I've read a few of these Kindle shorts, usually designed to act as a cheaper introduction to an existing or forthcoming novel - eg The Rose of Fire (TI've read a few of these Kindle shorts, usually designed to act as a cheaper introduction to an existing or forthcoming novel - eg The Rose of Fire (The Prisoner of Heaven), Clara's Room (Reconstructing Amelia), Eve in Hollywood (Rules of Civility) - but I've usually found them far too slight, sometimes too short to even bother reviewing. This one actually has a bit of substance. It's a short story featuring the characters of Company of Liars, released to coincide with the publication of The Vanishing Witch. The story itself is an episode that could have been drawn from the pages of any one of Maitland's books - richly imagined medieval setting (with plenty of disgusting details), gruesome characters, peril and magic - and while it's not enormously memorable, it's as well-written and compelling in exactly the way I would expect from this author. Mostly I'm just in awe of how prolific she is - The Vanishing Witch came out this year, as did this story, and I already have an advance copy of her next book The Raven's Head, due out in March....more
So much fun! I picked this out to read on a train because I was struggling to concentrate on anything 'heavier', and although I wasn't expecting muchSo much fun! I picked this out to read on a train because I was struggling to concentrate on anything 'heavier', and although I wasn't expecting much from it, I found it immensely enjoyable. I really liked the first couple of books in Quinn's Empress of Rome series, but found the third dull: this one reminded me what I enjoyed so much about those first two. It also confirmed my suspicion (also discussed in my review of Karen Maitland's The Vanishing Witch) that I'd rather read unashamedly trashy historical fiction than the type that tries to be serious and falls flat due to lack of research/authenticity. With a book like this, you don't really care if the characters (for example) use modern figures of speech, or if Italians in the 15th century use puns that only work in English, because it's just like watching a highly entertaining historical soap opera.
The Serpent and the Pearl follows a tried and tested formula: it's loosely based on real events (here the rise of the Borgias in 15th-century Italy), it uses a variety of narrative voices (Giulia Farnese, the mistress of Rodrigo Borgia; Leonello, a dwarf who becomes her bodyguard; Carmelina, a cook in the Borgia household) and it is packed with twists and moments of suspense, usually at the end of a chapter. Quinn is great at writing strong, interesting female characters you can't help but like, but this perhaps isn't that unusual for a female author of this type of fiction. What she's also great at is writing men who should be completely detestable, but are somehow imbued with such charisma and magnetism that you are nevertheless drawn to them. She clearly knows something about the sexiness of power, and how to translate that to the page: her male characters may not be likeable, but they are always completely compelling. At the beginning I hated Giulia's relationship with Rodrigo, and couldn't see that changing: skip forward a few hundred pages, and I came to root for it so much that I was desperate for them to be reunited.
There are occasional flaws that do stand out, despite the enjoyability factor of the book. The characterisation can be heavy-handed at times - we know Carmelina's a cook, no need for endless references to food/recipes/Santa Marta (patron saint of cooks and servants) in every sentence. And unlike the Rome books - which were part of a series, but each worked fine as standalone novels - this is a very open-ended 'to be continued' sort of story, and you need to read the next one to find out what becomes of the characters. Which means I have to read the next one at some point... because dammit, I really want to know what happens. However, this also means the chapters become a bit repetitive towards the end as the author stretches out the story, building up to a cliffhanger ending.
The Serpent and the Pearl left me with the same indulgent feeling of satisfaction as eating a bag of donuts or binge-watching a whole TV series. I'd recommend it to anyone who's enjoyed Quinn's Rome books, and to fans of Karen Maitland, Kate Furnivall, Robert Harris's Cicero novels, etc. ...more
Way too young for me, but good fun and a nice palate-cleanser. Jackaby is a paranormal historical detective story, set in a 19th-century American portWay too young for me, but good fun and a nice palate-cleanser. Jackaby is a paranormal historical detective story, set in a 19th-century American port where a runaway English girl, Abigail Rook, meets an eccentric investigator, R.F. Jackaby. The much-quoted claim that this is 'Doctor Who meets Sherlock' is actually pretty accurate, and the author's grasp of witty, quick-fire dialogue is excellent. The characters and their interaction are by far the most interesting bits; the paranormal stuff is a bit pedestrian, and my eyes glazed over during a few of the action scenes, but then, I am not the audience for this book. With a strong and funny heroine/narrator and a plot that focuses much more on friendship and adventure than romance (thankfully there is no romantic relationship between the two leads), I wouldn't hesitate to enthusiastically recommend this to younger readers....more
I really don't like having to give negative reviews. They can be quite fun to write, but that doesn't make up for the time wasted reading a disappointing book, especially if, like me, you have a constantly expanding to-read list of several hundred potentially better others. Unfortunately, The Taxidermist's Daughter turned out to be another addition to 2014's growing batch of much-anticipated, but ultimately mediocre, new novels. (Funnily enough, The Independent's review of this book compares it to three other books from this year which I would categorise in exactly the same way.)
Connie Gifford is the titular taxidermist's daughter, though it would be more accurate to say she is the taxidermist. Her father has long been an incapable drunk, and Connie, having learnt his trade, secretly keeps the family business going. Not that there's much call for it: in the early twentieth century, taxidermy has fallen out of fashion, and with her father's 'world famous' museum gone, Connie struggles to make ends meet. She also struggles with her own condition: an accident when she was twelve wiped her memory, and she is only now beginning to remember flashes of her 'vanished years'. There's also the mystery of a murdered woman, found in the river next to the Giffords' house, and the links this crime may have to Something Terrible a group of local men (including, possibly, Connie's father) did ten years ago.
Connie is okay, but she is never truly established as a character who actually has any real personality, beyond a passion for taxidermy and, vaguely, a caring nature. The male characters, meanwhile, are so numerous and so utterly indistinct from one another that I couldn't tell them apart at all. Mosse has set the story in the West Sussex village of Fishbourne, apparently a place of personal significance to her, and it is evoked well, full of a Daphne du Maurier-esque stormy darkness despite the fact that the story takes place in spring. The most atmospheric scenes are set in a rain-lashed cottage; these sections, though very effective, are frustratingly few.
The Taxidermist's Daughter is very like Diane Setterfield's Bellman & Black: the gothic gloom (it's 1912, but everything feels very Victorian), the use of bird motifs, but most of all, the dull, turgid story lumbering towards a largely uninteresting conclusion. And, like Bellman & Black, I'm giving the book a medium rating because it was simply okay: by no means terrible, simply underwhelming and forgettable. While it all started promisingly, and did start to pick up again after I was halfway through, too much of it was simply tedious. I didn't care what the men of Fishbourne had done ten years earlier - partly because the characters were uninteresting, partly because I knew from the start it would be something deliberately 'shocking' but also unbelievable as something these people would really take part in. (Spoiler: it was.) Interviews with the author suggest the theme of taxidermy stems from a childhood fascination with the art, but it often feels as if it has been chosen simply because it's suitably gruesome and archaic.
I've read one book from Mosse's Languedoc trilogy (Sepulchre), found it average, and haven't bothered with any of the others in that series. However, I really enjoyed her ghost story The Winter Ghosts, and last year she published a collection, The Mistletoe Bride & Other Haunting Tales, which, while forgettable in terms of content, created a number of wonderfully atmospheric, wintery settings I can still remember quite vividly. I'd quite like to read it again for that reason alone. With all its gothic trappings, I hoped The Taxidermist's Daughter might be more of an ethereal ghost story than drab historical fiction, but sadly not. Competently written, with some intriguing scenes, it never quite gets off the ground, and in the end it is no more than the sum of its parts. ...more
A strange book, this. It's similar to some of the other novellas in the Hammer series in that, while it does have ghosts, the truly frightening partsA strange book, this. It's similar to some of the other novellas in the Hammer series in that, while it does have ghosts, the truly frightening parts have more to do with the way people treat one another.
A married couple, Douglas and Rowena Crale, arrive in a small, seemingly idyllic village with their five children, ready to move into a pair of cottages previously owned by Douglas's elderly mother. One of their daughters, Evangeline, is eccentric and disturbed, described by the locals as 'touched', and takes to wandering the village and countryside, chattering to an imaginary friend and rarely seen by her parents. Another daughter, Jennifer, is uncommonly beautiful, admired - and coveted - by everyone who meets her. Meanwhile, Rowena is tempted into an affair with a dashing neighbour, an escape from the weird, disquieting atmosphere of the cottages, which seem to be resisting the family's attempts to modify them.
I didn't really feel as if there was any climatic moment in this story, but perhaps that's because my expectations were focused on the wrong thing. Certainly, there's something odd about the houses: there's even a sealed-up room in the attic and an inexplicable face-at-the-window moment. But Rowena and Gregory's relationship is the thing that engages the emotions the most (it made me want to get married just so I can have an affair), and the two actions that occur towards the end - (view spoiler)[Douglas having Rowena put into a mental institution, and the creepy Pollards' audacious kidnap of Jennifer (hide spoiler)] - are the real horrors. The inclusion of an epilogue of sorts dims the drama of these events somewhat, but I was relieved to learn that (view spoiler)[Rowena didn't get an entirely unhappy ending. The scene of Jennifer's discovery also, somehow, added an even more disturbing edge to the whole affair (hide spoiler)].
