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Wise Children by Angela Carter

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RATING: 4/5

BLURB: “A richly comic tale of the tangled fortunes of two theatrical families, the Hazards and the Chances, Angela Carter’s witty and bawdy novel is populated with as many sets of twins and mistaken identities as any Shakespeare comedy, and celebrates the magic of over a century of show business.”

REVIEW: I studied Angela Carter’s ‘The Bloody Chamber and Other Stories’ during my English Literature A-level, and it has become a favourite book that I often return to. I was recommended ‘Wise Children’ very recently by my A-Level Literature teacher, and was looking forward to reading more of Carter’s work. ‘Wise Children’ tells the story of twin sisters Dora and Nora Chance through the eyes of Dora, as she looks back on their lives and the chaotic liasons that have shaped and changed their sprawling Shakespearean family. As the illegitimate daughters of famed thespian actor Melchoir Hazard, Dora and Nora were cared for by their grandmother upon the death of their mother and found themselves using their beauty, charm and hidden family connections to rise up the glittering social ladder and form careers for themselves as minor Hollywood starlets, and later on as a singing and dancing double act. As we learn more about their lives and the affairs that have made their family into a melodrama, we can’t help warming to Dora and Nora and cetting caught up in their glamorous and dramatic lives. The events culminate at Melchoir’s hundredth birthday party at the end of the novel, where revelations galore plunge events into mirth and chaos. This book is fast-paced and witty, often comical and somehow extraordinarily Shakespearean, and Carter’s style is easy to distinguish. Although it took a chapter or so to get into, once I did so I really enjoyed this book and found it both fun and easy to read, and would highly recommend it.

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Heartless by Marissa Meyer

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RATING: 4.5/5

BLURB: “Long before Alice fell down the rabbit hole…and before the roses were painted red…The Queen of Hearts was just a girl, in love for the first time.”

REVIEW: I’ve been wanting to read this reimagining of the story of the Queen of Hearts for quite some time, and was really excited when I picked it up on my birthday book-shopping trip. This novel tells the story of Catherine, Lady Pinkerton, the future Queen of Hearts. In this version, however, Catherine is a very a likeable character; a young woman who wishes to run away from her life as a member of the nobility and use her exceptional talents to set up a bakery with her maid, Mary-Ann. This dream appears to be dashed, however, when Catherine discovers that the perfectly kind but extremely foolish King of Hearts wishes to ask for her hand in marriage, a fact which her parents are all too delighted by. Upon fleeing his initial proposal Catherine meets the King’s new court jester, Jest, a handsome and mysterious young man who captures Catherine’s interest at once. As the Kingdom begins to grow in fear after a series of Jabberwock attack and the King’s intentions grow increasingly serious despite her attempts to slow things down, Catherine’s dreams seem to be becoming an increasingly distant possibility. Her relationship with Jest develops throughout the novel in a way that draws the reader in at once and makes us desperate for the two to find a way to be together, removed from the world they know so that each of them can realise their dreams. It is difficult to write more of the plotline without giving away spoilers, but it is easy to see how Catherine developed into the infamous Queen of Hearts, a villainess we are familiar with from her many depictions in book and particularly in film. Even knowing what she will become and witnessing some of this transformation towards the end of the novel, the reader still sympathises with Catherine. I am really hoping that there will be a sequel to this novel, as it is definitely one of my favourite Wonderland-set novels that I have read, and I’m eager to find out what happens next now that Catherine is the Queen of Hearts.

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The Loving Spirit by Daphne du Maurier

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RATING: 4.5/5

BLURB: “Janet Coombe longs for adventure and the freedom of the sea. She feels herself pulled fast under its spell, but in her heart she know she must sacrifice her dreams; she is a woman, and her place is in the home. So she marries Thomas, a boat-builder, and her restless spirit is passed down through her son, and on to his descendants”

