Review: The Honeymoon by Tina Seskis

111111111What I thought:

This is one of those books where I scratch my head wondering if I have actually read the same book as everyone else. There is a lot of love for The Honeymoon so I am definitely in the minority here, however…

Where to even start? I suppose I did finish it so that’s something, but it was more to find out what this “amazing twist” was. Well, yes, it is a proper WTF moment but I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry (mainly that I had plowed on to the end to get to it).

This book had the promise of a great holiday thriller: a newly married couple on honeymoon in the Maldives and the groom disappears into thin air one night. With no way off the island, did he plan to disappear, did he commit suicide or was something more sinister at play? So here are my problems: set on a luxurious and idyllic island in the Indian Ocean and yet for all the sense of place I felt they could have been in Margate, and a couple who’s relationship I didn’t buy at all – I could never quite fathom what on earth kept them together for so long as there didn’t seem to be any spark of love (or even lust) between them.

The book is narrated mainly by Jemma who is a hugely unlikeable character with, in my opinion, no redeeming qualities whatsoever. Neither did her husband for that matter, or indeed the other couple on the island, Chrissy and Kenny. I found all the characters to be either cardboard cutouts or caricatures and couldn’t invest in them in any way. I found the narrative flat and one-dimensional, almost Janet and John at times, which may sound harsh but honestly, I just felt nothing while reading this book. Well, apart from at the end, once I got over my disgust and howled with laughter at its incredulity. It’s almost worth reading just for that but I actually feel that the reader has been cheated with the ending as any possible scenarios seem to fade to nothingness.

Verdict:

While I wasn’t expecting a work of great literary merit when I picked this up, I did at least expect something more than I got. I’m afraid this book left me feeling duped. I’m all for a bit of misdirection and the odd red herring but not when you realise that the entire book is one big diversion.

I’m really in the minority here and as I always say – judge for yourself; particularly as it seems to be a big hit for most. I just can’t recommend this book, sorry.

Throwback Thursday: North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell

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.

This week’s pick is North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell.

northWhat I thought:

This book has it all: class conflict, politics, religion, women’s rights and passion! It makes you think, it makes you reflect on what was and it makes you ponder how we got from there to where we are now. We smile with them, we cry with them.

North and South (originally called Margaret Hale, after the principal character, until Charles Dickens made Gaskell change it) starts with a little rose-covered cottage in the countryside in the south of England where Margaret Hale lives with her Pastor Father, her mother, and their servants. Margaret loves the outdoors; she loves to sketch nature and spends a carefree and idyllic youth milling around the land and helping neighbours with various acts of charity. Towards the end of Margaret’s teens, her father announces that he has abandoned the church and because of this the whole family is uprooted to Milton-Northern (apparently based on Gaskell’s hometown of Manchester) to start again.

Milton is an industrial town in the north of England and not only is the landscape the polar opposite of Margaret’s hometown of Helstone, with factories, smoke, noise, and pollution, but also the townsfolk are quite different from those she is used to. I found this very interesting, and this is why I think Dickens was absolutely right to make Gaskell change the title: there is still a divide even today between the north and the south in England, although not on the same scale as back in the Victorian era, no doubt. I am from the north of England (Yorkshire) and northerners, even today, have a reputation for speaking their mind and being somewhat brash. We are also known for being friendly and open, whereas southerners are thought of as being unfriendly (even rude) and looking down their noses at northerners. These are all stereotypes, you understand, but there is no smoke without fire, as they say.

The story centres around the town of Milton and, in my opinion, the actual town is the protagonist, rather than Margaret Hale. Margaret is the voice of the book and it is through her eyes that we see this new world that she inhabits; we see her eyes open to the poverty and suffering of her townsfolk, the difference between those who have and those who have not, but it is Milton who is the largest character.

