Song of the Deep by Brian Hastings


January 2017 – 2.5 out of 5 stars

My first completed book for 2017 is the book Song of the Deep by Brian Hastings. This illustrated novelization is based on the video game of the same name and tells the story of Merryn, a little girl who sets off on a quest through the depths of the sea searching for her father who fails to return home from his daily fishing one day, led only by a dream and the stories and lullabies she grew up hearing.

Merryn’s mother is dead to begin with. She died when Merryn was little, though the exact memory of how is lost to her when the story begins. What Merry does retain are the lullabies and stories that her mother used to sing at her bedside and the smell of orchids from when her mother would weave necklaces from their fragrant petals.

When Merryn’s fisherman father does not return home after a full day and night since he left for his daily course on the sea, the girl finds herself refusing to accept that the sea has claimed her father. Instead, she mines the piles of sea junk that he often catches in his nets and has allowed her to keep. Cannibalizing these parts, in the course of a day, she builds herself a submarine (sans any heavy machinery or sophisticated tools, unless she was hiding a welding torch under her raincoat that I missed).

Here is where the story stretches even my suspension of disbelief to the point of breaking. Merry sets out in her little homemade submarine with no food, no water, no way of knowing which way to go, and no way to breathe/recycle air in her remarkably airtight sub (though Hastings does provide manner of explanation for this fairly quickly). I understand the fact that this is a novel for children based on a video game, which by bent of its media format rarely offers explanations for just how things happen, but I still believe that novelizations require a degree of realism or at least believability. Not once does the book note that Merryn eats on this journey, though she harvests food for someone else (so I suppose that it is feasible that she ate some of the food herself, too). There are events that are noted as being impossible that later do in fact happen with no explanation at all as to how.

Now, for the positives: this little book is beautiful. There are ink-line illustrations and prettily drawn borders. The songs and stories are lovely and lilting, and I think it’s a nice companion piece to the video game (which my husband bought the same day that I bought this book). On its own, however, the book just doesn’t hold substantial water (pun intended).

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The Snatchabook by Helen and Thomas Docherty


I have found my new favorite children’s storybook – The Snatchabook. This is a story about a little bunny named Eliza Brown and all her friends in Burrow Down. Every evening, they all cuddle down in their little homes at bedtime and listen excitedly to their bedtime stories. Then, suddenly, one night, the story books start to disappear, right out of their hands, flying out the windows and disappearing. Poor Eliza Brown is shocked but determined to find out what is happening. So she lays a trap and, when the thief comes for the pile of story books she has set out, Eliza confronts them! It turns out that the thief is a little creature called a Snatchabook (looks like a kangaroo mouse with dragonfly wings), and it has been stealing books because it has no one to read to it. Poor thing!

Eliza Brown takes pity on the Snatchabook and, together, they come up with a plan to return everyone’s books. Afterward, Eliza gathers her friends and explains the situation and, after that, the Snatchabook is welcomed to storytime in everyone’s home.

Written and illustrated by Helen and Thomas Docherty, a husband and wife team from Wales, this is a simply lovely storybook, composed of lush illustrations and a beautiful story written in lilting rhyme, perfect for a little ones. I thoroughly enjoy reading this to my 2-year-old daughter and, sometimes, I even take it down to read just to myself.

Bellman & Black by Diane Setterfield


Begun 1/7/2014  – It’s been seven years in the waiting but, finally, the newest novel by Diane Setterfield is here! I adored The Thirteen Tale and have been waiting for more work by Setterfield ever since. So my Christmas was quite wonderful as this book was gifted to me. 🙂 Setterfield’s newest work, released in November 2013, Bellman & Black begins very promisingly, starting out with a boyhood proof of prowess, which leads to the death of an innocent rook and the enigmatic guilt settling upon the shoulders of the boy responsible: William Bellman. A boy in black, not to mention the strange parish of rooks, regards William from the hill where the rook fell beneath his slingshot, sending a chill over the ten-year-old boy as he runs home and applies his mind to its most difficult task to date: forgetting. But, as most would tell you, one act can haunt you for an entire lifetime.
Fast forward seven years and William Bellman is a comely young man of seventeen, talented, sharp-witted, admirable. After church one Sunday, his mother Dora is approached by her brother-in-law, her absconded husband’s brother, to request her blessing in his current idea: to invite William to work with him at Bellman’s Mill. Dora has no dealings with the Bellman family for the most part, as Phillip’s marriage to her went against their wishes. She is against the idea of William going into the business of the family that rejected him but he is excited and wishes to give it a try. As with almost everything else in his life, he is successful at each task to which he turns his hand, proving himself a hard and intelligent worker. There are but two tasks in the mill which he declines to even try, one of them being the dye house. Mr. Lowe, the head dyer, has no use for the prodigal Bellman boy, or pretty much anyone else for that matter. But William has ideas and enthusiasm. Within a year, William has accomplished the one thing that Bellman Mill was never able to produce: a good crimson fabric. As his uncle Paul wonders, the boy has been there only a year. What could he do if given free reign?
I love Diane’s writing style. It flows so well that the pages fly by. In a short amount of time, I had sped through 51 pages of this novel, ten chapters.  She modulates the length of chapters based on what needs to be said in each and, while some of them are exceedingly short, the effect is quite intense and poignant. I am already half in love with the character of William Bellman and appreciate his uncles conscientious consideration of the situations and ideas put before her. I also like the character of Dora, sad and bitter though she may be; her love for her son is undeniable.
I am looking forward to hiding away with this book once more…after my baby girl goes to bed. 😉
2/9/2014 – I have entered the part of the book where the title comes into play. I find myself fascinated with Bellman’s eye for color, specifically for black. Setterfield’s manner of describing how immersed in all shades of black Bellman has become that he has begun to view the colors of the world oddly – the azure sky of a summer day he now considers to be vulgar, the green grass so bright as to be improper. It’s a fabulous reversal of his previous position, starting out at Bellman Mill where he worked so hard to make sure that they would produce the more vibrant and sanguine  crimson fabric.
The attention to detail and knowledge of profession is staggering to me., truthfully. I am constantly impressed with the level of research and integration of information in Setterfield’s work. It is a level that I, as a writer, aspire to. 🙂