Saturday, 14 July 2012

Poet's Cottage - Josephine Pennicott

With a striking cover, interesting premise and a semi-local author (Australian) it was hard to pass this one up.

Sadie and her daughter Betty have moved to Tasmania to start anew after divorce and personal issues have made life impossible for them in Sydney. Poet's cottage is a beautiful house with a lot of history. Sadie's grandmother Pearl who was a children's author in the 1930s scandalised the locals with her free spirit and eccentric ways. She was beautiful and glamorous but she was also brutally murdered in the basement. With the murder unsolved for over 50 years Sadie wishes to write and publish a book. But  her mother Marguerite is dead and Thomasina her Aunt tells a very different and darker story of her grandmother.

Soon Sadie and Betty begin to experience strange and frightening things. Is it Pearl? or someone who doesn't want the truth known?

This book was deliciously dark and atmospheric. There were more than a few scenes that were frightening. Bit by bit Pearl is revealed. She is such a complex character, neither bad nor good. I loved every moment of this story. I had my suspicions on who the murderer could be but I was completely wrong! I love being surprised.

The writing was wonderful. A almost perfect book. I cannot wait to see what Josephine writes next!

4.5 stars

Dancing at the chance - DeAnna Cameron

I was looking for something light and enjoyable and I certainly found it in 'Dancing at the chance.' Something about this book drew me to it. I tend to favour more serious historical novels but sometimes I love a bit of fluff.

Dancing at the chance follows a young woman named Pepper who dances at the once grand Chance theater. She is one dancer among many who longs for her big break. When her past lover, who also happens to have inherited the theater returns she hopes to get a more prominent role as a dancer and also get the man of her dreams. However he might not be the man she thought he was and when the theater's existence is threatened she risks losing everything.

This was a sweet novel. Pepper is naive in many ways but she has a fire in her that endeared me towards her. It is a quick enjoyable read, however it was missing  the substance that I usually find in books that I love. I recommend this for anyone looking for a light old fashioned kind of historical romance.

Rating: 3.5

Monday, 25 June 2012

The Gods of Gotham - Lyndsay Faye

Isn't that cover beautiful? It's even better in person. The Gods of Gotham is not a book that I would usually read but I had heard some really good things about this so I just knew that I had to give it a shot.

Timothy Wilde is working at a bar when a great fire breaks out. He had been saving up money to marry the girl of his dreams so he rushes to save his savings before the fire gets to it. Unfortunately he is disfigured in an explosion and all seems lost. How could she ever love him now? His wayward older brother Valentine turns up and employs him as a copper star. The police force is new and not taken seriously by the general public which makes their job all the more difficult.

New York is flooded with Irish who are escaping the potato famine back home. This causes much strife among the natives. When Irish children whores are found buried it is up to Timothy to discover who is behind it.

Faye's writing was a pleasure to read. At times it could be over written but that impression passed as the story line and its characters took hold. I loved the relationship that Timothy had with his older brother Valentine. It was so realistic and engaging.

The characters themselves were so unique and it was almost if they truly existed. I absolutely loved Valentine. He was such a complex character. I absolutely leaped when he appeared on the page.

The story was by no means predictable. I had a couple ideas who the killer could be but I was not able to predict the circumstances under which these crimes took place.

I am so excited that this is a going to be a series! The second book cannot come soon enough.

Rating: 4.5

Monday, 18 June 2012

The Solitary House - Lynn Shepherd

The solitary house was a book that I have had my eye on for a while. It is also released under the title 'Tom-all-alone's' in the UK. I had originally checked out the UK title from the library and had had to return it before I had the chance to read it but when I saw that the US version was available I was very happy to read this version purely for aesthetic purposes.This was the sequel/companion novel to A murder at Mansfield park, which I have not read but will definitively be checking out sometime soon.

Charles Maddox is a young detective who has been called to investigate the discovery of a small body buried in a cemetery. The discovery of other newborns at the same site begins what is sometimes a harrowing and difficult investigation. At the same time he is approached by Tulkinghorn, a wealthy lawyer who is privy to the darkest secrets of the rich and powerful. He hires Charles to investigate the origin of some threatening letters that one of his clients is receiving. The investigation is dangerous and Charles is not willing to let it go when he discovers that something sinister may be happening beneath the surface. What follows is a great mystery that exposes the darker side of London.

This book was not at all what I was expecting at all, which is not necessarily a bad thing. I haven't read Bleak House but had seen the BBC adaptation so there were a number of aspects/characters/story lines that I recognised. The writing was good and the story line was far from predictable. I liked that I didn't know what was going to happen half the time. A great mystery. The ending was superb and ends in such a way that I think that her next book A treacherous Likeness will continue the Charles Maddox story.

