#BookSnapSunday – 40th Lifeline Bookfest

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It has been a few weeks since I have managed to do a book snap. To say the last few weeks have been eventful is an understatement. Now that we are more or less confined to home, book snaps are going to require a fair amount of creativity and thinking outside the box. My reading over the last few weeks has also taken a downward spiral – too much else occupying my mind. But perhaps now that we are starting to settle into our new routine and we are not having so many daily announcements I may be able to get my head into a reading frame of mind.

Anyway, this week’s book snap features some of the books I bought at the recent Lifeline Bookfest in Toowoomba. It was the 40th Lifeline Bookfest held in Toowoomba which I think is a major achievement. Not only does it allow booklovers to add to their collection but it raises a lot of money for Lifeline and the very important services they provide to vulnerable people.  

This year my book browsing was a little more focused. Since I am studying both European and Australian history I decided to have a look in the history section and found some cool books. After having just covered the Black Plague I couldn’t resist this book about Plague, Pox and Pestilene.

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 I also found some books about the Renaissance which may come in handy but the most surprising find in the history section was this book about dragons. First of all, I love dragons. I think they’re pretty cool. But my eyes really sparkled when I saw that it was by Graeme Base – a definite keeper! In case you are not familiar with Graeme Base, he is also the author and illustrator of Animalia and The Eleventh Hour – his illustrations are beyond beautiful. 

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I was also looking for books with an environmental theme that might be suitable for the Gaia Reading challenge and was delighted to find  a copy of Silent Spring by Rachel Carson. 

Rarely does a single book alter the course of history, but Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring did exactly that. The outcry that followed its publication in 1962 forced the banning of DDT and spurred revolutionary change in the laws affecting our air, land and water. Carson’s passionate concern for the future of our planet reverberated powerfully throughout the world, and her eloquent book was instrumental in launching the environmental movement. It is without question one of the landmark books of the twentieth century. 

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I also found a few other environmental books that sound very interesting and might prove useful for an essay about the Australian Green Movement for Australian History. Hopefully by next week I may have started reading a new book which will inspire a book snap.

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If you love reading, taking photos and feeling a little confined by your four walls, you are welcome to join in with #BookSnapSunday hosted by Sharon at Gums and Galaxies. 

Take Care, Stay Safe and Happy Reading

#BookSnapSunday & Gaia 2020 – The Birdman’s Wife

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Melissa Ashley’s book The Birdman’s Wife has been on my mind for quite a while as a candidate for both Book Snap Sunday and the Gaia Reading challenge. The novel is a fictionalised account of the life of Elizabeth Gould, the wife of taxidermist and naturalist John Gould. While John garnered most of the attention for his beautifully illustrated books of wildlife, it was definitely a partnership with his wife Elizabeth, as Ashley’s book makes abundantly clear. 

The Birdman’s Wife is a love story. Firstly it is the story of a wonderful partnership between two people, John and Elizabeth, who were “compatible in every aspect”. It is also the story of a woman with a great passion for art and nature, and her struggle to balance her life as an artist with her other great love, her children.

Love is like collecting…the care, the attention, the stopping of nothing to attain one’s desire. They have rather more than less in common.” 

Sadly Elizabeth’s life ended shortly after the birth of her last child at the age of 37.  After eight pregnancies Elizabeth tells John “I cannot ever repeat this,” but it is too late. Her life is cut short, exhausted by “the toll that bearing a child exacted.” An all too common fate for women of this time.  

 Artists and nature lovers will appreciate the wonderful detail that Ashley provides both about the specimens and Elizabeth’s painstaking endeavour to depict them as accurately as she can, striving to achieve exactly the right colours and present them in their own natural environment. As Elizabeth reflects, “We had taken its life, so I had best ensure that the exchange was not in vain.”

This conflict between the necessity to take life in order to advance scientific knowledge and record and preserve new species weaves a thread through the narrative. For Elizabeth to sketch and paint wildlife species, they first had to be collected, killed, stuffed and preserved. Most of the live specimens that the Goulds collected in Australia never made it back to England alive, despite their best intentions. 

“was it me…who was more disturbed by the bloodshed of collecting?… I shared the thrill of seeing these creatures in the wild, but I was finding it harder to marry my joy…with acceptance of their fates…destined to join John’s growing collection.” 

