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SPOTLIGHT: The Little Mermaid

Friday, July 18, 2014

The Little Mermaid

History of the Tale
Many cultures around the world have tales of mermaids and other magical human-like creatures of the sea in their folkloric traditions. 

The first known mermaid tale appeared in ancient Assyria, more than 3,000 years ago. The goddess Atargatis was in love with a handsome shepherd, but accidentally killed him. In her guilt and shame, she leapt into a lake and took the form of a fish but the waters would not conceal her divine beauty. So she was caught as a human above the waist and a fish below. 

In Greek mythology, mermaids are linked with sirens, beautiful yet dangerous creatures that lure sailors to the death with their enchanting and irresistible singing. 

There is a similar tale in German folklore, telling the story of a beautiful young maiden named Lorelei who threw herself headlong into the river in despair over a faithless lover. Upon her death she was transformed into a siren and could from that time on be heard singing on a rock along the Rhine River. 
One Thousand and One Nights includes several tales featuring ‘sea people’, though they do not have fish-tails, but only the ability to breathe and live underwater. 

China has tales of a mermaid who ‘wept tears which became pearls’, while in Thai storytelling traditions there is a character called Suvannamaccha (lit. golden mermaid).  Mermaids and mermen also appear in Philippine folklore, where they are known as sirena and siyokoy.

From Scotland and Ireland come tales of selkies, said to live in the sea as seals but able to shed their sealskins and walk on the land in human form. (I have just had a children’s picture book published called Two Selkie Tales from Scotland). 

Melusine is another mermaid-like creature found in French fairy tales. She is sometimes depicted with two fish tails, or with the lower body of a serpent, and usually lives in forest pools and rivers. The story of Melusine inspired the very popular 19th century book Undine by Friedrich de la Motte Fouqué, in which Undine, a water spirit, marries a knight named Huldebrand in order to gain a soul. 

It is said to have inspired the most famous mermaid tale, Hans Christian Andersen's fairy tale "The Little Mermaid" which was first published in 1837. Anyone who only knows the story because of the Disney remake will be shocked to read the original, which is far darker and crueller.  

In the original version, The Little Mermaid is the youngest daughter of a sea king who lives at the bottom of the sea. She saves the life of a prince on a ship and falls in love with him, and so goes to the sea-witch to ask her for a spell to give up her tail. The sea-witch cuts out her tongue, and tells her every step she takes will be like stepping on knives:

"I know what you want," said the sea witch. "It is very foolish of you, for it will bring you to grief, my proud princess. You want to get rid of your fish tail and have two stumps instead, so that you can walk about like a human creature, and have the young Prince fall in love with you, and win him and an immortal soul besides … But every step you take will feel as if you were treading upon knife blades so sharp that blood must flow. … Well, have you lost your courage? Stick out your little tongue and I shall cut it off. I'll have my price, and you shall have the spell."

However, the prince marries another and the little mermaid has sacrificed all for nothing. Her sisters come to her with a dagger and tell her she can only become a mermaid again if she stabs him in the heart, but the Little Mermaid cannot bear to do so. She flings herself in the ocean instead and drowns.The spirits of the air save her and tell her that mermaids who do good deeds become daughters of the air, and after 300 years of good service they can earn a human soul.

It is thought The Little Mermaid was written as a kind of love letter to Hans Christian Andersen’s dear friend Edvard Collin. Andersen, upon hearing of Collin’s engagement to a young woman, wrote to him: 
‘I long for you as though you were a beautiful Calabrian girl … my sentiments for you are those of a woman. The femininity of my nature and our friendship must remain a mystery.’

Edvard Collin turned Andersen down, disgusted. Andersen then wrote The Little Mermaid to symbolize his inability to have Collin just as a mermaid cannot be with a human. He sent it to Collin in 1836 and it goes down in history as one of the most profound love letters ever written. When he died, Andersen’s will left most of his money to Collin. 

The Little Mermaid, as it was originally written, had an even more tragic ending with the Little Mermaid dying. 

Motifs & Meaning Of Tales
Unsurprisingly, most feminist scholars see Hans Christian Andersen’s The Little Mermaid as both violent and misogynist. 

