Love is the Answer: A review of Letters from the Lighthouse by Emma Carroll

On the next floor, Ephraim unlatched an old looking door.

‘This is where you’ll sleep,’ Ephraim said, pushing it open.

‘Gosh!’ I gasped. ‘I mean…wow!’

It was perhaps the nicest room I’d ever seen. For one thing, there was so much light. I counted at least six windows – little ones, arched at the top and set deep into the walls. Everything was painted white, even the floor. On either side of the room two beds hugged the curved lighthouse walls. Above each was a shelf of books from which hung beautiful, sea-blue lanterns.”

Firstly, I have to say that novels featuring lighthouses on the cover are irresistible to me. I love lighthouses, I love pictures of lighthouses and I love books about lighthouses. And Letters from the Lighthouse has an especially scrumptious one. I purchased this lovely little book purely based on…can you guess? – the lighthouse on the front. 

And now for the story…

The year is 1941 and young teenager Olive and her little brother Cliff know all about the devastation of war. They’ve already lost their dad, and now it looks like they’ve lost their sister Suki. Yet, Olive is convinced there is more to Suki’s disappearance than is believed. So when they are evacuated to the Devon coast, Olive makes it her mission to solve the mystery and find her sister.

I have a guilty enjoyment for Second World War stories in all formats – books, tv, films. It’s not the war that I am fond of, but the seemingly cosy era portrayed. Was it cosy? No of course not – there was a war on! – but people like to look back with nostalgia, and – I like to think – focus on moments of light in the dark. However, Letters from the Lighthouse doesn’t shy away from the grimness of the time, and a really strong theme of the book is the plight of refugees. I was surprised, but delighted, by this as I think it is an extremely important subject; one which is so close to my heart.  This is a book aimed at eight to twelve year olds, yet its message of empathy and acceptance is a great one for all ages (of course), and particularly appropriate in today’s abismal political climate. The young characters rally ‘round to ‘save the day’, and Olive, in particular, is a superb heroine for school-age readers. She is portrayed with innocence but also is shown to possess a strong sense of justice, and her strength and level-headedness gets her through some very tough times.

Emma Carroll writes simply but charmingly and with sophistication, creating a world you would want your children to share. So much thought has gone into the execution of this story and the message it sends. It is a joy to read and I will most definitely be reading more of her books in the near future. So, come on over and spend some time in her lighthouse.

‘That’s for what you’re doing to our boys.’ Mrs Wilcox spat at him. The other woman prodded him with her foot. The pilot pleaded, using words I didn’t know.  But he was sobbing – that I did understand. 

‘Don’t!’ I burst out. ‘He’s injured!’ 

Someone told me to be quiet.

Surprisingly, Mr Barrowman stuck up for me: ‘Olive’s right. We should do things properly and follow international law. Hand him over – ‘

‘Oh belt up, Mr Barrowman!’ snapped the fishermen who’d argued with Queenie yesterday. ‘The chap’s a German. When’ve they ever done anything properly, eh?’

Shouts of ‘Call the police!’ and ‘Give Jerry what for!’ rippled through the crowd. Yet still no one knew what to do. It infuriated me how Mr Spratt did nothing. He’d been so particular with Ephraim about the lighthouse, checking and double-checking the logbook,  yet now he very conveniently chose to look the other way.

I only hope that when Dad’s plane came down someone kind had found him, to hold his hand when he was hurting and tell him not to be scared. Better still if it’d been so quick he’d died before his plane hit the ground.

No, I wouldn’t keep quiet. I had a voice, and it was time to make some noise with it.

Luscious letters and luscious lighthouses

Hyped About Harry: A review of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone by J. K. Rowling

But from that moment on, Hermione Granger became their friend. There are some things you can’t share without ending up liking each other, and knocking out a twelve-foot mountain troll is one of them.

