Month: November 2022

Book review – A Woman Made of Snow, by Elisabeth Giffor

Title: A Woman Made of Snow

Author: Elisabeth Gifford

Publisher: Corvus, 2021; RRP: $29.99

After growing up in a vicarage in the English midlands, Elisabeth Gifford achieved academic qualifications in French literature, world religions and creative writing. She has written a series of historical fiction books on subjects as varied as a doctor in a World War II ghetto, and missionaries in China. A Woman Made of Snow is her fifth book.

Marriage towards the end of WWII, quickly followed by the birth of a baby, prevents Caro from following her plans to begin a career in academia like her husband, Alasdair. Having moved from London to Alasdair’s family home in Fife, Scotland, Caro feels stifled by her mother-in-law, Martha. A combination of the discovery of a body on the grounds of Kelly Castle, the family home, and a need to restore and maintain the castle, provides the background to this story. Alasdair’s family history involves a missing relative – there are no records, no photographs and no mention made of Alasdair’s great-grandmother. Could hers be the body that is revealed during a flood? Caro is given the task of reviewing family documents to help support a claim for funds from the National Trust and simultaneously search for information about the missing woman.

The author deftly weaves a narrative between the early years after WWII and the1880s. Research into contact between Scottish whaling ships and the customs and living conditions of the Inuit people they encountered provides an extremely interesting thread and some significant plot twists. These are supported by an exploration of the developments in relationships between different generations in families, both the more recent as well those from the 19th century.

It is interesting to see the character development throughout this novel. Relationships change, some for the better and others not so much, as the story unfolds. Other characters are not what they seem.

This is a really enjoyable book for both its depiction of relationships and its exploration of otherwise little-known information about the contact between Scottish whalers and the Arctic First Nations people.

Reviewed by: Elisabeth Bridson, October 2022

Ballarat Writers Inc. Book Review Group

Review copy provided by the publisher

Book review – The Bone Spindle, by Leslie Vedder

Title: The Bone Spindle

Author: Leslie Vedder

Publisher: Hachette 2022; RRP $17.99

As an American author of YA novels, Leslie Vedder is known for creating female heroes in her fantasy books. Her stories also include settings where LGBTIQ characters appear as a matter of course, without prejudice.

The Bone Spindle is a retelling of the Sleeping Beauty fairy tale, with a twist – the character cast into a deep sleep by a wicked witch is Prince Briar Rose, and his rescuer is a girl, Filore Nenroa, known as Fi.

At the beginning of the book Fi seeks a partner to assist in gathering information and relics of the past relating to magic. This role is filled by Shane, another girl. However, Shane’s main quest differs from Fi’s – she’s more interested in retrieving ancient treasures to sell for profit. The pairing is not always harmonious, but after several early adventures – including some exciting near misses – they unite to complete the quest to rescue Briar. This quest is made necessary by Fi being pricked by the same spindle that cast the spell over the prince a hundred years earlier.

Both the main protagonists, and some of the other characters, have interesting back stories – Fi is already dealing with a curse she’s had cast on her, and Shane has her own family issues to deal with because of being the elder of twins. The author neatly weaves in their histories in a series of flashbacks, providing the reader with relevant information throughout the main story.

Fairy tale retellings in 15 categories

@ once upon a bookcase

There are clever twists and turns throughout the book, with not everything being as it originally seems. The author has created an interesting mix of witches – both good and evil – villains and helpers, curses, spells, and nightmarish landscapes, which the two girls are compelled to navigate in their various quests. Relationships, both platonic and romantic, between the major characters and others are explored and developed in interesting, sometimes unexpected, ways.

While the worldbuilding in this book is done with a deft touch, it is sometimes difficult to suspend disbelief when reading about all the skills and experiences Fi and Shane have gained at their ages, 17 and 18 respectively. The book could also have done with a little more judicious editing – I’m not sure ‘chambered’ means what the author thinks it does, and it’s disconcerting to read that a poster torn from the wall and screwed into a ball in someone’s hand is somehow in shreds on the floor just a couple of lines later.

However, these are minor quibbles in a book that is a rollicking tale, with a good mix of humour and adventure, as well as the already mentioned relationship developments. As the first of a trilogy, it will be interesting to see what happens next, for, as one character says three pages from the end, ‘This is not the end … It is only the very beginning’.

Reviewed by: Elisabeth Bridson

Ballarat Writers Inc. Book Review Group

Review copy provided by the publisher

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