relevant but it might explain my interest in Herbology.

For History of Magic, you must read:
– to pass with an Acceptable: a book that you think would fit right in at the Hogwarts’ Library. In de houten broek by D. van der Stoep and H.H. Felderhof
– to pass with an Exceeding Expectations: a book published at least 5 years ago. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
– to pass with an Outstanding: a book that’s at least 400 pages long. David Copperfield by Charles Dickens

For Ancient Runes, you must read:
– to pass with an Acceptable: a book set in the past. The Other Typist by Suzanne Rindell
– to pass with an Exceeding Expectations: one of the most ancient books left on your shelves that you haven’t yet read. The Phantom of the Opera by Gaston Leroux
– to pass with an Outstanding: a book translated from another language. For Two Thousand Years by Mihail Sebastian*

For Herbology, you must read:
– to pass with an Acceptable: a book with a green cover. Peter Pan by J.M. Barrie
– to pass with an Exceeding Expectations: a book with illustrations. Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea by Jules Verne
– to pass with an Outstanding: a book with either one of these words in the title: light/air/sun/water. Watership Down by Richard Adams

Thura’s list**

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Thura is an ardent reader, very ambitious AND in good reading shape, so she chose no less than five subjects for this Readathon. In picking her books, she not only paid attention to the subject requirements, but to the personalities of the teachers of these subjects as well. I think that by the end of August, she might actually be able to brew some potions. I will keep you updated.

For History of Magic, you must read:
– to pass with an Acceptable: a book that you think would fit right in at the Hogwarts’ Library. The Golem by Gustav Meyerink
– to pass with an Exceeding Expectations: a book published at least 5 years ago. The Pale Horse by Agatha Christie
– to pass with an Outstanding: a book that’s at least 400 pages long. Paula by Isabel Allende

For Defense Against the Dark Arts, you must read:
– to pass with an Acceptable: a last book in a series. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J.K. Rowling
– to pass with an Exceeding Expectations: a foiled book. The Marvels by Brian Selznick
– to pass with an Outstanding: a book with the word ‘dark’ in the title or series name. His Dark Materials: Northern Lights by Philip Pullman

For Transfiguration, you must read:
– to pass with an Acceptable: a book with a grey cover. Grimm Tales by Philip Pullman
– to pass with an Exceeding Expectations: a book from an author you haven’t read anything of before. The Island of Dr. Moreau by H.G. Wells
– to pass with an Outstanding: a book that’s set in a kingdom / has royals. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis

For Care of Magical Creatures, you must read:
– to pass with an Acceptable: a book with an animal on the cover. Night Bird by Alice Hoffman
– to pass with an Exceeding Expectations: a book under 160 pages long. A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens
– to pass with an Outstanding: a book that includes dragons in any way. Dragonology: the Complete Book of Dragons by Dugald Steer

For Potions, you must read:
– to pass with an Acceptable: a book that has a name of a colour in the title. A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess
– to pass with an Exceeding Expectations: a book with a male lead character. Stoner by John Williams
– to pass with an Outstanding: a book over 350 pages long. Zorro by Isabel Allende

 

What do you think of our picks? Are any of you joining in? Let us know in the comments!

*I took this instruction to mean ‘translated from a language you wouldn’t have been able to read’ so I chose a book translated from Romanian.

**Grimm Tales and A Clockwork Orange are not in the picture because Thura took them with her to England to start off the challenge at 1 August. The Golem is not in there because I couldn’t find it for the life of me.

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Jo Robin

Reading Challenge for August

As Bella is leaving us for a few months in August for Kenya, we thought we’d better find a way to keep ourselves from falling apart from sorrow.
So, Thura and I decided to commit ourselves to a Reading Challenge. Recently, Thura discovered an amazing YouTube channel by the name of Book Roast. She hosts a Magical Readathon based on the Harry Potter books and the educational system of Hogwarts. In April she hosted the OWL’s challenge and August’s challenge will be based on the Hogwarts NEWT’s examinations.

