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review 2020-06-08 15:19
Unsettled Spirits
Unsettled Spirits - J. Matthew Saunders

by J. Matthew Saunders

 

Workers at a tractor and farm supply company play a common prank on Bobby, a new guy, by having him go into the factory after hours on a ruse, but things go wrong. There is genuine gossip about the factory being haunted and when Bobby hears a child laughing just before the lights go out, he is terrified. A subsequent unfortunate accident brings the incident under investigation.

 

Zed & Penelope make such investigations their business and are called in. They also consult an associate, Charles, who is an adept magician. The company owner brings in a magician of his own, but won't say who.

 

The story is fairly short, yet has a lot of strands. I thought it had too much description of minor characters and sometimes seemed unclear what was going on.

 

Apart from the beginning, I can't say there were a lot of scares and the story falls more into a detective story than chilling Horror, until near the end. There is even some doubt cast on the legitimacy of the hauntings.

 

Some interesting supernatural shenanigans happen towards the end, but then the story just stops. No explanation, no resolution. Presumably it's a serial, but there is no warning in the description to say so. There were some interesting ideas involved and the writing was fairly good, but the plot didn't have me riveted enough to compel me to read another book to tie up all the loose ends left hanging.

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review 2020-06-07 13:18
The Widow Of Pale Harbour
The Widow of Pale Harbour - Hester Fox

by Hester Fox

 

In a small coastal town, a widow is a recluse and the townspeople call her a witch, accuse her of murdering her husband, and tell the new minister to avoid her. The new minister is not really a minister, but in homage to his dead wife, took an opportunity to fill the shoes of the man who was supposed to be the new minister but died in transit. Of course after all the warnings, he goes straight up to visit the reclusive widow.

 

It doesn't take long before an attraction forms between him and the widow, portending the romantic nature of the tale ahead, but it is also a mystery with various parts of the widow's history coming out in drips and drabs and reports of her by her staff that conflict with what the townspeople have to say.

 

I have to admit that this story balances between Romance and Mystery genres. I'm not a big fan of Romance for exactly many of the elements included in the plot, especially the sudden reveals at the end that had no real foreshadowing and the absolute stupidity of some of the choices the main characters make.

 

From a Mystery point of view, it has some strong merits, especially in that guessing who the culprit is could keep a Mystery reader's mind busy, as the whole town hates the widow and it could literally be anyone. There's also a secondary mystery about what exactly happened to the widow's husband. The reader gets a lot of teasers about this before it is finally revealed.

 

There was a lot to like about this story, but it lacked subtlety in both the romance and mystery aspects. The detailed clues were too sparse and the blossoming romance feels rather contrived. The connections at the end reminded me of an American soap opera, where suddenly you learn things that had no build up of any kind.

 

Having said that, it was easy to be sympathetic with the characters and there was good pacing to the plot and some drama at the end which while fairly predictable, kept my interest.

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review 2020-05-14 15:43
A totally immersing and wonderful reading experience
The Glass House - Eve Chase

Thanks to Penguin UK - Michael Joseph and NetGalley for providing me an ARC copy of this book that I freely chose to review. This is the first time I’ve read one of Eve Chase’s novels, and I’m sure it won’t be the last one as I found it a totally immersing and wonderful experience.

The plot has something of the fairy tale (or of several fairy tales), as this is a dual-timeline story where we read about some events that took place in the early 1970s —although that part of the action (in fact, the whole book) has something timeless about it— and then others that are taking place in the present. The story is told from three different points of view, those of Rita (told in a deep third person, as readers are privy to her feelings and thoughts), a very tall nanny (they call her ‘Big Rita’) with a tragic past; Hera, one of her charges, an intelligent and troubled child (almost a teen), who is more aware of what is truly going on around her than the adults realise; and Sylvia, a recently separated woman, mother of an eighteen-year-old girl, Annie, and trying to get used to an independent lifestyle again. Both, Hera and Sylvia, tell the story in the first person, and the chapters alternate between the three narrators and the two timelines. Rita and Hera’s narratives start in the 1970s and are intrinsically linked, telling the story of the Harrington family and of a summer holiday in the family home in the Forest of Dean, intended as a therapeutic break for the mother of the family, which turns up to be anything but. Most readers will imagine that Sylvia’s story, set in the present, must be related to that of the other two women, but it is not immediately evident how. There are secrets, mysteries, adultery, murders, lost and found babies, romance, tragedy, accidents, terraria (or terrariums, like the lovely one in the cover of the book), cruelty, fire… The book is classed under Gothic fiction (and in many ways it has many of the elements we’d expect from a Victorian Gothic novel, or a fairy tale, as I said), and also as a domestic thriller, and yes, it also fits in that category, but with a lot more symbolism than is usual in that genre, a house in the forest rather than a suburban or a city home, and some characters that are larger than life.

Loss, grief, identity (how we define ourselves and how we are marked by family tradition and the stories we are told growing up), the relationship between mothers and daughters, and what makes a family a family are among the themes running through the novel, as are memory and the different ways people try to cope with trauma and painful past events.

I’ve mentioned the characters in passing, and although some of them might sound familiar when we start reading about them (Rita, the shy woman, too tall and scarred to be considered attractive, who seeks refuge in other people’s family; Hera, the young girl growing in a wealthy family with a mother who has mental health problems and a largely absent father; and Sylvia, a woman in her forties suddenly confronted with having to truly become an adult when both, her mother and her daughter need her), there is more to them than meets the eye, and they all grow and evolve during the novel, having to confront some painful truths in the process. I liked Rita and Sylvia from the beginning, even though I don’t have much in common with either of them, and felt sorry for Hera. Although the events and the story require a degree of suspension of disbelief greater than in other novels, the characters, their emotions, and their reactions are understandable and feel real within the remit of the story, and it would be difficult to read it and not feel for them.

