Posted in Netgalley

The Seawomen by Chloe Timms

The memory of that day is a part of me now, tough like hardened skin. You never forget your first. You hope and pray it will be the last you ever see. You already know. Deep down. It’ll happen again and you will have to watch. The screaming, the waiting, watching her body tied down, the boat rocking and shunting, capsizing. Drowning. The point where you can see with your own eyes what it means to be a woman.

Wow! This book was so evocative, from the author’s descriptions of the island’s landscape to the way of life followed by it’s inhabitants. It felt oppressive and bleak, but also strangely mystical. On an isolated island with no access to the ‘Otherlands’ beyond, a religious community observes a strict regime policed by male ‘Keepers’ and female ‘Eldermothers’ under the guidance of their leader Father Jessop. There were shades of The Handmaid’s Tale in this community, that polices it’s borders and it’s women. Women must not go near the water, lest they be pulled into the wicked ways of the Seawomen, seemingly a species of Mermaid. The water can breed rebellion in the women and cause bad luck for the islanders. Any woman could be singled out by the Eldermothers, so they must learn to keep their heads down and stay away from the water. Any bad luck – crop failure, poor fishing quotas, storms, pregnancy loss – all can be blamed on the community’s disobedient or disloyal women, influenced by the water. Each girl will have their husband picked out for them and once married, the Eldermothers will assign her a year to become a mother. If the woman doesn’t conceive she is considered to be cursed and is put through the ordeal of ‘untethering’ – a ceremonial drowning where she is tethered to the bottom of a boat. Esta is a young girl who lives with her super religious grandmother, but often asks questions about the mum she has never known. Her grandmother insists she sees a darkness in Esta and is constantly praying and fasting so that Esta doesn’t go the same way as her mother. The sea does call to Esta and she goes to the beach with her terrified friend Mull, to feel the water. There they see something in the waves, something semi-human, not a seawoman, but a boy. Will Esta submit to what her community has planned for her or will she continue to commune with the water?

The book opens with a description of an untethering ceremony, throwing us directly into the brutality of the Keepers and the terror of the drowning woman. It’s a visceral opening and cleverly leaves the reader very aware of the fate our heroine could face. I felt this really added to the atmosphere of the book, raising the tension and our trepidation for this bold and intelligent young woman. We don’t want to see her life mapped out for her with all the restrictions it implies, but we equally don’t want to see her become the next victim of this barbaric, patriarchal society. I also felt strangely unmoored by the setting. I saw in my mind’s eye, a rugged and weather beaten Scottish isle, miles from it’s neighbours, yet I couldn’t pinpoint it’s place in history. The clothing and the attitudes are strangely old-fashioned. The religion is very puritan in tone: a personal relationship with God is encouraged, along with modesty, industry, male domination and of course obedience. Having been brought up in an evangelical church I can honestly say these attitudes and expectations, especially the pressure on young women, is still alive and well in those types of communities. So we could be in the 19th Century or it could be yesterday. Father Jessop’s preaching is that that Otherlands are toxic, their land contaminated and their ability to produce wholesome food curtailed by their inability to listen to their God. This gave me the sense of a dystopian future, where perhaps global warming has decimated most of the planet and only these remote outposts survive. Adding to this sense of disorientation are the islander’s names, more like surnames than forenames the men have names like Morley or Ingram whereas the women have names like Seren and Mull. I felt genuinely uneasy about the island and felt something evil lurked under the piety and the fatherly control, something far uglier, that a rebel like Esta might awaken.

Esta’s questing mind is what drives the story forward. There are too many secrets in her background. She knows that the burn scarring on one side of her face happened when she was a baby and the house burned down killing her mother and whoever else was inside. Only Esta survived and her grandmother’s negativity surrounding her only daughter is excessive and this doesn’t allow Esta to ask questions or hear about a different side to her mother. She knows that there’s more to her history than she’s been told. Another conundrum is her grandmother’s cousin Barrett, a fisherman who lives by the harbour, as close to the water as he could be. He lives alone after the death of his wife and is possibly the only islander to have come across a Seawoman up close and was injured in the process. However, he doesn’t talk about his wife or where he went in the sea after her death. There are too many questions for a girl who’s already unsure whether she believes in the dark myths of the Seawomen, or the darkness she is potentially harbouring at her centre. Despite her upbringing there is a part of Esta that does question, that challenges and most importantly can accept that those in authority might be wrong. It’s a self belief and confidence that will stand her in good stead for what’s to come.