Margaret quickly befriends a local man, Nicholas Higgins, who is a mill worker and struggling to bring up his two daughters, Betsy and Mary, after his wife’s death. Bessy is gravely ill from “fluff” which Margaret discovers is a result of working in one of the factories and she is appalled by the conditions that this family and others around the Higgins’ have to live in. She takes it out on John Thornton, a self-made businessman and mill owner and who is also a pupil of her father (he is studying literature with him) and when the workers start to revolt and strike against the mill-owners she believes that Mr. Thornton has done wrong by his workers. Mr. Thornton is a proud man, and although he is in love with Margaret, he knows that he will never be good enough for her and he is aware of Margaret’s dislike and contempt for him and his ways but he cannot help falling passionately in love with her. When the riots occur at the factory Margaret shields him with her own body when they start to throw things at him and afterwards he confesses his love for Margaret which horrifies her as she has acted upon charity and would have done the same for anyone.

The move to Milton and change of scenery and circumstances affect the whole family very badly, especially Margaret’s mother, Mrs. Hale, whose health is continuously failing her. Margaret, knowing that her mother doesn’t have long left to live, gets in touch with her brother Frederic (who is a family secret as Frederic is a  former officer of the Navy and is in hiding and wanted for having been the ringleader of a mutiny). His return would cost him his life, but  Margaret takes the risk for her mother’s sake and writes him a letter begging him to return as soon as possible. Frederic arrives and spends some time with his beloved family, but has to leave almost immediately as he is terrified of being discovered. Mr. Thornton sees him & his sister saying their goodbyes at the station and takes them for lovers. That is the first time that Margaret realizes she cares about the possible loss of his good opinion of her and fears that she is now falling in love with him just at the time when she believes that he is falling out of love with her.

Another sad and unforeseen event takes Margaret back to London to stay with her cousin Edith and her family, but she doesn’t relalise that Mr. Thornton is going through a financial crisis that is about to change his world too. Now you need to read it yourself to find out what happens!

Verdict:

I believe this book to be vitally important to understanding how far we have come today in such a short period of time; after all it was only written 160 years ago. But more than that, for me, it is also a fantastic psychological study of human nature and behaviour and shows us how little that changes over the years: we still have strikes, rebellion, politics change very little, people still love and despair and are proud and passionate – that doesn’t change.

For anyone who loves Victorian novels, social commentary, history in the making and love stories – this is for you!

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Has anyone else read this book? What did you think?

 

Review: The Hourglass by Tracy Rees

51vjrbn217LWhat I thought:

I bought this book on a whim because I saw that it was set in Tenby. I had spent Christmas week in a cottage in Pembrokeshire last year and visited (and fallen in love with) the coastal town of Tenby. This book turned out to be exactly what I needed this week too: I had an urge to be swept to another place and to enjoy the company of characters I cared about (the kind you think about even when you’re not reading the book). It was both those things and more.

Set in a dual timeframe, The Hourglass follows Chloe in 1950 and Nora in 2014. Chloe is a teenager from a tiny Welsh village who, for 3 weeks every summer, goes to Tenby to stay with her cousins and where she runs free, swims in the sea and picnics on the beach with her best friend Llew who lives in the town. It’s a magical time for Chloe and I could feel her excitement and joy at being there. Fast forward to 2014, Nora is on the cusp of her 40th birthday and coming to the realisation that she is in a relationship that’s going nowhere and in a job that has burned her out. She is questioning her whole life and after suddenly jacking her job in one day, finds herself drawn to the Welsh town of Tenby where she once visited as a child while staying with her Grandparents. Booking a week there in a hotel, Nora finds that she can suddenly breathe again: she wakes at leisure, takes long walks along the coast and reads books that aren’t business related. She feels so drawn to Tenby that she decides to stay on and rents a house overlooking the beach with a new friend.

