Some of my favourite fictional ladies, created by ladies

“Being a woman is a terribly difficult task, since it consists principally in dealing with men.” ― Joseph Conrad

Over the weekend #womeninfiction emerged on Twitter, so in running with the theme I’m here to share with you a few of my favourite fictional ladies.

Renée Michel

The Elegance of the Hedgehog – Muriel Barbery.

Elegance of the HedgehogRenée Michel is possibly my favourite literary lady of all time. She is a concierge, and self-confessed member of the lower class. Despite how she outwardly appears, she is in fact fantastically intelligent, but she knows her place, and sticks to it, stating that to be “poor, ugly and, moreover, intelligent condemns one, in our society, to a dark and disillusioned life, a condition one ought to accept at an early age”. Madame Michel prefers to lives a secret life, reading Russian literature in the privacy of her lodge while donning the air of a simpleton when speaking with the inhabitants of the apartment complex where she works.

In Renée, Barbery has created a fantastic female heroine for lovers of literature. I challenge anyone to read The Elegance of the Hedgehog and not feel themselves brimming over with admiration for the soft soul nestled within the prickly exterior of Madame Michel.

Petronella Brandt née Oortman

The Miniaturist – Jessie Burton

18498569Petronella is an 18-year-old Dutch girl whose family have fallen on hard times since the death of her father. She is married off to a wealthy merchant from Amsterdam, Johannes Brandt, but has a difficult time fitting into her new life. Petronella, who prefers to go by the name of Nella, attempts to be a good wife to her new husband, but is forever at the mercy of her stern sister-in-law Marin Brandt. Nella begins as a child, before all too quickly becoming a woman, when the crushing weight of her new family’s secrets is placed on her shoulders.

What is there to not love about Nella? In each stage of her growth she is simply delightful: innocent and charming, determined and strong, and finally, reliable and level-headed.

Jerusha Abbot

Daddy long legs – Jean Webster

9780141331119Jerusha Abbott, or Judy as she likes to be called, was brought up at the John Grier Home, an old-fashioned orphanage. At the age of 17, she find herself at a loose end, she has finished her education, and is no longer young enough to live in the orphanage without paying her way. Imagine her surprise when one of the John Grier Home’s trustees offers to pay for her to go to university. He will pay her tuition and also give her a generous monthly allowance; in exchange Judy must write him a monthly letter. Judy is told she will never know his true identity and must address the letters to Mr. John Smith, and he will never reply. Judy warms quickly to the trustee, gifting him the persona ‘Daddy Long Legs’, and writing warm, detailed letters each month. Judy dotes on her Daddy Long Legs, and, it appears, he on her.

Judy is an amazing character, gifted with the unique opportunity to turn her rags to riches. Read Daddy Long Legs and I’m sure you will find, too, that you fall in love with the little orphan girl and her extraordinary tale.

Geogianna Lennox

Dead and Buryd – Chele Cooke

dfw-cc-dab-cover-mid (2)Georgianna Lennox is a local medic on a foreign planet ruled by alien invaders, the Adveni. The native people, the Veniche, to whom Georgianna belongs, have become slaves in their own home. Georgianna is somewhat unique among the Veniche as her work allows her to tread within the realms of the Adveni forces, treating the sick and injured within the walls of the infamous Lyndbury prison. For Georgianna this is a way of treating her lost people, but it is not enough. When Georgianna’s friendship with a group of rebels risks putting her own freedom at stake, she is faced with a difficult decision – what will she choose to put first, her family or the freedom of her people?

Georgianna is a strong, determined character, but one I felt extremely comfortable getting to know. Cooke has created a character that is admirable, but also wonderfully human. I found her to be amazingly likeable and funny, despite her hard exterior.


Now the Day is Over – Marion Husband

9781908381811-frontcover (2)Are you sick of me talking about Edwina yet? If you are, shame on you, you clearly haven’t taken the time to read the book.

Edwina is the spirit of a young woman trapped between the  early 20th Century, and modern day Britain. Since her death she has lurked the shadows of her former home, critically analysing those who take residence within the walls. In Now the Day is Over she takes the form of super-omniscient narrator, haunting the house which was once hers, commenting on the lives of the adulterous couple who reside within her domain, comparing their existence to the life that was once hers.

