Review: The Vanishing by Sophia Tobin

vanishingWhat I thought:

I really don’t like posting negative reviews but I do feel it’s important to be honest about a book. After all,  one person’s trash is another person’s treasure and all that (not saying that this book is trash, it just didn’t work for me).

I thought I would love The Vanishing. I wanted to love it. The blurb and the reviews I had seen made it sound like it had almost been written for me: Bronte-esque (massive tick), historical (tick), set in Yorkshire (tick – I live there), not just in Yorkshire but on the bleak Yorkshire moors (massive tick), gothic (tick), mystery (tick), drama (tick). So why then did I struggle to even like this book, let alone love it?

The Vanishing started out so well. From the prologue and the first few chapters I really thought I was going to enjoy this book. It almost felt a little du Maurier – sneaking out of an inn in the dead of night, into a waiting carriage; what or who were they running from and why? Gothic and mysterious, it grabbed me and threatened not to let me go. But then it did. And not just lightly; I felt I had been unceremoniously dumped by the side of the road and was left wondering what the hell happened?

Here are my problems: Although clearly set in the past, it really could have been any time. References to bonnets and cloaks and candles obviously point to a previous time in history but I was told these things, rather than made to feel them. There was not enough imagery that enabled me to imagine the smells, sounds and atmosphere of either Yorkshire or London. I live in Yorkshire and one of my favourite places in the world is the Yorkshire moors – bleak, open, beautiful, rugged, wild. While I could certainly get a sense of place, it didn’t seep into my bones, and that’s what a really well-written book does for me: makes me believe I am right there in the thick of it.

I have read reviews that liken the writing to the Bronte sisters. Maybe that is unfair to even try to compare, as nobody can surpass the Brontes as far as I’m concerned, but even so, I really couldn’t even draw any real parallels other than the location, time period or attempt at what appeared to be trying to recreate elements of some well-known characters from their books. The characters were mostly never more than two-dimensional for me, although I did really take to Thomas Digby who was really one of the few likable characters in the book. I was constantly perplexed by Annaleigh (the protagonist) from her apparent falling in love with Marcus Twentyman, a character who had barely touched the pages at the beginning and appeared to have no redeeming qualities at all (certainly not in a brooding and aloof Mr Rochester or Mr Darcy way, but also in any way that I could fathom to cause Annaleigh to fall for him), through to her increasingly violent actions that felt more psychopath than revengeful. The other characters were never fully fleshed out enough for me either also seemed to blow hot and cold depending on which direction the author wanted to take the book at that time rather than for any discernable reason for their change in behaviour.

There were things that I liked, however, and I think it’s important to mention these: the sense of claustrophobia and isolation was palpable and I liked the brief respite that Thomas Digby and his family brought to the book. The cover is gorgeous too.

Verdict:

I am left with a feeling that is somewhere between perplexed, disappointed and scratching my head with incomprehension. Unbelievable motives, unconvincing and clichéd characters and a feeling that I have wasted several hours of my life. Every now and then I would have a moment of hope / joy when I thought the book might just get back on track again but unfortunately those were all too infrequent and brief.

A massive disappointment for me, but hey, each to their own and there are plenty more positive reviews of this book than there are negative and anyway, no press is bad press if it gets people talking, right? I am really keen to hear what others think of this book as there seem to be largely polarised views between the lovers and haters with little in between.

Throwback Thursday: The Devotion of Suspect X by Keigo Higashino

throwbackthursday

Throwback Thursday is a meme created by Renee at It’s Book Talk to share old favourite books rather than just the new shiny ones. This is a great idea to bring back to life some much-loved books. Please feel free to join in.

My choice for this week is: The Devotion of Suspect X by Keigo Higashino and copied from my review in 2011.

 

suspect xWhat I thought:

What a strange yet strangely appealing book from this Japanese author, Keigo Higashino. I have read several novels by Japanese authors over the years and they have all had similar styles in that they have been sparsely written with barely a word wasted, yet they have all packed an almighty punch (without even trying it somehow seems). The Devotion of Suspect X is a clever crime book. There is a murder but no blood and guts, a crime but no evidence. The killing takes place in the first few pages of the book and we all know straight away who did it: what happens immediately afterwards is what keeps the reader on their toes.

The story is centred around Yasuko, a single mum who works in a lunch-box shop and whose unsavoury ex-husband tries to worm his way back into her life. Within pages, said ex-husband is dead and entering from stage left is strange next-door neighbour Ishigami, who is a genius mathematician with rather a large crush on Ysasuko. On the case of the body dumped in an oil drum by the river is Tokyo  Detective Kusangi who vents his frustrations about the case to friend Yukawa who happens to be a genius physician and who knew Ishigami at University. What follows is clash of the geniuses: not in an action-packed, race-against-time way, but more like a battle of brains over a quiet game of chess. While this was a great way to help the reader unravel what happened, I have to admit that about ¾ of the way through the book I started to become a little bored with the perpetual cat-and-mouse game between Yukawa and Ishigami: I remember sighing and uttering “get on with it” at one point. However, not long after I was rewarded with an almighty wallop at the end that I didn’t see coming. And then, just as I’d relaxed again, I was left staring at an ending that made my mouth go into this shape….. O

Verdict:

Quirky, surprising and rewarding.

