The Whitby Witches by Robin Jarvis

The Whitby Witches

Jennet and Ben are orphaned siblings who have been shunted from one foster home to another since their parents died because of Ben’s ability to see ghosts, until they’re taken in by an eccentric, old lady, Alice Boston, who lives in the Yorkshire town of Whitby. Not long after the children arrive, the mysterious Rowena Cooper moves into a dilapidated old house nearby and strange, sinister events start to occur.

Whitby is a wonderful setting with descriptions of the ruined abbey overlooking the town and the infamous 199 steps featuring prominently in the story, and I really appreciated how well Robin Jarvis foreshadowed events and cleverly interspersed local history and folklore from the Barguest from Bram Stoker’s Dracula and St Hilda to the collapse of the central tower of the abbey in 1830 into the story.

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The Whitby Witches is full of supernatural elements from witches and ghosts to demonic hounds and other fantastic creatures, and this was a lot more thrilling, atmospheric and scary than I expected a children’s book to be – it managed to give me goosebumps and it’s a perfect tale for a dark and stormy night. My only criticism is that the story never fully explained who Rowena Cooper (or her husband) was or where she came from.

The story works well as a standalone but The Whitby Witches is actually the first in a trilogy following Miss Boston, Jennet and Ben, though only the first book seems to have been re-issued so I’ll have to track down second hand copies of the sequels because I enjoyed this so much. Have a lovely week. X

Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery

It’s always slightly intimidating to review a well-known and well-loved story but Anne of Green Gables is one of those books I’ve been meaning to read for ages, having somehow skipped over it as a child, and I recently borrowed a copy from the library.

Anne of Green Gables

Anne of Green Gables is the story of a young orphan who goes to live on a farm with the aging siblings, Matthew and Marilla Cuthbert, after a mix-up at the orphanage. Written as a series of chronological vignettes, the story follows Anne settling into life at Green Gables, through her school days, all her adventures, hijinks and (many, many) mishaps, making friends and finding “kindred spirits” along the way.

Anne is imaginative, absent-minded, fiery-tempered, relentlessly optimistic and prone to fits of melodrama, but it’s hard not to feel sympathy for her when her background of loneliness and domestic drudgery is revealed, with only her daydreams to keep her company until she moved to Green Gables. One aspect of Anne’s character that resonated with me was her reverence for nature, and how she always noticed the beauty of the changing seasons that so many of us take for granted. I also have a soft-spot for sensible, dry-humoured, calm and collected Marilla, and I loved the exchanges between Anne and Marilla, who seem like such opposites most of the time but are fiercely devoted to each other.

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This is such a gentle, comfort-read and reminded me of other childhood favourites like Heidi, The Secret Garden and Little Women that transport the reader to simpler times and capture all the trials, tribulations and triumphs of childhood and growing up. Have a lovely week. X

The Long Way to A Small Angry Planet by Becky Chambers

The Long Way to A Small Angry Planet is set in our galaxy but far in the future, when other planets have been colonized and various other sentient species have invited humans to join the Galactic Commons.

The story follows the crew of a ship called the Wayfarer, who make their way in the galaxy by creating hyperspace tunnels that allow other ships to travel from one planet to another. Perpetually struggling to make ends meet, the crew accept a high-risk, high reward job to connect a planet inhabited by a belligerent race of aliens who have only recently ceased sending messengers and ambassadors from other planets home in bits and begun communicating and trading with the Galactic Commons instead.

The Long Way to A Small Angry Planet is a slice-of-life space-opera, and it’s hard to describe the plot because not much actually happens yet is far from slow or boring. The Wayfarer’s crew is made up a multi-species cast, and the human, alien and A.I. characters are all vividly realised, and their relationships allow the story to explore the romances, taboos, prejudices and politics that would invariably exist between so many different species. The writing is also deliciously atmospheric, and right from the offset I felt like I was on board the Wayfarer, and could hear every clunk in the ship, the hum of the engine and imagine staring out of the viewport into endless space.