I loved the style that offers a good mix of descriptive writing (especially vivid when dealing with the setting of the story, the forest, Devon, and the terrarium) and more symbolic and lyrical writing when dealing with the emotions and the state of mind of the characters. At times, we can almost physically share in their experiences, hear the noises in the woods, or smell the sea breeze. This is not a rushed story, and although the action and the plot move along at a reasonable pace, there is enough time to stop to contemplate and marvel at a fern, the feel of a baby’s skin, or the music from a guitar. This is not a frantic thriller but a rather precious story, and it won’t suit people looking for constant action and a fast pace. I’ve read some reviews where readers complained about feeling confused by the dual time lines and the different narrators, although I didn’t find it confusing as each chapter is clearly marked and labelled (both with mention of the time and the character whose point of view we are reading). I recommend anybody thinking about reading the book to check a sample first, to see if it is a good fit for their taste.

The ending… I’m going to avoid spoilers, as usual, but I liked the way everything comes together and fits in. Did I work out what was going on? Some of the revelations happen quite early, but some of the details don’t come to light until much later, and the author is masterful in the way she drops clues that we might miss and obscures/hides information until the right moment. I guessed some of the points, others I only realised quite close to the actual ending, but, in any case, I loved how it all came together, like in a fairy tale, only even better.

This is a novel for readers who don’t mind letting their imagination fly and who are not looking for a totally realistic novel based on fact. With wonderful characters, magnificent settings, many elements that will make readers think of fairy tales, and a Gothic feel, this is a great novel, and an author whose work I look forward to reading again in the near future.

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review 2020-03-23 11:22
Bone China
Bone China - Laura Purcell

by Laura Purcell

 

This started out with two of my personal cardinal sins: a list of characters, something I always skip past because it's meaningless until they have context in the story, and present tense writing. Having said that, the first chapter was very effective that way and would have made a great prologue. Dickens used to write the occasional present tense chapter to put immediacy into a segment of a story, but it doesn't work to do a whole book in present tense.

 

It starts out with a woman running from something, riding in an old time coach and wearing a dress that gives the impression of a lady, when she is not. An accident leads to her helping an injured man, remonstrating with herself for drawing attention so that people will remember her.

 

This is where I'm glad I skipped the character list. Learning who this woman is and what she's running from gives me a reason to continue! She has had some form of medical training, which makes her stand out as a woman healer in an older era when such things were uncommon.

 

We get a flashback of her history that explains where the dress came from and that her mother was a midwife. This is told in past tense and I found myself very interested in her story. A lot is put into her psychological make-up and motivations to develop a clear picture of the character.

 

There's a strong element of Cornish Pixie lore (though it should be Piskies there) to add a creepy element. The story behind the delicate blue and white china comes out by the end and the significance becomes clear.

 

I have mixed feelings about the end, but the story as a whole did keep my attention and had just that hint of Horror to make it fit firmly in the Gothic category.

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review 2020-03-03 03:26
Lord Byron was not a nice man
The Poet and the Vampyre: The Curse of Byron and the Birth of Literature's Greatest Monsters - Andrew McConnell Stott

Back in 2014 I read a book called The Seven Lives of John Murray which gave a somewhat one-sided description of Lord Byron (keeping in mind his relationship to the publishing house and its publisher). However, I still felt I had a pretty firm grasp on the man and his relationship to Percy Shelley. And then I read The Poet and the Vampyre: The Curse of Byron and the Birth of Literature's Greatest Monsters by Andrew McConnell Stott. The author primarily uses historical material from two people who knew Byron and the Shelley's well (and kept detailed diaries and letters): Claire Clairmont (Mary's step sister) and John Polidori (Byron's physician). Because John Murray's relationship to Byron was mainly a professional one the veil wasn't quite lifted as to what sort of a man he really was and I'm sorry to tell you this but he was a mean-spirited bully. Much of Byron's suffering was of his own making and he made sure to share the wealth with others. He drew creative people to him like a moth to a flame but they were undoubtedly going to be burnt once they got too close. I especially felt sorry for Mary and her sister Claire. Claire was totally besotted with Byron and much like the other women in his life when she became a yoke around his neck he discarded her. (Don't even get me started on the child they had together.) Poor Mary suffered just as much if not more so than her sister. There was so much loss her in her life, ya'll. (Rather than spoil all the history I'll leave it at that to whet your appetite.) Now John Polidori was a name I don't recall ever seeing before but as an aspiring writer and devotee of Byron he of course did not make it away from him unscathed. [A/N: I should point out that there all being together happened during one summer and yet it makes for a lot of historical material especially considering the correspondence that flowed between them afterwards.]

 

All in all, this was a very interesting historical novel which gave a much less biased depiction of the major players than what I had already read. Honestly, my one complaint is that I felt there was no one central character in this book which made it feel somewhat unmoored. Is this a book about Byron or a book about Shelley? Either way, neither one comes out especially smelling like roses (although Shelley would be my choice any day of the week over that scoundrel Byron). 9/10

 

*By the way, this book was generously sent to me from my cooler than cool friend Katie who works as an editor over at Pegasus Books. Thanks for always looking out, Katie! (Obviously, this in no way influenced my review but I do appreciate the free lit.)*

 

What's Up Next: It Takes One by Kate Locke

 

What I'm Currently Reading: Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo

Source: readingforthehckofit.blogspot.com
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