Tag Archives: Characters

Book twenty-four and Book twenty-five: The Weirdstone of Brisingamen and The Moon of Gomrath (Tales of Alderley) #Garner

The Tales of Alderley are children’s fantasy novels written in the 1950s and 60s by Alan Garner.  Despite critical success Garner actually grew to dislike his characters and the third book in the series wasn’t released until 2012!

Upon reading these books my first thought was how had I not read them when I was younger.  They are a fantastic introduction to the fantasy world for children and I can’t believe it has taken me so long to stumble across them.  Set in and around Macclesfield and Alderley Edge in Cheshire the books rely heavily on the folklore and landscape of the area and having grown up not too far from the area myself I definitely connected with the setting of the story.

So what is the story?

The Tales of Alderley tells the story of two children, Colin and Susan who are sent to stay with old family friends whilst their parents are overseas.  Living on a farm in a quiet rural area of Cheshire the children naturally begin to explore the fields and woods and in doing so come to realise that the world they know is shared with wizards, shape shifting witches, dwarves and other magical creatures.  The first book focuses on the lost Weirdstone of Brisingmen, key to protecting the world of humans and good magic from the evil spirit Nastrond.  When it falls into the wrong hands the power of dark side begins to grow and Colin and Susan find themselves caught up in a great quest to take back the stone and quell the forces of darkness once more.  In the second book some time has passed since the great battle and Colin and Susan have had no contact with the world of magic.  But times are changing and the elves need Susan and Colin’s help with an unknown evil power in their own lands.  In helping the elves, Susan is left vulnerable to other older dark powers roaming the Cheshire countryside.  A struggle between old and new magic is taking place and the children get caught very much in the middle of it.

You can’t help but smile when you begin this book and find the “obligatory” map laying out the key places of the story.  I read this book in a mere couple of days, and would find myself caught up reading chapter after chapter.  It is a natural page turner with fantastic chapter cliff endings keeping you reading on.  Whilst there is complexity to the story it is not overwhelming and at roughly 300 pages long they are considerably shorter than many fantasy novels making them perfectly accessible to children new to the genre.  I also found that having children as the central characters kept a good level of mystery and fantasy to the back story of characters, motivation  and plot development without becoming too complex or weighty.  But don’t be worried that in doing that it loses any depth or darkness, I’m sure if I had read this as a child I would have been hiding under the covers insisting that I was ok whilst secretly dreading turning the light off.

Whilst written for children I thoroughly enjoyed both of these books.  So whether you’re looking for a light fantasy read for yourself or something to get your children interested I would highly recommend these books.

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Book twenty-three: London Lies Beneath #Duffy

Inspired by real events, this is the story of three friends, and a tragedy that will change them forever.  Set in the working class streets of Walworth South London in the early 1900s the book concentrates on Tom, Jimmy, Itzhak and their families.

If you’re familiar with London and in particular the Walworth area this book is so much more than a story of friendship, it is a story of south London, a history of the streets and the families that made it such a complex place.  Despite progression over the last 100 years or so this book is an echo of life now, families crammed into small houses, parents working all hours to provide for their families, children with dreams of doing something different, not following the same path as their parents, making more of their life, seeing more, doing more, having adventures beyond the streets of Walworth.  Aspirations every child should have and be encouraged to have.

This is the first book I’ve read by Stella Duffy and I’ll certainly be looking up some of her older work.  She is a beautiful writer, crafting the world her characters live in and opening each of them up to us so that we connect with their inner soul.  This book is nothing without the people, although there is one major tragedy towards the end of the book within the rest of it very little happens and yet Duffy keeps you entranced.  The depth and history given to her characters is fantastic and slowly throughout the book she opens up them up to us, sharing their insecurities with us, allowing us to see the last troubling worries before they sleep and the hope and optimism for the future that wakes them each morning.

Life for the families of Walworth was hard, working 6 days a week most of the time, always wondering if they had earned enough to put food on the table, clothe the children, educate them.  The struggles of the families contrasting with the dreams of the boys is an important part of this story which is handled very well by Duffy.  It would have been easy to over dramatize the poverty but she successfully paints a realistic picture whilst also showing us the wealth held within the families.  Close-knit communities where children are cherished and raised by all, where no one goes without in a time of tragedy, where there is always a chair by a warm fire and someone to share the burden.

