Tuesday, 16 February 2016

Cogling by Jordan Elizabeth / Sleepless Nights by Elizabeth Hardwick / The Greatcoat by Helen Dunmore

Cogling by Jordan Elizabeth
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Buy the ebook from Amazon.co.uk

I enjoyed reading my first Jordan Elizabeth book, Escape From Witchwood Hollow, last year so was delighted to recently be offered a review copy of her newest novel, Cogling. I especially love the fabulous cover art which was created by Mandie Manzano.

Cogling is billed as steampunk and is set in Victorian era sort-of-England. It does rely more of magical and fantasy elements rather science fiction, but Elizabeth's premise of witch-like hags replacing children with automata counterparts is a wonderfully steampunky idea. When her young brother, Harrison, becomes one of the taken children, Edna Mather sets out on a quest to discover his fate and rescue him. On the way she is mostly helped - and sometimes hindered! - by Ike, a young man of dubious honesty. Ike also provides a burgeoning love interest for our Edna although, as this is a YA novel, their romance is suitably muted.

I liked Elizabeth's descriptive prowess and, as with Escape From Witchwood Hollow, I found it easy to immerse myself into the world she created. I wasn't so convinced by all the characters this time around though, mainly because most of the magicals and animals weren't given complete personalities. Perhaps a couple of the journey twists and turns could have been sacrificed in order to allow readers to get to know certain of the hags and ogres in greater depth? On the whole, however, Cogling is an entertaining and fast-paced read and I would follow Edna and Ike on further adventures should a sequel be in the pipeline.

Search Lit Flits for more:
Books by Jordan Elizabeth / Fantasy fiction / Books from America

Sleepless Nights by Elizabeth Hardwick
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

One of my Top Ten Books of 2016.

Buy the ebook from Amazon.co.uk
Buy the paperback from Waterstones

Elizabeth Hardwick was a new-to-me author when I spotted this novella, Sleepless Nights, in with other borrowable books at our Tarragona Airbnb apartment. Inappropriate titling aside(!), I chose it mainly because its brevity would allow me to easily finish reading during a busy long weekend and I was not prepared at all for just how superb the writing would be. I don't often quote from books I read, but to give you an idea, here is a sentence that grabbed my attention early on:
"I was then a 'we', that tea bag of a word steeped in the conditional".

Sleepless Nights is essentially a fictional memoir, written in a nonfiction style, which results in an unusual book for its time. I understand from reading up about Hardwick and her work since finishing, that it was considered experimental when published although this approach is now far more widely used. Our narrator, also named Elizabeth, is an older woman looking back over her life, recalling people and places that once meant a lot to her. Sometimes we read Elizabeth's thoughts as though she is speaking directly to us. Sometimes we read old letters she wrote. Combined, the effect is to give an immensely powerful read. I would recommend Sleepless Nights to anyone who enjoys literary fiction purely for Hardwick's gorgeous turns of phrase, but also because she creates such an fascinating persona in Elizabeth.

Search Lit Flits for more:
Books by Elizabeth Hardwick / Contemporary fiction / Books from America

The Greatcoat by Helen Dunmore
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Buy the ebook from Amazon.co.uk
Buy the paperback from Waterstones

My friend Marta lent me her paperback copy of The Greatcoat by Helen Dunmore and I read the whole book, practically in one sitting, this afternoon. I think it really should have been published as a novella rather than a 239 page novel because there are such wide margins that I found myself turning pages ridiculously fast!

The Greatcoat is set in a small East Riding community in 1954. Reminders of the War are everywhere yet the people have frequently chosen to look ahead rather than back. It is not so much a case of forgetting the horrors and loss of wartime, as simply choosing to spend as little time as possible remembering. Into this community come Philip and Isabel, the new doctor and his wife; he eager to throw himself into his new professional life, she encouraged to turn away from her qualifications and settle instead for lonely domesticity. Even without the supernatural aspect which pervades every page, Dunmore has written an insightful description of the weird normality of Isabel's life that would have made a good book on its own. Instead, we also begin to glimpse another woman's life, through Isabel's eyes, when she inadvertently opens the door to a ghost.

I love how Dunmore evokes all the senses in her writing. Isabel's ghost is not just seen, but smelt, heard and touched. Tension is heightened by the landlady's perpetual pacing overhead. The supernatural begins to seem more real than reality. Timeshifts are wonderfully handled and I would not be surprised to see The Greatcoat turned into an amazing film (is it already?).

Search Lit Flits for more:
Books by Helen Dunmore / Horror fiction / Books from England

1 comment:

  1. Heads Up! Cogling is being featured on Bookbub (www.bookbub.com) today (April 3rd 2016) and tomorrow, and will be on sale there for just 99 cents (US).