Review of This House is Haunted by John Boyne – 5 Stars

This House is HauntedThis House is Haunted by John Boyne

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Genre: Horror

This book has been on my to-read pile for a long time and I don’t know what kept making me select others over it but boy do I regret that decision now. This book is brilliant. Such an enjoyable proper ghost story. Without all the gory bells and whistles that seem to fill this genre.

The story is pretty much as the blurb describes, the story follows that of Eliza Caine whose father has recently deceased. Following his death, Eliza accepts the role of governess at Gaudlin Hall. There she meets the remarkable children of Isabella and Eustace who appear to have no mother and no father present in the hall. All around her strange things are happening and Eliza is unsure if it is her own mourning playing on her mind, or the strange new environment or even the supposed orphans. No-one seems to give straight answers even when her life appears to be at risk. I will not give it away but the ending of this book is just superb. A proper old school eerie twist.

I always think it is useful to see an extract of an author’s writing and in this book, there are loads of great bits to choose from but I thought this one is quite interesting as a lot happens in a short space of time:

 

“…that I could stretch out as much as I wanted, and I did so, pleased to feel my aching limbs loosen up as they reached as far as they could, the toes dancing beneath the sheets, a sensation of the most delightful pleasure, until a pair of hands grabbed both my ankles tightly, the fingers pressing sharply against the bone, as they pulled me down into the bed…”

I just want to mention that I love historical fiction novels, this isn’t one but it is set in the past and Boyne does a brilliant job of bringing that Victorian-era world of trains, remote villages, Sunday church services and seaside day trips to life in a really enjoyable format.

John Boyne is probably most known for his book “The Boy in the Striped Pajamas” and it is important to note that this book is nothing like that. It is excellent in its own right and I love that the author has written a very different book.

I have been trying to think of a modern writer whose writing is similar to this, and the only one that really springs to mind is Sarah Rayne. Traditional mystery and macabre type writing with a historic undertone.
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Review of The Case of the Curious Cook by Cathy Ace – 3.5 Stars

The Case of the Curious Cook (WISE Enquiries Agency #3)The Case of the Curious Cook by Cathy Ace

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Review of The Case of the Curious Cook by Cathy Ace – 3.5 Stars

Before you go any further with this book please be aware that it is the third in the series. I picked this up in a store and found the premise intriguing; a book shop that seems to be unknowingly acquiring books, but nowhere on the cover does it mention this apart from the text “A WISE Enquiries Agency Mystery”. Although it is quite an interesting story, I really don’t think this book worked well as a standalone.

As mentioned the premise is really intriguing and in fact it develops nicely to include the story of a brother imprisoned for murdering his sister (both of whom are artists) and a rather questionable old folks home that may be coercing old people to handover their cash to them in their wills. All of this takes place on and around the lovely town of Hay-on-Wye (in Wales), which is a superb setting and well described.

This point probably stems from reading this book as a standalone also, but there just seemed to be far too many characters to keep track of, the duchess, Mavis, Annie, Christine, Carol, the duchess son and daughter, the two book shop owners, the two old folks homes owner, Annie’s love interest (pub landlord), Christine’s love interest (dodgy builder), Carol’s hubby and Son, several old ladies at the old folks’ home, etc, etc (not to mention the pets). For a 197-page book this just seemed so excessive. Perhaps if I had read the first two I would have enjoyed this group of characters more but I found it really confusing and just unnecessary to the story.

However, an important point to make with this book is that the writing is actually really easy to read and flows nicely. I often think it is useful for readers to see a brief extract as they would in a book shop so here is a little passage from the novel:

‘Oh Henry, your face is a picture,’ said the old woman, with a voice he recognized.
‘Mother?’
The woman pulled her wig from her head to reveal his mother’s neatly-trimmed almost-white hair. She took off the specatcles and he saw her twinkling eyes. The brownish lipstick made her look washed out, and the purple floral dress was – well, it made him feel quite bilious.
‘Ta-daa!’ said his mother with a flourish. ‘You truly had no idea it was me, did you dear?’

I would definitely read other works by this author, especially as a light-hearted mystery (something suitable for a holiday read or something). I hope in future editions they make it obvious on the covers the number of the series each book is. This would help the reader make a better assessment.

So in summary my opinion is; it’s a great setting, easy-to-read, interesting concept. It just doesn’t work well as a standalone with a large cast of characters to keep track off.

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Review of Eight Ghosts: The English Heritage Book of New Ghost Stories – 5 Stars

Eight Ghosts: The English Heritage Book of New Ghost StoriesEight Ghosts: The English Heritage Book of New Ghost Stories by Rowan Routh

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book is pretty much as the cover describes, eight authors were given after hours access to eight English Heritage sites to create this new series of ghost stories. The book immediately peaked my interest, I have been an English Heritage member for many years and I am always intrigued by the histories of the properties. I also enjoy a good ghost story, so this book seemed to offer the best of both worlds.