I love Edwina because she is so all encompassing. She is deliciously genuine, admirable, maddening, terrifying and somewhat detestable all rolled into one.

Intrigued by any of my lady loves? You know what to do.

Children’s book review tour! Color Therapy: An Anti-Stress Coloring Book

“My world was the size of a crayon box, and it took every colour to draw her” ― Sarah Kay

If yesterday’s review wasn’t out of the ordinary enough for you I hope today will not disappoint.

I recently bought an adult colouring books for one of my friends. She had been under a lot of stress, and I thought it would give her an excuse to do something relaxing and creative to unwind at the end of the day.

Adult colouring books have only really been a ‘thing’ for the last year or so, but if sales are anything to go by they certainly seem to be proving popular. There is no shortage of them on the marketplace, just type the words into Amazon and you will be well and truly spoilt for choice.

I was a little envious of the book I had bought my friend, so I set out to secure one for myself – for review purposes of course.

I was lucky enough to be sent this one for free by Michael O’Mara Books Ltd.

Color Therapy: An Anti-Stress Coloring Book – Cindy Wilde, Laura-Kate Chapman and Richard Merritt


My first feeling upon opening the package was one of great satisfaction – the book itself is lovely. There is none of the horrid flimsiness you often get with traditional children’s colouring books, not a single sheet of sugar paper in sight. It’s nice and weighty, with a hard cover and thick, good quality pages.

I spent a few minutes leafing through the pages and was impressed by the effort and attention to detail which so clearly went into the making of the book. A children’s colouring book would normally include a selection of crudely drawn outlines of trees, houses, tractors and smiling faces –  perfect for a child to scribble outside of the lines. Color Therapy, however, shows the sophistication that divides grown-up colouring books from their traditional counterparts. The pages are stunning, an eye watering mix of outlines, patterns, blank pages and illustrations on which to colour, doodle and sketch to your heart’s content.

Here’s a little taster of some of the pages I am most looking forward to:

IMG_20150322_102224916 IMG_20150322_112625153

Even the layout of the book pretty sophisticated – despite the introduction stating that there are no rules ‘pick up a pen or pencil and get creating…’ – it is split into seven sections, each of which focus on a different palette, fiery reds, happy yellows, majestic greens and icy blues.

IMG_20150322_101539172I’ve spent the last few weeks taking half an hour or at the end of the day to use Color Therapy, and I have to say I have really enjoyed it. Although I should confess that so far I have only focused on the first section, Red, as it seems the perfectionist in me is unwilling to complete the book in anything other than chronological order.

Colouring in is incredibly soothing, I suppose it is a bit like curling up into the foetal position, there is something comforting about retreating back to more innocent times. I’ve been suffering from headaches a lot recently, and I’ve noticed that using Color Therapy in the evenings has helped to ease the pressure a bit, and as a result I have been sleeping better.

I’ve also found that while colouring in my mind begins to wander, it gives me time to think, but not about the stresses of everyday life. Rather, I find myself thinking about my writing. Since I’ve started using this book I have found it easier to sit down and start on the writing projects I have planned.

The following are a few of my creations – I particularly enjoyed colouring the flamenco dancer!

IMG_20150322_101618155 IMG_20150322_101639533 IMG_20150322_101655684

Adult colouring books will not be for everyone. I’ve read somewhere that the trend is, somewhat unsurprisingly, far more popular among women. That said, I would definitely recommend Color Therapy. I have thoroughly enjoyed my adult colouring book so far, and I am planning to continue using it. If colouring appeals to your arty, creative side, or if you just want an easy going hobby to unwind with, I think you could benefit having a book like this in your desk drawer.

Children’s book review tour! Line of Fire: Diary of an Unknown Soldier – Barroux

“In all my dreams, before my helpless sight, he plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.”  ― Wilfred Owen

Line of Fire: Diary of an Unknown Soldier – Barroux

51QTsd1WFBL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_There was never any question of including this book on my tour list. Before I had even received the book I knew that I loved it. Line of Fire: Diary of an Unknown Soldier is exactly what the title implies; the diary of an unknown soldier.

