Diving Belles

I am not usually one for short stories but when I read a review of Lucy Wood’s collection on Savidge Reads, I decided to give it a go.  On the whole, I enjoyed the book but didn’t like all the stories within it.  The first story in the book is the one that gave the collection it’s name and is about mermaids.  Now, I like mermaids and all sorts of mythical creatures so my initial reaction was, “Great, I’m going to love this” but unfortunately, my only reaction when I go to the end of the first story was,”Oh, now I remember why I don’t like short stories.”  I hate how they just ‘end’ and I’m sorry but I just don’t ‘get’ them.

However, I did like Lucy Wood’s style of writing in that first story and I knew the other stories were also about magic and other realms so I had to persevere.  The second  story is called ‘Countless Stones’ and is set in a small coastal town where some of the inhabitants – and it’s not clear why – turn to stone at certain times in their lives.  I loved this story and found the writing atmospheric and beautiful.

“It was a struggle to walk now.  It was a struggle to breath.  Her legs grated together and her hips didn’t rotate… She felt exhausted.  She could feel the clicks of stone against stone as her shoulders seized up and turned rigid.  She made sure she was facing out to sea.  Breathing stopped, but there was a different type of breathing. She let her thoughts wander…”

I didn’t enjoy all the stories as much as I did the second one but there were some gems in this book. One of my two personal favourites tells of the daughter who goes to visit her mother after realising that she has been neglecting her – “The late birthday card you sent is behind a banana magnet on the fridge… Your handwriting is terrible – rushed and sprawling like dropped stitches. Sorry I couldn’t make it in the end, you know what it’s like, work, work, work, meeting…” – but walks in to find her mother  talking to herself and stroking her shoulders.   The daughter finds some eye cream in the bathroom which she puts on her own eyes before bedtime, only to realise that she can now see all the things that she always thought were just her Mum’s ‘quirky, odd ways’, like keeping vases filled with water but no flowers (now she can see flowers in those vases, and

“There is a hand on her shoulder and it isn’t your hand.  There is a man with his hand on your mother’s shoulder.  He is shorter than her and has dark, curly hair.  He is wearing a waistcoat… made from a strange material that sometimes looks green and sometimes looks silver.  The man stays close to your mother as she tells you about the lunch she is going to cook.  Without pausing, she puts her arm behind her back and the man in the green waistcoat holds it.  She does this so smoothly, so naturally, that you realise it is something she has been doing for a long time.”

My other favourite is one about House Elves (very Harry Potter, so a guaranteed cert with me!)  The story, or ‘notes’ are told through their eyes and span decades and generations of a house’s inhabitants.  We learn that they don’t like children who break the house but miss their noises; they don’t like musical instruments but loved the sound made by the piano; they are fickle, opinionated, grumpy but also caring, lonely and funny.  Oh, and they don’t like cats – they wouldn’t like my house then!

“They have put up a shelf and they have done it badly.  It is going to fall off.  We know it is going to fall off.  We can feel the screws loosening millimetre by millimetre.  We knock off a book, then another book, to try to make them notice.  They don’t notice.  The man picks up one of the books and reads loud from it. ‘Listen to this,’ he says. We listen.”

“We have seen cats before. They stare at us and bristle.  We don’t like them.  We have seen children before.  They move around so quickly that we can’t keep track of which room they are in.”

“The boy makes louder noises and puts more weight on the floorboards and stairs: bang bang bang.  One day he disappears… We can’t find him anywhere in the house.  No one is looking… We miss the boy who left… the smell of the stuff he put on his hair – sometimes we would take off the lid and scoop out tiny little bits.”

These quirky stories that had a definitive ending worked really well for me.  In the past, the short stories I’ve read have sometimes left me feeling short-changed and unsatisfied with their endings.  I think this is why I am wary of reading short stories but I am glad that I picked up Lucy Wood’s début collection as there were more stories in it that I enjoyed than ones I didn’t.  I’ll always be wary of reading short stories but can certainly vouch for ‘Diving Belles’ being a collection worthy of anyone’s reading time.

Which cover do you like best?