Rating: 4

The Open World - Stephanie Johnson

I am always excited to pick up a historical novel written by a fellow New Zealander and as soon as I saw this one on the shelf I knew that I had to read it. Not only does it have a beautiful cover but what seemed like a amazing premise.

In a nutshell this book is based on real historical figures and events. In fact the main character Elizabeth Smith is the authors Great-Great something grandmother. The novel opens in 1860's London. She lived in early colonial New Zealand  and still longs for the country she left behind. Elizabeth is a religious drug user and either due to this or supernatural forces she beings to see two young children from her past. Her dear friend the Reverend Cotton is mad and somewhat in love with Mary Ann a well to do wife of a Judge. Elizabeth was Mary Ann's companion and together they navigate this strange new country and its inhabitants.

Overall this book could be very confusing at times. It jumped time period and point of view multiple times without warning. I could be reading a chapter and get half way before  I realised what was happening. Nothing was wrong with the writing style, the problem way with the storyline and characterisation. It was bland and uninteresting. Nothing seemed to happen! I did not see the point in this book at all. The story started off well but I grew increasingly bored and frustrated when the story began to flounder. It was only by sheer willpower that I finished this in the hopes that it would improve. This book was a huge disappointment as I was so looking forward to reading this book and have loved so many other New Zealand historical novels.  If you are interested in this sort of thing I would recommend ' La Rochelle's Road by Tanya Moir' which was absolutely wonderful

Rating: 2.5

Monday, 28 May 2012

The lifeboat - Charlotte Rogan

I was very excited when I came across The lifeboat by Charlotte Rogan. It sounded harrowing, exciting and wonderfully dark. However, I found this book only mildly entertaining and for the most part dull. How could this have happened? This book sounded like it was made for me. Well, it was due to a number of factors.

Most of the story is told on the lifeboat. It is 1914 and the ship has gone down. Grace, our narrator, is separated from her new husband and finds herself in the company of a diverse number of individuals. As the days slowly move by and their supplies dwindle the darker side of human nature starts to emerge in a number of ways. I found some of the sequences somewhat unbelievable but then again I have never been in that situation and cannot imagine what kind of madness would descend over one's mind.

I would not relate to Grace in any way and found her rather unlikeable. She could be strange and uncaring and I must say I disaproved of the way she 'caught' her husband.

The book was very slow for the most part and dry. I found myself skimming bits and praying for them to be rescued just so it would be over. Overall this book was okay, read it if you must but its not the kind of book you would move heaven and earth to get.

Rating: 2.5

Thursday, 10 May 2012

Blue Asylum - Kathy Hepinstall

Who knew that such a small book could pack such an emotional punch? Not a word is wasted in Kathy Hepinstall's new novel following a plantation wife named Iris Dunleavy and her imprisonment in an asylum on a small isolated island. As the American Civil War rages on without them, the islands occupants spend their days almost idyllically. 

But Iris is not insane. She is being punished for going against her husband's wishes. She is as much as a slave as those imprisoned on the plantation in her mind. But who will believe her? The British psychiatrist who sees her as a threat to everything he has built on this island? Or the handsome soldier who has violent outbursts and can only be calmed by the colour blue? Iris's arrival causes much upheaval but could she find love in this most unexpected of places?

The novel is told from the view points of many different characters. There is Iris herself who is not insane and is haunted by the guilt of the events that lead to her coming to the asylum. Ambrose the soldier who is traumatised by the events of the war but is drawn to Iris. There is also Dr. Cowell who truly believes that he is helping the inmates but is caught off guard by Iris who challenges him and bewitches him. His son Wendell was by far my favourite character, he is mourning the loss of Penelope, a former inmate who died. He is allowed to run around the island freely and befriends Iris. Each character was unique and effortlessly brought to life. 

Hepinstall's writing was to die for! I greedily raced through this novel. I will certainly be looking into her previous novels. 

Rating: 4.5

Tuesday, 8 May 2012

The Uninvited guests - Sadie Jones

The Uninvited Guests by Sadie Jones was one of my most highly anticipated reads this year. I had read her previous novel Small Wars but unfortunately could not love it (not really my thing) but I was more than willingly to try her new novel! This is my kind of book in every single way and I am pleased to report that it did not disappoint!

The story is set in the 1910s in a rundown English mansion and everyone is preparing for Emerald's twentieth birthday. Her father has just died and her mother remarried, much to the horror of Clovis who had considered himself to be man of the house. Smudge the youngest daughter is left to her own devices and as the nights proceedings take a rather bizarre turn she decides that tonight is the perfect night for her Great Undertaking.

