Until We Win by Linda Newbery

Until We Win

Until We Win by Linda Newbery

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


Until We Win by Linda Newbery is a slender, accessible novella touching upon a key point in suffragette history. It’s framed through the perspective of Lizzy, an everygirl who comes across the work of the suffragettes and becomes a passionate supporter of the cause. Believing in Deeds Not Words, she undertakes action until she – like her sisters – is imprisoned. The backdrop to all of this is the build up to World War One, and there’s a little introduction and prologue delivered retrospectively by Lizzy where she looks back and talks abut the Summer that was and the years that followed.

Barrington Stoke deliver, in their words, ‘super readable’ texts and this is a worthy addition to their list. It’s deeply accessible, both through format and style, and there’s a lot to give somebody here. It’s perfectly pitched for those who may feel unable or intimidate by thicker, heavier books and could work as a nice lead-in and confidence booster. I also enjoyed the note from Stewart Easton which explained his reasoning behind the cover design. This sort of thing is so important because it tells you who’s ‘behind’ the book, as it were, but also encourages readers to question and think about the book as a whole. It’s never just about the words on the page.

I was impressed at how much Newbery packs into this. I have such a lot of time for her as a writer, and love what she does. I found some of the beats she touches here a little familiar and thus not as startling as they could be, but if you’re new to the topic then that may slide you by. I’m also going to take this moment to suggest that you head towards Newbery’s kind of remarkable back catalogue. Here’s a few I’ve reviewed.




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Death In The Spotlight by Robin Stevens

Death in the Spotlight (Murder Most Unladylike Mysteries, #7)

Death in the Spotlight by Robin Stevens

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


There’s always been something special about Robin Stevens’ work for me. I’ve been a fan of her since Murder Most Unladylike, a book that features in my thesis and a paper I’m working on and a presentation I’ll be doing in a couple of months. I get a lot from her work, and I enjoy working with it. I enjoy reading her books. I love them, in point of fact. She writes golden stories full of such utter quality and they’re great. They’re also fiercely committed to representation, diversity and equality and some of the steps made in Death in the Spotlight are beautifully handled.

I found the context for Death In The Spotlight to be a little artificial, but once I moved past that I remembered how good these books are. Stevens has the great gift of pulling you on the journey with her. And you can have doubts, and moments when you question it, because Hazel or Daisy are doing the precise same thing all along, but then you solve the crime. Figure out the murderer. You test yourself against the book at every step and when you finish it, you end up in such a good and satisfied place that you forget any of the doubt you had. I love how Stevens does that. She allows you those moments to question and doubt, and she says that it’s okay. It’s such an expression of faith and trust in her readers, and I love it.

I have my suspicions for the future trajectory of this series, as we’re moving towards a tumultuous period in British history, but I’ll not dwell much on that. I shall simply say that I’ll be there with these books and waiting to see what happens. I love them a lot, I really really do.



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A quick note to say…

  1. I have been celebrating Frances Hodgson Burnett’s birthday weekend by offering TELL ME OF A GIRL (my retelling of The Secret Garden) for free. If this is your bag, you can download it here. For free! Worldwide!
  2. I’m currently reading THE SONG OF ACHILLES by Madeline Miller and it is GREAAAAAAAAAAAAAAT. 
  3. Normal service will resume shortly 🙂

A Dangerous Mission by Bessie Marchant

A Dangerous Mission

A Dangerous Mission by Bessie Marchant

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


The more I read of Bessie Marchant, the more I enjoy her. She is a writer who hybridises Elinor M. Brent-Dyer at her Ruritanian best with the entirety of the Boy’s Own Genre, and makes it her own. She is rather fabulous, and her books are a joy.

Here’s the Wikipedia summary for A Dangerous Mission: Tatna is a young school teacher in Petrograd, Russia. She gets caught up in a bread riot and escapes, disguised as another teacher who is bound for a school in the remote countryside, where she discovers that she has a talent for teaching the local people about responsible government. .

Amazing, right?

Published in 1918, this is naturally a story which is trying to say a particular thing in a particular point of time. There are certain elements which stick from a more contemporary reading; the notion of the uneducated masses being told what to do is just a little problematic, and the sub-plot with the Baroness (there is always a subplot of this sort of nature in this sort of book) sticks just a tad. Marchant manages to get away with all of that because she is so utterly, utterly devoted to making this readable.

A Dangerous Mission is popular fiction from one hundred years ago, and it wouldn’t have won any prizes then, and it wouldn’t now. This isn’t the highest work by any means, but it is rather fabulous. Tatna is a spirited heroine and somewhat richly impetuous; she doesn’t quite think as much as Marchant clearly wants her to, and there’s something delightful about an author struggling to catch up with one of their creations.

The final movement of the book rather escapes both Marchant and Tatna; there’s some shenanigans, some Fortunate Appearances At The Right Time, and some Problems Getting Resolved, but honestly, it’s hard to be negative about this. This is such a richly readable, rampantly nutty, kind of fabulous story about a girl who changes the world about her, and I will always love such things.



