My Review of The Tides Between, a coming-of-age, historical novel by Elizabeth Jane Corbett

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“Elffin, Gwyddno and Taliesin, that’s the way it works, isn’t it? Each of us in every character, the stories shifting and changing as we learn to see differently.”

The year is 1841 and fifteen-year-old Bridie Stewart is emigrating from England to Port Phillip, Australia with her ma, her stepfather Alf Bustle and a book of magical Welsh fairy tales her dad told her before his sudden passing 18 months previously. With her ma pregnant and a new life ahead of them, Bridie’s ma and Alf want her to forget her childhood and grow up. Most of all, they want her to give up on the memory she has of her father as a kind-hearted, misunderstood dreamer. In order to appease them, Bridie has to hide her notebook, the last tangible object on earth she has to remind her of her father.

When it’s discovered, Alf insists that she use the notebook not to write down further stories but to make a record of their ocean crossing. Bridie feels angry and hurt. Luckily, Bridie has become friends with a young Welsh couple, Rhys and Siân, who share her love of stories and who help Bridie feel less isolated on the ship. Rhys is a dreamer, like her dad was, and Siân’s daintiness and mysterious ways remind Bridie of a fairy. But will their mythical ballads, music and storytelling be enough to help Bridie discover her own truth about what happened with her dad?

Corbett’s portrayal of life between decks for the English and Welsh emigrants was realistic and empathetic. She does not shy away from showing readers the harshness of her characters’ lives or the ocean crossing but nor does she allow for this aspect of their experience to dominate. The Tides Between is an enchanting novel, filled with Welsh myths and the magic of possibility.

The Tides Between is available from Amazon UK: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Tides-Between-Elizabeth-Jane-Corbett-ebook/dp/B077SS6847/ 

Amazon US: https://www.amazon.com/Tides-Between-Elizabeth-Jane-Corbett-ebook/dp/B077SS6847/

To find out more about The Tides Between and Eliizabeth Jane Corbett’s writing, visit: elizabethjanecorbett.com

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My review of Sealskin, by Su Bristow

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‘And the thing is, Donald, I’ll never know if it was the best way or not, do you see? You choose your path, and then you have to walk it, all the way. We all do.’

Donald is a gentle and lonely young man living with his mother in a tiny, close-knit fishing village off the west coast of Scotland. Struggling to eke out a living for the two of them, he fishes, keeps crab pots and helps his Uncle Hugh when necessary. Unable to relate to his cousins or to the other villagers, Donald takes joy in nature and being on his own.

When he goes out to check his crab pots late one night, he witnesses something magical. Seized by the beauty of this spectacle, Donald acts out of character and does something unthinkable. Afterward, filled with remorse, Donald hopes to make up for his actions. But it’s too late. He will have to live with his deed for the rest of his life. How he manages the aftermath will make all the difference.

I enjoyed this story, which is based on the legend of the selkies, one of my all-time favourite myths (for more on selkies see my review of this series). Bristow’s exploration of Donald’s character was skilful and refreshing—while Donald does something terrible, the writing is never heavy-handed or judgmental. Bristow shows her characters, presents the dilemma and lets the action play out naturally—no easy feat! Her writing is poignant and evocative of the harsh but magnificent landscape of the west coast of Scotland, an area I was lucky enough to visit last year. This is a beautifully-written and memorable novel, which I hope to reread someday.

Sealskin is available from Amazon UK, Amazon US and all good bookstores.

My Review of The Adventures of Shifting Jack: New Friends, by Denise Ersalahi Erguler

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…the prophecy began ringing in Militis’ ears: the most gifted will rule next, one to guard and protect, one to rule, both bound by blood. None shall stand in their way, they will suffer great injustices, great grievance. But they shall rise in times of peril. Shifters will unite.

Jack and Lily Legend live in North Cyprus, with their mother, Linda, and their father, Militis. On the surface, they look like any other family, but beneath their ordinary veneer, they are avian shapeshifters with a mission to help protect animals and the environment.

When Jack and Lily decide to take a boat ride one afternoon with their teacher, Mr Gardener, Lily discovers dead fish floating on the surface of the sea. Hoping to practice her magical, healing powers, Lily leans in for a closer look. Just as she does, the boat rocks, knocking her overboard. Lily gasps for breath and tries to reach the surface of the water but becomes entangled with a giant squid. Unable to free herself, a friendly dolphin comes to her assistance. What Lily discovers next will come as a huge surprise.