One winter’s morning, Barroux was walking down the streets of Paris when he passed a house which was being emptied of rubbish; piles of old belongings, wrappers and refuse had been placed in the street. ‘We are emptying the basement. Help yourself if you like’ he was told by one of the people ferrying rubbish onto the street. It was at this point that Barroux picked up an ageing yellow diary from amongst the rubbish. A diary which belonged to an unknown soldier serving during world war one. Barroux took the diary and from it created Line of Fire, a graphic novel depicting the words written by an unknown French soldier…may his words never be forgotten.

This book was such a find! I’m over the moon to have discovered it, read it, and to have a copy of my own.

The illustration style fits so perfectly with the subject; you can almost imagine the soldier himself drawing them. They are simple, almost childish, yet graphic, as though they have been scratched with a piece of charcoal salvaged from the embers of long extinguished fire. They remind me, in some ways, of images I have seen drawn by soldiers on the front line. Although the sketches undoubtedly carry Barroux’s distinctive style, there is much in the way of reality present in the scenes. I am reminded of the images in A Soldiers Sketches Under Fire by Harold Harvey – real images sketched by a soldier on the front line.


It feels strange to review the words of a man when I know nothing about him. Although Barroux is listed as the author of the book, the words belong to the Unknown Soldier. They are exactly as they were found, although in the case of my copy they have been translated into English from their native French. They are powerful words, and although it does not take long to read the book, the effect of the story is far reaching and potent.

The Unknown Soldier speaks of the things which are sure to have plagued any man on the front line of WWI. His fatigue, it is crippling, and he feels dead on his feet – ‘My feet are bleeding, My legs can no longer hold me up. This isn’t a man who’s walking but a sheep following the flock.’ He is never able to rest for more than a few hours before being aroused, often in the dead of night, to move on to the next place. He takes to sleeping on piles of straw, where they are available, next to his companion Fernand, sleeping close together for warmth, and, I expect, comfort.

Our Soldier worries about those he has left behind. He is so worried, plagued by worry each time he receives no word from home. It is moving to see the worry from the other side. It is well known that those that are left behind will worry about their father, brother, son, or husband who has gone away to fight, but the soldiers words show that the worry tortures him equally. ‘The women weep. It’s up to us to show that we’re stronger than they are and convince them that we will return.’ When he does hear news his release is evident, as though he has let out a deep breath of relief; ‘at last I receive some postcards from my dear wife’.

The horror of war is also painted on the pages of the diary, not so much in Barroux’s drawings, but in the soldier’s words. The words are not complicated or flowing, but to the point, and powerful – you can smell the gunpowder, hear the crackle of artillery fire, and see the horrors that the Unknown Soldier scrawls within the pages of his diary. ‘This is where a powerful shell landed on a platoon of the 6th company, which was partially destroyed’ he writes, having seen the remains of a soldiers leg hanging from a tree branch.


The Unknown Soldier seems to have made a narrow escape from the horrors of war, although no one knows now anything about the man who kept this diary.  He writes of being injured while forced to advance under the eruption of overhead shrapnel, and of the bravery of a fellow soldier, without whom he may not have survived. ‘While he’s bandaging my arm, the shells continue to rain down on us. I shall never forget the devotion of this soldier who didn’t think twice about risking his life, staying close in order to tend to me.’

Once out of the line of fire, he is faced with a lengthy journey to a hospital, all the while in indescribable pain, and with a raging fever which forbids him rest and sustenance. It is once he arrives at hospital, and his fever begins to subside that he is faced with another, unimagined issue – boredom. For a week we hear nothing of the Unknown Soldier, and then, he writes of his boredom, the slowness of the days, his heavy heart, and his feeling that life is carrying on all the same outside of the hospital walls.

‘Sometimes I’m sorry I didn’t stay in the line of fire’ – and with these words the Unknown Soldier’s story ends.

Line of Fire has left me feeling such a strange mix of emotions, with so many questions running through my mind. The power of the Unknown Soldier’s last words are incredible, and only made more so by the fact that he, undoubtedly, never expected anyone to read his diary. Who was this man? And why did he stop writing? Questions I will find myself often asking, and will never know the answer to.

