Sunday, 28 April 2013

Sam Sunday #13: The Arrival of Spring

After what felt like an extremely long winter, we've finally had some signs of spring this past week.  The sun was around for a few days, I was able to go to work without a coat and my vegetables are starting to grow. My tomato plants are getting taller, my chillies are sprouting and the onion shoots are greener by the day.  No sign of the wildflowers yet, but they were planted later than everything else so I'm still hopeful.

The arrival of spring has coincided with me feeling really great in myself this week.  I live on a bit of an emotional rollercoaster and lately it has been even more pronounced than usual, with the stress of moving house, the OFSTED inspection and other stuff in my personal life.  But this last week, I have felt myself evening out to content and that feels great, long may it continue!

I do have some great news to share this week too; I'm going to be a godparent to my wonderful nephew, who is now five months old.  To be honest, I don't really know what I'm supposed to do in that role as I don't have any godparents myself and am not religious.  But my sister and her husband are choosing to raise my nephew in a certain way and I respect that and will of course be ready for the June Christening.

This upcoming week should be a good one.  Two of our closest friends are just back from their honeymoon and we're having them round for dinner on Tuesday evening.  Next weekend is a long one, with the May Day bank holiday and I am very excited about the extra day off work, three day weekends are brilliant.

This week, I've been reading:

Reviews posted:
Under the Jewelled Sky by Alison McQueen (don't forget to enter my giveaway!)

Saturday, 27 April 2013

Poison Study by Maria V. Snyder

I've been on a bit of a fantasy kick ever since finishing A Dance with Dragons, so I've been experimenting with different types of fantasy books I would never have picked up before.  Poison Study is one of them.  It's the first volume in a trilogy following Yelena Zaltana, who lives in the realm of Ixia.  We meet Yelena as she is being removed from the dungeons, on her way to being put to death for committing murder.  But at the last moment, Yelena is offered a reprieve - she can live if she agrees to be the food taster for the Commander, who rules Ixia with an iron fist.  Yelena grabs her chance and the novel follows her through her training and beyond as she comes to grips with the complex political situation in the castle, all under the watchful eye of Valek, the master of spies.  When Yelena starts to show some signs of magical ability, the danger to her increases, as magic in Ixia is punishable by death.

Honestly, I expected to find Posion Study a bit tacky (I was judging from the cover!), a guilty pleasure kind of read, so I was surprised by how honestly good it was.  Yelena is a wonderful heroine and the fantasy elements are seamlessly woven into the plot.  Snyder manages to make the reader understand all about Ixia without having to actually tell us too much about it, something that is surprisingly difficult to pull off in fantasy.  The theme of political intrigue of course transfers over to real life very easily.

I loved reading about Yelena's training to become a food taster.  Snyder goes into a lot of detail about the different types of poisons and the methods that Valek uses to make her become aware of all of them, and I found it completely fascinating.  That kind of detail shows how well thought out Snyder's Ixia is.  Yelena's character undergoes a decent amount of development and the romance plays a back seat to the plot, both of which also work towards making Poison Study such a good read.

Of course, there were things about the book I didn't enjoy so much.  After watching the romance develop so slowly throughout the bulk of the text, I felt like it was resolved too quickly near the end.  The theory behind magic was introduced but never explained fully, although I'm hoping this will be developed later on in the trilogy.  Some of Yelena's new friends were just that bit too nice to be believable in the atmosphere she was living in.

On the whole, I was surprised by how much I enjoyed this title.  I'll definitely be picking up the next book in the series.

Source: Library
Score: 4 out of 5

Friday, 26 April 2013

Under the Jewelled Sky by Alison McQueen: Thoughts and Giveaway

It's 1957 and Sophie Schofield is arriving in Delhi as the new wife of ambitious British diplomat Lucien Grainger.  Living in a specially designed ex-pat compound and mixing only with Brits trying to preserve the days of the Raj, Sophie finds herself yearning for the India she experienced as a teenager, living in the palace of a Maharaja with her doctor father.  The India she knew then, of heat and spices, is completely different from post-partition India, full of stifling social etiquette.  And the more she recalls the past, the more it becomes clear that it may not have left her at all.  Lucien doesn't measure up in any way to her first love, the Indian son of an employee of the Maharaji, and Sophie is soon caught up trying to keep the secrets that could bring her new life crashing down.

