Ten Thousand Doors of January by Alix E Harrow

When I first started reading this book, I wasn’t sure how I was going to feel about it. Sure, the writing was exquisite, the metaphors and similes original and evocative and the style was lovely and easy to read… but… then, whoompa! Something occurred about a third or even halfway through and I was hooked. In fact, I not only didn’t want to put the book down, but I never wanted to leave this marvellous world/s of possibilities Alix E. Harrow has created.

This is the story of young, mostly abandoned (by her peripatetic father who worked collecting unusual antiquities for his patron, Mr Locke, who is also his daughter’s guardian) January Scaller – a girl who is not yet a woman, not quite white, but neither is she black. She is, however, coloured, and therefore perceived by the predominately white society she mixes in, as different. She is also curious, protected and, considering her differences, quite privileged. For this is a world very aware of place and position and that includes colour of one’s skin which, in January’s world, can only be overcome by connections – of which January is, to her great fortune, possessed.

Aware that she leads a sheltered life, January likens her existence to that of the many wonderful artefacts Mr Locke collects – the very same ones her father is tasked with finding for him. They’re kept in rooms, cages, glass display cases and judged; a value is assigned which governs how they’re appreciated. But January longs for more – she especially longs for her father to return from those interminable voyages he’s always taking and from which the best he can do is scrawl a few lines to her to indicate she is not forgotten. Only, try telling that to January.

Then, one day, she discovers a strange book. Believing it’s one of the many peculiar presents her guardian often leaves for her to discover, she finds the story within the pages transportative. It’s wondrous, compelling in its narrative about secret doors that when opened lead to other fantastical and sometimes dangerous worlds, and it offers her the escape she longs for. Yet, the more January reads, the more perplexed she becomes: is the book a fiction, or is it real? And why is it that the further she delves into its pages, the more complex and dangerous her own life becomes – until the moment she understands just what this book is and why it came to her…

It’s hard to talk too much about this novel without risking spoiling it except to say that it’s incredibly beautiful. I’ve already spoken about the writing, but the story (which is about the stories we tell – each other, within and across cultures – and the ability they have to shape and influence us; how they reside in our hearts and head, captivate, restore, embolden, challenge, move etc) is simply sensational. It’s a slow burn in some ways, but in other ways, the pace is perfect, but it took me a little while to appreciate that.

Part magic realism, wholly magical, this is a story about identity, family, love, and the other bonds that make and break us. It’s also about trust, faith, and the astonishing power of stories to shape the worlds we live in and how, in turn, we shape them as well. How opening doors, both metaphorically and literally, is an optimistic and progressive action that allows us to grow, change and most importantly, learn to understand ourselves with and through others. Powerfully and skilfully told, in a mesmerising and dream-like way, I cannot recommend this book highly enough.

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An explanation (for the absence of reviews of late) and a new review: The Giver of Stars by Jojo Moyes

The cover of my next novel, due out March 1st 2020. Set in Scotland in the early 1700s, it’s based on a true story.

I’ve been a bit remiss with my book reviews of late – but not, thank goodness, my reading (I have devoured so many books – fiction and non-fiction – they are my solace, joy and inspiration). Nevertheless, reviewing has taken a back seat as the last two months have seen me immersed in my own writing (a novel due for release in 2021) and editing my next novel, The Darkest Shore (which I will blog about soon) and which is being released March 1st 2020 in Aus/NZ. As a consequence, I have a number of simply wonderful books I’ve been bursting to review, but have had to wait until I’ve had a bit of breathing space – oh, and my computer. You see, on top of everything else, my computer decided to go ballistic. It had a bit of help though. I decided I was going to store my documents on iCloud. Actually, I was persuaded by my husband who said I should have backup beyond a time machine (apologies to Dr Who) just in case someone breaks into my house and steals my computer. Fair enough, I thought, and bought iClould space and voila! My files not only disappeared, but those remaining became scattered into different hundreds of folders etc. A “geek” (his name for himself) called James was my saviour and, after saying he’s never seen anything like it, spent five days trying to rebuild my computer back to the way it was. Turns out, iCloud has eaten some of my files and we don’t think I’ll ever get them back :(. Overall, I have what I need, so I am trying to think positively and tell myself I Marie Kondoed my computer… let go of what didn’t spark joy. Problem is, I don’t yet really know what I have “let go” of and dread finding out lest it doesn’t spark joy so much as rage or despair… Anyhow, onto more interesting things… like books.

I honestly, I have been so spoiled with my reading of late, there are just so many fantastical books out there, I wasn’t sure where to start until I remembered The Giver of Stars by Jojo Moyes. It was recommended to me by my beloved reading buddy and while I was enchanted with the title, little did I know I would swiftly fall under the spell of the story as well.

Set during the Depression in the US and based on a true story, this about a group of disparate women living in the mountains of Kentucky who, for various reasons, decide to create a mobile “horseback” library in the small town of Bailyville.

The story opens by introducing the reader to the recently wed, British immigrant, Alice Wright. Wed to the handsome and very desirable and wealthy, Bennett Van Cleeve, Alice believes she is escaping the prison of her home in England and embarking on a grand adventure with the man of her dreams. Sadly, the reality is far from what she hoped and soon she finds herself in the company of other women who, for reasons that become apparent as the story unfolds, are also searching for something and someone beyond what their lives have offered. There’s sassy and independent Margery, shy young Izzy, the widow, Kathleen and Sophia, an educated black woman tasked with caring for her crippled brother who, due to prejudice, decides to only work in the library in the evenings, becoming, effectively, the library’s administrator and bringing order to potential chaos.

