The Child Garden written by Catriona McPherson

Title: The Child Garden

Author: Catriona McPherson

Publisher: Constable (an imprint of Little Brown Group)

Date of Publication: 2015

Number of Pages: 292

 

Rating: 5 stars

 

Summary: Eden was its name. “An alternative school for happy children.” But it closed in disgrace after a student’s suicide. Now it’s a care home, its grounds neglected and overgrown. Gloria Harkness is its only neighbor, staying close to her son who lives there in the home, lighting up her life and breaking her heart each day.

When a childhood friend turns up at her door, Gloria doesn’t hesitate before asking him in. He claims a girl from Eden is stalking him and has goaded him into meeting her at the site of the suicide. Only then, the dead begin to speak—it was murder, they say.

Gloria is in over her head before she can help it. Her loneliness, her loyalty, and her all-consuming love for her son lead her into the heart of a dark secret that threatens everything she lives for.

 

Review: Knickerbocker Gloria, as she was known to her primary school friends is a strange woman but also oddly familiar. I understood her joy at living alone in an old and crumbling house; I understood why she lived with two cats and an elderly dog; I understood her loyalty to her son. I might not have a son but if you’ve got family you love, you know what I’m saying.

Gloria is also very straightlaced and predictable. Perhaps this is why she wanted some adventure. She certainly got it.

The Child Garden is, at moments, completely believable and at others, a real stretch. The fine line McPherson walks is very well managed and while there are characters and scenarios that shouldn’t work, there isn’t a moment where you’re jolted from the narrative wondering what the hell just happened.

This is my second novel by McPherson and it won’t be my last. There’s something about her story telling that just connects with me. The stories haven’t been hard work to follow or difficult to read but its unrelenting and you never really get a chance to settle into one narrative idea. The hard thing for me now Will be deciding which book to find next. I guess I’ll let just have to see what the library has.

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The Ballroom written by Anna Hope

Title: The Ballroom

Author: Anna Hope

Publisher: Random House US, Transworld Publishers

Date of Publication: 11 February 2016

Number of Pages: 320

Rating: 5 stars

Disclaimer: Copy provided free by NetGalley in exchange for an honest review

Summary: Where love is your only escape ….

1911: Inside an asylum at the edge of the Yorkshire moors, where men and women are kept apart by high walls and barred windows, there is a ballroom vast and beautiful. For one bright evening every week they come together and dance. When John and Ella meet It is a dance that will change two lives forever.

Review: What a gem this book is. It’s wrong to call this story simplistic as it’s far from it, however there’s a charm that takes you by surprise – even in the moments of sadness. Told from the point of view of three characters, each narrated with unique and clear voices, Hope leads us through the trauma, the desperation and the anticipation of freedom that swells from the page.

The moments of brutality that brush against the moments of beauty are astonishing. From start to finish, the words flow over you, surround you and leave you feeling somewhat claustrophobic. Exactly how you might imagine a life inside these walls to feel.

I found myself wanting more but also feeling glad it was finished- especially with that epilogue! Definitely worth taking the time to read.

[Review] Quiet Neighbours by Catriona McPherson

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Title: Quiet Neighbours

Author: Catriona McPherson

Publisher: Midnight Ink

Date of Publication: 8 April 2016

Number of Pages: 341

 

Rating: 5 stars

 

Disclaimer: Copy provided free by NetGalley in exchange for an honest review

 

Summary: It’s the oldest bookshop in a town full of bookshops; rambling and disordered, full of treasures if you look hard. Jude found one of the treasures when she visited last summer, the high point of a miserable vacation. Now, in the depths of winter, when she has to run away, Lowell’s chaotic bookshop in that backwater of a town is the safe place she runs to.

Jude needs a bolt-hole; Lowell needs an assistant and, when an affordable rental is thrown in too, life begins to look up. The gravedigger’s cottage isn’t perfect for a woman alone but at least she has quiet neighbors.

Quiet, but not silent. The long dead and the books they left behind both have tales to tell and the dusty rooms of the bookshop are not the haven they seem to be. Lowell’s past and Jude’s present are a dangerous cocktail of secrets and lies and someone is coming to light the taper that could destroy everything.

 

Review: This book is deceptive. The cover and the blurb, for me, suggested a horror novel. One with some creepy ghost that makes its presence felt in strange ways. There were little parts where I had genuine creeps and as it progressed I realised that while it wasn’t scary  it had suckered me in with a great hook and I just then had to know how it finished.

 

At one point I started to wonder if the plot was going to unravel because there were so many of them. This never eventuated. I found the whole story to be pretty convincing and while I had suspicions about all the characters, I could never quite pin down where McPherson was going to of next.

 

McPherson is an author I will be going back to and I’m excited to see what other stories she has for us.

