Tag Archives: women writers

Academy Street by Mary Costello

AcademyIt seems to be the in thing to compare novels to Stoner. Of the many titles I’ve seen with the ‘If you liked Stoner then you’ll love….’ tag, this is the most deserving of comparison.

It spans the life of Tess Lohan, growing up in Ireland (in present tense, like life is to a child), then as an adult emigrating to the US (in the past tense). It is written with beautiful insight and maturity, with the perfect amount of detail. Tess is quiet, even mute for a spell, and lives a sort of ordinary life. It’s hard not to love a character who reads: Tess “became herself, her most true self, in those hours among books. I am made for this, she thought.”

I didn’t love the ending, but I wanted other people to have read it so I could talk about why it didn’t feel quite right to me. It provokes discussion.

It’s one of those brilliant novels which shows how each person, however apparently unremarkable, experiences the full gamut of love and loss, tragedy and happiness.

If you’re writing a novel, don’t feel you have to write a hero, write a human.

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The Changing Room by Jane Turley

I proofread The Changing Room and worked on its Book Club Discussion Points and Author Q and A. I’m very lucky that Jane Turley sent me a gorgeous paperback edition last week. It’s a joy to behold and it was a delight to work on.

The Changing RoomIt is undoubtedly the funniest novel I’ve read in a long time. Jane Turley’s natural wit and flair for sharp dialogue make this an absolute pleasure to read. She reminds me of Sue Townsend, with a good dose of Rachel Joyce: all three have a gift for seeing the humour and pathos of everyday life.

“Today, I am in the changing room of my life and tomorrow, win or lose, I’ll move forward a stronger and wiser woman.” 

Alongside the classic British comedy are deeply moving moments as Sandy looks after her mother, who is becoming increasingly difficult due to Alzheimer’s, and loses her brilliant PTA frenemy to illness. There is a strong sense of social justice, responsibility, and the importance of looking after each other and coming together in times of crisis, as well as a lot of enjoyable silliness.

It is essentially a warm, genuine and life-affirming novel. I cannot recommend it enough.

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Available from Amazon in ebook or paperback, Smashwords, or Barnes and Noble. Please read and review it.

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I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou

i-know-why-the-caged-bird-singsI borrowed this from the library a few weeks ago, but hadn’t had a chance to read it. Suddenly, Maya Angelou was gone and demand for the book necessitated its return the next day. I read it in an afternoon, with the loss of the author and numerous obituaries in my mind, and it was an intense experience.

Partner: ‘Oh, you’ve finished your book, how was it?’

Me: ‘Can you just hold me for a while?’

It is an honest, deep and heartbreaking autobiography of an important person. She was prolific and magnificent. Before this I had only read her moving, political poetry, but I intend to read much more.

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Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day by Winifred Watson

Miss Pettigrew goes clubbingThis isn’t the first time I’ve mentioned a Persephone Books title, and I’m pretty sure it won’t be the last. Again, they’ve chosen a perfect gem to resurrect. This cheery, comic tale, set in 1930s London, begins with shy Miss Pettigrew, ‘with a timid, defeated expression and terror quite discernible in her eyes, if anyone cared to look’,  calling on the glamorous Miss LaFosse. She is hoping to gain employment as a governess, but becomes swept into a world of style, society and night clubs, becoming invaluable to her hostess.

Watson wittily adopts Miss Pettigrew’s perspective:  ‘Shocked by such flighty thoughts Miss Pettigrew took her imagination severely in hand and forced it back to the practical.’ Her upbringing as a gentlewoman initially inhibits her enjoyment of Delysia LaFosse’s more louche existence: ‘Odd,’ said Miss Pettigrew conversationally, ‘the undermining effect of flowers on a woman’s common sense.’ Miss PettigrewThe transformation of her character is simply lovely: she is physically transformed by Miss LaFosse and her friend’s application of make up, curls and a velvet gown. Her personal transformation happens concurrently. She shows herself to be intelligent, sharp and free-spirited, despite her jittery inner monologue. The little details, like the way she ensures where ever she sits she can glimpse her new self in the mirror, bring this tale to life.

This is just the sort of book that everyone should read at the start of a new year: it is optimistic, funny and has a heart-warming happy ending. It reminds me of P. G Wodehouse in style and humour. Also, the illustrations are lively and really give it splendid character.

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My Favourite Spooky Novels for Halloween

Here are my favourite novels that feel Halloween-appropriate. They may not all contain the classic supernatural monsters that provide the inspiration for the creepiest costumes. However to me, horror is much more than monsters: it is an oppressive atmosphere; chilling imagery; a twisting, startling plot; and good dose of foggy Victorian nights where villains lurk down dank alleys and in nervous imaginations.

Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier ‘Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again.’ This famous first line transports the reader with the nameless narrator back into a tale of tension and drama. It may not be a literal ghost story, but the protagonist is psychologically haunted by her new husband’s first wife, the eponymous Rebecca. The creepy housekeeper is devoted to her dead mistress and bullies the new Mrs de Winter into feeling that she will never be good enough. She begins to doubt herself and her husband’s love. If you haven’t read it, do, if only for the dramatic twists. It’s about power and fear. The imagery is taken directly from the horror genre:  ‘The road to Manderley lay ahead. There was no moon. The sky above our heads was inky black. But the sky on the horizon was not dark at all. It was shot with crimson, like a splash of blood. And the ashes blew towards us with the salt wind from the sea.’

The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde Teaching the perils of vanity, this beautifully written allegorical triumph is the perfect horror story. It has everything: crime, murder, sex, drugs and some startlingly gruesome surprises. Dorian Gray is young and beautiful. He falls in with a hedonistic crowd and has his portrait painted by Basil Hallward. He realises the transience of good looks and declares that he would sell his soul if the portrait would age instead of him. This Faustian pact becomes more real than he could have imagined as his sins are drawn on the picture, making it horrifically disfigured. This is Oscar Wilde’s only novel and caused moral outrage when it was published: usually the sign of an interesting book!  

Frankenstein by Mary Shelley It’s a Gothic horror classic. The original mad scientist, Victor Frankenstein brings forth new life in his lab, but is appalled by the monster he has created. Eight feet tall with translucent skin and yellow eyes, it craves human contact, yet terrifies everyone it meets.  This self-aware creature is one of the most fascinating characters in literature and is far more articulate in the text than it is allowed to be in most green-faced film adaptations: “I do know that for the sympathy of one living being, I would make peace with all. I have love in me the likes of which you can scarcely imagine and rage the likes of which you would not believe. If I cannot satisfy the one, I will indulge the other.” With a frame narrative, this novel is structurally intelligent as well as impressively dark and complex.

Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte So the ghost story element has rather had power taken out of it by that Kate Bush song, but that aside, the novel remains atmospheric, deeply creepy (implied nechrophilia) and involves some of the best pathetic fallacy I’ve ever seen. The central piece of the book is the all-consuming, destructive monomania that Cathy and Heathcliff feel for each other. In my favourite passage from the book, Heathcliff says: ‘Why did you betray your own heart, Cathy? I have not one word of comfort. You deserve this. You have killed yourself. Yes, you may kiss me, and cry; and wring out my kisses and tears: they’ll blight you—they’ll damn you… Because misery and degradation, and death, and nothing that God or Satan could inflict would have parted us, you, of your own will, did it. I have not broken your heart—you have broken it; and in breaking it, you have broken mine… Do I want to live? What kind of living will it be when you—oh, God! would you like to live with your soul in the grave?’ The themes of heaven and hell, of souls and damnation pervade each generation’s stories.

What would you add to this list?

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