The Witching Hour by Elizabeth Laird

Title: The Witching Hour
Author: Elizabeth Laird
Genre: Young Adult (Historical)
Source: Library/ Review copy
Hardcover: 432 pages
Publisher: Macmillan Children’s Books (1 May 2009)
Set in: Scotland
Rating: 4 out of 5

My Thoughts:

I picked this book because I love reading anything and everything about witches and witch trials. Also it’s set in 17th century Scotland which is just icing on the cake. The Witching Hour is not about witches or witch trials entirely though. It’s about a girl called Maggie who lives on the Isle of Bute with her grandmother who is bitter and angry with life and all that fate has done to her. She can’t help but turn all the hate on the neighbors and the people around her. When one of the new-born dies, his father accuses Maggie’s grandmother of witchcraft and since most of the people don’t have very high opinion of her, she is branded as a witch and burned. Maggie would have been burned too if not for Tam, a family friend.

Maggie manages to run away to her dead father’s brother who lives with his family in Ladymuir. Although he welcomes Maggie in his house and family he has his own problems to deal with. It’s the time when the King wants to replace God in the churches of Scotland and establish himself as the supreme leader. But many people, including her uncle’s family, is opposed to it. They have their secret meetings and sermons. When the King’s men arrest people from the town who have not been co-operating with the King, all hell breaks loose. Maggie has to leave her safe heaven and embark on a journey and put everything she has on risk.

There are a lot of things I loved about this book. First and foremost is the setting. The author Elizabeth Laird describes the time and the place so beautifully that you can’t help feel like you’re actually there experiencing it all with Maggie. I loved the Island of Bute and loved traveling with Maggie across Scotland. It’s as good as it gets where traveling via fiction is considered. I also loved Maggie and how she learned from the mistakes her grandmother made, and how even though she necessarily wasn’t always righteous, she had a good and brave heart.

I learned a lot of things about Scotland that I didn’t know before and although I don’t really understand all the religious details and intricacies, I had a good time getting immersed in the story of Maggie. It’s a Young Adult book but it’s also a book which adults can enjoy thoroughly. The Witching Hour goes way beyond a teenage girl’s story.

The only thing I didn’t like about the book was the length. There were a few dry spots in it and I guess it would have worked best if the book was cut short by a few pages. But other than that I heartily recommend this book.

Note: The Witching Hour is releasing in the U.S as The Betrayal of Maggie Blair in April 2011.

Selkie Girl by Laurie Brooks

Title: Selkie Girl
Author: Laurie Brooks
Genre: Fantasy, Young Adult
Reading level: Young Adult
Hardcover: 272 pages
Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers; First Edition edition (October 14, 2008)
Source: Library
Setting: Shapinsay (Orkney Islands), Scotland
Rating: 4 out of 5

My thoughts:
Selkie Girl is a story set in Shapinsay Island which is one of the Orkney Islands off the north coast of mainland Scotland. This story is inspired by Selkie legends where a Selkie is a creature that is half human and half Seal.

Elin Jean has always felt like an outcast in her village. She has fingers which are connected by thin webs that make her the object of ridicule in the village. She spends most of her time in isolation seeking solace from the Ocean. She lives with her parents and her grandfather. But no one has ever been open to her about why she is so different from the others.

She would come to know in time, yes, but it will change her life, turn it upside down and will lead her on a journey into the unknown. She will have to find a purpose and a place to belong.

Selkie Girl is a magical book. The setting is beautiful and mythical. Laurie Brooks writing creates an imagery so vivid that you can feel and imagine the vastness of the ocean, the horror of the seals fate, the beauty of the land and Elin Jean’s struggle to belong either on land or in the sea. The author has taken the Selkie legend and turned it into something else.

I could give you one example of the beautiful writing here:

Here is a roaring power to be reckoned with, this channel where the North Sea meets the mighty Atlantic. At odds with each other, the two bodies collide, churning into waves that can rise to forty feet. As change-able as the weather that reigns over it, the channel rests, mild as a newborn lamb, until the wind shifts it into raging tides that can catch the most experienced sailor unawares. And in a storm, the waves stretch as tall as mountains, white peaks battling for domain over the waterway. Even the thought of these storms humbles the others. What the sea gives up, it must take away, they say. And the truth of those words is born of bitter experience. Each year families lose fishermen to the sea, gobbles up in the wild storms, bodies lost forever beneath the tides.

And although the writing is beautiful, it can be a bit too wordy at times.

Grandpa blows rings of smoke, one inside the next. He sends the ovals toward the ceiling, and they follow willingly until they collide with the lingering haze from the cooking fire above and their perfect circles distort and disappear.

The first half was a bit slow for me but I raced through the second half not wanting to finish the book but also wanting to know what happens. Again a Young Adult book that can easily be a crossover.

Having said the above, I believe I have reasons for loving this book more than I expect others to. I LOVE the ocean and that’s probably why I could understand the endless pages describing Elin Jean’s pull to the ocean, her reasons being different than mine though. I love books set in lush, green surroundings, if it’s an island it’s a plus, if the island is in Scotland or Ireland, even better. And finally, I love books based on legends, myths or fairy tales. All I want to say is that these are also some of the factors that have lead me to like this book. That’s all.

P.S: I kind of hate the cover.