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Circe by Madeline Miller

(A brief note from the editor; this is a blog concerned with children’s and young adult literature. Circe is arguably neither. Yet it is remarkable and this blog will always find a home for the remarkable story. This is something to give to those readers breaching the edge of young adult and looking for something else , something remarkable. We often forget about those readers. We should not.)

Circe

Circe by Madeline Miller

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


Lyrical, poignant, powerful and ferociously unashamed of what it is and the story it has to tell, Circe by Madeline Miller is something else. As I do with many of the ‘big’ books, the ones that win the awards and are talked about at length by everyone I know, I began it with fear. I stray carefully into books that are out of my specialisms, because I don’t want to read bad things. I don’t have time for that. Nobody does. Reading is a brief, beautiful marriage and to have one that doesn’t work out? That’s the worst of things, the worst of times.

Circe works out. And it is the best, the best of times.

It is the first book by Madeline Miller that I’ve read, but it will not be the last. Miller’s eloquent and lyrical prose seeks out the roundness of Circe’s story and presents it with such utter truth. It is a remarkable book, evocative of those epic poems that tell stories of long lost and distant heroes; Circe, however, is as present as the keyboard that I type this on. You feel her, you know her, and you live her every breath. There’s something rather remarkable happening here; a story of a woman being told in an intimate, powerful, believable manner – the story of her survival, her loves, her losses, and her rampant, raw bravery.

A powerful, graceful and eloquent story, told with truth, honesty and love. I read this in a handful of days. I would go back to the start of those days all over.


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Girl Squads by Sam Maggs

Girl Squads: 20 Female Friendships That Changed History

Girl Squads: 20 Female Friendships That Changed History by Sam Maggs

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I’ve been looking for something like Girl Squads for a very long time. This smart, chatty and furiously honest book is a treat because, unlike so many of the others out there, Girl Squads acknowledges the truth about women’s history. It is complex, fought for, and often overwritten by a cultural system which privileges other voices. I’m trying not to write The White Western Patriarchy here, but I’m sure you’ve figured that out by now.

What I loved about Girl Squads is that it’s not afraid of offering an opinion. There’s no romantic hagiographies here; history is rendered as a messy, knotty and occasionally deeply unsatisfying thing. The style is chatty, conversational, occasionally sliding a little too much towards the informal, but as a whole works perfectly. This is big sister history, told to you by somebody who wants you to think about the world and to fight for your place in it. And the women covered are remarkable. It’s split into sections covering Athlete Squads, Political and Activist Squads, Warrior Squads, Scientist Squads and Artist Squads, and covers women’s groups as diverse as The Haenyeo Divers to The Blue Stockings.

Interspersed throughout by Jenn Woodall’s sensitive and richly detailed illustrations (a small cameo to introduce each woman, and a lovely page to introduce each section), Girl Squads is a vibrant, powerful thing. It pays tribute to the complex lives of the women it celebrates and it manages to keep that complexity intact. Being female is a complex, wonderful thing. Not many books recognise that challenge or celebrate it. But Girl Squads does.

I am grateful to the publisher for a review copy.



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So I sort of self-published a book

Hi, yes, I have a confession.

Over the past few months, I’ve been working on the incredibly on brand project that is a poetic retelling of The Secret Garden. I’ve sort of now self-published it and it’s available on Amazon here: https://amzn.to/2QA6TqK

Here is the cover:-

The Story of A Girl cover by LH Johnson

Here’s the blurb: –

“A retelling of the iconic children’s classic The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett (1911), Tell Me Of A Girl explores the story of Mary Lennox like never before.”

And here’s the opening three chapters:-

 

Tell me of a girl

This is the story of a girl
who lived defiantly until she was wrapped in leaves
and locked behind walls. Tell me of the life she lived,
how her unruliness shone,
and how her loss did not define her.

Tell me of a girl
who survived.

With one hand in the soil

The first thing Mary Lennox learnt of the world was this:
her mother was beautiful and she was not, and she learnt this before she learnt her own name and before she knew what names even were.

Sometimes her mother would come to her room and look at Mary as though they had never met, and on those occasions Mary would look back at her
and find herself lost for words.

She was scared of her mother but proud too;
proud of her beauty, and of the way that people would talk of her in hushed tones.

Sometimes she would not see her mother for days
until she came home with friends, and the noise arrived before they did.

On those days, the servants took Mary to the back of the house
filled her mouth with food to earn her silence,
and together they listened to her mother laugh
too long,
too loud,
and too much.

The darkness

One night, Mary’s mother came to her room
and lit a cigarette in the dark,
let the ash slide onto the floor,
and spoke about how she was a soldier in some great battle and if she had to,
she would fight alone and she would win despite everything
despite her.

Her voice was calm, but the red tip of the cigarette moved like a mosquito through the dark.

The next morning, she left for a party in the hills, and came home two days later
in the grey, thin, light of the dawn,
and as the sun rose, she smashed glass against the walls
and scored the sky with regret.

Mary screwed her eyes shut and lied sleep
as the doctors came to their house and spoke of cholera
for it was a word that, unlike the others, she did not yet understand,
and so it meant nothing to her when the engagements
were not attended; and when her mother did not rise.