You can find details of the challenge below in the video posted by Book Roast, but in this Readathon you will pass each NEWT subject when you read at least one book per subject, and following the instructions per subject, and three books to receive an Outstanding.
You can find your examination schedule and requirements, depending on your chosen subjects, here. But check out Book Roast’s actual video as well, because it was her enthusiasm and imagination that led us to choosing this particular challenge.

As the both of us didn’t sit our OWL’s, we’re only doing our NEWT’s as a practice run for next year. So we simply decided to choose some subjects we like and try and do our best on our exams, determined to not disappoint!

Thura chose to take her NEWT’s in five subjects, being History of magic, Defense against the dark arts, Transfiguration, Care of magical creatures and Potions. As you are required to pass at least one subject with an Outstanding, her focus will be on either Defense against the dark arts or Potions.
I’m only doing three subjects, because I’m a much slower reader, being History of magic, Herbology and Ancient Runes, the last one being the one I’d like to excel in. Obviously, I’m more the scholarly type, rather than a magician with many practical skills.

If you’re still looking for some kind of Reading Challenge to do over the summer, we’re really excited about this one and we can’t wait to start! Let us know if you’re doing a Reading Challenge, especially if you’re doing this Magical Readathon as well, in the comments below.
We’ll keep you updated on our preparations, which books we’ve chosen to read and so on, and our progress.

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Jo Robin

Small book blogs we love!

A little while ago, we asked all the darling bookworms of tumblr who are running a book blog to share their site or reviews with us. As the owners of a small book blog ourselves, we know how hard it can be to build a following and we’re trying to help out by compiling a list of small book blogs we believe deserve more attention. All this to revive booklr as a community: help each other out! 

So eventually we’ve selected five book blogs/reviewers that we simply adore (in no particular order): Check them out!

Number one is Beth’s blog ‘Betwixt-these-pages’, which can be found here
I think most people love penguins, so you can’t really go wrong with these reviews. Beth even reviews her books through little penguin pictures, of which the ‘hot and steamy’ one is my favourite (found here)! But it’s all there: a summary, her opinion, a diverse set of reviewed books and lots of colourful aspects to attract some attention to her reviews, which she really does deserve. Also, her style of writing is not only very honest, but very nice and accessible to read.
Why we’d recommend this blog: the reviews look great and amazingly fun and, hello, penguins.

Number two is a blog run by two authors under the name of-books-and-pen, which can be found here.
This appears to be quite a small blog, but the site looks adorable! The books reviewed here are very diverse, from old literature to graphic novels and manga. When reviewing anything, the authors really go into detail and depth about this book, which makes for a great review. Also, the authors just appear to be very friendly.
Why we’d recommend this blog: they make a fair point that most book blogs focus on new releases, and old books deserve just as much attention!

Number three is yet another author who writes her reviews on tumblr, by the name of ‘alwaysbringabookwithyou’, which can be found here.
Grace writes relatively short reviews, usually starting off with a short summary or introduction to the book reviewed, to grab your attention, followed by her personal opinion and rating. She mostly appears to be reviewing young adult books, but there are some classics in there as well. She has built up quite a following already, but she definitely deserves to be mentioned here anyways.
Why we’d recommend this blog: Short and well thought through reviews, which give you an idea of the book instantly. If you’re dealing with a ‘to read or not to read’-dilemma, these reviews are brilliant. Also, check out her book recommendations: you will not be disappointed.

Number four seems to be a bit of an undiscovered gem, from the tumblr ‘thebookishone’, where reviews can be found here.
These reviews are short and sweet, with a clear and unapologetic opinion on each novel. A great variety of books are present, but hardly any notes on them, much to our surprise. No decorations, no distractions: just books and opinions. We love it.
Why we’d recommend this blog: I just loved how this author simply states their honest opinion on every book they read, which we enjoyed immensely.

