Greenglass House – Kate Milford

Greenglass House cover

“There is a right way to do things and a wrong way, if you’re going to run a hotel in a smugglers’ town.”

It’s the first day of the Christmas holidays, and Milo already has his homework out of the way so he can enjoy the festivities with his parents. Then, disaster: the usually quiet season for their family-run hotel is disturbed by not just one unexpected guest, but an increasing parade of odd and shifty characters. It seems obvious that they’re all looking for something – probably the same thing – but what on earth could be hidden in the home Milo’s lived in all his life?

After reluctantly teaming up with the housekeeper’s youngest daughter, Meddie, the pair set out to discover the secrets of Greenglass House. After all, it was once owned by a famous smuggler…

I am so, so glad I took up the recommendation to read this book – and to read it instantly, not do my usual of adding it to the insane reading pile – as it is quite possibly the best thing I’ve read in ages! Fair warning: it’s a ‘middle grade’ book, so the main character is about eleven, but think Narnia or Sabriel – by which I mean, the themes are still a little dark at times, and the language is totally not ‘dumbed down’, despite the suitable-for-younger readers status. It’s also hugely suitable for older readers, who are open to having a little magic in their lives 🙂

There is an absolute magic in this story, in the way it swept me up and stirred up memories of childhood adventures – or at least, the ones I imagined, whereas Milo and Meddie get to have the reality of familiar surroundings becoming so much more exciting. The plot is a perfect mix of mystery and adventure and a little of the supernatural. It’s also got a huge amount of heart, not least from the background detail of Milo’s adoptive status. Overall, it’s just lovely!

Not only was I utterly in the mood for that, but reading this actually reminded me of why I want to write: to capture the excitement and enthusiasm for stories, for adventures. I can’t give that anything less than full marks!

Do yourself a favour: at time of writing this is still on sale in the Kindle store, under £2. It’s an absolutely perfect, slightly cosy but still exciting book to snuggle up with and particularly appropriate for the Christmas season. Go go go!! 🙂

Kindle: 384 pages / 15 chapters
First published: 2014
Series: Greenglass House book 1 (of 2 so far)
Read from 11th-15th October 2017

My rating: 10/10

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Bryony and Roses – T Kingfisher

“She was going to die because of the rutabagas.”

Bryony may just have found herself trapped in a magical manor house with a surprisingly eloquent Beast, but if there’s one thing she’s not it’s a ‘beauty’. She is, however, a gardener, and as things in the House take ever darker turns it might just turn out to be far more useful to have skills over looks. Can she figure out what’s going on in an abode that creates dresses and gardening tools out of thin air, and which throws a strop if the other resident – the mysterious Beast – tries to answer any of her questions?

I’ve loved Ursula Vernon for years, following her from her time on the art site, Elfwood, to her own blog (recommended – it’s a lot of fun) and from artist to writer. One of her skills is telling gentle, fairy-tale-like stories that are somehow so much more. And, along the way, she’s done a few ‘retellings’ of classic fairy tales, like Bluebeard, The Snow Queen, and this version of Beauty and the Beast.

One of the strengths of all of these books is the sensible, no-nonsense heroine. Bryony reacts to the magical house and resident Beast in ways that seem much more likely than most fairy tales. And while the dangers faced are fantastical, the solidity of the garden (which the author knows more than enough about to have read very authentically) is a great counterpart.

Of the three retellings mentioned, this is my absolutely favourite – I absolutely loved it! Okay, there’s no talking hedgehog (always a great feature in a book!), but Bryony is so pragmatic and real and just had me rooting for her from the get-go – not to mention getting twitchy green fingers! The Beast, too, is rather more relatable than some other versions, particularly as his story very slowly reveals itself

The plot has a few subtle twists on the classic version, more than enough to keep interest, even had it been a much longer book. At around 200 pages, this is a perfectly sweet, lovely little volume which I recommend wholeheartedly.

Kindle: 216 pages / 33 chapters
First published: 2015
Series:  none (although could be loosely linked to The Raven and the Reindeer and The Seventh Bride fairytale retellings)
Read from 29th August – 1st September 2017

My rating: 10/10

Westworld (season 1)

Back in 1973, one of the robots (Yul Brynner) in a Wild West theme park went a bit berserk. Fast forward 40-plus years, and the new Westworld shows that sometimes revisiting old ideas really is a good idea, and that TV is no longer the poor cousin of the big screen. In fact, this 10-hour series shows that the mature format is a really excellent way of telling complex, layered stories.

Without giving too much away, Westworld is still a theme park – the theme park, a place where (very rich) people can go to live out their wildest fantasies. Want to shoot bad guys, play with the saloon girls, discover who you really are? Let the park’s ‘hosts’ (aka robots) cater to your every whim.

Meanwhile, we also get to see behind the scenes. The programmers, the behavioural specialists, the cleaner-uppers, all striving to make these automatons as real as possible. And that’s not ever going to go wrong, right?! o_O

I can’t praise this series highly enough. The cast is absolutely amazing, often called upon to display several different versions of their characters. The set design is outstanding, from the futuristic, rather sinister working areas, to the expanse of the old West in all its glory and otherwise. Oh, and the soundtrack: excellent original scoring, but then – wait, is that honky-tonk piano playing Radiohead?! Yup, and The Stones, The Cure, Soundgarden – it’s just another layer of ‘wow’ on a show that has been done *so* well!

Then there’s the plot. Westworld is one of those shows that is made to mess with your mind. From the opening scene, nothing is ever as it seems, challenging the viewer to question their expectations and perceptions – which is just so damned perfect for a show in which reality is absolutely up for question.

The mark of an amazing story, in any medium, is that it is something you can watch again and again. Westworld is a whole different place when you view it for a second time, knowing some of the ‘twists’, and I have no problem with the idea of watching it again, again (!), and probably picking up more every time.

Absolutely recommended!

First broadcast: October 2016
Series: 1
Episodes: 10 @ ~56 mins each

My rating: 10/10