Review: The Book Collector – Alice Thompson


22 - The Book Collector

Rating – 4*

This book may be small but it is certainly mighty. At just over 150 pages I was concerned that it wouldn’t provide all it promised, but it did and it provided so much more. It’s my first book by both Alice Thompson, and from the publisher, but it certainly won’t be my last.

We follow Violet, a young, influential girl who is seemingly swept off of her feet by a book collector, Archie. They marry, have a son, everything is rosy. Then the rose tinted goggles start to come away from Violet, she starts to see things, and as a reader you question her sanity. From this point the book takes a decidedly dark and twisty turn of events – we have a visit to the local asylum, murder, adultery; it’s all so very creepy and I loved it.

This comprises of such a small cast of characters, while they’re not all fully fleshed out  I think that it added to the story. The murky atmosphere, and not quite knowing everything, really boosted the book for me. This is one of the best, modern, Gothic novels I’ve read (and I love a Gothic Novel). It had elements of Rebecca which were done really well, not in an outright mimic of du Maurier but in a very subtle way which was really effective.

The writing here was really vivid. There was beautiful use of language, the atmosphere was created masterfully, the interwoven fairy tales also really worked for me. My one resounding impression from reading this though is that it would make such a good stage production. It was dark and creepy, but also beautiful. When I was reading this, I could see it all so clearly… Oh I so hope this is adapted in some way!

To explain the 4* rating; for me it was a little short and a bit too snappy. While I loved it the way it was, I wish there was just something more!

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Review: Fellside – M. R. Carey

16 - Fellside

Rating – 3* 

This is a book I’ve been highly anticipating. So, when I saw this on NetGalley I had to try and get a review copy, and then I was even more excited when I was lucky enough to get early access to it. I absolutely adored The Girl With All the Gifts (my review of that can be found here), and reading my review of that I’m surprised to see I did only give it 4* because it’s really stuck with me and I recommend it to most people nowadays!

Fellside, however, couldn’t really be more different from The Girl With All the Gifts. I honestly didn’t know much about the plot of this, I just went straight in to it and I managed to read the first third in an afternoon; it packed a serious punch, I could scarcely put it down. However it started to disinterest me the further in I got.

The first few chapters catch us up to the point where we are at Fellside – a women’s prison in the Yorkshire moors. Our main character Jess is a bit of a mess, we start with her not even knowing where – or who – she is and she ends up at Fellside. Now, I found this introduction to the story quite interesting – it was very rapid and visual; very similar to a movie in the sense that it was the important snippets to get the reader up to speed and I found that quite an interesting tactic at the very start of the book; it had me roped in from the very start! However, when we actually get in to the bustle of the prison life it’s just not as interesting – I loved the parts that focused on Jess with other characters on the periphery but I just wasn’t all that in to the ‘prison drama’. For me, it’s how I imagine Orange is the New Black (which – shocker – doesn’t actually appeal to me!) and, for the most part, I was completely disinterested in the bits of the book which didn’t involve Jess. I read the second half of this book in an afternoon. One thing I feel I ought to mention is how much I loved the magical realism element to this. It was creative and interesting. I really wish I knew more about this Other Place because, for me, I wish it had been explored in more depth.

On the whole I loved the first quarter and the last quarter, the middle half was just not to my personal reading tastes for the most part. There are twists and turns in this book that I just didn’t see coming and I love that in a book! I just found a lot of the characters were flat and a little expected. While I didn’t enjoy the ‘prison drama’ as it was happening, come the end it all has it’s place and I understand why it was there and while I didn’t like it, I appreciate the role it had on the story as a whole. It propelled the plot forward and took it to just the right place. The ending, much like The Girl With All the Gifts is open ended and somewhat bitter-sweet, but it was nonetheless very well tied up.

This book did keep me interested. I became very involved with Jess’ story, even if the background story wasn’t keeping that interest for the most part. While I didn’t like this nearly as much as The Girl With All the Gifts I have no doubt it will have the same lasting effect on me in that I’ll not be able to stop thinking about it. This was such a mix of genre and I really don’t think that crime/thriller is the right place for this; it’s magical realism bordering on paranormal, yes there is crime, yes you could argue there is a bit of a thrilling element to it too, but I don’t think calling it a crime/thriller is really going to sell it all that well!

In the end I debated a little on what rating to give this, and I settled on a 3* because for me it wasn’t quite what I think it could have been, and it wasn’t entirely my comfort zone. If a book that has a bit of paranormal/magical realism, with a dashing of mystery, and some Orange is the New Black vibes appeals to you, definitely pick this up – it’s released in the UK on April 7th!

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Review: Glister – John Burnside

glisterOkay, so I realised when scrolling through my blog that I hadn’t actually posted this. I was looking for it and then, realised I had saved it as a draft and never published it. Oops! Anyway, I read this in September and it’s better late than never, right?!

This was read for my book club, I decided to read The Dumb House first and have already reviewed that but I couldn’t wait to pick this up because John Burnside’s writing was just incredible. I was also more excited to read it after Jen interviewed him and he said this was his favourite.

