How I discovered the Open University.

I dropped out of University after one week.

Here, I talk about my story of how I came to study with the Open University. This article has been written for anyone who might be in a similar position as I once was, along with my experience, so far, with the Open University. It is also aimed at parents of high school students, mature students, and just about anyone who’s interested in the Open University. *Disclaimer: Though I have included some potentially recognisable photographs in this article, I have omitted from explicitly naming either of my previous institutions. My opinions by no means intend to encourage or deter anyone from applying there and should be taken as my own very personal experiences. If you want to make a reliable decision on a potential University option, the best way to go about it is to attend an Open Day in person. Finally, photo credits go to each of the individual sources, which I won’t disclose. Deep breath, here we go…

It began about two years ago, not long after I’d completed a foundation certificate in English Literature at a small college campus in London, that I suddenly fell very ill. Having made it out the other end of a turbulent year, which included losing my old friends and making new ones, commuting a long journey into London on the dreaded Underground, locating my timetabled rooms on a maze-like campus – and being late for a number of them, as well as memorising the contents of some very dense novels, I was relieved to have passed the year. Initially, I was unsure about my college, since was a last-minute decision but by the end of the year, I had come to love the leafy-green campus, with its charmingly old, yet arty hallways, the smell of coffee from the cosy café and small student population. Although I was now allowed entry onto the main course, the only problem was that I couldn’t stay on. Stepping up to the first year of full-time study whilst juggling caring responsibilities at home and commuting across the city would be simply impossible. Something had to give way and so I had successfully applied for another course at a college more close to home, the following autumn.

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This one had a much grander reputation and everything was much bigger. The subject blocks, especially the science area, had been heavily invested in. The student population was four times the size of my old place and for the first time, I became acutely aware of existing as a number in an automated money-making system, along with others who were taking out a £9,000/year loan. The corridors in the English department were spacious but dull. The seemingly endless stretch of grey floor tiles, complemented the low ceilings and white-washed, windowless walls, resulting in the appearance of an underground hospital. My first experience of the lecture hall was one that dwarfed me, as dozens of rows of tightly packed seats were designed to accommodate for two-hundred or more students at a time. The long, wooden tables were uncomfortably narrow and because so many of us were crammed in on a row, there was very little elbow room, especially for a leftie like me who failed to get an end seat. I became preoccupied with avoiding barging in on my neighbour’s personal space and resorted to scrawling ugly notes in my lap instead. It all felt incredibly impersonal. Whilst a sense of utter loss and overwhelming depression likely exacerbated my negative perception of the place, there is no doubt that these symptoms certainly fed off the helpless scenario. I started to wish I was back on my previous course. I had failed to fit in with the excessively confident females that dominated my tutor group and after a few days, hadn’t made a single friend. I didn’t belong here. The place seemed cold, highly competitive and unfriendly. Nor could I handle the excessive social interaction and shakey nerves, especially because I had (and still have) crippling social anxiety; a very personal and heavily disguised issue I’m bound by.

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I decided that I had to leave, no matter what. At the start of my first tutorial, when the class and tutor was busy re-arranging the tables, I carefully picked up my bag and coat and snuck out into the main corridor. I doubted anyone would notice, at least not immediately, as not only had the administrative chaos invalidated the register, but I was a minute statistic and hadn’t properly spoken to anyone here, save one member of the English department on a campus tour. So long as I pretended to be going somewhere, it was relatively unlikely I’d be stopped. Weaving in and out of postgrads and department staff, I strolled down the flights of stairs, to the ground floor as nonchalantly as I could, and out into the open air. Within a few minutes, I had crossed the concrete campus and made it outside the main entrance gates, never to return again. The following weeks were awful as I spent them breaking the news to my family, who were horrified, upset and disappointed, as well as informing the department of my intention and making financial arrangements for future enrolment on a different course. I also binned my hideously-photographed student ID, as I wouldn’t be needing that again. I was suddenly adrift and for the first time, actually outside the education system. It was entirely down to me, to regain a sense of stability in whatever way possible.  