REVIEW: I am a huge fan of Daphne du Maurier, and am slowly working my way through all of her novels. I am yet to find one I haven’t enjoyed, and ‘The Loving Spirit’, du Maurier’s debut novel, was no exception – just like all of the previous books of hers that I have read,  I simply could not put this one down. The book is split into four parts, the first telling the story of Janet Coombe; the second the story of her son, Joseph; the third the story of his son, Christopher; and the fourth the story of his daughter, Jennifer. The restless spirit of Janet, who longs to be away at sea but is chained to the home of her husband, is one I think many readers can sympathise with. Although Thomas is sweet and devoted, he is no match for the intelligence and the sense of adventure that exists in his wife, and is confused by her longing to escape; as readers, however, we often seek our own escape in books, and therefore Janet’s restlessness is easier to understand. The centre of Janet’s world is realigned, however, with the birth of her son, Joseph. She sees her own spirit in Joseph and the two form a close bond (which, admittedly, often seemed to me to be verging on incest, though I doubt this was  du Maurier’s intention) that is brutally severed with Janet’s death. Unable to bear the close knit town of Plyn after the loss of his mother, Joseph continues to live the life of a sailor that he embarked upon to his mother’s joy during her lifetime. When he returns to Plyn and determines to marry, however, his plans are almost thwarted by his younger brother, Phillip, who has grown into a cold, unforgiving young man filled with ambition and hate. By the end of Joseph’s tale, things are very unfortunate for him, and the third part of the book sees his wayward son Christopher, who abandoned the life of seafaring his father had planned for him to live a more comfortable life in London, return to Plyn with his wife and children. Narrowly missing the death of his father, Christopher joins with his cousins and tries to make a success of the shipbuilding business that his grandfather had owned, but is ruthlessly put down by Phillip at every turn. He has a strong bond with his youngest child, a girl named Jennifer, who is the protagonist of the final part of the book. Jennifer is strong-willed and, despite moving back to London with her mother after Christopher’s death, her heart longs to be back in Plyn. She returns there and ends up living with her miserly uncle Phillip, seeking revenge on him in every way she can before falling into danger herself.

Each of the parts of the book intertwine with one another, leading the reader through four generations of the Coombe family in a way that is both seamless and brilliant. Each story contains romance, trials and a love of the sea, and although I most enjoyed the sections of Joseph and Jennifer, the book as a whole was fantastic. There were twists in every part, yet the ending still left the reader pleased and with a sense of completion and satisfaction. I thoroughly enjoyed this book.

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Splintered by A.G.Howard

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RATING: 3.5/5

BLURB: “Alyssa Gardner hears the thoughts of plants and animals. She hides her delusions for now, but she knows her fate: she will end up like her mother, in an institution. Madness has run in her family ever since her great-great-great grandmother Alice Liddell told Lewis Carroll her strange dreams, inspiring his classic Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.

But perhaps she’s not mad. And perhaps Carroll’s stories aren’t as whimsical as they first seem.

To break the curse of insanity, Alyssa must go down the rabbit hole and right the wrongs of Wonderland, a place full of strange beings with dark agendas. Alyssa brings her real-world crush – the protective Jeb – with her, but once her journey begins, she’s torn between his solidity and the enchanting, dangerous magic of Morpheus, her guide to Wonderland.

But no-one in Wonderland is who they seem to be – not even Alyssa herself…”

REVIEW: I’m sure frequent readers of this blog have gathered by now that I enjoy retellings of classic stories and fairytales, and I have a large stack of Alice in Wonderland retellings ready to get through on my bookshelf. Splintered was one of these books. It tells the story of Alyssa Gardner, a bold young woman who finds herself isolated from most of her peers due to her ability to hear the words spoken by insects and plants. The only people she lets herself be close to are her father, who is still devoted to her mad mother, her best friend and work colleague Jen, and Jen’s older brother Jeb, who has always been protective towards Alyssa, but whom Alyssa has always wanted much more from. After an incident at the institution where her Mum lives, Alyssa finds a series of clues and objects linked to Wonderland which she believes will cure her mother’s madness. During an argument with Jeb, she accidentally lures him into Wonderland with her, plunging the two of them into great danger. Although the pair begin to learn much more about themselves and each other, leading them to confess their feelings for one another, things are complicated by Morpheus, Alyssa’s dangerous but attractive guide to Wonderland. As Alyssa completes an increasing number of tasks that we recognise as stemming from the original story – for example, her emptying of the Pool of Tears – she begins to uncover more and more secrets about her heritage, and finds a way to break the curse of madness that has plagued the women of her family ever since Alice Liddell.