The Little Mermaid sacrifices her voice, her mermaid tail, and ultimately her life, for the Prince, thus reinforcing a cultural stereotype which subordinates women. 

The scholar Robert W. Meyers describes the cutting out of the little mermaid’s tongue as “the relinquishment of her right to be heard, the loss of her creativity and the wound of castration”. 

According to Meyers, Andersen had a strong feminine identification which he repressed. He then instilled his own subconscious desires into his characters. The cutting out of the little mermaid’s tongue is essentially Andersen’s way of repressing his own feminine identity and sexual desires. He metaphorically removes sexuality from his character.

However, some feminists see the tale as a warning to women to choose not to be like the Little Mermaid – i.e to not accept any kind of abuse in the name of love.

Others focus on the spiritual transformation of the heroine, from a creature of the sea, to a creature of the land, to a creature of the air – showing her spirit’s progress up towards God. This is reflected in the themes of wounding, self-sacrifice and the idea of love defeating death. 

Modern Retellings
In 1961, Shirley Temple Theatre broadcast a television version of "The Little Mermaid", starring Shirley Temple as the Mermaid.

In 1989, Walt Disney made a very popular animated musical fantasy based on the story (though in it the mermaid gets her prince). ‘The Little Mermaid’ was the first Disney fairy tale retelling since Sleeping Beauty in 1959. The film rights of 'The Little Mermaid' had been a Disney property since 1941, with Walt planning to include the much darker Hans Christian Andersen version of the tale in a planned anthology film of his works. The idea was shelved in 1943. 

My novel Dancing on Knives draws upon the Andersen tale in allusion and structure. 

Favourite Books of Mine which feature mermaids or selkies:

Ingo by Helen Dunmore

Mermaid by Carolyn Turgeon

Sirena by Donna Jo Napoli

Sea-Hearts by Margo Lanagan (selkies)

Secrets of the Sea House (selkies)

You can listen to me talking about mermaids with Natasha Mitchell on ABC National 'Life Matters' or read my blog on the History & Meaning of Sleeping Beauty



INTERVIEW - Carolyn Turgeon, author of Fairest of Them All

Friday, February 28, 2014

Please welcome Carolyn Turgeon, the author of the gorgeous  fairy tale novel FAIREST OF THEM ALL to the blog!

Are you a daydreamer too?
Yes, I always have been.

Have you always wanted to be a writer?
Yes. We moved a lot when I was a little kid—from Michigan to Illinois to Texas to Michigan to Pennsylvania—and I was super shy and dreamy and basically never spoke to anyone at school, where I was always the new girl. I couldn’t wait to leave each day and get lost in some other world! The library was a magical place to me, and I read everything I could. I especially loved Maud Hart Lovelace’s Betsy-Tacy-Tibb series, which was set in the early 20th century in the American Midwest. The main character, Betsy, wants to be a writer and she’s always scribbling furiously in notebooks and hanging out in trees wearing long skirts and imagining a future writer’s life. If I didn’t want to be a writer before that, I definitely did after—it seemed the most romantic thing in the world to me, the best thing to be. I wrote my first book when I was 8, called The Mystery at the Dallas Zoo, about a group of kid detectives trying to figure out who stole the missing tapir. They figure it out when they find a handwritten note on the floor from one zookeeper to another, using their full names and spelling out their next crime. 

Tell me a little about yourself – where were you born, where do you live, what do you like to do?
I was born in Michigan but moved around a lot. I went to school at Penn State, then went to grad school at UCLA (I studied medieval Italian poetry) and then lived in New York City for a bunch of years before returning to Pennsylvania. Now I travel a lot and spend a month every year in Alaska, where I teach at UAA’s Low-Residency MFA Program. I love travelling, seeing new places. Last summer I visited Barrow, Alaska (350 miles north of the Arctic Circle) and looked at polar bear tracks; last month I swam with dolphins in Tortola. I love ocean stuff now; after writing my novel Mermaid (2011), I started a mermaid blog and ended up going to mermaid camp at legendary mermaid attraction Weeki Wachee Springs in Florida (and swimming with a wild manatee who crashed the camp) and then, a few months later, getting scuba certified in Nicaragua. So I like oceans and travel and movies and long road trips and films and hanging out with friends, and I like working on Faerie Magazine, which I’m doing now, and assembling beautiful stories and photos and articles, and I like photography. The minute I started writing full time I took up the accordion, dark room photography, and bellydancing, but I don’t really keep up with any of those things, though in my heart I do. Oh, I also like writing. Sometimes.

