Branford-Boase Prize Longlist: Week 3

Time for the third instalment of the Branford-Boase longlist. Both this week’s books are written excellently, but only one captured my heart.

Red Ink by Julie Mayhew
 Red Ink
When her mother is knocked down and killed by a London bus, fifteen-year-old Melon Fouraki is left with no family worth mentioning. Her mother, Maria, never did introduce Melon to a ‘living, breathing’ father. The indomitable Auntie Aphrodite, meanwhile, is hundreds of miles away on a farm in Crete, and is unlikely to be jumping on a plane and coming to East Finchley anytime soon. But at least Melon has ‘The Story’. ‘The Story’ is the Fourakis family fairytale. A story is something. 

I admired the writing enormously but didn’t emotionally connect with the book unfortunately. I found Melon a bit of an unsympathetic character; I just don’t do well with angry shouty people. Melon is angry before her mum’s death – if it had been afterwards then I could’ve understood that. Her explosions of temper towards her mum felt disproportionate so I found it hard to relate to her. I was a bit irritated by her hatred of her name; if Melon is so awful shorten it to Mel. But then I do have a completely unremarkable name so I’m probably not the best qualified to know how much it could rankle. When I think about Melon’s best friend I do feel a bit of sympathy for Melon actually, they have an odd relationship that breaks down completely after Melon’s mum dies – some best friend.
I did love ‘The Story’ that runs through the book. This is the story of Melon told by her mum, over and over, connecting her to her Greek family and heritage. It is a story of love and an anchor. I enjoy thinking about how stories create and shape us, giving us a place in the world, so this absolutely made the book for me. There is also a beautiful idea of a piece of thread connecting one heart to another that I loved.
By the end of the story I thought that Melon had changed a lot. She has some awful experiences to work through, and I think ultimately she’s much more like her mum than she could have realised. Despite the subject matter I thought the ending had a lot of hope and happiness.
The writing is excellent so it’s worth reading.
There’s a thoughtful review in The Telegraph here and a thought-provoking one at Fluttering Butterflies over here.
Frost Hollow Hall by Emma Carroll
Frost Hollow Hall
The gates to Frost Hollow Hall loomed before us. They were great tall things, the ironwork all twisted leaves and queer-looking flowers. And they were very definitely shut. Tilly’s heart sinks. Will’s at the door of their cottage, daring her to come ice-skating up at Frost Hollow Hall. No one goes near the place these days. Rumour has it that the house is haunted…Ten years ago the young heir, Kit Barrington, drowned there in the lake. But Tilly never turns down a dare. Then it goes horribly wrong. The ice breaks, Tilly falls through and almost drowns. At the point of death, a beautiful angel appears in the water and saves her. Kit Barrington’s ghost. Kit needs Tilly to solve the mystery of his death, so that his spirit can rest in peace. In order to discover all she can, Tilly gets work as a maid at Frost Hollow Hall. But the place makes her flesh crawl. It’s all about the dead here, she’s told, and in the heart of the house she soon discovers all manner of dark secrets…
I read Frost Hollow Hall at the end of last year and adored it. It felt exactly like the kind of story I loved when I was a child. It has a mystery to solve, a historical setting, ghostly shenanigans, an old house steeped in tragedy, and a no nonsense female main character. It is still just the kind of story I want to read. It is a bit spooky and a little scary at times, but it has such charm that it’s Tilly’s personality that remains in the memory.
Tilly Higgins is a wonderful character. Her family are poor and not especially happy, but Tilly isn’t going to sit around and mope. She strikes me as someone you’d certainly want around when times are tough. Her friendship with Will Potter made me chuckle at times; Tilly’s not going to be won over easily, it’ll take more than a smile to earn her trust. She doesn’t lack courage and is ready to put herself in danger to find out what’s really going on up at the Hall. 
Frost Hollow Hallis the best kind of old-fashioned storytelling, which is definitely meant as a compliment. It suited my reading mood perfectly and I’d recommend it anyone, including grown-ups with a fondness for Victorian ghost stories.
There’s super review at The Bookbag here, and another at We Love This Book here.

Both books deal with death, grief and loss, although I didn’t make that connection when I chose them to go together in this post. They do so in very different ways. I’d be very interested in knowing what other people think about either of these books. 

3 thoughts on “Branford-Boase Prize Longlist: Week 3”

  1. I liked Red Ink. There were a couple of passages and scenes that weren't quite to my taste, but overall I found the novel intriguing and warm, if gritty. I loved the symbolism throughout the novel and the sense of place that was created, especially through food and 'The Story'.

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