The truth is, right from the moment of walking out of the English department, I knew in my head that my only feasible option would be to study on a distance-learning course, but I knew my family wouldn’t like the idea; you either commit to something properly or don’t bother doing it at all – was their logic. Nevertheless, I spent weeks searching the internet for online courses from bricks-and-mortar institutions, hoping that I could (somehow) pass the idea. Unfortunately, there are not many distance courses for an English student, nor are there many undergraduate options available, as most online courses only accommodate for postgrads. I finally came across the Open University, which is a well-known distance-learning, higher education provider in the United Kingdom. I was delighted to find out they did indeed run an English Literature course and in fact, there were numerous options like combining it with other subjects such as History, Philosophy or Music if I wanted to. I spent a while drawing up tables and making online enquiries (save social phone calls) over different options, before finally deciding on the one course that was best for me. The next problem was trying to convince my parents to support a student finance application for an OU course..! Rather than telling anyone immediately, I held off for months, letting any tensions die down before even suggesting the idea. After about six months, I anxiously took the opportunity to tell my mother when she was in one of her rare happy moods. I was surprised to find out that although she had studied at a London college, she had also completed a short training course with the OU twenty-odd years ago. She quite casually, though not enthusiastically, accepted the idea much to my disbelief and as a result, so did my dad. I wasted no more time, filling in the forms.

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Around early September, I received a large package, weighing about five kilograms, with the “Open University” printed on the top. And when I opened it to reveal the contents, I was quite genuinely blown away. Inside, were four thick textbooks, each in a different colour. These were accompanied by four corresponding DVD cases with multiple DVD-ROMs, DVDs and CDs inside. There were two quite heavy illustration books, filled with picture sources to refer to throughout the year, an assignment booklet with a list of essays to complete and finally, a student handbook to help me make sense of the seemingly impossible task which lay ahead. This was my first welcome to my first compulsory module, The Arts Past and Present. A wave of despair washed over me; I didn’t think I could possibly get through this alone and in the space of nine months, on a supposedly part-time basis too! After a sleepless night, I decided against wallowing in self-doubt. The next morning, I flicked through the advice given in the student handbook and added up the total number of pages across the four main textbooks, to work out how much I’d need to complete each day. I was soon on my way, and by the time the course kicked off, I was weeks in advance – very helpful! In week one, I was finally introduced, by email, to my tutor, who would be responsible for marking all my work. And by week nine, I entered my first ninety-minute online tutorial with one other student (the number improved the second time around), for which I was relieved didn’t require a webcam – just a set of headphones, a microphone and good internet access. The monthly essays start off quite short and gradually build up to higher word counts with more challenging questions. These are still entirely manageable though, as on an introductory module it’s assumed you’ve had little to no experience of higher-level education. The content of the textbooks has been consistently interesting and broad. You’re not expected to complete an essay on every chapter of the textbook, which is usually made up of around six separate sections and some essay tasks offer multiple options. I’ve also found that each textbook usually takes around two months study to complete and since starting, I’m now currently working through textbook three of four. Though you are not entirely alone, you are expected to keep on track and maintain your own study schedule (there is also an online weekly planner to help with this) and meet all assignment deadlines. Even this is quite flexible and for most essays, you can ask your tutor for an extension.

I’m pleased to have found the OU and it’s an entirely viable option for anyone struggles with the physical environment and psychological pressures of actually attending a University. If reputation is a concern, you can later apply to an RG institution for a postgrad course; some OU graduates have been gone on to study at Oxbridge. I thoroughly recommend it to any other school leavers, as it’s a well-respected institution with professionally-planned, high-quality materials. I only wish I hadn’t wasted two years after finishing school, yet to discover it in the first place!

I’ll be doing a follow-up post on some key facts and details on studying with Open University, so please do send or email me any questions you have.

‘The Book of Dust’ By Philip Pullman

His darker materials…

Before I took a long break from writing and embarked on year one of my literature course, I was reading The Book of Dust by Philip Pullman. It was another hardback novel gifted to me at Christmas, and upon receiving it, I was enticed by the sleeve’s beautifully carved lino print design and the front cover itself, which was sprinkled with flecks of golden dust. On its spine reads a quote from the story: “Ah, it’s a proper canoe, said Lord Asriel, as if he’d been expecting a toy. Malcolm felt a little affronted on behalf of La Belle Sauvage, and said nothing as he turned her over and let her slip quietly down the grass and on to the water…” the lettering, which has been embossed in the same metallic foil.