How did you get the first flash of inspiration for this book?
Usually it’s a specific image or mood or feeling that grabs hold of me and everything builds from that. My first two novels probably both stemmed from the film Wings of Desire and those images of the woman swinging back and forth on the trapeze, white feathered wings on her back, everything in black and white. It’s so beautiful and so sad (because she’s about to get off the trapeze, and the carnival is over). I ended up writing a novel about a trapeze girl (Rain Village) and another about a woman with white-feathered wings (Godmother, about the fairy godmother from the Cinderella story), that image was so rooted in me and so packed with melancholy beauty. With Mermaid, I had sold a book about a mermaid before writing it, and my agent was pushing me toward the original fairy tale, but it was only when I imagined the opening scene, where the princess (the one who marries the prince in the original tale) stands on a cliff, looking out over the icy sea, and witnesses the mermaid arriving at the shore with the nearly-drowned prince in her arms. I thought of what a gorgeous, sad, strange moment that would be, how it would change both women forever. Once I could see and taste that image, the entire book unfolded from it. 

How extensively do you plan your novels?
My first two I sort of figured out as I went along, and ended up writing tons of pages I cut later and taking years to write the books. Since Mermaid, I’ve gone in with a full synopsis, which makes things much easier (and quicker)! I was partly forced to do that, once I was writing full time, but it makes things so much easier. I’m not sure I could have written the first two books from a detailed outline though; I sort of had to learn how to plot and structure a book by doing it, I think. As you can see from my Dallas zoo story, plotting wasn’t the thing that came naturally to me.

Do you ever use dreams as a source of inspiration?
Not really. More the feelings of dreams, that weird half-real feeling when you wake up and long to be back in a world you’re already starting to forget. I like my characters to dream a lot; I like the way that dreams sort of cut in and change your mood and sense of the world in these sneaky, mysterious ways. 

Did you make any astonishing serendipitous discoveries while writing this book?
When I was planning The Fairest of Them All, I took a look at all my favorite heroines and villainesses from popular fairy tales and started noticing how well their stories matched up with each other, and I started feeling like I was reading the same woman’s story over and over. Rapunzel is spectacularly beautiful, it’s her beauty that attracts the prince, and she was raised by a witch… so she’s probably a witch herself, and probably won’t deal too well with aging and the loss of the thing she’s most valued for (her beauty). Especially if she married a prince who already had a daughter named Snow White. I started to think that the evil queen from Snow White (and all the other evil queens and witches) are the same gorgeous heroines who end up getting the prince ... after a few years have passed and happily ever after doesn’t quite hold up. I was astonished at how easy it was to meld these two stories, Rapunzel and Snow White, together!

Where do you write, and when?
I used to think that I needed all kinds of specific conditions in order to write, but I eventually realized that this was just an excuse to never write. So I carry around a lightweight laptop and write whenever and wherever. I wrote for an hour this morning at the car dealership while my car was getting serviced. I tend to write in spurts, though—nothing for days and days (or weeks and weeks!), and then just writing obsessively.

What is your favourite part of writing?
When you get so lost in the world you’re creating that you forget you’re writing at all and it doesn’t feel like work. But usually for me it feels like work! 

What do you do when you get blocked?
Usually I’m not blocked in terms of not knowing what to write—like right now I have three different novels going and there’s always something clear-cut to write in one of them—but I do get blocked by sheer laziness or by travelling or doing too many other things. I just try to force myself to write and remember the lesson I’ve had to learn over and over: that you just do it one sentence, one page, at a time, until you have a book. Retreating to a cabin in the woods is always good, too!

