Category Archives: Fairy story

Review of NETGALLEY arc The Cottingley Secret by Hazel Gaynor

Standard

I’m not normally a fan of long blurbs, but this one manages to neatly sum up a fairly complex story without giving away any major spoilers, so for once, I’m not going to prune it…

1917… It was inexplicable, impossible, but it had to be true—didn’t it? When two young cousins, Frances Griffiths and Elsie Wright from Cottingley, England, claim to have photographed fairies at the bottom of the garden, their parents are astonished. But when one of the great novelists of the time, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, becomes convinced of the photographs’ authenticity, the girls become a national sensation, their discovery offering hope to those longing for something to believe in amid a world ravaged by war. Frances and Elsie will hide their secret for many decades. But Frances longs for the truth to be told.

One hundred years later… When Olivia Kavanagh finds an old manuscript in her late grandfather’s bookshop she becomes fascinated by the story it tells of two young girls who mystified the world. But it is the discovery of an old photograph that leads her to realize how the fairy girls’ lives intertwine with hers, connecting past to present, and blurring her understanding of what is real and what is imagined. As she begins to understand why a nation once believed in fairies, can Olivia find a way to believe in herself?

And there you have it. Two timelines interweaving throughout the story with the major protagonists being young, dreamy Frances, displaced and pining for her father during the long war years. And dreamy, older Olivia, also somehow displaced from her own life after devastating news leaves her questioning everything and everyone in her life so far – and find it wanting.

The real challenge of writing such a book is to adequately balance both story strands so the reader isn’t rushing through one to get back to the other. And in this case, Gaynor has succeeded beautifully. At no stage did I find myself skim-reading through any section to get to another – despite skimming being one of my vices as a reader. So it is a tribute to the quality of Gaynor’s characterisation that both the lonely little girl and isolated twenty-something equally held me.

The other temptation in a story of this nature – particularly this specific story, given the scads that has already been written and said about it – is to either sensationalise or sentimentalise what occurred. Again, I admire Gaynor’s restraint – she could have revelled in the fuss and fame those photographs generated and allowed that to power the narrative. However, she also resisted that temptation, too. So what we have is a beautifully told tale of two hurt, sensitive people seeking refuge in something else outside their daily round. One of the joys of this book is that Gaynor’s writing has a lyrical quality that makes her descriptions of that small brook where Frances played alongside her fairies sing off the page. While her descriptions of the old, second-hand bookshop is equally vivid, so that I not only visualised the shop, I could smell the books, too.

When two narrative timelines run alongside each other, the other imperative is that the ending has to connect them to the readers’ satisfaction – and once again, Gaynor triumphantly succeeds in doing this. It isn’t a fantasy or paranormal tale, or a historical adventure – neither is it a contemporary romance, but it manages to interleave all these aspects into a wonderful, unusual story and is recommended for anyone who enjoys any of the above.
9/10

Advertisements

Sunday Post – 7th January, 2018

Standard

This is part of the weekly meme over at the Caffeinated Reviewer, where book bloggers can share the books and blogs they have written.

And there it is – the Christmas celebrations all over. Was New Year’s Eve only last week? The grandchildren and my sister were all sleeping over and for the first time, the children stayed up with us to see the new year in. So we were very lazy on New Year’s Day. When we all eventually surfaced, I took my sister home and the children and I slumped on the sofa together and binge-watched Harry Potter films – I’d forgotten how good they were…

On Tuesday, I took them to the local leisure centre so they could have a go at Clip and Climb – there are a series of different climbing walls which they tackled. My granddaughter has been several times before, but it was the first time for my grandson. They both thoroughly enjoyed themselves and then we went shopping, despite the shocking weather. The following day, they returned home as they were due to start school again on Thursday.

I needed to get down to some serious work, but before I did, we took down the Christmas decorations and all the lights. It’s a chore I hate, as the house always looks sad and bare without all the tinsel and bright coloured lights banishing the gloom of the long nights and short, rainy days.

