Page 2 of 15

My Lockdown Books: Sixty Six

In The Glass Swallow Julia Golding revisits the world she created in Dragonfly. This is more of a companion piece than a sequel, however, and tells the story of Rain. She designs the stained glass made by her father’s workshop but the law is clear: girls may not be part of the glassmakers’ guild. To keep her secret she is sent to the nearby country of Magharna, arriving as that society’s structure begins to crumble. She is rescued – twice – by the untouchable Peri, with whom it will ultimately fall to her to rescue Magharna. Julia Golding’s novel is engaging and thought-provoking, telling the story of believable and engrossing characters. A novel to be eagerly read by those who love fantasy and one that will persuade others to give the genre a try.

My Lockdown Books: Sixty Five

Juliet in Publishing by Elizabeth Churchill is a book I’ve added to my collection as an adult and it’s one of my favourite career novels.  I don’t have anything else by Elizabeth Churchill and I don’t know if she wrote more.

As we meet her, Juliet has just arrived in England from Australia and is on the train up to London from Southampton.  Serendipitously, she finds a job as secretary at the Iliad Press, a small but well-known publishing house.  Along with Juliet, the reader is plied with information about the book trade as Juliet moves from post to post.  If the book is to be believed, publishing was at a turning point (Juliet was published in 1956) and the Iliad Press, a small family concern is contrasted with the modern, much more commercial Symmons and Symmons.

Naturally, openings for women were few and far between and were mostly secretarial.  I’m just of a generation that didn’t expect to find discrimination at work although, of course, it was still there but Juliet, who’d have been ages with my mother, lived and moved and had her being in an altogether different world where successful businesswomen were still regarded with suspicion.

My Lockdown Books: Sixty Three

Philip Reeve was another author I discovered in the course of my duties as a Carnegie Medal judge.  Predator’s Gold was longlisted in one of my years and I thoroughly enjoyed it.  In fact, I enjoyed it so much that I read all the others in the set.  So, years later, I was delighted to read Fever Crumb.

Fever Crumb by Philip Reeve recounts the much earlier history of the world of the Mortal Engines quartet but it doesn’t depend on having read those books. Fever has been brought up by the Guild of Engineers, men who believe in reason not emotion. At the age of fourteen, however, she is sent to work outside the Guild’s precincts and gradually everything she has been taught about the world and herself begins to unravel. Who is she really? And what has she to fear from Charley? This tightly-plotted, fast-paced adventure has all the answers.

My Lockdown Books: Fifty Nine

In 1914, a year of significant anniversaries, Flying Eye Books chose to mark a less heralded one in Shackleton’s Journey. This beautiful book, written and illustrated by William Grill, tells the story of Ernest Shackleton’s expedition to cross Antarctica from its early planning to final failure. In between are accounts of individual bravery, the stores on board, the men’s hobbies, the rescue of the main party and the support team. This concentration on the seemingly unimportant minutiae alongside the heroic feats humanises the expedition and causes the reader to live it. And the illustrations in mainly cold blues and white have the feel of an expedition sketch book. The whole is a fascinating account of a relatively unremembered slice of modern history.

That’s what I wrote in The Scotsman.  I fell in love with this book when I first saw it.  It touched something in me and I actually found it hard to review as I didn’t feel I could see it objectively.  What I actually wanted to say was: I really love this book!  But The Scotsman has higher standards than that so I tried to analyse what I felt made it such an excellent book. I hope I achieved that.

My Lockdown Books: Fifty Eight

Who to trust. What to believe. How to survive. These are the questions battering Jack Shian as he continues his quest to find his father. The Shian world is riven by treachery and betrayal and plunged into chaos. Will Jack rise to the challenges or succumb to his fears? The second part of the Shian Quest Trilogy, Jack Shian and the Mapa Mundi, is a twisting, turning, turbulent adventure. Andrew Symon’s fantasy world is complete and convincing, his characters believable and the plot compelling. I read the book in great chunks, unwilling to leave the action suspended without resolution, and am eagerly awaiting the trilogy’s conclusion.

I’m always happy to support small, particularly Scottish, publishers.  So I was delighted to be asked to champion this trilogy from Black and White.  I read the first volume as a favour to Paul, who then worked in marketing and publicity, but I continued with the series as a favour to myself.  Fantasy really isn’t for me but I genuinely enjoyed these and was very happy to draw them to te attention of others through The Scotsman.

My Lockdown Books: Fifty Seven

I met Cathy Cassidy many years ago and have worked with her at a number of book festivals since then.  She’s one of my favourite authors to work with; she’s generous and understanding and willing to spend as much time as possible with her audiences.  She’s also funny and a great  communicator and writer.  I have a wide selection of books I might have featured here but Looking-Glass Girl is one of my favourites.

Alice Beech lies in a coma in hospital. What twists and turns have shattered her life and dragged her down into an unknown world – and will she ever find her way home? As her back story unfolds, the reader must work out who to trust and how to tell fact from fiction. Looking-Glass Girl, a modern reinvention of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, is a piece of brilliance from Cathy Cassidy, a novel that captures the reader’s heart and mind.

My Lockdown Books: Fifty Six

Yes, I know that I’ve already written about one of LM Montgomery’s books but it’s my birthday so I’m indulging myself. No-one is surprised that this appears on my list of all-time favourite books. It was one in the stack of nine that formed my birthday cake a couple of years ago after all!

Birthday Book Stack

I first read Anne of the Island when I was about eight, which was ridiculously young, but it means that whenever I re-read it (and I do), there’s something new to discover. LM Montgomery was a brilliant writer and is much under-rated. There’s a general impression that her books, especially the series about Anne, are all sweetness and light but, if you dig slightly beneath the surface, you’ll see that there are some very dark elements in them.

In spite of the title, this is the only one of all the Anne books not really set on Prince Edward Island but it has long been my favourite of LM Montgomery’s books. I think it’s the best of the series and the one where Anne’s character is most fully explored. There’s a strong sense of community – off, but particularly on, the island – which Anne finally appreciates fully by the end of the novel, thus the title.

This third story about Anne, the world’s most famous red-haired orphan, sees her leave Prince Edward Island to go to college. She enjoys life in Kingsport, studying and making new friends including, she thinks, the man of her dreams. But her heart always remains on the Island – and so, it turns out, do her dreams. A book about discovering where you belong, this is LM Montgomery at her very best.