How do you keep your well of inspiration full?
I carry around a notebook and make notes a lot, and I love to sit and brainstorm new ideas. And I read and watch movies and watch television and go to plays and go to storytelling events and just really pay attention to those moments when I get transported/fascinated/mindblown and try to use those moments as jumping off points. 

Do you have any rituals that help you to write?
I aspire to have rituals! I fantasize about being someone who wakes up at the same time each day, makes myself a cup of tea (which I don’t actually drink except in this fantasy) and writes for a set number of hours each and every morning at my lovely big desk with inspirational things hung all around me and birds tweeting outside my window, But I’m usually writing on a bus or in a car dealership.  

Who are ten of your favourite writers?
More than anything I love gorgeous magic realist writing and dark, twisted crime fiction.
Some writers are: Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Italo Calvino, Isabel Allende, Alice Hoffman, Joanne Harris, Patricia Highsmith, Raymond Chandler, Natsuo Kirino, James M. Cain, Gillian Flynn, etc etc! 

What do you consider to be good writing? 
I love writing that’s beautiful and/or stylish, that transports me fully into the world it’s creating, and that is incredibly moving in some way. As a teacher of writing, I tend to always push students to write more clearly and vividly and emotionally. 

What is your advice for someone dreaming of being a writer too?
To write as much as possible, to read as much as possible (and read good stuff!), to find some writing peers/take classes/join workshops to get feedback on your writing and develop writing relationships that will last throughout your career, and to not be discouraged by rejection, discouragement, or the blank page. There’s so much discipline and so much rejection (usually) involved, you have to have an amazing amount of faith and confidence to keep doing it and getting better and finishing projects, one by one. I’ve seen too many talented writers not get anywhere because they lacked that faith, and I’ve watched less talented writers just push through because they had that ferocious determination every writer needs.

What are you working on now? 
A twisted crime novel, a historical novel based on my graduate studies, and a big sweeping epic fantasy!

You can find out more about Carolyn at her website


BOOK LIST: 5 Books that influenced Carolyn Turgeon, author of 'Fairest of them All'

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Today Carolyn Turgeon, the author of 'Fairest of The All', shares with us five books that helped influence her as a writer. Please welcome her! 

Five Books That Influenced Me

1. The Girl of the Sea of Cortez, Peter Benchley
I loved a lot of books when I was a kid—the Bobbsey Twins series, the Little House books, Nancy Drew, the Betsy-Tacy-Tibb series, the Encyclopedia Brown books, anything by S.E. Hinton, the shocking Clan of the Cave Bear—but The Girl of the Sea of Cortez stands out as one of the most vivid and magical. My grandparents lived in this tiny retirement community in the middle of Florida with a tiny volunteer-run library, and that’s where I found this sweet book in which a girl has a deep relationship with the ocean and swims with a manta ray. I described a scene from the book in a recent article I wrote for Allure, and was shocked when the fact-checker discovered that I’d completely conflated two scenes: one where the girl gets a leg cramp as bull sharks circle below and one where the manta ray comes and lets her ride on its back to safety. But it’s been burned that way in my head for over 30 years now! 

2. One Hundred Years of Solitude, Gabriel Garcia Marquez
I first read One Hundred Years of Solitude in an honors class in college. I remember how so many of the other books we read that semester were a chore to get through and then I opened this one and plunged into one of the most wonderful, beautiful and entrancing worlds I could imagine. It’s so sweeping and massive and yet feels like a story you’d hear while sitting around a fire under the moon. Pure pleasure. I love the very first page: the idea that the gypsies bring ice to Macondo and it’s the most astonishing thing anyone’s ever seen. It’s the kind of book that makes the everyday world seem brand new, and to this day I see magic in ice that I wouldn’t have seen otherwise.

3. CosmiComics, Italo Calvino

I love this whole collection but “The Distance of the Moon” is probably my favorite story, of any story I’ve read (you can read it here.) 

I love the mix of the absurd with the beautiful, and the crazy gorgeous melancholy and sense of loss that pervade the whole piece. From the moment it starts, we enter this beautiful world that’s already been lost irretrievably—a time when the moon was so close to us that we could row out to it in a boat, toss out a ladder and climb up. Before I read this story I’m not quite sure I realized that you could write something so silly, so fantastic, and yet do it so beautifully and with such intense feeling. The ending of the story kills me—so beautiful, so sad, so perfect.

