What’s Melody Reading? Half Bad Trilogy by Sally Green

My daughter Melody and I have been reading The Half Bad trilogy.  A young adult fantasy that began in 2014 and is set in modern-day Europe, mainly in Britain, where witches and humans (fains) live together. White Witches and Fains live in a strained peace together. However, the Black Witches are outcasts. The 17-year-old protagonist, Nathan, is half -White Witch and half-Black Witch.

*bisexual content.

*it is a tear-jerker of an ending.

More than a story about witches. It’s a heart-achingly visceral look at survival and exploitation, the nature of good and evil, and the risks we take for love.

Melody Falcon

Two warring factions of witches live amongst humans. It may not be that original, but it certainly is exhilarating. The ‘Hunt’ is animated and thrilling to read. Nathan is an abomination, a half-code, not to be confused with half-bloods who are half-witch, half-human. Nathan is the illegitimate son of the world’s most terrifying and violent witch, Marcus. The twist being Nathan’s only hope for survival is to escape his captors, track down Marcus, and receive the three gifts that will bring him into his own magical powers before his blood kills him. Knowing the good guys from the bad guys is very tricky in this story, and you feel how Nathan’s whirlwind life could drive a person crazy. With constant thrills and drama, this is a brilliant novel, if not a bit adult in some themes of relationships, family and lovers. Also, don’t expect magic even though we have witches. This is not Harry Potter!

Half Wild: Nathan has his father’s ring, the Hunter bullet removed from his flesh, and his life. With three gifts received, Nathan is hunted from all sides, nowhere is safe, and no one can be trusted. Sounds thrilling but wait, we are for the first few chapters trying to find and save Annalise. “Oh, please save the blonde-haired, blue-eyed, white chick who’s landed herself in some kind of magical coma.” yes, I’m being sarcastic. It’s like Disney’s Sleeping Beauty, Nathan’s dreams of Annalise, of touching her, exchanging bland conversation, staring at her skin-coloured skin! [“Her skin is soft and skin-coloured.”] She is white. So what if I’m not? Should I be to read this novel? Accidental racist faux pas to one side; Character deaths! There are lots of folks being ended, and some major ones too. So, not just running around in the woods being confused in love. It took Nathan long enough.

Half Lost: The Alliance of Free Witches’ greatest weapon is dead. The mighty Marcus is robbed of his heart, and his body is left in the wilderness. Nathan is, as always it may seem, on the run. Forced to consume his father’s heart, he is out for revenge. But wait, first, he must learn to master the powerful new gifts absorbed from Marcus. The decimated Alliance’s only hope for survival is Nathan. Nathan’s only chance of defeating Wallend and Soul and their army of Hunters is to find the reclusive black witch Ledger so that he might reclaim the other half of a valuable treasure which may make him invincible. What a rollercoaster! This totally makes up for the messing about at the start of Half Wild. Green has cleaned up the hunt and made clear the motivations of each character. I screamed, I cried and bit my nails. Confession; there were things set up in the previous books that I didn’t even realise until Green resolves them here. The back-and-forth, loss and gain, as neither side will back down chapter after chapter, makes this unputdownable. Just when I dared to breathe a sigh of relief at the pace of adventure, I was left sobbing at the end.

 Netflix announced a TV adaptation which was released on 28th October 2022 as “The Bastard Son & The Devil Himself.”

What’s Sera reading? Cari Mora by Thomas Harris

 A story of evil, greed, and hidden pasts. This one is more of a crime thriller than a horror. Famous for the character Hannibal Lecter, Harris is usually putting his readers through gore and hopeless risky battles with a killer.

Caridad “Cari” Mora is a refugee. She has escaped Colombia, and her history of involvement in FARC [Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia] as a teenager has her trying to evade the authorities and ICE’s radar. Cari now lives in Miami Beach under temporary protected status. Working odd jobs, her favourite being wildlife rehabilitation at Pelican Harbor Seabird Station. Cari is housesitting a house once owned by the notorious Pablo Escobar. Two crime gangs are looking for the $25 million hidden somewhere in that house.

