The Queen of Wishful Thinking

I always like to follow up a book about challenging topics and ideas with something a little lighter and more cheerful, and Milly Johnson’s books are usually perfect for that.

In this case the story follows Bonnie, who after a sudden change in job, begins to make changes in her life, the most significant being leaving her controlling husband. She finds herself more and more drawn to her new boss, Lew, but unfortunately for Bonnie, her ex-husband is about to unleash a secret about her past that threatens to destroy her new life.

I have to say this wasn’t quite as light-hearted as I was expecting – in fact at some points it offered a rather bleak view of the world, and relationships. However, it all ends happily, and it made for an interesting quick-read which was (as always with Milly Johnson’s stories) full of positive messages about second chances and friendship.

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Frankenstein by Mary Shelley

I first read Frankenstein as a teenager and found it to be a thought-provoking, challenging read, and so it continues to be, even after numerous re-readings.

For those unfamiliar with the story it follows the lead character of Victor Frankenstein, who becomes obsessed with creating life, and eventually succeeds, only to abandon his creation, which has taken the form of a hideous monster. Frankenstein soon becomes all too aware of the consequences of this decision as the Creature he made enacts his revenge, and makes a disturbing request of Frankenstein: that Frankenstein creates a companion for him.

The story follows three main narratives: the letters from Walton, the explorer determined on finding the North Pole, at the start and end of the story; Victor Frankenstein’s feverish tale of the life he created; and within the centre of the story, the Creature’s narrative, showing his desire for companionship and loneliness.

Frankenstein is a story that always provokes multiple readings and responses. Who is the real monster? Does responsibility for events lie with the Creature, who commits cold-blooded murders throughout, or with Frankenstein who so cruelly abandoned the being he brought into life? Where should our sympathies lie as a reader? We are deliberately presented with many examples of the single-minded pursuit of individual ambitions and desires (including those of Walton) and I think Shelley wants to leave the reader considering the dangers of selfishly chasing one ideal with no consideration to the well-being of others.

Ultimately though, this is a page-turning, exciting story – gothic, early science fiction, horror. The absolute best moment by far (to my mind) has to be at the beginning of chapter 5, when Frankenstein finally achieves his pursuit of creating life. It is atmospheric, unsettling, wonderfully gothic and never fails to send shivers down my spine.

Under A Pole Star

Under a Pole Star tells the story of Flora Mackie, a Victorian woman with grand plans to explore Greenland, following her inconventional upbringing. In the midst of an unhappy marriage, her first expedition brings her to meet Jakob de Beyn, part of a rival expedition from the US. Their paths cross several times again, and they begin a romance.

Unfortunately, I didn’t enjoy this book as much as I was expecting to. At almost 600 pages it tended to lack pace at several points. I also found the romance between Flora and Jakob to lack chemistry; one moment they’re not interested in each other, and the next beginning an affair.

It wasn’t terrible, there were some well-written descriptions, but I don’t think I would be personally recommending this book.