Great Britain -- fiction
In The House of Small Shadows, protagonist Catherine has had a bleak past. After losing her job at a top TV network in London thanks to corporate insecurity, she decides to move on with her life and experience the tedious job of antiquing and auctioning. She welcomes a new challenge assigned by her elderly boss: cataloging and maintaining a massive doll collection owned by the niece of infamous taxidermist M.H. Mason. Catherine finds it thrilling to also examine the strange and sentimental display of stuffed animals, posed and costumed in bloody scenes from the Great War.
They very nearly had to pry Liza out of the expensive London hotel. Surrounded by mementoes of her loving but tragically deceased family, the pretty, young girl had gone from a promising future to ruin. There was no money to even pay the hotel bill, and she had to sweet-talk the harrumphing manager into giving her cash for a hansom cab to follow up her only hope for sustaining herself—a job as a lady’s maid to Princess Victoria. But she could not know that very soon she and the princess would become Prisoners in the Palace.
The Ocean at the End of the Lane, by Neil Gaiman, is a touching blend of family drama and otherworldliness. He wrote it for his wife, who does not care so much for extreme fantasy, and so he decided to include many realistic details from his own childhood. But he enriched that beginning with dark and horrific drama, as well as beauty and wisdom, and ultimately gave it an elemental, magical grounding.
I love a book with an inventive narrative structure and, like Scheherazade, Kate Atkinson has 1,001 plots in her novel, Life after Life. Ursula Todd, born on a snowy night in 1910 to banker Hugh Todd and his aristocratic wife Sylvie dies and lives--over and over again. But this is a novel not just about reincarnation but also about how a writer writes and makes choices. The chapters reveal the choices a writer--or a human being--makes and how it changes the path a life takes.
The Tales of Olga da Polga, by Michael Bond—creator of the Paddington Bear books, features a feisty, queenly, and imaginative guinea pig who leaves the dull life of an English pet shop to go live with her own “Sawdust People” in “a house with legs” in their garden. For another guinea pig, it would be just a sensible, comfortable life change, but Olga is not just another guinea pig.
From where he stood on the hill above the valley, Martin Crawford saw that the leader of the war band was in serious trouble. When a hunting horn sounded from behind, the leader ordered his men to scatter before the onslaught of English soldiers. They were on him in moments, but their numbers broke as they chased the leader's scattered men. In all his sixteen years, Martin had never seen a man fight as this one did, swinging his great sword beside his companions until the last living enemy fled in fear.