I had so many suspicions and theories of my own as the story unfolded, not just about Esta’s past, but about the patriarchal society itself. The last third of the book really did pick up the pace and we see the iron will of Father Jessop and the cruelty he is prepared to inflict in order to stay in control. I was so deeply pulled in by Esta’s will and her instinct to get away, that I felt anxious. I wanted her to have something in life that most of us take for granted, another person who truly cares for her and loves her. This feeling intensified as she is promised in marriage and goes to live with her husband’s family; a family who have a very low opinion of her and a husband who loves someone else. The way the author opens up the truth of the island is by using one of the older women who has some of the answers and also shows Esta that there are others who think the way she does, they just fly under the radar so they remain safe. To Esta this is unthinkable, to know the truth but continue to live under the false tyranny imposed on them feels cowardly to her. What will happen when the Esta’s story reaches its conclusion, when she might face the very ceremony she feared so much at the beginning? Will these free thinking individuals stand up for her? Even more important to me, was whether or not Esta reaches the Otherlands and the freedom she longs for, or whether she is fated to be forever one with the sea.

Published 14th June 2022 by Hodder Studio

Meet The Author

Chloe Timms is a writer from the Kent coast. After a career in teaching, Chloe studied for an MA in Creative Writing at the University of Kent and won a scholarship for the Faber Academy where she completed their six-month novel writing course. Chloe is passionate about disability rights, having been diagnosed with the condition Spinal Muscular Atrophy at 18 months old, and has campaigned on a number of crucial issues. The Seawomen is her first novel.

Posted in Rachels Random Resources

Daughter of the Sea by Elizabeth J. Hobbes

On a windswept British coastline the tide bestows an unexpected gift…

It was the cry that she first noticed, the plaintive wail that called to her over the crash of winter waves. Wrapped only in a sealskin, the baby girl looks up at Effie and instantly captures her heart.

Effie has always been an outcast in her village, the only granddaughter of a woman people whisper is a witch, so she’s used to a solitary existence. But when Midsummer arrives so too does a man claiming to be the child’s father. Effie is surprised when he asks her to continue looking after his daughter, mysteriously refusing to explain why. When he returns six months hence she pushes him for answers. And Lachlan tells a story she never anticipated … one of selkies, legend, and the power of the sea…

I’ll be honest up front and say I don’t often read romance novels. I enjoy novels that look at relationships or contain a love story, but I often find novels categorised as ‘romance’ to be far too light or saccharin for my taste. However, this wonderfully romantic story drew me in thanks to the interesting female characters, historical detail and Scottish folklore. For those who do not know their Celtic and Nordic mythology, a Selkie is a seal which when it sheds its skin transforms into a human. For some reason, it’s a piece of folklore that’s always caught my attention, rather like mermaids. I love to imagine the freedom of the endless ocean and having a body that can swim gracefully and effortlessly through the waves. I’ve also thought of the two legs we see as essential for day to day life, being such a restriction to someone used to a powerful, streamlined tail.

I really loved how independent Effie is and the strength she has to stick to her principles, even when they go against those of the rest of her village. She’s very independent and modern in her thinking. She rejects the local church and only goes at Christmas. Her grandmother Alice provides herbal remedies for the people of the village, and this has kept Effie separate from others who think of Alice as a ‘wise woman’. In fact some of the most respectable women in the village rely on Alice for remedies that help with menopause or other hormonal symptoms, but only in private. In public they would deny all knowledge. Effie’s marriage to John, her son Jack’s father, seemed to happen rather quickly and caused gossip in the village too. Her friendship with Walter, who is from a very respectable family, raises the odd eyebrow, but has also helped her in many ways. Without him she might not have gained parish financial support for Morna – the child she finds floating in a wicker basket. It’s possible he expects more than friendship, but would he tolerate Effie’s wilder ways and allow her the freedom she craves? In a world that’s very restrictive for women, Effie’s widowhood and ability to support her children without a man leaves her in quite a lowly place in society, but free to live her own life, at least in the short term.