Glister was just as incredibly written. It is however a book I wish I could give a rating for writing and one for story, because they’re very different in my mind. The writing is beautiful, it’s rich and the atmosphere is great. It’s lyrical and you can tell that John is a poet, just by the flow of his words. The setting, a desolate town that is decaying because of an abandoned chemical plant had such a potential for me. I just didn’t feel that the story reached that potential. It’s listed as mystery/crime and I just didn’t feel that – nothing was resolved, the plot dwindled off and while I love his writing I wanted more. 

I enjoyed reading it, it was lyrical and simply great to read but the plot was disappointing, it just dwindled off to nothing. If I could rate the writing it would easily be a 4 or 5, but the book as a whole can only be saved by the writing so much so it’s a 3, unfortunately.

Review: Mrs de Winter – Susan Hill

mrsdewinterMrs de Winter is a sequel of sorts to Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca. For anyone who is new around here – Rebecca is my most beloved book and du Maurier probably my favourite author. Reading this sequel written by Susan Hill was pretty much predetermined to disappoint me and, honestly, I wasn’t wrong. This book was one I purchased at my favourite bookshop after the manager pointed it out to me, I can’t ever say no to one she recommends, so I’m sad this disappointed me.

I will start with the pros. The premise was good, I quite liked the premise. Susan Hill also has very fluid language that actually compliments du Maurier’s, generally the prose and scene setting was beautiful and rich in description. In that respect it was a fantastic companion piece. Also, many thanks to her for NOT naming the second Mrs de Winter and having her remain under that name. I think she gets a star for that in fairness.

However, I don’t feel this was a good book. Not in any stretch of the word. I don’t feel that the characters were the people we ended with in du Maurier’s novel – Mrs de Winter who, in the original novel, became a strong, feisty woman reverts back to the drippy 19/20 year old we first met in Monte Carlo under Susan Hill’s writing. Maxim becomes a drip too, I just don’t understand that! I really don’t think this is the after-story I had in mind for them. Yes, the revelation about Maxim and Rebecca in Rebecca is something that changes your life BUT this is not the life I could see it resulting as.

As a result this is, sadly, a 2* book. I really didn’t like it and the only reason I finished it was I was on a long bus journey and had no other source of reading and completed it out of sheer boredom. Saying that, I am glad I read it as Susan Hill IS a good author, she should just not have attempted this ‘sequel’! The 1* comes primarily for her vivid descriptions of countryside and the sheer audacity for her to attempt such a feat, sadly it didn’t work for me!

Review: Elizabeth is Missing – Emma Healey

EIM-pb-jacketThis book has really hit me. It was probably the hardest book that I’ve read lately on an emotional front. My grandfather has dementia and this book just really hit me in the gut, and the heart.

Our protagonist is Maud, an 82 year old who suffers with dementia. While she still lives independently, she is reliant on carers and her daughter coming in daily to do tasks such as cook and clean for her. Her memories have become jumbled and nothing seems to fit; the disappearance of both her sister in the past and, of course, her friend Elizabeth in the present dominate most of her thoughts. It really captures the anxiety and bewilderment that Maud is suffering perfectly – I think this is what affected me so much. It also captures some of the frustration of the those in a position of caring for someone with dementia/Alzheimer’s face.

This book is heartbreaking; it is also funny, warm and charming. While it was somewhat predictable (it is pretty clear what the situation with Elizabeth is likely to be, it is also not too difficult to decipher what happened with Sukey all those years ago) it was compelling. It was simply written so beautifully it was hard to put down, once I started I could barely stop myself reading.

This book hasn’t changed my life, but it made me more empathetic. It wasn’t an easy book to read, for me it was emotionally draining but I am so glad I did read it. I think anyone would be hard pushed to not be at least a little moved by it. However, it really isn’t the best book ever written and I don’t really understand how it won awards – just throwing it out there; while it is emotional and compelling to read it isn’t a literary masterpiece (harsh, I know). It is however a book that hits you, I did form an emotional connection with the characters and as one person in four is affected directly or indirectly by something like dementia I think it was a much needed book to raise awareness.

A solid 4/5 and I look forward to what Healey does next!

Review: The Woman in Black – Susan Hill

WomanInBlackThis is a really good, spooky novella. I didn’t get to read this when I was at school, my sister got to read this and go to see it at the theatre, I can understand now why her friend was afraid to walk home in the dark afterwards!

The best way to describe this is it’s what I hoped The Woman in White was going to be. I loved The Woman in White, but it wasn’t at all what I was expecting but THIS is exactly the sort of scenario I had imagined when I decided to pick TWiW up. It’s like Susan Hill read TWiW and was disappointed so wrote The Woman in Black to counter it, wrote what she wanted to read.

I loved this. It was short and snappy but equally it was packed with description and atmospherics. The writing was beautiful, vivid and creepy. It definitely managed to get under my skin even though there isn’t really too many scary parts. The descriptions were spot on and the whole book is simply eerie even though, in thinking back to it, nothing really huge actually happens.

My only criticism is the ending seemed a bit hashed. It was very poor and when reading the introductory paragraph to the final chapter it was pretty clear where it was going. It could have been achieved in a much more – and I use the word tenuously – believable fashion. It felt rushed and that disappointed me.

Final rating 3/5