Book Review: Sealskin by Su Bristow

Donald is a young fisherman, eking out a lonely living on the west coast of Scotland. One night he witnesses something miraculous, and makes a terrible mistake. His action changes lives—not only his own, but those of his family and the entire tightly knit community in which they live. Can he ever atone for the wrong he has done, and can love grow when its foundation is violence? Based on the legend of the selkies—seals who can transform into people—evokes the harsh beauty of the landscape, the resilience of its people, both human and animal, and the triumph of hope over fear and prejudice. With exquisite grace, Su Bristow transports us to a different world, subtly and beautifully exploring what it means to be an outsider, and our innate capacity for forgiveness and acceptance. Rich with myth and magic, Sealskin is, nonetheless, a very human story, as relevant to our world as to the timeless place in which it is set. ( From  

Published 15th February 2017 by Orenda Books (UK)

I knew, as soon as I read the synopsis for Sealskin, that this was going to be my kind of book. I love re-tellings of old legends and myths and a hint of magic realism. Having read some wonderful reviews and followed the author’s fascinatingly interesting blog tour, I couldn’t wait to read it for myself.   

Sealskin is set on a Scottish Island in a small fishing village and Su Bristow captures the essence of the rugged landscape and sea beautifully – harsh, raw and at times violent combined with a breathtaking beauty, purity and etherealness. And it’s those same qualities which transcend into this exquisite story and the lives of its characters. 

The story begins with Donald, a lonely and often ostracised member of this close knit community, who while out fishing late at night witnesses something magical, something only a few humans have ever seen. His reaction is shocking and uncomfortable, a violent act in contrast the purity of the magic he has just seen. It was difficult here to accept Donald’s actions, and I worried that my distaste and anger at what Donald does was so great, I wouldn’t be able to enjoy the rest of the book. 

But this where Su Bristow’s skill as a master story teller shines. Sealskin is a fairytale-not the watered down, happy ever after ones we’re accustomed to nowadays, but of the traditional variety. Dark themes, flawed characters, naivety and wisdom mixing together with a message of hope, learning and overcoming both real and personal demons. I could imagine this story being told by candlelight hundreds of years ago, while remaining as enchanting and relevant to a modern reader.  

I loved the character of Mairhi. She is written with such care that the feelings of calmness and healing she shares with those in the book seep from the page. She doesn’t speak, but the lyricism of her aura and eyes expressing her needs and feelings is written so evocatively, I could feel and imagine it myself. Indeed, Su Bristow’s prose throughout, from her depictions of characters to descriptions of the stunning scenery and nature, are so mesmerising and vivid, that I truly became lost in the story. While reading, my own surroundings blurred away and I had a feeling of coming out of a dream when looking up from the pages, needing a few seconds to anchor myself back in my own world.  

I went into Sealskin hoping that I would love it, and I did. Every word of it. For me, reading Sealskin was reminiscent of my experience of reading The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern or The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey. There aren’t many books I can think of that have had this all encompassing effect on me while transporting me to another world, which stays with me so vividly for years to come, but I’m adding Sealskin to that list. 

Books I Wish I Could Read For The First Time… Again

A few days ago, while wasting time on Twitter, I spotted a tweet by a fellow blogger linking to her latest post about books that had fell ‘Between The Cracks’ This week it was The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern and my immediate response was “I’m Jealous”. OK, that may seem a fairly odd response, but oh! how I wish I could read that book again for the first time! I absolutely adored the intricate, spellbinding world in this book and was absolutely mind blown. It’s a feeling that just can’t be recaptured in subsequent readings. (My original review is HERE if you would like to see just how much I did love it) 

It got me thinking about other books that I really, really wish I had never read JUST so I could experience them for the first time again. Two more immediately sprang to mind. The Book Thief by Marcus Zusack is one I’m sure lots of people will feel the same about. I was bought this book as a gift when it first came out, and to be honest, wasn’t really sure it would be for me. I read a LOT of chick lit back then and stuck with the same, safe authors and formats I was familiar with and wasn’t sure I liked the idea of Death as the narrator. If The Book Thief taught me one thing, it was to open my mind more to the wonderful world of books. Actually, it taught me much more than this. It was life changing. 