I would recommend this book to almost anyone. Even if you don’t feel drawn to Barroux’s illustrations the power of the Unknown Soldier’s words will not fail to captivate. History students, WWI fanatics, children and adults alike, this is a lesson in history, and an important one at that. Read it and pass on the recommendation.

“You can’t patch a wounded soul with a Band-Aid.” ― Michael Connelly

Invisible illness

Thank You for Your Service ― David Finkel


David Finkel, author of the New York Times bestselling book The Good Soldiers- a journalistic account of the lives of the men from the 2-16 infantry battalion on the front lines of Baghdad, emerges once again with a gripping addition to his work – Thank You for Your Service. This new book takes a look into the lives of soldiers who serve in Iraq, this time with a glimpse into what happens when they return home.

In Thank You for Your Service, Finkel meets with men from 2-16 to look at the way the war has affected their lives outside the battlefield. First person accounts of adjusting to life outside Iraq throw light on a new war fought by many soldiers, this time with themselves.

The wars of the 21st century have been well covered by journalists, reporters and authors from across the world, but none like Finkel. He presents a harrowing account of the psychological state of many of our modern war veterans.

The book begins with an introduction to Adam Schumann – “the great soldier who one day walked in the aid station and went through the door marked COMBAT STRESS and asked for help”. After making the difficult decision to return home, Schumann is plagued by nightmares, flashbacks, memory loss and crippling depression. Other veterans featured include Tausolo Aieti, who forever sees the image of his fallen comrade in his dreams asking the question “why didn’t you save me?”; and widow Amanda Dorster as she struggles to comprehend life without her husband.

The book presents an in-depth analysis of the psychological condition of war veterans from first person accounts and psychological analysis from professionals. The most common conditions suffered by those returning from the battlefield are post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and traumatic brain injury (TBI). While many people have heard of these conditions, not much is actually known about them. Finkel uses soldiers’ own accounts to put them into perspective.

PTSD is the psychological damage caused by experiencing traumatic events, such as those experienced by Schumann, who carried a wounded comrade down a flight of stairs, with blood from the man’s head wound pouring into his mouth – a taste and smell he cannot shake. Symptoms of PTSD can include depression, flashbacks, nightmares and anxiety. While TBI stems from physical brain trauma, such as that experienced by Aieti, who was in a Humvee travelling down a route lined with palm trees, when the vehicle rolled over three buried 130 mm artillery shells “everything was right and boom it happened so fast”.

TBI can cause memory loss, confusion and impulsivity, and issues with balance, with sufferers struggling to carry out the simplest of tasks.

Many people are unaware of these issues and the extent to which they affect those returning from war. Finkel’s research shows it is a much graver issue than many expect, with PTSD affecting 20-30 per cent of US soldiers deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan.

The intimate encounters relayed in the book give a clear and frightening portrayal of the long-term effect of being in a warzone, the terrifying psychological state of veterans and the stigma surrounding psychological illness. The book relays diary entries, conversations, court cases, and tales of abuse and suicide, exploring in detail the far-reaching effects of war as it leaks into the homes of the veterans.

For the soldiers and their families, the journey to recovery is tough. Many soldiers are faced with the realisation that society is far less understanding of psychological illness than they are of physical conditions. Widow Amanda Dorster was given US$100,000 dollars in death gratuity, which she refers to “oops money” or “blood money”, while in the Schumann household money has never been tighter since Adam returned from the Iraq.

Finkel follows Schumann’s return home from Iraq, to the time when, years later, he graduates from the Pathway Institute for war veterans, and continues his healing at home with his family.

The book serves as an almost novelistic account; such is the intimacy of the stories and conversations between families, and the emotions expresses by soldiers and their spouses.

Thank You for Your Service is an incredibly thought-provoking and gripping book – the writing methods and use of first person accounts render the text incredibly accessible. I would echo the thoughts expressed in many other reviews of this volume and in urging anyone interested in PTSD and the events of the Iraq war to read Finkel’s work.

This review was first published in Global: the international briefing. Many thanks to Scribe for providing a free review copy of the book.