A richly imaginative fantasy adventure for children, The Adventures of Shifting Jack: New Friends features the familiar Jack and Lily Legend from book 1 in the series, The Adventures of Shifting Jack: A New Home. This is a delightful story underpinned by an educational message about the importance of taking care of nature and each other. Children will enjoy getting to know Jack and Lily Legend and all their friends, both old and new. Adults will also enjoy this tale of bravery, determination and camaraderie between adults and children set in the unique location of North Cyprus.

The Adventures of Shifting Jack: New Friends is the second, and final, book in the Shifting Jack series. Although the books would, ideally, be read in order, each can equally be enjoyed on its own. For more about The Adventures of Shifting Jack: A New Home, see my interview with Denise about the book, published last year. At the end of the interview, you’ll find my review of book 1.

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For those that read that interview, you’ll know that at the time of writing The Adventures of Shifting Jack: New Friends, Denise was battling a rare form of brain cancer. Sadly, she lost that fight in January of this year.

The Adventures of Shifting Jack: New Friends is available from Amazon UK: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Adventures-Shifting-Jack-New-Friends-ebook/dp/B0771N81BF/

Amazon US: https://www.amazon.com/Adventures-Shifting-Jack-New-Friends-ebook/dp/B0771N81BF/

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About the Author

The Adventures of Shifting Jack: New Friends has been published posthumously. Author Denise Ersalahi Erguler fought a courageous battle with a rare form of brain cancer for 13 months. This, the second in the series of Shifting Jack books, was written after Denise was diagnosed in December 2015 and bears testament to her courage, determination and great story-telling ability. Denise leaves behind a husband, Olkan, and two young children, who inspired her to write her children’s books.

Denise Ersalahi Erguler was born and raised in Hackney, London and moved to North Cyprus in 1994 with her family where she studied Interior Design at a local university for four years. She then pursued a career in this field in London working for various designer companies at the peak of the industry. In 2005 setup her own interior design company.

In 2007, Denise left her successful business in London behind and moved back to North Cyprus to help grow her family business, Mermaid Fabrics of London in Kyrenia. This decision was made upon the belief that she would be closer to home and family for support in bringing up her child in a safe environment.

Denise began writing in 2010. In her stories, she used real life characters and stories evolving around her to build her fantasy world giving us the opportunity to share her dream world.

Also by Denise:

The Adventure of Shifting Jack: A New Home, which won the Children’s book award at the Radio WORKS Author Awards, London, December 2016.

The Essence, an adult Sci-fi novel.

 

My Review of Snow Sisters by Carol Lovekin

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‘She doesn’t get it, does she?’ Meredith leaned on the windowsill. ‘Why do you love snow, Verity?’

‘It’s like friendly rain; softer and kinder.’

‘Good answer.’

‘Why do you love it?’

The light from the window turned Meredith’s hair to coral candyfloss. ‘Snow makes me brave. When it snows, the sad part of me goes away.’

Meredith and Verity Pryce live in the beautiful Welsh countryside, at Gull House, which belongs to their grandmother, Mared. They live with their eccentric and erratic mother, Allegra, and Angharad, the ghost of a girl who lived 100 years ago. Meredith discovered Angharad’s presence when sifting through an abandoned sewing box in their disused attic. But, rather than tell their mother about Angharad—she would only overdramatise it and scare the ghost away—or their sensible grandmother, the girls decide to investigate her presence on their own. Through their communications with Angharad, they begin to learn more about her life, and to draw conclusions about their own.

Allegra has told the education board that she’s home-schooling her daughters, but other than a few books sent through the post, no lessons are provided. Verity would love nothing more than to go to school, and so spends her time reading at the library, where a whole new world is opened to her. But Meredith doesn’t mind staying home—her imagination more than compensates for what she doesn’t know. Despite the girls’ best efforts to escape their mother, Allegra’s unreliable behaviour and continued hurt and resentment over the loss of the girls’ father, continues to dominate their lives.