I was back teaching on Friday – it was lovely to see Tim and catch up on his Christmas. We had a great lesson – and then yesterday, I was busy finalising the paperwork and getting all my files organised for teaching my Creative Writing classes at Northbook. I’m delighted to be running three courses this term with only a few vacancies left on the Tuesday evening session.

Today, Mhairi is due to come round for the day and we’ll be working alongside each other and catching up with our writing.

This week I have read:

Subversive by Paul Grzegorzek
London, 2123. A century after ebola-bombs decimated the population, PC Sean Weaver of the Combined Police Force is a drone operative tasked with enforcing the Government’s dictatorial rule. Nearly anything and everything is considered Subversive and the people huddle behind ever-watched walls, under threat of forced labour on The Farms for the smallest infraction. Trust is nearly impossible to come by and terrorists could be anywhere. Trapped within this oppressive regime, Sean has to make do with small, secretive acts of rebellion lest he end up on The Farms himself. Until, that is, the day he witnesses the mass murder of hundreds of civilians. Events quickly spiral out of control, propelling him into a bloody and brutal conflict where he finds himself faced with the ultimate choice. Accept his fate and bury the truth, or fight back and become… Subversive.

This was a foot-to-the-floor sci fi adventure, with a twisting plot that kept producing yet another surprise just when I figured I knew what was going on. I thoroughly enjoyed this dystopian thriller that, in places, reminded me of Pierce Brown’s Red Rising series. I’ll be reviewing this one in due course.

 

The Cottingley Secret by Hazel Gaynor
1917: When two young cousins, Frances Griffiths and Elsie Wright from Cottingley, England, announce they have photographed fairies at the bottom of the garden, their parents are astonished. But when the great novelist, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, endorses the photographs’ authenticity, the girls become a sensation; their discovery offering something to believe in amid a world ravaged by war.
One hundred years later… When Olivia Kavanagh finds an old manuscript and a photograph in her late grandfather’s bookshop she becomes fascinated by the story of the two young girls who mystified the world. As Olivia is drawn into events a century ago, she becomes aware of the past and the present intertwining, blurring her understanding of what is real and what is imagined. As she begins to understand why a nation once believed in fairies, will Olivia find a way to believe in herself?

I loved this one. The novel is woven around an actual story about two young girls who took some pictures of fairies – for years they were deemed real and caused a sensation. I recall seeing the special programme that Nationwide ran in the 1970s about it. This version flips between the story told through the viewpoint of Frances, one of the girls, and Olivia, a young woman at a crucial point in her life. Gaynor is clearly a very able writer, with a strong lyrical style that worked with this delightful story.

My posts last week:

Sunday Post – 31st December 2017

Shoot for the Moon 2017 Challenge – How Did I Do?

Teaser Tuesday – 2nd January 2018 featuring Subversive by Paul Grzegorzek

Can’t-Wait-Wednesday featuring Keeper of the Watch – Book 1 of the Dimension 7 series by Kristen L. Jackson

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of The Liar in the Library – Book 18 of the Fethering Mysteries by Simon Brett

Friday Face-off – I must go down to the sea again… featuring Goddess of the Sea – Book 1 of the Goddess Summoning series by P.C. Cast

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of Shadow Weaver – Book 1 of the Shadow Weaver series by MarcyKate Connolly

 

Interesting/outstanding blogs and articles that have caught my attention during the last week, in no particular order:

How to Self Publish; Or, We Should Be Writing https://fantasy-hive.co.uk/2017/11/we-should-be-writing/ This excellent article is a real help to those of us a bit overwhelmed with the business of trying to engage in all the marketing we indie authors have to get involved in

Have You Heard Of Libib? It’s the Online Book Cataloguing Website of my Dreams! http://booksbonesbuffy.com/2015/01/25/have-you-heard-of-libib-its-the-online-book-cataloging-website-of-my-dreams/ I really like the sound of this one – and as Tammy explains how it can help those of us whose books need sorting out

2018 – what to look forward to (space-wise) http://earthianhivemind.net/2018/01/04/2018-look-forward-space-wise/ An excellent round-up by Steph of a number of exciting developments that will continue to unfold during the coming year

2018 – Are You Happy? https://roamwildandfree.com/2018/01/02/2018-are-you-happy/ In the middle of all our resolutions and goal setting, Becca asks this important, fundamental question

A New Reading Challenge https://powerfulwomenreaders.wordpress.com/2018/01/04/a-new-reading-challenge/ In amongst all the reading challenges coming at readers and book bloggers, this one particularly caught my eye because it is just SO simple. Read books from your shelf…

Thank you very much for taking the time and trouble to visit, like and comment on my site and wishing you all a happy, successful 2018!