This book was clever and imaginative, and the storyline was more unusual and different from many of the usual formulaic reproductions of the Alice story. There were some parts of the book that I simply enjoyed less than others; I loved the development of the relationship between Alyssa and Jeb, and the conflicting desires Alyssa felt for the two men in her life. There were some elements of Wonderland itself that I enjoyed less; for example, the moment when the flowers turned into zombie-like creatures and chased Alyssa and Jeb in an attempt to eat them. I can’t pinpoint what exactly about this book didn’t quite hit the spot for me, because I did enjoy it, and the writing style was good with vivid description. I am intrigued to see what the further books in this series have to offer for this tale.

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Wintersong by S. Jae-Jones

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RATING: 4.5/5

BLURB: “All her life, Liesl has heard tales of the beautiful, dangerous Goblin King. They’ve enraptured her spirit and inspired her musical compositions. Now eighteen, Liesl can’t help but feel that her musical dreams and childhood fantasies are slipping away. But when her sister is taken by the Goblin King, Liesl must journey to the underground to save her. Drawn to the strange, captivating world she finds – and the mysterious man who rules it – she soon faces an impossible decision. With time and the old laws working against her, Liesl must discover who she truly is before her fate is sealed.”

REVIEW: Christina Rossetti’s ‘Goblin Market’ is one of my favourite poems – in fact, Rossetti herself is among my favourite poets. My Mum even bought me a beautiful Folio Society copy of ‘Goblin Market’ and other poems for my eighteenth birthday. S. Jae-Jones was clearly inspired by the poem ‘Goblin Market’ in the writing of this fantastic novel; she quotes it at the beginning of the book and quotes a number of other poems by Rossetti throughout. The novel tells the story of Liesl, a gifted young composer who is overshadowed by her beautiful sister Kathe and her talented younger brother Josef, who looks set on his way to becoming the next Mozart. What no-one knows is that Liesl is the talent behind the music that Josef plays, and has continuously helped and inspired him, despite her compositions being scorned by her drunken father. Liesl and Josef have always had a deep belief in the stories their grandmother Constanze tells them about the Goblin King and his Underground court, and the Goblin Grove has acted as a sanctuary for them for many years. Liesl has long forgotten her childhood friendship with the young Goblin King, and the promise she once made to one day be his wife, and her belief on the stories themselves is starting to slip away. After a terrifying experience with Goblin fruit sellers at the market, however, Liesl is forced to confront the reality of the Goblin King. Her sister Kathe is taken by him and, although the rest of her family have erased Kathe from their memories, Liesl cannot. She finds her way to the Underground world of the Goblin King through her music, and manages to set Kathe free. As her price, however, she must stay Underground with the Goblin King, whom she feels a reluctant but powerful desire for. The complex relationship between Liesl and the Goblin King makes for gripping and powerful reading, the desire between the two characters so strong that it practically jumps from the page. The love that slowly begins to develop between them is so full of passion and emotion that the reader is completely sucked in by it, the sacrifices they make for each other painful to read of  – and the ultimate sacrifice that is made at the end of the novel made me cry for quite some time, though I will not spoil it here.

I absolutely loved this book. S Jae-Jones really captures the magical, fantastical, yet somehow Gothic and slightly terrifying atmosphere of much of Rossetti’s poetry, especially ‘Goblin Market’. She turns this epic poem into a beautiful, gripping story full of emotion and meaning, and I enjoyed every page. I only wish the book could have been longer!

 

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Small Great Things by Jodi Picoult

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RATING: 5/5

BLURB: “When a newborn baby dies after a routine hospital procedure, there is no doubt about who will be held responsible: the nurse who had been banned from looking after him by his father. What the nurse, her lawyer and the father of the child cannot know is how this death will irrevocably change all of their lives, in ways both expected and not.”

