Book No 4 (2018) : The Wild Air

wild airRebecca Mascull’s third novel reads like an adventure story for girls. And I mean that in a good way.We all need more adventure in our lives sometimes.

Della Dobbs is unremarkable as a youngster, shy and lacking in confidence. But she is inspired by her Auntie Betty, who has been in Carolina where early aviators, the Wright Brothers, were taking to the skies. Using kites to explain aerodynamics and design, Betty gradually cultivates in Della a desire to fly actual planes. Unheard of for a woman in the early 20th Century, but the determined young woman achieves her ambition. She earns a reputation as a respected competition and exhibition pilot. But when the Great War breaks out, she decides to put her flying skills to a far more important test, flying solo across the Channel on a daring rescue mission.

This would be a perfect place to introduce some lovely flight-themed metaphors, about how the plot of this book rises and soars, dips and yaws to keep the reader flying high. How the heroine handles the controls of the plot with perfect ease, rising with the thermals and coping with the turbulence which marks her early romantic connections. But that would be too cheesy. Suffice to say that Della is a credible protagonist, yelling at her Dad, falling in love, following her dreams and making her mark, all in a cleverly understated way. She’s ballsy, but not brash. I liked Della a lot.

I was lucky enough to be invited to the London launch of ‘The Wild Air‘ last year and heard the author speak about her research and sources for the book. She had been taken up in the kind of early plane described in the novel, and was able to describe the mixture of excitement and fear which shines through in all of Della’s flights. She manages to achieve the right balance between enough technical detail to allow the reader to understand the basic mechanics of the plane and flying it, and the story line. This isn’t a Haynes manual.

In 2015 I championed Mascull’s second novel ‘Song of the Sea Maid‘. Although I probably slightly preferred it to ‘The Wild Air‘, the common themes of pioneering, feisty women making their way in a male-dominated world, make both of these works highly readable. I look forward to Rebecca’s next book.

The Books 2015 : I did it!

Book pile 2015Having failed my self-imposed challenge to read 50 books in 2014, I paced myself more steadily this year – and I did it! 50 books in a year.

I’ve figured out a couple of things on the way. Firstly, working my way through a book a week was not going to happen by accident; I really had to commit to the task and prioritise reading over other things occasionally. To anyone I have ignored because my nose has been stuck in a book, I apologise!

The other discovery I made is that whilst the Kindle App on my IPad hosts an impressive collection of books (review copies are usually downloads), digital reading doesn’t really do it for me. Maybe its because my IPad doesn’t have that distinctive new-paper-and-ink smell, but I just don’t absorb books in the same way on a device as from real pages in a real book. No doubt someone eminent and learned has researched this phenomenon and can find as many readers whose experience is the exact opposite of mine, but my preference is still for a paperback than a gadget.

There have been some high highs and some low lows during my literary year and I have had a bit of fun organising my 2015 books into a list. I rather like lists and this one is self-explanatory; everything I’ve read, from what I liked best to what I liked least!

In my top 3 books were Bella Pollen’s ‘The Summer of the Bear‘ and ‘Song of the Sea Maid‘ by Rebecca Mascull. Both gave me a great deal of reading pleasure and I wholeheartedly recommend them. The latter is due out in paperback in 2016 and I’m planning to read Mascull’s first novel ‘The Visitors‘ next year. Emma Kennedy’s ‘The Tent, the Bucket and Me‘ is probably the funniest book I have ever read in my whole life (although Bill Bryson and Stephen Fry have given me plenty of laugh out loud moments) and I defy anyone not to be cheered by it.

I hope my reviews have given my followers some ideas about what to read, and maybe what to avoid.

