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Monthly Archives: March 2018

Review: The Infinite Lives of Maisy Day

Review: The Infinite Lives of Maisy Day

Like the TARDIS, this book for ‘middle grade’ readers is much larger on the inside than it’s external appearance suggests. It’s a surprisingly affecting story of a girl, her birthday party, quantum physics and sisterly loveThe-Infinite-Lives-of-Maisie-Day-355593-1-456x701.

It’s the morning of Maisie’s tenth birthday. She’s looking forward to a family party in the garden and presents of the constituent parts of a nuclear reactor (if you’re wondering these would be: a backward wave oscillator, a hydrogen generator and fifty tubes of kitchen foil). In many ways, Maisie is an ‘ordinary’ ten year old, with a surly teenage sister, slightly embarrassing parents and the burning desire to be allowed to walk down to the shops by herself.

Maisie’s birthday morning dawns with sunshine and the promise of her dad’s legendary banana pancakes. Maisie narrates her story with humour and a scientific perspective. Although she’s not autistic, Maisie is intellectually gifted and already studying for her BSc in Maths and Physics at the Open University with a tutor.

But there are two parallel narratives; one in which ‘normal’ events happen, the other which unfolds into a nightmare black hole – quite literally!

Will Maisie be sucked into a black hole? Where has everyone gone? Will her father manage to erect the birthday gazebo? What’s sister Lily’s big secret? What, in fact, is reality…?

At only 155 pages long, this novel packs a hefty emotional punch. Although I read it in its entirety in my lunch break, Maisie’s story has stayed with me. I am urging my son to read it over the Easter break, and look forward to displaying it at work on publication. It has also prompted me to try again to pick up Stephen Hawking’s A Brief History of Time… Not many ‘children’s books’ can do that, AND tug at my heart strings.

An excellent read from Christopher Edge, with chapter illustrations by Matt Saunders, produced by the lovely folks at Nosy Crow. Read it!

ISBN 9781788000291 published April 2018

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Posted by on 29/03/2018 in review

 

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Review: Truly Devious

This was an unexpectedly enjoyable YA novel.

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It’s not a debut, and it shows. It is confident and engaging. I initially thought it might be a variant on the superhero school or teens-with-powers genre. But it’s not, to my delight.

Ellingham Academy is a private – but free – school unlike any other. It was founded by eccentric tycoon, Albert Ellingham, whose aim was to educate particularly gifted children, to make a place ‘where learning is a game’. It’s an amazing place in the Vermont mountains, in cleared grounds full of statues, its own lake and observatory, experimental labs, a ballroom, and hidden passages.

 

It also holds the secret to a tragic mystery.

Stevie Bell is obsessed with solving crimes; the Ellingham case is her particular obsession. Albert Ellingham’s wife and daughter went missing one April night in 1936. They were held to ransom by an villain known only as ‘Truly Devious’; a kidnapper who wrote the ransom note in magazine clippings and an annoying rhyme. The case ended tragically and with a conviction, but Stevie has never found this conclusion satisfactory.

 

Stevie is – unexpectedly – offered a place based on her potential crime-solving abilities. Coming from a boring and slightly embarrassing background, she feels out of place and isolated, but thrilled to be in the actual buildings -and tunnels – where her ‘pet murder’ took place.

 

Can Stevie solve the mystery more than eighty years on? Is Truly Devious still on the case? Will Stevie make friends? Will Stevie survive the first year?

 

I enjoyed this unusual YA read. Stevie was good company and Maureen Johnson has created a believably eccentric school with an intriguing back story. The split-time narrative worked well and hooked this reader into the story. The cast of characters was varied but not confusing. This book is the perfect segeway between Robin Stevens’ Murder Most Unladylike and Agatha Christie, but in a contemporary setting.

 

However, the ending was unsatisfying – until I found out there is another part – Truly Devious Two – which I hope will go even further to solving the Ellingham Case. I look foward to meeting Stevie and her friends again  -soon, please!

 

Thanks to Harper Collins for the advanced reading copy. Out now!

 
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Posted by on 25/03/2018 in review

 

Review: The Mermaid and Mrs Hancock by Imogen Hermes Gowar

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What a tale! Most definitely a grown up story and all the better for it.

While reading it, I was reminded of Georgette Heyer’s Regency London, but one which shows more of the shaved, itching head under the powdered wig.

Set in London and its environs from 1785, it’s a tale of mermaids and courtesans, fortune and poverty, love and lust.

Jonah Hancock is a shipping merchant; staid, widowed, slightly shabby but just about managing; a middling, average, unremarkable man.  He’s plodding his way through life following the death of his wife and infant son, living in the same house he was born in with his young niece, Sukie.  Everything is transformed when his ship’s captain brings back a mermaid. Wizened and hideous, it’s not the beauty everyone expects,  but it’s still a mysterious bewitching creature. Oh, and it’s dead.

As well as a mermaid, Jonah meets Angelica Neal – one of the most notorious courtesans of the Ton. She posed for Reynolds, entertained the most eligible men, and knew exactly how to please her admirers. But she has been abandoned by her latest lover, left only with her companion, Eliza Frost.

Their paths cross and become entwined to the surprise of Angelica’s erstwhile madam, the ironically named Mrs Chappell. (As an aside, I noticed that all the women in Mrs Chappell’s ‘nunnery’ are referred to as ‘Mrs’; perhaps an honorary title, similar to that of a housekeeper in later decades, but with added services – less housework more ‘whore-work’?! Just a thought…)

Another mermaid is found, and the story becomes a little fantastical. I didn’t mind this element of mystical whimsy as I’d become as invested in the story of Jonah and Angelica as they had with each other; as entangled as a woman’s ribbons might become in her stays if removed too hastily in the heat of passion.

This is an immersive read. At times, it reminded me of Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall in the amount of detail provided for the minutiae of daily life in a long-ago age. The reader can see, taste, hear, smell and feel all the fabrics, interiors, cobbled streets, docklands, whore houses, coffee houses of the London of 1780s. The authors experience working in museums evidently put to good use as she vividly evokes daily life via the things needed to live in a Regency city.

It should be pointed out that there is an eye-raising scene in ‘the nunnery’ as a lavish, sensual show is performed by ‘sailors and mermaids’ for the obvious delight and titillation of society’s gentlemen. It’s not for the faint-hearted but it’s pivotal to the plot and perfectly encapsulates the excess and licentiousness of the age in that part of society.

It struck me while I was reading, that all the characters are questing to improve their lot in life, perhaps by fortune, discovery, a suitable match, or gainful employment.  Everyone wants to be elsewhere.  The presence of the second mermaid – a much more ethereal creature – unsettles the balance. Rather than looking upwards and outwards, those who encounter her start to look inwards and downwards, sinking into miasma. Perhaps the mermaid’s former freedom in the ocean and fluidity of her movements reminds us of our restrictive, gravitised lives in human society.

It also explores women in captivity, in its loosest sense. This novel is full of women but they’re all constrained: in their position in society, in their clothes, in what they can say. The uncaught mermaid is free; perhaps that’s an element of her attraction.

I loved the frequent and delightful use of contemporary expressions and terminology. I neglected to make a note as I went along, but those that stick in my memory are the insistence by one of the madams on the use of ‘cundums’ and a most memorable scene involving the use and emptying of a ‘bordalone’ (to all intents and purposes a Regency ‘she-wee’!).

This is truly sumptuous writing; a sensual delight created by mere words on a page. It’s a truly immersive read and comes highly recommended. Dive in!

 

ISBN 9781911215721 (hardback, February 2018)

 
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Posted by on 01/03/2018 in review

 

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