I lived in the pages of this book for 4 days and even began to read slower because I didn’t want it to end. I was invested in the characters and I missed them when I wasn’t reading. The town of Tenby was the perfect setting for this book and I completely understood Nora and her desire to flee from the rat-race (who doesn’t have that dream every now and then?), to be still, to live in the moment. And I just loved Tenby in the 1950’s as Chloe is growing up. In both eras, Tracy Rees has managed to capture the allure and magic of this small coastal village with its pastel-coloured houses along the seafront and it’s sand dunes. It has made me want to go back there again and soon.

Verdict:

The perfect escapist read. Evocative and heartwarming, The Hourglass has secrets, drama and nostalgia. Honestly, one of my favourite books of the year so far. I loved every minute of this book and have already downloaded the authors other two books onto my Kindle.

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Throwback Thursday: The Suspicions of Mr Witcher by Kate Summerscale

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 pick for this week is The Suspicions of Mr. Witcher by Kate Summerscale which I remember really enjoying when I read it.

9780747596486What I thought:

What a fascinating book this was. I expected to read about the true story of one of the most shocking crimes in 19th century England but I hadn’t bargained for also getting a fantastically written and hugely interesting social commentary of Victorian times and attitudes and behaviours with regards to the emergence of Police Detectives in this country.

Mr. Whicher, the Detective called into this particular case, was one of the first ever Scotland Yard Detectives which came with its own share of suspicion and mistrust. The case in question was the murder of a 3-year-old boy, one of the several children of a well-to-do family in a country house in Wiltshire. In June 1860, the young boy was found to be missing from his cot in the morning and later that day his body was discovered (with his throat slit and a stab wound to his chest) down the servant’s toilet outside in the grounds. It soon became apparent that the perpetrator was one of the people inside the house on that night (which consisted of the boys family, the nursemaid, and housemaid). Whicher was called in to find out which one of the family murdered the three-year-old while the whole of England became obsessed with the drama, writing into the newspapers in their thousands offering their opinion on who committed the crime.

While I found the unravelling of this story fascinating in itself, I was also delighted to see so many references to some great Victorian authors including Charles Dickens, Wilkie Collins and Mary Elizabeth Braddon. 1860 was also the year that the first victorian “sensational” novel was published and this appeared to feed the frenzy of the public. This particular case has also been reported to have been the basis for subsequent rather famous novels such as Dickens’ The Mystery of Edwin Drood , Collins’ The Moonstone and Braddon’s Lady Audley’s Secret all of which contain themes from this particular story. Dickens (who was also an aquaintance of Mr Whicher) even wrote letters to Collins offering his theory on what took place that night.

This book is completely non-ficiton to point that only recorded conversations and facts are included (which seems to be the reason there are alot of negative reviews about it – perhaps it seemed too dry for some). And while this is more of a why-dunnit than a who-dunnit , there are still a few surprises along the way that caught me off-guard.

Verdict:

I thoroughtly enjoyed this book; infact I could barely put it down. Summerscale stuck to the facts without trying to sensationalise the story any more than it already was by putting words in peoples mouths and the result was a hugely enjoyable novel about a shocking crime and its repercussions in Victorian society. Highly recommended.

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Have you read this? Do you like crime non-fiction and could you recommend any others?

Review: Exquisite by Sarah Stovell

exquisiteWhat I thought:

What an exceptionally beautifully written book Exquisite is. A psychological thriller of such deliciously sumptuous, yet so clean and crisp, prose and not a word wasted.

Narrated in turn by Bo Luxton – author, married mother to two young girls, living an idyllic life in a cottage in the Lakes –  and Alice Dark – young, lively aspiring author living in a bedsit in Brighton, who attends one of Bo’s creative writing courses, Exquisite starts out as a friendship based on their love of the written word, but soon spirals into something much darker. What the reader is then presented with is two increasingly differing accounts of the same thing by each woman, it becomes clear that one or both of them is twisting the truth. We know right from the first page that one of the women ends up in prison, but what we don’t know is which one and why. This cloaks the book in tension and suspicion as we know that things won’t end well and this, along with its undercurrent of intensity and unpredictability, provides the sense of teetering on the cusp of something and never quite knowing when we’re going to fall off the edge (or be pushed).