The collection of stories is really quite interesting. Some of the authors chose a historical slant, whilst others chose a more psychological approach, and some even chose alternative histories. All in all a great variety of ghosts. The actual mixture of properties is really interesting too. I would fully recommend York Cold War Bunker to those that haven’t been, this is an easily overly looked site but so interesting with a great guided tour.ghosts-gespenter-spooky-horror-40748.jpeg

The Authors and Locations are as follows:
• Kate Clanchy, Housesteads Roman Fort
• Stuart Evers, Dover Castle
• Mark Haddon, York Cold War Bunker
• Andrew Michael Hurley, Carlisle Castle
• Sarah Perry, Audley End
• Max Porter Eltham Palace
• Kamila Shamsie, Kenilworth Castle
• Jeanette Winterson, Pendennis Castle

There were two stories that really stuck out for me. Mark Haddon’s tale at the York Cold War Bunker was really eerie and so descriptive it felt a little too real (which is only a good thing I think when it comes to ghost stories). Stuart Evers tale from Dover Castle is brilliant and had such an unexpected twist I was kicking myself that I hadn’t seen it coming. There were a couple of stories I didn’t enjoy quite so much but that is the thing about a collection it means there is a bit of something for everyone.

I must say one of my favourite things about this book is the end section entitled “A GAZETTEER OF ENGLISH HERITAGE HAUNTINGS”. This is a collection of hauntings and sightings that have been reported to staff at various locations around the country and makes for a really interesting read. Poor staff! I’m not sure many people would want to continue closing up on a dark night after hearing some of these tales, but they do make for entertaining reading.

I thought this was a great concept and hope English Heritage choose to offer more of these collections. It would be brilliant if they actually opened up late night visits to English Heritage members and invited them to do their own creative writing based on the experience, (maybe with publication of the best entries in the magazine that they send to members). I am sure many would jump at the chance.

Overall a really intriguing collection, the fact that you can visit the locations written about is the cherry on the cake.

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Review of “Pirates” by Celia Rees – 5 Stars

Pirates!Pirates! by Celia Rees

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I know technically Celia Rees is classed as a YA author and after jumping over that thirty hurdle I probably don’t fit that bracket anymore *sigh*. However, that doesn’t stop me enjoying a good book. And Celia Rees certainly knows how to write those, regardless of your age group! Her writing style is just so-damn-readable, she keeps you turning page after page long after you have told yourself a dozen times “just one more page and then I will put it down”.

So, what is ‘Pirates’ all about (apart from Pirates of course)? For me, this book was about determination to decide your own destiny, no matter the obstacles. The story is told by Nancy Kington, a Georgian heiress to her father’s fortune (much aggrieved by her brothers). When her brothers plot against her to marry her off and keep their father’s business and fortune for themselves Nancy has to find a way out. When she finds Minerva, her friend and slave, being assaulted Nancy accidentally kills the attacker. So with many reasons to go and few to stay the girls make their way into the worlds of piracy.Pirates Cover

The easily forgettable and incredible thing about this tale is it is actually based on a true story. Minerva Sharpe and Nancy Kington were real people. I think the author portrays a real homage to them in this book and it is clear that they spent a lot of time learning and researching both the pirate’s lives and the time period.

As mentioned above, I really enjoyed the authors writing style. It is very clear, yet very emotive. I quite like the extract below:

 

“I’d be the one to decide what was, and was not, to do with me. I felt anger growing inside me, fuelled by all the things I’d seen since I came to this beautiful blighted country. I felt it bloom into fury as I brought the candle round to see what he had done. The scars on her back were not new. Fresh stripes glistened in long streaking criss-cross patterns across a back where the flesh was ruched into sharp ridged peaks so rucked and buckled that it no longer resembled flesh at all.”

This moment is one of my favourites in the book, it is an empowering moment for Nancy to find her inner strength and confront those that do her wrong. Although Nancy has peaks and troughs of confidence throughout the book, when she finds her moments of strength as the reader you think “Yes, go on girl, show them what you are made of!”

Pirates - internal image

Internal Pages from the book: Pirates

I really enjoyed this book and will certainly look out for more of this authors work. Empowering, engaging and entertaining story with swashbuckling thrown into the mix – what more could you want?!

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Review of The Oxford Murders by Guillermo Martinez – 4 stars.

The Oxford MurdersThe Oxford Murders by Guillermo Martínez

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Firstly, I am surprised this book I only 3 stars on Goodreads. There is very little to dislike about this book. It is a strange mix of mystery and mathematics which may seem a little heavy going at first (but stick with it people), you soon get loads of twists and turns that will keep you guessing all the way through which for me is the best bit about a mystery novel.

This story follows a young mathematician who having won a scholarship has relocated to Oxford. Soon after his arrival, his landlady ends up dead from a suspicious death. When he meets Arthur Seldom a mathematical hero who was a close family friend of the deceased he is immediately in awe and the two start to work out the murder as if it were a mathematical puzzle. When more murders happen close to Seldom it appears the killer may be targeting him, testing just how clever he is and testing if he can solve the murders before someone else dies.

sherlock

I do agree at times this book is a little maths heavy with multiple theories flying around. I didn’t dislike this and found it quite similar to Sherlock Holmes logic puzzle with Moriarty always one step ahead. Smart, questioning, quick-paced writing which makes this book irresistible to put down.

