Review of The Bell Tower By Sarah Rayne (Nell West #6) – 4 Stars

The Bell Tower: A Haunted House Mystery (Nell West/Michael Flint, #6)The Bell Tower: A Haunted House Mystery by Sarah Rayne

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This novel continues as entry #6 in the Nell West series and we catch up with Nell and Michael a little after the events of “Deadlight Hall”. In this story, Nell returns as the primary character with Michael returning to the secondary research investigation role. I really enjoyed the author’s ability to switch back and forth making two strong protagonists, that’s strengths differ and keep the series fresh and alive. Returning to Nell’s perspective as a primary character gave this story a new refreshing take and also allowed Nell as a character to really develop more. It was also interesting that Nell’s daughter Beth featured a bit more in this story and is a little more grown up in this book. Great use of character progression.

In this story, Nell has bought the shop next door and is working on and extension. When some old plaster is removed Nell finds a hidden message on the wall referring to someone called Thaisa. This leads Neil on a chain of discovery where she uncovers a link with a village in Dorset (where her daughter is holidaying this summer), a mysterious piece of music called Thaisia’s song and a derelict bell tower with a silenced bell. The story is told from a variety of historical sources and also from the view of an old woman living the life of a recluse. She is desperate to protect her family’s secrets at all costs.

As with all Sarah Rayne books, her plotting is brilliant, she lays many, many, threads for the reader to follow and then brilliantly weaves them all together. It did take me a little longer than normal to get into this book. I think there was a little less mystery than others in this series and this was quite a dark storyline. I do like that Rayne still experiments in her writing and tries out many characters’ viewpoints.
I think Rayne has done a great job of developing Michael and Nell’s personal relationship too. For returning readers it is handled very well and the progression can be seen, but it’s also not distracting and confusing for first-time readers. For those that haven’t discovered the Nell West collection, I would suggest these novels are quite similarly written to Phil Rickman’s work; old story exposed, great characters and slightly eerie. The books are well written and well plotted and the historical details are always interesting.
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Review of Deadlight Hall by Sarah Rayne (Nell West #5) – 5 Stars

Deadlight Hall (Nell West/Michael Flint #5)Deadlight Hall by Sarah Rayne

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This novel continues as entry #5 in the Nell West series and we catch up with Nell and Michael a little after the events of “The Whispering”. In this story, Michael takes the forefront of the strange circumstances with Nell becoming more of the second character and completing the secondary research investigation role. I really enjoyed the author’s ability to switch back and forth making two strong protagonists, that’s strengths differ and keep the series fresh and alive.

In this novel, Rayne also continues along the war theme, this time it is Nazi Germany that is the focus. To be honest the book blurb captures the essence of this story better than I could word it: Leo Rosendale’s childhood was blighted by a macabre tragedy in the grim Deadlight Hall – twin girls vanished, their fate never discovered. What took place there, one long-ago midnight? Michael and his fiancée Nell are unprepared for the shocking truth.

The historical sections of this novel really stand out, very well researched and enjoyable. The novel takes us through various histories of Deadlight hall from the 1870s, the 1940s war evacuation, and then into modern times. The story from Leo’s childhood being the most dramatic of the three storylines. I absolutely love the description of the old house and the wartime era, rules and superstitions captured in this novel really made the storyline vivid.

I think Rayne has done a great job of developing Michael and Nell’s personal relationship too. For returning readers it is handled very well and the progression can be seen, but it’s also not distracting and confusing for first-time readers. Although I would recommend reading the series in order, I think the users could read out of order without too much of a worry. For those that haven’t discovered the Nell West collection, I would suggest these novels are quite similarly written to Phil Rickman’s work; old story exposed, great characters and slightly eerie.

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Review of The Whispering by Sarah Rayne (Nell West #4) – 5 Stars

The Whispering: A haunted house mysteryThe Whispering: A haunted house mystery by Sarah Rayne

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This novel continues as entry #4 in the Nell West series and we catch up with Nell and Michael a little after the events of “The Silence”. In this story, Michael takes the forefront of the strange circumstances with Nell becoming more of the second character and completing the secondary research investigation role. I really enjoyed this shift of perspective and think it brought some freshness to the Nell West stories.

This story follows Michael visiting a reclusive old lady Luisa Gilmore at Fosse House in Norfolk. After viewing her collection of papers the ill-fated Palestrina choir, a storm hits and Michael is forced to take refuge and stay the night at Fosse House. Something Luisa is not overly keen on him doing. When he spots a young man lurking on the grounds of the house things begin to take an even stranger turn.

The secondary historical storyline for me is more intriguing than the ghostly presence of the modern storyline. There are various historical threads but it mostly follows a young man’s story of the first world war and his discovery of the beautiful Palestrina choir in a Belgium Convent. His desire to free them from the impending forces heading their way.

