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 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 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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Review of Marrying a Stranger by Anna Jacobs – 4 Stars

Marrying a StrangerMarrying a Stranger by Anna Jacobs

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

So, the plot of this book is what drew me in, it is really intriguing. Megan was orphaned as a child and went to live with her aunt, uncle and cousin. Despite adoring her new family as an adult she decides to return to the area of her childhood. During her journeys, she accidentally ends up rescuing Ben from being pick-pocketed. In return, they end up spending a few days together and the attraction between them grows. When Ben unveils he has to move away to Australia she is heartbroken, but then he surprises her by asking her to marry him so that she can go with him. Megan agrees but the rocky road of marriage is long and complicated. What will her family think? What are Ben’s family like? How will she feel being provided for when she has always worked and paid her own way? All these questions and more provide Megan with plenty of turmoil, throw in Ben’s overbearing ex that is desperate to win him back and you just don’t quite know which way the story will go? Can the newlyweds really make their marriage work?

The writing style is a little old fashioned and the story a little slow at times. But, in saying this, there is nothing wrong with a bit of good wholesome romance now and again. The settings were quite quirky in this novel, however the author never let Megan stay anywhere for the reader to become too familiar with the setting (I’m not sure if this was deliberate or not to show Megan’s discomfort at being constantly moved) but it did mean that the reader has to read quite a lot of descriptions from quite a few places. The first hotel and then the house towards the end of the novel were both brilliant locations, particularly the house.

I think Megan is an interesting character, it feels a bit like she’s going through a mid-life crisis. She feels she has a boring job and is yearning for something more. The solution = marry a stranger and move to the other side of the world. Yet somehow as a reader, you do root for her. Ben is a lot more complicated character. He’s very distant and I think as a reader it takes a while to warm to him (and to understand why Megan is so enamoured) – think of a boring Mr Grey. Although the good thing about that is it means he develops later in the novel and you do end up liking him, I just felt as a reader it takes a little longer for you to start to like him. Apart from that, the other characters are pretty good especially Ben’s ex as soon as she appears you mistrust her, dislike her and are ready for her to get her comeuppance – haha!

Overall I really enjoyed this book. Very light, easy summer reading. This is the first Anna Jacobs book I have read and I have already ordered another from this author! For those that enjoy this type of novel, I would recommend Diary of a Whitby Girl by Jessica Stirling. It is historical fiction but a really enjoyable slower paced romance.

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Review of Holy Island by L.J. Ross (DCI Ryan #1) – 5 Stars

Holy Island (DCI Ryan Mysteries, #1)Holy Island by L.J. Ross

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I stumbled across this book by chance when it showed up rather cheaply on a Kindle titles sale and the outline sounded quirky and I must say I am very pleased with the find.

This is actually the first of the DCI Ryan detective mysteries series by L.J Ross and it starts the series off with a bang – especially the ending, great job on keeping us readers hooked for the next one in the series. I do think the writing in general was very good, not overly police procedural, plenty of characters to set it up for a series but not too many that you can’t figure out who is who, enough of an intriguing back story about the characters that I suspect may come back to haunt them at a later date. A very strong start to the series.

The plot mainly includes two interlinked storylines/character viewpoints. DCI Ryan has taken a sabbatical from his police duties after a traumatic experience during a murder investigation and temporarily moves to Lindisfarne. After several weeks of calm enjoying the peaceful island, his sabbatical is disrupted when the body of a young woman is found murdered at the priory. The murder looks staged with cult underlying’s and soon more murders in the small island follow. The murderer is smart, leaving very few clues and cleaning the sites so that the investigating team struggles to narrow it down. In the meantime, questioning becomes more and more difficult as the Islanders try to protect their own from outside police interference.

In the second storyline, we follow former local girl Anna who travels back to the island as an informant on the occult. When one of her own family members turns out to be the next murder victim Anna is removed from the case but fearing for her safety and his new-found feelings for her DCI Ryan insists she move into his small cottage that is doubling as police base on the island.

The storylines are very sharp, intricate and clever, but the book itself is not as dark as you would expect for a murder mystery, certainly, there is actually very little gore allowing you to sit back and enjoy the storyline.

I think Ross has done a great job, leaving plenty of room for the characters evolving, in this novel you really feel sorry for Ryan; his mental trauma from his past and how he is suffering trying to suppress those feelings to deal with the new case. 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.

One of the real big highlights for me was the locations. I loved the rugged windswept island and it’s close knit community. The one pub that you need to visit to find out what is going on. Unless you want to risk speaking to the gossipy landlady of the local b&b. All great places and very easy to visualize.

For those that haven’t discovered the DCI Ryan collection, I would suggest these novels are quite similarly written to something like Elly Griffiths (Ruth Galloway Series – also very good if you haven’t read that). It is crime but not really dark gritty like rebus or anything, also not a Miss Marple cosy crime, something in the middle.

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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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