I’m not one for hype, and this is the reason why I have not delved into the Harry Potter books before now. I prefer to be passionate about my own thing in my own time, and turn to things admired only by a few. We all have to have something that makes us feel distinct, and my thing is not to follow the trend of the moment. However, the time had come for me to judge for myself if all the hoo-har about Harry and the pandemonium about Potter is justified. Having read only the first book, I’m still on that journey of discovery, yet something tells me it only gets better…

For, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone is good – very good. A magical themed book for children is not a new thing, and there is a huge reason for this: it works. Children want magic and fantasy and worlds where anything is possible, because this is their world. Didn’t you believe in fairies when you were younger? Didn’t you believe in Father Christmas? Didn’t you believe your dolls came to life at night? I did. And it works for us adults too. We don’t have those beliefs anymore, but we certainly have the memory of those beliefs. And nostalgia is a great pull. We want to escape to memories of a more open, more innocent time for us; we want to escape to that magical world we once believed in; and we want to escape to all those possibilities that at one time, could have come true. 

The Philosopher’s Stone is appealing in all its magical-ness, but also all its truthfulness too. The bond of friendship is a strong theme, along with the reality of loss and loneliness. Harry, now eleven, has been raised in a family that do not want him. He is unloved and neglected. His aunt and uncle, along with his cousin, couldn’t care less for him, and actively make his life woeful. Harry is banished to the cupboard under the stairs, he is given the bare minimum of the bare minimum, he is left out of family celebrations and trips, and he is subjected to bullying and ridicule. However, things are destined to change, as, unbeknownst to Harry, he is a wizard, whose loving wizard parents were killed at the hands of an evil wizard lord. He is a very special boy who will rediscover the world he came from by attending the great wizard school of Hogwarts. And so begins a new life for Harry. A life of enchantment and adventure. 

J K Rowling writes with expertise and confidence, adding humour from the very first page. Humour within a story – almost any story – indicates to me that the author knows exactly what they are doing and is comfortable in their role as storyteller. In turn, the reader feels comfortable going on the journey with the storyteller. There is no danger of the reader giving up on the book, for they know they are with an author that has meticulously planned where they are taking us and what we will see on the way. This is what I ask from every book I read; I need to feel that I am in safe hands – safe and talented hands. The last thing I want is to finish a book and think ‘Well, I probably could have done better than that myself…’ Rowling does not let me down.

This is a story that is loved and treasured by my generation and by the children of my generation. It will, no doubt, go on this way as long as the story continues to be published. Forget the hype and the baggage and make it all about the books, for they are there to simply be enjoyed…alone on a park bench, at night before sleep, in a cupboard under the stairs, on a train to Hogwarts… Now is the time to read Harry Potter . 

A Top Adventure: A review of Five Go To Smuggler’s Top by Enid Blyton

I am not surprised that I liked this book so much when my sister read it to me some twenty-five years ago. It’s full of excitement, surprises and cliffhangers. Yes, even now I find it thrilling! Secret passages, underground tunnels, hidden trapdoors, smuggling, kidnapping – exactly my kind of thing. 

This is the Famous Five’s fourth adventure. The book is much better than its predecessor, which exposes Julian as a hideous bully – and equally shows our beloved Enid Blyton to be a classist snob. The third book is so full of this unpleasantness that it is hard to get any enjoyment out of it. Correct – these things matter to me, and I care little that it is “of its time”. Five Go To Smuggler’s Top is not free from its own awfulness – far from it. It’s full of sexism, as all the books in the series are, usually revolving around George (who wants to be a boy) and Anne (the youngest of the children). Consider this: “‘Oh let me come too,’ begged George. “No,” said Julian. “Certainly not. This is rather a dangerous adventure and Mr. Barling is a bad and dangerous man. You and Marybelle are certainly not to come. I’ll take Dick.’ ‘You are absolutely mean!’ began George, her eyes flashing. ‘Aren’t I as good as a boy? I’m going to come.’ ‘Well if you’re as good as a boy, which I admit you are,’ said Julian, ‘can’t you stay and keep an eye on Anne and Marybelle for us? We don’t want them kidnapped too.'” There is so much wrong with this little exchange that you don’t have to identify yourself as a feminist for it to make you feel queasy. It is quite impossible to ignore such things, in my opinion. Blyton was entirely deluded in her ideas and Julian is clearly an arse.

However, the Famous Five books succeed for many like me in both their depiction of the excitement of childhood, and in the nostalgia they conjure up. Childhood is a wondrous spectacle. A happy childhood means a happy life. Isn’t this why the works of Enid Blyton are adored so much? In conclusion, I obviously am not in love with the book but I did enjoy it quite a lot! It’s a jolly good read for a child or adult seeking an exhilarating adventure or two.