The Book of Dust which has taken Philip Pullman many years to complete and was hotly anticipated in the run-up to its publication, is set before the Northern Lights trilogy. As opposed to being a prequel, Pullman has decidedly called the new edition an ‘equal’ to the original series, as although the story takes place ten years previous when Lyra is a baby, The Book of Dust simultaneously sits alongside the original novels. As a heads up, yes, the novel does feature the Magisterium, the alethiometer, Lyra Belacqua, Jordan College, Oxford and of course, daemons.

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The Book of Dust is by no means a disappointment. I thought it was well written with events moving at a steady, often swift pace. The narrative maintains a consistent level of suspense, striking a fine balance between being too dramatic or otherwise not enough. I caught myself gasping at a number of points! Although Pullman usually states that his work isn’t written with a particular audience in mind, I probably wouldn’t recommend the ‘equal’ to readers under sixteen or so, as there is an instance of moderate adult content which the child protagonist is disturbed to witness. That said, I very much enjoyed the novel’s mysterious tone and strong maritime atmosphere, depicted in an underlying weather narrative, which meandered its way through the main story. Eventually, these two merge in a spectacular climax in the final third of the novel.

I’ve summarised the first three chapters as follows… no major spoilers here.

Chapter 1 ~ Malcolm Polstead is an 11-year-old boy who works at the Trout Inn beside the River Thames, with his mother and father, and a miserable cow called Alice. For Malcolm, who is known as an inquisitive boy to passing travellers and sister Fenella at Godstow priory, he leads an uneventful but content life. Though he’s inspired by the conversations of gentry punters and dreams of being a scholar – with his limited education at Ulvercote school, he expects to inherit the responsibility of the family pub. One day, three politicians enter the Inn and a Lord Nugent is interested to know about the local priory across the Thames. Lord Nugent is an ex-chancellor from a previously more liberal govt. Malcolm and his daemon Asta notice that he seems particularly interested in the story of an orphaned baby, but Malcolm is not aware of such a story. Though, Mrs Polstead’s daemon Kerick seems to know something more.

Chapter 2 ~ The next day, after his shift, Malcolm visits Fenella to inform her of the visiting Lord Nugent and his keen interest in the priory. Fenella isn’t aware of a baby but suggests that it may have been protected there in the past. Later that day, Malcolm fetches his boat and rows down to the river with Asta where they see a man in a grey suit who accidentally drops something in the river bank. He eventually leaves but is intercepted on the bridge by two men dressed in black, and bundled away. Malcolm and Asta row across the river to the opposite bank and find an ornamental acorn. Unnerved by what they have seen, Malcolm rows back home. Malcolm and Asta get home and manage to open the acorn which contains an anonymous letter talking about a hypothetical substance called ‘Dust’ and something called an ‘alethiometer’. Upon arriving for his evening shift, Malcolm learns from his father that two members of the CCD (Consistorial Court of Discipline) an agency of the Church are at one of the tables. To his lowkey alarm, Malcolm is beckoned over by one of them who asks Malcolm if he has seen a man. Malcolm recognises him as one of the fellow politicians who accompanied Lord Nugent to the Inn the previous day. The CCD man defiantly rips down some notices from the cork board to pin up his WANTED poster but a regular punter, George Boatwright makes an objecting stand. He is soon seen out in fear and disappears before the CCD can arrest him.

Chapter 3 ~ In the coming days, Malcolm repeatedly rows upriver to see if he can find the man who dropped his acorn. He also pops into the Chanderly for some paint and rope and reluctantly opens up to ask Mrs Carpenter about the man he saw by the riverbank. She shows him an article in the Oxford Times confirming a man called John Luckhurst a historian of Magadelane College was found dead in the river sometime during the week. Malcolm is terrified he and Asta and think it possibly had something to do with the CCD. Malcolm and Asta plan to find out more – but by only by stealth through chatting to college student punters at the Inn, in order to avoid the attention of the CCD – just in case they’re after the acorn. Upon returning home, Malcolm hears from his mum that the famous explorer Lord Asriel is in the pub. She tells him that he has a love child with the wife of Mr Coulter – Mr Coulter was furious and stormed down to his estate – but Asriel killed him and had to pay honour expenses for doing so. Mrs Coulter didn’t want anything to do with the baby and so has been taken in by the sisters at Godstow. Three days later at earliest possible notice, Malcolm visits sister Fenella and when he asks her, she obliges and reveals that a baby girl has been left with the sisterhood. Fenella takes Malcolm to visit the child and from that day forth Malcolm becomes baby Lyra’s guardian for life.