“The number of animals whose lives we and others would sacrifice in the service of science was unaccountable…it was we who wielded the power to decide whether a creature…lived or died.”

The Birdman’s Wife is a beautifully presented book. Each chapter is named after one of the birds that Elizabeth illustrated and her iconic illustration of the superb lyrebird, which became the emblem for John and Elizabeth’s book, is featured both on the front cover and opposite the title page. The book is pictured above with a copy of John Gould’s The Birds of Australia which I found in the USQ library, open of course to the page featuring the superb lyrebird. Interestingly, this edition of Gould’s book, published in 1973, contains this quote by John Gould.

“It may be possible–and indeed it is most likely that flocks of Parakeets no longer fly over the houses and chase each other in the streets of Hobart Town and Adelaide, that no longer does the noble Bustard stalk over the flats of the Upper Hunter nor the Emus feed and breed on the Liverpool plains as they did at that time; and if this be so, surely the Australians should at once bestir themselves to render protection to those and many other native birds; otherwise very many of them…will soon become extinct.”

Nothing more to be said really. 

#BookBingo – Set in a Time of War

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This year I am continuing to participate in Book Bingo hosted by Theresa, Ashleigh and Amanda. Some changes have been made to the Bingo Card, less boxes and a thematic approach, giving readers quite a bit of flexibility. This month I am marking off Set in a Time of War with Regeneration by Pat Barker.

Regeneration  was the focus of a #BookSnap post a few weeks ago when I had just started reading it. Barker leaves no doubt to the sheer horror of the First World War and the psychological trauma suffered by the soldiers. Regeneration  particularly highlights the way shell-shock was viewed by the War Board, treating psychologists and those who experienced it. There are a number of characters, but the heart of the narrative focuses on the relationship between Siegfried Sassoon, poet, soldier and war protester, and …W. H. R. Rivers, a military psychologist, whose job it is to get soldiers back to the front.

In July 1917, Sassoon wrote “Finished with the War: A Soldiers Declaration” in an attempt to bring attention to the truth of the war. He was frustrated and angry at the futile waste of life, while those who made the decisions lived in safety. Ultimately his protest fell on deaf ears and he spent time at Craiglockhart, a psychiatric hospital for the treatment of soldiers. Through his memories and conversations with Rivers, Sassoon reveals the true horror of the war.

He remembered the day before Arras, staggering from the outpost trench to the main trench and back again, carrying boxes of trench mortar bombs, passing the same corpses time after time, until their twisted and blackened shapes began to seem like old friends.

Sassoon is witty and sarcastic, describing the act of going over the trenches in a chilling, matter of fact way that highlights the sheer madness of trench warfare.

You blow the whistle. You climb the ladder. Then you double through a gap in the wire, lie flat, wait…and then you stand up. And you start walking. Not at the double. Normal walking speed…In a straight line. Across open country. In broad daylight. Towards a line of machine-guns…Oh, and of course, you’re being shelled all the way.

Sassoon leads Rivers to reflect and question his own attitude to the war, his duty as military psychologist and the lies that send thousands of young men to their death.

The Great Adventure… crouching in a dugout, waiting to be killed.

Regeneration is at times a difficult but worthwhile read. Barker’s prose is beautifully written, but the truth about war is always brutal and gruesome, even nauseating. The sheer loss of life of those who never returned and the long-lasting trauma of those who did must always remain central when we talk about war.

A society that devours its own young deserves no automatic or unquestioning allegiance.

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Double History

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After a long summer break Bec and I are back into the world of study and I am beginning this year with double history – two history units at the same time. Up to now I have managed to avoid doing two history units at the same time. Technically, each unit/course at university level should be equal in the amount of work required; however it is my experience that history is a bit more work than the other units I have done. Firstly, there is usually a lot more reading required and that can’t be helped. Sometimes there is a lot of history to cover, especially if you are studying world history. Secondly, the history discipline traditionally requires the use of footnotes in referencing and that is quite time consuming.

My first history course was World History to 1500CE, so that covered everything from the beginning of time up to around 1500CE. As my lecturer said, it was a gallop through history. Racing through that much history does mean a lot gets left out; you can only deal with the broad themes of history. Fortunately assignments offer an opportunity to delve more deeply into a specific time, event or issue that particularly interests you.