Under the Jewelled Sky was an enjoyable read.  Sophie is instantly likable as a main character and the book has a fast pace that makes it a quick and fun read.  It's obvious the author has a passion for India, as the beauty of the setting comes off clearly on every page.  McQueen is good at this kind of broad theme writing, as the decadence of the Maharaja and the absurdity of British diplomatic high society are also dealt with well.  I closed this book with a desire to visit India for myself.

Whilst I liked the themes of the book, particularly the issue of children born to parents of different race at this time, I wanted the book to be a bit more gritty than it was.  It left me with a nice cosy feeling (which is fine), but the skeptic in me was hesitant to believe all of the positive events.  For example, I couldn't believe that Sophie's mixed race child would even have been found by Jag's family in the carnage of Partition, let alone accepted so unequivocally by all family members.  McQueen does spend quite a bit of time writing about partition (one character is caught up in a camp), but I never truly felt the horror of the events.  The writing was very good, but I was seeking more balance and the positive atmosphere meant I was never scared for Sophie, even when events took a turn for the worse.  There was this sense that everything was pre-destined.

Despite this, Under the Jewelled Sky was perfect escapism.  It contains a good story set in an interesting setting, so is bound to appeal to fans of historical fiction.

Source: From the publisher, in exchange for an honest review.
Published: 25th April 2013
Score: 3.5 out of 5.

Thanks to the publisher, Orion Books, I am able to offer a giveaway of ten new women's fiction hardbacks.  The prize will include Under the Jewelled Sky as well as the latest books by Erica James and Kate Mosse. As the giveaway is hosted by the publisher, entrants must have a UK or Ireland address.  You don't have to be a blogger.  To enter, simply fill  out the form below:

Sunday, 21 April 2013

Sam Sunday #12: An Exhausting Week

I was absent from the internet for most of last week, busy having one of the most exhausting weeks I've had in a long time.  Most of you know that I'm a primary school teacher in the UK, and that I'm not allowed to discuss my job on the internet.  Well this week, we had OFSTED.  For the non-Brits, OFSTED are a national schools inspection service, who visit your school for two days and make a series of snapshot decisions on how good of a teacher you are and how good your school is.  Your teaching is judged in this way in a  twenty minute slot once every four years or so.  There are far-reaching and serious implications for the school (not least because the judgement lasts for years), so how you and the school do is crucial.

The things I could write this week, if I was allowed to write them!  All I will say is that I have been under a lot of stress and I'm now completely exhausted.  And my class have their SATs exams in just under a month, so I will need to keep the energy up.

This weekend I'm being kind to myself and having a proper break.  Yesterday was filled with gardening in the sun, reading, having a lie in, letting my husband cook for me and watching trashy TV shows.  Today I plan to do more of the same, plus watch the video lectures for my world history course on Coursera.  Thursday and Friday I had no room for anything in my head apart from teaching, so it's nice to slowly let other things back in :)

I've had less time for reading this week, but I'm pleased that I've finally managed to finish How to Read Literature by Terry Eagleton, as I've been working away at it for ages!  I had high hopes for it, but in the end it wasn't quite the book I thought it would be.  At the moment I'm reading an ARC of a historical fiction novel called Under the Jewelled Sky, for a blog tour I am participating in on Friday.  It's great escapism, so I'm definitely enjoying it.