 

 

 

 

Hex by Thomas Olde Heuvelt

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Title: Hex
Author:
 Thomas Olde Heuvelt
Publisher:  Hodder & Stoughton
Date of Publication:  28 April 2016
Number of Pages: 384
Read between: 24 Aug – 06 September 2017

Rating:  stars

What a TRIP! This book is fantastic. If you’re looking for Halloween fiction that will legitimate scare the crap out of you, this is the book!

Hex is a bit of a slow burner for the first 50 or so pages but once the momentum grows, it’s an absolute rollercoaster. The level of creep increases and increases and you’re constantly feeling uncomfortable. It’s brilliant. Try reading it as the sun starts to go down and you’re about to walk home in the twilight.

Yes, it’s violent. Yes, it’s physical violence against women but the male characters experience far worse. Yes, it’s so far-fetched it doesn’t seem real BUT you have to suspend your disbelief.

Some people have critiqued Hex saying it’s misogynistic and yes, if you’re inclined to deconstruct a text from a feminist point of view, you’ll have an absolute field day. Now on some levels I don’t disagree but if the reader takes the text from a humanist point of view, you get a morality tale that exposes the very best and worst of us as people. I also feel that some readers take up a book and immediately start to look for the negatives and the flaws. I try not to do that. I only pick up books I think I’m going to like and if I don’t like them, I simply stop reading them and return them.

This is going off track but what I want you to understand is that this book is hard to read because it does expose us. It does challenge us to think about how we treat other people. It does challenge us to think about others ahead of ourselves. The greater good and the opportunities we shut down because of fear.

Just read it. I doubt you’ll be disappointed and if you are, isn’t that equally as great.

Summary: Whoever is born here, is doomed to stay until death. Whoever comes to stay, never leaves.

Welcome to Black Spring, the seemingly picturesque Hudson Valley town haunted by the Black Rock Witch, a seventeenth-century woman whose eyes and mouth are sewn shut. Blind and silenced, she walks the streets and enters homes at will. She stands next to children’s beds for nights on end. So accustomed to her have the townsfolk become that they often forget she’s there. Or what a threat she poses. Because if the stitches are ever cut open, the story goes, the whole town will die.

The curse must not be allowed to spread. The elders of Black Spring have used high-tech surveillance to quarantine the town. Frustrated with being kept in lockdown, the town’s teenagers decide to break the strict regulations and go viral with the haunting. But, in so doing, they send the town spiralling into a dark nightmare.

The Other Mrs Walker by Mary Paulson-Ellis

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Title: The Other Mrs Walker
Author:
 Mary Paulson-Ellis
Publisher:  Picador
Date of Publication:  23 March 2017
Number of Pages: 448
Read between: 18-24 August 2017

Rating:  2-star

I don’t know what to make of The Other Mrs Walker.  Yes, it was interesting and quirky but it lacked substance and solidity. There was a lot to be read as believable but it just wasn’t believable. Now I know there are services in the UK that are dedicated to tracing the nearest blood relative of someone who has passed away and that local councils have a role in this but Margaret Penny, just walking into the job seems a bit unreasonable and farfetched. Even if she is the daughter of a friend who knows someone who needs someone to find the relatives of a dead woman.

I’m genuinely, completely baffled by this book. Yes, it was engaging enough for me to finish but nothing happens. It’s all a little ho hum. It’s both fascinating and boring at the same time. I feel a little cross having spent a couple of hours reading it to be left hanging in such an unsatisfactory way. It’s not even as though a second one could follow because this story line was too unique.

The Other Mrs Walker is just a book that I didn’t like particularly much but felt I had to finish because there was just the smallest chance something interesting might happen. I think part of the problem is how unlikely the setup is and how the odds are so greatly against it ever actually happening, you can’t really suspend your disbelief. I’m not the only person to have found that either.

It’s not a bad book but would I recommend you taking the time to find a copy and read it? No. There’s better choices.

Summary: Somehow, she’d always known that she would end like this. In a small square room, in a small square flat. In a small square box, perhaps. Cardboard, with a sticker on the outside. And a name…

An old lady dies alone and unheeded in a cold Edinburgh flat, on a snowy Christmas night. A faded emerald dress hangs in her wardrobe; a spilt glass of whisky pools on the carpet. A few days later a middle-aged woman arrives back to the city of her birth, her future uncertain, her past in tatters. But what Margaret Penny cannot yet know is that in investigating the death of one friendless old lady, her own life will become enriched beyond measure.

The Waking that Kills by Stephen Gregory

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Title:
The Waking that Kills
Author: Stephen Gregory
Publisher:  Solaris
Date of Publication:  7 November 2013
Number of Pages: 223
Read between: 11 – 16 August 2017

Rating:  stars

Review: Stephen Gregory is fast becoming one of my favourite horror writers. He’s not as prolific or as wordy as King but when it comes to the suspense, the tension, the creep, Gregory is a genius. There is a slow burn to his writing that makes you itchy. You know something is going to happen, you know it’s going to happen soon but you keep turning the pages with no release from the grip of the words.

