Book Review: NOS4A2 by Joe Hill

Name: NOS4A2
Author:
Joe Hill
Number of Pages:
995 (ebook)
Published:
First published April 30th 2013 by William Morrow
Genre:  Horror, Thriller

Goodreads

Victoria McQueen has a secret gift for finding things: a misplaced bracelet, a missing photograph, answers to unanswerable questions. On her Raleigh Tuff Burner bike, she makes her way to a rickety covered bridge that, within moments, takes her wherever she needs to go, whether it’s across Massachusetts or across the country.
Charles Talent Manx has a way with children. He likes to take them for rides in his 1938 Rolls-Royce Wraith with the NOS4A2 vanity plate. With his old car, he can slip right out of the everyday world, and onto the hidden roads that transport them to an astonishing – and terrifying – playground of amusements he calls “Christmasland.”
Then, one day, Vic goes looking for trouble—and finds Manx. That was a lifetime ago. Now Vic, the only kid to ever escape Manx’s unmitigated evil, is all grown up and desperate to forget. But Charlie Manx never stopped thinking about Victoria McQueen. He’s on the road again and he’s picked up a new passenger: Vic’s own son.

My Rating:

My Thoughts:

NOS4A2 is a tale of two people, massively different in every possible way, yet destined for a collision course due to their unique abilities.
There are different worlds, the regular world, and the world of inscapes, the world of the imagination. Not everyone can access these worlds, and they’re different for everyone.
For Vic McQueen, she has the unique ability to find lost things via a covered bridge that appears only for her, so she can go where she needs to.
For Charlie Manx, he has Christmasland, more on that soon.
There are apparently others with talents too, and they’re all harnessed through different things.
Vic‘s ability first comes to light when, as a young child out riding her bike and thinking about her mother’s lost bracelet, she rides across the Shorter Way bridge and emerges in a completely different location. Later on, her childhood bicycle is replaced by a motorbike.
Manx owns a classic Rolls-Royce Wraith, which not only allows him to access Christmasland, but drains all the goodness out of its passengers as fuel for the journey. Manx long ago left anything good in himself behind, and so he needs passengers. As they are drained, Manx seems to take on some of their vitality, becoming younger as time goes on.

NOS4A2 starts out with a spooky, eerie air, but also adventure as the young Vic discovers her power for finding lost things, and the story picks up pace as years go by and Manx threatens Vic’s family, deciding that a fair exchange for her telling tales about him and getting him incarcerated, robbing him of his family (his own daughters are in Christmasland, and they’re happy to see him when he returns), is to repay her in similar fashion by taking Vic’s son from her and introducing Wayne to the Christmasland kids.

It’s immersive and detailed with great world building, particularly with Vic’s magical covered bridge, right down to the bats that reside in the roof space and the way the bridge degrades over time. There’s also the playground of Charlie Manx, Christmasland, with it’s reindeer-go-round, enormous Christmas tree festooned with unique decorations and the Sleighcoaster. Christmasland where every day is Christmas and party games include Scissors for the Drifter and Bite the Smallest. Warm and cosy it is not, but the residents seem to enjoy the place.

On to the characters surrounding our two leads. First, the good…

Lou Carmody is wonderful. When Vic stumbles into him whilst fleeing for her life he accepts it without question, hauling her onto his motorbike and riding away from danger. He’s heroic but in a quiet way. Lou is steady, dependable, trying his best to be a good father to Wayne, and to support Vic through her trials, and they are many. His faith in her, even when what she’s saying seems impossible or incredible, is unwavering.

Maggie Leigh, friend and fellow person with unique skills (courtesy of a unique set of Scrabble tiles) is the Here, Iowa librarian who Vic meets in her earliest travels across the bridge and who returns when it’s apparent that Manx may not be gone after all. She’s a tragic character who seems to have a lot of hardship and hurt in the years between her first and second encounters with Vic, and I would have enjoyed more glimpses into the years that separated their encounters.

And now for the bad…

Bing Partridge is a disturbed individual long before he becomes enthralled with Charlie Manx and Christmasland, and this only gets worse with the promise of Christmasland dangled before him by Manx. If he just does the things that Manx asks, then he’ll be able to visit this land of magic and wonder, so he thinks. He is truly monstrous with his basement of horrors, and has no redeeming features at all. For all that Manx is a bad ‘un, and he really is, Bing is skin-crawling.

As a reader of Stephen King I enjoyed the nods to other works including the Dark Tower series and IT. As if Manx wasn’t scary enough, the idea that he possibly knows of Pennywise or The True Knot from Doctor Sleep… I’ll leave that thought there.