“So many people are shut up tight inside themselves like boxes, yet they would open up, unfolding quite wonderfully, if only you were interested in them.” ― Sylvia Plath

Beautifully captivating.

Disappearing in Plain Sight ― Francis Guenette


Francis Guenette lives with her husband on the West coast of British Columbia. She has an MA in counselling psychology and is on the way to completing a PhD in education psychology. Throughout the course of her life she has worked as an educator, trauma counsellor and researcher. Guenette now spends most of her time writing novels that draw on her own life experiences. The first book in her debut venture, The Crater Lake Series, is entitled Disappearing in Plain Sight and was released in 2013.

The book introduces the reader to sixteen-year-old Lisa-Marie, sent to spend the summer with her aunt Bethany in a remote town on the edge of the fictional Crater Lake. Her aunt resides in a simple A-frame within the confines of Camp Micah, a counsellor’s camp for young ways and strays. Like any sixteen-year-old, Lisa-Marie is instantly taken by the camp’s resident hunk, nineteen-year-old Justin, and as time progresses she develops confusing feelings towards Izzy Montgomery, the camp’s exceptionally beautiful and gifted trauma counsellor, and begins an unlikely friendship with Liam Collins, a thoughtful and secretive camp worker. While on the outset the close-knit community which keeps Camp Micah operating day by day may seem watertight the reader learns of hidden tensions and unspoken words just waiting to destroy the carefully constructed routines. The presence of Lisa-Marie and a new guest unleash tensions which have been simmering under the surface of the camp for some time. The reader is set to discover that all those at Camp Micah have their own secrets and guilt locked away inside them.

Over the last few days I have been looking over Guenette’s blog and something she said in a recent post really caught my eye: “Have you ever read a novel where the setting was so breathtakingly described that you almost felt as though you had seen the movie version?”. This is the effect which Disappearing in Plain Sight had on me. I not only felt as though I was watching the movie, but increasingly, as the novel progressed, as though I was at the camp ― I could smell the pencil-y scent of the cedar wood cabins, and almost feel the breeze from the lake on my face. I couldn’t have gotten a better image of the setting if the book had been illustrated. It is obvious that real-world experience has gone into Guenette’s writing ― which is exactly what Guenette was writing about in her aforementioned blog post, the inspiration behind writing. Guenette herself lives in a small, secluded cabin right by a lake [and you should see the lake! Check it out here]. Every day when she writes, she does so with a view of the lake ― it sounds absolutely perfect. Of course, Guenette draws on her own life experiences as inspiration for her work; living in a place like that, how could she not?

Guenette has a penchant for similes within her descriptions, which I find really charming. The book opens with a very memorable quote: “Lisa-Marie woke to the sound of voices and the reflection of the lake rippling and running like melted butter along the sloped, cedar-planked ceiling above her bed.” Comparing flowing water to ripples of butter conjures up the most wonderful images; nothing could make the lake seem more appealing.

All the characters in the book are incredibly well rounded, with each chapter divided into several mini chapters each following a different character. In this way the reader is able to submerge themselves within the community and grow to know the characters on an almost personal level. The first few chapters of the book are centred almost entirely on introducing each character, some of which appear very appealing and likable, and some not so much. I’m sure I am not alone when I say that I found it difficult to warm to Beulah at first. Lisa-Marie is perhaps the most central character, and the one the reader gets to know on the most personal level through her writings in her journal, Emma, named for the Jane Austen character. The central theme which links all the characters together is past trauma, as though they have been brought together at the camp for this very reason.

Disappearing in Plain Sight is undoubtedly a very well-written and enjoyable novel, but the aspect of the novel which particularly appealed to me was Guenette’s focus on the inner mind of the characters. Guenette confronts issues which are still somewhat taboo in many circles of modern society, and she does so in such a way as to make it relatable. Depression, anxiety and stress are all problems that a large percentage of the population will come into contact with in one way or another at some point in their lives. Guenette brings this to the forefront of her work, expressing character’s actions in an incredibly understanding way take, for example, Liam: looking up at the sky when he cannot sleep because he is so plagued by his thoughts. I’m sure there are many people who can relate to the feeling of comfort and security which comes from taking a duvet and lying under a skylight or in front of a large window and just being alone with the stars.