 

Have you read this or any other fiction by Japanese authors? What did you think?

 

Review: The Girl Before by J P Delaney

girl beforeWhat I thought:

Despite my growing aversion to anything with “Girl” in the title (or sister, husband or missing, come to that), The Girl Before has proved that I was wrong to judge a book by its cover (or title in this case). It was a big hit!

Narrated in turn by Emma (Then) and Jane (Now), the story is centred around a unique home at 1, Folgate Street in London. Jane moves into what she thinks is her dream home (beautiful, uncluttered and a pittance for what it is) to help get over a tragedy she has just suffered. Desperate to start a clean slate, she isn’t put off sending in her application for the most beautiful house where everything is controlled by an app, despite a list of 200 psychometric questions that have to be answered. Most people, the Agent says, don’t get a look in. Only a select few ever make the cut. But once Jane is settled she finds out that Emma, the girl before, died in mysterious circumstances right there in the home.

I had many reservations about this book before reading, and having Girl in the title was only one of them. I had seen mixed reviews, with many stating that it was Fifty-Shades-of-Gray-esque which was enough to put me off all on its own. Now, I haven’t actually read Fifty Shades but I did sit through the most excruciatingly boring 2 hours of my life once when I was persuaded to watch it with a friend. I can see the parallels alright – the controlling, emotionally stunted, control freak who is the Landlord and women who apparently fall at his feet. These bits I didn’t particularly like, and in fact, I had a hard time warming to most of the characters, but yet I was gripped from the start and compelled to keep reading on.

Verdict:

I found this to be a real page-turner and  I thoroughly enjoyed it. The chapters are short, there are unreliable narrators so you’re never really clear on what’s real and what’s not. It was pacy and entertaining and I give it a big thumbs up.

Have you read this yet? What did you think?

Review: Fierce Kingdom by Gin Phillips

FIERCE-KINGDOM-by-Gin-Phillips-smallWhat I thought:

Joan and her 4-year old son, Lincoln, are at the zoo when a teenage shooter turns their afternoon of fun into a heart-stopping race for survival. Hiding in an animal enclosure as it grows dark, the story unfolds mostly from Joan’s point of view and occasionally from a few others who are also hiding.

Imagine trying to keep a 4-year old quiet and still while all the time assessing the situation for a way out. Although I don’t have children of my own, I was once (a zillion years ago) and au pair to several young children and therefore I could understand the endless chatter and make-believe and innocence of a child while all hell is breaking loose around them, and it didn’t take much imagination to recognise how utterly and fiercely a mother would want to protect her child.

While there was much forward momentum, there were also parts that dragged somewhat for me. I did feel like a lot of it was centered around Lincoln and his make-believe world rather than the developing plot. There is only so much interest I can feign in plastic toys.

Verdict:

I liked the fact that this isn’t your normal type of thriller and, there were genuine edge-of-your-seat moments that ensure those pages kept turning. And I actually didn’t see the end coming…

 

NB/ I was provided a copy of this book for review from the publisher in return for my honest opinion.

Blog Tour: Six Stories by Matt Wesolowski

sixBlog Tour:

I am delighted to be part of the blog tour for Six Stories for several reasons:

  1. The book is fantastic and original (and a little bit scary!)
  2. I had the privilege of meeting Matt last month and listening to him talk about the book
  3. It’s published by the fabulous Orenda Books

 

The Book – What I thought:

Deliciously original! I do love it when I come across a book with a format that hasn’t been used before. Hats off, and then some!

Told through the medium of podcasts, the book is split into the stories of 6 people who were around at the time of the death of a 15-year-old boy, Tom Jeffries, in 1997 on Scarclaw Fell in the middle of nowhere. It is hosted by a mysterious podcaster who wears a mask in the hope that his subjects will open up to him more due to the anonymity.  The podcasts grow rapidly in numbers of listeners as each story is aired, and there becomes somewhat of a frenzy around them as we work up to the final one.

But, hang on…. Six Stories isn’t just any thriller. It’s a damn scary one at times! Nanna Wrack terrified me so much that I daren’t stay up reading it on my own. I can’t remember the last time a book had that effect on me (in fact, I’m not normally a fan of horror or spooky but this was really well done).

A great book: original, engaging and written by an author that is one to watch. Highly, highly recommended!

