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BOOK REVIEW: The Road to Ever After by Moira Young

Monday, July 31, 2017

The Road to Ever After – Moira Young

The Blurb (from GoodReads)

Part Benjamin Button, part Harold and Maud, part Brian Selznick and part Neil Gaiman, this is a unique, magical story that will draw readers in and make them fall in love with both characters.

Davy David is a thirteen-year-old orphan, who lives in the bushes in a town ruled by a strict minister, Reverend Fall. A talented artist, Davy loves to draw pictures of angels in the dirt, in the early hours of the morning before the townspeople are awake. He spends his days on his own, except for a small dog, who has attached himself to Davy, often going to the library to find inspiration for his pictures of angels. One day, after chasing after a ball for some of the town's boys, he finds himself in the yard of the old boarded-up museum, now rumoured to be the home of a witch. The witch is Miss Elizabeth Flint, an elderly woman who has a proposition for Davy: drive her to her childhood home, where, it turns out, she has made the decision to die. 

My Thoughts:
Moira Young is a Canadian-born author best known for an award-winning series of young adult dystopian novels. An uncorrected proof copy of ‘The Road to Ever After’ was given to me whilst I was in the UK last year and I have only just got around to picking it up. It’s an enchanting and surprising read, and not at all what I was expecting given her earlier work.

The hero is a thirteen year old boy named Davy David who lives in a town under the sway of a severe and hypocritical pastor named Parson Fall. Davy is an orphan who spends his days drawing angels in the dirt with a stick. His only friend is a scruffy terrier who draws him into trouble. One day he meets an old woman who lives in a derelict boarded-up museum. Her name is Miss Elizabeth Flint, and she hires Davy as her chauffeur. She wants him to drive her home.

And so begins a magical fable of life and death, love and grief, transformation and transfiguration. Utterly simple and utterly profound, this is a strange but wonderful story of an unlikely friendship and a magical quest. 

BOOK REVIEW: Little Women By Louisa May Alcott

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Little Women – Louisa May Alcott
Marmee & Louisa: The Untold Story of Louisa May Alcott and her Mother - Eva La Plante

When I was thirteen years old, I bought a battered old copy of ‘Little Women’ from a school fete because it had a picture of a dark-haired girl reading a book on the cover. 

From the first line, I was captivated. I devoured the story of the four March girls in an afternoon. Like hundreds of other girls, I saw myself reflected in the character of Jo – wild, harum-scarum, and bookish. It is one of the few books that tells the story of a young woman wanting to be a writer and so it has always been very important to me.  

When my daughter turned thirteen a few months ago, I bought her a beautiful illustrated hardback edition of the book as part of her birthday present. Telling her why I had loved Little Women so much when I was her age made me want to read it again, and so I’m ashamed to admit I took the book back from her the moment she opened her present. It is now back on her bedside table, waiting for her to discover this classic tale of four sisters growing up poor in the time of the American Civil War. 

Then, in June, I was in the US for a conference and made a pilgrimage to Orchard House, where Louisa May Alcott wrote her beloved novels at a tiny desk in her bedroom. 

Louisa May Alcott was one of the most successful authors of her day, earning more than any of her male contemporaries. Her classic Little Women has been a favourite with many (including me) since it was first published nearly 150 years ago.

In preparation to visiting her house, I decided to read a little more about her life. I chose Marmee & Louisa: The Untold Story of Louisa May Alcott and Her Mother because the author, Eva LaPlante was a descendant of Abigail May, Louisa’s mother and the inspiration for Marmee, the famous mother of the Little Women. In writing this biography, she drew upon the family’s letters and journals and other private papers, some of which had only recently been discovered in an attic.

Louisa’s father has long been credited with being the primary shaping influence on her, but this biography shakes that assumption and examines the key role her mother had in her life. 

Abigail May was certainly a fascinating woman, who fought for women’s suffrage and an end to slavery. Her life, and the life of her four daughters, is brought to vivid life and really helps to illuminate Little Women and Louisa May Alcott’s other wonderful books. 

Another of my favourite books by Louisa May Alcott is Eight Cousins, and I was amazed to realise that there was a sequel called Rose in Bloom. I bought a battered old copy in Powell's, the world's largest bookstore, in Portland, Oregon, while I was there. I can't wait to read it!

Meanwhile, I loved my literary pilgrimage to Orchard House in Concord, Massachusetts. It was just so fascinating to see the tiny grey silk dress Louisa's sister Anna wore at her wedding (she was the inspiration for Meg in the book and her wedding is described at the end of Little Women), and the paintings on the walls by her sister May (Amy in the book). Her writing desk was so small, and it was easy to imagine Louisa crouched there, scribbling away with her ink-stained fingers. 

BOOK REVIEW: The Wild Places by Robert Macfarlane

Thursday, July 06, 2017

The Wild Places – Robert Macfarlane

"An eloquent (and compulsively readable) reminder that, though we're laying waste the world, nature still holds sway over much of the earth's surface."
Bill McKibben 

Blurb (from GoodReads):
Are there any genuinely wild places left in Britain and Ireland? That is the question that Robert Macfarlane poses to himself as he embarks on a series of breathtaking journeys through some of the archipelago's most remarkable landscapes. He climbs, walks, and swims by day and spends his nights sleeping on cliff-tops and in ancient meadows and wildwoods. With elegance and passion he entwines history, memory, and landscape in a bewitching evocation of wildness and its vital importance. A unique travelogue that will intrigue readers of natural history and adventure, The Wild Places solidifies Macfarlane's reputation as a young writer to watch. 