Overall, I would rate The Book of Dust 4/5 stars and I look forward to Pullman’s second edition in the trilogy – whenever it comes out!

Back on the books.

Hello, one and all.

It’s been a good few months since I last wrote a book review blog post. One major thing I’ve learnt from starting a blog last year is just how time-consuming it can be..! I found that in the early weeks of starting my book blog, my attention became largely focussed on writing a review on the book I was reading, rather than simply enjoying the book itself – which was a problem. I’m quite the perfectionist too.

And whilst I’ve been away, I was pleasantly surprised to see the modest, (but consistent) trickle of visitors to my site, particularly on previous book reviews. A lot has changed in the last few months; I’m now juggling a part-time Literature degree course with other responsibilities. The main reason why I set up this account was to primarily get some practice in writing, simultaneously share my reading experiences with other people who I wouldn’t come across in real life, and build a new hobby that could help with job prospects. At the same time, there aren’t enough hours in the day, nor does anyone (as nice as they are) have the patience or sustained interest to read a long-winded essay on a book by some nobody on the internet!

So here’s what I’m going to do: From now on, I’ll maintain this blog very casually, with periodic posts containing more concise text, with its main focus on book reviews, and plenty of photos to accompany them.

Hope to write again soon!

Chicken and Mushroom pie.

Since it’s a glorious bank holiday weekend, I felt very much in the mood for some home baking. The result: A sumptuous, rich and creamy, aromatic lunch (or dinner if you’re cutting into big quarter slices!) I’m quite literally a disaster magnet in the kitchen, so if I can successfully bake this pie – anyone can.

Here’s how I made this chicken pie, following a basic recipe with some added improvisation and personal tweaks. By keeping the flame down whilst cooking the recipe, this will allow you more time to prepare and combine your ingredients, therefore preventing you from overcooking things and messing it up!

You will need:

  • 4 medium-sized chicken thighs, sliced into bitesize pieces.
  • A heaping handful of mini closed cup mushrooms, thinly sliced (normal size mushrooms are fine – adjust the amount accordingly)
  • 1 small tub of low-fat Creme Fraiche (Greek yoghurt is an excellent alternative)
  • Half a large onion, finely diced (or 1 whole onion if medium-sized)
  • 4 small spring onions with the outer green stems removed, thinly sliced
  • 300ml of vegetable stock (chicken stock is fine by the way)
  • A few of sprigs of Sage, Thyme and Rosemary.
  • A sheet of ready-rolled puff pastry.
  • Colman’s English Mustard
  • Plain flour from the cupboard, and a pinch of Nutmeg (entirely optional)

To make the pie filling…

In a large pan, gently sweat the diced onion and spring onions on a low-medium flame until softened, don’t brown them! After a minute or so, add the sliced chicken thighs and fry on a medium heat for five minutes until they lose their initial raw appearance. I then added the sliced mushrooms and continued to fry the ingredients for a further 5 minutes. Leaving the ingredients on a low flame, I ripped off a few leaves of rosemary,  thyme and sage – just enough to be a generous pinch – you don’t want this flavour to overwhelm the dish. Toss this into the pan, along with a light seasoning of nutmeg, and some salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste.

In the meantime, prepare the vegetable stock. I purchased my vegetable stock in the new jelly-like form, as opposed to the dry/ powdered cubes you can typically get. Place this in a Pyrex measuring jug and dilute in 300ml of boiling water. Since the Korr vegetable jellies are supposed to make 500ml of liquid stock, I cut a small tip of the jelly to adjust the ratio for the purpose of the recipe. In order to make the gravy, pour the vegetable stock into the pan with the chicken and mushrooms and on a high flame heat the mixture until it’s reaches boiling point. Reduce the pan to a simmer, add a generous tablespoon of Creme Fraiche (or Greek yoghurt – which I’ve found is pretty much the same thing), a small teaspoon of strong mustard, and a slightly heaped dessertspoon of plain flour to thicken the sauce. Mix in and simmer for a few minutes to reduce the liquid down to a slightly thick sauce.