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Author Interview:

I am really thrilled to have had the opportunity to ask Matt some questions for the blog tour.

TBW – Six Stories had quite a few “hide-behind-the-sofa” moments. Did you intend to make the book a bit scary or did it just turn out that way?

Matt – Coming from a horror background, I think the horror just wound its way naturally into the story. I didn’t plan it; it just sort of happened that way. I was supposed to be writing my first crime novel after all…I honestly didn’t expect the response to the scary parts…it’s terribly humbling! Scaring people is something I’ve always strived to do in my writing.

TBW – Nanna Wrack! Explain yourself! 

Matt – Nanna Wrack is a sort of amalgamation of cautionary folktales from across the world. Cross-culturally, there are many bogeymen (and women) that haunt wild places, from Africa to the Arctic. Folk tales, mythology and cryptozoology are great passions of mine and I felt like Nanna Wrack is a bit like me putting my stamp on a crime story. I also like to entertain the idea that Nanna Wrack is nature perhaps fighting back at a world that is shifting away from nature…

TBW – Crime by podcast: how did you come up with this idea? 

Matt – I was a latecomer to Serial and binged it in a few sittings. I loved this fresh new format and the way it left you with more questions than answers. I figured if no one else had written a book in this style, I would do it first, then when a better writer than me did it, at least I could say it was my idea. I didn’t even know if it work work this way, but I had to try.

TBW – Which podcasts do you listen to and can you recommend any for crime fiction fans?

Matt – I listen to a lot of true crime podcasts rather than fictional ones. for me, truth is always scarier; my favourites at the minute are My Favourite Murder, Last Podcast on the Left, True Crime Brewery, Case File and They Walk Among Us.  For fictional ones, I quite enjoyed The Black Tapes and Tanis.

TBW – Did you alway want to be a published author? How did you get to where you are today with your debut novel just being released?

Matt – I’ve wanted to be an author, ever since about year 8. I’ve had many jobs in my time but they’ve always felt secondary to writing. I got here by perseverance; I didn’t stop writing, I went to every workshop, every event, everything that would help improve my craft. I joined a writing society at university. I wrote plays, poetry, short stories, sent stuff out , got rejected again and again and again. Maybe being stubborn is a better term for me…that’s the advice I’d give to any aspiring writer; be stubborn, never let that dream die.

TBW – If you weren’t a writer what would be your dream job?

Matt – If I wasn’t a writer, my dream job would be working with animals, maybe in a sanctuary for abused and rescued farm animals, up on a hill, near a forest, far from civilisation. Or reindeer herding in the Arctic circle.

TBW – Are you working on another book? If so, can you give us any sneak previews?

Matt – I’ve just finished another one which, I’ll let you know, is not as original in terms of format as Six Stories. The intention of writing something stylistically original was just how Six Stories happened, it was just what fell out of my brain. I will say the next one has less of a horror element and is more of a crime ‘procedural’ but is equal in terms of darkness.

I’m currently half way through something that I don’t want to reveal yet, but let’s just say fans of northern grimness won’t be disappointed…

TBW – You’re stranded on a desert island for a year. Which 3 books do you take and why?

Matt – Rik Mayall – Bigger Than Hitler, Better Than Christ. This book never fails to make me laugh out loud. Rik Mayall was and still is one of my all time heroes and this autobiography is written so distinctly in his voice.

The Voynich Manuscript – a 15th century codex from Italy that is either a piece of linguistic genius or an elaborate prank. I discovered this when I was studying Linguistics at university; it has never been deciphered and whilst I’m no expert, a year on an island might give me a good chance.
The Necronomicon – by Abdul Alhazred. A year alone on a desert island is going to send me insane, I might as well pre-empt it and become a slave to the Great Old Ones.

TBW – Which other authors should we be reading and why?

Matt – Everyone should be reading Johana Gustawsson, a French author who’s just been snapped up by Orenda. I managed to get my paws on an advance copy of ‘Block 46’, a dark, brutal serial killer tale, the writing is magnificent. She’s going to be big! I would also advise anyone who hasn’t, to read anything by Lauren Beukes; she’s an incredible writer at the very top of her game.

TBW – Is there a question you wish I’d asked you and if so what is it?

Matt – I wished you’d asked me about food, no one asks me about food. Your answer would be hummus. All the hummus. Lebanese hummus. Nothing compares.

TBW – Quick fire round:

Favourite colour: Green
Favourite food: Turkish / Lebanese
Favourite holiday destination: Finland
Favourite animal: Cow
Favourite film: Dead Man’s Shoes
Favourite childhood memory: walking in the woods on an icy new year’s day.
TBW – A new book is already written – hurray!!!
Have you read Six Stories yet? What did you think?