REVIEW: As many of you will know, I am a huge Picoult fan, and was delighted when a fantastic friend bought me ‘Small Great Things’, her latest novel, for Christmas. This book, like so many of hers have done, has really stuck with me since I finished reading it, and as her books often do has caused me to ask questions of myself that I might not have asked had I not read it. It is also highly appropriate to read this book now, in light of recent political events in the US and, indeed, across the world, as racial hate crime is on the rise. This book does not just tell the story of a nurse who is accused of killing a baby, a crime she did not commit; it tells the reader how it feels to be a black woman in the United States, showing both the subtle and more shocking racial prejudices that face them in day-to-day life.

Ruth Jefferson is a well-liked, experienced and respected midwife, and is both angered and upset when she is told by the father of one of the babies put into her care that she is no longer allowed to tend to the baby due to the colour of her skin. When the baby dies a couple of days later and it emerges that Ruth could have saved him, but was torn between her duty and the command of the child’s father, the situation soon blows up and Ruth is taken to court, accused of murdering baby Davis Bauer. Throught the novel we experience the events through the eyes of Ruth, the main protagonist, but also through Turk, the baby’s father, and Kennedy, Ruth’s lawyer. As the blurb states, this case changes the lives and perceptions of all three of these characters, but this is not something I want to delve deeply into in this review; Picoult’s books are always so gripping that I fear to give away the ending would simply ruin the novel and dramatically reduce its impact. And this book did have an impact on me.

Throughout the book we see the daily racism experienced by Ruth who, although less aggravated by it than her older sister Adisa, is physically hurt every time she is treated as inferior – which, of course, anyone would be. I have never considered myself to be a racist person, and I still do not in any way; yet, the question was raised in this book about the difference between active racism – whereby people act like the character of Turk and racially abuse those with different racial backgrounds to themselves – and passive racism, where people do not see themselves as racist but do not do anything to particularly discourage racism from happening. I found this point to be a really interesting one, and although I would definitely not accuse myself of active racism, I began to think that many of us are probably guilty of passive acts of racism, even if we do not mean to be. This debate is something that has really stuck with me since I finished the book, and is something I think many readers will find themselves thinking about once they finish the novel.

Overall I found this book to be gripping and excellently written, dealing with a sensitive subject in a way that educates readers as well as telling them a story. I would highly recommend it.

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Jeremy Poldark by Winston Graham

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RATING: 3.5/5

BLURB: “Cornwall, 1790-1791. Ross Poldark faces the darkest hour of his life. Accused of wrecking two ships, he is to stand trial at the Bodmin Assizes. Despite their stormy married life, Demelza has tried to rally support for her husband. But there are enemies in plenty who would be happy to see Ross convicted, not least George Warleggan, the powerful banker, whose personal rivalry with Ross grows ever more intense.”

REVIEW: My first book review of 2017 sees me returning to the Poldark series; there are so many books and my Aunt and I have been buying a few at a time and then swapping, so it’s going to take me a while to get through and I keep getting distracted by other books in the meantime! I do really enjoy this series, however, and this third installment, ‘Jeremy Poldark’, was just as good as its predeccessors. This novel opens in the weeks leading up to Ross’ trial at the Bodmin Assizes; after some ships ran aground near Nampara, Ross was suspected of not only smuggling some goods from these ships, but was also accused by some of murdering the ships’ crews. His nemesis, George Warleggan, smug after his victory over Ross in taking over the mines, is rallying people against Ross, hoping that he will be sent to prison. Demelza, however, arrives early in Bodmin and contrives to meet any whom she feels might have an influence on Ross’ case, working against Warleggan to gain support for her husband. We are also reunited with the character of Verity, who despite being happily married is clearly struggling to adjust to the role of stepmother, wiht two stepchildren who seem inclined never to see her. Francis’ struggles also come to the fore as he attempts suicide, but is talked out of it by the intelligent physician Dwight Enys, who takes on a greater role in this novel as he begins to fall in love and take over Doctor Choake’s medical authority. It is hard to write more without giving away too much, but safe to say this is a satisfying continuation of the series and I look forward to finding out what will happen next to the Poldarks – the mysterious Jeremy of the title included.