All posts by mayibethemoon

Book Review: Izevel, Queen of Darkness by Kate Chamberlayne

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I picked this book up a couple of years ago at a youth camp, mainly out of intrigue. It is from a series called Dark Chapters, which is aiming to provide an alternative for teenagers and young adults to the more horror based YA fiction that is out there, and get them to look to the Bible and consider how God views those things.

First of all, I really admire what the books are trying to achieve. I have read a fair amount of young adult fiction – although I lean more towards the dystopian and fantasy genres rather than the supernatural/horror ones – and they can get quite dark. As I have a teaching/youthwork background, I do sometimes worry about books, TV shows, and films that romanticise the occult, however, the vast majority that I have read/seen do present a battle of good vs evil – with the good generally winning, but also showing the shades of grey. But I do think that a series like this is needed. I dislike when Christians criticise what they see in popular culture without offering alternatives.

So to the book itself. It is a retelling of the story of Elijah taken from 1 Kings 17 to 2 Kings 9. The narrative is well constructed, and all the main points that I remember from the biblical account are there, but with some artistic flourishes, of course.

My main question mark about this book is down to perspective. The story is told (in third person narrative) almost entirely from the perspective of Jezebel (who is renamed Izevel in the book). This did make sense as she is the title character, but actually as the novel progressed it left me feeling rather confused. First, the story covers her childhood – the distant, unloving relationship with her father, the loss of her younger brother etc – all of which evokes sympathy for her. But as the story goes on and she becomes Queen of Israel and starts to do all the horrible things she is remembered for I found it hard to dislike her because of the way she had been introduced. Generally when a book focuses on a central character, it is because the author wants you to see the world from their perspective and understand them, which this book did do, but at the same time it felt like the author was trying to push me really hard into disliking her, which left me feeling conflicted. At the end of the novel, I didn’t know whether I was meant to feel relieved or upset that she got her comeuppance. Maybe I just dislike novels when the protagonist is not meant to be likeable.

Also, because the story is told from Jezebel’s perspective, the prophet Elijah is presented as the antagonist and does not come across as very likeable, which also seems counterintuitive as he is the hero of the biblical account. In fact, most of the characters you feel you should like are presented unsympathetically, or are underdeveloped.

So, generally I feel that the concept of this book and series is good and needed, but I’m not entirely sure it has been carried out successfully in this edition. Although if it encourages a teenager to pick up the Bible then it has done well. I would be interested to read the other books in the series to see if they are executed in a similar way, and I would also like to hear the opinions of some young people who have read the series, although I’m not convinced it is one I would rush to recommend.

Rhi’s Fundraising Challenge

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One of the best things about having a blog is getting to tell some amazing stories, even when they are not my own… I have some pretty awesome friends and this week I want to share the fundraising exploits of my friend Rhi. I’ve asked her to tell you all a little of what she’s up to in the next few weeks:

‘As a part of a charity apprenticeship that I’m completing this year with the charity Child.org, I’m running a challenge fundraiser at the end of April. The challenge is called ‘Survive on Five’ and I will be living on £1 a day for 5 days to raise funds and awareness of children living in poverty in Ghana and Kenya. Child.org works to empower some of the world’s most vulnerable children by providing them with access to quality health care, education, water and food. Key projects include HealthStart which teaches life skills, provides family planning information and provides malaria nets and deworming treatment as well as school feeding programmes which consistently provide nutritious meals, helping children not to have to worry where their next meal will come from. As well as my fundraising challenge, I am currently creating a product called Mystery Books which I hope to take around local fayres and events. I will also be running an event in the autumn as well as other fundraising ideas so watch this space’

I personally am very excited about the mystery books, being such a bookworm…! Rhi describes this as: ‘Mystery books are wrapped up books with clues on the front – buy a literary present for yourself and helping children at the same time!’ I understand that Rhi is parting with books from her own collection so they will all come with her recommendation. If you fancy a blind date with a good book you need look no further!

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If you want to support Rhi, you can donate here: http://child.org/me/food-fiver-challenge

The Girl in the Electric Blue Dress – Part Three

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Here are parts 1 & 2 if you missed them 🙂

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In the morning, he walked me home. I had so many questions, but didn’t know how to ask them, so we walked in silence.