4. The Decameron, Boccaccio 
I love the premise of The Decameron: that these are the stories told by a group of young people who’ve retreated to a villa outside of Florence to escape the plague. And that these stories are meant to delight and distract in the midst of such darkness (I always love that mixture of light and dark). The Decameron’s another classic that I was forced to read in college (I majored in Italian lit as well as English) and was surprised to find so full of life and humor and raunchiness and magic. Just wonder upon wonder, and stories that have been told and retold. I actually started my first novel at the same time that I had to write a report on the classic “three rings” story that appeared in several old Latin and Italian sources and made its way into The Decameron, too. The very first draft of my first novel incorporated that same three rings story; I loved the idea of stories so powerful that they survive for centuries.

5. Life in the Fields, Giovanni Verga
It was in an Italian literature class in college that I first read “La Lupa” (“The She-Wolf”) by the late nineteenth-century Sicilian writer Verga who was famous for his naturalist writing rooted to the harsh realities of peasant life in Sicily. I loved its drama: mothers crying over their dead sons; men losing their mind and crawling on their bellies in front of churches as penance; women stalking through the countryside in the burning afternoon, ravenous with lust; hot ax-wielding men covered in the grease of fermenting olives. I love that the title character Pina, “La Lupa,” is pure sensual ravenousness; I’ve often tried to imbue my characters with that same hunger. This story isn’t fantastic, but the emotions in it are so large that it feels fantastic, a world in which everything is heightened and strange and just a bit more wonderful, but still our own.

Carolyn's wonderful book THE FAIREST OF THEM ALL is on special at the moment as an e-book  - here are the links to Barnes & Noble and Kindle 


BOOK REVIEW: Fairest of Them All by Carolyn Turgeon

Monday, February 24, 2014

The Fairest of Them All by Carolyn Turgeon 

Published by Touchstone

Source of book: I bought this one - loved the cover and title!

What if Rapunzel was Snow White’s evil stepmother? 
From the author of Godmother and Mermaid, The Fairest of Them All explores what happens when fairy tale heroines grow up and don’t live happily ever after.

Living in an enchanted forest, Rapunzel spends her days tending a mystical garden with her adoptive mother, Mathena. A witch, Mathena was banished from court because of her magic powers, though the women from the kingdom still seek her advice and herbal remedies. She waits, biding her time to exact revenge against those who betrayed her.

One day Rapunzel’s beautiful voice and long golden locks captivate a young prince hunting in the forest nearby. Overcome, he climbs her hair up to her chamber and they fall into each other’s arms. But their afternoon of passion is fleeting, and the prince must return to his kingdom, as he is betrothed to another.

Now king, he marries his intended to bring peace to his kingdom. They have a stunning daughter named Snow White. Yet the king is haunted by his memories of Rapunzel, and after the mysterious death of his wife, realizes he is free to marry the woman he never stopped longing for. In hopes of also replacing the mother of his beloved daughter, the king makes Rapunzel his queen.

But when Mathena’s wedding gift of an ancient mirror begins speaking to her, Rapunzel falls under its evil spell, and the king begins to realize that Rapunzel is not the beautiful, kind woman he dreamed of.(less)

What I Thought:
I’m in the final stages of a doctorate on Rapunzel, which means I simply must read every book ever inspired by the old fairy tale. 

Fairest of Them All is an interesting take on the well-known story, imagining: What if Rapunzel was Snow White’s evil stepmother?  

The story begins with a young Rapunzel living in a forest with her foster mother, Mathena, a witch who had been banished from court because of her magical powers. They live an idyllic life, tending the herb garden and helping the women of the village. 

One day Rapunzel’s singing attracts a young prince who was out hunting in the forest. He climbs up her hair into her tower bedroom and they have a brief afternoon of passion before the prince must return to his kingdom and his betrothed. 

Rapunzel loses the baby she carries, and is grieved to discover the king and his wife have a living daughter soon after hers has died. The girl is so beautiful she is named Snow White.

