The Stars Are Fire by Anita Shreve

I review The Stars Are Fire by Anita Shreve.

From the New York Times best-selling author of The Weight of Water and The Pilot’s Wife (an Oprah’s Book Club selection): an exquisitely suspenseful new novel about an extraordinary young woman tested by a catastrophic event and its devastating aftermath–based on the true story of the largest fire in Maine’s history.

In October 1947, after a summer long drought, fires break out all along the Maine coast from Bar Harbor to Kittery and are soon racing out of control from town to village. Five months pregnant, Grace Holland is left alone to protect her two toddlers when her husband, Gene, joins the volunteer firefighters. Along with her best friend, Rosie, and Rosie’s two young children, Grace watches helplessly as their houses burn to the ground, the flames finally forcing them all into the ocean as a last resort.

The women spend the night frantically protecting their children, and in the morning find their lives forever changed: homeless, penniless, awaiting news of their husbands’ fate, and left to face an uncertain future in a town that no longer exists. In the midst of this devastating loss, Grace discovers glorious new freedoms–joys and triumphs she could never have expected her narrow life with Gene could contain–and her spirit soars. And then the unthinkable happens–and Grace’s bravery is tested as never before.

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Wow. The Stars Are Fire is an absolute gem of a book. It’s the perfect historical fiction – pick an event, and tell me about the people who lived through it. The concept – the fire that destroyed part of Maine in 1947 – is terrifying,

Grace is an amazing woman. Stuck in an unhappy marriage, Grace is bored, frustrated, restrained. Shreve approaches marital rape with the attitude of the time, but also with a modern perspective. Grace’s husband, Gene, views sex as his right, and cares nothing for how Grace feels. Their third child is conceived through what Grace comes to think of as “that terrible night”, but what readers of today would, rightly, identify as rape.

But then, the fire. Grace grabs her two children, both infants, and, together with her neighbour Rosie, runs down to the beach. Somehow, somehow, she manages to keep her children safe. I wonder if this part of the story is based on a true account, if some woman laid face-down on the beach, legs in the water, a wet blanket covering her and her children, waiting for help to arrive. I’m inclined to believe it. The bravery of women, the strength of mothers, is unimaginable.

Gene, along with other men who were helping fight the flames, disappears. Grace, homeless, injured, stays with friends while she heals, gets back on her feet. She remembers that Gene’s mother had left her house to him, and that Gene had intended to move the family into it. A huge house, belonging to them, is standing empty. So she, her children, and her mother, move into it. But the house is not quite as empty as Grace believed. There’s a squatter, a young musician, with whom Grace becomes friends, and then more.

Grace’s story is sad, heartbreaking. With the disappearance of her husband, the fallout of the disaster, she becomes independent. She gets a job at a local doctor’s office, she gets a car, she provides for her family. She is happy. But worse is still to come.

This is absolutely a feminist story. It’s about a woman who, having never been able to stretch her wings, suddenly finds herself free of her cage, and takes flight as if she was born to it. It’s about the restrictions of society, of marriage, and how women are the ones who suffered, who still suffer. The Stars Are Fire is a breathtakingly beautiful story. I strongly recommend this one.

The Stolen Child by Sanjida Kay

From the author of Bone By Bone, I review The Stolen Child by Sanjida Kay.

Zoe and Ollie Morley tried for years to have a baby and couldn’t. They turned to adoption and their dreams came true when they were approved to adopt a little girl from birth. They named her Evie.

Seven years later, the family has moved to Yorkshire and grown in number: a wonderful surprise in the form of baby Ben. As a working mum it’s not easy for Zoe, but life is good.

But then Evie begins to receive letters and gifts.

The sender claims to be her birth father.

He has been looking for his daughter.

And now he is coming to take her back…

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Unable to have children of their own, Zoe and Ollie adopted Evie (love this name!) from birth. They love her as if she was their own, but, a few years later, Zoe becomes pregnant with Ben. It doesn’t make a difference to them, but Evie appears to be affected by the presence of her brother. She starts receiving gifts from her Real Daddy, left in places only Evie will find them. And then, Evie goes missing.

Who was sending Evie these notes and gifts – is it really her biological father? Do they want to hurt her? Where have they taken her? Full of twists, The Stolen Child is a thrilling, atmospheric story.

Kay drip-feeds information to her readers, keeping them hooked until the very end. Kay is an incredible writer, and I’ve enjoyed both of her books. I look forward to her next work of fiction.

Goodreads | Amazon UK

Manipulated Lives by H.A. Leuschel

I review Manipulated Lives by H.A. Leuschel.