As we approached the street my house was on, I could sense something was wrong. There was a tension in the air. We turned the corner and I stopped dead. There was my father, shouting orders at the guards.

“He wasn’t due back until tomorrow,” I could feel the fear spreading through my veins like ice.

Jack took my hand, “we’ll figure something out.”

We started forward slowly, hand in hand. My father didn’t see us straightaway, too busy berating the guards for my absence. We stopped behind him and Jack coughed politely. “Mr Mayor,” he began, “I have come to request permission to court your daughter.”

My father turned and grabbed me by the arm. “My daughter,” his voice was low, cold, hard, “knows she will marry only who I tell her to marry. She also knows better than to leave the house, unchaperoned,” he added, almost as an afterthought. He stabbed a finger at Jack, “I should have you arrested for kidnapping her. And I will, if I ever see you again.”

He started pulling me toward the house. Jack made as if to follow, but I shook my head. I’ll be fine, keep yourself safe, I tried to tell him with a look.

My father dragged me into the house. He had such long strides, my feet could barely keep up. He slammed the door and then the yelling came, about my lack of regard for his reputation, leaving the house dressed as I was, staying out all night in the company of someone of a lower class and a known revolutionary. “And you let That Woman into the house, when you know I have forbidden it.”

I stopped cold, “how did you know about that?”

“The servants, at least, are loyal to me,” he snapped, yanking my arm to get me moving again. He dragged me to the basement, flung open the door and pushed me down into the darkness. “You’ll be down there until you learn some obedience.” I heard the door slam, and the lock click shut.

I sat in the cold and dark. I pulled my coat tighter around me. It was Jack’s that I had borrowed the night before. It made me feel safer, knowing he was outside, even though he couldn’t help. I hoped he wouldn’t try anything stupid. This was the angriest I’d seen my father since that night long ago, the last time I’d seen my mother. I had just turned six. She told me to stay in my room, and I had hidden under the bed, afraid of the shouting and crashing I could hear through the floorboards. When I had crept downstairs in the morning, she was gone. Even at that age, I knew better than to ask where she was.

It made me shudder to think of it. I tried to conjure up memories of her, but they were elusive. I put my hands in the pockets of the coat for warmth and found something tucked inside. The photo from Jack’s mantelpiece. My mother smiled out at me. Whatever happened, she had never been afraid of my father. As I looked at the photo, a faint memory drifted into my mind of a lullaby she would sing to me as a child. I hummed it softly and gradually drifted off into a fitful sleep.

A storm broke in the night and I was woken sharply by a flash of lightning and a crash of thunder. As the thunder died, I realised I could hear the melody of the lullaby faintly echoing around the room. I suddenly knew I was no longer alone. I could feel her presence next to me.

In the next flash of lightning I could see her, the same blue dress, pale skin, dark hair styled elegantly. She leant forward to kiss my forehead and then looked deep into my eyes, as if she were memorising my features. I felt rather than heard her say she would make things right. And then she was gone.

 

I don’t know how long I was in the cellar. I wondered what punishment my father had in store for me. But when the door eventually creaked open, it wasn’t him but my Godmother who was standing at the top of the stairs. She gently drew me up into the house, settled me on the drawing room sofa, gave me water and sent a servant to find me some food.

“He was found this morning,” she was saying. “He was slumped over his desk, gun in his hand.”

She showed me the note he had left. It said, simply, “I killed my wife.” But the writing wasn’t his.

I held up the photo I was still clutching tightly and showed my Godmother.

“I saw her,” I whispered. “She did this, she rescued me. It’s her writing.” And then I wept, not for him, but for her.

My Godmother held me until the tears subsided.

When I had recovered, she told me that soon she would help me pack what I needed to move in with her family, as she would now be my guardian. “But first,” she said, “if you are up to it, you have a visitor.”

I nodded, curious, and she went to open the door. Jack was sitting out in the corridor, but now he jumped to his feet. As I stood up to greet him, she whispered in my ear, “Guess who gets to arrange your marriage now.” She had that magic twinkle in her eye again.