There is a lot of ambiguity here, and it can make the book feel quite frustrating: various plot points don't seem to go anywhere. There isn't even a conclusive answer as to whether the person doing the 'haunting' is actually dead, or what Eva was doing in that room when she claimed to be caring for her grandmother (especially curious given that it seems she is not actually mad). Ultimately, it's all a bit too vague to be a great read, but there are enough points of interest to make it intriguing and mildly scary.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more
After the lacklustre The Falcons of Fire and Ice, Maitland is back on great form with The Vanishing Witch. If you've read anything by the author beforAfter the lacklustre The Falcons of Fire and Ice, Maitland is back on great form with The Vanishing Witch. If you've read anything by the author before, nothing in this fifth novel will come as a big surprise: it's set in the Middle Ages, has lots of characters, there's murder, witchcraft, and something that initially seems like a romance but is actually much more twisted. This time we're back in England, Lincoln to be precise, after Falcons' sojourn to Portugal and Iceland. It's 1381, and wealthy merchant Robert Bassingham finds himself torn between his wife Edith, who is succumbing to an inexplicable illness, and an enigmatic, attractive widow named Catlin. Meanwhile, an impoverished boatman named Gunter is struggling to protect his family from rising taxes and rent. All of these characters (and their children) are haunted by the menacing presence of a man dressed as a friar: is he a ghost, or someone seeking revenge on an old enemy? And who is the all-knowing presence narrating the story? Historical context is provided by a backdrop that includes the Peasants' Revolt, with several of the characters finding themselves drawn into the rebellion.
Over the past year I have often complained about how soapy and contrived I think modern historical fiction has become. Characters with too-modern attitudes and speech, historical inaccuracies and a general feeling of 'trashiness' pervade so many of these novels, even those acclaimed as literary triumphs, that I struggle to stop myself from being so annoyed I can't enjoy the book at all. Not because I'm some great history expert who's offended by the lack of accuracy, I'm just fed up of encountering the exact same thing in book after book. I really enjoy Maitland's books not only in spite of these things, but actually, perhaps perversely, because of them. Even though I know what to expect from the author, it's still refreshing to read a historical novel that has fun with its premise and handles its characters lightly, rather than trying to be desperately serious and attempting to create an 'authentic voice'. Ironically, it's this lightness, combined with what seems like genuinely detailed knowledge of the time period (habits and customs at a local level, as well as bigger societal/political events), that makes the characters seem more believable.
The Vanishing Witch doesn't match the brilliance of The Gallows Curse, and perhaps isn't quite as original as The Owl Killers, but it's an enjoyable read that I found instantly engrossing and strangely comforting. It's immensely frustrating that one character in particular doesn't get their comeuppance ((view spoiler)[Leonia, obviously (knife emoji) - and I liked Catlin, I wanted her to get away with it! (hide spoiler)]) but there are enough fun twists - some you'll guess, and some you probably won't - and gleefully dark bits to almost make up for that. While some characters are obviously villains from the start, Maitland bravely avoids making the vast majority of them completely likeable, except for the minor servant characters Tenney and Beata. The reader's sympathies for Robert and Catlin, in particular, flip up and down with every new chapter. And, aside from the aforementioned character, everyone who does something awful gets a horrible, and satisfying, bit of karma.
Recommended to existing fans of the author and those who enjoy entertaining historical fiction. ["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more
For me, The Quick was a book which suffered under the weight of expectation and hype. Every single review I've read of it - on Goodreads, on blogs, anFor me, The Quick was a book which suffered under the weight of expectation and hype. Every single review I've read of it - on Goodreads, on blogs, and in the press - has highlighted the fact that it has this amazing unexpected twist. And I suppose the fact that I knew it had this amazing unexpected twist led me to speculate on what it might be a lot more than I would have done otherwise, because although I had no clue about the nature of the twist, I guessed it really early, so it didn't surprise me at all. When it happened, my initial assumption was that this couldn't be the twist, it was too obvious, so I continued to think there must be something else that was yet to come. It turned out this was not the case. I'm not going to say what the twist was, in order to avoid spoiling it for anyone else, but if you've heard anything about the story, or read anything that seems like it might be a bit of a spoiler, or started reading the book and think you might have got to it already, then - to avoid further disappointment - you should know THAT twist is THE twist. There isn't anything else.
It's difficult to say much else without revealing the infamous twist, but this is basically a sprawling, gothic Victorian-era novel, spanning the whole lives of a brother and sister. James and Charlotte grow up on a country estate in Yorkshire; James goes on to Oxford, and then to London, where he becomes a poet. Then he becomes entangled with the members of a sinister, secretive club, and the ramifications will affect both James and his sister for years to come.
I enjoyed the beginning and was really interested to see where the story would go, how the characters would change, from there. I loved the relationship between (view spoiler)[James and Christopher (hide spoiler)]: if we're talking about plot twists, that was my favourite. The development was very well handled, and it was the only thing in the book I felt emotionally invested in. I was gutted for James when (view spoiler)[Christopher was attacked (hide spoiler)], but after that - especially once it became clear that there was no way back - my interest waned. I didn't care much about the plot or any of the new characters that were introduced later in the book.
The combination of literary prose, an authentic Victorian gothic style and some kind of fantastical aspect has been done before, and done much better, in books like Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, The Glass Books of the Dream Eaters and The Historian. Although The Quick is well-written, the plot doesn't have enough substance to sustain itself over more than 500 pages. I enjoyed the last few chapters, I liked the way everything was wrapped up at the end, but that was too little, too late; the middle section felt like a dull, neverending slog. I would love to have been truly shocked by the twist and really able to enjoy the story, but I wasn't, on both counts. ["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more
It's with a heavy heart I have decided I am not going to finish reading this properly. I did, in fact, read more than halfway through before skimmingIt's with a heavy heart I have decided I am not going to finish reading this properly. I did, in fact, read more than halfway through before skimming the whole of the rest, right to the end, so really I could claim it as 'read' and give it a rating, but I'm not going to. I was looking forward to reading it so much, and am so disappointed I didn't like it.
Waters' last book, The Little Stranger, is one of my favourite books of all time, although the general consensus is that it is quite different from the rest of her work, and many readers think it is her worst. I enjoyed Fingersmith, which was truly 'unputdownable' and very emotive, if also quite depressing. Affinity I found rather dreary (though not without its merits). Of these, I feel The Paying Guests has the most in common with Affinity. It is certainly dreary, and while beautifully written it is incredibly dull, so dull I would have given up much, much sooner had it been the work of an author I was unfamiliar with. The entirety of the first half was boring - mainly building up to a development that every reader will surely anticipate from the first page, so there is no suspense - but I slogged on through, only to be confronted with another twist/'incident' that was also dull and somewhat predictable.
I also didn't warm to Frances, the protagonist, at all. I found her a cold, hard character with few sympathetic qualities. At times, I felt I really disliked her, although I couldn't quite put my finger on why - she just seemed like quite an unpleasant person, to me. I found her pursuit of Lilian pushy and manipulative, and I couldn't stop thinking about how horrified I would have been by some of her actions and thoughts had she been a male character. With, for example, Faraday in The Little Stranger, this sort of thing didn't spoil the story because he isn't supposed to be likeable; you're supposed to think he's a creep, that's part of the plot. But I felt I was meant to like Frances, to want her to 'get her way', and I just didn't. I preferred Lilian and felt rather sorry for her, but she never seemed to be fleshed out properly and was only seen through Frances' eyes; Frances' mother was very peripheral; and Leonard was an obvious sleazeball. All in all, not a group of people whose fates I could bring myself to care about.
By the time I reached the halfway mark I had a resolute gut feeling that I wasn't going to like the book no matter what; it would have taken something miraculous to change my mind. It even made me question whether I would really like The Little Stranger that much if I re-read it now - maybe my tastes have changed so much I wouldn't? I have, after all, struggled to enjoy any historical fiction in recent times, and have frequently been disappointed with historical novels others have loved, such as the much-fêted debut The Miniaturist (which itself was compared to Waters).
I'm sorry, Karen. The ARC will be finding its way to someone who will appreciate it more than I did, I promise!...more
The first fantasy novel from Joanne Harris, The Gospel of Loki is a brilliantly entertaining retelling of Norse mythology. As the title suggests, it'sThe first fantasy novel from Joanne Harris, The Gospel of Loki is a brilliantly entertaining retelling of Norse mythology. As the title suggests, it's all seen through the eyes of the god of mischief, Loki, who relates his own version of events in a wonderfully unpredictable, unreliable and humorous voice. It's part 21st-century update - Loki's narration is very modern - and part faithful reconstruction - the book presents the world of these myths as it was originally told, and as a very real experience, or at least as real as Loki wants you to think it is.
First things first: I'm not going to pretend that my reasons for reading this book and my reasons for loving it have nothing to do with the Marvel Avengers films. Or that I wasn't reading the whole thing in Tom Hiddleston's voice. Yes, I am pretty enamoured with the character of Loki (I'm not quite of the obsessed Tumblr-fangirl variety yet, but I do own a Loki figurine... or two...) and that undoubtedly helped. Still, I'm sure the same will apply to a lot of the potential audience for this book, and this alone is not what makes it good, it's just an added bonus.
I only had the vaguest familiarity with these myths before I started the book, and it's a perfect introduction for the uninitiated. Unfortunately, my lack of knowledge of the source material means I can't assess how faithful it is to the original stories, but it feels fresh, interesting and even relatable while packing a lot of fantastical detail into the narrative. Loki's mischievous personality and sense of humour are useful tools for explaining away some of the more out-there elements of the plot... like the fact that he gives birth to an eight-legged horse. (Sometimes the stuff that happens in the Nine Worlds makes Adventure Time look like an episode of Springwatch.) (I bet that scene won't be featuring in Avengers 2.)