Five stories – five lives

Have you ever felt confused or at a loss for words in front of a spouse, colleague or parent, to the extent that you have felt inadequate or, worse, a failure? Do you ever wonder why someone close to you seems to endure humiliation without resistance?

Manipulators are everywhere. At first these devious and calculating people can be hard to spot, because that is their way. They are often masters of disguise: witty, disarming, even charming in public – tricks to snare their prey – but then they revert to their true self of being controlling and angry in private. Their main aim: to dominate and use others to satisfy their needs, with a complete lack of compassion and empathy for their victim.

In this collection of short novellas, you meet people like you and me, intent on living happy lives, yet each of them, in one way or another, is caught up and damaged by a manipulative individual. First you meet a manipulator himself, trying to make sense of his irreversible incarceration. Next, there is Tess, whose past is haunted by a wrong decision, then young, successful and well balanced Sophie, who is drawn into the life of a little boy and his troubled father. Next, there is teenage Holly, who is intent on making a better life for herself and finally Lisa, who has to face a parent’s biggest regret. All stories highlight to what extent abusive manipulation can distort lives and threaten our very feeling of self-worth.

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Just like my own collection, Weltanschauung, Leuschel splits Manipulated Lives into five short stories: The Narcissist, Tess and Tattoos, The Spell, Runaway Girl, and My Perfect Child. Each story is incredibly crafted to entice and cling on to the reader.

My favourite story was Runaway Girl. It shows that anyone is capable of manipulating you. In the story, Holly has been desperately saving money in order to embark on an adventure, to get away from her overcrowded house, with her overworked and underpaid parents. She finally has what she feels is enough to get her started, but things soon start to go downhill. A boy from school, Luke, starts taking an interest in her, and their relationship quickly becomes abusive.

I loved how Leuschel managed to pull so many strings together, to tell a complex, poignant story. All of the stories in this collection were interesting, well-written, and somewhat concerning. Leuschel shows that anyone is capable of manipulation.

Larchfield by Polly Clark

I review Larchfield by Polly Clark.

‘We need the courage to choose ourselves’ W. H. Auden

It’s early summer when a young poet, Dora Fielding, moves to Helensburgh on the west coast of Scotland and her hopes are first challenged. Newly married, pregnant, she’s excited by the prospect of a life that combines family and creativity. She thinks she knows what being a person, a wife, a mother, means. She is soon shown that she is wrong. As the battle begins for her very sense of self, Dora comes to find the realities of small town life suffocating, and, eventually, terrifying; until she finds a way to escape reality altogether.

Another poet, she discovers, lived in Helensburgh once. Wystan H. Auden, brilliant and awkward at 24, with his first book of poetry published, should be embarking on success and society in London. Instead, in 1930, fleeing a broken engagement, he takes a teaching post at Larchfield School for boys where he is mocked for his Englishness and suspected – rightly – of homosexuality. Yet in this repressed limbo Wystan will fall in love for the first time, even as he fights his deepest fears.

The need for human connection compels these two vulnerable outsiders to find each other and make a reality of their own that will save them both. Echoing the depths of Possession, the elegance of The Stranger’s Child and the ingenuity of Longbourn, Larchfield is a beautiful and haunting novel about heroism – the unusual bravery that allows unusual people to go on living; to transcend banality and suffering with the power of their imagination.

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I confess, I knew nothing of W.H. Auden before downloading Larchfield, but he seems like an incredibly fascinating individual. Clark introduces us to Auden as a recently published poet, heading north to join the teaching staff at a school in Helensburgh, Scotland. A homosexual in a time where being gay was illegal, Auden is careful and secretive, but he cannot help how deeply he falls in love – or with whom.

Dora, too, is a great character. Newly married, mother to a premature baby, Dora loses herself in the daily grind, the humdrum of life. A poet, with artistic friends stuck in their youth, Dora feels her own youth, her artistic reputation, slipping away – along with her senses. The neighbours upstairs are making her life hell; the small town is tightening around its own, forcing her out. After a particularly nasty encounter, Dora takes Bea, her daughter, down to the sea. There, she finds a bottle, and inside is a note from W.H. Auden. Already on the brink, Dora takes a step, and finds herself in a world that isn’t her own.

Larchfield is easy to fall into. Clark is an incredibly talented writer, who evokes 1930’s and draws the reader in from the present day. Her characters are well-crafted, and the story flows beautifully.

I’m not entirely certain what happened at the end. Was it real, or was it all inside Dora’s head? Perhaps Clark meant for it to be ambiguous. I think I’ll choose to believe it was real – whether it happened inside Dora’s head or not is an entirely different matter.

