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BLOG TOUR REVIEW!!! A Woman Made of Snow by Elisabeth Gifford

Image Description: The cover of A Woman Made of Snow has a sailing ship against the backdrop of Arctic mountains and a sunset.

Scotland, 1949: Caroline Gillan and her new husband Alasdair have moved back to Kelly Castle, his dilapidated family estate in the middle of nowhere. Stuck caring for their tiny baby, and trying to find her way with an opinionated mother-in-law, Caroline feels adrift, alone and unwelcome.

But when she is tasked with sorting out the family archives, Caroline discovers a century-old mystery that sparks her back to life. There is one Gillan bride who is completely unknown – no photos exist, no records have been kept – the only thing that is certain is that she had a legitimate child. Alasdair’s grandmother.

As Caroline uncovers a strange story that stretches as far as the Arctic circle, her desire to find the truth turns obsessive. And when a body is found in the grounds of the castle, her hunt becomes more than just a case of curiosity. What happened all those years ago? Who was the bride? And who is the body…?

Part love story, part mystery, and part historical drama, Elisabeth Gifford’s latest novel, A Woman Made of Snow, is certainly endeavouring to tick a lot of boxes – many of them pure Shelf of Unread catnip! And with a side order of Victorian arctic exploration thrown into that heady mix, I was delighted to have the opportunity to be on the blog tour for this captivating novel.

Switching between two timelines, A Woman Made of Snow is the story of several generations of Gillan women. The latest Gillan wife, Caro, is struggling to find her place amidst new husband Alasdair’s ancestral home, Kelly Castle. As one of the first women to graduate from her college at Cambridge, Caro had expected to spend her life researching and lecturing. Instead she finds herself struggling with new motherhood under the watchful eye of her mother-in-law, Martha.

When Martha unexpectedly offers Caro the opportunity to research the history of Kelly Castle, she jumps at the opportunity to claw back a few hours of her old life. Her investigations turn up a curious gap in the archives: a previous Gillan bride – Alasdair’s great-grandmother – who appears to have been erased from the family history. When building work uncovers a woman’s body in the grounds of the castle, Caro cannot help but wonder whether there is any connection with her missing Gillan wife. And when she uncovers the long-lost diary of Oliver Gillan’s voyage to the Arctic in 1882, it soon becomes clear that the Gillan’s family history – and Kelly Castle – may be hiding a murderous secret.

There were so many points when A Woman Made of Snow reminded me of To the Bright Edge of the World, Eowyn Ivey’s captivating novel about the exploration of Alaska that I read and reviewed earlier this year. Elisabeth Gifford has the same ability as Ivey to perfectly capture a sense of wonder involved in exploration and the sense of grandeur within the Arctic landscape – and has also written a poignant and touching love story at the beating heart of her book.

Some elements of this novel were, for me, less successful however. For a relatively slender novel (287 pages), A Woman Made of Snow packs in a LOT of plot. Whilst this is definitely not a bad thing per se – it definitely kept the pages turning! – there are several key characters within both the timelines, as well as several subplots that I felt some were in need of more room to breath. One subplot, which revolves around a potential rival for Alasdair’s affections, seemed full of dramatic potential but, sadly, seemed to have dwindled out to serve very little purpose by the end of the novel.

I also felt that the tension between Caro and Martha – and the attempts made to liken this to events within the past timeline – was a little forced at times. Both Caro and Martha are very likeable characters and, to me at least, seemed to act in a perfectly friendly and respectful manner to each other throughout. Whilst I understand that Elisabeth Gifford was trying to convey the uneasy but barely perceptible tensions that can sometimes arise between new wife and mother-in-law, I felt that this was sometimes made into a bigger plot element than their relatively minor disagreements really warranted.

That said, Caro’s frustration at her own loss of identity is brilliantly conveyed and I really empathised with the way she is torn between her love for her new family – and her new role as wife and mother – and her frustration at the postponement of her academic career, and the abandonment of her independent life with Alasdair in London.

Saying to much about Oliver’s plotline would be to risk spoilers – and given that there is a really compelling mystery plot running throughout the book, that would be a great shame – however I will say that I found the sections set aboard the whaling ship Narwhal to be amongst the most compelling sections of the novel. Elisabeth Gifford has clearly done her research into both the place and the period and I felt that the Narwhal and her crew really came alive on the page – as did the lives and customs of the Inuit people they encounter on their journey.

I also found Oliver’s mother, Sylvia, to be a really arresting character – albeit a truly awful one. Again, I don’t want to give away any plot spoilers but I can safely say that I think Sylvia is one of the most reprehensible characters I’ve met on the page in recent years! Despite this, Gifford has made her a woman I almost loved to hate, fleshing out her background and mental state so that I could understand some of the reasoning behind her abhorrent behaviour – even if I didn’t empathise with that reasoning in any way.

