Book Review: The Stranger Diaries by Elly Griffiths

Name:  The Stranger Diaries
Author:  
Elly Griffiths
Number of Pages:
  408 (Hardback)
Published:
March 1st 2018 by Quercus
Genre:  Mystery, Gothic, Thriller

Goodreads

Death lies between the lines.
A dark story has been brought to terrifying life. Can the ending be rewritten in time?
Clare Cassidy is no stranger to murder. As a literature teacher specialising in the Gothic writer RM Holland, she teaches a short course on it every year. Then Clare’s life and work collide tragically when one of her colleagues is found dead, a line from an RM Holland story by her body. The investigating police detective is convinced the writer’s works somehow hold the key to the case.
Not knowing who to trust, and afraid that the killer is someone she knows, Clare confides her darkest suspicions and fears about the case to her journal. Then one day she notices some other writing in the diary. Writing that isn’t hers…


My Rating:

My Thoughts:

I loved The Stranger Diaries. A 5 star read so early in the year, what more could you ask for?

The gothic, ghostly air with which the novel opens is wonderful. It drew me in straight away, and the way it switches so suddenly to the modern setting had me rereading for a moment just to catch up with what had happened.

This book has so many things going for it. The inclusion of the ghostly short story entitled The Stranger, which true to form starts on a dark and scary night ( Halloween, could there be a better night for a creepy tale?!) with a stranger on a train in the middle of nowhere, sets the tone perfectly.
There’s also the ‘haunted house’ vibe of Holland House, the former home of the writer of said story which has been incorporated into a modern school complex, so the old and the new clash and contrast. The atmosphere of the Old Building with its preserved attic room and lady in white ghost is just wonderful, from the spiral staircase with the footprint pattern to the mystery of the tragic lady herself.
The interest in literature and writing, and the academic setting all adds to the atmosphere of this murder mystery tale.
And there some really great main characters…

With three main characters, each voice is distinctive and different.
There’s Clare, a teacher and R. M. Holland enthusiast who is trying to write a book about the author and uncover facts regarding a possible daughter of whom little is known. She’s also a colleague and friend of the murdered Ella Elphick.
DS Harbinder Kaur investigates once the bodies start to turn up. The way she may initially judge someone for the most insignificant of reasons (their clothes, their tan!) made her a little distant at first, but her blunt insights into characters and situations, her determination to solve the case and her eventual friendship with Clare made her chapters a joy to read.
Georgia is Clare’s teenage daughter, and although Clare has no reason to suspect it, Georgia has secrets from her mother, such as her aspiration to write a novel and her attendance at a Creative Writing class run by a supposed white witch.

There are so many creepy moments to revel in, people recalling encounters with the ghost of Holland House, or that awful moment when Clare discovers someone else has written in her diary, and the way in which the murder scenes echo scenes from The Stranger.  I like the way the past and the present merge as passages from The Stranger are included throughout the narrative.

I loved The Stranger Diaries. A fast-paced, gothic-themed, intriguing mystery of a tale. As an added bonus – I actually worked out who the killer was! First time in forever that I’ve been right; I’m usually totally wrong.
The Stranger Diaries is certainly a book to pick up any time, but why not treat yourself during the dark nights and cold days of winter, just for that little bit of added atmosphere.

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Book Review: The Adventure of the Christmas Pudding (Poirot #35) by Agatha Christie

Name:  The Adventure of the Christmas Pudding (Poirot #35)
Author:  
Agatha Christie
Number of Pages:
  363 (Kindle)
Published:
October 24th 1960 (originally)
Genre:  Crime, Mystery

Goodreads

Agatha Christie’s seasonal Poirot and Marple short story collection, reissued with a striking new cover designed to appeal to the latest generation of Agatha Christie fans and book lovers.
The Adventure of the Christmas Pudding (a.k.a The Theft of the Royal Ruby)
The Mystery of the Spanish Chest
The Under Dog
Four and Twenty Blackbirds
The Dream
Greenshaw’s Folly


My Rating:

My Thoughts:

The end of one year and the beginning of another felt like the perfect time to indulge in a seasonal Agatha Christie. I’m trying to read more of her novels, particularly Poirot stories, and with Christmas not that long ago I thought I’d give this short story collection a try.