Other history units I have completed include World History 1500 – 1918, The Twentieth Century, An Introduction to Australian History, and Race in Australia. A lot of the history courses are only taught every second year so that has required some juggling of the schedule and means that our classes often have a blend of both second and third year students.

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Kranji War Cemetery, Singapore – where thousands of allied servicemen and women who died during World War 2 are buried (public domain – Trove)

 

This semester I am continuing the journey into Australian history with a unit called Contemporary Australia. This unit starts in the middle of the Second World War in 1942 with the fall of Singapore, the treatment of thousands of allied soldiers who became prisoners of war and the changing relationship between Australia and Britain.  Some of the major themes  include war, of course – WWII, the Cold War, Vietnam; race relationships – the White Australia Policy (WAP), the 1967 referendum, immigration; and notable Prime Ministers – Malcolm Fraser, Bob Hawke, Paul Keating and John Howard. Fortunately it is not all war and politics, as we also look at some of the major social movements as well.

My other history course is called Europe: History of an Idea. This unit looks at the political, social and cultural events that both unified and fragmented Europe and Europeans. We started with one of the most devastating periods of the Middle Ages, The Black Plague and it has been quite fascinating to learn the various ways that people responded to the crisis. Some isolated themselves, a logical response. Some took the approach of eat, drink and be merry for tomorrow we die – better than doom and gloom I suppose. But the most shocking to me was the refusal to care for and abandonment of family and friends, even one’s own children. I suppose children weren’t exactly in short supply in those days and their life expectancy wasn’t guaranteed in the early years. In the rest of the course we will go on to look at the Renaissance, the Reformation, the persecution of witches, the Enlightenment, as well as the French and Industrial Revolutions. 

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The Dance of Death: depicts the universality of death – no matter one’s station in life, the Danse Macabre unites them all (image courtesy of Pixabay)

With two history courses I will need to be very organised this semester and so I have created a study schedule which includes all the readings, assessment tasks and due dates, and what I need to do each week so that hopefully I do not fall behind and leave everything to the last minute. So if things do get a little quiet here from time to time, you will know that I am deep in the study of history.

#BookSnapSunday – When We Were Vikings

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Sadly I missed last week’s #BookSnap, but this week is featuring When We Were Vikings by Andrew David MacDonald. This year I am making a bit more of an effort to read some new releases. Most of my TBR comprises of classics, titles from the 1001 list, prizewinners from previous decades and any other book that has caught my eye. I have never been too worried about reading the “book of the moment” as I figure if it’s a good book, it should stand the test of time and still be a good book when I eventually get around to reading it. But still, I thought it might be a good idea to at least try to read a few titles in the year they were published. The bright orange cover of When We Were Vikings caught my attention, as well as the blurb on the back and Vikings do have a reputation all of their own, after all.

The Vikings originated in Scandinavia (modern Denmark, Norway & Sweden) and raided, traded and pillaged across Europe during the 8th – 11th centuries. Our contemporary fascination about the Vikings is probably based more on legend than on actual historical and archaeological research though. Apparently there is no real evidence that they really did wear horned helmets like Hagar the Horrible, but they look cool anyway. 

Dan and Bec have danish ancestry on their father’s side, which has inspired an interest in Viking history. I often like to joke with Bec about her “Viking ancestry.” When she is going through a tough time, I like to encourage her to find her “Viking Spirit.” Not the lust for pillaging and violence, but a sense of courage and fearlessness.

When We Were Vikings centres around Zelda and she sounds like my kind of girl.

For Zelda, a twenty-one-year-old Viking enthusiast who lives with her older brother, Gert, life is best lived with some basic rules:

  1. A smile means “thank you for doing something small that I liked.”
  2. Fist bumps and dabs = respect.
  3. Strange people are not appreciated in her home.
  4. Tomatoes must go in the middle of the sandwich and not get the bread wet.
  5. Sometimes the most important things don’t fit on lists.

I haven’t started reading the book yet, but Jane from JaneReads summed it up as “a unique, wonderful read with a lovable, memorable heroine,” so I am looking forward to a positive and uplifting read. The book is pictured above with my DVD collection of ‘The Vikings’ television series – obviously not for everyone, as they are pretty violent but the depiction of the Viking society is very interesting, particularly the role of women – and some danish pastries, of course. Don’t you just love edible props!

