Review of The Greatcoat by Helen Dunmore – 3.5 Stars

The GreatcoatThe Greatcoat by Helen Dunmore
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Set in 1954, newlywed Isabel Carey arrives in a Yorkshire town with her husband Philip. As a GP he spends much of his time working, while Isabel tries hard to adjust to the realities of married life. Life is not easy: she feels out-of-place and constantly judged by the people around her, so she spends much of her time alone.

One cold winter night, Isabel finds an old RAF greatcoat in the back of a cupboard that she uses to help keep warm. Once wrapped in the coat she is beset by dreams. Soon after Isabel is startled to hear a knock at her window by a young Air Force pilot, named Alec. His haunting presence both disturbs and excites Isabel. Her initial alarm soon fades, and they begin a delicious affair. As she learns more about Alec (and herself in the process) she seems to be uncovering a past secret that has lain dormant for many years.

I didn’t hate this book but I didn’t love it either. I think that is partly due to all the reviews and hype around it “A terrifyingly atmospheric ghost story by the Orange-prize-winning Helen Dunmore”, “A perfect ghost story”, “The most elegant flesh-creeper since The Woman in Black” was what I had heard/read about this book. For me it just didn’t really live up to the hype.

So, trying to figure out why I didn’t love this story, I think there were a couple of reasons:
• The novel was full of melancholy and there were very few areas of light to be found in the pages. I understand that the job of a novel in this genre is to make it dark and brooding but there is very little contrast.
• 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.
• Isabel the main character is really uninteresting. It felt like she spent most of her time wallowing in self-pity, then we are supposed to turn a blind eye as she willingly starts an affair with a stranger whilst her (kind, sweet, hard-working) husband is out at work.

I didn’t give this a 1 star, so here is what I liked about the book.
• I like the concept of this book. Not only the storyline of the RAF and how the next generation grew up in the shadow of the war. There was a definite interest there for me and I am disappointed that I did not enjoy it more.
• The location and setting of the Yorkshire villages and lanes are very easy to visualise (possibly more so as I lived in Yorkshire for a number of years). I think the author captured this very well.
• I actually enjoyed how the dual-timelines met. In some novels that have multiple timelines, the protagonist often has to fall asleep or read diaries etc to discover the events of the past. However, the overlap in these two stories is handled very smoothly.

 

Overall, not great but not bad either. I don’t know, maybe I missed something? Others seem to love this book but it just didn’t live up to what I was hoping for from the description.

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Review of The Keep by Jennifer Egan

The KeepThe Keep by Jennifer Egan

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I don’t know if I am being overly critical of this book but it really didn’t live up to my expectation. This might be partially down to the details on the jacket. The hype around the Pulitzer prize not helping.

This book even has the following on the back cover:

‘A gripping and ghostly gothic tale…one of those rare books that reminds you exactly why you love reading’ – Daily male.

So, this is your warning, the ghost element of this book is pretty bare. There is certainly no fear factor and limited ‘ghostly’ atmosphere (in my opinion).

However, the story isn’t bad. Young guy, financially unstable, who is a bit of a nobody, rarely makes ties or puts down roots and lives by the call of the Wifi signal decides to uproot and go and work for his rich enigmatic cousin restoring a castle into a luxurious hotel where all is not quite as it seems. Sounds good right?

So, trying to figure out why I didn’t love this story, I think there were a couple of reasons:
• The writing was driving me nuts. The speech was depicted in a sort of script form and even then not consistently so, often it was not identified at all. So following the flow was painful, to say the least. This is a genuine extract of a phone call within the story but this writing style continues throughout the book, so distinguishing between thought and speech is rather frustrating.

Danny: Martha –
Stop.
She was right, he was going to say it. And he did: I love you.
Please.
And you love me.
You’re losing it.