I’m sure I’ve said before that I’m not the greatest fan of short stories; in general I go for really long books, but this collection held my attention and proved an enjoyable read for this time of year.

I particularly enjoyed The Adventure of the Christmas Pudding, which Christie mentions in a foreword was written in part as a tribute to fond memories of Christmases gone by. Poirot finds himself called upon to resolve a sticky situation in which a priceless jewel has been purloined. His infamous little grey cells are more than equal to the task, all whilst savouring the delights of a traditional Christmas in a country house.

Greenshaw’s Folly was my first introduction to Miss Marple, but it probably won’t be the last time I meet her this year.

I enjoyed this short story collection and it probably doesn’t take Hercule Poirot to tell you that it won’t be long before I’ll be selecting another Christie novel to read.

Book Review: The Christmas Lights by Karen Swan

Name:  The Christmas Lights
Author:  
Karen Swan
Number of Pages:
  480 (Paperback)
Published:
November 1st 2018 by Pan
Genre:  Contemporary, Romance

Goodreads

December 2018, and free-spirited Influencers Bo Loxley and her partner Zac are living a life of wanderlust, travelling the globe and sharing their adventures with their millions of fans. Booked to spend Christmas in the Norwegian fjords, they set up home in a remote farm owned by enigmatic mountain guide Anders and his fierce grandmother Signy. Surrounded by snowy peaks and frozen falls, everything should be perfect. But the camera can lie and with every new post, the ‘perfect’ life Zac and Bo are portraying is diverging from the truth. Something Bo can’t explain is wrong at the very heart of their lives and Anders is the only person who’ll listen.
June 1936, and fourteen-year old Signy is sent with her sister and village friends to the summer pastures to work as milkmaids, protecting the herd that will sustain the farm through the long, winter months. But miles from home and away from the safety of their families, threat begins to lurk in friendly faces . . .
The mountains keep secrets – Signy knows this better than anyone – and as Bo’s life begins to spiral she is forced, like the old woman before her, to question who is friend and who is foe.


My Rating:

My Thoughts:

The Christmas Lights takes us to Norway in a dual narrative.

In the present day Bo and Zac, two internet famous adventurers travel to Norway to experience life on a remote shelf farm owned by Signy. Bo has lived a well-documented life, followed by over 9 million people online as one half of the Wanderlusters, but her fame attracts unexpected attention, and she struggles with this alongside her growing realisation that her life is hardly her own any more, for every moment must be captured and publicised for the fans.

In 1936 Signy is a young girl venturing out for the first time to work as a milkmaid with her sister and some friends. It sounds idyllic, freedom in the countryside with family and companions, yet even in this setting life can take an unexpected turn, as young Signy soon learns.

This book was really atmospheric, from the wintry setting of the fjords to the unique shelf farm (I soon found myself looking these up online!), to the secrets and dangers lurking within seemingly innocent lives.

The writing really brings the situation and the characters to life. Everyone has their secrets, and watching the plot unfold in this tale of danger, tragedy, hope and love was a really nice way to end my reading year.

Book Review: The Lingering by S. J. I. Holliday

Name:  The Lingering
Author:  
S. J. I. Holliday
Number of Pages:
  256 (Paperback)
Published:
November 15th 2018 by Orenda Books
Genre:  Mystery, Thriller

Goodreads

Married couple Jack and Ali Gardiner move to a self-sufficient commune in the English Fens, desperate for fresh start. The local village is known for the witches who once resided there, and Rosalind House, where the commune has been established, is a former psychiatric home, with a disturbing history.
When Jack and Ali arrive, a chain of unexpected and unexplained events is set off, and it becomes clear that they are not all that they seem. As the residents become twitchy, and the villagers suspicious, events from the past come back to haunt them, and someone is seeking retribution. The Lingering is an exceptionally plotted, terrifying and tantalizingly twisted novel by one of the most exciting authors in the genre.