 

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Thanks for reading! I’d love to know what you think of the story – feel free to leave comments below or connect via my Facebook or Twitter

The Girl in the Electric Blue Dress – Part Two

For part one please click here…

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That evening, I ventured out into the town to celebrate my adulthood. I wore the dress in public for the first time. And, for the first time in my life, I felt visible. I knew people were watching me, noticing me. I felt confident. The air sizzled around me. I could feel the power in the dress.

I found my way to a bar that had a buzz about it. As I entered it felt like the world stopped as everyone turned to stare at me, before going back to their conversations. All except one guy at the bar, who was reading intently. I recognised him from my school days. I remembered he had been kind. The seat next to him was free, so I drifted over.

As I sat down, the bartender looked at me expectantly, “What will you have?”

I opened my mouth to answer, and I realised I didn’t know what any of the drinks were called. It suddenly struck me what I risk I was taking, being out of the house. There was a reason I hadn’t been seen in public for years. Although my father was a powerful public figure, he was also a very private man. Maybe people weren’t staring at me because of the dress, but because they knew who I was. If word got back to my father that I had been out unchaperoned, I dreaded to think how he would react.

This was a mistake. I shook my head and stood up to leave, but as I did I felt a hand over mine on the bar, “Please, stay for a drink with me”.

I looked down at my hand, then up at the man holding it. Jack. I remembered his name. His eyes were brilliant blue, almost the same shade as my dress.

“If you are concerned about your reputation, I assure you I am widely considered to be respectable,” he said with a smile, but also with a kindness and concern in his eyes.

Slowly I nodded and sat back down. I lowered my gaze. “I don’t know what I’m meant to drink,” I admitted.

He ordered us a soda each. I sipped mine, it tasted of fruit and bubbles and cold. “Thank you,” I said. I felt my confidence returning as I caught a glimpse of the dress in the mirror behind the bar.

“What are you reading?” I asked. He showed me. It was a medical journal. “You became a doctor. You always wanted to be,” I said. We talked for a while about his work, until I realised the bar was slowly emptying. “I should probably go,” I said. He offered to walk me home.

As we left the bar he stopped. “Wait,” he said. I turned to look at him.

“First, I swear on my honour that my intentions are pure and that no harm will come to you. I have something in my apartment I need to show you. It’s not far.”

I considered for a moment, but I knew that I trusted him, how much I had always trusted him.

As we walked I realised the temperature had dropped. He must have noticed I was cold as he took off his jacket and placed it over my shoulders. We walked on in silence. I tried not to think beyond the moment, to how my father would react to my behaviour. I just wanted to enjoy the moment of being with someone who wasn’t afraid.

We turned a corner and he pulled out a set of keys. I followed him up the stairs to his apartment and he pulled open the door to let me enter ahead of him. As I went in, my breath caught. There, on the mantelpiece, was a photo of my family. My father, in a bright white suit. Myself, a small child, a red ribbon in my dark hair. And there, clutching my hand tightly, was my mother.

“I’ve never seen a picture of my mother before,” I whispered. I crept forward, as if approaching a holy relic. And then I saw what she was wearing. An electric blue dress. My electric blue dress.

“You look just like her,” Jack said, behind me. “I thought it the moment I saw you.”

“Where did you get this? You shouldn’t have this,” I asked.

He told me how his father had been a dedicated supporter of my father’s rise to power, until my mother’s disappearance.

“They were all in awe of her,” he explained. “My father tried to find out what had happened to her, caused quite a stir. Then, one day, he didn’t come home. I was young, but I realised what had happened. On that day, I made two promises, that I would discover the truth and that, somehow, I would protect you.”

I didn’t know what to say. I sat down heavily on the sofa, cradling the photo.

“It was easy enough to keep an eye on you in school,” he continued, “But then you turned sixteen and stopped coming, and I feared the worst.”

“He wanted to keep me hidden. I think he hoped I’d be forgotten, like my mother was.”

Jack shook his head. “No. She was never forgotten. And neither were you. We heard whispers, knew you were alive, if out of sight. And with your coming of age, I hoped and prayed our paths would cross. And here you are.”