The other book that jumps right out as a book I’d love to experience for the first time again is one that I count as my favourite book of all time, The Time Traveller’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger. I was so utterly blown away, madly in love, breathtakingly mesmerised by this book, when I turned the last page I immediately went back to the beginning and read it again. I’ve read it a tonne of times since, but never has been as magical as that very first time. 

I’m not that much of a re-reader. Like book lovers the world over, my ‘want to read’ piles and lists mean there isn’t enough hours in the day (or night). I have read these three books again (and again) though, and no doubt I’ll carry on pulling them out every now and then as they remain firm favourites. But, damn, I wish I could read them again for the very first time!

Do you have books you’d love to experience for the first time again? Let me know in the comments or write a post of your own and feel free to come back and link to it.

Book Review: The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

The Night Circus is the debut novel by Erin Morgenstern. It was published by Harvill Secker on 15th September 2011 and the book is 387 pages long.
The circus arrives without warning. No announcements precede it. It is simply there, when yesterday it was not. Within the black-and-white striped canvas tents is an utterly unique experience full of breathtaking amazements. It is called Le Cirque des Rêves, and it is only open at night.
But behind the scenes, a fierce competition is underway—a duel between two young magicians, Celia and Marco, who have been trained since childhood expressly for this purpose by their mercurial instructors. Unbeknownst to them, this is a game in which only one can be left standing, and the circus is but the stage for a remarkable battle of imagination and will. Despite themselves, however, Celia and Marco tumble headfirst into love—a deep, magical love that makes the lights flicker and the room grow warm whenever they so much as brush hands.
True love or not, the game must play out, and the fates of everyone involved, from the cast of extraordinary circus performers to the patrons, hang in the balance, suspended as precariously as the daring acrobats overhead.
What I thought
As soon as I heard about this book, I was dying to read it. Everything about it sounded exactly like something I would love – from the initial idea of the book to the final copy, which has beautiful black edged pages. Unfortunately though, I had a lot of books I needed to read first and I didn’t even have a copy of this. My lovely friend Kirsty gave me an ARC and I couldn’t wait to get stuck into it.
The book begins full of mystery. In a chapter called Anticipation, Erin Morgenstern gives readers a small insight into what is about to come. The circus is about to arrive and no one knows anything about it. It ‘Opens at midnight, closes at dawn’. The first descriptions of the circus were magical and intriguing and I couldn’t wait to find out what was actually going to happen here, let alone who would be a part of it. This is definitely the way to start a book and to get readers hooked!
The Night Circus is told from multiple perspectives which enables the story to be told from all point of views. The story is also told in the past tense which is something I’m generally not too keen on but with this book, it didn’t bother me at all. The Night Circus spans multiple decades and flits from one year to another throughout. While this sounds like it should be extremely confusing, I wasn’t confused at all. I knew exactly what was going on all of the time and I knew what year the book was currently in. Considering how all over the place the time line of this book is, it was super easy to follow and I wasn’t expecting that at all.
The Night Circus tells the tale of Celia and Marco, two people entered in a game by their guardians. Neither player knows what the game consists of nor do they know the rules. They don’t even know who they are playing against. All they know is that they are bound to this game whether they like it or not. Both players are in fact magicians, just like their guardians. One guardian believes that the skill of magic is born in someone and the other believes it can be learned. I loved the contrast that each character had in this respect and because of the way they were brought up, Celia and Marco have very different ideas about the way that things should be.
As both characters grow, both in age and in wisdom and talent, I grew to love them more and more. Celia, being a main feature of the circus itself, comes to learn of the things she is capable of and how she should be using her gifts. Marco on the other hand does learn more of the things he is capable of but also he learns how to use them in very special ways. The things Marco can do are extremely different compared with Celia but both of their gifts are amazing and wonderful. The way in which their gifts are described is absolutely stunning. The imagines I had in my head were something that dreams are made of and I loved every minute of picturing what they could create in my head.
This is where the circus comes in. Although the book revolves around Celia and Marco, the main focus is really on the circus. Le Cirque des Rêves. It really is the circus of dreams in every sense possible. Inside a black and white big top are lots of different, smaller tents, each different from the next. Inside are the most wonderful and strange attractions/ people you could ever possibly think of. Every tiny detail had been thought of in this setting down to what everything looked like to the foods being sold as well as the people who visit the circus. I could imagine being there myself and wondering about which tents I would want to go to first and what I would find there if I could go. This circus is one of the most magical and mystical places I have ever read about and I so desperately wanted it to be real.
As the circus has many different tents, there are also many other characters than Celia and Marco. I loved the other characters involved in the circus although some of them weren’t used nearly enough. Poppet and Widget, the twins, were by far my favourite of secondary characters. They brought a fun and youthful element to the story which was a lovely thing considering by this point, Celia and Marco were a lot older and more mature. Their parts of the story were very entertaining and a little bit different to the rest of it but still as magical.
The thing about this book is that it isn’t extremely exciting and while there is romance, it isn’t full of passion. I’ve been thinking of how to describe the pacing for a long time but it is so hard! While a lot does happen, it is over the span of many years and due to them being really spread out, it never seems as though much does actually happen. I would say it is more interesting, well thought out and extremely inventive than anything else but I still loved it regardless. There have only been a couple of books this year for me that have been completely amazing. This is at the top of my list! 