My Rating:

My Thoughts:

Send two secretive and troubled characters bound by a traumatic past they’re apparently desperate to leave behind out into the isolated countryside to an old country house that served as an asylum and saw a fair amount of trouble in it’s time, add in a young and overly enthusiastic ghost hunter who becomes determined to find out the truth about these new arrivals and you have the makings of The Lingering.

I enjoyed this book but I went in thinking the haunted house and ghostly elements would be more present than they were. I think I was expecting the house itself to become something of a character. There’s certainly an air of unease and menace surrounding past events at Rosalind House, with talk of patients being ill-treated and further back than that, an association with women accused of witchcraft but those stories aren’t touched on as much as the current day narrative in which Ali and Jack are running from a past that won’t leave them behind. Glimpses of the past are recorded in entries from Dr. Henry Baldock’s journal. He was sent to the hospital in the 1950s to uncover the truth about events taking place there.

Ali and Jack are secretive from the outset, with good reason, and watching their lives slowly unravel until their past comes to light in a new wave of violence and suspicion made for fairly gripping reading. Neither of them are especially likeable characters, but they’re surrounded by a varied group living within the commune. Angela, the young woman convinced that she will find evidence of paranormal activity if she persists with her monitoring around the house provides is a good contrast to the other two mains characters, although her story is also quite tragic.

Narrated via Ali and Angela, with occasional glimpses from other viewpoints, and the historical journal entries, The Lingering is a good psychological crime thriller mystery with an undertone of a ghostly atmosphere and some unexpected twists along the way.

 

Book Review: Someone Like Me by M. R. Carey

Name:  Someone Like Me
Author:  
M. R. Carey
Number of Pages:
  500 (Hardback)
Published:
November 8th 2018 by Orbit
Genre:  Mystery, Thriller, Horror

Goodreads

SHE LOOKS LIKE ME. SHE SOUNDS LIKE ME. NOW SHE’S TRYING TO TAKE MY PLACE.
Liz Kendall wouldn’t hurt a fly. She’s a gentle woman devoted to bringing up her kids in the right way, no matter how hard times get.
But there’s another side to Liz—one which is dark and malicious. A version of her who will do anything to get her way, no matter how extreme or violent.
And when this other side of her takes control, the consequences are devastating.
The only way Liz can save herself and her family is if she can find out where this new alter-ego has come from, and how she can stop it.


My Rating:

My Thoughts:

Aah, a new M. R. Carey novel. The blurb is so brief and gives so very little away that it’s difficult to know where to begin talking about why this book definitely warrants your reading time and attention.
With Carey’s novels you go in knowing so little that you have little idea what to expect and anything becomes possible. That’s certainly the case with Someone Like Me.
So, what can I say to persuade you, without telling you anything that will detract from your enjoyment?

Read this book for the incredibly real characters. The two leads, Fran and Liz are very different, so far removed from each other, or so you would think, yet there are various things that link them. They’ve both been hurt and abused, enduring enough trauma for a whole lifetime, but they are both surviving and trying to live their lives.
They are both surrounded by wonderfully supportive people who only want the best for them, yet the trauma of the past still touches their lives albeit in different ways.

Oh, and there’s Jinx, who is a fox, and may or may not be real. And she talks, but only to Fran, for she is Fran’s constant companion and guardian, and dons her armour and sword at the first sign of trouble. Sounds strange? Maybe a little, but I doubt it will be long before you’re calling Jinx a fave.

The story is surreal and strange, will make you guess and second guess, and then still be dumbfounded as the plot delivers another twist which leaves you having to read the next chapter immediately, because you just cannot wait to find out what happens next. 500 pages feel as though they fly by, especially towards the latter part of the book.
You’ll fear for your favourites, and hope beyond hope that the villains are vanquished, whilst never quite being sure which direction the tale will take next and how it will all end.