 

 

Throwback Thursday: East Lynne by Ellen Wood

throwbackthursday

Throwback Thursday is a meme created by Renee at It’s Book Talk to share old favourite books rather than just the new shiny ones. This is a great idea to bring back to life some much-loved books. Please feel free to join in.

My choice for this week is:

East Lynne by Ellen Wood

Whenever I mention this book to anyone they tend to look at me blankly. Why this book is not better known, I will never know. In fact, I might just start a one-woman campaign to get more people to read it. Here is my review from 2010:

east-lynne

What I thought:

Eat your heart out Wilkie Collins. What a fantastic book this is! I just loved every minute of it (and there were a LOT of minutes – for some reason it took me an age to read). For about three weeks I felt like I was living in the middle of a Victorian soap-opera. There was murder, betrayal, divorce, disguises and death and all this set among a backdrop of stately homes and horse-and-carriages. What’s not to love?

I can’t understand why this book is not better known or held in higher esteem. Hallelujah for Oxford World Classics reviving this book (with a fab cover too). I haven’t read anywhere near the amount of Victorian classics that I want to yet but for me, this ranks among my favourites now. Classed as a sensational novel in the 1800’s when it was written, this book was serialised in a weekly newspaper. How I would have waited with baited breath for each new edition to hit the news- stands!

The books main character is Lady Isabel Vane who lives at East Lynne (a grand stately home) with her Father. When her Father, the Earl of Mount Severn, dies and his debts are discovered Lady Isabel is proposed to by the lovely young lawyer, Archibald Carlyle (much to the heartache of one Barbara Hare who, unbeknown to Archibald, is in love with him). Lady Isabel and Archibald seem happy together and go on to have three children, but all the while Archibald is helping Barbara Hare to clear her brother’s name for a murder that was committed some years ago and for which he escaped the scene of the crime and hasn’t been seen since. With all the clandestine meetings between Archibald and Barbara, Lady Isabel is overcome by jealousy and in the heat of the moment abandons her entire family for a man of very dubious character. I don’t want to say too much else for fear of spoiling the book for anyone, but needless to say that this is most definitely not the last we see of Lady Isabel (or the “cad” she ran off with). With misinterpreted conversations galore, hushed secrets and Christmas-cracker disguises this book gallops along with you not daring to let go.

I can honestly say that, for me, there was not a dull moment in this book. It is very accessible and easy to read, even for those who find Victorian literature hard going, and long though the book was, I was sad when I came to the end.

Verdict:

I think I can honestly say that the sensational novels of the Victorian era are some of my favourites, having also loved Lady Audley’s Secret (Mary Elizabeth Braddon) and The Woman In White (Wilkie Collins). I love the dramatic storylines and the fact that you can almost hear the swish of the stage curtain at the end of a chapter and the “DUN DUN DUUUUUUUN”!!!

Fabulous book. Highly recommended! Why oh why is this book not better known???

Review: To the Bright Edge of the World by Eowyn Ivey

to-the-bright-edge-of-the-worldWhat I thought: 

Several years ago, I read and subsequently fell in love with a book called The Snow Child. It was one of these books that felt like it had a little bit of magic sprinkled between the pages and one I still think of even now. I had high hopes for this book and although I found it incredibly well written and still has the components of love story, history, adventure and magical realism, it didn’t quite have the same impact that The Snow Child did, for me.

Told through letters, diary entries and newspaper articles, this is the story of an exploration to chart Alaska in 1885 once the Americans had bought it from Russia. Colonel Allen Forrester leads the expedition of 2 men, an Indian woman and a dog through snow, ice, uncharted terrain and hostile natives. The harsh and unforgiving landscape is the perfect setting for this tale of hardship and survival so much so that I was able to feel the bitter cold and fatigue as they fight their way through melting ice, haunted valleys and unforgiving storms.

Waiting behind in the barracks is Allen’s wife, Sophie, who found out she was pregnant just before the start of the expedition. A woman ahead of her time, Sophie is passionate about nature and learns photography rather than keeping house, much to the suspicion and disdain of the other army wives. I loved the relationship between Allen and Sophie; accepting of one another and encouraging of passions and talents; it was real, and vivid and tangible.

I found the magic brought about by Ivey’s lyrical and poetic prose in The Snow Child not as evident in To the Bright Edge of the World, sadly. That’s not to say that there wasn’t a beautiful and evocative quality to the writing – there was, it just wasn’t as abundant in my opinion and while I am equally happy with a character driven novel (person or landscape) as with a plot-driven book, this didn’t quite manage to have the forward momentum for me at times.

What I did enjoy was the North American mythology but I do wish it had played a more important part as I really felt that it added something special and different.

Verdict:

I think I wanted to love this book more than I did. And that’s not to say I didn’t enjoy it – I did, very much. Perhaps it was a case of great expectations and it didn’t quite hit the mark. Would I recommend? Yes, I absolutely would.