At the heart of the book are Tom, Jimmy and Itzhak, best friends and partners in crime. When not in school or helping with work and household chores the boys are found exploring south London.  From Clapham to Nunhead every street, park and waterside path offers them a new world to explore.  Always looking for the next adventure the boys are over the moon when a new Scout troop is established in Walworth and they’re given permission to join.  Each boy finds his own strength through the scouts, knot tying, map making, swimming, and leadership and together they prepare to embark on the biggest adventure of their young life a boat trip along the Thames to a summer scout camp in Sheppey.  A Thames boat trip might not seem like much of an adventure to a reader today but when you picture the river of the time, a bustling waterway filled with cargo ships and passenger ships taking people to unimaginable lands, a vast stretch of water which the boys would have rarely crossed never mind travelled upon then you can begin to understand the caution and worry of their parents and the sheer excitement of the boys.

The lives of the people of Walworth were forever changed after the boat trip.  In today’s age we are touched, more often than we’d like, by tragedies that impact entire communities and Duffy details wonderfully the conflict between a families private grief and a community’s need to mourn and commemorate.

This a slow moving book with wonderful stories within the story and it is an absolute pleasure to spend time amongst the families of Walworth.

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Book fifteen: House of Secrets #Stacey

Madeline and her daughter Poppy live with Madeline’s boyfriend Liam O’Grady.  A fairy tale romance has turned sour, Madeline lives on the edge wondering when Liam’s mood will next change and fears for her daughter as she becomes more withdrawn in Liam’s presence.  After discovering Liam cheating with his boss, Madeline decides enough is enough and leaves him to go and live at Wrea Head Hall the hotel owned by her father.  As Madeline makes new friends and starts to discover the history and secrets of Wrea Head Hall she begins to imagine a brighter future but Liam has very different plans.]

Warning this review has spoilers    

This debut novel by Lynda Stacey shows great promise.  The stories are enjoyable and the characters likeable, she has a good rhythm to her writing and can paint pictures in your mind of her settings.  Sadly, whilst there were things to enjoy about this book I also felt parts of the story were rushed, the storylines clashed and it was very easy to see how the book was going to end.

As a fan of the radio two serial drama the Archers fan I was immediately hooked as Stacey laid the foundations for Madeline and Liam’s relationship in the first couple of chapters.  I was preparing to settle down to a thrilling but slightly uncomfortable story of manipulation and power struggles reminiscence of the current Helen Archer and Rob Titchener saga.  On that front I’m sorry to say House of Secrets did not live up to my expectations.

I think my main issue with this book is that in some ways it feels like two books in one competing for the author’s attention.  The Liam O’Grady storyline given more development would make a fantastic suspense filled thriller, kidnapping, torture, murders by the charming Irish man would be a real page turner.  In O’Grady Stacey has created a compelling psychopath, the mystery surrounding his parents, the locked up rooms in his house, his long-term obsession with Madeline – these are things great thrillers are made of.  The reader is intrigued, we want to know more about him, even if we have to read it from behind a pillow.

The pacing of the book is also off for me.  I would expect to have snippets of Liam’s behaviour revealed to us, we should question his involvement in “accidents” unsure of whether he was responsible or is the author showing us a red herring.  Instead, too much is laid bare too soon.  Madeline suspicious of nothing has an epiphany after one threatening encounter is suddenly putting all the pieces together, it just happens too quickly.

In the other half of the book we have a brilliant romantic mystery, comparable with the works of Kate Morton.  The finding of a diary which gives us insight to the lives of those living in the hall during World War II, secret passages and rooms, blossoming relationships, the Wrea Head Hall storyline is thoughtfully developed and like a period drama is a pleasure to get lost in.  But again, Stacey reveals too much too quickly.  They mystery of the book should be what links Emily Ennis to the current residents of the hall, who was Eddie, what happened to their child and yet quite early on in the story it is revealed that Bandit’s father talks of walking through tunnels and going to see the lady in the hall.  It does not take a genius to put the pieces together and in a moment the storyline unravels before us leaving no surprises.