This week, I've been reading:

Review posted:

Tuesday, 16 April 2013

The Novel in the Viola by Natasha Solomons

[Also known as The House at Tyneford]

I picked up The Novel in the Viola for a light read, completely wanting a change of pace after finishing up George R.R. Martin's A Dance with Dragons.  It follows Austrian-born Elise Landau, youngest daughter of a mother who is a renowned singer and a novelist father.  Once rumours of the persecution of Jews start to reach Vienna, Elise's parents encourage her to place a newspaper advertisement in England, leading to Elise securing a job as a housemaid at Tyneford, on the South West coast of the UK.  With reassurances that her parents and older sister Margot will send for her as soon as they reach safety in the USA, Elise agrees to take up the post and becomes a somewhat unusual housemaid.  She doesn't fit in with the other servants or with the masters, and soon the old class distinctions at the house start to blur.  With war approaching and an unsuitable attraction to the master's son, Elise's arrival signals the beginning of the end for the way of life at Tyneford, and for the British class system as a whole.

The Novel in the Viola wasn't quite the light romance that I thought it would be.  It showed all signs of heading that way early on, but it also contained a healthy amount of hardships and personal battles for all of the characters.  I think I was influenced by Eva Ibbotson's The Secret Countess, a tale about a Russian countess who becomes a maid in England during the Russian Revolution and who has a much more satisfactory time of it than Elise does, decades later.  I was anticipating a fairy tale and it didn't quite work out in that way.

My first clue was that Elise was falling for Kit, the son of the owner of the house, far too soon in the story and things between them were remarkably uncomplicated.  In light romance novels, the couple don't usually get together until the end but Kit and Elise didn't take very long.  Additionally, there weren't enough meddling family members or serious love rivals!  The story is light and sweet at the beginning (in a good way), but as soon as the war arrives things get more serious.  Elise's parents told her they would be going straight to America themselves, but this turns out to be untrue and Elise is desperate to get them to safety.  Kit joins the navy and the D-Day landings are the culmination of months of worry for Elise and everyone at Tyneford.

I liked the way the novel focused on the death of the British upper-class way of life alongside Elise's story.  This happens mainly through the butler/ chief of household staff, Wrexham, a symbol of 'old,' you-will-have-your-tea-with-silverware-even-if-bombs-are-coming-through-the-ceiling Britain.  Even though the British end up winning the war, certain things were lost forever, whether for good or bad.  I know as a Brit myself this is something that I've grown up learning about in history lessons, Britain's declining role in the world after the war and the complete change in society that it brought about.

The Novel in the Viola could easily have missed the mark in several places (especially the ending), but it was always saved by Elise's strong narrative voice.  She's lively and a bit sarcastic, and she reminded me of Cassandra from I Capture the Castle;

"Feeling guilty for even thinking it, I wished that I could remember Mr Rivers carrying me in and Kit beside himself with worry.  It sounded quite charming, the way Mrs Ellsworth told it.  If only I hadn't rather spoilt things by being sick in Mr Rivers' shoes.  Violetta or Juliet or Jane Eyre would never have done such a thing."

On the whole, The Novel in the Viola is a solid, well-written book about the life of a Jewish maid in England during World War Two.  It might not have been the light book I thought it would be, but I enjoyed it just the same.

Source: Personal copy
First Published: 2011
Score: 4 out of 5

Read Alongside:
The Secret Countess by Eva Ibbotson - Russian countess is forced to work as a maid in England after the Russian Revolution and falls in love with the son of the house.  A well written fairy tale for a cold day.

Sunday, 14 April 2013

Sam Sunday #11: Farewell, Easter Holidays!

Joseph making himself at home in our new house.

My Easter break has been lovely this year, but it's over now as tomorrow is back to work and the run up to exam season (eek!).  As with all last days of the holidays, today has completely run away with me and already it's 7.30pm and I'm wondering where the day has gone.  I don't really mind going back to work, I would just love another couple of days to carry on settling into the house.  And I have that teenager last night before school feeling, I don't think it ever goes away for teachers!

This last week has been quite chilled compared to the busy first week.  We've mainly been painting, sourcing furniture and I've had a few long lie-ins with a good book or two.  I have steadfastly been ignoring household chores and trying to make the most of not having any pressure.  I like the summer term back at school as it means the summer hols are not too far away!