Yesterday’s Sun – Amanda Brooke

Holly and her husband, Tom, buy an old country house in England (I just loved the setting and really wanted to actually see their house) with a huge but vastly overgrown garden. One day, whilst walking though the garden which she loves, Holly discovers an old sundial. It appears to be broken but then she finds some other random pieces and as she is a sculptor and artist, she manages to reassemble the old piece but soon starts to question whether it is a blessing or not as she starts succumbing to illusions created by what she sees in the sundial.

These visions show a future where Tom is seen cradling their future baby – as yet unborn and unplanned by Holly – but the vision shows no Holly. As she revisits the sundial to find out more about this possible future, Holly learns that in order to give Tom the child he desperately wants, she has to die in the process. Initially, Holly wasn’t too eager to start a family but as she spends more time in the sundial’s cruel, future world, she comes to love their daughter and she has to make a tough decision. Does she sacrifice herself or her future child?

Have the tissue box on hand for this one! It’s a real emotional read and a great story too.

The Night Circus

As soon as I heard about this book, I knew I had to get my hands on it as I have loved circus books since reading and loving ‘Water for Elephants.’ Unlike ‘WFE’, Night Circus has a surreal and magical element to it. The magical ‘element’ is actually a major part of the book as it centers around a Magician’s daughter and a Sorcerer’s apprentice.

Love the cover too!

The aforementioned Magician and Sorcerer have been rivals for a very long time. When the Magician learns that he has a daughter who is unceremoniously dumped in his hands and who has inherited his magical powers, he seeks out the Sorcerer and challenges him to a magical duel featuring his daughter and a student of the Sorcere’s choosing. A circus is created as the arena where the battle will take place, unbeknownst to the two ‘duellers’ and all the folk employed in the circus. ‘The Night Circus arrives without warning. No announcements proceed it… It is simply there, when yesterday it was not.’

I love this book.  It is beautiful and the characters and story are intriguing and very likeable.  The circus seems so real, despite having tents that contain some weird and wonderful displays from Wishing Trees to bottles that open to reveal stories that you experience by smell alone.  A clock at the main gate has ‘…a silver dragon that curls around the visible clockwork, a tiny princess in a carved tower who paces in distress; Teapots that pour into teacups and miniscule curls of steam that rise from them as the seconds tick.’  Somewhat predictably, the daughter and apprentice fall in love with each other but only one is aware that they are pawns in a lifelong battle between their respective father and tutor.  Other select characters are also aware, and it is fun and also nerve-racking to watch as they interact with each other not knowing what each character is privy to.

Black Swan Rising

This is my second bite of the Transworld Publisher’s pie (Reading Challenge) and a very happy chomper I am!  The first book I received and read for the challenge has been added to my list of all-time favourite books, and although Lee Carroll’s ‘Black Swan Rising’ hasn’t joined that rather prestigious list, I did enjoy it and am looking forward to reading its’ sequel, ‘The Watchtower.’

‘Black Swan Rising’ has some of my favourite book ingredients in it – magic (of course!), a scattering of bad-boy romance, danger, shops that mysteriously appear and disappear, ancient ‘bling’ that hold many a mystery within, a crazy father (who is actually a lot more keyed-in than anyone realises,) New York, oh and the odd vampire or fairy scattered along the way for good measure…  However, as much as I liked this book, I didn’t ‘love’ it, which surprised me as I’m usually more than happy with a book that has one or two of the above elements, and this book certainly had some lovely touches.  Cute things like a bag of homemade warm scones that refill over night, so there’s always a bag full to eat.  Now that’s the kind of magic I could do with in my life!

Garet, the main character comes across as being quite young but this isn’t actually a YA book and she is, I guess, meant to be in her early 30’s?  I liked her but woudlnt’ be in  any rush to invite her round for scones and jam.  It is a tad annoying how she learns and masters her new skills with too much ease and how very accepting she is of everything that is thrown at her (when she’s not busy spilling her guts about everything that happens to her to any Tom, Dick or policeman who happens to cross her path) but yet she thinks her Dad’s ‘ramblings’ are those of a senile old man.  Hmm.

It is a fun, easy read though and I will be reading the sequel too.  I also like the sound of Lee Carroll’s other book, ‘Incubus’ which is described as ‘a dar, sexy gothic fairytale.’  I assume that it’s a standalone, so will keep an eye out for that one too. has anyone else read any Lee Carroll books?

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