One of the things I did enjoy in this book was the characters Stacey has created and the way she crafts the relationships between them.  In particular I felt the portrayal of the reunion between Madeline and her father was perfectly captured.  The awkwardness on both sides, the longing for closeness, the bond that even years apart cannot dampen.  In Bandit, the hero of the book, Stacey has created a dark and brooding damaged man, the type of man we all dream about, the one that just needs us to fix him.  Snippets of his previous army life add depth to him and his link to the hall and the estate gives a spiritual element.  Madeline herself is also a character you warm to, you see strength in her particular when it comes to protecting her daughter Poppy.  And yet there is also a sense of vulnerability, something that could have more made of it had the story focused more on O’Grady’s manipulation and obsession.

Whilst I found this book to be a clash of stories and styles there is enough in there to make me give future books by Stacey a read.

 

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Elementary, my dear Watson. Discovering #SherlockHolmes

It is amazing how certain literacy characters transcend all ages. Without ever having read any of Arthur Conan Doyle’s books I would hazard a guess that the majority of people on a street would be able to provide you with a pretty good profile of Holmes and Watson. Of course the recent TV series featuring Benedict Cumberbatch will have boosted the numbers but in general I think Sherlock Holmes is a character people know regardless of whether they have read the books or watch one of the numerous TV and film adaptations. Like Peter Rabbit, Paddington Bear, Sweeny Todd, Peter Pan, Winnie-the-Pooh and Mr Darcy to name but a few Sherlock Holmes has seeped into our minds and popular culture.

My earliest memory of Sherlock Holmes is a radio drama adaptation. I think I was about 11 years old, we were on summer holiday in France, camping, and each night dad would turn on the BBC World Service and my brother I would listen engrossed from our sleeping bags. The story, The Hound of the Baskervilles. Not the best night time story when all you have to protect you from wild animals is a canvas tent but I loved every moment of it and was really gutted when it came to an end and they followed it up with The Queen and I. No offence Sue Townsend but it just didn’t cut the mustard.

My second memory of Sherlock Holmes is Jeremy Brett. I say memory, I don’t actually remember watching the TV programme but like the name in general Jeremy Brett’s performance of Holmes has seeped into my mind and is his face that comes to mind when I think of the great detective.

Inspired by the reinvention of Sherlock Holmes by the BBC and the fact that my boyfriend rather handily has the box set of books I have gone back to the beginning, to the return of Watson from Afghanistan, to the move into Baker Street, to the birth of Sherlock Holmes, consulting detective. So far I’ve read the first two A Study in Scarlet and The Sign of Four. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed them both, finding them absolute page turners and far more accessible than I ever thought Arthur Conan Doyle would be. Why I thought they’d be hard going books, I’ve no idea but it was definitely an opinion I had formed. But what has struck me most when reading the books is just how perfectly matched every adaptation of Holmes I have seen or heard has been. I can only think it is the excellent development of the character within the books which sees directors not feeling the need to stray. Even without implicitly showing him to be a drug user those that have taken on the role have been able to show the escapist in him, finding ways to give him the space within his own mind he so greatly needs.

Reading the books I feel like I am joining old friends, already knowing the rise and fall of the friendship between Holmes and Watson. The best thing about this journey is that whilst I know the characters I couldn’t tell you a single thing about the vast majority of the stories. I know who his arch nemesis will become but I don’t know the order of his crime solving nor if I’m completely honest do I remember the full story of The House of the Baskervilles. Never before have I so closely connected with characters on a first introduction. The power of Arthur Conan Doyle’s characters to become infamous in their own right, outside of the stories they are found within, is a testament to his writing and probably to some of the great actors who have been honoured to play him, Basil Rathbone, Jeremy Brett, Tom Baker, Robert Downey Jnr and of course Benedict Cumberbatch.

I thoroughly look forward to continuing my journey through the tales and adventures.

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