I'm pleased that I finally managed to finish unpacking all of my books during the week.  I've culled my collection a bit, donating some books that I didn't love to charity shops, so I actually have that unheard-of thing, space on my bookshelves.  I'm not going to rush to fill it, but it's nice to know the option is there.

Friday, 12 April 2013

A Dance with Dragons by George R.R. Martin

So that's it - I've now read every single one of the A Song of Fire and Ice books published to date. And it looks like a long wait for the sixth volume!  I tried to slow down my reading of this one by reading it alongside other titles but as soon as I hit the half-way point, I had to give up on all other reading and concentrate just on this.  As with all my other reviews of this series, there will be spoilers, so proceed with caution if you haven't already read it.  A Dance with Dragons starts at the same time as A Feast for Crows, but follows different characters.  We already know what happened to Cersei, Jamie and Arya so now we get to visit Jon Snow at the Wall, Daenerys across the sea in Meereen and Tyrion in exile.  In the latter stages of the book all the narratives start to entwine again and the main characters from A Feast for Crows are reintroduced with their own chapters.

A Dance with Dragons is a long book at 1000+ pages and at times, I felt it's length more than I did with the other books in the series.  There were some fascinating characters and interesting plot developments but the pace of the storytelling appeared to have slowed to the point where some chapters felt repetitive, especially for someone reading the series straight through.  I've never been the biggest Daenerys fan and found the chapters dealing with her rule in Meereen a bit tedious.  I understand why it's important for her to have actual experience of being a ruler before trying to take Westeros, but there was just too much information about too many new characters that the reader isn't invested in at all.  I enjoyed her final chapters and the moral quandry the full grown dragons presented, I just didn't want to read about competing political factions in Meereen.

In A Dance with Dragons, rather than waiting for Daenerys to arrive in Westeros, half of Westeros seem to be seeking her out, including Tyrion, on the run for killing Tywin Lannister.  Tyrion has always been one of my favourites as his chapters give the book some much needed humour.  I enjoyed the meeting between him and Jorah Mormont and the trials he faced on his journey.  Also seeking Daenerys is Quentyn, Prince of Martell and Vicatarion of the Iron Islands.   I love both the Martells and the Greyjoys so again, these plots were welcome.  I was shocked at the arrival of Aegon Targaryen and have my suspicions that all isn't as it appears to be, especially as he didn't have any chapters of his own.  

Back in Westeros, Cersei's humiliation was the most memorable event.  Although Cersei was unquestionably a bad leader and person, her punishment was harsh indeed and I was rooting for her to keep her head held high throughout it out.  Theon Greyjoy emerges in the torture chambers of Ramsay Bolton and we get to see Jon Snow's choices as Commander of the Night's Watch.  Jon's chapters were especially interesting as they were all about doing the right thing, whether or not it makes you popular.  I could see his betrayal coming before it happened and don't think he is actually dead (although it's not nice of George R.R. Martin to leave us hanging).  There were enough anvil sized hints about Jon's real parentage to make him too important to the plot to kill off, I think.

On the whole, I loved A Dance with Dragons despite it's long-windedness.  I could feel the story building up to a pressure point and anticipate that the next volume will be more action packed, as all the main characters are now in key places for some game-changing events to occur.

And now the wait begins for book six!

Source: Personal copy (kindle)
First Published: 2011
Score: 4 out of 5

Tuesday, 9 April 2013

The People of Forever are Not Afraid by Shani Boianjiu

The People of Forever are Not Afraid was one of the books I was most intrigued by at the announcement of the Women's Prize for Fiction long-list.  It's about three girls, Yael, Avishag and Lea, who are conscripted into the Israeli army at the age of eighteen for their two years of compulsory military service.  Israel is the only country in the world to draft both men and women.  More of a collection of experiences than a coherent narrative, The People of Forever are Not Afraid is about coming of age in a military environment and what happens to life after discharge.  Between them, the girls experience a wide range of Israeli military life, from manning Palestinian checkpoints, to border control, to being in an infantry squad and training new recruits.  Set before and during the 2006 war with Lebanon, none of the girls leave the army psychologically unscathed.