Happy Reading! 

#BookSnapSunday – Regeneration

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I am a little late with this week’s Book Snap. I had to take a trip to emergency with Dan. Long arms and ceiling fans are not a good combination. Fortunately nothing was broken, just two fingers gashed and a couple of nasty bruised and swollen joints. Dan has quite long bony fingers and it’s surprising how much they can bleed. After a few x-rays, 3 stitches and a tetanus injection, (just  to be on the safe side), he’s back to his usual self.

A few days ago I started reading Regeneration by Pat Barker. First published in 1991, it is the first in her Regeneration trilogy about World War One. I had actually read the third book, The Ghost Road, quite some years ago, not knowing it was part of a trilogy.  Set in 1917, Regeneration deals with shell-shock, the treatment of soldiers in psychiatric care with the intention of getting them back to the front where they belonged, and the relationship between poet, Siegfried Sassoon, and army psychiatrist, W. H. Rivers. 

Sassoon and Rivers did meet in a psychiatric hospital and Regeneration is a fictionalised account of their relationship, so there is a blend between real and fictional characters. Barker reveals some of the horrific experiences of the soldiers under treatment and the official attitude towards shell-shock, which accused them of being  “conchies”, as well as cowards,  shirkers, scrimshankers and degenerates. There was little compassion for these traumatised soldiers in a horrific war that cost a huge amount of lives.

Sassoon was hospitalised for psychiatric assessment after he wrote “Finished with the War: A Soldier’s Declaration” in July 1917. The declaration was a protest against the continuation of a war that he believed had become “a war of aggression and conquest” and the deception of the troops who were being sacrificed “for ends…evil and unjust.”  It was during his hospitalisation, that he also met another well-known war poet, Wilfred Owens. I remember studying the war poetry of Owens in high school. While Sassoon survived the war and became well-known for both his prose and poetry and as a champion for Owen’s work, Owen was killed in action one week before Armistice.

Regeneration is pictured above beside the Mothers’ Memorial in Toowoomba. This memorial was commissioned by the mothers of Toowoomba and erected in 1922 as a tribute for the sons that never returned. According to Monument Australia, very few memorials were commissioned by women, so the Toowoomba memorial is historically significant. Apparently, the women sold Sweet Violets to raise the money for the memorial and in 1996 the Sweet Violet became Toowoomba’s floral emblem.  

The Memorial also displays a list of soldiers lost in World War Two and is situated in the Mothers’ Memorial Gardens, opposite Queens Park. There are also memorials and plaques for both men and women killed in other conflicts, including Korea and Vietnam. It is a beautiful, restful garden, with manicured lawns, a rose garden, a fountain and benches for private meditation – a most fitting tribute for those who have made the ultimate sacrifice. 

 

From Fire to Flood

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Sometimes it doesn’t take too long for things to turn around. 

At New Year, barely six weeks ago, we were struggling to muster any enthusiasm to welcome in a new year. Instead we were watching our country burn. Coupled with a crippling drought, we were looking to the skies, wondering when it would rain again and how much rain would it take to douse bush fires raging out of control. 

And then the heavens opened. Since mid January we have recorded just over 275mm (approx 11 inches) of rain. Our heaviest fall was about 5 inches within 3 hours. The rainwater tanks are full and overflowing. The barren soil has turned into thick, sticky mud. Even the short walk out to the rain gauge every morning is enough to add an extra layer to our footwear. So I needed to get a pair of these….

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The rain has been most welcome and it is quite amazing to see how quickly a carpet of lush green has appeared. I would say grass, except that it is probably mostly weeds. At least it is green!

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Our front paddock

But now we are facing another disaster at the opposite end of the spectrum – flood. In New South Wales it has been reported that Sydney has had its heaviest rains in 30 years. In January people were being evacuated for fire; now they are being evacuated for flood. Just weeks ago we were watching images of raging flames, billowing smoke and blackened earth. Now we are watching flash flooding, cars crushed by falling trees and people rescued from flooded waterways.

But there is a silver lining. The announcement that two big bushfires have now been extinguished is cause for jubilation and a huge sigh of relief. These bushfires were so big, they were called mega-blazes. They were so big, they were thought to be too big to even put out. But after 74 days, 500,000 hectares and 312 homes, the Currowan bushfire has been declared finally out. The problem though is that bush fire ravaged areas are more prone to flood and the torrential rain is washing ash and debris into water supplies.