I'd never read anything by Joanne Harris before, I think because I had viewed her oeuvre as somewhat cosy and slightly twee. I'm now reassessing this opinion and have found that I was very wrong: I'm particularly interested in checking out her debut novel The Evil Seed, described as a reworking of the classic vampire myth, and the recent collection of short stories A Cat, a Hat and a Piece of String. Apart from being original, funny and engaging, The Gospel of Loki is also brilliantly written. It must have been so hard to write about these complex fantasy worlds with such a light and accessible tone, but Harris pulls it off without the end result seeming in any way flimsy.
I would recommend this not just to habitual readers of fantasy and/or to those who have a surreptitious crush on movie-Loki, but to everyone. It's a delight to read, enormous fun, and even makes you feel like you've learned something. To be honest, I'm crossing my fingers for a sequel....more
What happened? Can this really be the work of the same author responsible for the hugely enjoyable The Secrets Between Us and In Her Shadow? I have been unwell over the past week and wanted something to read that wouldn't ask much of me, or take a great deal of concentration to understand. I considered and rejected several 'light' books before I came to this, which I'd been saving for a rainy day, or at least some day closer to its 14th August publication date. Unfortunately, it was disappointing, and lacked the qualities that made the aforementioned Louise Douglas books so fun to read.
Your Beautiful Lies is set in a South Yorkshire mining town in the 1980s. The story is about Annie Howarth, the young wife of the local Chief Superintendent, who at first glance seems reasonably happy: living in a grand, beautiful house named Everwell, she is a doting mother to seven-year-old Elizabeth and is one of the lucky few to enjoy a calm, safe existence in the midst of the miners' strike. But when her ex-boyfriend Tom is released from prison, after serving ten years for a manslaughter he still insists he was framed for, long-buried passions are stirred up. As Annie and Tom begin a risky relationship, a young woman with a striking resemblance to Annie is found murdered on the moors near to Everwell and it seems that Annie is playing an increasingly dangerous game.
This novel is markedly different in tone to the others I've read by Douglas. By a third of the way in I felt it was dragging me into a dreary, dispiriting world I didn't want to be a part of. Annie's life is so terribly repetitive it's boring to read about. She gets up, gets dressed, cares for her daughter and elderly mother-in-law, visits her parents, and cooks dinner, which is almost always described in minute detail. Perhaps all of this is intentional - to highlight how hard life was for the residents of a mining town at this point in history, to emphasise the dullness of Annie's life before the return of Tom - but either way, it was a hard slog to get through and made me feel trapped in a very limited world. I kept waiting for something to happen; I kept waiting until something would make me really care about Annie and Tom. I am certainly not opposed to reading stories about 'cheating', or more specifically about women being unfaithful - on the contrary, I often really enjoy reading such stories. And I did find Annie's mother's moralising about her behaviour very irritating. But I just couldn't summon up any sympathy for Annie - she knew what she was doing and that a child was involved from the beginning, and she was hardly discreet about her assignations. How can she have been surprised that anyone figured out what she was doing when she hardly bothered to cover it up?
Certain omissions annoyed me: why does Annie never ask Tom what was going on with Selina? Her jealousy just evaporates into thin air and is never mentioned again. The 'Yorkshire'-ness of the characters - everyone's eating parkin and saying 'mithered' and taking their whippets for a walk, probably while wearing a flat cap - feels belaboured. And I thought it was bizarre that the reader was expected to believe Annie and Tom had never slept together, not once in a six-year relationship, for no apparent reason other than fear of pregnancy. Tom was 22 when he went to prison, and Annie presumably a similar age since it's mentioned they 'grew up together'; this all took place in the mid-1970s and neither character is portrayed as particularly religious. Seriously, six years and nothing? I just cannot imagine a deeply-in-love couple in their late teens/early twenties having the self-restraint to manage this unless there was a specific reason for it, such as religious beliefs or one of them having a serious aversion to sex (and it is strongly implied that this was very much not the case). It's a minor point, I guess, but it struck me as very odd.
And then the ending!! Without giving away what happens, it is quite shocking, but more shocking than what actually happens is that the book just suddenly ends; there is no real conclusion, only a very perfunctory deus-ex-machina-ish explanation of the murder, and many questions remain unanswered. The nature of the ending also suggests that the characters are getting some kind of comeuppance for their behaviour and that there is no guarantee of further happiness. I really don't know whether to think this ending makes the book better or worse. On the one hand, to take something that readers will expect to be a light, even chick-lit-like, romantic mystery and make it into something dark and depressing with a shocking, pitch-black ending and no real resolution - that is a bold move. Looked at in that light, it almost seems like an experimental piece of work. I feel like the author deserves some respect for this when she surely could have easily written something more similar to her other books. But on the other hand, does doing this make it a good book? Sadly, I don't think so. The quality of the writing doesn't match the darkness of the story, and it doesn't make for a satisfying whole.
Louise Douglas has written some great light reads which I have truly relished reading, but I'm sorry to say this can't be counted among them. I give the author credit for deviating from her usual template, but for me, Your Beautiful Lies wasn't a success, and I'm not sure who I would recommend it to. ...more
Over the course of just three books, Essie Fox has established herself as an author I am keen to follow and can rely on to produce atmospheric, compelOver the course of just three books, Essie Fox has established herself as an author I am keen to follow and can rely on to produce atmospheric, compelling historical fiction. The Goddess and the Thief, which boasts a particularly gorgeous cover, follows a similar template to The Somnambulist and Elijah's Mermaid: inspired by Victorian gothic and aspiring to Sarah Waters levels of torment and unpredictability, it involves an orphan girl who is uprooted from her home and forced to live with an unwelcoming relative in London. Alice Willoughby, raised in India, resigns herself to a life aiding the parlour tricks of her aunt Mercy, a spiritualist medium, until a louche, scheming character by the name of Lucian Tilsbury enters their lives. Drawn back repeatedly to reminders of her upbringing in India - Hindu icons frequently feature in the narrative - Alice finds herself irrevocably bound to Tilsbury, and becomes part of a plot to steal the Koh-i-Noor diamond from the Queen.
This novel started wonderfully: in the first few chapters, the narrative paints a picture of India that is vivid, evocative and hugely beguiling. I was engaged by the story, which has as many twists, turns and dead ends as you'd expect, but I have to admit that at times Alice really got on my nerves. I know it was meant to be part of her character, but she was often a bit too hysterical to be likeable, as well as unbelievably naive, and her fickle switching on and off affection for certain male characters was taken to extremes I found almost comical. There were occasions when I rather felt that I agreed with Mercy about her, instead of sympathising with Alice herself. Another problem was that I found the Queen Victoria scenes unrealistic - nobody seemed to behave with the reverence and decorum I would have expected, instead taking it all in their stride, which didn't ring true.
I enjoyed Elijah's Mermaid a lot more than The Somnambulist, and I hoped The Goddess and the Thief would be another improvement, but I'm afraid I found it all rather dreary and was getting bored towards the end. I was disappointed that Fox chose to set so much of the story in London rather than having Alice return to India, since the beginning, which focused on this location, was so strong. Fox is a talented historical novelist and her work touches on a great number of interesting themes: in this book, the relationship between the British Empire and India is explored in a manner that seems believable but is also sensitive to the racial and cultural issues involved. However, without a more sympathetic protagonist and/or more inspiring plot, I struggled to connect properly with the story. I'm still interested in Fox's writing, but this, sadly, wasn't her best....more
A naive young doctor, James Richards, is offered an intriguing position as the head of a mental hospital in the Suffolk countryside. With no ties in London, and eager to impress his charismatic psychiatrist boss, he wastes no time in setting off for the isolated location of his new job. His duties include overseeing the 'sleep room', the site of a controversial and unusual form of therapy, in which six schizophrenic patients - all young women - are kept in a state of permanent sleep for months on end. At first, James is happy to be at Wyldehope Hall, particularly when he begins to develop a relationship with a beautiful nurse named Jane Turner. However, when inexplicable events begin to occur - mysterious sounds, shadowy figures, missing objects appearing where they shouldn't be, and a young trainee being so terrified of overseeing the sleep room that she takes to constantly clutching a prayer book - he is forced to conclude that there is something unnatural about the place. But do these incidents have a supernatural explanation, or is the truth something even more sinister?
I found The Sleep Room on NetGalley, where it was listed ahead of its US release on October the 1st. It wasn't until later that I discovered the book had already been published in the UK, back in July, and had passed me by - probably because the UK cover is absolutely bloody awful and I'd never have picked it up if I'd seen that first. This is an unusual case of the US cover being a much better design, and a much better fit for the book, than the UK version.
For the majority of this book, I found myself enjoying the story but thought there was nothing particularly groundbreaking about it, nothing I hadn't encountered before in other, similar historical ghost stories. For example, though I liked the characters of both James and Jane, I didn't really care about the details of their romance and spent a while wondering what this was supposed to be adding to the story. Then, however, it quite suddenly threw three surprises at me which changed my perception of it significantly. Firstly, there is a brilliantly executed, seriously effective scene which takes place during a power cut. It makes sense, which is quite a difficult thing to achieve when the characters involved are experiencing such confusion, but leaves the reader with a genuine sense of unease; after reading it, I found myself jumping at shadows more frequently than I'd like. (The fact that it was never properly explained just added to the creepiness!) Secondly, there is a moment of true, vivid horror which properly shocked me. And thirdly, the ending, which comes out of nowhere and is a complete, yet entirely plausible, surprise. I don't want to say anything about what happens, because to do so would spoil everything for any prospective readers... But I loved it.