As her childhood friend arrives they discover that there has been a train crash and that they must take the injured into their care until the railway company collects them. They are a rather sullen looking bunch and the aristocratic occupants of the house want nothing to do with these third-class passengers. However, the appearance of a sole first-class passenger upsets her mother and turns the night on its head.

I absolutely adored this book! I read it in one sitting. I could not put it down. It was strange, unique and darkly funny. There were even a few spooky scenes that sent a chill down my spine. The writing was lyrical and a pleasure to read. Many other reviewers have not enjoyed this story and I'm in the minority that did. However if you have a love for anything Gothic then I think you will enjoy this.

Rating: 4.5

Saturday, 28 April 2012

The dressmaker - Kate Alcott

The dressmaker was published just in time for the 100th anniversary of the Titanic sinking. I think that this book stayed true to the spirit of the Titanic and the souls that were lost on it but certain aspects of the book let it down.

Tess is an aspiring seamstress who is sick and tired of being in service. After hearing that jobs were available on the Titanic she quickly quits her job and heads to the docks to try her luck. Soon enough she recognises Lady Lucile Duff Gordon, a famous designer and manages to talk herself into a job as a personal maid. It is not the position that she wanted but the opportunity to be near her idol is hard to pass up. While on board she meets Jack a rich older man and Jim a kind sailor. She is attracted to both men but that all changes when the Titanic sinks.

This book covers what happens after the sinking and the inquiries and scandals that followed. Only around 40 pages or so is set on the Titanic  so don't expect that to be the focus of the book. Tess is soon living her dream but the sinking of the Titanic still haunts and has huge implications on its survivors.

I thought that this was an entertaining read. I read it in one sitting. However I thought that the characters were rather flat and unlikable. I never really became attached to anyone in this story. Pinkey the reporter by far outshines the other characters. I thought that Tess was stiff and one-dimensional and I did not care for her love interests. The most interesting sequences were the ones set in the Titanic hearings. I was really interested and enjoyed learning about the aftermath of the sinking. Overall this was a fair novel. Others will enjoy this more than me.

Rating: 3

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Tuesday, 24 April 2012

Jack Holmes & his friend - Edmund White

This is my first Edmund White book and I was thoroughly impressed.This delicious novel is set in 1960s New York. Jack Holmes is ashamed of his sexuality and tries to rid himself of unwanted yearnings through women and therapists. All that changes when Will Wright enters his life and Jack falls head over heels in love with his new straight friend. So begins a lifelong friendship between a straight man and his gay friend.

This book was extremely sexual and did not shy away from the realities of gay life/sex. I must admit it could be quite repulsive at times. Nothing was sugar coated.

I absolutely loved Jack. He was such a wonderful character. There were many different facets to his personality. He was not perfect. He was oversexed, bitter at times and really mistreated the men he was with. There was one scene where he went over the physical shortcomings of his lovers and then was surprised that a young man he had slept with was humorous and easy to talk to. Lets just say that he was not in the business of getting to know his lovers. His desperate unrequited love for Will meant that he had trouble opening up to other men. I really don't know why he fell for Will as I found him utterly unlikable at times and it wasn't as though he was an Adonis.

Will's and Jack's relationship was flawed and strange. They were like two puzzle pieces that just didn't fit. However, these flaws were what made the story so engaging and interesting.

White's writing was impeccable and I felt that I took something away from this novel. Perhaps a new appreciation or understanding about men? I can't really say. However, this is an absolute must read. I think that I will have to read this previous novels. This review was hard to write, I didn't really know what to say or even how to express my love for this book. I hope that I have explained myself well enough.

Rating: 5

Wednesday, 18 April 2012

When nights were cold - Susanna Jones

Grace Farringdon has always been mesmerized and fascinated with the great explorers and often daydreams that she could one day accompany Shackleton on a voyage to Antarctica. Grace decides that she will attend university against the wishes of her family and the expectations of society. There she meets like-minded women and forms an Antarctica Exploration Society. Soon play acting is not enough and they begin to embark on a life changing journey. The tragic events of their first real climb haunt Grace and its members - Locke and Parr for the rest of their lives. 

Grace is a unreliable narrator. Her loved ones are of the opinion that she is not sound of mind but who are we to trust? because through her eyes they are the ones that are not sane. There are vague references to medication and hallucinations that once afflicted her father but there is great mystery surrounding her state of mind.

Mountaineering did not have as large a part as I thought that it would and that disappointed me slightly but this novel was in no way boring or uneventful.

This was a dark atmospheric novel that sought to mislead and deceive the reader. Grace and women in general seem to suffocate under the restrictions and expectations of their sex. The entire novel had a very claustrophobic feel to it, both socially, mentally and physically.

A great novel, very much in the vein of Sarah Waters.