Number five is Sophie’s blog, called ‘parchment-and-petrichor’, which can be found here. When you start off your blog with these words: ‘Prick my fingertips and I’ll bleed ink for you’, we’re immediately fans. Sophie appears to review mostly young adult books, but the way she goes about it is very nicely organised and it looks great. She has great skill with language and her reviews read like novels in themselves. Her analyses are very good and her opinions are clear.
Why we’d recommend this blog: I love how she starts off her reviews by recommending this book to ‘those who enjoyed’, followed by a number of titles. Very original and useful!

And as a cheeky little bonus honourable mention, here’s a small blog we’re just really curious about to see what will happen with this one next 

This is a cute little blog, from the tumblr named ‘confessions-of-a-readaholic’, and her blog can be found here.
Cute blog, but I’m guessing she’s still starting out, because there are very little reviews to be found on her site as of this moment. But we really like the way she writes, so we’re curious to see where this goes.
Why we’d recommend this blog: to show some support to her and see where it goes!

So, we’re really hoping our readers will show some love to these blogs and authors as well. Us bookworms should support each other, right?
These are just some suggestions for now, but maybe we’ll do another one of these posts again some time, so if you own a book blog or site, let us know: we always enjoy reading them. 

 

Christmas Recommendations

First off, we’d like to wish all of a you a merry Christmas!
We hope your days will be filled with joy and many, many books.

So, to help you along a bit, we’ve compiled a list of books that we think suit the holidays best. These books will get you right into that Chistmassy vibe!

    1. A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens (1843)

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      This one is a bit of a no-brainer on this list, but still important to mention. Everybody will know the story through the Muppets or another rendition of this well-known story, but when you read the book you will discover more. The book goes further than the movies, and generally speaking focusses more on the redemption part of the story. It also focusses on the importance of family and friends for a good life and how to become and stay a decent person. This sounds like a very good message for Christmas to us!

    2. Sherlock Holmes: A Study in Scarlet by Arthur Conan Doyle (1887)

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      I’m pretty sure it’s more of a personal feeling, but we really associate Sherlock Holmes with Christmas. Not that he is a particular festive person, nor do any of the stories take place during Christmas, but a good old fashion murder case, thought over by Sherlock himself, in his wing chair while smoking a pipe…to us, that’s the perfect cherry on the top of the Christmas season. I’d recommend ‘A study in scarlet’, as it is a novel and it’s chronologically the first novel: this is where you learn about the special relationship Holmes and Watson have. So maybe it will even get you a little bit sentimental!

    3. Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling (1997)

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      What book better to read during the holidays of joyfulness and togetherness, than a book in which a lonely boy finally finds his true family. Also something about the whole approach Hogwarts has towards decorations and celebration, together with the people who are close to you, makes this a very suitable Christmas read. Plus, it also gives warm feelings to read a book loved in one’s youth. And Hogwarts will always be home.

    4. Hercule Poirot’s Christmas by Agatha Christie (1938)

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      Murder at Christmas, it’s that time of the year again! Our Belgian friend and his great mustache never really get to have a break… Now, imagine a Christmas scene, cozy and cheerful, all these decorations and good food; sounds lovely, right? Now imagine adding a lot of uncut diamonds, a black sheep in the family, an emotional and sadistic game and a crucial last will and testament. What do you get? Yes, murder: a wonderful locked room mystery, with a festive touch.

    5. The Nutcracker and the Mouse King by E.T.A. Hoffmann (1816)

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      Yes, before there was the ballet masterpiece by Tchaikovsky, there was a book. In the story, a little girl’s favourite Christmas toy comes to life to defeat the evil mouse king. It’s an imaginative tale, with a battle and a curse and good versus evil, mostly set in the night before Christmas! Honestly, that’s what Christmas is all about, isn’t it? Imagining the unimaginable.

    6. Fairytales: The Singing, Soaring Lark by the Brothers Grimm (1815)

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      Fairytales are perfect for Christmas, because they can so easily be read aloud to children or friends. Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm traveled for years to collect German folk tales. The ones we all know are wonderful, but it’s worth it to look into some of the lesser known stories, like ‘The Singing, Soaring Lark’. This story is about a brave young woman whose perseverence leads her to encounter a dragon, lions, a griffin and many other things, all to reunite her family. It’s only a few pages long but it contains several plot twists and, greatest of all, a woman saves the prince for once.