• The novel was full of melancholy and there were very few areas of light to be found in the pages. I understand that the job of a novel in this genre is to make it dark and brooding but there is very little contrast.
• The novel changes narrator. I don’t think this is a spoiler as it happens fairly early on. In the end the stories tie in etc so it’s not really a problem of loose ends. However, I do read a lot of dual timeline and time slip novels and there is just something jarring in the way this story is woven together it feels very jarring.
• 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.

• I like the concept of this book. Not only the storyline of the Castle and all it’s dark brooding but the second storyline of the woman teaching writing in a male prison. There was a definite interest there for me and I am disappointed that I did not enjoy it more.
• The themes of the book deal with a lot including childhood trauma, gothic horror (castle), prison, romance, affairs, wealth, leadership, etc etc. which I appreciate is not an easy task.
• The scenes of Danny walking around the castle grounds are a nice touch, particularly the pool and of course the keep with its strange occupant, a malevolent baroness who refuses to vacate the castle

Overall, not great but not bad either. I don’t know, maybe I missed something? Others seem to love this book but it just didn’t live up to what I was hoping for from the description.

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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 Dolly by Susan Hill – 3 stars

DollyDolly by Susan Hill

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I am a big fan of Susan Hill. Her horror stories are incredible. Her story “Black Sheep” (which is not a horror story) is probably one of the best novellas I have ever read. In that vein, it probably seems like I am giving this book a poor score and it’s not that, it’s just so many of her other books are so much better…that this one felt a little flat and a little disappointing.

Firstly, this book is a real slow burner. Susan Hill’s writing is great but the pace in this novel is just so painfully slow. Stuff just takes a long time to happen. When it gets going there are creepy moments that Hill does best, it just takes its time to build up. Here is a sneaky little extract:

“The doll cried for a fourth night and this time he climbed up to the shelf and took it down. It lay in its box, stiff and still, looking like a body in a coffin. And realising that, he knew what he should do.”

The story primarily follows Edward, an orphaned little boy sent to live with his elderly aunt. His spoilt cousin Leonora also stays at the house. Edward spends most of his time torn between wishing to play with his intimidating cousin and staying out of her way in case she is in one of her moods. Then his cousin gets a gift of a doll, when the doll is not the beautiful doll she dreams of Leonora’s attitude goes from bad to worse. At the same time, strange things happen around the house. When Edward returns as an adult following his aunt’s death he is reminded of several things he had tried to forget.

This book really does have all the ingredients for a great horror story; creepy house in the middle of nowhere, elderly isolated aunt, orphan unwanted child and of course the doll. Whilst there where some really enjoyable moments like the quote above the overall effect of the story just didn’t leave me thrilled.

If you have read Susan Hill’s other works this probably isn’t going to be a great read for you. However, if you are new to Susan Hill you will probably enjoy this introduction to her writing.

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The Watcher – #writephoto

Perched in the tree line the watcher waited.

Sometimes it took weeks, others it took days but recently the frequency had increased and the watcher sensed in the air that the time would be coming soon.

The woodland was unusually quiet as the darkness descended.

Occasionally a rabbit or a mouse would make a run for it but the watcher had no interest – there was much bigger game coming their way.

Sure enough, as the clock chimed the hour on the distant town a shadow emerged on the mound.

The shadows steps were slow, his heavy burden reducing his mobility yet the pace remained steady moving ever closer to the watcher.

Arriving at the woodland edge, the dark form moved towards the embankment and tossed the burden down it.

crow image by sue vincent

The servant of the night nodded to the watcher, then left, his movements now much more agile as he headed back to the village.

The watcher swooped down and tore at the meat then returned to the branches, a ring from the shredded finger placed carefully in his nest.

The watcher raised his head and let his cry carry out into the night, the woodland came alive, ready to devour their prize.