It’s hard to pin this book down – part thriller, part psychological, sometimes family drama, blended with elements of paranormal and a touch of horror. It defies any one genre, and is so good for it. Someone Like Me begins in violence, and ends in… well, you’ll just have to read it and find out! Can’t wait for M. R. Carey’s next tale.

Book Review: The Corset by Laura Purcell

Name:  The Corset
Author:  
Laura Purcell
Number of Pages:
  416 (Hardback)
Published:
September 20th 2018 by Raven Books
Genre:  Historical

Goodreads

The new Victorian chiller from the author of Radio 2 Book Club pick, The Silent Companions.
Is prisoner Ruth Butterham mad or a murderer? Victim or villain?
Dorothea and Ruth.
Prison visitor and prisoner. Powerful and powerless.
Dorothea Truelove is young, wealthy and beautiful. Ruth Butterham is young, poor and awaiting trial for murder.
When Dorothea’s charitable work leads her to Oakgate Prison, she is delighted with the chance to explore her fascination with phrenology and test her hypothesis that the shape of a person’s skull can cast a light on their darkest crimes. But when she meets teenage seamstress Ruth, she is faced with another theory: that it is possible to kill with a needle and thread. For Ruth attributes her crimes to a supernatural power inherent in her stitches.
The story Ruth has to tell of her deadly creations – of bitterness and betrayal, of death and dresses – will shake Dorothea’s belief in rationality, and the power of redemption.
Can Ruth be trusted? Is she mad, or a murderer?


My Rating:

My Thoughts:

I enjoyed The Silent Companions so much that I was really looking forward to reading Laura Purcell’s next book, and The Corset didn’t disappoint. It was very different to her first novel, but still so readable. I think sometimes it’s the writing that draws you in straight away, and I do enjoy the way Purcell writes. This tale is atmospheric and intense, and very sad in parts too.

The Corset follows two main protagonists. Dorothea Truelove is a young lady of adequate fortune and circumstance that she can occupy herself with ‘good projects’ and charitable acts. She is intelligent, and fascinated by the ’science’ of phrenology, and so combines her good intentions with an urge to gain scientific information.
She visits women in New Oakgate prison and it is here that she meets with alleged murderer Ruth Butterham. She listens as Ruth spins a fantastic yarn; she’s imprisoned for one murder, but to hear her own ideas she has actually killed far more than that, and not via any regular method, but through the ill-will that occupied her mind whilst she stitched clothing items for these people.

Ruth’s tale is fairly dark. There’s deprivation, poverty, disappointment right from the earliest memories, and these lead on to bereavement and cruelty. Her life has been hard, and she evokes sympathy in the reader despite her current situation. She’s apparently done something terrible, and she has been surrounded by people who commit equally despicable acts.
The idea that some supernatural element is at play that allows Ruth to exercise a destructive power simply through thoughts and stitches, well, it makes you wonder whether she really has done the things she claims, and Dorothea herself tries to remain incredulous whilst getting swept along by the idea that maybe Ruth does have some influence via her stitching after all.

Dorothea is equally as intriguing, although her story is far less brutal. She is a woman of her time; her father aspires to find her a suitable match so she can marry, but her heart lies elsewhere, and she hides her true feelings for fear of the outcome.
She is fascinated by phrenology, the study of the human skull and the idea that certain traits can be mapped out in certain areas. She wants to prove that behaviour can be anticipated via this method of examination and therefore changed. It’s the idea that drives her to the prison in search of people with criminal pasts so she can study their heads.

Through beautiful writing both these characters and their surroundings come to vivid life on the page, and I was soon absorbed in the dark tale being woven during Dorothea’s visits to Ruth in prison. There’s a great uncertainty to what has actually happened, and whether Ruth really does have supernatural power or whether something else is going on.
And when things start to happen that Dorothea cannot account for, Ruth’s claims start playing on her mind, all adding to the sense of the surreal. Is Ruth a young woman with a troubled mind after all she’s experienced, or does she have power?