2016 Discovery Challenge – August Roundup

Standard

After reading Joanne Hall’s thought-provoking post, I decided to read and review at least two women authors unknown to me each month. During August, I managed to read 3 Discovery Challenge books, which takes my yearly total so far to 25 books read by women I haven’t previously encountered.

Across the Universe – Book 1 of Across the Universe series by Beth Revis
Seventeen-year-old Amy joins her parents as frozen cargo aboard the vast spaceship Godspeed and acrosstheuniverseexpects to awaken on a new planet, three hundred years in the future. Never could she have known that her frozen slumber would come to an end fifty years too soon and that she would be thrust into the brave new world of a spaceship that lives by its own rules.

Amy quickly realizes that her awakening was no mere computer malfunction. Someone—one of the few thousand inhabitants of the spaceship —tried to kill her. And if Amy doesn’t do something soon, her parents will be next.

This YA generational ship adventure manages to evoke a real sense of claustrophobia as Amy views with increasing horror the way society has evolved during her long sleep. The shocking ending means that I hope to be able to revisit this entertaining series before too long.

 

The Thousandth Floor – Book 1 of The Thousandth Floor series by Katherine McGee
the1000thfloorWelcome to Manhattan, 2118.
A hundred years in the future, New York is a city of innovation and dreams. But people never change: everyone here wants something…and everyone has something to lose. Leda Cole’s flawless exterior belies a secret addiction—to a drug she never should have tried and a boy she never should have touched. Eris Dodd-Radson’s beautiful, carefree life falls to pieces when a heartbreaking betrayal tears her family apart. Rylin Myers’s job on one of the highest floors sweeps her into a world—and a romance—she never imagined…but will her new life cost Rylin her old one? Watt Bakradi is a tech genius with a secret: he knows everything about everyone. But when he’s hired to spy by an upper-floor girl, he finds himself caught up in a complicated web of lies. And living above everyone else on the thousandth floor is Avery Fuller, the girl genetically designed to be perfect. The girl who seems to have it all—yet is tormented by the one thing she can never have.

We’ve all seen the plot device on CSI – the episode starts with one of main characters in a burning building/being shot/another horrible situation, and then the narrative jumps back in time to lead up to that particular point… And this is exactly what McGee has done with her debut novel. The book opens with a beautiful young girl plummeting to her death from the top of the tallest building in New York – and then the narration jumps back two months to introduce us to a cast of characters whose lives intertwine in a variety of ways.

 

The Changelings by Christina Soontornvat
Izzy’s family has just moved to the most boring town in the country. But as time goes on, strange thingsthechangelings start to happen; odd piles of stones appear around Izzy’s house, and her little sister Hen comes home full of stories about the witch next door. Then, Hen disappears into the woods. She’s been whisked away to the land of Faerie, and it’s up to Izzy to save her. Joined there by a band of outlaw Changelings, Izzy and her new friends set out on a joint search-and-rescue mission across this foreign land which is at turns alluringly magical and utterly terrifying.

Soontornvat’s pacing is nicely judged throughout in this children’s fantasy adventure. Layers of information unpeel along the way, as we need to know about it, rather than enduring any semi-omniscient info dumps so often occurring in children’s books. An entertaining read for the age group who are ready for Terry Pratchett’s The Wee Free Men.

 

Tackling my TBR
This is in response to my habit of continually gathering up new books – and not reading them. I want try and reduce the teetering pile by my bed, so I’ve decided to report back on how I’m doing in the hope that it will nudge me to read more of them. Except that during August, I was so busy reading Netgalley arcs and other review copies, I only managed one book – Across the Universe by Beth Revis.