A plot line anchored in contemporary pop culture from a legendary writer should be a recipe for success. However, the story doesn’t feel fully fleshed out. (no pun intended) so much more was going on that Harris seems to have edited out. The story is more like an episode of Cari Mora than the film. This is a massive shame as Cari is a strong female character who I absolutely love; she is a skilled and triumphant survivor. The villain is great ‘bad guy’ material. He has that mindset of a ‘born criminal’ and sadistic psychopath whose dark obsession becomes his cause of death, almost poetic. But I was left wanting more information.

For folks not so familiar with Harris, this is a great book to wet your pallet with and give you the feel for the type of story Harris is most famous for. But for ‘Silence of the Lambs’ and ‘Red Dragon’ fans, this just isn’t enough…

…(Well, maybe the salt-water crocodile moment is)

What’s Sera Reading? The Travelling Bag by Susan Hill

Susan Hill was born in Scarborough, North Yorkshire, in 1942. She is a highly decorated author of several genres, but her favourite is always ghost stories. She has written over 55 books in several genres, including the ghost story THE WOMAN IN BLACK. The stage adaption is still running in London’s West End after 25 years. I’M THE KING OF THE CASTLE has been a GCSE set text for over 10 years.

The Travelling Bag And Other Ghostly Stories was initially a 2016 collection of four short stories. The 2017 paperback edition, which we have at Stourport Library, included a fifth story, ‘Printer’s Devil Court’.

The collection of short stories all have the setting and content of dark and menacing but not gruesome Hill likes to sneak into your uneasy feelings and draw them out. ‘The Travelling Bag. is a classic victorian ghost story. It’s the revenge of genius and fear of moths. (my sister would agree moths are creepy) narrated by a detective who concentrates on the travelling bag brought to him by a widow and finds the truth about the bag and its winged contents. In ‘Boy 21’, it’s the loneliness and the sense of the unwanted or rejected that causes the oddness. A lonely boy finds a friend, but years later, the odd friendship has the man questioning his sanity. ‘Alice Baker’ is the odd one out for me. I love the description and tone. The smells of death and decay around her, the foreboding, but it ends all too quickly and not fully unravelled. ‘The front room follows the slightly more modern family drama haunting 1950s suburbia. I love how much we, the reader, are drawn into hating the character of stepmother Solange. The sinister way she draws on the energy of the children, much like she did to Norman’s Father. I don’t mind the giggle at the Sunday sermon being taken a bit too literally. Finally, the ‘Printer’s Devil Court’ tale is creepy and tense. It has the feel you get from an old Hammer House of Horror movie. The raising of Lazarus has been debated in science before, and I love this version of collecting the final breath to give to another person to prevent them from dying completely. The consequences undoubtedly pursue one of them to the grave – and perhaps beyond.

In all, this is a beautiful collection of stories and a great way to be introduced into the occult/ghostly genre. They are quick and easy to read, you won’t be disappointed.

What is Sera Reading? The Facemaker By Lindsay Fitzharris

Lindsay Fitzharris with her copy at the UK Launch. Old Operating Theatre in central London. May 25 2022.

Sera with Stourport’s copy of The Facemaker.

“In France, they were called les gueules cassées (the broken faces), while in Germany they were commonly described as das Gesichts entstellten (twisted faces) or Menschen ohne Gesicht (men without faces). In Britain, they were known simply as the “Loneliest of Tommies”—the most tragic of all war victims—strangers even to themselves.”