A colourful cast of supporting characters surround these two very different women, and they all add to the tale, contributing a vast range of kindnesses and cruelties depending on which narrative we’re following.

I’ve enjoyed both of Laura Purcell’s novels, and they’re both so very different that I cannot wait to see what she comes up with next.

Book Review: Time’s Convert by Deborah Harkness


Name:
  Time’s Convert
Author:  
Deborah Harkness
Number of Pages:
  480 (Hardback)
Published:
September 25th 2018 by Headline
Genre:  Fantasy, Historical

Goodreads

Set in contemporary Paris and London, and the American colonies during the upheaval and unrest that exploded into the Revolutionary War, a sweeping story that braids together the past and present.
On the battlefields of the American Revolution, Matthew de Clermont meets Marcus MacNeil, a young surgeon from Massachusetts, during a moment of political awakening when it seems that the world is on the brink of a brighter future. When Matthew offers him a chance at immortality and a new life, free from the restraints of his puritanical upbringing, Marcus seizes the opportunity to become a vampire. But his transformation is not an easy one and the ancient traditions and responsibilities of the de Clermont family clash with Marcus’s deeply-held beliefs in liberty, equality, and brotherhood.
Fast forward to contemporary London, where Marcus has fallen for Phoebe Taylor, a young employee at Sotheby’s. She decides to become a vampire, too, and though the process at first seems uncomplicated, the couple discovers that the challenges facing a human who wishes to be a vampire are no less formidable in the modern world than they were in the 18th century. The shadows that Marcus believed he’d escaped centuries ago may return to haunt them both – for ever.
A passionate love story and a fascinating exploration of the power of tradition and the possibilities for change, Time’s Convert will delight fans of the All Souls trilogy and all readers of magic, the supernatural, and romance.


My Rating:

My Thoughts:

A new tale set in the world and featuring characters from the All Souls trilogy? I was looking forward to this so am glad to say that I really enjoyed it…

Time’s Convert tells how Marcus met Matthew and became a vampire during the American Revolution. There’s a current day narrative in which Phoebe, Marcus’s mate, is becoming a vampire, and a current narrative featuring Matthew and Diana, who have settled into their life as partners and parents to twins who begin to display magical abilities.

I really enjoyed they story of Marcus as a young man, the struggles at home, his eventual flight and joining the army, and the historical detail. His struggles in his human life, dealing with an abusive father and living in fear for his mother and sister were well done. After a fateful meeting with the Chevalier de Clermont, Marcus begins a new and very different life, leaving behind his family and the home he grew up in, having ensured that his mother and sister should be a little safer.
His travels take him far and wide, meeting all manner of historical figures, and I really enjoyed the time he spent in France once he was a vampire. It’s a steep learning curve for Marcus, a young man who believed in revolution and freedom, and it’s interesting to read how a man of this mindset deals with the rules of his new life. We follow him to New Orleans eventually, where things start to spiral out of control.

Interspersed with Marcus’s memories of his past is Phoebe’s transformation into a vampire, and the supervised existence she must endure before she and Marcus can be together again. This narrative was enjoyable too, as Phoebe is reborn and must relearn everything she knew. She has to master movement, to mirror the way a human would move, and learn how to feed, and also how to include her human family into her new situation without being a danger to them.

Matthew and Diana and their twins Becca and Philip provide another interesting story, and I really hope there will be more appearances from the twins in future, either in their own book or incorporated into another story the way they were here. Becca could be really feisty, and Philip and his power will be interesting to read more about.

This tale felt a little more of a drawn out affair then previous novels set in this world as for the most part it is memories and reminiscences without a massive sense of danger or threat in the present timeline but it was an entertaining read nonetheless, with Marcus experiencing plenty of life after his own rebirth. I hope there will be more books in this series, featuring other characters previously encountered throughout the All Souls trilogy.