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of KINDLE Ebook The Changelings by Christina Soontornvat

Standard

I enjoy reading well-written children’s fiction and this new fairy story using some of the classical elements of fairy tales caught my attention, despite the rather clunky cover.

thechangelingsIzzy’s family has just moved to the most boring town in the country. But as time goes on, strange things start to happen; odd piles of stones appear around Izzy’s house, and her little sister Hen comes home full of stories about the witch next door. Then, Hen disappears into the woods. She’s been whisked away to the land of Faerie, and it’s up to Izzy to save her. Joined there by a band of outlaw Changelings, Izzy and her new friends set out on a joint search-and-rescue mission across this foreign land which is at turns alluringly magical and utterly terrifying.

I think this one is aimed at the age-group who’d enjoy Terry Pratchett’s first Tiffany Aching book, The Wee Free Men, and while Izzy isn’t quite up there alongside Tiffany for awesomeness, nevertheless this tale hooked me and wouldn’t let go until it was finished. I read it in two greedy gulps as the adventure whisked me away.

Izzy is an engaging protagonist, thoroughly fed up with yet another move and exasperated by her seven-year-old kid sister. But that annoyance turns to guilty dread when Hen suddenly disappears. And Izzy is suddenly plunged in the middle of an alien world – though she isn’t quite as poleaxed as you’d might think as she has been obsessed by fairy stories all her life. While I sometimes get exasperated by a protagonist immediately believing an extraordinary situation, children’s reactions are often different and Izzy’s speedy acceptance of the alternative world she finds herself in was credible within the plot.

Soontornvat’s pacing is nicely judged throughout. Layers of information unpeel along the way, as we need to know about it, rather than enduring any semi-omniscient info dumps so often occurring in children’s books. I also like the range of supporting characters. Those helping her are not necessarily nice or even fully on her side. While those ranged against her are just plain terrifying. While one of the plot twists was fairly easy to guess, there were a couple of others I didn’t see coming – and the Queen and her henchmen are genuinely chilling when we see the fate of those poor missing children…

The climactic final scene is action-packed and dramatic in a book full of adventure, with all the elements brought to a satisfying conclusion.

The arc of The Changelings was provided by the publishers via NetGalley in return for an honest review.
8/10

Sunday Post – 4th September

Standard

Sunday PostThis is part of the weekly meme over at the Caffeinated Book Reviewer, where book bloggers can share the books and blogs they have written.

Firstly, a massive thank you for all the kind encouraging messages I received last week. I was blown away by everyone’s kindness. As for the situation – it isn’t going to sort itself out in a hurry, but at least I now don’t feel quite so overwhelmed. Regarding my mega-rewrite, I managed to complete the first draft in the early hours of Monday morning. I haven’t yet returned to look at it in detail – I need to get some distance from the words before I start the editing round – but my sense is that the book is tighter and sharper. I shed 12,000 words from the manuscript, so it is certainly leaner. In the meantime, I’m cracking on with my course notes for the beginning of term later this month.

My summer break is definitely over. I attended a training session at Northbrook College on Tuesday afternoon and my wonderful friend, Mhairi, came over for the day on Wednesday, offering tea and sympathy on industrial quantities. We even managed to get some work done.

This week-end I’m back in granny mode as the grandchildren have come to stay for the last time before they restart school, along with my niece so we have a houseful. Lovely! Now all we need is the rain to stop…

This week I’ve only managed to read:
League of Dragons – Book 9 of the Temeraire series by Naomi Novik
The deadly campaign in Russia has cost both Napoleon and those allied against him. Napoleon has been leagueofdragonsdenied his victory…but at a terrible price. Lawrence and the dragon Temeraire pursue the fleeing French army back west, but are demoralized when Napoleon makes it back to Paris unscathed. Worse, they soon learn that the French have stolen Termeraire and Iskierka’s egg. Now, it is do or die, as our heroes not only need to save Temeraire’s offspring but also to stop Napoleon for good!