Overall, this was a truly haunting ghost story topped off with a twist that exceeded my expectations, and I'm surprised, given my love of the genre, that I haven't heard of the author before. The earlier part of the book is fairly slow-moving, but stick with it and you will be rewarded. I will be keeping an eye out for other books by Tallis, even if the covers are terrible. ...more
Gretel and the Dark is a very hard book to review. Perhaps even impossible, because the entirety of the review I was going to write was wiped out whenGretel and the Dark is a very hard book to review. Perhaps even impossible, because the entirety of the review I was going to write was wiped out when I came to the ending, which turned most of what I thought this story was completely upside down. As a result, I can't write, for example, about some of the reservations I had about the characterisation, because those reservations are invalidated by the ending; but if I explain how then I will ruin the final twist, which is crucial to enjoying the book, and is difficult (again, maybe even impossible) to guess.
I suppose it's pretty safe for me to explain what is covered in the blurb. Setting the tone for the rest of the narrative, the novel opens with a fairytale-like prologue in which two children run through a forest, dragging a 'Shadow' with them, escaping an unnamed monster, and telling each other stories. What seems to be the real story then begins, with Josef Breuer - a renowned psychoanalyst and contemporary of Freud - encountering a very unusual patient: a young woman who the modern reader can instantly recognise as an escapee from a WWII concentration camp. However, this section of the book takes place in Vienna in 1899, and the girl, named Lilie by Breuer, claims she is not even human, but instead a machine. The chapters following the mystery of Lilie, as Josef and his servant Benjamin compete to establish her real identity, are punctuated by chapters set some years later. Here, a badly behaved little girl called Krysta moves to a new town with her widowed father, a doctor. While he works in what she thinks is a hospital, Krysta does her best to upset and reject all his staff and suitors, but she doesn't realise her actions are leading her towards a terrible fate, one exacerbated when she becomes friends with one of the 'animal-people' who live in the 'hospital', a boy called Daniel.
After that, it all becomes difficult to talk about without spoiling everything. Seriously, don't read anything beneath the spoiler cut unless you a) have already read the book or b) have no plans to read it ever.
(view spoiler)[I really thought this was going to be a time-travel story, that somehow Krysta would find a portal to the past. Instead, it turns out that the Lilie narrative is a story she tells Daniel as they flee from the camp, which is related repeatedly throughout their lives, as they marry after their escape. That sounds feeble written down, a bit too 'it was all a dream', but on the page, it works: it's a true surprise. It also meant that most of the issues I had with the characters and plot - for example, that I found Josef and Benjamin's obsessive desire for Lilie ridiculous and over-the-top; that none of the characters were likeable, and even Lilie, the 'victim', was immature and annoying (in fact, I sympathised with the bad-tempered, envious housekeeper the most!); that it was impossible to believe Lilie would be considered so beautiful when she was quite literally a starving refugee from a concentration camp - were instantly rendered invalid.
I guess if I still had a criticism to make after knowing the twist, it would be that Krysta's story is perhaps too intricate and odd to be plausible as a story told by a child. As a counter-argument to that, I'm guessing the version related here is supposed to be an embellished version from later in her life, especially given that the emotional and sexual aspects are very adult in nature. On a related note, I found it limiting that I never knew how old Krysta was supposed to be - I saw her and Daniel as little children, and couldn't reconcile this with the adult Lilie in the other story. I'm also unsure I believe Krysta and Daniel would keep telling this story rather than the true tale of how they met and escaped the camp, but as I enjoyed the book that's something I'm prepared to overlook. (hide spoiler)]
I really admired the complexity of the characterisation - this would be the easiest story in the world to fill with clear-cut Good and Bad characters, but even the 'good guys' here are very obviously imperfect and sometimes corrupt. Krysta is a far from flawless heroine - even after terrible things happen to her she still behaves horribly and petulantly towards others, for example (view spoiler)[reacting with jealousy and viciousness when Daniel makes a new friend in the camp; and it's telling that in her own story, she makes herself an impossibly beautiful woman yet still acts like a selfish child (hide spoiler)] - and, in the Lilie narrative, Josef is a self-obsessed, arrogant misogynist, while Benjamin is a bit of a bumbling fool. I often found the characters hard to like, but the realistic nature of these portrayals acted as a good foil for the fairytale-inspired, dreamlike elements of the story.
Gretel and the Dark is the most surprising and moving WWII novel since The Book Thief, and I think a lot of readers are going to love it - even if it is a bit of a mindfuck (in a good way). It's the perfect balance of heartbreaking humanity with elements of apparent fantasy and the power of the imagination. A unique and very memorable read.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more
I read Beasts in about two hours on a hot day and felt like it could have been a dream, or a hallucination. A short, hazy, spellbinding story, it quitI read Beasts in about two hours on a hot day and felt like it could have been a dream, or a hallucination. A short, hazy, spellbinding story, it quite breathlessly races through a short period of time in the life of its young protagonist, Gillian, an undergraduate at Catamount College, Massachusetts, in the autumn of 1975. Gillian is in love with her professor, Andre Harrow, and fascinated by his sculptress wife, Dorcas. She is obsessed with becoming part of the Harrows' lives and, jealously following rumours that they choose 'special' students to assist with their art, is drawn into their strange and intimate rituals. This is a very brief and highly taut novella which feels like it is meant to be read quickly and then re-read - something I think I'd need to do in order to effect a more in-depth analysis of the plot. It's all about atmosphere, with the weird, hypnotic effect of the Harrows leaping off the page and making you feel part of the narrative even though Gillian remains a somewhat remote character....more
A follow-up to Amor Towles' debut novel Rules of Civility, Eve in Hollywood contains six short stories focusing on the character of Eve, the secondaryA follow-up to Amor Towles' debut novel Rules of Civility, Eve in Hollywood contains six short stories focusing on the character of Eve, the secondary protagonist from the first book. Starting in the midst of Eve's journey from New York to Hollywood, it offers some explanation of where the character went and what she got up to during her absence from the 'stage' in Rules. Each story is told from the point of view of a new character who meets or in some way encounters Eve, with the final chapter taking up Eve's own viewpoint. With the same calm, assured narration of the original, this collection is a good, if very slight, read. I enjoyed these stories, but with an extract from Rules of Civility taking up more than a quarter of the book, it doesn't really feel substantial enough to be a standalone volume. Given that Towles' debut has been out for a while, I expected more from this - it feels more like the sort of thing that would come out before the publication of a full novel, as a sampler of the author's style. At the very least, I think it should be priced lower than it is (it's only £1.99, which is obviously cheap anyway, but I don't think it's worth any more than 99p). Worth a look if you enjoyed Rules, but don't get your hopes up too high for a proper sequel....more
At some point within the past couple of years, I've lost the passion I used to have for historical fiction. Looking back on the historical novels I've enjoyed in recent times, I can see that they all have some element of another genre or type of book I haven't yet got sick of - the ghost story, the unreliable narrator tale, something with just a sprinkling of fantasy. There was a time when I used to specifically seek out historical novels by contemporary authors, and would automatically be drawn to them over other genres, but somewhere along the way I started developing a preference for contemporary fiction, and I've now all but abandoned its historical counterpart. While there were numerous things I liked about The Miniaturist, I feel like it's a good example of the reasons for this shift in my tastes.
This has to be one of the most hyped debut novels I've ever read. Like Emma Healey's Elizabeth is Missing, which I also read and reviewed recently, The Miniaturist first started gathering buzz at the London Book Fair over a year ago. 11 publishers fought it out to get the rights to the novel, resulting in a six-figure deal for Burton in the UK alone, and more than 30 international deals for translation rights. I feel like I've been hearing about it forever; I've been reading rapturous reviews of advance copies since the beginning of this year. The description of the book that's been bandied about online since it was first announced is very enticing: it's 'a feminist golden-age fiction'; ' a sensational feat of storytelling for fans of Sarah Waters and Donna Tartt'. Additionally, Jessie Burton has a really interesting website on which she shares the story of her journey to getting The Miniaturist published and edited, as well as a lot of her research and input into things like the cover design - it's obvious the book has been a real labour of love. But what about the actual story itself?
Set in the late 17th century, this is the tale of Nella Brandt, née Oortman, who at the age of 18 is married off to a rich businessman and arrives in Amsterdam, where she is to live with her new husband - a stranger to her. Her new life is not what she expected. Her husband, Johannes, is rarely at home and seems uninterested in spending time with her, much less visiting her bed. The Brandt household is effectively ruled by his cold and intimidating sister, Marin, who Nella clashes with. And while the Brandts are affluent, the family's business dealings are being dragged down by a complicated, expensive negotiation over a warehouse full of sugar. In the midst of Nella's loneliness, confusion and disappointment, she is presented with an unusual wedding gift: a large dolls' house which is a perfect recreation of the Brandt house. Casting around for something to do (and a way to spend Johannes' money, and spite Marin), she engages a 'miniaturist' to create some figurines for the house. When they arrive, they are beautifully detailed, uncannily accurate, and perfect. But then the miniaturist starts sending more figures, ones Nella hasn't asked for, and she first thinks they are meant as a cruel joke, before becoming afraid that they are predicting the future, and that the mysterious, elusive miniaturist knows more about the Brandts than Nella herself.