The Facemaker

My Review

Fitzharris is a medical historian but also a truly accomplished writer. There is a lot of information and facts in this book, but thankfully, Fitzharris knows the strength of a well-told narrative. Hardcore History readers’ comments say that the additional WW1 history is distracting in a book focused on such a narrow subject. [Not as narrow as you might think] The accomplishments and the pioneering techniques made during that time in surgery are not just talked about but shown against the staggering advancements in warfare. “The science of healing stood baffled before the science of destroying.”  These are not the only comparisons made, nor are doctors from other nations ignored for their efforts, influences and inspirations. Dentistry is shown in a new light, as we now have so much access to dental hygiene we forget how new the treatment is. More than just WW1, history plays a part in how this is miraculous and complicated. Fitzharris also goes on to tell us how plastic surgery went on to become so much more, but also, its partner, cosmetic surgery, grew out of need. Fantastic quotes from varied sources help to solidify the evidence. Yet, the best part of this book is hearing first-hand from soldiers’ accounts and their lives during and after treatment. For me, the closeness to the living subjects was the most brilliant read. The injured had so much to deal with; for those who survived, the chances of being welcomed back into society were slender. How Gillies did more than just treat a man’s injury but also his whole person. The importance of personal care that he instilled in his team, including the nurses, cleaners and artists, is a true testament to the greatness of this doctor. We can easily forget what we are handling when we talk and work with other people. The uniqueness and personality of a man or woman is that personal expression of self; it’s extremely valuable to us and society. So much of what we communicate is not verbal but in the way we move or look at each other.

Harold Gillies was an ENT (ear, nose and throat) surgeon, and he volunteered to go over with the British Red Cross when the war broke out. He was introduced to facial reconstruction on the western front by a really amazing character called Charles Valadier. He was a French-American dentist who retrofitted his Rolls Royce with a dental chair and drove it to the show under a hail of bullets; I mean, he was an absolute legend.

So Gillies went back to Britain and petitioned to open his own speciality facial reconstruction unit at the Cambridge Military Hospital in Aldershot, and that’s how it all began. Eventually, he was so overwhelmed by the number of men needing his help that in 1917 he opened the Queen’s Hospital, which later became Queen Mary’s Hospital, in Sidcup – a hospital dedicated to facial reconstruction.

This was when losing a limb made you a hero, but losing face made you a monster to a society that was primarily intolerant to facial differences. Whereas a prosthetic limb doesn’t necessarily need to look like the arm or leg it’s replacing, a face is an entirely different matter.

Anna Coleman Ladd fits a disfigured soldier with a mask. Although Gillies disliked masks, he recognised their importance in the recovery process (Photo taken from the book)

The masks were non-surgical solutions created by artists like the sculptor Anna Coleman Ladd, who worked out of a studio in Paris. Sidcup hospital also had a mask-making studio. These masks were all unique pieces of one-off art. When you look at them, it seems almost like a human face. But you have to remember that they are still unmovable. If you were sitting in front of someone wearing one of these masks, it could be a bit unsettling because the masks were expressionless; they couldn’t operate like a face. They were also very uncomfortable to wear, fragile, and didn’t age with the patient. So long term, they weren’t really a solution. Gillies hated them because the masks reminded him of the limitations of what he was doing surgically. However, he sometimes advised recovering patients that they might want to wear masks to go out into society and not be stared at. Time was tricky; it could take more than a decade to rebuild a soldier’s face.

Above: Sergeant Marsden suffered burns to his face and hands after a shell blast. His skin was left entirely blackened by the heat of the explosion. But these photographs, taken between June 22, 1916, and September 7, 1916, show the speed of his face’s complete recovery.

Some Flash Facts Facing Facial Reconstruction Surgery (Plastic Surgery) in History.

  • The term “plastic surgery” was coined in 1798. At that time, plastic meant something you could mould and shape – in this instance, a patient’s skin or soft tissue.
  • Rhinoplasty [reconstructing the nose] is one of the oldest surgical procedures on record, dating back to around 600 BC. 
  • Disfigurement has been strongly associated with shame because of its association with disease. Syphilis, which ravaged much of the world for centuries, caused “saddle nose”, where the nose would cave in. People associated syphilis – and the disfigurement it caused – with a moral failing.
  • During World War I, patients with facial injuries had to sit on unique benches painted blue when they went out so that people knew not to look at them.
  • During the Napoleonic War, there was a widespread practice of comrades killing any facially disfigured battle mates, “mercy killings”, to save them from later shame or ostracism.
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