I’ve loved this Napoleonic alternate history series, where dragons are pressed into service in the battle between the French and British armies as troop carriers and bombers. In League of Dragons Novik has brought Temeraire’s adventures back full circle to the European theatre of war and finished the dragon’s story arc in a thoroughly satisfactory manner. If you haven’t yet had the pleasure of this series, it comes highly recommended.

 

 

The Changelings by Christina Soontornvat
thechangelingsIzzy’s family has just moved to the most boring town in the country. But as time goes on, strange things start to happen; odd piles of stones appear around Izzy’s house, and her little sister Hen comes home full of stories about the witch next door. Then, Hen disappears into the woods. She’s been whisked away to the land of Faerie, and it’s up to Izzy to save her. Joined there by a band of outlaw Changelings, Izzy and her new friends set out on a joint search-and-rescue mission across this foreign land which is at turns alluringly magical and utterly terrifying.

This entertaining children’s offering is a delight, with a strong fast-paced story, appealing protagonist and sufficient twists to keep me reading far later than I should to discover what happens. I shall be reviewing this book in the coming week.

 

 

My posts last week:
Sunday Post – 28th August

Review of League of Dragons – Book 9 of the Temeraire series by Naomi Novik

Teaser Tuesday – featuring The Changelings by Christina Soontornvat

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of The Thousandth Floor – Book 1 of The Thousandth Floor series by Katherine McGee

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of Unraveled – Book 15 of the Elemental Assassin series by Jennifer Estep

Friday Faceoff – Hell is Empty and All the Demons Are Here… featuring The Amulet of Samarkand – Book 1 of The Bartimaeus Sequence by Jonathan Stroud

The Versatile Blogger Award

Other interesting/outstanding blogs and articles that have caught my attention during the last week, in no particular order:

Harry Potter Month (30) https://lynns-books.com/2016/08/30/harry-potter-month-30/
Lynn has unearthed this very amusing piece of nonsense which had me giggling…

10 x 10 + 1 = The 101th Dalmation – Give it a sniff –
http://marelithalkink.blogspot.co.uk/2016/08/10-x-10-1-101th-dalmation-give-it-sniff.html?spref=tw This amusing and accomplished post by Mareli was to celebrate her 100th blog post. With material like this, no wonder her blog is growing so fast…

Calling All Applicants – http://writerunboxed.com/2016/08/30/calling-all-applicants/
Steven James writes a wry article about the joys of writing..

How to Plan Your Glacier National Park Family Vacation Including the Best Hikes for YOU, Camping and Relaxing – https://roamwildandfree.com/2016/08/31/how-to-plan-your-glacier-national-park-family-vacation-including-the-best-hikes-for-you-camping-and-relaxing/ Yes – I’ll grant you the title doesn’t exactly trip off the tongue, but once more Becca and Alex demonstrate their experience and common sense approach to travelling – along with breathtaking pics…

Presumptions https://jeanleesworld.com/2016/09/01/presumptions/ Jean writes an honest, unsentimental account suffused with love on the challenges she faces bringing up a daughter and twin boys. And the writing is wonderful, too…

Many thanks for visiting and taking the time and trouble to comment – and may you have a wonderful reading and blogging week.

Teaser Tuesday – 30th August, 2016

Standard

Teaser

Teaser Tuesday is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Books and a Beat.
Anyone can play along! Just do the following:
• Grab your current read
• Open to a random page
• Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page
• BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)
• Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!

This is my choice of the day:
The Changelings by Christina Soontornvat
98% Izzy squeezed the key in her pocket. The cashier at the Jiggly Goat was probably still trying to thechangelingsconvince anyone who’d listen that Marian Malloy was a witch. Izzy smiled to herself, imaging what he’d say if she ever told him the real story.

BLURB: Izzy’s family has just moved to the most boring town in the country. But as time goes on, strange things start to happen; odd piles of stones appear around Izzy’s house, and her little sister Hen comes home full of stories about the witch next door.

Then, Hen disappears into the woods. She’s been whisked away to the land of Faerie, and it’s up to Izzy to save her. Joined there by a band of outlaw Changelings, Izzy and her new friends set out on a joint search-and-rescue mission across this foreign land which is at turns alluringly magical and utterly terrifying.