In many ways, Nella is a typical heroine for a historical novel like this. Young, naive and inexperienced, she enters into a city and a household bigger and more frightening than anything she has known before. She is confounded by the behaviour of a husband she barely knows, and by an austere older woman who has dominion over the house. Yet she is also independent, smart and liberally minded - implausibly so, really, but of course she must be in order for the 21st-century reader to relate. The characterisation is skilful, and the people in this story are certainly believable, but at the same time I still felt they were basically stock characters, drawn from a template; just fleshed out more effectively than they sometimes are in less accomplished books. The plot unfolds in typically dramatic fashion, with several unexpected twists, a shocking death, illicit relationships and so on. Despite the title, this is less an examination of the mystery of the miniaturist (which is genuinely very intriguing, with well-handled tension) than a family/romantic drama. It's predictable in its unpredictability, which is not the author's fault; I just feel, personally, like I've read this sort of thing many times before. As with Elizabeth is Missing, I was primed for something remarkable and had to settle for something that was merely good.
The Miniaturist reminded me a lot of Hannah Kent's Burial Rites. While the latter book is extremely different in terms of theme and setting, I felt the same about both in that they are conventional tales with mass-market appeal dressed up in period costume, garlanded with literary flourishes and highbrow praise. In my review, I described Burial Rites as 'almost soapy', a description that could also be applied to this book. With both books, I found the speech, thoughts and sometimes the behaviour of the characters, and some parts of the narrative itself, to be too modern. For example, I found the reveal about Johannes far too obvious and graphic in the context of a story set in the 17th century, and I'm sure there's a more subtle and effective way this could have been done, particularly since it had already been heavily hinted at. Because something like this would never have been detailed in a story of this time, its presence (for me anyway) distorted the credibility of the whole piece.
Oh, and every time Otto got called 'Toot' I cringed so much. I can appreciate that the continued use of the nickname was supposed to show how Otto was accepted as a member of the family, and maybe it's just because I really don't like that word, but I found it far more patronising than endearing. I guess that could be deliberate - this is the 17th century, these characters can't be that enlightened... - but as the reader was obviously supposed to feel affection towards Otto, that would make for a slightly confusing message. I'm tempted to nitpick at some other details (the figurines are described as very small - the sugar loaf Agnes holds is 'no longer than an ant' - but Nella can clearly see the Jack doll on the doorstep from her bedroom window?) but this review already sounds far too negative about a book I really quite enjoyed. I suppose I'm using it as a bit of a punching bag for my issues with modern historical fiction in general.
Despite the fact that The Miniaturist has clearly been researched thoroughly and is well-written, I found it altogether too light a confection to be a truly satisfying read. It doesn't have anything like the scope of any book by Waters or Tartt, so those comparisons seem misplaced. I feel like Burton is a hugely talented writer but that this book just wasn't right for me. I found the rich description to be a highlight - I can still see the book's version of Amsterdam perfectly in my mind's eye - and I'd like to read something by Burton with a contemporary setting, something that transfers her ability to evoke atmosphere and character to a less melodramatic story. I'll definitely be keeping an eye on the author's future work, but this debut wasn't what I'd hoped....more
Marina is the last of Carlos Ruiz Zafón's existing books to be translated into English, following the first three books of the Barcelona quartet (for adult readers), and the Niebla trilogy (for teenagers). Published in Spanish in 1999 - two years before the worldwide bestseller The Shadow of the Wind - it is the final young adult novel written by the author, and its transitional nature is evident in the style. It reads as a lot more 'grown-up' than the Niebla books, but the protagonist is a teenage boy and in many ways this feels like a young adult fantasy story, albeit one written with the deliberate intent to appeal to a wider audience.
Set primarily in between 1979 and 1980 - although it feels as though it could be a lot earlier - Marina is written from the point of view of Oscar Drai, a fifteen-year-old boarding school pupil in Barcelona. Lonely and bored, Oscar wanders into the garden of what he assumes to be an abandoned house and meets the beautiful, ethereal Marina, a girl of his age who is home-schooled, and her artist father Germán. Oscar is quickly drawn into a friendship with this eccentric, fascinating family (as well as having a burgeoning crush on Marina), but the real intrigue begins when Marina takes him to a nearby graveyard, where the pair watch a veiled woman place a single rose on an unmarked grave. Pursuing the mystery of this act leads the two friends into an unimaginably complex and macabre adventure in Barcelona's underworld.
This is a classic Ruiz Zafón book in that it has so much going for it, so much to be fascinated by, yet never quite makes good on that promise, and - however much you might want it to be - just isn't as good as it should be with all the brilliant ingredients that have been thrown into it. More than any of his others, this particular book seems to highlight very clearly what is both good and bad about the author's writing.
The good: - Such rich, descriptive prose: often verging on over-the-top, flowery language, but incredibly enjoyable to lose yourself in, and lacking the awkwardness of much translated fiction. - A constant gothic undercurrent of madness, darkness and twisted imagination. - Atmospheric and incredibly evocative portrayal of Barcelona. - A magical, timeless quality which makes the story feel like it could be taking place in any time period.
The bad: - Poorly drawn, underdeveloped female characters who are all unrealistically flawless, fragile and virginal. - Confused action scenes that become incomprehensible in places. - The overall plot becomes so complicated and bogged down in different subplots and characters' stories that it's easy to lose track of what is actually supposed to be happening.
I did enjoy Marina - but, as usual, not as much as I wished I could. With its rich, ominous mixture of characters, places, dreadful misdeeds and weird stuff, it makes for a largely compelling read that doesn't feel compelling as a whole - I felt deflated when I reached the end, and cared little about any of the characters. It feels a bit churlish to complain about characters being two-dimensional in a novel that would be more suited to a reader half my age, but so much attention seems to have been paid to the descriptive details of the settings that the people it's all supposed to revolve around have been neglected. It's telling that the book is named for Marina yet, having read it, I have nothing whatsoever to say about that character. I wasn't sure about the fantasy element, either (again, this would probably be far more enjoyable and frightening to the hypothetical younger reader), and one thing that happened near the end was so ridiculously clichéd and terrible that I nearly lost my patience completely.
I was drawn to Marina by the same things that have made me read almost all of Ruiz Zafón's books, and I was disappointed by the exact same things that have disappointed me in the author's other work - a feeling that the whole thing is more about style than substance, and terrible female characters. It's bound to be a hit with die-hard fans of the author since it offers so many similarities with the rest of his books: admittedly, it's interesting to see many of the themes of his adult fiction emerging here, and it would probably make a good starting point for those unfamiliar with The Shadow of the Wind et al. I'm not wholly convinced that Marina lives up to the tagline on the cover which declares it to be 'a gothic tale for all ages', but it's a fun read, if a frustratingly imperfect one. ...more
What do you get if you mix Rebecca and The Turn of the Screw with a dash of Jane Eyre and a pinch of Dickens? The answer is This House is Haunted, a gWhat do you get if you mix Rebecca and The Turn of the Screw with a dash of Jane Eyre and a pinch of Dickens? The answer is This House is Haunted, a gloriously gothic confection revolving around - you'll never guess - a haunted house. This actually IS a haunted house too, not some metaphorical type of haunting, although there's also an element of humour to the proceedings, which serves to set this story apart from the many historical ghost stories it could be compared to.
In 1867, a young woman, Eliza Caine, is bereft after the death of her beloved father. With no other family, no friends to turn to and (she believes) no prospects of marriage, Eliza replies to an advertisement for a governess position at Gaudlin Hall, a grand country pile in Norfolk. When she arrives there, it quickly becomes apparent that something is very wrong: the locals are hostile, the children she's in charge of are left to fend for themselves, and nobody will tell her where their parents are. Worse still, a series of inexplicable incidents force her to the conclusion that there is a malevolent spirit present in the house. Unwilling to abandon the children, Eliza sets out to get to the bottom of the mystery and fear surrounding Gaudlin Hall, but to do so she must put her life at risk.
The book both pokes fun at and pays homage to the classics it references - I particularly liked the secrecy surrounding the Westerley family and how the village conspires to cover up the truth. At times the behaviour of the characters - Eliza's naivety in the face of extremely obvious indications that something supernatural is going on; the way everyone changes the subject whenever the topic of the children's parents comes up; Alfred Raisin's dismissal of the previous governesses' concerns, despite the fact that almost all of them ended up dead! - verges on parody, but not in a bad way. (I know this is a completely inappropriate comparison, but the village in this book reminded me a lot of the comedy film Hot Fuzz, a spoof of cop movies, which I watched recently. Sounds odd but there's the same sense that the story is joyfully sending up all the clichés habitually present in its source material in a very affectionate way.) Similarly, Eliza's character is both genuinely admirable (she constantly rails against the way women are sidelined by society) and parodic (her romantic daydreams about every attractive man she meets). It's obvious that the author's tongue was lodged firmly in his cheek when writing this book, and that sense of humour makes it all the more enjoyable to read.
The light touch to the narrative means that the predictable twists and silly bits - inevitable components of a ghost story - work well: if you know you're reading something that's not entirely serious, you're not likely to worry about how much you need to suspend your disbelief. At the same time, Eliza is likeable and believable enough that you do truly care what happens to her: the book is engaging, sometimes extremely creepy, and definitely has more substance to it than a mere pastiche. Speaking as a big fan of ghost stories, I really enjoyed This House is Haunted and if you share my passion for this type of book, you need to get it on your to-read list....more
Adèle Roux is a girl from a small French town who becomes captivated by a silent movie, starring the beautiful Terpsichore, and sets her heart on becoAdèle Roux is a girl from a small French town who becomes captivated by a silent movie, starring the beautiful Terpsichore, and sets her heart on becoming a star of the silver screen. It's 1913, and she sets off for Paris to make her name and her fortune: but things don't go quite to plan, and instead of succeeding at her first audition, she's packed off to work in the costume department. An escape is offered by handsome producer André Durand, but rather than making her a star (as Adèle hopes), he sets her up as his wife's personal assistant. Said wife turns out to be Terpsichore - real name Luce - and Adèle is soon installed in the Durands' sumptuous mansion, and unwittingly involved in their complicated relationship. Fifty years later, Adèle is telling her life story to a young journalist, Juliette, and it is obvious from the start that she did end up attaining some kind of notoriety, after all. As the two strands of the plot are brought together, the true consequences of Adèle's relationship with both Durands are made devastatingly clear.
