TO TOUCH THE STARS by Jessica Ruston Headline Review pbk.
This book is Jessica Ruston’s second novel and ABBA readers may remember that I also reviewed her first, LUXURY, when it appeared. That’s because I’m a Jessica Ruston fan. The shoutlines on the proof copy that I read say A glittering empire, a golden family, a guilty secret. Those are the kinds of temptations I can’t resist and Jessica Ruston comes up trumps again. This is the story of Violet Cavalley who is to millinery what Chanel is to fashion. She has risen from humble beginnings to become the head of a dazzling and lucrative empire. Her family is the wonderfully mixed bag of neuroses, desires, passions, rivalries and deceptions you’d expect in such a book and the secrets that have been part of Violet’s life from a time before she was even called Violet are as juicy as secrets should be and the revelations when they come distribute some kind of justice.
This sort of novel isn’t to everyone’s taste and it’s easy to say: froth, frivolity, fun and not pick it up for reasons of high-mindedness which somehow don’t afflict us when we’re reading children’s books. When it’s for children, we reckon it’s okay to be page-turny and pacey and over the top. We approve of books which get children to read just because of the pleasure they get from following a cracking story. The same should be true of books like this: they’re fun to read. They don’t require too much knitting of the brows, and they may not change the way you think, but not all books have to be serious and life-changing. Ruston manages a huge cast of characters and a very intricate set of relationships with great economy and aplomb and if you’re like me and love details of dress, hats, jewels and so forth, then you’ll revel in it. Line it up for your holiday reading.
ICE MAIDEN by Sally Prue OUP pbk
Sally Prue is one of a kind. It’s impossible to do an ‘if you like this person, you’ll like Sally Prue’ because she’s unclassifiable. Other people have written about fairies, or elves or creatures from the other side of the veil between this world and other worlds, but I can’t think of anyone who does it in quite the same way. Edrin is one of The Tribe. They’re the beings who live on the Common, in a perfectly ordinary small town in England. Most of the time,they’re invisible and they haunt the woods and fields and hedgerows and manage to find sustenance without encroaching too much on the world of the humans, who are mostly unaware of their presence. In this novel, though, we have Franz. The time is just before the Second World War and Franz’s family is German. He’s not quite clear what they’re doing in England and he’s lonely and distanced from his mother and father because they consort with Nazis and are part of something which the boy, even at his tender age, can tell is deeply wrong. Edrin is hungry. There are those in the Tribe who are against her and she’s drawn to the human boy, who, in his turn, first senses and then sees her. What happens after that is written like an adventure story but is in fact a very unusual love story. It’s hard to imagine walking through a landscape after reading this book and not watching out for the members of the Tribe behind every tree. Edrin is a wonderful creation and this book deserves to be read slowly. Prue is good at describing the natural world and she’s also funny. The end of the story has a good twist which adults may see coming but children won’t and what happens between Franz and Edrin is genuinely moving. Do read this book, especially if you loved COLD TOM, this writer’s prizewinning story about another member of the Tribe.