 I had mixed feelings about this book, although the good outweighed the bad.  I just loved the blunt, forward tone of the narration and found it extremely refreshing.  The People of Forever are Not Afraid is not a 'nice' book, it's brutal in places but it's  abrupt and feels raw and honest.  There's no purple prose, just soldiers dying from Russian Roulette, girls shooting ice water into their veins and teenagers playing with guns.  Parts of the narrative were written in a stream of consciousness style, and Boianjiu is very good at portraying how the emotional crises of being a young adult can be amplified by the militaty setting;

"I tried and I tried to pretend that I was an olive tree.  I told myself that I lived, and I lived, and even when there were tumours exploding under my bones and predators eating out my eyes, I thought I'd die but I didn't.  I stood frozen, eyes open, my arms misshapen in the air; I tried forever to be an olive tree, I swear."

The first half of the book was the most compelling as it dealt with the girls being conscripted and their experiences during training and their first posting.  This was all completely fascinating and Boianjiu maintained ambiguity about the morality of what the three main characters were doing.  I read with interest about learning to withstand poison gas, learning how to shoot accurately, and how to check Palestinan border permits.  The book at this point was still a collection of stories, but they all hung together coherently around a common theme.

However, in the second half of the book, the narrative thread became too loose as Boianjiu wrote about what happened to the girls after the war, after the army.  The book meanders between the characters almost aimlessly and a number of new perspectives were introduced.  Yael, Avishag and Lea seemed to blend into each other, until I had trouble telling them apart.  I don't mind a book that's really a collection of stories, but I need more connection than this.

If I was just judging on the first half of the book, I would be giving an extremely high rating for the bluntness and emotional rawness of the narrative tone.  I loved that, and think Boianjiu is a very talented writer.  Unfortunately, the second half was too meandering for me.  I would still recommend this book though, I've read nothing like it before.

Source: From the publisher, in exchange for an honest review.
First Published: 2012
Score: 3.5 out of 5

Sunday, 7 April 2013

Sam Sunday #10: Easter Holidays Edition

Last week was the first week of my two week Easter holiday and so far, it's been great.  On Tuesday, one of my best friends from school got married, so we spent all day and evening at the wedding.  It was a small and relaxed wedding, which are my favourite kinds.  It was a good opportunity to catch up with all my friends from school/sixth form and swap news.

In the week, it was also my sister-in-laws 18th birthday and Tom's Nan's birthday, so we've had a good mix of time in the new house and time out with friends and family.  We went for a delicious curry for my sister-in-law's birthday, and then we took Tom's Nan out for the day for her birthday.  I've also managed to fit in a bit of shopping with my Mum and sister.

When we've not been out, we've been working on the new house and just getting used to the fact that we actually own a house now.  Priority number one has been eliminating the mahogany woodwork (which is everywhere) as it makes the whole house look much darker than it should do.  Painting the bannisters was extremely fiddly and time consuming (you can just see my book room at the back of the picture too).

Today, I've been doing some gardening.  I've planted carrots, onions, chillies and cherry tomatoes and am hoping to plant some more fruit and veg in the week.  We had a great vegetable harvest a few years ago, but last summer the sheer amount of rain killed most of our plants - here's hoping for better conditions this year!  And then this evening, I'm babysitting my nephew as my sister and her husband have to attend a rehearsal dinner for a wedding they are going to tomorrow.

Next week is another week of holiday, so I'm hoping for another week like the last.  Tomorrow we're furniture shopping (browsing at least), as this house is a lot bigger than our last, and we need to fill some spaces!  