Christopher Beale, home to deal with the aftermath of his father’s stroke, takes up a teaching position with Juliet Lundy and her son Lawrence. The mother and son, in the heat of summer, are not what you expect and for me, it is Lawrence who I found myself wary of. I’m reluctant to go into much detail with this book because it would be so easy to give too much away. Even the title changes the way you read and approach and finish the book. Each detail is so cleverly thought out that to remove anything would ruin the feeling.

One co-reader writes that Christopher has no agency and this lack of being an agent doesn’t drive the story forward. For me, I felt the same thing but I think this works to the stories advantage. Why? Because if we had a protagonist who was trying to be a teacher in the traditional sense, or a border in a strange house, in the traditional sense, we would have a very different story with a very different outcome and this book would not achieve even half of what it does with Christopher being so passive. The whole time I was reading this book I could feel Christopher’s mind-numbing stupor coming through the pages. It was hot. No one, bar his father, knew where he was. He was drinking incredible amounts of gin and I have the impression that because he knew he couldn’t change anything, he decided not to bother.

The Waking that Kills has a very real and true feeling to it. While it is farfetched, there are moments where the story could have been pulled from the headlines.

If you’re a fan of horror and suspense, this is one for you.

Summary: A dark novel of Possession. The ghosts that haunt us are not always strangers. Lawrence Lundy’s military-pilot father is missing, and the boy is doing everything he can to keep his presence alive in the family home. Into this strange house comes Christopher Beale, a man just returned to the country who becomes drawn in to the apparent madness of the Lawrence and his mother.

A long, hot summer’s dream. A suffocating nightmare. Shattered by a violent awakening! When his elderly father suffers a stroke, Christopher Beale returns to England. He has no home, no other family. Adrift, he answers an advert for a live-in tutor for a teenage boy. The boy is Lawrence Lundy, who possesses the spirit of his father, a military pilot; missing, presumed dead. Unable to accept that his father is gone, Lawrence keeps his presence alive, in the big old house, in the overgrown garden. His mother, Juliet Lundy, a fey, scatty widow living on her nerves, keeps the boy at home, away from other children, away from the world. And in the suffocating heat of a long summer, she too is infected by the madness of her son. Christopher Beale becomes entangled in the strange household… enmeshed in the oddness of the boy and his fragile mother. Only by forcing the boy to release the spirit of his father can there be any escape from the haunting.

 

Uprooted by Naomi Novik

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Title: Uprooted
Author:
 Naomi Novik
Publisher:  Macmillan
Date of Publication:  21 May 2015
Number of Pages: 438
Read between: 09-11 August 2017

Rating:  stars

I had no expectations for this book, it was simply on my listed of ARC’s that needed to be read. What I was very pleased with was the story, the writing, the world created, the characters, the plot arc, everything.

Are there other readers out there who will disagree with me? Going by some of the reviews of Goodreads, vehemently yes.

Do I think they’re wrong? No, because there are books where the roles are reversed (see Gone Girl, Girl on the Train for just two examples).

However, some reviews are so nasty I can’t help but wonder what else was going on in their lives that they are so hate filled.

Were there problems with the book? Sure. Every single book published has problems.

But what did I like? I liked the mythology that Novik introduced and weaved through the pages. I liked the threads that almost felt like they didn’t mean anything that were suddenly tied up into an interesting crescendo and I liked that while Agnieszka might have been bullied and belittled by Dragon to start with, their relationship is far more nuanced than what some have called, a 50 Shades of Grey relationship. The two books don’t even compare.

For me, it was the magic of the world that Novik created. It was the overall believable nature of the characters, within a mythical world that kept me reading. In a world where everything is getting progressively more and more intolerant, it was nice to disappear inside Novik’s world for a few days.

Would I recommend this book? Yes. Anyone who wants to get away from this world, who likes fiction, who likes European mythology, who likes tales of battles, and redemption. This is a book for you.

 

Summary: Agnieszka loves her valley home, her quiet village, the forests and the bright shining river. But the corrupted wood stands on the border, full of malevolent power, and its shadow lies over her life.

Her people rely on the cold, ambitious wizard, known only as the Dragon, to keep the wood’s powers at bay. But he demands a terrible price for his help: one young woman must be handed over to serve him for ten years, a fate almost as terrible as being lost to the wood.

The next choosing is fast approaching, and Agnieszka is afraid. She knows – everyone knows – that the Dragon will take Kasia: beautiful, graceful, brave Kasia – all the things Agnieszka isn’t – and her dearest friend in the world. And there is no way to save her.

But no one can predict how or why the Dragon chooses a girl. And when he comes, it is not Kasia he will take with him.