Larchfield is due out at the end of March.

Goodreads | Amazon UK

The Dragon’s Blade: Veiled Intentions by Michael R. Miller

James McStravick reviews The Dragon’s Blade: Veiled Intentions by Michael R. Miller.

Rectar has always had his sights set on conquering the human lands. His demonic invasion of the west is gaining momentum – an unrelenting horde unhindered by food or sleep. Now, only the undermanned Splintering Isles lie between the demons and the human kingdom of Brevia. If the islands fall, the rest of Tenalp will soon follow.

The Three Races must work together if they are to survive, but they have another problem – Castallan. The traitorous wizard has raised a deadly rebellion and declared himself King of Humans. He believes himself safe in the bowels of his impenetrable Bastion fortress, but Darnuir, now King of Dragons, intends to break those walls at all costs.

To face these threats, all dragons, humans and fairies must truly unite; yet old prejudices may undermine Darnuir’s efforts once again. And as the true intentions of all are revealed, so too is a secret that may change the entire world.

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Veiled Intentions is the highly anticipated sequel of The Reborn King. When I read and reviewed The Reborn King last year, I thoroughly enjoyed it and sung its praises. If you want to read my review you can find it here.

When I was offered a copy of Veiled Intentions I quickly jumped at the opportunity, due to how much I liked The Reborn King. Before I delve into my review all I will say is that this book certainly does not disappoint.

Veiled Intentions picks right up where The Reborn King left off. I really like it when authors pick up a story right where the previous book finished almost as if you are resuming from a natural point. That’s not to say that I don’t like it when authors do a time jump or pick up shortly because sometimes I find depending on an authors style of writing, skill or the pacing of the book this can be with variant levels of success. Personally though I think no matter what Miller chose to do, he would he do it brilliantly.

Veiled Intentions takes the writing, story, world, and characters, and makes them all better in so many ways. Not only do we learn more about the characters we read about in The Reborn King, but the author has now included some new POV’s and I think these were a breath of fresh air to the book as it allows us to learn more about the world as a whole and gives us a better understanding of everyone’s feelings towards whats happening. I’m not going tell you the names of the new POV’s characters as I think that will spoil some of the fun of reading this book, but one of the them has certainly become a firm favorite of mine.

With new characters being introduced that opens us up to a whole part of the world that we had never explored before, and I thoroughly enjoyed reading about these uncharted areas. This sequel also gives you the opportunity to learn more about the world and its inhabitants, as well as how the war was affecting the wider world. This helped bring a whole new aspect to the world building and this made just love the world it encompassed so much more.

I felt overall the flow of the story and the pacing was done very well; I think the author did the flow and pacing of the book very well. I was extremely excited to start reading Veiled Intentions but also a bit worried, as sometimes sequels don’t always live up to the quality of the first book or to your own hype. But I was glad to see that Veiled Intentions lived up to my expectations and more. If you are a fan of fantasy and you haven’t yet read anything by Michael R. Miller, then I highly recommend you check him out.

 Goodreads | Facebook | @MMDragons_Blade

A new adventure in Ben Aaronovitch’s bestselling PC Grant series, for September 2017

Gollancz is delighted to announce the acquisition of THE FURTHEST STATION, a brand new novella in the bestselling PC Grant series by Ben Aaronovitch, for publication in September 2017.

Publishing Director Gillian Redfearn acquired world rights (excluding the USA, France and Germany, which are represented by agent) from John Berlyne of the Zeno Literary Agency.

THE FURTHEST STATION is Ben Aaronovitch’s first PC Grant novella . . . and there’s something going bump on the Metropolitan line. And when commuters start reporting encounters with ghosts up and down the track – encounters which they forget entirely within minutes – Peter Grant gets a call to investigate. And the very first interview leads to a ghost-hunting expedition  . . .

The unabridged audio edition – read by Kobna Holdbrook-Smith – and ebook edition will be published simultaneously with the hardback.

Ben Aaronovitch said: ‘This is my first novella and I suddenly understood the appeal of the form to both writers and readers. Novellas allow you to tell a story in a very elegant, streamlined fashion. Something you can read quickly but without feeling cheated at the end. I may write more.’

