#YA Review: Her Dark Wings by Melinda Salisbury

Publisher: David Fickling Books, July 2022

I will start this review by quoting from the blurb on my proof copy of this YA novel, due to be published in July 2022:

Her Dark Wings is a potent, passionate modern-day take on the Persephone myth, beautifully told by an exceptional writer.

back cover blurb

If I was in my late teens, free of exams and responsibilities, I would have devoured this novel in one sitting. As a full-time librarian with family responsibilities, I had to pace my reading which had the advantage of allowing me to savour every perfectly constructed sentence and passage of this gripping story. Steeped in Ancient Greek lore, the narrative has a mythical feel; set on an unnamed, agricultural island where Ancient Greek rituals are observed by a contemporary population, the effect from the earliest pages plunges the reader into an unsettling space where the veil between real-life and the mythological realm appears to have been lowered. Author, Melinda Salisbury, has clearly steeped herself in research and writes so lyrically, that she transports her reader into this modern day fable with the same ease that an Olympian might summon a mortal from the earthly realm.

Our narrator, Corey Allaway, is a broken seventeen year old, submerged in the misery of first teenage heartbreak from which she does not seem able to resurrect her former self. She is totally overwhelmed by the joint betrayals of her first boyfriend, Alistair and her childhood best friend, Bree. Consumed by jealousy, rage and obsession she narrates in a voice of heightened emotion which compels the empathy of the reader as she explores her inner turmoil and reconstructs the events leading to a night on which everything will change. The appearance of a beautiful boy with golden lips at the Island’s Thesmophoria festival sparks a chain of events which encompass gods, furies, and mortals. The permeable border between the human and mythical world is used as a backdrop to interrogate the fine divide between love and hate, obsession and attraction and friendship and betrayal.

Corey’s affinity with the earth, her uncompromising sense of justice and gift for propagating new life produces enlightening results in a narrative that takes your breath away with both its plotting and prose. It becomes clear quite early in the story that the shattering of a life-long friendship is the ultimate betrayal in Corey’s mind and her feelings are examined with poetic beauty. I honestly could quote from virtually every page, but here are two examples taken from Corey’s imprisonment in the Underworld. Firstly as she returns to the care of one of the Furies after an encounter with Hades:

She folds her wings back once more. Even in the few moments she’s been away my mind has sanded down the edges of her, letting me forget how different she is compared to me, with her black quartz eyes, her talons and her feathers. 

p130

And just a few pages later, whilst still in the cave of Erebus, with Alecto the Fury, this meditation on friendship:

Friendship is built on stories – secret for secret, confession for confession, and each one weaves invisible threads between you, binding you to each other. The more threads, the stronger the friendship.

p135

This book is targeted at the YA market and I can see it being very popular amongst the older teenage audience. Those 16 – 18 year olds who were amongst the earliest readers of Maz Evans’ Who Let the Gods Out MG series, are likely to be intrigued by the reacquaintance with familiar names. I will certainly be adding it to my own teen’s TBR stack ready for the end of the public exam season. For those regular readers of my blog, who often come here for primary school recommendations; this is very definitely an older teenage book, with language and adult references not appropriate for the younger audience. As an adult, many years older than the target market, I thoroughly enjoyed Her Dark Wings and would categorise it in the same bracket as Madeline Miller’s Song of Achilles or Circe and Donna Tartt’s The Secret History in terms of thoroughly immersive writing infused with classical content.

I am most grateful to David Fickling books and Liz Scott PR for sending me a proof copy of this book in return for my honest review.

Books for Christmas Gifts 2021

It’s that time of year when I start shopping for the books that increasingly form the backbone of my Christmas shopping list. There has been another fantastic roster of new books emerging this year and we are actually spoilt for choice when entering a bookshop, so I thought I would share some of the books that have stood out for me during the past 12 months and which I will be buying and giving this festive season.

Christmas/Festive Themed

Christmas/Festive themed books 2021

Once Upon A Silent Night by Dawn Casey and Katie Hickey is a beautiful retelling of the Nativity story inspired by a medieval carol, which would make a delightful gift for any pre-school child.

The Christmas Carrolls by Mel Taylor-Bessent and Selom Sunu is a huge-hearted festive story which absolutely brims over with Christmas cheer, warmth and humour.

The Lights that Dance in the Night by Yuval Zommer is an enchanting picture book which sparkles with the magic of the Northern Lights; in the author’s own words “a miracle of winter”.

Non-fiction

Non-fiction published in 2021 by David Fickling Books and Bloomsbury

Roar Like a Lion by Carlie Sorosiak: a wellbeing book with a different twist, looking at what we can learn from the animal kingdom to help us navigate some of life’s uncertainties. If you know a tween or teen who has struggled with some of the challenges of the past two years, put a copy of this compassionate and life-affirming book into their hands.

How Was That Built? by Roma Agrawal and Katie Hickey is quite simply a towering work of non-fiction which will make a fantastic present for curious minds of any age.

