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 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 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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Review of The Fraud by Barbara Ewing – 5 Stars

The FraudThe Fraud by Barbara Ewing

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I actually finished this book a few weeks ago but hadn’t found the time to write the review. I am now really glad that I had that time for reflection as it has actually increased my liking of the book and appreciate some of the world captured in these pages the more. Let me explain…

The premise of this book primarily is about a brother (Phillip) and sister (Grace) who despite being from a noble family find themselves going through financial hardships at a very young age and decide to re-establish themselves. The family has a talent – art. Phillip being a young man is invited to join a merchant ship and tour Europe, whilst his younger sister Grace is sent to a workhouse. Several years pass when Phillip returns for Grace having cast aside the tainted English family name he has reinvented himself as Filipo an artist from Florence and invites Grace to join him by running his house in London disguised as his Italian sister Francesca. Francesca agrees, desperate to escape the workhouse but soon regrets her decision when her brother quashes her dreams of becoming an artist in her own right. How far will she go to see her own dreams fulfilled?

The settings of this book are primarily around London (although a slight inclusion of Bristol and Amsterdam are also featured). The author really does a great job to capture the hustle and bustle of the Georgian streets of London with the market, crowds, cockfighting, pickpockets and prostitution all woven cleverly into the storyline.

The Fraud Cover

The Cover of the Edition I purchased.

Whilst I wasn’t overjoyed with Grace/Francesca as a character during the reading of the novel. She certainly left an afterthought with me. Her single goal in life was to be recognised as an artist in her own right. After finishing the book this struck a chord with me. Despite (many) years ago studying Graphic Design which includes Art History as a module, I struggle to name many historic female artists. The author captured this lacking in society so well in the book, that inequality throughout life, that Grace’s fighting spirit almost becomes a shining example (despite the decisions and frauds she makes to try to achieve her dream).

It is worth mentioning here something which can appear a little confusing in the book is the writing style of the author. The story is told in the third person (e.g. Francesca does this, Fillip says that) but then in chapter six the author switches to first person (e.g. I did this, I said that) and zooms right into Grace’s storyline, this alternates to the end of the book. Whilst originally I found this switching slowed the pace of the book a little, I really enjoyed the ending which brings some of the reasoning behind this storytelling method to light, so I guess I am saying stick with it. Here is a brief extract of the author’s writing style.

“I took off all my clothes; I was shaking slightly and I told myself not to be so foolish and I looked in the mirror, at my naked body, never in my life had I looked at it in a mirror before and I could hardly bear to look at it now for the dirt and shame of what it had done – but it had arms and legs like the statue in Philip’s studio, and it was the body of a woman.
I took a deep breath, I picked up a piece of charcoal, and I began drawing myself.”

As a woman, I find this paragraph quite empowering.
One of the best things about this novel was that there was no obvious plotting. I did not know what would happen next and as an avid reader, it is rare that this is the case. Our heroine was certainly flawed and there were a fair few bad guys hanging about still I had no idea if and when they would get their comeuppance or if it was even viable for our heroine to get a happy ending. This more than encouraged me to keep turning those pages.
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Review of The Bloody Chamber by Angela Carter – 5 Stars

The Bloody Chamber and Other StoriesThe Bloody Chamber and Other Stories by Angela Carter

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I feel like I am very late to the party having only just discovered Angela Carter but in case I’m not here is my review of The Bloody Chamber.

Firstly, wow! The writing in this book is incredible. Here is a brief extract to show you what I mean:

“When they saw the white bride leap out of the tombstones and scamper off toward the castle with the werewolf stumbling after, the peasants thought the Duke’s dearest victim had come back to take matters into her own hands. They ran screaming from the presence of a ghostly vengeance on him. Poor, wounded thing.”

Powerful stuff in just a few short lines. Angela Carter has a really unique writing style that makes the words appear both like a great literature piece that you feel smart reading and at the same time quite humble and absorbing so that the stories are approachable to the everyday reader.

Anyway, back to the book itself. It is split into ten short stories. Several of these are re-tellings of recognised classics. If anyone has ever read the “original” Grimm stories (for example in the original Grimm version Cinderella’s sisters cut off their toes to try to make them fit the slipper), Carters tales are like this only much much darker. The Snow Child (re-telling of Snow White) was particularly shocking and striking and stuck with me long after I finished the book (not quite giving me nightmares, but not far from it).

I know this isn’t a part of a normal review (never judge a book by its cover and all that) but I must add the cover of this book is particularly beautiful. It feels like an old-fashioned storybook and the black and red imagery really draw the eye.

The Bloody Chamber Cover

My copy of the book.

If you are intrigued by all the hype around Angela Carter then this really is a fantastic book to get you going. Although not for the faint-hearted. This really is a smart, intriguing and beguiling collection of stories.

Enjoy! 🙂

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Review of The Mesmerist by Barbara Ewing – 5 Stars

The Mesmerist (The Mesmerist, #1)The Mesmerist by Barbara Ewing

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book has several stories concealed within its pages all delicately woven together to make the reader turn the pages.

The origins of the story begin with two sisters, Hester and Kitty Preston, who run away from home at a young age. Hester and Kitty soon find work as actresses but an accident occurs and Hester damages her knee. They hear of a mesmerist in town and on visiting him Hester is soon walking much better. Hester begs him to teach her his skills and in time she soon becomes more famous than he is.

The story then follows Cordelia (Kitty’s daughter/ Hester’s niece) through unfortunate circumstances becomes poor and desperate, so decides to try her hand at her aunt’s old profession. With her best friend Rillie by her side, they soon start to pull it off. As is usually the case, the past can’t stay buried and secrets and lies soon come back to haunt Cordelia and the new life she has created.

I must say this is the first Barbara Ewing book I have read and it pulled me in hook, line and sinker. Her writing style is superb, it’s easy to read, not boringly overly descriptive like some historical fiction novels are (although it captures plenty of historical contexts) and it keeps the story moving at a great pace. Even the historic speech is quick-flowing and direct. Here is an example extract:

“’Lord Ellis regrets, Miss Preston…’
She looked at him in surprise. ‘Please do not address me as Miss Preston. I am Lady Ellis.’
‘I am afraid you are not, Miss Preston. The-ah-marriage ceremony in the chapel all those years past was conducted by-a friend. It was a jest.’
‘A jest?’
‘Ah – no – perhaps that is not the word. But it was not legal or binding.’ He sniffed. ‘You are not, and never have been, Lady Ellis.’

Whilst initially I wasn’t over-enamoured with the character Cordelia, through her hardship and her plight I really did grow to adore her and root for her. Her best friend Rillie was a wonderful character who brought such a human element to the story. Everyone would want a best friend like her. Cordelia’s strong spirit is truly backed by Rillie’s motivation and belief in her to do well.

The settings in this book tended mostly to be various squares and theatres around Victorian London and I think the author does a great job of capturing these (particularly the hardships of being female in these settings) without overly labouring the descriptions.

This novel took so many twists and turns I did not know what way it would turn out. As a reader, I love this feeling and nothing makes me turn the page more.

A fantastic novelist! Cannot wait to read many more of her works.

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