The Daylight Gate … a review

I was at Lancaster University last week and spending some time walking around Pendle College and ended up at their very impressive student library. What do I do when that happens? Pick up a book and make a beeline for an empty couch! I picked up this book because I had been to Lancaster Castle the day before and only just found out about the area’s connection to witches!

The book is set in 1612, when James I, a Protestant King, is on the throne. He was James VI of Scotland, of course, the son of Mary Queen of Scots. Apparently, he was obsessed with ridding his realm of twin evils, witchcraft and Catholicism, at any price…

The narrative has an old fashioned writing style, it is not halting though, just different. The local sheriff at Pendle hill interrupts a strange meeting as he suspects it to be a witches’ Sabbat. I won’t tell you how, but even Shakespeare plays a cameo – how cool is that!?

It is a very short read although it looks deceptively thick. It took me a couple of hours and a bit to read, although I was totally engrossed in it. The library was fab and the weather outside was, well, underwhelming, so there.

The Silver Skates … a review

A couple of months ago, I went to the Netherlands. It was my first trip to continental Europe and Amsterdam (and its surrounding towns) did not disappoint. As I tend to after lovely travels, I picked up this classic set in the 1840s Holland. If you have never been, if you have and want to revisit your memories, or if you just want to renew your faith in miracles, this should be your New Year read.

The Silver Skates is the story of Hans and Gretel Brinker and an annual tradition in Holland – ice-skating on the frozen canals that abound the country. The Brinker siblings are poor, with an ailing bedridden father and a mother who works to make ends meet. The Brinker children are good, honest, and hard-working. So good comes to them in the form of an expected present. Good skating shoes to participate in the race! The novel then leads up to the race itself. It follows the local children through the country as they train for the race, it follows the dynamics of a society when the rich and poor brush shoulders, and it takes the reader through the humble dynamics of every day family life in the Brinker household.

When Hans, like his sister, is given money to buy new skates, he decides to approach the famous Dr Boekman to treat his father. The gentleman doctor takes a liking towards him and agrees to take a look at Mr Brinker for free. The book then comes up to a tantalising climax of the treatment and the agonising wait to find out if the father will be alright. At the same time, Gretel is flying along frozen canals on the new skates and has the reader rooting for her victory.

The style of writing is very lucid, with Dutch history and folktales interwoven with the storyline. The narrative is fast paced at times and slows down in comfortable bits that takes the reader along the streets and towns of Holland. This book was a bestseller right away after publication and one can rightly see why. It has the excitement of travel, the redemption of problems and will leave you with a renewed outlook towards life and living.

Windmills at Zaanse-Saans

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Earth … a review

Earth is the debut novel of author Caroline Allen, and in it we found a connection to one of the elements. The protagonist of the story is a thirteen year old farm girl from Missouri, who has visions of turning into a tree. While on the surface, that seems to be the case, the novel is actually about what it means to be ‘different’. The family is slightly dysfunctional – the mother is aloof and detached, the older sister has run away, and the father is abusive and strict. All our protagonist Pearl has, is religion and a vague notion of growing up. There is an aunt too, who is referred to as having visions, but in true style of a mob, she is ostracized by the rest of the family.
What I liked about this book was the atmospheric scenes of the visions; it is reminiscent of Adiche, who I quite like. I liked the theme too; it is unusual in its mix of modern day with the elements of Pearl’s relation with The Osage, an ancient tribe that she feels a connection with, for their portrayal and respect of the elements. Te visions and their aftermath dealt with many emotions all of us have felt – confusion, a sense of injustice, the anger of having been different, and the fear of what this all means. Being thirteen is not easy for anyone, let alone someone struggling to find meaning in a rural farm in mid-century America. There is some sense of mystery that runs through the entire novel and as a reader, I could not quite put my finger on the cause of my sense of uneasiness.
The style of writing is slightly halting, in my opinion. Of course, it is the author’s first novel and no doubt, there is the potential for lucidity. It was just not my style. It possibly also did not help that I was down with the flu, but this made for a good in-bed read with a bowl of soup.