Overall, A Woman Made of Snow made for a dynamic, emotive, and propulsive read that was packed full of family drama. With a touching love story and some well-drawn characters, it was a quick and compelling novel that, despite some minor niggles, kept me reading right through to the end! With its immersive period detail, dual timeline mystery, and heartfelt, poignant storyline, A Woman Made of Snow is sure to appeal to fans of Kristin Hannah, Hazel Gaynor, Kate Morton, and Rachel Hore.

A Woman Made of Snow by Elisabeth Gifford is published by Corvus/Atlantic Books and is available now from all good booksellers and online retailers including Hive, Bookshop.org, Waterstones, and Wordery.

If you can, please support a local indie bookshop by ordering from them either in person or online! Some of my favourites include Booka Bookshop, The Big Green BookshopSam Read BooksellersBook-ishScarthin Books, and Berts Books

My thanks go to the publisher for providing a copy of the book in return for an honest and unbiased review and to Anne Cater from Random Things Tours for organising and inviting me onto this blog tour. The tour continues until 22 October 2021 so do check out the other stops for more reviews and content.

Reviews on The Shelf are free, honest, and unbiased and I don’t use affiliate links on my posts. However if you enjoy the blog please consider buying me a coffee on Ko-Fi!

Back from the Backlist · Discussion Time · Random Bookish Things · Spotlight

6 Books That Were Not For Me…BUT They Could Be For You!

Although my blog is very much my hobby – and I have absolutely no expectation of it being anything more than that – I have to admit that, aside from being able to share the book love with lots of lovely like-minded folk, one of the very nice things about being a book blogger is being sent the occasional book by publishers or authors for review.

In my case, most of these books come because I’m on Blog Tours but, every so often, I request a book because I like the sound of it from the blurb and the buzz surrounding it. 90% of the time these books then go on to be read and reviewed on this blog (although let’s not talk about my NetGalley backlog – that’s a whole different post) but, every so often, the book isn’t quite what I was expecting and doesn’t quite float my bookish boat in the way I hoped it would.

Because I don’t review books that I don’t finish on the blog, that left me in a bit of a quandary about what to do with these ‘not for me’ books. Part of what I love about book blogging is being able to help authors and publishers spread the book love, and to share books with potential readers. And I’m especially keen to acknowledge anyone kind enough to send a proof or finished copy my way.

So rather than have the ‘not for me’ books sitting on my shelf accusingly, I decided to put together this post to spotlight them and share them with you. Because just because a book wasn’t for me doesn’t mean that it won’t be for you! I’ve given Goodreads links to all of the books, along with the blurb and publisher information as well as a link to a full review from another lovely blogger!

The Canary Keeper by Clare Carson

Publisher: Head of Zeus, 398 pages

Blurb: Branna ‘Birdie’ Quinn had no good reason to be by the river that morning, but she did not kill the man. She’d seen him first the day before, desperate to give her a message she refused to hear. And now the Filth will see her hang for his murder, just like her father.

To save her life, Birdie must trace the dead man’s footsteps. Back onto the ship that carried him to his death, back to cold isles of Orkney that sheltered him, and up to the far north, a harsh and lawless land which holds more answers than she looks to find…

Review: Check out this full review from Nicola over at Short Books and Scribes – she found it “intriguing, so full of depth and the writing is beautifully descriptive” and perfect for fans of historical fiction and mysteries!

Coming Up for Air by Sarah Leipeiger

Publisher: Doubleday, 308 pages

Blurb: Three extraordinary lives intertwine across oceans and centuries.

On the banks of the River Seine in 1899, a heartbroken young woman takes her final breath before plunging into the icy water. Although she does not know it, her decision will set in motion an astonishing chain of events. It will lead to 1950s Norway, where a grieving toymaker is on the cusp of a transformative invention, all the way to present-day Canada, where a journalist battling a terrible disease, drowning in her own lungs, risks everything for one last chance to live.

Moving effortlessly across time and space and taking inspiration from an incredible true story, Coming Up for Air is a bold, richly imagined novel about love, loss, and the immeasurable impact of every human life.

Review: Amanda over at Bookish Chat loved this one – her review said that “Sarah Leipciger’s writing is captivating and sharp and all historical and medical elements were very well researched and portrayed” and felt that “Coming Up For For Air is one of those books which stays with you long after you’ve finished it”. High praise indeed!

From the Wreck by Jane Rawson

Publisher: Picador, 272 pages

Blurb: When George Hills was pulled from the wreck of the steamship Admella, he carried with him memories of a disaster that claimed the lives of almost every other soul on board. Almost every other soul. Because as he clung onto the wreck, George wasn’t alone: someone else—or something else—kept George warm and bound him to life. Why didn’t he die, as so many others did, half-submerged in the freezing Southern Ocean? And what happened to his fellow survivor, the woman who seemed to vanish into thin air?

George will live out the rest of his life obsessed with finding the answers to these questions. He will marry, father children, but never quite let go of the feeling that something else came out of the ocean that day, something that has been watching him ever since. The question of what this creature might want from him—his life? His first-born? To simply return home?—will pursue him, and call him back to the ocean again.