1 Summer of the Bear (The) by Bella Pollen
2 Tent, the Bucket and Me (The) by Emma Kennedy
3 Song of the Sea Maid by Rebecca Mascull
4 Paying Guests (The) by Sarah Waters
5 Valentine Grey by Sandi Toksvig
6 Sea Legs by Guy Grieve
7 You by Joanna Briscoe
8 Narrow Road to the Deep North (The) by Richard Flanagan
9 More Lives than One by Libby Purves
10 Light Behind the Window (The) by Lucinda Riley
11 Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor
12 Invention of Wings (The) by Sue Monk Kidd
13 H is for Hawk by Helen MacDonald
14 A to Z of You and Me (The) by James Hannah
15 Shoes for Anthony by Emma Kennedy
16 Elizabeth is Missing by Emma Healey
17 Lives of Stella Bain (The) by Anita Shreve
18 Children Act (The) by Ian McEwan
19 Prisoner of Night and Fog by Anne Blackman
20 Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel
21 Girl Who Wasn’t There (The) by Ferdinand von Schirach
22 I Let You Go by Clare Mackintosh
23 Sea Sisters (The) by Lucy Clarke
24 Secret History (The) by Donna Tartt
25 Sleepyhead by Mark Billingham
26 Something to Hide by Deborah Moggach
27 Taxidermist’s Daughter (The) by Kate Mosse
28 The Blue by Lucy Clarke
29 We were Liars by E Lockhart
31 Harvest by Jim Crace
30 Other Side of the World (The) by Stephanie Bishop
32 Last Pier (The) by Roma Burke
33 Daughter’s Secret (The) by Eva Holland
36 Dear Nobody by Berlie Doherty
35 Girl On The Train (The) by Paula Hawkins
34 Miniaturist (The) by Jessie Burton
37 Secrets of the Lighthouse by Santa Montefiore
38 Versions of Us (The) by Laura Barnett
39 Waiting for Doggo by Mark B Mills
40 Best of Times (The) by Penny Vincenzi
41 Cuckoo’s Calling (The) by Robert Galbraith
42 Night Guest (The) by Fiona McFarlane
43 Senator’s Wife (The) by Sue Miller
44 Artificial Anatomy of Parks (The) by Kat Gordon
45 Bad Blood by Arne Dahl
46 Dolly by Susan Hill
47 Find Me by Laura van den Berg
48 Lillian on Life by Alison Jean Lester
49 All My Puny Sorrows by Miriam Toews
50 Girl on the Ferryboat (The) by Angus Peter Campbell 

And what about 2016? Well my Christmas stocking included Guy Grieve’s ‘The Call of the Wild‘, Paul Heiney’s ‘One Wild Song‘ and ‘The Truth About the Harry Quebert Affair‘ by Joel Dicker, so my TBR pile is already stacking up. I’m also looking forward to reading Clare Fuller’s ‘Our Endless Numbered Days‘ and ‘A Year of Marvellous Ways‘ by Sarah Winman. Reading is as essential to my wellbeing as oxygen so I’ll be reading on. I will continue with the blog, but am undecided about whether to repeat the 50/50 challenge – watch this space!

Book No 23 (2015) : Song of the Sea Maid

song of the sea maidPersonally, I am not a big fan of fridge magnets with twee mottos, but there is one I do like. It says: “Well behaved women never made the history books“. If Dawnay Price, the protagonist of Rebecca Mascull’s second novel had been a real person, she would definitely have made the history books. In fact, she would probably have been writing them.

Dawnay (there is an explanation for her odd name, but I won’t spoil it) has a rotten start in life in mid-18thC London. A homeless ragamuffin, she lives a hand-to-mouth existence on the streets until a chance encounter sees her taken in by an orphanage. Once there, the young foundling risks being despatched to the workhouse by secretly teaching herself to read and write. Her efforts do not go unrewarded as when local benefactor Mr Woods agrees to educate a child, Dawnay is chosen. Under the dedicated tutelage of Mr Applebee, the naturally gifted Dawnay thrives. Intelligent, curious and determined, she is drawn to the wonders of the natural world and resolves to travel abroad in order to explore and develop some of her ideas about the origins of life, amongst other things. Achieving her ambition to see beyond the shores of Britain, Dawnay secures a passage to a small group of Portugese islands known as the Berlengas. A passionate love affair, natural disasters and the risk of being ostracised by polite society do not deter Dawnay from her chosen path as an explorer, scientist, philosopher and writer.

Firmly rooted in history, but not at all dense, this is an absorbing read. Dawnay reminded me just how much we take for granted in the West, including women’s education, free speech and some semblance of equal rights (although we still have a way to go!). Unfettered by social conventions, which were extremely rigid in the 1750s, she forges her own path in life. Her ideas are heretical yet she refuses to be subdued. This book is a testament to self-belief, intellect and hard work. With Tim Hunt’s comments about #distractinglysexy women in laboratories recently, ‘Song of the Sea Maid‘ explores some extremely topical themes.

I can wholeheartedly recommend this book; it is published today by Hodder & Stoughton. Although not a YA book per se, it would make a fantastic gift for any young female who is struggling with identity and finding her place in the world. ‘Song of the Sea Maid‘ is a positive affirmation of what it is to be sexy and smart; the two are not mutually exclusive.