My Thoughts:
Robert Macfarlane was one of my great discoveries in the past couple of years (meaning that I discovered his books, not him!) I’ve been slowly reading my way through his oeuvre and have loved everything he has written so far.

The Wild Places was his second book, and established his style – beautiful, poetic writing that twines together landscape, nature, history, literature, and his own personal journey. 

Robert sets out to see if there are any genuinely wild places left in Britain, and then writes about what he discovers. One of the chapters – ‘Holloway’ – I had read before as it was expanded and published as an exquisite illustrated book about the lost greenways of Dorset (read my review here!) 

The other chapters have equally evocative names – ‘Beechwood’, ‘Moor’, ‘Summit’, ‘Grave’, ‘Storm-beach’ and ‘Tor’, for example. It’s the kind of book that you can pick up, read a few chapters, then put down for a while, as each chapter is an essay on a particular place.  His writing is sublime. It feels so effortless, but has all the quick-fire surprise of the perfect metaphor. Just wonderful.

BOOK REVIEW: An Isolated Incident by Emily Maguire

Wednesday, July 05, 2017

An Isolated Incident – Emily Maguire

The Blurb (from GoodReads)

When 25-year-old Bella Michaels is brutally murdered in the small town of Strathdee, the community is stunned and a media storm descends.

Unwillingly thrust into the eye of that storm is Bella's beloved older sister, Chris, a barmaid at the local pub, whose apparent easygoing nature conceals hard-won wisdom and the kind of street-smarts only experience can bring.

As Chris is plunged into despair and searches for answers, reasons, explanation - anything - that could make even the smallest sense of Bella's death, her ex-husband, friends and neighbours do their best to support her. But as the days tick by with no arrest, Chris's suspicion of those around her grows.

An Isolated Incident is a psychological thriller about everyday violence, the media's obsession with pretty dead girls, the grip of grief and the myth of closure, and the difficulties of knowing the difference between a ghost and a memory, between a monster and a man.


"At the heart of ... Emily Maguire's work lies an urgent need to pull away at the interconnecting threads of morality, society and human relationships." Sydney Morning Herald

"What you get, along with a sharp mind and a keenness to investigate cultural confusions, is an engaging ability to put the vitality of the story first." Weekend Australian 

My Thoughts:

An Isolated Incident by Australian author Emily Maguire is a contemporary psychological suspense novel set in a small Australian town, with a particular emphasis on the traumatic effects of suspicion, grief and the voyeuristic curiosity of the public.

Bella Michaels is only twenty-five when she is found brutally raped and murdered on the side of the highway. Her sister Chris must find some way to deal with the intense scrutiny that the police and the media bring to every aspect of her and her sister’s lives. Chris works at the local pub, and sometimes takes a truckie home in return for a little extra cash. She has a broken marriage behind her, and drinks too much. She is haunted by her sister’s last moments, and paralysed by her own bleak future. 

Intense, powerful and raw, An Isolated Incident is an all-too-real look at the terrible cost of sexual violence in our society, and a profoundly intimate portrait of anguish and rage. It has justly been shortlisted for the Stella award. 

I also really enjoyed The Dry by Jane Harper, a very different but also very readable novel about murder in a small Australian country town - read my review here. 

BOOK REVIEW: The Tournament by Matthew Reilly

Sunday, July 02, 2017

The Tournament – Matthew Reilly

The Blurb (from GoodReads):

The year is 1546.

Europe lives in fear of the powerful Islamic empire to the East. Under its charismatic Sultan, Suleiman the Magnificent, it is an empire on the rise. It has defeated Christian fleets. It has conquered Christian cities.

Then the Sultan sends out an invitation to every king in Europe: send forth your champion to compete in a tournament unlike any other.

We follow the English delegation, selected by King Henry VIII himself, to the glittering city of Constantinople, where the most amazing tournament ever staged will take place.

But when the stakes are this high, not everyone plays fair, and for our team of plucky English heroes, winning may not be the primary goal. As a series of barbaric murders take place, a more immediate goal might simply be staying alive…

My Thoughts
Best known for his fast-paced contemporary thrillers, The Tournament is a real departure for Matthew Reilly. 

Told by Queen Elizabeth I on her death-bed, the action of the book is set in 1546 when the young princess was only thirteen years old. She accompanies her tutor, Roger Ascham, to Constantinople to attend a chess tournament. Suleiman the Magnificent, Sultan of the Ottoman Empire, had issued an invitation to every king in Europe, ‘to determine the champion of the known world’. 

Soon after their arrival, a powerful cardinal is found brutally murdered. Roger Ascham – known for his brilliant mind and incisive logical skills - is asked to find the killer. Bess, of course, is drawn into helping him. 

Other murders follow, and soon Bess and her tutor find themselves and the rest of their party in ever increasing danger.

I love books set in Elizabethan times, and I am a chess addict, and so this book was always going to appeal to me.  Of course, you need to suspend your disbelief at the young Princess Elizabeth as a sleuth, and I have to say the book is surprisingly sexy, but I enjoyed the story immensely and have to say The Tournament is now my favourite Matthew Reilly book. I hope he writes another just like it! 

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