Once finished, allow the mixture to cool slightly and then transfer into an 8″ enamel pie dish, spreading it out evenly. If you don’t have this, a Pyrex or china ovenproof dish will work just as well. Unroll your sheet of puff pastry and lay it gently over the top of the pie dish to form a lid. Trim the edges with a sharp knife and if you’re feeling confident, crimp the circumference of the pastry with your two thumbs placed in opposite directions, and applying a little pressure to the dough. Next, poke two small steam holes into the centre of the pastry with the tip of the knife. For some decoration, I made two small roses by slicing off two, thin strips of dough, rolling them up into a swiss roll, and then pushing the centre upwards to form the centre of the bud. Then using the tip of my knife, I made small flicks in the layers to give the appearance of petals. Finally, I cut two small leaves and gently scored some veins into the pastry to finish them off. I arranged all this in the centre of the pie lid to give the appearance of a small bouquet.

Before placing in the oven, I made gentle indents in the lid of the pastry and brushed the lid with a double layer of whisked egg & milk wash. The general rule of thumb is to cook the pie until the pastry has puffed up and baked golden-brown. This took about 15 minutes at gas mark 6 in the centre of the oven. Keep checking at regular intervals, as it can burn very quickly! Once done, serve immediately with buttery mash and boiled mixed vegetables. Bon appetit 🙂

Let me know if you try this recipe, and please like and follow my blog if you’d like to see more posts like this.

Filling my days in Spring.

I decided to hitch a long drive to Chingford plain in Epping Forest …

Hello everyone and happy Monday! I hope everyone has been enjoying the fine weather, not to mention the Royal Wedding (which admittedly I slept through, being on a weekend.) Aside from reading books, I’ve been up to a few things this month…

 

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Days Out—— Since I’ve been stuck at home all week due to illness, I decided to hitch a long drive to Chingford plain, in Epping Forest – which is located on the outskirts of East London. The park is not far from the quaint high street which has a church, an antiquarian bookshop, a small Budgens and a Costa, a charity shop, an art studio, a primary school and a couple of cafes. It is also a mere 2-minute walk along Bury Road from Chingford station, on the Overground line. Up a steep hill, past the grazing cows adjacent to Chingford plain and golf course, is the local Tudor-built hunting lodge; perhaps unsurprisingly named after Queen Elisabeth II. The lodge also has two wooden deer displayed at the front. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to climb the hill this time around, but here is what the hunting lodge looks like. I’ve learnt since that it is open to the public for inside tours – free of charge!

Gardening—- It seems that the month of May is a time when the garden starts to fully reawaken! I’ve been making use of our old plastic egg crates for sowing a selection of poppy seeds before I decide to plant them out next month. If you read my recent post on plant purchasing, you may remember that I brought home a selection of Poppy seeds to experiment with. I recognise that the weather has been pretty changeable too, with some wild winds and showers, and so the mini greenhouse effect of the egg crate will keep the seeds warm and moderately watered.

 

Television & Film—- And finally, across two consecutive evenings, I watched the 2014 film ‘Testament of Youth’ on BBC iPlayer which is based on the published memoirs of Vera Brittain, a young woman who lived through the First World War. In the film, Vera is a young country woman who dreams of attending Oxford University to study English – which she delightedly achieves. However, when WW1 breaks out and her lover Roland Leighton and brother Edward Brittain enlist, her world is flipped on its head. The film stars a plethora of well-known actors, including Kit Harrington, Colin Morgan, Jonathan Bailey and Alicia Vikander. As a lover of history, I found the story incredibly moving and regard it very much to be a coming of age film. I’d definitely recommend a watch, whilst it’s currently on the iPlayer.

In factual television, I’ve been watching ‘Britain’s Most Historic Town’, presented by Professor Alice Roberts on Channel 4. In this series, Professor Roberts visits six historic toImage result for britain's most historic townwns across Britain and Northern Ireland, with each episode focussing on a particular period of British history. Britain is rich with historical secrets and in this series, Professor Roberts meets with local historians in order to find out how historic sites and monuments were shaped and developed by the social forces of their time. My favourite episode so far has been a visit to Tudor Norwich. Other episodes include Roman Chester, Viking York, Norman Winchester, Regency Cheltenham, and Victorian Belfast. And the entire series is currently available online… And just as I finish typing this, here comes the rain.

