The Lightkeeper’s Daughters by Jean E Pendziwol — Reread Review

The Lightkeeper’s Daughters is very much a story divided into halves. As well as a split between past and present, the book is also divided between two viewpoint characters. Each of those parts have weaknesses, but each also has at least one strength, which I suppose proves that all of them are necessary.

For example, Morgan’s relationship drama isn’t all that interesting. It had none of the raw emotion that books sometimes manage to capture. And yet, Morgan’s section near the end of the book when she’s recovering the water-logged journal is so captivating that I read it without even checking what page I was on.

My parents were in quiet conversation around the fire, and the moonlight made a window-shaped puddle of silver on our covers, Emily and I two tiny bumps beneath.

The Lightkeeper’s Daughters, Jean Pendziwol

On the whole, I was most interesting in the story of Elizabeth and Emily’s childhoods. The tension in the scene where they discover a ship about to be wrecked is probably The Lightkeeper’s Daughters‘ best scene. The family drama and the impact that the past has on the present is a little predictable, especially as I’ve read several other lighthouse books that work on a similar premise.

That said, Jean Pendziwol draws the reader through the story, which feels well-paced. The prose is enjoyable, especially in those parts that I’ve already mentioned, and the characters are mostly interesting.

For a season, the place flourished. The shelves in the general store were stocked with dry goods and an assortment of penny candy, the beach at Surprise Lake on the edge of the community was raked and opened for swimming, and evenings saw the shoreline dotted with bonfires.

The Lightkeeper’s Daughters, Jean Pendziwol

The setting is, of course, my favourite part of The Lightkeeper’s Daughters. I just love stories about lighthouses, especially ones that are still working. There’s a lovely sense of the community, especially during the summer months, which feels like something you don’t get any more. The fact that Elizabeth also clearly loved growing up at a lighthouse makes this particularly enjoyable to revisit.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

The Broken Crown by Michelle West — New Review, Bookclub Edition

The Broken Crown is dense and rich, there are layers upon layers of meaning and scheming and character relation: many of them going on under the surface. My praise of it and my criticism of it very much come from the same place. Because there’s so much going on, I constantly felt like I was missing something. I could see that there were things going unsaid, things left to the reader to infer, but I struggled to catch hold of them. Reading The Broken Crown was equally rewarding and frustrating.

The cast of characters is, appropriately for the epic scale of the book, pretty daunting. Though there’s a cast list at the front, it’s organised in a way that makes no sense for the beginning of the book, which is a shame. Even after reading the book and listening to the audiobook, there are characters living in the north that I still don’t understand. In many cases, characters are introduced before they become important. While I can see the benefit of this in giving more context and not dropping significant figures in only at suspiciously convenient moments, it did leave me scratching my head as to why certain perspectives had been chosen.

That said, all the characters feel very natural to the world Michelle West has built. It’s fascinating to see female characters who are very much bound by a sexist society and yet find their own ways to life and love and gather power to themselves. I particularly enjoyed Serra Alina — as I did all of the Lambarto characters — and Ruatha.

By the time he had chosen to forsake the memory of the dead, the living had already sunk roots in his heart. She knew her brother as well as she knew any living person, and she could not say what the cost of tearing those roots out and destroying them utterly would be.

The Broken Crown, Michelle West

Michelle West’s world building was compelling, especially the idea of the division between night and day and how that reflects public and private. It felt like even the narrative followed this cultural rule in implying certain things that it didn’t say outright. The prose is lovely, there are some really beautiful descriptions of mental states and emotions. Though there isn’t a huge amount of description of the landscape, I still came away with a solid impression of the Tor Leone.

It’s tricky to rate The Broken Crown because, no matter how much I wanted to understand it and like it, a lot of my actual experience was frustration. But perhaps it speaks highly of Michelle West that, despite that, I do want to go back to it and try again.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

A Room of One’s Own by Virginia Woolf — New Review

Judging purely by title, I thought A Room of One’s Own might be a good complement to The Little Book of Hygge — another book about making your own space in the world that would go well with my ongoing project to improve my rented accommodation as much as my lease allows. Actually, Virginia Woolf doesn’t really go into the why of a writer having her own room, because it’s really more metaphorical than literal. Her thesis could be summed up that a writer needs to be themselves without fear of judgement, something that is only possible behind the privacy of a locked door.

Reading A Room of One’s Own was still an interesting experience, if not quite the one I thought I was getting. The problem I’ve had with Virginia Woolf’s fiction is that I’m perfectly capable of reading every word of her stream-of-conciousness sentences without actually retaining any of the sense. This was most problematic in The Waves, where reading criticism after I’d finished the book unearthed many plot events that I’d had absolutely no idea were happening. And A Room of One’s Own was a little like that. There were paragraphs that I read without really stopping to understand them.

One cannot think well, love well, sleep well, if one has not dined well. The lamp in the spine does not light on beef and prunes.

A Room of One’s Own, Virginia Woolf

But, in contrast to my reading ten years ago, there were also sentences and paragraphs — even very figurative, very stream-of-consciouss-y ones — that I did understand! I think I’m a lot more interested in how other people think now, and much more aware that the actual process of thinking is different for different people, and not just the end result. So, the beginning of A Room of One’s Own held a lot of interest on that score. Virginia Woolf doesn’t think the way I do, but I was able to follow the way she does think. (Except when I wasn’t.)

It almost made me want to give Virginia Woolf’s fiction another chance. But then I read much of the end of the book without really taking it in, so maybe I’m not ready just yet!

The fascination of the London street is that no two people are ever alike; each seems bound on some private affair of his own.

A Room of One’s Own, Virginia Woolf

Rating: 2.5 out of 5.

Moondial by Helen Cresswell — Reread Review

I first read Moondial when I was about 11. I remember borrowing it from the library of my school in Oman and loving it. At some point, I must have mentioned it to Nickie, though the details of what I could have said about it are lost, appropriately, to the mists of time. Because she’s an amazing friend, Nickie bought me my very own copy for my 18th birthday, which I still have, though I’m ashamed to say I don’t actually think I’ve reread it since she gave it to me.

She nodded again and carried on, as if taking an evening stroll into another time were the most natural thing in the world.

Moondial, Helen Cresswell

The first thing I noticed this time around was the main character’s name: Minty Cane. She just sounds so much like a peppermint candy cane that it’s a little hard to take seriously, though I don’t remember any awareness of this at age 11.

‘The figure had no face!’ It was wearing a loose sack over its head and hanging down to its waist. There were two gaping holes in it, like the cavernous eyes of a skull. Minty shuddered. Beyond the path she saw that the other advancing figures were all similarly shrouded. They closed in with slow menace.

Moondial, Helen Cresswell

The presence of actual horror elements in Moondial also came as a surprise. I remembered it being a ghost story, but the crowd of creepy children wearing masks and chanting was unexpected. When added to the storyline of Minty’s mum being in a coma, it’s certainly safe to say that Moondial was a lot darker than I remembered.

I wish I could remember more about my initial reaction to Moondial, because it’s not really the kind of thing I would expect to have made a lasting impression. And yet, clearly it did if I was still talking about it 7 years later! If only my 11-year-old-self could have kept notes about books the way I do now.

Alas, I’ll probably never be able to recapture what that first reading was like.

Rating: 2 out of 5.