Thursday, January 16, 2014

A Perfect Winter Read

The Snow Child
by Eowyn Ivey
Published by Reagan Arthur Books

4 Out of 5 Stars
Reviewed by Amanda

Poignant, melancholy and slow-moving, The Snow Child probably isn't for everyone and I'll admit that it probably would have been a 3 1/2 star if I hadn't read it at such a seasonally appropriate time. With temperatures in the single digits, the wind whipping outside, and my part of the world brought to a halt by the "wintry mix" falling from the sky, this was the perfect book to curl up with and therefore I'm tacking on that extra half star anyway.

Well past middle-age, Jack and Mabel strike out on their own when they move to Alaska in the 1920's. Such an adventure would typically be a young couple's game, but Jack and Mabel are lured to the recently acquired U.S. territory in the hope that it will allow them to leave behind the one great disappointment in their lives: the stillborn child they buried in an orchard back home. Proximity to friends and family who have children of their own means that Jack and Mabel's emotional wound has never fully healed, so they purposefully break away in the hope that they will be drawn closer together and move past their grief.

It's not long, however, before the long, dark Alaskan winters take their toll on the couple. Isolated in their own spheres--Jack in the fields, Mabel in the home--depression and blame begin to settle into an otherwise happy marriage. In a moment of youthful spontaneity, the couple builds a snow child one night and it's not long before they begin to see a young girl, a wild thing at home in the cold and the forest, moving through the woods and causing them to tentatively believe that maybe they've at last been granted a child of their own making.

Based upon a Russian fairy tale, The Snow Child could easily be maddening to those who like definitive answers and clear resolutions. Is the young girl (whose name, we learn, is Faina) an orphaned child, a daughter born of snow and winter come to life, or a figment created from depression and longing? There are no clear answers to these questions, but I don't think they are questions that really matter because, in the end, The Snow Child is about grief and forgiveness.

In her portrayal of Jack and Mabel, Eowyn Ivey gives us the basic template for any marriage: no matter how strong the bond, individual grievances, both real and imagined, can build and fester. Whether or not a couple confronts these grievances determines if the marriage will fall apart or hold together. There's also complexity to the characters. At first, Mabel seems too refined and erudite for survival in the rugged wilderness, while Jack faces both the past and the future with unflinching stoicism. As we're allowed into their interior lives, however, we learn that Mabel has hidden strengths that hold her in good stead and Jack hurts far more than he's willing to admit, lest it render him unable to protect Mabel. Through their relationship with Faina, Jack and Mabel confront the painful past together and are ultimately blessed with the life they believed was well beyond their grasp.

Love and Greasepaint

Tipping the Velvet

Sarah Waters

Review by Zorena

Four Stars


This delicious, steamy debut novel chronicles the adventures of Nan King, who begins life as an oyster girl in the provincial seaside town of Whitstable and whose fortunes are forever changed when she falls in love with a cross-dressing music-hall singer named Miss Kitty Butler.

When Kitty is called up to London for an engagement on "Grease Paint Avenue," Nan follows as her dresser and secret lover, and, soon after, dons trousers herself and joins the act. In time, Kitty breaks her heart, and Nan assumes the guise of butch roue to commence her own thrilling and varied sexual education - a sort of Moll Flanders in drag - finally finding friendship and true love in the most unexpected places. (The Daily Telegraph)

My Review

While I have seen this book classified as a romance novel I was well pleased to find out it wasn't just that. It has romantic parts and sure there's some sex but it doesn't seem to be the mainstay of the story. Still, for those that like that, you'll get enough to titillate you but not so much that it would make the book considered trashy.

I can only describe it as a really good read and that is mostly due to the stellar writing and research done by the author. Like Tim Powers, Ms Waters has done her homework. This is the gritty and very real city of London in the late Victorian era. Her heroine has some very harsh life lessons handed out by the city itself and her perceived status in it. I have to say that I really enjoyed learning about turn of the century music halls and all the backstage doings that went with them. The history lesson in the hidden gay subculture was also a delightful eye opener.

This is a very different coming of age story and I love what the author did with it. Speaking of which, I think I'll be hunting out more books by Sarah Waters.