And that was when the full weight of my actions hit me. I had left the house, unchaperoned, and was now alone with a bachelor in his house. My father would be livid. But, strangely, in that moment, I didn’t care.

Jack must have seen my confusion playing out on my face, as he offered to walk me home. But I didn’t know if I could face that big empty house so full of secrets. And I wasn’t ready to give up on my first, perhaps only, night of freedom.

“This is the safest I’ve felt in years,” I whispered.

“You can stay, if you like. I’ll take the sofa,” he added, quickly.

 

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Please stay tuned for the final instalment!

The Girl in the Electric Blue Dress – Part One

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I knew it made me stand out. It was a shot of colour in a drab town.

My Godmother presented it to me on my 21st birthday. For my “coming-of-age” she told me, smiling but with sadness in her eyes and a sigh on her lips. I understood. Traditionally, mothers would throw a massive party for their daughter’s coming of age, as if to say, “Look, my daughter is an adult, she is here!” The ladies of the town would gather for wine and sweetmeats, and the mother would instruct the girl on how to make her way in the world as an adult. With no mother, it would fall to my Godmother to induct me into adulthood, but the rules were strict. There would be no gathering, as only a mother could announce her daughter’s age publically. My Godmother could give me advice, but my entrance into public life would be without ceremony.

I eased the dress out from the whispering paper and help it up against myself. The air seemed to vibrate around it. In had never seen anything so beautiful.

My Godmother helped me into the dress. She had chosen well as the fit was perfect.

“Be careful how you wear it, there is power in this dress,” she said, the twinkle back in her eye.

She led me to the mirror so I could see the effect. Then she hugged me and whispered, “Your mother would have been proud”. Momentarily, time seemed to stand still as I held my breath and glanced around. But the world kept turning. No one had talked of my mother in this house for as long as I could remember. It wasn’t done to speak of those who had gone. And though my father was away on business, he had ears everywhere.

My Godmother winked as she released me from her embrace. I knew then that I would be safe. There was magic in her, and I knew she would watch over me.

I made us tea, and she began to speak, teaching me the ways of the world. We saw in the dawn together, marking my entry into adulthood, then she returned to her own family, leaving me to face the new world on my own.

 

*****

Part two will follow soon! Image free from pixabay.com

#30by30 number 16 – finish writing “The Girl in the Electric Blue Dress”

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I often have really vivid dreams that stay with me a long time after I wake up. Sometimes these are just the jumbled meanderings of my subconscious trying to make sense of my life – like the time I was stressed about work and dreamt that someone had rearranged the office over the weekend and I couldn’t find my desk. Occasionally, though, a crazy dream brings me the nugget of an idea for a story. I had one such dream last summer.

It started with a picture of a girl wearing, you guessed it, and electric blue dress. Actually, when I woke up the story was nearly fully formed, I just needed to write it down. But finding time to put pen to paper is never easy and that first day after the dream I just had time to sketch out the first scene. Then life happened and my creative writing ended up on the back burner again.

But the girl in the dress stayed in the back of my mind, and I knew I needed to tell her story. So it only seemed fair to her to make it part of my #30by30 challenge. In November I was meeting up with a friend in Bath so I took my notebook and pencil on the train and used the journey time to write, but it wasn’t quite long enough. So my notebook went on holiday with me over Christmas (it’s a big ole notebook so I could have done without the weight, I probably should get a smaller one… if you’re wondering, that is my notebook in the picture, in a former life it was my teacher’s planner. I hate to be wasteful). I finished the story in my hotel room overlooking the sea.

I’m pretty pleased with how it turned out. I spent last weekend typing it up and editing it, although, being so short, it didn’t need much work to make it presentable. And I’m going to share it here over the next couple of weeks. I’ll put the first part up later today (I know, two posts in one day! What is the world coming to?!)

I’ve had a hard time explaining the genre to my friends, it’s part urban fantasy, part dystopian, part ghost story. Actually, when I thought about it, I decided the best way of explaining it is as a fairy story. There’s a kind of princess, a sort of wicked king, an almost knight in shining armour and a definite fairy godmother so I think that’s what I’ll call it – a modern fairytale.

Are you sitting comfortably? Then I’ll begin…