As far as reading goes, I've been doing a fair amount but I've been in a picky mood.  I've picked up lots of titles and then put them down again, deciding that I'm not in the right frame of mind for them.  I'm steadily working through A Dance with Dragons, which is a massive book but excellent.  This week, I've been reading:


Reviews posted:

Friday, 5 April 2013

Alif the Unseen by G. Willow Wilson

Alif is a young hacker living in a unnamed city in what can be presumed to be the United Arab Emirates in the time of the Arab Spring.  Drawn to computing and to making money, he sells his skills to whoever can afford them, from Islamic terrorists to the owners of pornography sites.  At the opening of the book, Alif's relationship with upper class Insitar is falling apart with the knowledge that she will soon be marrying a wealthy member of the Arab elite.  In his sadness and anger, Alif creates a new program that can identify an individual, no matter what machine they are using, and uses it to cut Insitar off from his life.  But the program makes him vulnerable to the Hand, the state security monitoring devices, and the arrival of a mysterious book from Insitar only increases the danger.  With the help of his neighbour Dina and an American convert to Islam, Alif learns that the seeing world isn't the edge of reality and that invisible dangers, including djinns and demons, might lurk beneath.

I was very pleased to see Alif the Unseen on the long-list for the Women's Prize for Fiction 2013, as it's rare that you see a fantasy novel long-listed for a literary prize.   I was excited to get to it after reading JoV's review which described it as part Harry Potter, part Arabian Nights.  Two of my most favourite things!  This combined with the praise from Neil Gaiman on the front cover, probably raised my expectations a bit too high, for Alif the Unseen is a very good book, but perhaps not a great one.  As a fan of the original Arabian Nights, I loved how Wilson borrowed the mythology of the djinns from this and from the Qu'ran and then adapted it to create her world, where djinns and humans used to coincide before the narrow-mindedness of the humans made the djinns virtually invisible.  Characters with closed minds still can not fully appreciate the world around them as it truly is.  I liked the moral ambiguity of the djinns and the way the fantasy was interwoven with modern politics, such as in the section where Alif is held by the state in a brutal way.  In the same way the djinns moved in and out of human consciousness, the fantasy elements moved in and out of the story.

Alif's neighbour, Dina, was a fantastic character and I loved how G. Willow Wilson used her and the American convert to subtly challenge preconceptions about Muslim women.  Even though Dina has chosen to wear the veil, she's outspoken, brave and most definitely the source of Alif's strength.  On the whole the book was well plotted with a good pace that kept me turning the pages.  I liked the mythology of the 'Thousand and One Days', the book that Insitar gave Alif at the end of their relationship.

There was so much to like about this book and it certainly ticked all of the things I love to read about at the moment (fantasy, Arabian Nights, adventure, strong female characters, old books).  However, it was a bit lacking overall.  The reveal about the person behind the Hand, the state security system, didn't quite work and his motivations for causing such suffering seemed to keep on changing, which took away from the plot.  There's only one djinn character that has any kind of character development, which made some of the nastier djinns much less threatening.  The book overall was suffering from a lack of depth.  Despite the fact that I so wanted to love this book and treasure it forever, I couldn't quite do it.  Still, I'm pleased to see it on the long-list and I hope that it leads to more fantasy books on the long-list in future, as it makes a refreshing change.

Source: Library
First Published: 2012
Score: 3.5 out of 5

Wednesday, 3 April 2013

The Light Between Oceans by M.L. Stedman

Tom Sherbourne, a veteran of World War One, is the lighthouse keeper of Janus, a remote Australian island that marks the meeting of the Indian and Southern Oceans.  He lives a quiet life with his impulsive wife, Isabel.  They are happy together but both mourn the fact that they are unable to have children; Isabel has suffered a string of miscarriages and a recent still-birth.  When, days after her still-birth, a boat containing a dead man and a newborn baby washes up on the beach, Tom and Isabel must decide whether to do the right thing, or whether to take the chance to make their dream come true.

The Light Between Oceans has had a bit of buzz on book blogs, so I was excited to see it long-listed for the Women's Prize for Fiction this year.  I picked it up with high hopes but unfortunately the novel didn't quite work for me.  There were many elements I liked about it but as a whole, it felt a bit lacking.

