This was like reading one of Joan Aiken's better books. You have small children in a grim alt-1920s English boarding school for girls with odd parentsThis was like reading one of Joan Aiken's better books. You have small children in a grim alt-1920s English boarding school for girls with odd parents (thieves, spies, mad scientists) or who themselves have superpowers. The larger world is the 1920s that we might have had if superheroes and supervillains were a fact of life. Most people don't have powers, though, and there is an ugly side to how people with Abilities are viewed. This book didn't dip into politics much, but if it had, the results would be something like X-Men.
Amy, who is sent off to school when she is discovered sleeping on the ceiling, tells the story. The plot is reminiscent of HP book 5, though this book doesn't share much else with Harry Potter. Drearcliff Grange is not Hogwarts.
Amy, whose passion is moths NOT butterflies, of which she is rather scornful, starts Moth Club, whose true purpose is to rescue her friend Kali from some kidnappers. The name Moth Club is chosen to divert suspicion. Kali is duly recovered but the conspirators escape, which sets up the rest of the story.
I mostly loved this book, and I'll be back for the next one. If it has a weakness it's that the cast is so HUGE that I had trouble remembering which girl was which and what her powers are. Even worse, they all have nicknames and Moth Club names so after a while I wanted a dramatis personae. The middle section of the book did drag a bit, but it picks up again. Kim Newman has a talent for dialect (another thing that reminds me of Aiken) and there are a lot of literary and pop culture references, some of which are pretty obscure, buried in here. I recommend having Wiki handy — I spent a lot of time looking up silent movie stars, American gangster slang, Twelfth Night, the Mikado, and more....more
I have an invented genre of books that I call "English pastoral" to which this book belongs. English pastoral books are dRose Cottage is pretty good.
I have an invented genre of books that I call "English pastoral" to which this book belongs. English pastoral books are distinguished by setting and atmosphere, not plot elements. They frequently (but not always) take place in England, in small villages, and they have lush descriptions of the place and time (often, but not always, historical). The author will tell you a lot about the kinds of buildings and what plants are growing and there will be lots of fields. Flowers are important. People will have gardens. It will be cheerful but sometimes sinister. There is frequently an Anglican element, but it's usually not explicitly religious — more that the church is a cornerstone of village life and continuity and therefore it will play a role in the book, both as a setting and sometimes almost as a character of its own. English pastoral books are often ghost stories or mysteries, and sometimes romances, but usually with a ghost or a mystery or a mysterious ghost for the couple to investigate. There is often an old house at the center of the story, and it acts as a counterpart to the church.
Some other books in this invented genre (if you like Rose Cottage, you will probably like these, and vice versa): The Ghost of Thomas Kempe by Penelope Lively The Wild Hunt of Hagworthy by Penelope Lively A Traveller in Time by Allison Uttley A Most Contagious Game by Catherine Aird Someone In The House by Barbara Michaels House of Many Shadows by Barbara Michaels (set in Pennsylvania!) Over Sea, Under Stone by Susan Cooper The Camelot Caper by Elizabeth Peters
Pretty good book, notable for doing atmosphere and ambiance well, which I always appreciate (in fact, sometimes that's my favorite thing about a book)Pretty good book, notable for doing atmosphere and ambiance well, which I always appreciate (in fact, sometimes that's my favorite thing about a book). Starts rather slowly but kept my interest. The protagonist, Merrily, is to be a vicar for a small English town that was once known for its cider. Some new people have moved into the town and want to capitalize on its history and start making cider again, for tourist money. On top of this, a playwright and his actor boyfriend want to put on a play about a 17th century vicar who was hounded by the villagers into committing suicide because (in the playwright's opinion) he was gay, but officially for "witchcraft." (This part didn't make any sense to me because if the villagers thought he was gay, they could have just as well hounded him for that, as invent trumped-up witchcraft charges. But whatever. The book sort of gives an explanation of that at the end.) Anyway, Merrily walks into this mess with her daughter and all Hell breaks loose in the church. By the end of the book, I was left thinking that the only sensible characters were the pagan New Ager types, who include Merrily's daughter, Jane. There is not even a token skeptic in the book, which I found rather endearing because I always hate watching the skeptic get his comeuppance when the ghosts turn out to be real. In the absence of a Skeptic, I always root for the pagans.
One thing. This book was written in the late 90s, and it really shows in the way characters talk about gay people. True to the time period, I suppose, but it's kind of wince-inducing looking back on it. Especially since one of the gay characters turns out to be an insane murderer in a twist that was mostly unforeshadowed and unconnected to the rest of the plot, which is why I don't consider this much of a spoiler. What was the message there? The death didn't even mean anything....more
This one just didn't do it for me. I was never a big fan of V.C. Andrews-style incest-y plots, and this is that kind of book, crossed with a politicalThis one just didn't do it for me. I was never a big fan of V.C. Andrews-style incest-y plots, and this is that kind of book, crossed with a political novel (sort of). I lost interest about half-way through, and skimmed the rest. Since I almost NEVER skim books, that is a measure of how meh I was feeling about it. This is the only book of Sarah Rayne's that's left me so underwhelmed, and all I can suggest is to read something else by this author. Try her Michael Flint and Nell West series....more
I enjoyed this book. Sarah Rayne has taken a bit of a throw-in-the-kitchen-sink approach to writing a gothic novel — she's got a haunted house, an insI enjoyed this book. Sarah Rayne has taken a bit of a throw-in-the-kitchen-sink approach to writing a gothic novel — she's got a haunted house, an insane nun, a ghost, a reporter, a lot of sex, a late Victorian feminist and her Dickensian author lover, child prostitution, creepy nursery rhymes and probably some things I'm forgetting. Yes, this is the sort of book where people get thrown down wells. With all that going on, it's almost surprising that it all fits together so well. Rayne is a very good writer. She owes me an extra eight hours of sleep, on account of that's what I gave up to finish her book....more
This book reminded me of Maggie Prince's "The House on Hound Hill" and Penelope Lively's "The Ghost of Thomas Kempe" because of the similarity in plotThis book reminded me of Maggie Prince's "The House on Hound Hill" and Penelope Lively's "The Ghost of Thomas Kempe" because of the similarity in plot and atmosphere, and also the historical period of the respective ghosts. One of the things that stood out for me was how independent the children are in this book. It is hard to imagine a modern preteen casually assuming nobody would pick her up at the airport, catching several buses, and making her way to the right house! I think that was meant to show that Carol was unusually independent even for the 70s, but today it would trigger an Amber Alert (or the English equivalent), I suspect.