Known as the WPA packhorse librarians, of course, there are objections among certain townsfolk, not only about women mounting horses daily to take books, magazines and comics out to those who either live remotely or are unable to come to the library, but also about the fact they’re peddling stories. Stories are powerful, unpredictable and potentially dangerous. As the books and magazines and the tales contained within start to not only unite the readers, but also teach them about life beyond their mountains and about possibilities, the township begins to stir. In this sense, the book is about the way in which stories can literally transform lives – and not just those of the packhorse librarians – and for the better.

Brave, bold and kind, the librarians endure personal hardship and professional criticism, but it’s their work and their love of it that binds them together. The lives of the locals are also brought into stark relief; their poverty, their struggles, but also their joy in the tales the women bring them and how they come to slowly regard themselves and each other in a different light. But not everyone can tolerate what the packhorse librarians are doing, the way it’s empowering certain people and, before too long, there are moves afoot to prevent the women not only delivering their tales, but the changes they stimulate. But when tragedy strikes, no-one could have foreseen the lengths those opposed to the library and the independent women at its heart were prepared to go…

Beautifully written, this tale is stirring, heart-felt and inspiring. It reminds you of the power of good stories, the importance of friendship and above all, how decent people united in a great cause can bring about justice and positive change. Messages we all need to remember; lessons we need to heed. A wonderful read.

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The Lost Flowers of Alice Hart by Holly Ringland


Where do I begin with this heart-achingly, lovely book that moves between utter despair and glorious hope? Once I started, I couldn’t put it down – the prose and sto

ry captivating me in a way I haven’t been for a long time. Not only that, but I found myself shedding tears I didn’t even know were gathering. Some were from sadness, but others were from the joy descriptions of simple things arouse – like a beautiful flower opening its petals, a painter’s palette summer sky, the cry of a native bird, the sunlight refracting on a river. It was unexpected, quite astonishing and testimony to the power of Ringland’s writing and the magic this tale weaves around your soul.

So, what’s the book about? It tells the story of young Alice Hart who, at nine years of age, suffers a shocking tragedy that forces her to leave her childhood home and the oft dark memories and wonderful stories that reside there, and relocate with her grandmother, someone whom she’s never met before. Like Alice, her grandmother, June, carries dark secrets, secrets borne from a deep maternal urge to protect those she loves and which is reflected in the flower farm she runs and, even more significantly, in the broken women she takes under wing and who work for her. Known as The Flowers, they too have secrets and histories that both bond them and, in an attempt to shed the past or at least reconcile it, cause emotional pain. Among these women with their love of stories and each other and the gorgeous flowers, Alice finds a modicum of peace, many more stories to nourish her soul and even love – that is, until something occurs which catapults her into a future she neither imagined or wanted.

From fields of sugar cane and the deep rolling ocean, to the flower farm by the river, and ultimately, central Australia replete with its chthonic magic and ancient stories, the book spans over twenty years. It explores different kinds of love, our connection to place, how stories shape us, how secrets do as well. It also examines the choices we make – good and bad – and the consequences of these upon both the individual making them and those they inevitably affect. It’s about residence and forgiveness as well.

This is such a soulful, gorgeous book that it’s hard to put into words how it made me feel. All I can say is that my signed copy (gifted by my publisher – and signed to me personally by Holly – thank you, Holly) is something I will treasure. I have also bought the book for others so they too might share in this enchanting novel.

There’s no doubt that Ringland is a voice to watch – poetic, powerful and moving – one that has the ability to take the reader on a journey that doesn’t end when the novel finishes. If that’s not an accomplished storyteller with a great gift, I don’t know what is. Cannot wait to see what Ringland produces next.

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The Bronte Plot by Katherine Reay

imgresThe Bronte Plot by Katherine Reay is a story of lies, secrets, family, betrayal and the consequences of these upon those nearest and dearest. It is also about taking responsibility for actions and how the past can impinge upon and influence the present – sometimes with dire results.

Using the works of the Bronte sisters as well as Jane Austen, Beatrix Potter, Charles Dickens and British authors generally, it makes broad and specific analogies, discusses the themes and motives of the characters in these works as well as the importance of stories in people’s lives – how they can inspire, nourish, form and inform us.

The lead character, Lucy Alling, works for an up-market interior designer, Sid, who is also a collector of wonderful curios and antiques with which to adorn the places he’s asked to decorate. Given responsibility for various aspects of the business, in particular, the acquisition of rare books, Lucy hides a dark secret.

When she meets James, a man who seems ideal in so many ways, and her secret is revealed, she loses that which has come to mean so much to her and her life as she knows it threatens to unravel. Forced to confront her behaviour, it’s not until she travels with James’ flawed but understanding grandmother and learns her secrets, that Lucy understands what she has to do and, more importantly, why.

Commencing in the USA, the book moves to England and it’s in London and later the English countryside that Reay draws her locations and that quintessential “Englishness” so well. The reader is not only steeped in this, but like the tea some of the characters loved, we’re immersed in anecdotes and references to Lucy’s beloved books as she ponders what some of her favourite writers and their heroines did in order to enact change.

I enjoyed the book – it’s slow pace, it’s exploration of place and character. While Lucy was well drawn, other characters tended to be a little two-dimensional and not as satisfying. But this is very much Lucy’s story – Lucy and the grandmother – demonstrating the bonds that can form beyond family and across generations.

For lovers of female-centered books, literary allusions, as well as novels which explore the tangled web of relationships and family.


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