From my holiday notebook: Incredibly entertaining and fast-moving tale set in the silent film industry in Paris, c. early 20th century. The narrative is split between past - a first-person story focused on budding movie star Adèle Roux - and 'present' - in 1967 Adèle tells a journalist about her entanglement with a glamorous couple, the Durands, and how this led to her involvement in a famous trial. I noticed a bit of repetition in the narrative (an odd amount of emphasis on thumbs - ?! - and a lot of 'mutinous looks') but this was probably just because I read it quickly. Great background to each part of the plot, it was all fleshed out just enough without getting bogged down in lots of characters' histories. The final twist was interesting but I honestly felt the story was good enough on its own that this wasn't needed. Also, my only real problem with the plot was that it was surely unrealistic that (view spoiler)[all that stuff about Paul and Camille would actually have been recorded (hide spoiler)]...? Don't know if I possibly missed something here but it struck me as odd.
Additional notes: Although I must confess this story hasn't lingered in my memory in much detail at all, I really enjoyed reading it. Fantastic characterisation and a lot of developments I didn't expect, and it evoked the setting and era brilliantly. I think I'd have to read it again to give the plot the detailed breakdown it probably deserves, but I remember enough to be certain I would recommend it.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more
Set in Prohibition-era New York City, The Other Typist is a deliciously dark adventure, related by a classic unreliable narrator. Rose Baker is a typiSet in Prohibition-era New York City, The Other Typist is a deliciously dark adventure, related by a classic unreliable narrator. Rose Baker is a typist, working at a police precinct: it's the mid-1920s and New York is full of illicit speakeasies and 'bathtub gin'. An orphan who considers herself plain and unremarkable, Rose admires the police sergeant, a paternal figure, and rents a room in a shared house where she barely tolerates her landlady and fellow tenants. She lives a quiet, predictable life until the arrival of Odalie, the 'other typist' of the title. Beautiful and vivacious, Odalie captivates everyone at the precinct, but she has a particular effect on Rose. The two quickly become friends and, at Odalie's side, Rose finds herself losing her inhibitions and casting off her strait-laced persona. But can Odalie be trusted, and why is she so reluctant to discuss her past?
Rose has one of those brilliantly real, evocative narrative voices, the kind I particularly love in fiction. It rather feels as if you are actually listening to the confessions of a terrible gossip, someone you don't really like but can't help but be fascinated by, especially as it's difficult to work out whether she's telling the truth. The setting of New York and the atmosphere of the secret gatherings, both seedy and decadent, add a layer of glamour to the plot, and Rose's caustic observations, along with her occasional lack of self-knowledge, often make for a touch of dark humour. The reader is constantly kept guessing as to the nature of Rose's feelings for Odalie - but I hope it isn't giving too much away to say this is something of a red herring: the real mystery lies elsewhere, and there's a killer of a twist at the end.
I can understand the comparisons made in the book's blurb (The Talented Mr. Ripley, The Great Gatsby) but, while writing this review, I have realised how similar The Other Typist is to one of my favourite books of last year, Harriet Lane's Alys, Always. Despite very different settings, the protagonists of the two books have a great deal in common - their devious natures, untrustworthy voices, the sense that they are deliberately painting themselves in an unflattering light for calculated reasons - and are similarly well-drawn.
I read this book all in one go - I had a long train journey to while away - and while I loved getting lost in it for a few hours, I actually sort of wish I'd had more time to ponder over the intricacies of the plot and characterisation. It's the kind of story that, I imagine, would be exciting to read bit by bit, so that you'd be wondering what was going to happen next whenever you were away from it. I would really like to read it again (and my rating might get bumped up to five stars if I did...) but I won't make any promises on that score, since I often say I'm going to re-read things and I never, ever get time for it. Anyway, The Other Typist is a fantastically enjoyable debut which I relished reading. Perhaps it's partly down to the fact that Gatsby is currently being referenced absoutely everywhere, but I can really see this working well as a film: there's a truly cinematic quality to many of the scenes, and there's enough going on to hold your attention without it tipping over into melodrama. A perfect summer read - with real bite....more
In Victorian London, a girl named Eve is born covered in hair, a coat she comes to think of as her fur. Unloved by her mother and mocked by strangers,In Victorian London, a girl named Eve is born covered in hair, a coat she comes to think of as her fur. Unloved by her mother and mocked by strangers, she is swept off her feet by the avaricious Josiah Arroner, who fills her with hopes of romance but leaves her trapped in a loveless - and sexless - marriage. Instead, he cruelly parades her as 'the Lion-Faced Girl', the central attraction of his 'Unique and Genuine Anatomical Marvels', a variety performance with the air of a freakshow. Meanwhile, elsewhere in London, a man who should be dead is pulled out of the mud of the Thames. This is Abel, who has few clear memories of his past, but is seemingly unable to suffer injury, illness or death. His rescuer happens to be another of Arroner's performers, a coincidence which leads to a fateful meeting between Eve and Abel.
Inevitably compared to Angela Carter (obviously a major influence on Garland's prose style here) and Sarah Waters, this is an engaging adventure-slash-romance that will appeal to fans of both historical fiction and magical realism. Since the antagonist, Arroner, is so despicable, it's easy to root for Eve and Abel, who take turns narrating the story; and Abel's mysterious history adds an extra layer of intrigue to the plot. I was captivated early on by Eve's inner struggle over whether to reject or embrace her condition (the voice in favour of this is represented by an imaginary friend she dubs Donkey-Skin), and Abel's uneasy relationship with his 'friend' Alfred, which he fails to perceive correctly due to his straightforwardness and naivety.
I enjoyed The Palace of Curiosities - it's a fast and easy read - but I felt that, despite all its luscious, vivid description and eccentric characters, there was a certain emptiness at the heart of it. I love books that present a simple narrative which reveals itself to have hidden depths and layers, and this was the opposite: once you strip away the florid language, it's a very uncomplicated story. For me, there was never a true sense of drama - it was obvious (to the reader if not Eve) that Arroner was 'bad' from his first appearance, and I never believed there would be any real barriers to the protagonists' eventual happiness. Overall, a pleasant and diverting read but too lacking in tension to be particularly memorable....more
It's 1958 and Thomas Foley, a civil servant who writes copy for government pamphlets, is unexpectedly given a new role: he is to travel to Brussels foIt's 1958 and Thomas Foley, a civil servant who writes copy for government pamphlets, is unexpectedly given a new role: he is to travel to Brussels for the World's Fair - also known as Expo 58 - where he will be in charge of overseeing the Britannia, an old-fashioned 'English pub' which will form part of the UK's exhibition at the event. Thomas is a reserved, unassuming man, and doesn't relish the idea of spending six months in a foreign country, leaving his wife and baby daughter behind. However, once he arrives at Expo 58, he is captivated - by Anneke, a hostess who greets him at the airport; by his affable roommate Tony; by a charming Russian journalist who frequents the Britannia; and by the fair itself, with the futuristic Atomium as its centrepiece. This being the 1950s, however, relationships between the participating countries are uneasy, and Thomas finds himself drawn into a complicated situation involving his new Russian friend, a beguiling American girl, and a pair of bumbling British spies.
This new novel from Coe, an author whose work I have always enjoyed, has received some bad reviews in the press. When I started reading it, I wondered why: it seemed engaging and funny straight away, and I found the context interesting. All the other Coe books I've read have had modern settings, and I was looking forward to seeing how the author would apply his trademark style to historical fiction. By the time I reached the halfway mark, however, I had started to suspect that this would be nothing more than a middling book, and wasn't likely to live up my expectations. Part of the problem was that I didn't like Thomas, and although I found some of the minor characters pretty amusing, I wasn't really emotionally invested in what happened to anyone else, either. Anneke was barely developed, and there was no discernible chemistry between her and Thomas: meanwhile, the incident that (view spoiler)[supposedly confirmed Sylvia's infidelity was such an obvious way to set up and justify Thomas's own betrayal that it was almost insulting (hide spoiler)]. I perhaps wouldn't have been as bothered by points like this in a different book, but from a writer of Coe's calibre they just seemed sloppy. The plot was diverting enough, nothing much to dislike about it, but I'm used to Coe creating stories full of unexpected connections, coincidences, details that might be fact or fiction, and relationships that aren't what they seem: all of these were missing here, or at least very watered down and unsurprising. My favourite thing was the banter between the two secret agents - shades of Bunny and Blair in DBC Pierre's Ludmila's Broken English.
Expo 58 is essentially a gentle historical comedy: it's pleasant and amusing but doesn't really go anywhere, and lacks the satirical bite and complex interconnectedness I've come to expect from the author. If you are a Coe fan already, adjust your expectations accordingly: if you haven't read anything by him before, I wouldn't recommend starting here. It's fun, but fairly unremarkable, and that's all.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more
English author Diane Setterfield's debut novel, The Thirteenth Tale, was a big seller in America, reaching #1 in the charts. I didn't actually know thEnglish author Diane Setterfield's debut novel, The Thirteenth Tale, was a big seller in America, reaching #1 in the charts. I didn't actually know this when I read it: I happened upon it at the library, thought it sounded like my kind of thing, and really enjoyed reading it, although I didn't find it particularly remarkable. Subsequently finding out about Setterfield's huge success in the US made me more interested in the author's next move than I probably would have been otherwise, and when I discovered her second novel would be a ghost story, my interest heightened even further. Now, seven years on from the original publication of The Thirteenth Tale, Bellman & Black is finally here - scheduled for release in October in the UK, and November in the US.