This children’s fairy story is a NetGalley read that I picked up last night, intending to read over the next couple of days – and completed this morning, having stayed in bed later than I should to finish it. Izzy is a great heroine and the world is well depicted and packed with interesting creatures that pleasingly play with some of our classic fairy stories. The story whisked me away to a castle and some satisfyingly wicked baddies with several great twists. I’ve just found the next book to read to my increasingly picky granddaughter…

Teaser Tuesday – 21st June, 2016

Standard

Teaser

Teaser Tuesday is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Books and a Beat.
Anyone can play along! Just do the following:
• Grab your current read
• Open to a random page
• Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page
• BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)
• Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!

This is my choice of the day:
Magic Bitter, Magic Sweet by Charlie N. Holmberg
6%: He zooms forward so quickly I lose sight of him. I stumble back from the magicbitterwoods’ edge, my heart in my throat as he appears before me, his face close to mine. His hands jut forward as though to grab my shoulders, but he is as ephemeral as a spectre, and they pass right through me.
“Your name!” he shouts, breathless. “Your name, tell me your name!”

BLURB: Maire is a baker with an extraordinary gift: she can infuse her treats with emotions and abilities, which are then passed on to those who eat them. She doesn’t know why she can do this and remembers nothing of who she is or where she came from. And then this ghostly winged man starts to appear to her – and nothing is the same, again…

I’ve significantly tweaked the blurb, because once again, it insists on telling one of the major plotpoints in the narrative that I think is far better experienced as a reader. This book is an interesting approach to the slew of fairytale retellings we’ve seen appear – a story that weaves a path between a number of them… It is a tale of loss and longing and Maire’s struggle to recall who she is and what has happened to her. I’ve really enjoyed reading it and my review will be appearing shortly.

Weekly Wrap-Up – 3rd April 2016

Standard

This is my second short summary of my week to share at the Caffeinated Book Reviewer’s Sunday meme, which is an awesome idea…

This week I completed and wrote reviews for five books. This isn’t quite as impressive as it first appears, as one is a novella and the other is a Children’s book I finished reading aloud to my grandson. As yet, I haven’t posted any of these, because they are mostly NetGalley arcs so I am waiting for their publishing dates before posting them on my blog.

The Last Gasp by Trevor Hoylethelastgasp
This book has an interesting history. It was first published in 1983, when it was treated as straight science fiction with emphasis on the fiction. However, as some of the predictions made by Hoyle have now become frighteningly accurate, given the grim finale, Quercus are now republishing it.
I shall be posting my review of this book on Thursday, 7th April.

DeceptionsDeceptions – Book 3 of the Cainsville series by Kelley Armstrong
I thoroughly enjoyed the first two books in this riveting series – see my review of Omens here. Now Olivia learns more about her parents tragic, bloody past and attempts to help them – when once more, a murder derails her life… I will probably be posting this review during the week, all being well.

 

Beaver Towers by Nigel Hintonbeavertowers
This charming Fantasy adventure entranced my granddaughter sufficiently that we went out and bought the series for her, and now my grandson is the right age, I started reading it to him. To be honest, I wasn’t expecting him to enjoy it, but as the book progressed, he also fell under the spell of Hinton’s storytelling, so that we have now moved straight onto the second book. This review will appear in due course.

 

The Star-Touched Queen by Roshani Chokshithestartouchedqueen
This lush, beautifully told Fantasy tale of an outcast princess and magical beings reminded me in places of N.K. Jemisin’s The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms. This book is due for publication on Tuesday 3rd May, so I will be posting my review Monday 2nd May.

 

Every Heart a Doorway by Seanan McGuireEveryheartadoorway
Earlier this year, I read Rosemary and Rue – read my review here, so immediately noticed this one on the NetGalley shelves. Though novellas aren’t generally my favourite storytelling format, I gave this one a whirl and was very glad I did. I’ll post the review tomorrow.

