Monday, 20 February 2017

Stories of finding courage and hope after grief

Foggy February has been a time for reading atmospheric stories about the different ways of coping with loss and grief. Who'd have thought that means it’s been a month involving ghosts, time travel, evil doctors and alchemy.
‘Through the Mirror Door’ by Sarah Baker is the first story, of Angela, who has been moving around children’s homes since she lost her family. Then an aunt invites her on a summer holiday with her cousins as a final chance to see if they might get along well enough to adopt her.

Horrible relatives and a summer spent in a spooky, isolated French house create the perfect setting for mysteries that need to be solved and soon Angela has more on her plate than simply than putting up with Aunt Cece’s sour comments, and cruel jibes from her cousins. She quickly stumbles on a secret. 

There is a mirror in a deserted room that connects with 1898. And when she steps through to 1898 she finds a sick boy whom Angela realises only she can help.
Should Angela abandon all her good intentions and risk upsetting her aunt in order to save the boy? She knows if she flouts all the rules she will jeopardise a future outside of children’s homes. 
It’s a lovely story with great description that draws you right into believing that shimmering mirror. And it lets you straight into what happened more than a century ago and the dilemma Angela faces. 
Even better, admirably clever plotting and some deftly handled twists means past and present storylines start to intertwine in a very satisfying way as Angela’s determination grows to do the right thing in both time zones.
A really elegant time-travel adventure story.
Lucy Strange’s ‘The Secret of Nightingale Wood’ is set just after the terrible losses of the First World War. But Henry’s (Henrietta’s) older brother died in a terrible accident and the whole family is struggling with immense grief.

The War has also brought in a new vogue for researching mental illnesses and Henry’s distraught mother is moved to an isolated house to receiving cutting edge treatment.
Her father copes by throwing himself into his work and disappears on a huge engineering project abroad, abandoning Henry with little to do but explore the house and woods, listening into what is going on around her, until she realises that darker things are afoot in Hope House.
The story ramps up as Henry realises that Dr Hardy does not want her mother to recover, but would rather have her as a subject for his experiments in the new field of mental health. And with her father absent, if her mother is institutionalised, this would also leave the way clear for the scheming doctor to take Henry’s baby sister, known rather charmingly as Piglet. 
The threat is now to Henry’s whole family, and forbidden to even write to her father, each adult Henry turns to lets her down. This failure of adult help means Henry’s feeling of isolation is very scary. She is the only one who has her mother's best interests at heart.

And you can’t get a much nastier villain than Dr Hardy.

The fact that he is is no imaginary monster, but a figure of trust, puts Henry in the terrifying position of being the only one who can stand up for her mother and sister and prevent his evil plan of turning her mother into an experiment and stealing her sister.
Luckily Henry is the sort of redoubtable character well able to fearlessly stand up to wrongdoing and never gives up on saving her family. The plot is a great demonstration that being brave does not have to be about taking up a sword and slaying monsters – that evil can sometimes come with a trusted face and be very close to home.
A really scary and atmospheric adventure that takes an unusual and imaginative slant on the nature of evil and how it can be defeated.
Cathryn Constable’s ‘The White Tower’ also starts with a death and takes a journey into the dark heart of grief when Livy loses her best friend.
Her father gets his dream job running the library of a prestigious and ancient school and Livy knows it is the chance for a new start. But how can she move on and make new friends when she doesn’t want to forget her old one?

But others are interested in her. She shares a name with the founder of the school, which has a history of outlandish scientific experiments. Notes from daring experiments have been lost and many people seem keen to rediscover those secrets.
Livy is a character that makes you feel her sadness and understand how being surrounded by a treasure house of obscure scientific thought, she hurls herself into a frenzied sleepless world, trying to recreate ancient experiments in the forlorn hope that she can find a cure for blood diseases and stop others from dying.
But what if her ancestor really did make a breakthrough discovery? Did he find a way to stop time and death up on the rooftops? What if there is a way of cheating death? Livy’s journey takes her into asking some big questions. 
But the story at its heart is about letting go and moving on after loss – and how the lesson loss really teaches us is how to treasure those we have.
A foggy February, on the verge of spring is the perfect time for stories with grief at their heart and these three all provide moving and thought-provoking stories of people overcoming odds to emerge with renewal in their lives.
Perfect reads for those who like an emotional core of families in crisis, stories with an nicely old-fashioned feel and a hint of mystery and secrets.
Nicki Thornton

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