I was absorbed into this woman’s relationship with her children. Widowed on the same night she finds a baby girl floating in the sea, Effie raises the girl with Jack. She can’t find a name to suit her, but doesn’t worry about that. Jack is not the easiest child, with symptoms that in more modern times might have labelled him with an autistic spectrum disorder. The children get along well and seem to find ways of communicating together, despite Jack’s difficulties with speech. Effie loves both of them fiercely and is haunted by the worry that one day she may have to give up the little girl she rescued as a baby. So, when a mysterious man turns up and claims her, Effie is wary, but finds it hard to deny their likeness especially when they have exactly the same eyes. Lachlan calls his girl Morna and explains something that most women would find hard to accept. He and Morna carry seal skins, but they’re not just to keep them warm. The skin is as much a part of them as their dark, impenetrable eyes. Morna and her father Lachlan are Selkies. They are part human and part seal, from a tribe in Scotland. Effie is relieved to find he isn’t there to take Morna, because he recognises that she and Effie have a bond, but he leaves a perfect pearl to pay for her upkeep and promises to return in six months. However, can this arrangement continue indefinitely?

Even more complicated, is the fascination that Effie starts to feel about this dark eyed, handsome man. As for Lachlan, every time Effie touches seal skin, he feels a corresponding pull in his human body. I must admit I was rather enchanted by this wild, but noble and honourable man. I felt he would accept Effie as she was, rather than try to mould her into a respectability that would leave her so unhappy. To strengthen this romantic tale and give it historical context, there were other strong female characters such as Alice and Effie’s friend Mary. Alice is wise, funny and open to the more magical side of life. Effie is shocked that the very respectable Mary would have her as a friend. In fact she asks if Effie will help her set up a school for some of the poorer girls in the village. She gives Effie solid advice, based on the sensibilities of the time which gives us a contrast to Effie’s life choices – some of which would be seen as scandalous! It’s interesting to think that both Effie’s friends, Walter and Mary, are progressives in their time, whereas now their ideas can seem patronising or even horrifying. I felt that Mary shows us what Effie’s life could be should she decide to choose the life Walter might offer her.

The setting is exceptionally well drawn, capturing a rugged Yorkshire coastline so perfectly that I could imagine standing on a windswept cliff watching Lachlan and Morna slipping through the waves. I found myself browsing for holiday cottages as soon as I’d finished reading, because the author’s description of the sea was so evocative. Her romantic descriptions of eating freshly caught and fried mackerel on the beach, or sailing to a private cove in the sunset enchanted me just as much as any of the relationships. I was hankering after a sunshine stroll through the waves and I would look up from my book and be surprised to find myself in my bedroom looking out at Christmas lights. If you enjoy historical fiction, I highly recommend this book and it’s definitely worth a read if you have an interest in folklore or magic realism. I found myself taking long baths or having a lie-in so I could shut the world out and really relax into the story. I would definitely look at this author’s other work on the basis of this novel and it’s made me have a rethink about the romance genre as a whole. Thank you so much to HarperCollins UK-One More Chapter and Rachel’s Random Resources for giving me the chance to read the book. It’s been a pleasure.

Purchase Link – https://getbook.at/DaughteroftheSea

Meet The Author

Author Bio – Elisabeth’s writing career began when she finished in third place in Harlequin’s So You Think You Can Write contest in 2013. She was offered a two-book contract and consequently had to admit secret writing was why the house was such a tip. She is the author of numerous historical romances with Harlequin Mills & Boon covering the Medieval period to Victorian England, and a Second World War romantic historical with One More Chapter. She lives in Cheshire because the car broke down there in 1999 and she never left.

https://www.bookbub.com/profile/elisabeth-hobbes?follow=true

Daughter of the Sea Giveaway

Giveaway – Win a signed copy of Daughter of the Sea (UK Only)

*Terms and Conditions –UK entries welcome. Please enter using the Rafflecopter box below. The winner will be selected at random via Rafflecopter from all valid entries and will be notified by Twitter and/or email. If no response is received within 7 days then Rachel’s Random Resources reserves the right to select an alternative winner. Open to all entrants aged 18 or over. Any personal data given as part of the competition entry is used for this purpose only and will not be shared with third parties, with the exception of the winners’ information. This will passed to the giveaway organiser and used only for fulfilment of the prize, after which time Rachel’s Random Resources will delete the data. I am not responsible for despatch or delivery of the prize.

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