For what it is worth I absolutely loved the hospital Buzzati theory about the floors circling down to death. I have no idea if this is a real thing or made up for the book but it was very clever. If you go on to read the book I am sure this bit will stand out to you. The book is written with a rather formal writing style (possibly to exaggerate that the narrator is not English-born?), but the writing is still quick flowing.

 

 

“Now that the police have been informed? I don’t know. I suppose he’ll try to be more careful next time.’
‘You mean, another murder that no-one will see as a murder?’
‘That’s right,’ said Seldom, almost to himself. ‘Exactly. Murders that no one sees as murders. I think I’m starting to see now: imperceptible murders.’
We were silent for a moment.”

Overall this book is an intellectual thriller that will appeal to those who like logic puzzles. Fast-paced, clever narrative, interesting characters, all with the beautiful Oxford backdrop.
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Review of The Winter Ghosts by Kate Mosse – 3 Stars

The Winter GhostsThe Winter Ghosts by Kate Mosse

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Most people will like Kate Mosse from her novel Labyrinth and whilst I loved that novel I must admit this one didn’t wow me. For a start the majority of people that see ghost in a book title and the tagline “Do you believe in ghosts?” will possibly feel a little cheated. So, this is your warning, the ghost element of this book is pretty lacking. There is certainly no fear factor and limited ‘ghostly’ atmosphere (in my opinion).

However, the story isn’t bad. Young guy, grieving, previous mental breakdown, crashes in a snowstorm in the Pyrenees mountains. Gets rescued and taken to an isolated village where everything is not quite as it seems. Not to mention mysterious caves in the mountains that haven’t been accessed for a number of years. Sounds good right?

The Winter Ghosts - cover

The cover from my copy

So, trying to figure out why I didn’t love this story, I think there were a couple of reasons:

  • The writing was very slow. It felt like the reader had to wade through several pages to mine a nugget of story out. In fact, the book could probably have been a fair bit shorter and would have been much better for it.
  • The novel was full of melancholy and there were very few areas of light to be found in the pages.
  • There was no wow factor. I kept waiting for something unpredictable, some kind of plot twist, something I’d overlooked to come back to light, but it never arrived. That very thing that keeps you reading just never happened so it left me feeling a little deflated and unrewarded as I had ploughed my way through the book to the end.

I didn’t give this a 1 star, so here is what I liked about the book.

  • The time hop between 14th century period with Cathars/fear and the 20th century with the after-effects of the world war/grief storyline was nicely handled between the two periods.

 

  • The location was brilliantly described and intriguing. Isolated villages, snow-covered mountain and unexplored caves. It’s really made me want to visit the region.
  • The story behind The Winter Ghosts is really insightful and describes what inspired Mosse. I am quite intrigued by a couple of un-reads on her suggested reading list.The Winter Ghosts - suggested reading

Overall, not great but not bad either.
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The Winter Ghosts behind the scenes

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Review of Orange is the New Black by Piper Kerman – 5 stars.

Orange Is the New BlackOrange Is the New Black by Piper Kerman

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Like everyone else that comes across this book these days, the main reason I was attracted to it is that I love the TV series. However, it is important to note this book is not like the show. The TV series primary function is entertainment mainly in the form of humour. This book is a memoir, therefore like life, there is some humour but a fair whack of heartbreak and struggle too.

I really wish I had read the book before I watched the series as I did find little bits distracting, my mind drifting off on its own wondering such things as I wonder if Pop is the character Red in the tv series (I am pretty sure the answer is yes btw, feel free to let me know otherwise XD). This being said – the book is brilliant.

So, what’s it about. Piper Kerman, at twenty-something, gets bored of her plain white life ends up shacking up with a woman who works as a drug runner. Naively she underestimates the seriousness of this until a time she is asked to carry cash for the drugs trade. Not long after Piper gets out of the relationship (and the business) but as is usually the case her past catches up with her many years later when she is living a quiet comfortable life with her devoted boyfriend Larry. When she ends up with a custodial sentence her world becomes a very different place and Kerman recalls the stories of the women who help her see her prison time through.

I often think it’s useful to see an extract of a book to get an idea of the writing style. Even more important for a memoir as you are committing to read someone’s life and if it’s droll you will soon lose interest. Kerman’s voice is very readable, here is a brief section which I think is a beauty:

“I never understood why laundry soup was the one free thing provided to us (other than toilet paper rations, which were passed out once a week, and the sanitary napkins and tampons stocked in the bathroom). Laundry soap was sold on commissary; some women would buy Tide and give away their eight free soap packets to others who had nothing. Why not soap to clean your body? Why not toothpaste? Somewhere within the monstrous bureaucracy of the Bureau of Prisons, this all made sense to someone.”

I learned a lot reading this book. For example; Kerman was sentenced on a US drug conspiracy charge so her sentence was based on the total amount of drugs involved in the operation, not her small role in it. A stark warning for anyone in the trade.

So, all in this is a pretty great book. Really it’s a story about staying strong and about appreciating the inner strengths of others too. Everyone has their own battles, strengths, weaknesses, secrets and successes. Kerman captures such a variety of those beautifully and writes about them with both empathy and respect.

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