 

These are last week’s posts:

Weekly Wrap-Up – 27th March 2016
NEW RELEASE SPECIAL – Review of World of Water by James Lovegrove
Teaser Tuesday – 29th March 2016
Review of Uprooted by Naomi Novik
2016 Discovery Challenge – March Roundup
Review of Bronze Gods by A.A. Guirre
Favourite Space Operas – Part 2

It’s been a busy week, as I am able to spend a bit more time on my blog given I am on holiday from my teaching duties at present. My most popular post, was last Sunday’s Weekly Wrap Up, closely followed by my review of James Lovegrove’s World of Water.

Many thanks to all of you who visited and I am especially grateful to those of you who took the time to comment. I keep thinking about my fabulous grandfather – and how he would have loved to chat online about his favourite books with like-minded people. This, truly, is an amazing time to be alive…

My Top Ten Literary Heroines

Standard

Thanks to Sara Letourneau’s list here, I decided to have a bash at this fun exercise. I was initially all set to include the likes of Jane Eyre, Emma Woodhouse and Jo March – all solid favourites of mine, but then recalled that every one of them were married off to drearily bossy, opinionated men. I suspect that twenty-something years down the line, after giving birth to a large brood of children, they would have been reduced to slightly more intelligent versions of Mrs Bennet, suffering from a number of debilitating ailments brought on by too many babies in too short a time, and used as a verbal punchbag by their sarcastic husbands.

So in no particular order – here is my list, shorn of my classic choices…

1. Mendoza, the main protagonist in The Company novels by Kage Baker. She is a highly augmented, partinthegardenofiden cyborg immortal slave, rescued by the Company and trained up as a botanist as part of their workforce. Her story starts in the first book In the Garden of Iden where she is imprisoned by the Inquisition as a small child. The series is remarkable – I have never encountered anything else quite like it, a marvellous mash-up of science fiction and fantasy. Kage Baker is a scandalously neglected writer who died tragically early of cancer, while the last two books do slightly lose the plot, the earlier books in this series are wonderful. Mendoza increasingly realises the Company is not the force for good she initially assumed it was – and takes steps to try and fight back…

 

2. Alma Whittaker, protagonist in The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert. Alma is a wealthy signatureofallthingsVictorian heiress, but not particularly blessed with looks or social graces. Disappointed in love, she doesn’t lapse into bitterness, or tuck herself away to rot in spinsterly misery – she throws herself into her scientific investigations into the nature of lichens. Gilbert has written a wonderful heroine, full of courage and energy, but still believably vulnerable.

 

3. Mori, protagonist in Among Others by Jo Walton. At the start of this book,15 yr old Mori has been sent to among othersan English boarding school after magically fighting her mother, who is trying to take control of the fairies. Her twin sister is killed in the battle, and Mori sustains major injuries to her leg, leaving her lame and in constant pain. She turns to science fiction books for consolation as she struggles to cope with her grief and pain. It is a wonderful book and swept me up, as well as winning a hatful of awards.

 

4. Sirantha Jax from the series by Ann Aguirre. I read the first three of these books, starting with Grimspace,grimspace featuring the female jump pilot, who is plunged into a series of adventures and scrapes – some of them of her own making. I love her edgy, reckless nature and first person voice that bounces off the page. In looking up the series, I notice with delight that the series is now complete – so I must track down the last three books…

 

5. Mitzy Hatcher from A Half-Forgotten Song by Katherine Webb. Another favourite author of mine, this half forgotten songbook struck so many chords with me, I was humming with pleasure and pain most of the way through… Poor little loveless Mitzy should be an absolute victim – and she just isn’t, though sheer guts and determination to pursue the love of her life… It takes her to some very dark places and an unexpected ending.

 

6. Mary Smith from The Little Broomstick by Mary Stewart. This children’s book is a gem that has always littlebroomstickentranced classes I’ve read it to throughout my teaching career – and while the likes of Madam Mumblechook of Endor College and the sheer delight of the narrative pulls the story along, it is small, shy Mary Smith that quietly dominates… It’s a very neat trick to pull off and I’m really sorry that more people don’t know this wonderful book, with its echoes of the far more famous Hogwarts.