    7. Crime at Christmas by C.H.B. Kitchin (1934)

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      I can’t tell you why it feels so right to read about horrific murders on such a hopeful, holy day, but it does. Crime at Christmas has the classic setting of a wealthy family that plays parlor games with their guests in their big house, until Christmas morning brings a gruesome discovery. Your Christmas might be miserable, but stockbroker-turned-detective Malcolm Warren has it worse: it’s bad enough that someone has died, but a death makes the whole holiday awkward, and that’s not what he signed up for when he accepted the invitation to Beresford Lodge.

    8. Little Women by Louisa May Alcott (1868)

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      Christmas is supposed to be a time of magic, but how do you keep that magic alive when you’re father is away at war and money is tight? That is the situation the four sisters and their mother find themselves in, in this book. However, as is also shown in this book, Christmas is also a time of sharing and spending time with your loved ones without worrying about the materialistic side of life. This book will show you how Christmas can be enjoyed when you have little, by sharing what you have, and will also warm your heart, because of the obvious love the four sisters and their mother share.

    9. Babette’s Feast by Isak Dinesen (Karen Blixen) (1958)

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      A lot of people associate the holidays with lots of food, family and good spirits (not just of the alcoholic kind). This Danish story, though not set during Christmas, is all about food. In the story, a refugee from France just appears, so just the idea of a refugee changing the lives of others is already deeply connected to the Christmas story to me. But this stranger tries to convince these pious sisters and their guests to enjoy life just a little more, so she offers them this fantastic meal, that in the end they can’t help but enjoy, without fearing for their souls. It’s a wonderful pure tale on just enjoying the earthly things. Even though it’s mostly people eating food, the characters change over the course of the meal and it’s a wonderful story of people coming together and really opening up to each other.

    10. Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens (1838)

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      Dickens is Christmas. Though hardly historically accurate, he paints a picture of a snow covered London, with carriages and bells, warm churches and family dinners. The story starts off with complete poverty though: a young boy, whom terrible things happen to and a mysterious plot in which somehow an insignificant boy appears to be crucial. But through the actions of women mostly, he finds his family in the end. What could be more Christmassy: the message of hope, through a child in poverty and dispair, as he escapes from the dark criminal underworld of London. Also, Dickens is mostly known for creating brilliant characters and this book has some of the best in my opinion. A book everyone should read at least a dozen times, so why not at Christmas this year?

    11. Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis (1950)

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      This story is about four children, who find themselves in a magical, hidden land called Narnia that is cursed by an evil snow queen: it’s always winter, but never Christmas. The children learn that, according to a prophecy, their arrival means that the rightful King of Narnia will return. Not only does he bring back Christmas, but he will defeat the White Witch, free her prisoners and forgive the traitors. Does that sound familiar? It might, because The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe is not so much a Christmas story as it is an allusion to the original Christmas story.

    12. The original Christmas story in the Bible

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      We decided that creating a list of stories to read over Christmas simply wouldn’t be complete without the story that started it all.
      The original story of the birth of Jesus can be found in the gospels of Matthew and Luke, in New Testament of the Bible. Luke 2:1-20 is probably the most well known version of the story, but there’s a lot of the story we know from the Christmas books we read as a child missing from there. You will find the birth of Jesus there, the angels singing and the shepherds visiting. However to find the three kings and the story of an angry King Herod, you will have to turn to Matthew 2: 1-12. These two gospels appear to give two very different accounts of the birth of Christ, but as they are often thrown together in populair books or series, it’s best to read both gospels. The annunciation by the angel, which sets the story, can be found in both Matthew 1:18-25 and Luke 1: 26-38. And this is really what Christmas is all about: the birth of Christ and a light of hope in a seemingly dark world.

We hope you all have a great holiday!