Book review: The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

“Opens at Nightfall; Closes at Dawn.” The Le Cirque des Rêves is a circus unlike any other, just as this magical debut novel is equally unique. At the center of The Night Circus spectacle are two specially gifted young magicians, Celia and Marco, pitted against each other in professional competition, drawn towards one another in love. Erin Morgenstern’s literary fantasy has already drawn raves for its captivating evocativeness: “A world of almost unbearable beauty…. A love story on a grand scale: it creates, it destroys, it ultimately transcends.” “A novel so magical that there is no escaping its spell… If you choose to read just one novel this year, this is it.” (From Goodreads.Com)
Erin Morgenstern’s debut novel, The Night Circus, comes with some pretty huge claims. Promising to be the publishing sensation of the year and recommended by the likes of Audrey Niffenegger it has a lot to live up to. Personally, having now read the book, I think the hype is more than justified and The Night Circus now sits firmly on my favourite books ever shelf and is one I know I will want to read again and again.
The Night Circus tells the story of two magicians with different schools of thought on the learning of magic. One believes it’s innate, only those born magical can be truly great while the other believes it can be learned with the right training. One uses cruel and harsh techniques to get the best from their student and focuses mainly on the practical while the other adopts an isolating and studious regime.  Each sure that theirs is the best way; they pit students against each other in a battle to the end.
If you’re expecting an action packed book full of magic and action you’ll only be half right. This book is certainly magical; from the very first page it exudes magic and Morgenstern’s exquisite writing instantly enchanted me. I felt I’d been sucked in to this surreal, dreamlike world and enjoyed every single moment of it. This book isn’t fast paced at all, it’s a slow, floating journey and I savoured it, wanting to make it last as long as I possibly could. There’s no action packed duels either, the magic is subtle yet extraordinarily grand and beautiful. 
The book is told by several different viewpoints spanning several decades. What’s fascinating is that these viewpoints don’t run linear to each other, so we flit backwards and forwards between years and yet I was never confused at all. This approach made the book all the more magical and you could sense you were heading to a climatic meeting point in time.
I loved the different characters within the book, especially Celia and Marco themselves, however it’s the actual circus itself that takes the lead role in this book. The depth of Erin Morgenstern’s imagination is astounding and she describes it in such rich and vivid detail.  I could smell the caramel apples she talked about, imagine with astounding clarity the scenes of wonder created and feel the magic and intrigue crackling through my body as I absorbed this book. It was utterly captivating throughout and each time I left I felt I was awakening from a strange and beautiful dream.

The Night Circus is one of the most perfect books I’ve ever read and I was completely blown away by it. If you don’t like magic realism at all and find it difficult to suspend any belief then this probably isn’t the book for you. This is a book not to question, but to let yourself be carried away on a magical, surreal journey. It’s stunning, romantic, magical and beautifully written and a remarkable debut. I can’t imagine what Erin Morgenstern will come up with next. 

Published September 2011 by Harvill Secker
Proof copy recieved from the Amazon Vine program.