I don’t read much science-fiction but I’m so glad I took a chance on this, and I look forward to reading the rest in the series. Have a lovely week! X

Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata

Convenience Store Woman

Convenience Store Woman is narrated by Keiko Furukara and right from the start it’s clear that she’s a little bit odd and doesn’t fit in, but Keiko is frequently as baffled by other people as they are by her. At times Keiko is hard to relate to as she questions her humanity and there are moments when her lack of empathy and violent impulses add a sinister edge to the story.

As a university student Keiko takes a part-time job in a convenience store, where she finds a reassuring sense of routine, predictability and purpose, and she finally starts to feel like an ordinary, productive member of society. Eighteen years later, at the age of 36, Keiko is single, childless and still working part-time at the convenience store, and feeling pressure to conform as she realises that concerned family members and peers view her with a combination of curiosity and pity because they can’t imagine how she could be content when she’s deviated from the path of career, marriage and children that everyone else followed.

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Then, into Keiko’s orderly and predictable workplace, comes a new employee, Shiraha, a mid-30s slacker with a victim mentality who looks down on both the work and the other workers, but who is on the hunt for a marriage partner to support him. Shiraha is an interesting foil for Keiko, and he becomes the catalyst that pushes Keiko to choose between pretending to be normal and conforming to social expectations, or accepting herself for who she is and doing what makes her happy.

Convenience Store Woman is a short book and easy to read, but also a thought-provoking and powerful exploration of self-acceptance, conformity and societal pressure. Have a lovely week! X

The Invisible Library by Genevieve Cogman

I’ve always been an impulse book buyer, easily persuaded by a pretty cover and an intriguing first chapter, so I picked up The Invisible Library on a whim recently, and I’m very glad I did.

The story follows Irene, a Librarian from a secret society known as the Invisible Library, which collects rare and unique books from alternate realities. Instructed to collect a specific version of a text, Irene and her apprentice, Kai, arrive to find the book’s owner has been murdered and the book has already been stolen.

Irene is such a likeable heroine, she’s curious, resourceful and self-deprecating, and I really enjoyed the interplay between Irene and the other characters from her charming and enigmatic apprentice Kai to her femme-fatale rival Bradamant, and the mysterious villain, Alberich.

The Invisible Library subverts a few fantasy norms, instead of the usual battle between good and evil, the librarians try to restore order to chaos-infested worlds; and instead of magic, the Librarians use the Language, which allows them to influence reality with specific commands and instructions.

This is a quirky fantasy-mystery with lots of humour and a few twists; The Invisible Library is a bit different from the epic fantasies I usually read but I thoroughly enjoyed it. Have a lovely week! X

A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab

A Darker Shade of Magic

It took me a while to get into A Darker Shade of Magic as almost the first third of the book is spent setting the scene, introducing the two magicians, Kell and Holland, the last of the magical race known as the Antari – easily identified by having one entirely black eye – and explaining that there are four parallel Londons. There is Grey London where magic is waning; Red London, where magic is comparatively ordered and balanced; White London, where magic is chaotic and cruel; and finally the ruins of Black London, where magic became corrupted, and the city eventually had to be sealed off to prevent the corruption from spreading. One aspect of the story that I really enjoyed was that magic is not just a force to be used as in most fantasy stories but had a will of its own and could be downright dangerous to those who came into contact with it.

The story follows Kell, who acts as a messenger carrying correspondence between the rulers of each London until he is tricked into transporting a forbidden relic from one London into another. Along the way, we’re introduced to Kell’s counterpart and rival, Holland, who serves Astrid and Athos Dane, the tyrannical rulers of White London, and Lila Bard a thief from Grey London, who reminded me of the Artful Dodger in the best possible way. It takes around 100 pages for anything interesting to happen, but after that this tale becomes a gripping adventure as pretty much everything that possibly could go wrong for Kell and Lila does. The rest of the story is so full of suspense, action and humour that it more than made up for the slow start.

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The ending wraps up most things neatly, but there’s an almost throwaway comment about part of Lila’s appearance that hints towards the possible direction of her character development and somehow I don’t think we’ve seen the end of the antagonist Holland, I can’t wait to find out how the rest of this trilogy unfolds. Have a lovely week! X