Sunday, April 28, 2024

A review of Fifteen Wild Decembers by Karen Powell


A creative re-imagining of the short life of Emily Brontë, one of England’s greatest writers

Isolated from society, the Brontë children spend all their time inventing elaborate fictional realms or roaming the wild moors above their family home in Yorkshire. When the time comes for them to venture out into the world to earn a living, each of them struggles to adapt, but for Emily the change is catastrophic. Torn from the landscape she loves and no longer able to immerse herself in the fantastical world of Gondal that she and her younger sister Anne have created, she is simply unable to function.

As a child, Emily witnessed a rare natural phenomenon. After weeks of rain, the peaty soil on Crow Hill became so sodden that the earth exploded. Since then, her life has been dogged by tragedy and repeated failures. Her sisters are desperate to escape their unsatisfactory work as governesses and now the life of her brother Branwell, the hope of the family, is in turmoil. To the outside world, Emily appears taciturn, unexceptional; but beneath the surface her mind is in a creative ferment, ready to burst forth. As the pressure on her grows, another violent phenomenon is about to take place, one that will fuse her imaginary world of Gondal with the landscape Emily loves so passionately, and which will change the literary world forever.

ISBN 10: 1787704815  ISBN 13: 9781787704817
Published by Europa Editions, 2023, paperback

The landscape opening before me like an enormous map, the black branches of an immense ash tree clutching at the horizon. The fields were edged with hawthorn, bare of leaves yet still throwing thorny sprays up to the blue December sky. The haw berries were flat crimson like the dead blood of the year, but the rosehips were a sign of hope, little lamps shining from the hedgerows. A fat robin watched from a fence post, its eye bright with curiosity, and in a thicket of oak, the glossy leaves of the holly gleamed like a secret. When the frost was hard, we slipped and slid across the frozen brown ruts by the plough and the whole world glittered crazily, buzzards crying overhead. Sometimes the mist hung low, and we walked in silence across the fields, listening to the dripping of the trees, the muffled sound of horse hooves from the lane. Ahead of me, girls rising out of the mist like wraiths, then disappearing.

Fifteen Wild Decembers is an evocative story of six siblings named Bronte, three of them surviving sisters who would each write masterpieces: Charlotte Bronte - Jane Eyre, Emily Bronte - Wuthering Heights, and Anne Bronte -The Tenant of Wildfell Hall.  The Bronte siblings are each an enigma and with Karen Powell's beautiful writing Fifteen Wild Decembers sheds perhaps a different perspective on the siblings and their works. The land, the changing seasons, the weather, the Yorkshire Moors and Haworth Parsonage serve as magical inspiration to the creativity of these special sisters.

The reader is along for the ride. Told from Emily Bronte's perspective as the sisters along with brother Branwell write Gondal as children. The sisters go to Brussels, and the most fun to read are the chapters where the sisters each write and publish a novel unbeknownst to them that will stand the test of time. The death of brother Branwell tests the faith of an aging Reverend Bronte. Through it all, the family's love for each other is remarkable and inspiring to read within the pages of Fifteen Wild Decembers.

For more information on the author or to purchase a book, Europa Editions

Friday, April 12, 2024

Book Reviews: on books to be published: Enlightenment by Sarah Perry and The Skeleton Key by Susan Stokes-Chapman


Book Description 
Thomas Hart and Grace Macauley are fellow worshippers at the Bethesda Baptist chapel in the small Essex town of Aldleigh. Though separated in age by three decades, the pair are kindred spirits – torn between their commitment to religion and their desire for more. But their friendship is threatened by the arrival of love.

Thomas falls for James Bower, who runs the local museum. Together they develop an obsession with the vanished nineteenth-century female astronomer Maria Veduva, said to haunt a nearby manor. Inspired by Maria, and the dawning realisation James may not reciprocate his feelings, Thomas finds solace studying the night skies. Could astronomy offer as much wonder as divine or earthly love?

Meanwhile Grace meets Nathan, a fellow sixth former who represents a different, wilder kind of life. They are drawn passionately together, but quickly pulled apart, casting Grace into the wider world and far away from Thomas.

In time, the mysteries of Aldleigh are revealed, bringing Thomas and Grace back to each other and to a richer understanding of love, of the nature of the world, and the sheer miracle of being alive.

Publish House:  Jonathan Cape
  • ISBN: 9781787334991
  • Length: 400 pages
  • Dimensions: 242mm x 34mm x 163mm
  • Weight: 619g
  • Price: £20.00

I adored The Essex Serpent and Melmoth and this is what I’ve come to expect in subject matter from Sarah Perry. You find these elements in Enlightenment with the characters of Thomas Hart, The Macaulay girls, Nathan, etc., with Thomas’s obsession with the haunting’s in Lowlands Park in Bethesda Chapel and one astronomer Maria Veduva. This could’ve been the whole book for me. I was hooked reading those chapters and loved those characters and the misty rainy nights set the perfect atmosphere in the Essex town of Aldleigh. However, all of the astronomy, celestial references that are quite scientific and in depth with interrupting chapters took me right out of the novel and gave me headaches. I know nothing of astronomy and felt jarred by the subject matter. I found myself looking things up while reading a chapter. If you don’t mind that, I enjoyed the religious elements as well as Sarah Perry’s writing stellar as usual.

For more information about the book, Penguins UK

Book Description 

Meirionydd, 1783. Dr Henry Talbot has been dismissed from his post in London. The only job he can find is in Wales where he can't speak the language, belief in myth and magic is rife, and the villagers treat him with suspicion. When Henry discovers his predecessor died under mysterious circumstances, he is determined to find answers.

Linette Tresilian has always suspected something is not quite right in the village, but it is through Henry's investigations that a truth comes to light that will bind hers and Henry's destinies together in ways neither thought possible.

  • Imprint: Harvill Secker
  • ISBN: 9781787302907
  • Length: 464 pages
  • Dimensions: 240mm x 41mm x 162mm
  • Weight: 704g
  • Price: £16.99

The Shadow Key does not contain dark gothic elements throughout. The book reads more like a murder mystery with elements of witchcraft where the setting, Wales during the 17th century, becomes the most interesting aspect of this novel. When you finally find out who the murderer is at the end of this book its predictable. I was expecting a much different story based upon the promotion for this book.

For more information about this book, 

A review of Fifteen Wild Decembers by Karen Powell

SHORTLISTED FOR THE NERO BOOK AWARDS 2023 A creative re-imagining of the short life of Emily Brontë, one of England’s greatest writers Isola...