Starting with what I liked:  I loved the remote setting of Janus island and how vividly the sea is described by Stedman.  We get to see the power of nature helping Tom to recover from the war and there are many lovely scenes where Isabel, newly arrived to the island, explores all the hidden caves and coves.  The writing about the setting was beautiful; I could almost taste the salt from the sea.  I also appreciated how Stedman refrained from making a moral judgement on Tom and Isabel, everything was kept deliberately ambiguous.  A lot of their actions could be seen as right or wrong, and it was left up to the reader to decide for themselves what they would have done in Isabel's situation.  I liked that the tone of the book was completely non-judgemental.

However, I never connected properly with either Tom or Isabel and this is where the book fell down.  I certainly felt sorry for them after Isabel's miscarriages and still-births but Isabel especially remained an emotionally distant figure.  I needed to engage with her more for the book to really work.  Also, the story covered a long time span and some parts were more interesting than others.  The beginning and end were strong, but the middle lacked that special something.

On the whole, The Light Between Oceans is a solid, well written book.  It just didn't quite work for me personally.  I wouldn't be surprised to see it on the short-list.

Source: Library
First Published: 2012
Score: 3 out of 5

Read Alongside:
Island of Wings by Karin Altenberg - This was longlisted for the Orange Prize this year and is a similar story of a couple starting a life together on a deserted island, this time the Hebrides in the 1830s.

Monday, 1 April 2013

Beauty by Robin McKinley

"It's said there's a castle in a wild garden at the center of these woods: and if you walk into the trees till you are out of sight of the edge of the forest and you can see nothing but big dark trees all around you, you will be drawn to that castle: and in the castle there lives a monster.  He was a man once, some tales say, and he was turned into a terrible monster as a punishment for his evil deeds; some say he was born that way, as a punishment to his parents, who were king and queen of a good land, but cared only for their own pleasure."

I can't remember where I first heard about Robin McKinley, but I've seen her books mentioned on lots of blogs that I respect.  As I love fairy tale retellings, I decided that the time was right to pick up Beauty, a retelling of the Beauty and the Beast story.  In terms of plot, it's a fairly straightforward telling, with Beauty (an ironic nickname in this version) offering to become the captive of the Beast in order to save the life of her beloved father.  Once prosperous residents of the city, Beauty's family has fallen on hard times and they leave with her sister Hope's husband to settle in the countryside, where he will work as a blacksmith.  Beauty's father loses the path through the forest when returning from a journey and ends up at an enchanted castle, where he is treated kindly until he tries to steal a rose to take home for his daughter.  Rather than allow her father to die, Beauty leaves her family to live in the  castle, unaware of the secrets hidden by the Beast.

In the end, I really enjoyed Beauty.  I found the first section rather slow but as soon as Beauty actually arrived at the enchanted castle, the book was far more captivating.  There was a subtle hint of magic running through each sentence and it was fascinating to watch Beauty's attitude towards the castle and the Beast slowly change, until she simply couldn't imagine being happy anywhere else.  I'm not a fan of romance novels, but the romance in this fairy tale retelling was completely believable as Beauty's feelings changed slowly and gradually with time.  I loved the scene where the Beast shows her his library, which contains copies of books that will only be published much later, and the way that romance only came after respect and friendship.

It was hard whilst reading this to get the Disney film (a favorite from childhood) completely out of my head. Beauty is less dramatic; there's no Gaston also pursuing Beauty, and this made the ending quieter but more powerful.  McKinley wrote the character of the Beast very well; we only get to see him through Beauty's eyes but she manages to get across hints of his past and emotions.  From about the mid-point on, I couldn't put the book down and I ended it with a big smile on my face.  I'll certainly be looking out for more McKinley books to read, as she combines the fairy tale with a great portrayal of human emotion.

Source: Library
First Published: 1978
Edition Read: Corgi Books UK, 2004
Score: 4 out of 5