Closer to home, there have been emergency alerts issued for towns west of Toowoomba at risk of flooding. Despite the possibility of flood damage, some people feel this is a cost they are willing to bear, if it brings an end to the drought. Dams are being refilled, dry ground is being saturated and lush green grass is appearing. But as the Board of Meteorology (BOM) notes, the rainfall has been patchy and there are still areas that are missing out. Towns like Stanthorpe are still having to truck water in. There is a while to go before we can be sure that the drought has been broken, if at all.

From bushfires in SA to floods in QLD 

Growing up in Adelaide bushfires were a frequent event in the Adelaide Hills during our hot dry summers. We could stand on our front porch and see the red glow in the hills. But flood was only something I experienced via the television screen. That changed in December 2010 when we were living in a small town west of Toowoomba.

2010 had been a wet year. The months from September to November had been the wettest Spring since the year 1900. December 2010 was the wettest on record. Overall it had been Australia’s 3rd wettest year since records had been kept. The ground was already super saturated. As the water made its way down the rivers and creeks, water backed up, banks burst and towns were flooded.

Our small town was flooded twice. It was a slow flood, in that we knew it was coming. We knew the water was making its way down the creeks and rivers. There were all sorts of predictions about how high the water may get and whether it would beat previous records. We watched the water levels rise on the BOM site and we prepared as best as we could.

Fortunately our house was on higher ground, so while the water flooded into our front yard and under our house, it never reached our floorboards. Others were not so fortunate. Some businesses and homes were swamped with water and some people did lose everything.

 Crowds gathered in the the town centre to look upon flooded roads. Some took to canoes, paddling down streets we were driving down just a few days earlier. There was a sense of camaraderie as our town was cut off in every direction. There was nowhere for us to go and nobody else could get in, at least not by road. In the local supermarket you could stand at one end and look through all the empty shelves to the other side. The fruit and veggie section was reduced to potatoes and lemons, and milk was rationed.  You don’t realise how much you value basics like milk and bread, until there is none to be had. Our local baker had to have supplies flown in by helicopter so that he could get baking again.

A friend took Paul up for a flight over the town and surrounding areas. Water everywhere. Once familiar landmarks and roads are completely covered with water, it is hard to tell where you are and what you are looking at. 

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Chinchilla flood – Version 2

The Queensland floods of 2010-2011 led to 75% of council areas across the state being declared disaster zones. 90 towns were affected. Thousands of people were evacuated, 33 people lost their lives and the damage bill totalled over $2 billion.

But nothing could have prepared us for the 10th of January 2011, when a wall of water swept through the city centre of Toowoomba. Cars were swept away and 4 people lost their lives. We watched the footage on our television screen, stunned. We had actually planned to be in Toowoomba on that day but changed our plans when rain was forecast.  By the time the water reached the small town of Grantham, it was estimated to be 7-8 metres. The water that hit Grantham that day has been described as an inland tsunami. 9 people died. A year later, 3 people were still missing, presumed to be dead. It was a devastating event that still lives in our memories today. 

Flood waters eventually subside and that’s when the clean up and recovery begins. It’s amazing the way a community pulls together in a crisis. People just rock up, willing and able to give a hand. By the thousands. In January 2011 over 50,000 volunteers registered to help with the clean up, and that’s not counting the thousands who just turned up anyway. Our Prime Minister at the time, Julia Gillard, said:

“…right across Queensland today people have got up, they’ve marched out their homes and they’ve gone to find people to help. It’s a tremendous spirit of volunteering right across Queensland.”

We saw this same Aussie spirit during the recent bushfires and I expect we will see it again during this flood crisis and every crisis that we will face together in the future. Drought, flood, fire, cyclone – we experience them all in our country, but it is the courage of our emergency workers and the generosity of strangers, that instil in us a sense of hope of what we can be when we stand together, whatever comes our way.

 

#BookSnapSunday – A Thousand Splendid Suns

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I am currently rereading A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini, which is set in Afghanistan and centres on the lives and relationship between two women, Mariam and Laila. Afghanistan is a country I knew little about, apart from war and the Taliban, until I read Hosseini. I have enjoyed several of his books because he gives a human face to Afghanistan, depicting the everyday hopes, dreams and struggles of a people who have experienced “one invader after another.”