I was also very pleased by Guenette’s decision to look at bullying in her novel, and particularly her choice to highlight the issue of online bullying and the stresses of social media, issues I feel very strongly about. The online world is full of resources, but it can also be a very dark and sinister place. The way Guenette expresses Lisa-Marie’s feelings is so perfect that I am sure a lot of people who have experienced bullying to some extent can relate to her words. Lisa-Marie describes just wanting the voices to stop, to just get away from what is happening to her, without necessarily thinking about the result. Her only desire is for peace and quiet, to be left alone. Guenette conveys an incredibly complex feeling with remarkable simplicity.

This brings me to perhaps the strongest theme which runs throughout the novel: growth and progression. Throughout the course of the text, we learn the sad past of each character and over time witness them learning to deal with their problems. This in itself reflects a quotation from the beginning of the book:

“Izzy believed that people had their own answers to what they needed in order to heal and that these answers were embedded in the stories they told.”

The answers, for many of the characters, come out in the pages of Guenette’s novel. The ever-present lone wolf howling in the distance echoes the loneliness and worry felt throughout the camp. I don’t want to ruin the ending of the book for anyone, so I will just say that the final paragraph serves to emphasise the natural progression of the characters.

I really enjoyed my first experience with Guenette’s work. At first, I found it was the setting of the novel which most appealed to me. I developed a strong desire to visit camp Micah and dangle my feet into the cool water of the lake. Guenette’s writing style is natural and fluid, allowing you to escape into the incredible scene she has created. As the book progressed each character began to speak to me, telling me their stories in turn. The intricate and multifaceted storyline is rewarding and well executed, with a carefully planned ending, which is satisfying without being fairy-tale-like. Overall, I would rate Disappearing in Plain Sight very highly and would strongly recommend anyone thinking of reading the book to give it a go.

Disappearing in Plain Sight and the newly released sequel The Light Never Lies are available for kindle and in paperback from Amazon.

Many thanks to Francis Guenette for sending me a free review copy of the book.

“Think of all the beauty still left around you and be happy.” ― Anne Frank

Truly stunning.

The Elegance of the Hedgehog ― Muriel Barbery


I don’t feel as though I can stress enough just how beautiful this book is. Barbery’s style is so perfect and so utterly captivating I found myself completely hypnotised, both by the story itself, and the sheer elegance with which it is written. I enjoyed this so much I insisted that my partner watch the film adaptation ‘La Herison’ with me. As to the film, while not bad in itself, it is nothing compared to the book.

Renée Michel is a concierge, and self confessed member of the lower class, despite being fantastically intelligent, she knows her place, and sticks to it, stating that to be “poor, ugly and, moreover, intelligent condemns one, in our society, to a dark and disillusioned life, a condition one ought to accept at an early age”. Renée lives a secret life, reading Russian literature in the privacy of her lodge while donning the air of a simpleton when speaking with the inhabitants of number 7, Rue de Grenelle where she works.

Upstairs in one of the 4,000-square-foot luxury apartments Paloma Josse is planning to commit suicide. She is an incredibly intelligent 11 year old girl, so disillusioned by the world in which she lives that is does not see the point in carrying on. She begins to write a journal of profound thoughts, and observations on the movement of the world, in a vague attempt to find a reason worth living.

When an elderly inhabitant of the apartment complex passes away the whole place comes alive with excitement, at the idea of a new face setting foot inside the walls. Karuko Ozu moves into the late Pierre Arthens apartment and forms an unlikely friendship, with Paloma Josse, with whom he shares his suspicions that their faithful concierge Madame Michel is not all she appears to be. The unlikely friendship leads to the unison of three souls, almost inseparably fused together. This could possibly be everything Madame Michel needed, and just the thing Paloma was looking for as a reason to live.

I cannot go into further detail for ruining the plot, and I very much hope that anyone who reads this will make the effort to read the book.

Barbery’s writing had just the effect that a good book should. When I reached the last pages I felt emotional, fulfilled, and somehow devastated that I was closing the book for the last time.