This young man’s story and all the connecting weaving threads that Rayne puts in are just phenomenal and actually quite beautiful.

The setting of Fosse House and the remote isolation provides all the dark brooding atmosphere required for any ghost story. Yet, Rayne’s description of the war imprisonment camp for me provided the more intriguing settings and all the goings on there made me really root for the characters involved.

This is just a great story. It’s not all dark and ghostly. It’s not all mysterious and menacing. It’s just a really great, enjoyable, intriguing storyline. With lots of odd-shaped puzzle pieces that fit together very well by the time you reach the end.

For those that haven’t discovered the Nell West collection, I would suggest these novels are quite similarly written to Phil Rickman’s work; old story exposed, great characters and slightly eerie. 

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Review of The Silence by Sarah Rayne (Nell West #3)– 4 Stars

The SilenceThe Silence by Sarah Rayne

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Nell West returns in another historical mystery. In this novel Nell is invited to Stilter House to catalogue its contents. Nell takes her daughter Beth along with her as it was Beth’s deceased fathers childhood summer home. Immediately Nell gets entangled in uncovering the past and the truth about the mysterious Isobel Acton.
This story is the third in the Nell West series and differs from the previous Nell West novels in that the historical plot is mostly revealed through the use of old documents, letters, diaries and the odd newspaper cutting. I think this format worked really well and was very intriguing as a reader to follow.
For me, Rayne’s writing really shines during the historical timeline. Edmund and his relationship with his father is brilliantly described and very believable. The characters Jack and Samuel were also really interesting and how each character’s story knitted together was brilliantly tantalising right the way through the story.
As with all Sarah Rayne’s books I have read, the settings and atmosphere are excellently written and the reader can’t help but be absorbed into the dark and mysterious environments.
The only minor downside in this novel was the modern storyline takes a very minimalist approach with Nell only really being there to discover the historic story. I do think Nell and Michael are both really great characters and would have liked a little more of them in this book (particularly Michael who was so interesting in the Sin Eater).
Overall I thoroughly enjoyed this novel. As a few others have mentioned it did take a little longer to get into that previous books by Sarah Rayne but I think that was mostly due to the historic storyline being revealed in a different manner. Once you get into it though, it is really intriguing and I must say I really enjoyed the outcome.
For those that haven’t discovered the Nell West collection, I would suggest these novels are quite similarly written to Phil Rickman’s work; old story exposed, great characters and slightly eerie. 
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Review of The Sin Eater by Sarah Rayne – 5 stars

The Sin EaterThe Sin Eater by Sarah Rayne

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is the second of the Nell West series by Sarah Rayne (Property of a Lady being the first) and whilst they still have the historical fiction and modern day interlinked storylines that Rayne seems to do brilliantly, they aren’t quite as dark and unnerving as her standalone novels (such as House of the Lost). I did make the mistake of not reading the stories in the correct order and whilst this doesn’t detract too much from the story as it’s quite strong on its own, I do wish I had read them in the correct order as I think the character development of Nell and Michael is such a good minor storyline and would have been better to have read it in the correct order.

In the modern storyline we go with antiques dealer Nell to a Large London house. We meet troubled Benedict Doyle who has inherited the house from his great-grandfather. Benedict finds the house the house disturbing and soon finds himself having troubled dreams featuring the previous occupant, but the events he is dreaming about seem so real. When these dream events are revealed to Michael Flint (Oxford Don who featured in the first novel), his interest is piqued and he starts to research the historical facts behind Benedict’s dreams.

The second storyline for me, made this novel and is why I’ve given it five stars. The story follows Declan and Colm whom move from their Irish home to London city and get caught up in a situation and a world that they never expected to find themselves in.

Other reviewers have complained that Rayne’s writing style has changed with the Nell West series and whilst I agree she has reduced a lot of the darker elements of her writing, I think if anything she has increased the mystery elements of these novels. The storylines are very sharp, intricate and clever, this one surrounds a chess piece yet it is so well written you cannot help but get swept up in the storyline.

I also think Rayne’s characters are evolving, in this novel you really feel sorry for Benedict; his mental condition and how he is suffering as he tries to split what is real from what is imaginary. I actually finished this book a little while ago but the story and characters still feel very vivid and I think that is a sign of how well the story has been told.

For those that haven’t discovered the Nell West collection, I would suggest these novels are quite similarly written to Phil Rickman’s work; old story exposed, great characters and slightly eerie.