 

7. Granny Weatherwax from the Discworld novels by Terry Pratchett. I loved her from the moment I first equalritesread the books, more years ago than I care to think. And now, as a granny who regularly practises headology to defuse any confrontations with the grandchildren – she is my absolute heroine. All I now need are the boots and rocking chair…

 

 

8. Oree the protagonist from The Broken Kingdoms by N.K. Jemisin. Oree Shoth is a blind street artist thebrokenkingdomswho lives in the city of Sky, with the ability to see magic. When she finds a beggar blazing with magical potential left for dead in the alley behind her house, she takes him in. This is the second book in the remarkable Inheritance Trilogy and for my money, is the best. I wept at the end of this book – something that hardly ever happens these days. Oree could have so easily been depicted as a victim, but is far too sharp to fall into that category. I think it’s fair to say that she annoys her guest into recovering from his terrible injuries…

9. Alice Dare from Mars Evacuees by Sophia McDougall. This is a children’s book this adult found absolutely mars evacueesenthralling and shared it with an equally enthralled granddaughter this year, who also loved it. Alice is evacuated to Mars along with several hundred other children destined to continue the desperate fight with the aliens trying to take over Earth. It is poignant, funny, frightening, funny and thrilling by turns. The main protagonist is wonderfully amusing, which goes to some way to leaven the desperate situation they are in – but not by as much as you might think. And Alice’s superpower is that she simply refuses to give up… a wonderful role model for girls of all ages who feel a tad overwhelmed by Life.

10. Sharon Li of the Magicals Anonymous series by Kate Griffin. This series is an offshoot of the very straysoulssuccessful Midnight Mayor series featuring Matthew Swift. Sharon Li is everything Matthew isn’t – for starters, she’s human. And at pains to be as inclusive as possible, as well as celebrating every variation of magical manifestation who turn up to her self-help group. Sharon is marvellous – I love her dogged determination to do the right thing, and the bonus is the laugh-out-loud moments scattered through these books.

 

And that’s my current list. Chances are, you ask me for an update in a couple of years, there will be quite a different selection – though I can’t conceive of a list without Mendoza, Mary Smith or Granny Weatherwax…
What about you? Who are your favourite literary heroines, and why?

Review of The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey

Standard

This book was lent to me by one of my students with a strong recommendation – and she mentioned there was a slight fantasy spin on it, which piqued my interest. It’s ideal summer reading as a foil to the heatwave we’re experiencing right now…

the snow childAlaska, the 1920s. Jack and Mabel have staked everything on a fresh start in a remote homestead, but the wilderness is a stark place, and Mabel is haunted by the baby she lost many years before. When a little girl appears mysteriously on their land, each is filled with wonder, but also foreboding – is she what she seems?

I have to confess I was concerned this would be one of those books long on literary descriptions and agonised self-examination at the expense of plot and action. But I needn’t have worried. The main protagonist is Mabel, and as the story unfurls, it is far grittier than it first seems. The descriptions of Alaska are wonderful – but this isn’t some soft-focused, tender evocation of a lost wilderness, although that is part of the package. However, it also is a grinding struggle for survival in an environment that takes no prisoners – those living there cannot afford any squeamishness and need to be physically and mentally tough.

Mabel nearly buckles during their second winter, while Jack is bowed by the weight of trying to establish his smallholding when past his physical prime. And then, one snowy night they build a small girl snowman after Mabel reads the Russian tale – and in the morning find that the mittens and hat they’d decorated it with are gone. And a pale-haired child is wearing them…

Is this some fantastic fairy tale come true? Ivey takes some time to answer that question – in the meantime, the child’s appearance in their lives changes Jack and Mabel, as does their growing relationship with their nearest neighbours. It took a couple of chapters, but once I became used to the pacing and relaxed into Ivey’s polished, straightforward prose, this book grabbed me and wouldn’t let go until the last chapter – which was a bittersweet shock.

It’s one of those books where you are left to make up your mind as to exactly what happened – which left me with a lump in my throat… It certainly isn’t a book I’m going to forget in a hurry and if you like unusual, unsentimental books that give a pitch perfect evocation of time and place, then track this down. It is beautiful, engrossing and left me with a complicated range of feelings that I only normally experience when watching my grandchildren play.
9/10