Bookshelf Older Reads

Monsters

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Mary Shelley was born on this day in 1797 so it seems the perfect day to look at this book: Monsters by Sharon Dogar. It is a powerful retelling of the complex life of this remarkable woman and her relationship with the poet, Percy Bysshe Shelley.

Mary’s story is as compelling and heart-breaking as that of the monster she created in her novel, ‘Frankenstein’. Her all encompassing passion for Shelley and the courage she showed in defying the social conventions of the day are vividly portrayed. The reader is amazed by her maturity, the courage of her convictions and filled with compassion as she is brutally rejected by her father- although he continues to expect Shelley’s support. There is certainly more than one ‘monster’ in this book.

Each character is carefully developed, allowing to reader to empathise- or not- as the drama unfolds. Mary is painfully aware of how her actions affect others whereas Shelley is largely focused on his own needs and ideals. Mary’s step-sister, Claire, is determined to follow the ideals she believes in, yet ultimately pays a high price for being a woman who does not conform. In her notes at the end, Sharon Dogar quotes Claire’s own words, claiming Shelley and Byron were ‘monsters of lying, meanness, cruelty and treachery…’ leading to the title of the book.

Absolutely compelling. ‘Monsters’ is a real masterpiece.

Monsters Sharon Dogar

Andersen Press ISBN: 978-1783448029

Chinglish

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Jo Kwan is thirteen and has decided to start a dairy as she is convinced that ’good stuff’ is finally going to happen to her. Sadly, this is not the case as her family move to an even smaller home in Coventry- above a Chinese takeaway. In addition to this, she has to contend with a series of ill-fated pets, grandparents who speak no English, bullies at school and her dad’s increasingly erratic behaviour. Life is not easy… In spite of everything, she manages to find a new best friend and pursue her dream of being an artist.

Subtitled ‘an almost entirely true story’, ‘Chinglish’ is heartwarming, hilarious and deeply moving. Told through diary entries and doodles, the book offers an almost painful look at one woman’s experiences of growing up in a Chinese takeaway in 1980’s Coventry. In places, it is a very uncomfortable read as she tries desperately to fit in, yet is subjected to the most callous, casual racism. Yet, there are some genuinely hysterical moments in the story which add light to the darkness which often creeps in.

Jo’s spirit and determination to remove herself from the expectation that she will work in the takeaway until she marries the man of her parents’ choosing is inspiring and has the reader cheering her on every step of the way as she faces challenge after challenge.

‘Chinglish’ is a wonderful story of life ‘warts and all’, offering poignant insights into family life, being different and ultimately, discovering who you really are.

Chinglish Sue Cheung

Andersen ISBN: 978-1783448395

Published September 2019

Lampie and the Children of the Sea

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Lampie, the lighthouse keeper’s daughter, must light the lamp every evening to warn ships of the dangers of the rocks. One night, she forgets to fetch the matches she needs to do this and disaster follows. With her father imprisoned in the lighthouse, Lampie is sent away to work off her debt at the Admiral’s Black House where rumour tells of a hideous monster trapped in the tower. Here she finds herself caught in a strange world full of mermaids and pirates where she needs to fight for friendship, acceptance and freedom.

A compelling, magical story, ‘Lampie and the Children of the Sea’ is an enchanting tale. Lampie herself is a wonderful character, full of determination and life in the face of difficult circumstances and she spreads joy to those around her. Martha, Fish, Lenny- each respond to the appearance in their lives of this unique little girl and each is engaging. The less pleasant characters are equally believable- and easy to dislike!

The layers of the plot are beautifully managed, keeping the reader wondering as the story evolves. The writing is atmospheric and lyrical, drawing on the traditions of storytelling and folklore and the illustrations are delightful.

Essential reading for those who enjoy something a little different, ‘Lampie and the Children of the Sea’ is a challenging story which reaches a satisfying conclusion which I hope will lead to more adventures for this endearing heroine and her friends.

Lampie and the Children of the Sea Annet Schaap, translated by Laura Watkinson

Pushkin Press ISBN: 978-1782692188

Published May 2019