The tale then follows the familiar sequence of events known to us from the original Grimm tale – the mother dies, the king remarries, his queen has a magical mirror that tells her she is the fairest of all …
Written simply yet lyrically, this is a dark and powerful reimagining of two well-known fairy-tales and should appeal to the millions of fans of writers such as Donna Jo Napoli, Shannon Hale, Jessica Day George and Gail Carson Levine.

BOOK LIST: Books Read in January 2014

Thursday, February 13, 2014

I read 15 books in January, with my number bolstered by the back-to-back reading of six old books by the 1930s Irish novelist, Maurice Walsh, while I was sick in bed with bronchitis. Do you like reading old beloved books when you are sick too? Usually I go for Georgette Heyer, Agatha Christie or Mary Stewart - it was interesting reading six books by the same author, one after the other. You do begin to see a plot pattern emerge ...

But I read lots of other great books this month as well. I hope you find some new ones to discover here:

1. Touchstone – Laurie R. King
Laurie R. King is best known for her Mary Russell/Sherlock Holmes historical mystery series in which a brilliant young woman becomes first a student – and then the lover – of the brilliant and enigmatic detective. I’ve read quite a few of this series and really enjoyed them. Laurie R. King is as interested in the internal lives of her characters as much as in the actual solving of a crime, and so her books are rich, complex, psychologically acute, and slow. Touchstone is the first in a new series set in the 1920s in England, featuring the unlikely friendship between an American agent and a war-damaged British gentleman. The first is Harris Stuyvesant and he is on the hunt for a terrorist whose bombs have left a raw scar on his own life.  The trail leads him to England, where he meets Bennett Grey, whose acute sensitivity to the world following a shell attack makes him a kind of human lie detector. The two men find themselves tracking down the terrorist together … with tragic results.
This book took a while to cast its spell on me, but slowly and gradually the dramatic tension escalates until the book was unputdownable. And by that time I knew the characters so intimately I really feared for them. This is not the kind of thriller that will get your blood pumping and your heart racing; it will, however, make you think about it for a long time after you close the final, brilliant page. 

2. Mrs Mahoney’s Secret War – Gretel Mahoney & Claudia Strahan
Claudia Strahan was at a friend’s house in London, listening to music one day, when a cross neighbour knocked on the door to complain about the noise. She was 78 years old, and spoke with a German accent. Claudia had been born in Germany and so asked her a little of where she came from. The cross old lady proved to be so interesting, Claudia went to have coffee with her. The more she discovered about Mrs Mahoney’s life, the more fascinated she became. Nine years later, the two published this extraordinary memoir of Mrs Mahoney’s life in Hamburg during the Second World War. 
Gretel Wachtel, as she was then, helped to protect fugitives hunted by the Gestapo, hid her Jewish doctor in her cellar, and passed secrets she learned from her work on the Enigma encryption machine to the German Resistance, and was finally arrested by the Gestapo. 

She was just an ordinary German girl who did extraordinary things to try and fight the cruel Nazi regime under which she lived. Her verve, courage, and humour shine through in every word … one can just imagine her as a feisty old lady, telling her stories to Claudia over kaffeeklatsch, remembering one story after another through her young visitor’s eager questioning. A great memoir of one woman’s extraordinary life.  

3. Red Orchestra: The Story of the Berlin Underground and the Circle of Friends Who Resisted Hitler - by Anne Nelson 

When we think of Germany under Hitler, we often think of Germans as being either enthusiastic supporters of Nazism, or passive bystanders who did nothing to stop him. This fascinating non-fiction account of the Berlin Underground shows that there were, in fact, many Germans who risked everything to fight against the Nazi regime. 
The Rote Kapelle (Red Orchestra) was the Gestapo’s name for a group of German artists, actors, filmmakers, writers, journalists and intellectuals who worked indefatigably to undermine the Nazis in Berlin, the heart of Hitler’s war machine. Almost half of them were women.
Based on years of research, including exclusive interviews with the few that survived the war, Red Orchestra brings to life the different characters of the key people involved in the resistance ring.
These include Adam Kuckhoff, a playwright who found employment in Goebbels’s propaganda unit in order to undermine the regime, and his wife, Greta, who risked her own family to help smuggle Jews and homosexuals out from Berlin; Arvid Harnack, who collected anti-Nazi intelligence while working for the Economic Ministry, and his wife, Mildred, the only American woman executed by Hitler; Harro Schulze-Boysen, the glamorous Luftwaffe intelligence officer who leaked anti-Nazi information to allies abroad, and his wife, Libertas, a social butterfly who coaxed favours from an unsuspecting Göring; and many more. 
The Berlin Underground was betrayed in 1942, and many of its members were tortured and executed, including young women in their teens. I ended the book with tears in my eyes – it is impossible not to imagine yourself living under such terrifying circumstances and wondering what choices you would make. 