Gillian Redfearn said: ‘THE FURTHEST STATION is brilliant. Powered by a gripping mystery, brought to life by Ben Aaronovitch’s wit and wisdom, it’s a story of modern London and modern families – as well as a future bestseller’

John Berlyne said: ‘Readers far and wide have enjoyed Ben’s work thanks to Gollancz’s brilliant publishing. This wonderful novella will delight each and every one of them’

THE FURTHEST STATION | BEN AARONOVITCH | 21 SEPTEMBER 2017

£12.99 | B–Format HB | 9781473222427

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Ben Aaronovitch grew up as part of a famously engaged and lively North London family. He has written for many TV series including Doctor Who, and worked as a bookseller for Waterstones. All six of his Peter Grant novels have been Sunday Times and Audible bestsellers, and are sold in twenty territories around the world, and he now writes full time in addition to being actively involved in charity work. He still lives in London, the city he likes to refer to as ‘the capital of the world’.

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Gollancz is the oldest specialist SF & Fantasy publisher in the UK. Founded in 1927 and with a continuous SF publishing programme dating back to 1961, the imprint of the Orion Publishing Group is home to a galaxy of award-winning and bestselling authors. Through our long-running SF and Fantasy Masterworks programme, and major digital initiative the SF Gateway, Gollancz has one of the largest ranges of SF and Fantasy of any publisher in the world.

Feminist February: A Recap

During the month of February, I decided to join in with Ellen Orange’s brilliant idea of reading feminist books. I made my own to-read list, and also some recommendations of fabulous feminist books I’d already read.

What makes a book “feminist”? I believe that feminism is a very feminist-symbol-pinkpersonal thing. For me, it’s not just about believing in equality, it’s about behaving in ways that promote equality. So really it’s a way of life. With that definition in mind, what made me choose the books I chose? I was really looking for books that examined what women go through, in either a fictionalised account or a real life story. A couple of feminist subjects that are currently bothering me are rape, female sexuality, and racism, so I wanted to read about those topics, in an attempt to gain more understanding.

The Awakening by Kate Chopin was my first pick. It was free to download on Kindle, having been first published in 1899, and was an exquisitely progressive book for its time. And for our time. The Awakening discusses female infidelity, but also examines how living in a society that restricts women in so many ways is so very detrimental. You can read my full review here.

Then I read We Should All Be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, a very short, but very informative piece of work that really opened my eyes about Adichie’s brand of feminism. I really appreciate some feminists destroying the myth that being a feminist means you’re an ugly, fat, hairy-legged, bra-burning lesbian (but you can be all of those things, if you wish. I for one am hairy-legged and proud). It annoys me when people suggest that because I get my nails done, or wear make-up, I’m not a feminist. It almost buys into the “cool girl” trope, that because I wear mascara and have pink nails, I’m “not like other feminists”, I’m better. This nonsense needs to stop, and Adichie is one of the loudest voices against such rubbish. You can read my review here.

I started an Audible trial (free for 90 days for Prime members!), so I downloaded Unslut by Emily Lindin, and listened to it during my commute to and from work, and sometimes during my lunch hour. I’ve reviewed Unslut in full here – but proceed with caution, as I do discuss slut-shaming and sexual abuse in teens, which may be triggering to some individuals.

In the evenings, I flew through I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou. I’d never read anything by Angelou before, and was quite disappointed about that fact. Feminism must be intersectional, else it is bullshit, and Angelou gives us a chance to confront our white feminism by displaying the clear racial tension in the US that is still, sadly, prevalent today. Reading accounts by people in different situations from ourselves allows us to open our minds to how, although we are still disadvantaged, we are privileged in other ways. It’s a great feminist lesson, and one I intend to keep on learning. You can read my review here.

I didn’t get around to reading The Color Purple by Alice Walker in February, but it’ll be the first audiobook I download when I get my Audible credit for March. I tried the Kindle sample of The Round House by Louise Erdrich, but couldn’t really get into it. Maybe I’ll try again another time. I also bought Paradise by Toni Morrison to get stuck into.

What did I get out of Feminist February? Well, I obviously got to read some amazing books. I liked the split between fiction and non-fiction. I’m not usually a big fan of non-fiction, but my choices for Feminist February were obviously good ones, because I enjoyed all of them.

I’ve also added some to my ever-growing to-read pile. Some of the books I’ve added to my wishlist are:

  • Ain’t I A Woman: Black Women & Feminism by Bell Hooks
  • Bad Feminist by Roxanne Gay
  • Men Explain Things To Me by Rebecca Solnit
  • Sex Object by Jessica Valenti
  • I’m Not Your Manic Pixie Dream Girl by Gretchen McNeil
  • The Feminine Mystique by Betty Friedan
  • A Mercy by Toni Morrison
I’ve also spent a lot of February listening to podcasts on my commute to and from work. I particularly love Stuff Mom Never Told You, & I’m still on the lookout for other feminist podcasts.

If you have any more recommendations to add to my list, let me know in the comments below! What did you read for Feminist February?