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Review of Sleeper’s Castle by Barbara Erskine – 5 stars

Sleeper’s CastleSleeper’s Castle by Barbara Erskine

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Andy has been shunned from the home of the man she loved by his estranged wife and seeks somewhere that she can mourn her lost love in peace and begin to put her life back together when her friend offers her Sleeper’s Castle a remote dwelling near the town of Hay it seems like the ideal place. However, Sleeper’s Castle has its own problems and soon through her dreams, Andy becomes caught up in the lives of bard Daffy dap Hywel and his talented daughter Catrin and the part they play in the Welsh Marches rebellion against Henry. Both frightened and addicted to the dreams Andy cannot help returning time and again to the world of Catrin. Soon, Andy finds someone in her present life also means her harm. Both her worlds are now dangerous and threatening, but she is so close to finding out the truth, can she resist the urge to see the story to the end?

This is Barbara Erskine’s second novel set in Hay. Her first one “Lady of Hay” (which recently celebrated its 30th birthday) is one of my all-time favourite books and I would recommend it to everyone to read. The characters just leapt off the page and I immediately got caught up in the historical world. For me, this is Erskine’s signature style; strong and complicated characters who won’t run away from the challenge in front (or should that be behind) of them. It was through reading Erskine’s novels that I fell in love with the historical fiction/time-slip genre.
Sleeper’s Castle doesn’t feel quite as good as those stories. There is very little hint of psychological fears in this book that you find in some of her others such as “House of Shadows”. However, the story-telling is still superb in this book – I just missed these little moments of tension which do appear more vividly in her other books.

I really want to give this book a 4.5 out of 5, as I think there are other books Erskine has written which will outshine this one, but that is probably mostly down to personal enjoyment of the story and if I had read this book on its own without having read her earlier work I would definitely have given it a 5 without concern.

So:
To new readers – this book is excellent and I’m sure you will love it.
To returning readers – this book is excellent and I’m sure you will love it but it doesn’t really feature the darker elements found in Erskine’s other works.

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My visit to Hay Festival 2016 to see Barbara ErskineBarbara Erskine
With 30 years novel-writing experience under her belt, Barbara’s talk was actually really inspiring as a novice writer so I thought I’d share a few of her thoughts on here with you (written from my notes).

Hope you enjoy. KL ❤

The Passage of Kings – #Writephoto

The walls wavered and wobbled before him.

His chest grew tight as his knees grew weak.

His legs felt heavy with each step he took like wading through the bogs of his childhood. His childhood.

Could he really say that when he was just 14 now?

passage-by-sue-vincent
Passage image courtesy of Sue Vincent

 

Yet, it seemed a world away.

He had had a family, a brother, a father, it was all gone now. Now he was a pawn. A chess piece in the most powerful game. The ruling of England.

He was never supposed to be part of this game.

His father should have ruled for many more years.

His brother should never have died.

He should not be king.

Yet, he was all that was left.

Men surrounded him. The most powerful men in the country. They urged him towards the steps.

The very thought made his stomach churn and gurgle.

Once he stepped through there was no going back. Once he stepped through, the coronation would begin.

He’d officially become the king of England.



Originally written in response to Sue Vincents #writephoto – Passage. I hope you enjoy anyway.
Use the image to create a post on your own blog… poetry, prose, humour… by noon (GMT) Wednesday and link back to Sue’s post with a pingback. KL❤

Review of Savage Magic by Lloyd Shepherd – 4 stars

Savage MagicSavage Magic by Lloyd Shepherd

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a historical fiction novel set in Georgian-era Britain. Savage Magic is told from several viewpoints but mainly that of Constable Charles Horton. The book gripped me early on with a brutal and bizarre multiple murder investigation in an aristocratic area of London. Several of London’s elite are found together dead with bizarre masks covering the face, only the room is locked from the inside with no way for an intruder to escape. With plenty of questions but few clues and answers the police are left stumped.

We follow Constable Charles Horton who has travelled to a small village that is surrounded by fear and folklore. Charles has the difficult job of unravelling the truth from the tall tales told at Thorpe Lee House and are the events connected to the brutal killings of aristocracy in London?

Savage magic also follows the story of Abigail (Horton’s wife) who has checked herself into a Hackney Madhouse with the hope of stopping the lady in her head. Instead of escaping the torture Abigail finds herself in the cell next to a woman that seemingly can control the minds of those around her.

In a tale of sweeping madness, can Charles and Abigail believe what is really happening before them and connect the pieces together in this large magical historical puzzle?
Shepherd’s characters really help drive this puzzling story forward. He weaves a lot of themes into this story including madness, murder, remote villages, prostitution, and witchcraft, using his skills to keep the reader guessing.

This is such an unusual novel, I have noticed that it is actually the third from Shepherd with the others featuring some of the same characters but I read it purely as a standalone and it didn’t detract from the story or need background filling in.

I would recommend this book for readers of Phil Rickman or similar. Historical fiction with a hint of other (very big hint in this case). I would also recommend if readers enjoy this type of novel to check out The Witch of Napoli by Michael Schmicker, a great book in this genre.