Carol has come to visit her aunt and uncle in England, and slowly becomes friends with their son Bruce, as she discovers that their 17th century house is haunted. Carol and Bruce unravel the mystery by deduction, luck, and hauling a lot of masonry in the basement.
The prickly relationship between Bruce and has dad is handled well. When Carol and Bruce are talking with the priest about their ghosts, and Bruce is reluctant to tell his skeptic historian father about them, the priest says, rather directly, "Your father has a clear, sensible mind and a generous personality. I think you could hurt him very deeply if you wanted to." Bruce says, "What makes you think I want that?" and the priest replies, "Because you do hurt him."...more
Fantastic book about a girl whose parents have recently split moving into a new house with something...odd about it. The girl, Emily, feels out of plaFantastic book about a girl whose parents have recently split moving into a new house with something...odd about it. The girl, Emily, feels out of place, caught between friends she hasn't made yet and losing her old ones, and her emotions gradually lead her to see images of the past, the Great Plague of 1665, imprinted on the present. And then the opposite happens and she finds herself in 1665 in the middle of a terrifying situation.
The book is written entirely in the present tense, which I found annoying for about three seconds and then I stopped noticing it because the author uses the technique so skillfully. It makes it seem like Emily is perpetually stunned by everything that's happening to her, and it's all going down much too fast. Since that was clearly the author's intent, it works.
There are two other fantastic books that this one reminds me of. One is "The Ghost of Thomas Kempe" by Penelope Lively, and the other is "Black Harvest" by Ann Cheetham or Ann Pilling (Ann has two pen names and you can find editions of that book under either). They share a similarity in plot — somehow the past gets involved with the present — and also that in both of them, the main character is dealing with some major life issues that are given context or illuminated by dealing with the ghost problem. If you've enjoyed either of those books, you'll probably like this one, and vice versa....more
This is one of the best books I have ever read. The ending is both wistful and sad and inevitable. Penelope repeatedly slips back in time at her familThis is one of the best books I have ever read. The ending is both wistful and sad and inevitable. Penelope repeatedly slips back in time at her family's ancient country farm, Thackers, to the 1580s and then back to her present, 1906-08. Penelope's ancestors were servants to the Babingtons, who are fundamentally nice people (with a few exceptions). She becomes part of their family, in the 16th century, accepted as a sort of cousin who nobody can quite place and who tends to vanish without notice. The eldest Babington son, Anthony, is deeply involved in a plot to spirit Mary, Queen of Scots out of England to France. Mary is being held prisoner in the farm next to Thackers and Anthony is excavating a tunnel. Penelope knows from the outset that he doesn't succeed, that he eventually dies, but Penelope finds she can't make big changes to history. (This also has the effect of ridding the book of time travel paradoxes.) She can change how people feel about events but not the events themselves. This becomes the true subject of the book: how people feel about history as they are living it, and later looking backward. The reader and Penelope and the Babingtons know how it will end. They hope otherwise, but they know. Anthony knows he is doomed but he tries to save Queen Mary anyway, because he loves her. Penelope knows she can't save them but she keeps returning because she loves the Babingtons. And the house, Thackers, is always there.
Side note: If you love old houses, this ia a book you should read....more
I really enjoyed The Historian despite the somewhat lame ending. My favorite part of ghost stories is always the trip to the library, and this book isI really enjoyed The Historian despite the somewhat lame ending. My favorite part of ghost stories is always the trip to the library, and this book is basically one big long library trip. The story is also undeniably creepy. Every person they meet seems to have something to do with Vlad, whether for or against, so the suspense comes from never knowing if someone will betray or help....more
This book is very similar to Josephine Tey's "Daughter of Time." A wealthy man is recovering from a heart attack in his new (to him) but otherwise extThis book is very similar to Josephine Tey's "Daughter of Time." A wealthy man is recovering from a heart attack in his new (to him) but otherwise extremely old house. He discovers a skeleton in a priest's hole, and slowly researches how it ended up there. I've gone and made it sound all dry, but really it's not — Aird did a brilliant job at atmosphere in this book. She slowly generates tension and makes the historical characters alive as we learn about them. If your favorite part of a traditional ghost story is the inevitable trip to the library, you should read this....more
These are folk stories, somewhere between fact and fiction, from the region of East Anglia, England. Many are ghost stories. You can't take them for lThese are folk stories, somewhere between fact and fiction, from the region of East Anglia, England. Many are ghost stories. You can't take them for literal truth, but often the details preserve folk customs that have died out. This book is now increasingly rare, and the sequel (which is even better), "More Tales from the Fens" is even rarer. I hope someone preserves and reprints these books one day, or the information will be lost....more