Review: Simon Savidge absolutely ADORED this book – it was one of his books of 2018, before it had even been published in the UK! His blog review said that the book has “originality, wonderful writing, a brilliant twisting plot, fantastic characters and some themes within it that you can really get your teeth into, should you want to” and he’s also featured the book on Youtube.

Theft by Luke Brown

Publisher: And Other Stories

Blurb: What I did to them was terrible, but you have to understand the context. This was London, 2016 . . .

Bohemia is history. Paul has awoken to the fact that he will always be better known for reviewing haircuts than for his literary journalism. He is about to be kicked out of his cheap flat in east London and his sister has gone missing after an argument about what to do with the house where they grew up. Now that their mother is dead this is the last link they have to the declining town on the north-west coast where they grew up.

Enter Emily Nardini, a cult author, who – after granting Paul a rare interview – receives him into her surprisingly grand home. Paul is immediately intrigued: by Emily and her fictions, by her vexingly famous and successful partner Andrew (too old for her by half), and later by Andrew’s daughter Sophie, a journalist whose sexed-up vision of the revolution has gone viral. Increasingly obsessed, relationships under strain, Paul travels up and down, north and south, torn between the town he thought he had escaped and the city that threatens to chew him up.

Review: Lucy over at What Lucy Wrote thought that Theft was “a compelling and colourful reflection on division and truth – both within individuals and a country” with some brilliant characterisation. You can read her review here.

Beyond the Moon by Catherine Taylor

Publisher: The Cameo Press, 483 pages

Blurb: A strange twist of fate connects a British soldier fighting in the First World War in 1916 with a young woman living in modern-day England a century later, in this haunting literary time travel novel.

Two people, two battles: one against the invading Germans on the battlefields of 1916 France, the other against a substandard, uncaring mental health facility in modern-day England. Part war story, part timeslip, part love story – and at the same time a meditation on the themes of war, mental illness, identity and art, Beyond The Moon is an intelligent, captivating debut novel, perfect for book clubs.

In 1916 1st Lieutenant Robert Lovett is a patient at Coldbrook Hall military hospital in Sussex, England. A gifted artist, he’s been wounded fighting in the Great War. Shell shocked and suffering from hysterical blindness he can no longer see his own face, let alone paint, and life seems increasingly hopeless.

A century later in 2017, medical student Louisa Casson has just lost her beloved grandmother – her only family. Heartbroken, she drowns her sorrows in alcohol on the South Downs cliffs – only to fall accidentally part-way down. Doctors fear she may have attempted suicide, and Louisa finds herself involuntarily admitted to Coldbrook Hall – now a psychiatric hospital, an unfriendly and chaotic place.

Then one day, while secretly exploring the old Victorian hospital’s ruined, abandoned wing, Louisa hears a voice calling for help, and stumbles across a dark, old-fashioned hospital room. Inside, lying on the floor, is a mysterious, sightless young man, who tells her he was hurt at the Battle of the Somme, a WW1 battle a century ago. And that his name is Lieutenant Robert Lovett…

Review: Writing for NB Magazine, Nicola from Short Books and Scribes said that Beyond the Moon “is a fascinating read, both in terms of the detail and the well-plotted storyline” and that she “closed the book with a sense of satisfaction and pleasure that I had read it”. You can read her full review here.

When the Lights Go Out by Carys Bray

Publisher: Hutchinson, 326 pages

Blurb: Emma is beginning to wonder whether relationships, like mortgages, should be conducted in five-year increments. She might laugh if Chris had bought a motorbike or started dyeing his hair. Instead he’s buying off-label medicines and stockpiling food.

Chris finds Emma’s relentless optimism exasperating. A tot of dread, a nip of horror, a shot of anger – he isn’t asking much. If she would only join him in a measure of something.

The family’s precarious eco-system is further disrupted by torrential rains, power cuts and the unexpected arrival of Chris’s mother. Emma longs to lower a rope and winch Chris from the pit of his worries. But he doesn’t want to be rescued or reassured – he wants to pull her in after him.

Review: Another review from Amanda over at Bookish Chat! She thought that ” the gentle humour and real moments of tender interplay between family members is so heartwarming” and that Carys Bray has an “innate ability to write about the ordinary family dynamic against the backdrop of extraordinary circumstances”.

My thanks go to all of the authors and publishers who sent me copies of these books. Unfortunately they weren’t quite my cup of tea but, as the reviews I have chosen shown, these might just be the perfect books for a different reader!

Are there are books here that you’ve taken a fancy to? Please do let me know if you pick up any of the books mentioned in today’s post!

If you can, please support a local indie bookshop by ordering from them either in person or online! Some of my favourites include Booka Bookshop, The Big Green BookshopSam Read BooksellersBook-ishScarthin Books, and Berts Books

Reviews & features on The Shelf are free, honest, and unbiased and I don’t use affiliate links on my posts. However if you enjoy the blog please consider buying me a coffee on Ko-Fi!