Summary
The Good – Great plot, unusual story and characters with a great mix of settings too.
The Bad – A little slow in places as other reviewers have said, but overall worth continuing.

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For a quick look at my review for The Witch of Napoli – visit here.

Review of Two Strangers by Beryl Matthews – 4 Stars

Two Strangers: An Historical Saga Set in 1920s LondonTwo Strangers: An Historical Saga Set in 1920s London by Beryl Matthews

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book is set in London after the First World War. Vicki is a troubled teenager who has had a very poor upbringing with a mean father who never wanted a daughter and a continuously pregnant mother who keeps desperately trying to provide the much sought after son. When her father tries to send Vicki to work for an untrustworthy man, Vicki refuses. Her father responds by throwing her out on the streets. Vicki struggles for survival but at the two points when she is lowest she meets two strangers who offer her the much-needed help she needs. These fortunes turn Vicki’s life around and she soon starts to have a life that is better than she ever dreamed possible. Her heart never forgets the kind gestures of the strangers and she sets on a mission to find them.

This book is a really easy read, at quite a slow pace. It’s not a fast-paced high drama kind of book but enough to keep you interested. The story grows and develops along at a steady pace, almost like a diary.

The descriptions of the City in this book are superb. The author really takes you back in time, and captures big city hustle and bustle, with the markets, abandoned warehouses and the traditional barbers all incredibly vivid.

Vicki is a very likeable character, smart but vulnerable, headstrong but humble. She easily pulls you into her world and her quest to find her two strangers. Some of the other characters such as Flo and Alfie are also very heart-warming and you do find yourself hoping everything turns out okay for them all.

This book is very easy to read and is very slow paced. It would suit those that like Linda Page, Jessica Blair, M.L. Gardner or similar.

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It is the Beautiful Bird which gets Caged

There is a Chinese proverb which goes a little like…

Chinese Proverb - beautiful bird gets caged.

…this is where the story begins…

The sounds of the crowds drew her attention first. The excitement, the cheering, it could only mean one thing. The royal party was passing through. Cece pushed out the shop doorway to stand in the street where crowds now aligned each side. She was small framed and fit through the swarms of people to make her way to the front.

As the Royal train approached, she caught her breath, the beauty was beyond words. The musicians announced the approach. The Royal guard arrived first, their heads held high, their uniforms crisp and the horses held strictly in line. As each passed by the crowds pushed further and further forward.

The Royal carriage arrived next with the queen proudly waving from the window. The crowd leant further again. Cici found herself getting crushed, her breath drawing short, she gulped for air. As the carriage passed by the crowd finally gave way but on release Cici fell forward and collapsed to the ground, the rough surface shredding the skin of her arms. A sigh escaped from the crowd, and as Cici sat up cradling her aching arm, strong hands began helping her to her feet. To her astonishment, it was the prince.

“Are you okay?” concern filled his anguished gaze but Cici found her throat completely dry staring into his deep dark green eyes. After a few minutes, silence embarrassment filled her.

“Sorry, yes. Fine thank you.” Cici stammered. As she spoke a guard came towards them and Cici glanced up noticing the royal carriage ahead had also stopped. The queen was staring straight at Cici, her face a mask of fury.

“Sorry miss, we’ll need to move you. Lady Propensus is about to arrive.” Cici rushed to her feet, as the guard spoke. She nodded and made her way from the road back to the crowd. As she did, the prince grabbed her arm and whispered something in her ear. She wasn’t quite sure what it was and the prince walked away then effortlessly swung his body back onto the horse before she could ask him to repeat it, but it sounded like, “I hope to see more of you.” As he turned the horse to ride on, he gave one last wink to Cici, causing her to blush immensely.

As Cici turned to find her way back in amongst the crowd she felt eyes heavy upon her, uneasy she glanced around. Although most eyes, had now moved back to the prince a few gazed upon her, but it was the steely unmoving gaze of the queens stare that had caused the fearful feeling in Cici, turning her blood cold as she pushed her way through the crowd and back to the shop. It was only once inside she heard the queen bark the order for the carriage to move on.

 

Caged image by Sue Vincent.png
Caged photo courtesy of Sue Vincent

 

Several weeks passed and the town was full of excited whispers. No-one saw Cici pickpocket the prince, but the queen swore she had. All of that was forgotten in the frenzied excitement as the prince and his new bride rode down the street. The prince felt the guilt heavy in his stomach. The lady was no looker, not like the fallen beauty who had captured his heart a few weeks before, but the queen had assured him that was not to be his fate and taken care that it never could be. The secret of the innocent beauty was his burden to bear, the only way the queen would grant him his kingdom.



Originally written in response to Sue Vincents #Writephoto challenge – Caged!
Use the image to create a post on your own blog… poetry, prose, humour… by noon (GMT) Wednesday 17th August and link back to Sue’s post with a pingback. KL❤