Rating: 4

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Monday, 26 March 2012

The whores' asylum - Kate Darby

"Remember, my dear, for a whore there is no asylum"

This was nothing like I had first imagined. Whether that is good or bad I'm not so sure but I really enjoyed this book. At the center of the book we have Edwards Fraser, a theology student and his roommate Stephen Chapman who is a brilliant doctor. They are unlikely friends but quickly become close. When Chapman begins his work at a shelter designed to help whores get back on their feet Fraser strongly objects and this signals the inevitable crumble of their relationship. It is not long before Chapman becomes enamored with Mrs Diana Pelham who runs the shelter. One night at a ball Fraser and Diana come face to face and instantly recognised one another because Fraser knew her long ago.

Is Diana truly wicked? Does everything she touch turn to ash? Fraser fears so.

The cover of this book is gorgeous! LOVED IT. I also loved the Victorian layout of the story. It had beautiful illustrations that just helped to bring the story to life. I just raced through this book. The story was fast-paced and full of pure Gothic goodness. I highly recommend this to any one who enjoys a good Victorian tragedy.

Rating: 4/5

Wednesday, 21 March 2012

The white lie - Andrea Gillies

I don't read many contemporary novels but this one just caught my eye. Not only did it have a series of glowing reviews but had an interesting premise. The book is narrated by Michael who is dead and has been dead for the past 14 years. He is a somewhat unreliable narrator as it is very difficult to distinguish his true memories from the lies that fellow family members spin. The book begins with his aunt Ursula confessing that she has murdered her 19 year old nephew. The family decides to let Michael rest forgotten at the bottom of the loch in order to protect Ursula who is clearly mentally unstable. As the story progresses it becomes apparent that Michael's "disappearance" is not the only secret the family hold. There is the mystery of Michael's father and the circumstances surrounding the dead of Sebastian, Michael's four year old nephew who drowned before he was born.

The story is intense and the reader cannot be certain of anything other than the fact that Michael is dead. The writing was beautiful and dense and thus took me longer than usual to finish. A great psychological thriller.

Rating: 4/5

Monday, 19 March 2012

The Greatcoat - Helen Dunmore

Helen Dunmore wrote a horror? Surely not! I am pleased to say that this is true! Hammer horror has been recruiting well known authors to pen horror stories as part of a new novella series.

This was the first adult book that I have read by Helen so I didn't know what to expect when I started to read but I was pleasantly surprised.

This story is set in the 1950s and Isabel and her husband Philip have just moved into a small flat. They are newly weds and Isabel is finding it hard to adjust to the realities of married life. On a cold night she finds a greatcoat the belonged to a RAF pilot. She spreads it on the bed and falls asleep with its heavy presence on her. Soon a young man wearing the coat begins to knock on the window wanting entrance.

This novella is spooky but it kind of creeps up on you so when you finish the last page you realise only then the chill that has settled in your core. I liked that about this story. The writing was absolutely gorgeous! Loved it! This is a mixture of a love story and a ghost story so I think that readers should read the novel knowing that. You won't find any rot or gore in this novella.

I am hovering between four and five stars so I will give it a solid 4.5/5 purely because of the ending and the gorgeous writing.

The pleasures of men - Kate Williams

As you may well already know Kate Williams is a reasonably well known historian who was a consultant on the movie The Young Victoria starring the fabulous Emily Blunt. So I was naturally interested when she released a novel. Set in the 1840s in London, Catherine Sorgeiul lives with her strange Uncle in a rather bad part of town. She is a woman full of guilt and darkness. When a murderer strikes she begins to fear that it was her own evilness or darkness that draws him near. The murderer is aptly named the Man of crows on account of his vicious slashing which renders the skin to feathers and the stuffing of hair into the victims mouths which resembles beaks. Catherine begins to take risks, walking where the crimes occurred and imagining the deaths of his victims. Soon things begin to get far too real and everything she thought she knew comes crashing down. 

This book is not going to be for everyone but I really enjoyed it. I love anything Gothic, dark and disturbing and that is exactly what this book is. The writing was poetic and lovely and of course the world building was impeccable considering her background. Despite what other reviews are saying, I think it is worth a read if you are into this sort of thing,

Rating: 4/5

Little Bones - Janette Jenkins

Jane is a 15 year old cripple with a intelligent and quick mind that is at odds with her appearance. Jane and Agnes (her beautiful older sister) move into a house owned by Dr Swift and his wife. When Agnes disappears Jane is forced to consider a life begging on the street, however Mrs Swift suggests that she work as an assistant for her husband in exchange for room and board. She readily accepts not knowing that Dr swift is not who he says he is. Soon she is swept up into the dark world of abortions and deception.

 I really enjoyed this book, it had me reading well into the night. Beautiful prose with an interesting and engaging storyline and narrator. 

Rating: 4/5