If you enjoyed this read, please leave a like and comment. If you’ve just chanced upon my blog – why not follow to receive regular posts, as well as book reviews! You can do so by clicking ‘follow’ next to my profile or by visiting the About Me page on my website.

‘The Essex Serpent’ by Sarah Perry.

I truly felt lost within the mists of time.

Last month, I wrote a less than positive book review on Sarah’s Perry debut novel ‘After Me Comes The Flood’. Though, it was the upcoming author’s second novel ‘The Essex Serpent’, which I was actually introduced to first. Based on some stellar reviews, being shortlisted for the Costa Novel Award and winning the Waterstones Book of the Year 2016, I was very much looking forward to getting stuck into the 417-page novel. Besides all that, Essex is where I’m from!

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Inside the front cover, with a William Morris design.

Tell Me About It ———–‘The Essex Serpent’ is set against the backdrop of 1890s Britain during a time of technical development and scientific endeavour. Cora Seaborne, recently widowed, has been liberated from an unhappy marriage to an unpleasant civil servant. Relieved of her duties and “stripped of code and convention” she seeks refuge in her late childhood memories and escapes the rigidity of the claustrophobic city for the wild and open landscape of the Essex county, in the Spring. In traditional feminist style, Cora doesn’t identify with the conventional expectations of a Victorian lady. Instead, the young ‘Mary Anning’ dresses for practicality and enjoys getting close to the mud and the raw beauty of the natural landscape. When Cora hears the folktale of the Essex Serpent which has apparently come to life and is abducting the locals of the Blackwater Estuary, she cannot resist investigating.

“There is strange news out of Essex…”

Writing Style———–I feel that there is a high level of intelligence to Sarah Perry’s writing as she has a wonderful gift for composing poetic and flowing descriptive passages of the Essex of her childhood (Sarah Perry did study Creative Writing at Royal Holloway); such as those of the marshes across the Essex coast and the sensoria of the wet woodlands. I truly felt lost within the mists of time and winds off the coast. There is also the beautiful prologue that explores the way in which time manifests itself in different ideas and abstract forms. It’s the kind of writing I aspire to achieve, though regrettably with only moderate success!

An original woodcut of the Essex Serpent. Credit: The Guardian.

Themes & Characters —————There are various themes which ‘snake’ their way throughout the narrative of the story. The most prominent character, the local parish priest, who is a person of faith but reluctant to surrender to superstition. Whereas Cora, a woman of science, is irresistibly drawn to folklore and fear-inducing rumour. Their burgeoning friendship as well as juxtaposing characteristics make for a delicate and intriguing relationship. The nature of faith and faith in nature intertwine throughout Perry’s novel, which has a strong respect for friendship and a humanity. I also appreciated Perry’s contemporary approach to a traditional social setting with her recognition of Cora’s son, Francis’s Autism, which would have undoubtedly gone undiagnosed in Victorian times

Thoughts?————– The Essex Serpent is compelling, though equally complex and again I felt the plot began to lose its way, which is a great shame. The story repeatedly jumped between characters and philosophical concepts, as opposed to focusing on the narrative and the mystery itself. About halfway through, long and winding passages filled with red herrings and abstract ideas overwhelmed the story, and I just couldn’t finish it! And so to me, the Essex Serpent remains a mystery. You could argue that this only fulfils the wistful beauty of the parish myth. However, ‘The Essex Serpent’ is an initially promising book with simply lost potential. Perhaps I’ll come back to ‘The Essex Serpent’ one day and even write a revised review!

Despite my personal difficulties with getting through the novel, I would still very much recommend it for its beautiful passages alone, with a 3.5-star rating. This paperback publication also includes a selection of thought-provoking questions for budding reading groups to prompt discussion, and there’s an interesting interview with Sarah Perry in the back. Have you read ‘The Essex Serpent’? Tell me your thoughts!

First published in 2017 by Serpent’s Tail.

Written by Sarah Perry, front cover design by Crow Books.