In A Thousand Splendid Suns, Hosseini particularly shines a spotlight on the lives of women, their hardships but also their ability to endure.

each snowflake was a sigh heaved by an aggrieved woman somewhere in the world. That all the sighs drifted up the sky, gathered into clouds, then broke onto tiny pieces that fell silently on the people below. As a reminder of how women like us suffer…How quietly we endure all that falls upon us.

For Mariam and Laila, the suffering they must endure is not of their own making. Mariam is a harami – illegitimate. While her father might call her “his little flower”, Mariam learned…

…that a harami was an unwanted thing; that she, Mariam, was an illegitimate person who would never have legitimate claim to the things other people had, things such as love, family, home, acceptance.

Mariam is forced to endure the shame of illegitimacy, a state not of her own making. While her father’s “legitimate” daughters can aspire to university, Mariam is shunted into an arranged marriage with a much older man, Rasheed. Why is it that Mariam must bear the cost of the sins of her parents? If human rights are indeed inalienable, can a person really be declared illegitimate?

Laila, on the other hand, cherished and loved, has the importance of her education impressed on her by her father.

Marriage can wait, education cannot. You’re a very, very bright girl. Truly you are. You can be anything you want, Laila. I know this about you. And I also know that when this war is over, Afghanistan is going to need you as much as its men, maybe even more. Because a society has no chance of success if its women are uneducated Laila. No chance.

But tragedy strikes Laila. Alone and unprotected, she too has little option but to  become Rasheed’s second wife, which ultimately leads to an unlikely friendship with Mariam. However, worse is to come.

When the Taliban take over, life becomes a desperate struggle against starvation, brutality and fear.

Yet hope and love prevail almost against all odds.

 

#BookBingo2020 – Coming of Age

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Today is round two of Book Bingo 2020 hosted by Theresa, Amanda and Ashleigh, and I am crossing off the Coming of Age box with A Map of Days by Ransom Riggs. I have quite enjoyed reading this series and am now onto book five, The Conference of the Birds, published just this year. A Map of Days was also the feature of my last Book Snap which you can check out here, if you like old clocks and vintage snapshots.

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Jacob is back where his story began, in Florida. Except now Miss Peregrine, Emma and their peculiar friends are with him, and doing their best to blend in. But carefree days of beach visits and normalling lessons are soon interrupted by a discovery… Now the stakes are higher than ever as Jacob and his friends are thrust into the untamed landscape of American peculiardom – a world with few ymbrynes, or rules – that none of them yet understand.”

Book four of the Miss Peregrine’s Peculiar Children series continues Jacob’s story as he comes to grips with his place in the peculiar world. His peculiar friends have lived most of their life under the protection of the ymbrynes, trapped in a time loop where they never age. But now they are in the real world and the relationship between the ymbrynes and their charges, now ageing normally one day at a time, will start to be tested. Taking risks, rebelling against authority and navigating the minefield of first love are all part and parcel of that messy journey we call coming of age. 

 

#BookSnapSunday – A Map of Days

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 This week’s Book Snap is A Map of Days by Ransom Riggs. It is the fourth book in the Miss Peregrine’s Peculiar Children Series, which started with Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children in 2011. Peculiars are gifted with unusual abilities or characteristics. Olive needs to wear weighted shoes so that she doesn’t float off into space. Claire has two mouths, Millard is invisible and Emma can conjure fire out of her fingertips. Jacob, new to the peculiar world, discovers that he is able to control Hollowgasts, the terrifying invisible monsters who hunt the peculiars. 

 To protect the peculiar children, their guardians, called ymbrynes,  created time loops, a safe place for peculiar children to live. However life in the time loops never changes, meaning the children are trapped in a specific time in history and never age.

The series was inspired by Riggs’ collection of vintage snapshots. Noticing the many pictures of unknown strange looking children, Riggs was motivated to create a story for them. The snapshots – some funny, some unusual, and some downright creepy – are featured throughout the books.

From the first book, I have really enjoyed the world of peculiars and with the fifth book in the series, The Conference of the Birds, just released, it was time to finally catch up and read book 4.