Being a lover of ghost stories - and considering the easy readability of The Thirteenth Tale - I was anticipating the sort of book I would race through in a day or two and wouldn't want to put down. In fact, Bellman & Black gets off to a very slow start and never really picks up. We first meet the protagonist, William Bellman, as a boy: playing with his cousin and two friends, he hits and kills a rook with his catapult. Unbeknownst to him, this childish act is a mistake that will cast a shadow over his life well into adulthood. The narrative steps forward a few years, and we encounter William again as a young man, seemingly in possession of everything he could want in life: he is handsome, charming and, when he joins the family mill, he becomes very successful. The reader knows dark things are coming: this is, after all (and as the subtitle tells us), a ghost story. That being the case - and also considering the fact that the book is called Bellman & Black! - it takes a remarkably long time for true tragedy to befall William and for the mysterious character of Black to make a proper appearance. It isn't until halfway through the book that the key events described in the blurb, the 'bargain' with Black and the creation of the eponymous business, take place - and even after that there's not a lot of action.
I expected this book to be various things, but 'boring' wasn't one of them. Unfortunately, although I thought it was well-written and I can't say I wasn't intrigued by the themes, that was my overall reaction. I never warmed to William or Dora, and was left wondering, what was the point? It's not that I thought this (or any) story should have a specific purpose, necessarily, but I didn't care about the characters and I couldn't see any underlying moral or theme (other than don't do anything to piss off a rook when you're a kid, because it'll ruin the rest of your life...?) so it really needed something else to drive it forward, and there was just nothing there. I felt like I was constantly waiting for (view spoiler)[Black to reappear, which he didn't until the very end, and then - what? William has to remember his past? That isn't a ghost story, nor is it particularly terrifying in any way, that's just life! (hide spoiler)] Things kept happening that seemed promising - (view spoiler)[the introduction of Lizzie as a character who seemed to know something more than she should, William's apparent sighting of her with Black (hide spoiler)] - and then they came to nothing.
I've given Bellman & Black a rating of three stars because I can't really see any reason to give it less: I didn't actually dislike it, and I enjoyed the style - Setterfield does a good job of creating a narrative that feels authentically 'historical' rather than a pastiche, and this story is far less clichéd than her debut - but there was just nothing that great about it. I applaud Setterfield for doing something different rather than just writing a rehash of The Thirteenth Tale, but sadly, it didn't really work for me, and I would be surprised if many fans of her first book enjoy this one as much.
When I read short ghost stories, or novellas within the genre - Susan Hill's Dolly springs to mind as a recent example - I often feel frustrated that they aren't longer, more fleshed out and properly detailed. This is the opposite: stripped back to the basics it would make a fantastic short story, but there is simply not enough substance here to make it worthy of more than 300 pages. While Bellman & Black was by no means a terrible book, I'm reluctant to recommend it to either fans of The Thirteenth Tale or lovers of ghost stories.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more
A short story which acts as a prequel to the author's Barcelona quartet, giving some background on the origins of the Cemetery of Forgotten Books. It'A short story which acts as a prequel to the author's Barcelona quartet, giving some background on the origins of the Cemetery of Forgotten Books. It's not available in the UK, so I had to acquire it by other means - strange, since it's free for Kindle in the US! Anyway, I enjoyed the story but, as always with this kind of thing, it was very slight and I wish it could have been longer. ...more
I think The Misinterpretation of Tara Jupp is Eva Rice's fourth novel. I might be wrong about that number, but in any case, it is the long-awaited folI think The Misinterpretation of Tara Jupp is Eva Rice's fourth novel. I might be wrong about that number, but in any case, it is the long-awaited follow-up to The Lost Art of Keeping Secrets, which was published in 2005. I believe this book was originally slated to be published under the title The Dragonfly Summer, and it appears to have been delayed so many times I had started to think it would never see the light of day. I'm still not sure why, exactly, it has taken so long for this book to be published, but I was delighted to spot a review of it in a magazine and snapped it up as soon as I could (although that somehow ended up being two months after it came out!)
Tara Jupp, one of eight siblings growing up in 1950s Cornwall, is (unsurprisingly) the central character of this lengthy novel: it's basically her life story, although her older sister Lucy and Lucy's childhood best friend Matilda also feature prominently. As a horse-mad teenager, Tara is perfectly happy with her idyllic country life, but her impressive singing voice leads to her being noticed by the manager of a record label. Afterwards, she is offered the chance to record and perform her music in London, receives a glamorous makeover and becomes caught up with the 'it crowd' of the time, and all the while various family dramas and private emotional issues bubble away in the background. It is obvious from the beginning that Tara is narrating her story from a perspective long after these events took place - she occasionally refers to 'what happened afterwards' or something that was said or done 'much later'. The book is divided into three parts: the first concentrates on Tara's childhood, with much of the drama focused on Lucy and Matilda; the second, and longest, deals with her move to London and rise to fame; the third, which is quite short, is about the aftermath of that, and wraps all the loose ends of the story up.
In a number of ways, this novel is very similar to The Lost Art of Keeping Secrets: in fact, a number of the characters from that book actually make appearances in this one at various points (I was quite excited to discover this, even though it's been years since I read Lost Art), so the stories are obviously very closely interlinked, and you get to discover what happened to those characters after the events of that book. The author has also used a number of historical figures, from architecture historian Nikolaus Pevsner to Brian Jones of the Rolling Stones, as characters in the novel. And it's very, very meta - for example, when two characters are having a conversation about another character who's writing a book, and they talk about how dangerous it is to use real people as characters...! There are constant knowing references to literary devices that are actually used in the book, and Tara occasionally addresses the reader directly, although it's not exactly clear what kind of account this is supposed to be. If you ask me, it sometimes gets a bit too clever for its own good.
The problem with Tara's 'future' narration was that it made me feel disassociated from what was happening - like I couldn't really get close to the character, because she was describing a past version of herself, yet not really giving any clues about what kind of person she was in the present day, whenever that was actually supposed to be. Somehow, though, I really loved the first part of the book, perhaps because it was more of an observation of the two older girls than a story about Tara herself. The Jupps' upbringing and Tara's relationships with her brothers and sisters, her idolatry of Lucy and Matilda, the wonderful settings (especially Trellanack, the ancestral home of Matilda's family)... It was all very romantic and magical. It was when the action moved to London that I started to lose interest and have doubts about the plot. Once Tara was supposed to be (at least halfway) 'grown up', I stopped believing in her. I was more invested in Lucy's story, which is really more of a subplot, than Tara's. I didn't like (view spoiler)[Tara and Digby together, nor did I find it believable that he would actually have any continuing interest in her; and because Tara herself wasn't bothered about being successful or famous, I found it hard to care about that, too (hide spoiler)]. When I reviewed Lost Art, I wrote that my main problem with the book was its predictability, and that was also an issue here. It was glaringly obvious who Tara would end up with and - while I'm not going to pretend the romantic bits didn't move me at all - there wasn't much suspense, nothing to really root for (other than for Lucy to be happy... and I don't think that was the point).
Something else that annoyed me was that I found quite a few spelling mistakes, errors of repetition and incorrect punctuation (lots of missing commas!) in the Kindle copy I was reading. 'Two sizes two small' and 'your' instead of 'you're' were the worst I spotted, but there were lots altogether. Given that this book took years to publish, you'd think those could have been weeded out!
If The Lost Art of Keeping Secrets was, as I wrote when I reviewed it, 'the literary equivalent of a huge slice of chocolate cake', The Misinterpretation of Tara Jupp was more like a packet of chocolate biscuits - sweet and pleasant enough, but not the indulgent treat I was hoping for. It started with a lot of promise, and after the first few chapters I was expecting an epic life story that would span decades and take in Tara's whole career. Unfortunately, and despite the lengthiness of the book (is the print edition really only 320 pages? Edited to add - checked in a bookshop and it's 584, contrary to what Amazon says!), it didn't turn out that way, and although I still cared about what happened in the end, I found myself losing some of my sympathy and interest in the characters. I quite liked reading this - it's pretty absorbing, especially at the beginning, and a decent bit of escapism when you want to get away from the real world - but I can't pretend I wasn't a bit disappointed.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more
Burial Rites is a novel based on real events. In 1830, Agnes Magnúsdóttir was the last woman to be executed in Iceland: she was beheaded for her partBurial Rites is a novel based on real events. In 1830, Agnes Magnúsdóttir was the last woman to be executed in Iceland: she was beheaded for her part in the violent murder of two men, Natan Ketilsson and Pétur Jónsson. Hannah Kent's debut speculates and expands on the circumstances surrounding Agnes's crime and the period prior to her execution, when she was housed at a farm while awaiting her fate. She is installed as the charge of Jón Jónsson and his family, including two daughters, one of whom takes an instant dislike to Agnes, while the other seems to be somewhat fascinated by her. Another significant character is Tóti, the priest Agnes has requested as her spiritual guide, who also finds himself inexplicably drawn to the 'murderess'. The narrative is composed of two threads - Agnes's own account of her life, and a third-person view of her time on the farm which occasionally switches its focus to other characters - although by the end, the two converge and much of the third-person account consists of others listening to Agnes telling her story.