ISBN: 978-1781255452

 

 

‘Down the Rabbit Hole’ by Peter Abrahams.

 A cosy Young Adult novel.

Dear followers, I hope you enjoy this cosy book review. Snuggle down with a hot choccy!

On what was a suitably wet and windy afternoon in 2012, I gave up the ongoing struggle to make friends and sought refuge in a quiet corner of the school library, which was always warm and inviting in September. After a couple of minutes scanning through the limited selection of ‘New Releases’, wrapped and sealed in their protective jackets, I came across a distinct purple paperback – it seemed better quality than most YA fiction.

It had a cover illustration (now out of print) of a towering solitary house secluded by a pair of tall, crooked trees, and the title itself – ‘DOWN THE RABBIT HOLE’. I couldn’t resist a novel that honoured the classic children’s story. And at the time, I was stuck in a deep pit of confusion and rejection, longing for a sense of connection and familiarity – when this empathetic little gem fell into my hands. No one had read it yet, it’s pages smelt new, undiscovered! I borrowed it there and then.

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Front Cover of the newest edition.

‘Down The Rabbit Hole’ is a 352-page Young Adult crime/ mystery novel written by Peter Abrahams. Whilst this may not be the newest book to write a review on (it was first published in 2006!) I still think that it’s an enthralling, lesser-known fiction which all inquisitive, cosy book lovers should have the opportunity to discover!

Thirteen-year-old Ingrid Levin-Hill lives at 99 Marple Lane in Echo Falls, with her mum and dad, her brother Ty and the family dog, Nigel. Ingrid plays football, has landed the lead role of Alice ‘in Wonderland’ in the school play, gets decent grades at school, and idolises Arthur Conan Doyle’s fictional hero, Sherlock Holmes. One day, when Ingrid gets lost between her orthodontist appointment and football practice, she crosses paths with Katherine Kovac, or “Crazy Katie”. A retired actress turned social misfit, she lives alone in the poorer part of town and invites Ingrid into her home to call for a cab.

Harking back to childhood, I could remember the shameful experience of getting lost in town and the feeling of panicked disorientation and desperation to get back home again. And so, I could strongly connect with Ingrid’s sense of unease in these early scenes.

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Ingrid meets “Crazy Katie”.

The next morning, however, Ingrid reads that Katie has been found dead in her home, and Ingrid is a key witness in the moments before her death. Perhaps more disturbingly, Ingrid has left her football boots behind – at the scene of the crime! In a mission to retrieve her Pumas and a compelling desire to solve the mystery, Ingrid slips into a dark subculture of murder and mystery and metaphorically falls ‘Down The Rabbit Hole’.

What I truly loved about this novel, was it’s rich sense of atmosphere. Echo Falls is a gentrified suburban town, with discreetly obscured secrets. Abrahams goes a long way to emphasise this through the use of light imagery contrasted with shadows and a detailed history of a family known as the Prescotts. As a child, Ingrid finds herself caught up in this dangerous adult world and despite coming off as a bit ‘Famous Five-ish’, it does give leeway for some gripping, scenes towards the main chunk of the novel.

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The beautiful Back Cover.

However, there were some topical issues in this novel which I didn’t agree with, simply for the way they were handled by the author. The apparent normalisation of younger brother Ty’s use of steroids in his physical training regime and then, we have a casually brushed off incident where Ty flies into a fit of rage and gives Ingrid a black eye. Another was with Ingrid’s continuous dishonesty towards those around her – particularly her relationship with Detective Inspector Strade. My final issue was that this was written by an America author; I couldn’t understand the American sporting aspect of the novel which featured quite heavily, and a lot of the regional social characteristics went straight over my head. There was also the use of cell phones and MSN-style chatrooms which seemed slightly dated, haha! Nevertheless, I enjoyed ‘Down the Rabbit Hole’ and I would describe it as an atmospheric, gripping, rainy day, good quality sort of book.

Though the novel seems to be aimed at teenagers, I would recommend it to pretty much anyone.

Published in Great Britain in 2006 by Walker Books Ltd, Reprinted in 2012

Written by Peter Abrahams, front cover design by Richard Merritt

ISBN: 978-1-4063-3070-0

Wishing you all a lovely bank holiday weekend!