Translated Fiction

Interestingly, both of my choices in this category come from Scandinavian writers and feature unconventional stories brimming with wit and wisdom. Firstly we have the classic children’s story Pippi Lockstocking by Astrid Lindgren which has just been re-released in a glorious hardback format with new illustrations in her trademark collage-style, by Lauren Child. A beautifully designed gift for any child to treasure. Recommended for age 7+.

Newly translated into English this year, Me and the Robbersons by Finnish author Siri Kolu (translated by Ruth Urbom) was one of my most joyous middle-grade reads of the summer. An anarchic tale of sweet-toothed, highway bandits on the roads of Sweden, the humour envelopes a beautiful story of acceptance. Recommended for age 9+.

MG Fiction

The Exploding Life of Scarlett Fife by Maz Evans and Chris Jevons is a riot of jokes, warmth and love, fully illustrated and perfect for readers who are gaining independence and don’t mind stopping every few minutes to wipe away the tears of laughter.

Mickey and the Trouble with Moles by Anne Miller and Becka Moor is their second hugely entertaining, illustrated, spy mystery in this series, which will test the brainpower of junior cryptographers. An excellent introduction to the world of espionage fiction.

The Crackledawn Dragon by Abbie Elphinstone is the conclusion to her Unmapped Kingdoms trilogy. It is a story brimming with kindness, playfulness and sheer, unbound imaginative brilliance which will delight readers of 9+

The Swallows’ Flight by Hilary McKay is a deeply moving story set during WWII and told from the perspective of both English and German characters. The elegant imagery of swallows flits through this story of the importance of seemingly small acts of kindness. A thoughtful read for anyone of 11+.

Island Adventures

Three books, all set on islands situated off the Irish coast were amongst my favourite MG titles this year, so I’ve given them a category of their own!

Noah’s Gold by Frank Cottrell-Boyce is a treasure chest of heart, humour and hope; a wonderful story which will entertain all the family. Perfect for reading aloud when the generations are gathered together over the festive period.

The Stormkeepers’ Battle by Catherine Doyle concludes the thrilling and lyrical trilogy of the battle for the soul of wild Arranmore Island.

The Way to Impossible Island by Sophie Kirtley is a life-affirming, time-slip novel about overcoming fears and challenging expectations.

Young Adult Fiction

Ghost Bird by Lisa Fuller is unlike anything I have ever read in all my (many) years as a reader. I actually haven’t written my full review yet as I am still trying to process the insight that author Lisa Fuller has generously provided into her cultural beliefs. I did find some aspects quite frightening, so would certainly say that this is a book for over 16s and not those of a nervous disposition but I’m sure it will also be of great interest to adults who wish to gain some understanding of the culture and spiritual beliefs of First Nations Australians.

I am Winter by Denise Brown is a beautifully written, gritty, and compelling whodunnit perfect for readers of 15+ .

Non-fiction November Review: Roar Like a Lion by Carlie Sorosiak, illustrated by Katie Walker

Cover design by Sarah Darby, published by David Fickling Books

After nearly two years living with the COVID-19 pandemic, research shows that many children and young people are suffering with poor mental wellbeing, so this newly published title from David Fickling Books will, I’m sure, be welcomed by many school librarians and school counsellors. It is an absolute joy in all respects, from the glossy, colourful cover, distinctive artwork and playful use of different font styles and its inspirational approach to the topic of mental wellbeing.

Author Carlie Sorosiak has looked to the animal kingdom with which we share such a large percentage of our DNA, to identify lessons that we can take from the mammals, birds and even reptiles that surround us. The tone of this book is one of kindness and compassion, which is brilliantly highlighted by the muted pastel colour scheme and Katie Walker’s distinctive and uplifting illustrations. The inspired decision to focus on stories of animals makes this book hugely appealing to tweens and teens, who can hopefully take encouragement from the cameos outlined here and apply the lessons to their own daily situations. The text is accessible, the advice written in down-to-earth fashion and nicely broken-up with different font effects, colour panels and the aforementioned illustrations.

My own favourite chapter is entitled DIG A LARGE BURROW Be Your Kindest Self which starts with this quote from author Henry James:

Three things in human life are important: the first is to be kind; the second is to be kind; and the third is to be kind.

page 74, quote from Henry James

the chapter continues with tales of animals which have demonstrated remarkable acts that we would construe as kindness; wombats allowing other animals into their burrows to shelter from the devastating bushfires that swept Australia in 2019; dolphins who have rescued surfers from shark attacks and a giant tortoise who “adopted” a baby hippo in a Kenyan wildlife park!

Whether you want advice on making friendships, reaching out to other groups in an inclusive manner, finding your inner bravery or accepting your own unique self, there is a story for you in this book. In fact, if like me, you just want to read a warm-hearted book, packed with interesting anecdotes from the animal kingdom then I encourage you to find a copy of this delightful book. It is aimed at a readership of 10+ but I honestly think it could be enjoyed by anyone and should feature in all classroom, library or home wellbeing collections.

I am most grateful to Liz Scott and David Fickling Books for supplying me with a free copy of Roar Like a Lion in exchange for my honest opinion.