4. Storming the Eagle’s Nest: Hitler’s War in the Alps  - Jim Ring
Another World War II book! I’m researching a novel to be set during that period and so you’ll need to expect a lot of books set during that time in my reading lists. This one is another non-fiction book, focusing on the role of the Alps in the Second World War. 

Hitler declared: ‘Yes, I have a close link to this mountain. Much was done there, came about and ended there; those were the best times of my life . . . My great plans were forged there.’

The book examines the war in the Alps from all angles, including battles from resistance fighters in Italy, France and Yugoslavia, concentration camps in Bavaria,  Hitler’s enormous caches of art and wine hidden in caves, and Switzerland’s role as a centre for Allied spies – Storming the Eagle’s Nest is an interesting, unusual and very readable addition to WWII non-fiction.

Note: I received an ARC of the book from the publisher via NetGalley.

5. The Marsh King’s Daughter – Elizabeth Chadwick
I’ve wanted to read a book by Elizabeth Chadwick for a while – a lot of my Goodreads friends rave about her work – and so I finally bought one to read. I chose this book because of the title – it’s the name of a Hans Christian Anderson fairy tale that I am actually thinking of rewriting one day. The title has little to do with the book, however, except that the heroine, Miriel, is the granddaughter of a rich weaver who lives near the marshes. 

The book is set in 1216, one of my favourite periods of history (nasty King John ruled the land back then). Miriel is intelligent, high-spirited, and rebellious, and so is locked up in a convent by her violent and lustful step-father. She plans to escape but then helps rescue a half-drowned young man and stays so she can help nurse him back to health. The young man is Nicholas de Caen and he has a secret. He was present when King John’s treasure sank beneath the marshes (a true historical event), and he has hidden some of the treasure …

The two help each other escape, but their road of romance is rocky indeed. They have to deal with all sorts of misfortunes – including their own pigheadedness – before at last finding refuge in each other’s arms. 

A big, brightly coloured romance, with lots of twists and turns, The Marsh King’s Daughter was a most enjoyable read and I’ll be picking up more books by Elizabeth Chadwick.

6. The Tulip Eaters – Antoinette van Huegten 
The premise of this book sounded so engaging that I was really keen to read it – a contemporary woman comes home to find her mother murdered and her baby stolen, and comes to realise these shocking crimes are somehow related to her mother’s past in Nazi-occupied Holland. She sets off for Amsterdam, determined to find her baby and uncover the truth of her family’s history. The title refers to the Dutch having to go out into the fields to dig up tulip bulbs to stave off starvation during the Occupation. It sounded just the kind of book I love to read. I have to admit, though, that I found the book disappointing. The most interesting parts were the ones that referred to the past, and they were all told, not shown. There were also a few inconsistencies which marred the reading for me. However, if you’re looking for a light and easy suspenseful read, then this may appeal to you. 
Note: I received an ARC of the book from the publisher via NetGalley.