I really enjoyed Burial Rites, but it was very different from what I expected. I was worried that it would be painfully literary to the point of potentially being quite boring; I was also expecting it to be heavy on the unreliable narrator theme, similar to Charlotte Rogan's The Lifeboat. I was wrong on both counts. It is clear from the very beginning that the author wants the reader to sympathise with Agnes, and while the dramatic tension largely lies in finding out how the murders happened (since this is all based on a true story, we obviously know Agnes will be executed), there is no suggestion that the character is being in any way dishonest. Additionally, there is something quite conventional - almost soapy, in the best possible way - about the way this story is told. It's easy to follow and always compelling, even though it's often very bleak. It is clear, however, that Kent's historical research must have been exhaustive and the details of this lonely, desolate landscape seem incredibly authentic.
I was quickly drawn in by Burial Rites and was surprised by how easy to read it actually was. It has the feel of genre fiction, although I'm not sure exactly what genre it would fit into (that's a good thing, by the way). This is not a groundbreaking novel and perhaps doesn't quite live up to the hype, but it's a great debut, and a must-read if you enjoy historical fiction or stories with harsh, unforgiving settings....more
To some extent, Isabel's Skin is a straightforward pastiche of, or homage to, the traditional gothic novel. Set in the early 20th century, it has an eTo some extent, Isabel's Skin is a straightforward pastiche of, or homage to, the traditional gothic novel. Set in the early 20th century, it has an educated but naive narrator - David Morris, a book valuer - journeying to a ramshackle country house. There, he discovers the nearest neighbour is a mad scientist from whose cottage mysterious, terrifying screams can be heard. So far, so sterotypically gothic, but Isabel's Skin veers in some strange directions with its elements of fantasy and - for me the most noticeable thing about the book - the fact that it's so incredibly straight-faced and serious. Probably the only traces of humour I could pick up were in some of the character names, which wouldn't have been out of place in a parody (Buff-Orpington!) and (although it's a rather bleak example) David's astonishing naivety and/or self-delusion about the nature of his mother's death.
The style, the use of language, is often extremely odd. For example, when David is talking about a former sweetheart, he describes her hair as being like 'a plate of unusual food'. I can't decide whether that's a brilliantly original turn of phrase or whether it just doesn't work at all?! There were lots of other examples, and similarly, the book was peppered with extended metaphors which I often found awkward rather than effective. Another hurdle was the relationship between David and Isabel: the apparent development of feelings on both sides happened far too quickly to be plausible, and they were both so uncharismatic that I couldn't bring myself to feel anything much for them. On top of all that, the ending felt a bit wet: I thought it was wonderful how Benson had linked the prologue and the epilogue so closely, bringing a different meaning to all the assumptions the reader is bound to have made at the beginning of the book, but the conclusion itself was something of a cop-out.
All in all, when I reached the end of this book I still wasn't quite sure exactly what I was supposed to make of it. Other reviews have pointed out that it's riddled with clichés, and I would have to agree, but I'm not certain whether the story was intended to send those clichés up or pay tribute to them. Nor did I manage to come to any conclusions about how the reader was supposed to react to the characters. I almost always enjoy gothic fiction, and Isabel's Skin did hold my interest to a degree, but it was far from satisfying....more
Why did I decide to read Essie Fox's second novel when I found her first, The Somnambulist, distinctly average? I'm not sure, but I'm very glad I did,Why did I decide to read Essie Fox's second novel when I found her first, The Somnambulist, distinctly average? I'm not sure, but I'm very glad I did, because this book is SO much better than her debut.
Elijah's Mermaid is set in mid-19th-century England and explores both sides of Victorian society: the cast of characters is split between the members of a comfortable, middle-class family and the inhabitants of a notorious brothel. More specifically, the story focuses on Pearl, an orphan raised in the brothel and (at least at the beginning) ignorant of her future fate, and Lily and Elijah, twins who live in the country with their grandfather, a writer of fairytales. From the start, there are dark undercurrents to all the characters' lives, but these become more and more dominant as the plot progresses, starting with a chance meeting between the three protagonists in London.
Delivering on the promise that occasionally shone through in The Somnambulist - and actually living up to all those Sarah Waters comparisons this time - Elijah's Mermaid is a rich, meaty, involving story, packed with gothic details and delicious twists. As with all the best historical fiction, its detail has clearly been backed up with meticulous research, which adds interest and makes the machinations of the plot all the more believable. To say too much more about what happens would give away details which I think any potential readers would be better off discovering for themselves, but it's consistently enthralling and well-paced: I felt like I was disappearing into an alternate life every time I picked it up. The narrative is largely split, in alternate chapters, between Pearl and Lily: I did find their voices rather similar (Pearl's is, I suppose, slightly more 'coarse' - although barely offensive by modern standards!) but this didn't hinder my enjoyment of the book at all. In any case, (most of) their experiences are so different that it's not exactly hard to tell their tales apart.
I only have one thing to really complain about, and that is the relationship between Pearl and Elijah. Presented as the linchpin of the plot - indeed, from the title you would assume it's the whole point of the thing - it's actually rather weak, and I could never believe the pair were truly that enamoured with one another. I don't think this was helped by the fact that the reader never got to hear Elijah's own voice (apart from a few brief diary entries) and, in contrast, the brother-and-sister dynamic between the twins was very well-realised. I could believe that Pearl would have latched on to Elijah - after all, she had nobody else to pin her hopes on - but I needed to understand more about why he would have returned her feelings, knowing so little about her. Ultimately, I couldn't root for the 'great love' between these two characters when I didn't believe it could have been love to begin with.
That aside, I thoroughly enjoyed dipping in and out of the world of Elijah's Mermaid - a world I found it easy to lose myself in. I'm also happy to say that it is clearly demonstrative of Fox's progression as a writer, which is particularly impressive since it's exactly the same sort of book as her debut, ie an homage to the Victorian gothic novel. Here, however, the twists aren't laboured or unnecessary (one or two were slightly predictable, but not heavy-handed), the characters are more clearly drawn and the language, while lush and highly descriptive, enhances the story rather than holding it back. I'm glad to report my last book of 2012 was a really good read....more
Goodreads tells me I have had this, John Harwood's third novel, on my wishlist since October last year. So obviously, when I received an ARC of The AsGoodreads tells me I have had this, John Harwood's third novel, on my wishlist since October last year. So obviously, when I received an ARC of The Asylum I immediately got stuck into it - despite the frustratingly late UK release date of 20th June (it comes out in May in the US) - and I couldn't put it down until I'd finished. This is an addictively readable and deliciously compelling gothic mystery which grabs your attention on the first page and refuses to let go.
The book opens circa 1882 with a young woman, Georgina Ferrars, waking up in an unfamiliar room. At first believing her surroundings are a dream, she soon comes to realise she is an inmate in a lunatic asylum - Tregannon House - with the chief doctor insisting she has admitted herself under the name Lucy Ashton. Unable to recall any memory of the past few days, she is convinced it's all a terrible mistake - until her uncle, with whom she lives, sends a telegram to the asylum saying the 'real' Georgina is safe and well at home.
The plot and structure are both pretty simple: Georgina tells her own story, relating her frustration, disbelief and attempts to get out of the asylum, with an interlude devoted to a number of letters written some years earlier by a cousin of Georgina's mother. The story is breathlessly fast-paced and very exciting despite the limited scope of the setting, and the fact that Georgina acts as the narrator adds a further layer of intrigue for the reader - is her conviction that the 'other' Georgina is an impostor reliable? As the evidence mounts up against her, and she struggles to remember even the smallest detail of the weeks leading up to her arrival at Tregannon, the reader is led to believe she may indeed be deluded, or genuinely insane - yet she remains such a likeable, sympathetic character that it's impossible not to hope for her to escape. There are shades of Sarah Waters' work, particularly Fingersmith, in some of the relationships that develop and in the highly emotive depiction of Georgina's imprisonment, and some of the explanations are quite ingenious in their detail while also being simple enough to believe.
The only thing really wrong with The Asylum is that its ending spirals out of control a bit, and isn't anywhere near as enjoyable as the rest of the story. As with Harwood's debut The Ghost Writer, it feels as if the author isn't quite sure how to end the book: this results in some rather silly things happening and the 'bad guy' behaving like a pantomime villain, giving conveniently lengthy explanations of all his dastardly plans to anyone within earshot. I also found it highly unlikely that (view spoiler)[Georgina's mother would have instructed the lawyer that Georgina should only receive the letters if she became engaged to Felix - why on earth would she have ever thought this was a possibility when it was so unlikely the two would ever even meet? (hide spoiler)]
At first I wondered why a wintery gothic novel would have its release date set for the run-up to summer, but you know what - for those who are more inclined towards the macabre than chick-lit, this would be a perfect beach read. If I say it's fluffy and fun, that sounds like an insult (especially for something that falls into the historical mystery genre), but I honestly don't mean it that way: it's just that it's so purely enjoyable, and irresistibly easy to read quickly. Fans of gothic fiction, get this one on your wishlist now and you can thank me later.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more
Cute, fun, funny, and very short ebook to tie in with the Doctor Who episode The Angels Take Manhattan. Very in keeping with the character of River SoCute, fun, funny, and very short ebook to tie in with the Doctor Who episode The Angels Take Manhattan. Very in keeping with the character of River Song - I loved the witty way it was written and the narrative did a very good job of combining the atmosphere of a noirish, pulpy mystery with near-constant wisecracks and puns. There probably won't be any more of these but if they were written, I would certainly read them!...more