When Allegra gets it into her head that her paintings might make it big in London, the girls have no choice but to go along with it. The ever-helpful Verity tries her best to change their mother’s mind, for Meredith’s sake, but isn’t able to. Their arrival in London ushers in a new period in the girls’ lives, but how each manages to cope with this change will have the biggest impact yet, on their lives and on their friendship.

Having read and loved Lovekin’s first novel, Ghostbird, I had high expectations of Snow Sisters. I was not disappointed. As with Ghostbird, the story Lovekin tells is poignant, enchanting and insightful.  Lovekin powerfully conveys the ways in which women and girls internalise their experiences until they become a part of their psychological make-up. Lovekin’s prose is crisp, clear and beautiful. Her stunning evocation of the Welsh landscape and the magic of childhood makes this a novel to be savoured, slowly over time, and reread, for its many layers of meaning.

Snow Sisters was published by Honno Welsh Women’s Press on 21st September 2017.

You can purchase Snow Sisters from Honno: http://www.honno.co.uk/

Amazon UK: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Snow-Sisters-Carol-Lovekin-ebook/dp/B074WGLLGQ/

Amazon U.S.: https://www.amazon.com/Snow-Sisters-Carol-Lovekin-ebook/dp/B074WGLLGQ/

With thanks to Honno for providing me with a copy of the book in exchange for my honest review.

You can follow the Snow Sisters Blog tour here:

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About Carol Lovekin:

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Author photograph copyright Janey Stevens

Carol Lovekin has Irish blood and a Welsh heart. She was born in Warwickshire and has lived in Wales since 1979, settling in Lampeter eleven years ago. A feminist, she finds fiction the perfect vehicle for telling women’s collective stories. Her books also reflect her love of the landscape and mythology of her adopted home.

Snow Sisters is her second novel. Her first, Ghostbird, is also published by Honno.

Visit Carol’s website: https://carollovekinauthor.com/

Follow her on Twitter: https://twitter.com/carollovekin

Find her on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100009564096097

My review of The Unusual Possession of Alastair Stubb by David John Griffin

Firstly, I’d like to thank Sonya Alford and David John Griffin for this book, which I won in a competition on Sonya’s blog https://aloverofbooks.wordpress.com . The book design is beautiful, and one of the nicest I’ve seen in a while (you can’t really tell from the photo but the letters are all embossed and the insects appear nearly holographic).

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The shuttered windows became blinkered, sorrowful eyes, the main canopy over its entrance a wet nose and the outer door that gaped open acquired two rows of fine, pointed teeth.

Ever since Eleanor and William lost their first child, who was to be named Alastair, Eleanor has longed for him. She calls his name, pretending he exists, and sees things which aren’t real. Or are they?

She becomes so disturbed by her visions that she ends up in a sanatorium, only being allowed out once she recants them. However, just because she’s recanted them doesn’t mean she doesn’t still see them. While Eleanor’s been away, William’s business has failed. He’s had to sell their house and move in with his aging, manipulative, insect-collecting father. Now that Eleanor’s returned, everyone must do their best to adapt to their changed family circumstances. The big question is, how they’ll manage to do so.

The Unusual Possession of Alastair Stubb is a magical realist story set in an alternate reality, nineteenth century English village. It’s told in two parts, with alternating third person viewpoints. As is usual with the genre, at times it’s hard to tell what’s really happening and what’s only in the minds of the characters. Griffin manages to separate them out nicely, thereby clarifying events for the reader, without becoming mired down in the details or losing the magical elements of the story.

Griffin’s prose is lucid and striking in this atmospheric, creepy and ultimately gothic tale dealing with issues of identity, disassociation, schizophrenia and ghosts. But although his novel’s themes may be heavy, Griffin underlies them with a sense of humour. One of my favourite things about this novel were the names of his characters. For example there is Dr. Snippet, the Reverend and Mrs. Musty, Mr. Fishcake and Mrs. Goodwithin, amongst others. His place names were equally clever and amusing, with The Bulldog Fish Tavern being easily my favourite.

If you enjoy gothic tales, psychology and/or magical realism I’d recommend this novel.

The Unusual Possession of Alastair Stubb is published by Urbane Publications and is available from Amazon and all good bookshops.

To learn more about the author, visit his website: http://www.davidjohngriffin.com/

Follow him on Twitter: @MagicalRealized