7. The Small Dark Man – Maurice Walsh
8. Castle Gillian - Maurice Walsh
9. The Man in Brown - Maurice Walsh
10. Danger Under the Moon - Maurice Walsh
11. Trouble in the Glen - Maurice Walsh
12. The Hill is Mine - Maurice Walsh

I first read Castle Gillian by Maurice Walsh as a teenager, and was enchanted. It’s a romance set in Ireland in the 1930s, and tells the story of a young man, broken by the war, and his family’s struggle to keep the ancestral home. Whenever I go into an old, cobwebby  second-hand bookstore, I look to see if they have any of his books and over the years I’ve amassed half-a-dozen of them. Fighting off a nasty bout of bronchitis over the summer holidays, I stayed in bed and read my way through the whole lot of them again. Nearly all follow the same plot sequence as Castle Gillian (which is still my favourite) – a small quiet man comes to the glen, usually to visit a friend; there’s a beautiful girl (sometimes there are two, giving the friend a romance too); he has to outface a big tough cocksure man; at the end of the book, they fight; the small, quiet man wins against all odds and gets the girl. Sometimes there’s a murder involved as well. Most of them are set in Scotland and celebrate the wild and beautiful landscape (Castle Gillian is the exception, being set in Ireland); all of them are whimsical and a little wry.

Maurice Walsh was Irish himself (born in County Kerry in 1879), but spent a lot of time in Scotland and married his wife there in 1908. He is best known for the short story ‘The Quiet Man’ which was made into an Oscar-winning film directed by John Ford and starring John Wayne and Maureen O’Hara. He was one of Ireland’s best-selling authors in the 1930s, but no-one I know has heard of him. It’s a shame, I think. The best of his books (Castle Gillian, Trouble in the Glen, Danger Under the Moon & The Small, Dark Man are all well worth reading. 

13. Fairest of Them All - Carolyn Turgeon

I’m in the final stages of a doctorate on Rapunzel, which means I simply must read every book ever inspired by the old fairy tale. 

Fairest of Them All is an interesting take on the well-known story, imagining: What if Rapunzel was Snow White’s evil stepmother?  

The story begins with a young Rapunzel living in a forest with her foster mother, Mathena, a witch who had been banished from court because of her magical powers. They live an idyllic life, tending the herb garden and helping the women of the village. 

One day Rapunzel’s singing attracts a young prince who was out hunting in the forest. He climbs up her hair into her tower bedroom and they have a brief afternoon of passion before the prince must return to his kingdom and his betrothed. 

Rapunzel loses the baby she carries, and is grieved to discover the king and his wife have a living daughter soon after hers has died. The girl is so beautiful she is named Snow White.

The tale then follows the familiar sequence of events known to us from the original Grimm tale – the mother dies, the king remarries, his queen has a magical mirror that tells her she is the fairest of all …
Written simply yet lyrically, this is a dark and powerful reimagining of two well-known fairy-tales and should appeal to the millions of fans of writers such as Donna Jo Napoli, Shannon Hale, Jessica Day George and Gail Carson Levine.

14. Rose Under Fire -  Elizabeth Wein
Elizabeth Wein’s novel Code Name Verity was one of the best books I read last year, and I was very eager to read her latest book, Rose Under Fire.

Both books are set during World War II, and both pack a hefty emotional wallop. In Rose Under Fire, the heroine is a young American woman who is caught by the Germans while flying an Allied fighter plane back from Paris.  She is sent to Ravensbrück, the notorious women's concentration camp. Trapped there in horrific circumstances, she has to try and survive, even while the German war machine grinds ever closer to genocide. Rose makes friends among the Rabbits (young Polish women who were experimented upon by doctors) and recites poetry to keep herself to stay sane. This book is so intense and powerful that I had trouble breathing by the end – like Code Name Verity, is one of the best WWII books for teenagers that I’ve ever read. Expect to be emotionally wrung out whilst reading it. 

15. Poison – Sara Poole
‘The Spaniard died in agony. That much was evident from the contortions of his once handsome face and limbs and the black foam caking his lips. A horrible death to be sure, one only possible from that most feared of weapons.

What a great opening to what proved to be a real page-turner of a novel. The book’s heroine, a young woman named Francesca Giordano, kills a man to prove that she is the better poisoner. Her reward is to become the official poisoner of Rodrigo Borgia, during his dangerous quest to become the next Pope. Francesca wants the job so she can find out who murdered her father, who had been poisoner before her. She finds herself caught up in an action-packed roller-coaster ride of an adventure, with intrigue, treachery, romance and murder a-plenty. A fabulous read!


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