Verdict:

Exquisite is a perfectly suited title of a book of such lush lyrical prose with themes of obsession, manipulation, and all-consuming passion. With gorgeous descriptions of one of my favourite places in the world – The Lake District – and strong, believable narrative, Exquisite has proved itself more than worthy of being among the best psychological thrillers I have read in some time. Debut author, Sarah Stovell, is definitely one to watch.

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Have you read this yet? Are you going to?

With thanks to Karen at Orenda for providing me with a copy of this book (for which I have provided an honest review).

Review: The Night Visitor by Lucy Atkins

night visitorWhat I Thought:

I bloody loved this book. It put me somewhat in mind of Zoe Heller’s Notes on a Scandal (which I also bloody loved). Alternating between the voices of Olivia – successful author and TV-personality, attractive, nice houses, large family, and Vivian – bitter, jealous, lonely, plain, elderly housekeeper, The Night Visitor sucks the reader into a claustrophobic chokehold of deceit and secrets.

While Olivia Sweetman should be riding high on the massive success of her latest book, she is acting strangely fretful and on edge, and Vivian, her research assistant has mysteriously vanished at a crucial moment. With absolutely nothing in common, Olivia and Vivian’s lives have become interwoven through work, but increasingly uncomfortably and obsessively so. Set mainly in East Sussex and the south of France, the story of these two very different women is filled with symbolism, usually of the creepy-crawly variety, which was a very clever way to expose many character flaws in both parties.

There were several gasp-out-loud moments for me in this book. Not the gratuitous or macabre kind, but much more subtle and a feeling of being sucked into a vortex of manipulation and deceit. It was difficult to know who to trust at times and difficult to know who the characters themselves could trust also.

Shining a light on feminism (and cleverly done, might I add), this exceptionally well-plotted book exposes our culture and how we believe things to be. But as Vivian points out: just like the dung beetle, never underestimate someone you think is below you.

Verdict:

Absolutely brilliant! Creepy and compelling edge-of-your-seat reading at its best. Often disturbing and unsettling but always absorbing and engrossing. Massive thumbs up from me!

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Have you read this yet? It’s a belter!

Throwback Thursday: The Surgeon by Tess Gerritsen

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.

This week’s choice is The Surgeon by  Tess Gerritsen. Taken from my earlier review:

surgeonWhat I Thought:

One of my favorite things about reading is when I discover a new author and realise that they have written a ton of books that I now have sprawling in front of me! Good times! Being a massive crime fiction fan I was delighted when I discoveredTess Gerritsen a few years ago. She is BRILLIANT!!! Rarely do I read a book and then have to move straight on to the next in the series (which is exactly what I did) because I just couldn’t get enough.

The Surgeon is the name that has been given to a serial killer on the loose in Boston one stiflingly hot summer. He is targeting young women and his calling card is surgery so precise that the investigating team can only assume that he is a trained professional. The thing that puzzles Detectives Jane Rizzoli and Thomas Moore the most though is that the attacks are identical to ones that took place in Georgia two years ago but ended when one of the intended victims, Dr. Catherine Cordell shot the perpetrator dead. Either he has come back to life or there is a copycat at work who knows details of the case that nobody else could know. And even worse, the new attacks are taking place in Boston which is exactly where Catherine Cordell moved to start a new life…

What I enjoyed about this book as well as the fact that it was so gripping was the fact that there is a lot of forensic science involved – I love being privvy to what the postmortem tells us about the victims last hours, or the fibres and hairs that can tell us more about a perpetrator that you would ever imagine. I found it really interesting as well as being a gripping read.

Verdict: 

Fast-paced, gritty, authentic, chilling. READ IT!!!

Have you read this or any of Tess Gerritsen’s other books? What do you think?