My response to Sue’s wonderful photo prompt combined with today’s Daily Post challenge. If you want to give Sue’s prompt a go too, head over to Sue’s Page Thursday Photo Prompt – Crow – and join in the prompt. KL ❤

Review of Blood Ritual by Sarah Rayne – 5 Stars

Blood RitualBlood Ritual by Sarah Rayne

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book contains the usual mysterious historical fiction and modern day interlinked storylines that Rayne seems to do brilliantly. I thought I had read most of Rayne’s work and then stumbled across this very early novel and at an exceptionally good price and I must say I feel I got a bargain!

It is quite a dark and unnerving as story, similar to her other standalone novels (such as House of the Lost), but certainly much darker than her Nell West series. It is also shrouded in mystery that crosses the line with legend and myth. I would say this story would appeal to horror fans as much as those that like the historical fiction genre.

The modern storyline follows Catherine a young girl from a convent that is urged by her Abbess/Mother Superior to return to where she grew up. However, Catherine has a secret (a few actually), her family are descendants of Elizabeth Bathory, known to locals as the blood countess, something that the rest of her family are much more proud of than Catherine is. The other main modern character is Michael, a journalist who lost his site at the ancient castle once owned by Elizabeth Bathory. Determined to know the truth about the castle and a horrific image he saw before losing his site, he makes his way back towards the place that haunts him. With Catherine and Michael crossing paths can they uncover the truth of the Bathory family history and live to tell the tale?

The historical storyline follows Elizabeth’s story. Re-living the events as she terrorizes the villages of the surrounding area. With a weak husband, an endless supply of young village girls at her service and a lowly blacksmith to do her bidding and surrounded by plenty of faithful servants, Elizabeth rules with an iron fist, so that even the local priest struggles to put a stop to her. The terrifying (and really interesting) thing about this book and this story is that Elizabeth Bathory truly existed and is rumoured to have done some of the terrible things mentioned in this book!

As with all Sarah Rayne books, her plotting is brilliant, she lays many, many, strands of 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 but it was so worth it when I did for the characters, mystery and dark storyline. I do like that Rayne experiments in her writing and tries out many characters’ viewpoints.

Overall, I really enjoyed this book, very clever, particularly the historical storylines. For those that haven’t discovered the Sarah Rayne’s writing, I would suggest these novels are quite similarly written to Phil Rickman’s work; old story exposed, great characters and slightly eerie. Although the dark dividing (standalone novel) is my favourite out Sarah Rayne’s books. The Nell West series she writes is also very good.

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Review of The Children’s Hour by Douglas Clegg – 3.5 Stars

The Children's HourThe Children’s Hour by Douglas Clegg

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I’m really perplexed about writing this review. This author was recommended to me on the premise that he was very similar to Stephen Kings older horror books and I soon purchased this book with eager anticipation. I didn’t find that to be the case. I didn’t have that terror that somehow kept you addictively reading with Stephen Kings classics such as the shining. Nothing like that, at all.

That being said the book itself wasn’t too bad. The premise is really intriguing. A family returns to the town the father (Joe) grew up in and on his return he is confronted by a girl that disappeared during his childhood. The issue being the girl is exactly the same, she hasn’t aged at all and she remembers Joe.

Clegg’s writing is really quite good, it’s strange and quirky and at times a very vivid image of this small backwater town is portrayed. However, for a lot of this book, I found it quite boring. Not a lot seems to be actually happening. I do agree with other reviewers also that there are just too many points of view in this book, so you sort of struggle to really champion Joe as the main character as the perspective switches a lot along with quite a few flashbacks. It makes the reading quite hard-work and off-putting and all these flashbacks/perspective switches, do slow the pace down a bit.

So, a bit of a mixed bag for me really. This book is not for me a Stephen King equivalent. The story was much more complicated than it needed it to be. That said I didn’t totally dislike it, I really enjoyed the premise, the main character Joe was pretty good and I did like the ending. I think this author has talent and as he continues to write I think his writing style will really flourish, for that reason I will keep an eye out for future books, but I think this one could have done with just a little extra polish and honing. Still, overall an enjoyable read and it’s nice to find something new in this genre. 3.5 star rating.

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