I’ve enjoyed a number of books by Joe Hill now and NOS4A2 is another one to add to the list. It’s a book that languished on my TBR list for far too long.  I wish I hadn’t waited because what a book it is. For a pretty long book it never felt too drawn out.   Time spent with these characters made me root for Vic, for her desperate attempt to save the life of her son, and to hope that she triumphed over the threats against her family.  I can’t say more about whether she does win through in the end, you’ll just have to pick up the book to find out.

Book Review: The Ten Thousand Doors of January by Alix E. Harrow

Name: The Ten Thousand Doors of January
Author:
Alix E. Harrow
Number of Pages:
385 (ebook)
Published:
September 10th 2019 by Redhook
Genre:  Fantasy

Goodreads

In the early 1900s, a young woman searches for her place in the world after finding a mysterious book in this captivating and lyrical debut.
In a sprawling mansion filled with peculiar treasures, January Scaller is a curiosity herself. As the ward of the wealthy Mr. Locke, she feels little different from the artifacts that decorate the halls: carefully maintained, largely ignored, and utterly out of place.
Then she finds a strange book. A book that carries the scent of other worlds, and tells a tale of secret doors, of love, adventure and danger. Each page turn reveals impossible truths about the world and January discovers a story increasingly entwined with her own.

My Rating:

My Thoughts:

From the earliest moments of this book, as January narrates her initial discovery of Doors and the worlds beyond them, and her love of books and stories, I had a feeling I was on to something special.
I was pulled in right away. When the mystery developed further as January’s father disappeared and it became apparent that someone or something was also interested in Doors, and more specifically closing them, cutting off access to all these magical places, I could hardly tear myself away and had to read on.

As January herself notes, it starts with a Door, but it also starts with a book, the mysterious Ten Thousand Doors, a volume that almost magically appears in January’s life from some unknown source and paints a vivid, consuming tale of other worlds, mysterious Doors, and two people who literally crossed worlds for true love. It’s a real slow burning tale for the spirited Adelaide Lee Larson and scholarly Yule Ian, and January takes every opportunity to escape into their tale when her own real life situation becomes increasingly difficult, little realising at first just how important their story will be.

The writing is something to savour. I found myself going back to reread passages at times, just for the way something was expressed with such imagination, or for the imagery created. It gave me slight Starless Sea vibes at times, another book I really enjoyed. From the stifling atmosphere of the vast museum-like Locke House on the shores of the lake to the confines of Brattleboro and out into the vivid and varied worlds that can be found beyond the Doors, including the world of the Written, the home of Yule Ian, all these places were so vivid and provided some great settings.

Now to talk of the characters. January is the heart of the story of course, and she’s an interesting character, setting out to find her family and somewhere to belong having had such a unique upbringing with Mr. Locke as her guardian and fleeting visits from her own father, whom she always hoped would return one day to announce that she could go travelling with him.
The characters surrounding January all add something to this tale, be it for better or worse.
One of my favourites was Jane, a woman who initially arrives in January’s life when she is employed by January’s father to act as a companion, but there’s far more to Jane, and her history and personal interest in the Doors was one of the highlights of this story. I wish Jane had her own book of stories.
And there’s a dog called Bad, who is far from that. As animal companions go, Bad is very good.
The villains of the piece are provided for the most part by various members of the mysterious Society. Havemeyer starts out as a vaguely creepy gentleman before becoming something altogether more nightmarish, and there are others of his ilk who are interested in the Doors and the worlds to which they lead.

The Ten Thousand Doors of January is a tale of magic and imagination, stories and books and the power of words. It’s all about friendship, family, finding somewhere to belong, and the lengths people will go to find each other when the odds are stacked against them. I loved the time I spent reading this, and am already looking forward to reading The Once and Future Witches by Alix E. Harrow. I can’t wait to see if it’s as good as Ten Thousand Doors. What a start to a new year of reading!

Book Review: Midwinter Murder: Fireside Mysteries from the Queen of Crime by Agatha Christie

Name: Midwinter Murder: Fireside Mysteries from the Queen of Crime
Author:
Agatha Christie
Number of Pages:
 320 (ebook)
Published:
October 1st 2020
Genre:  Crime, Mystery, Short Stories

Goodreads

There’s a chill in the air and the days are growing shorter . . . It’s the perfect time to curl up in front of a crackling fireplace with this winter-themed collection from legendary mystery writer Agatha Christie. But beware of deadly snowdrifts and dangerous gifts, poisoned meals and mysterious guests. This compendium of short stories, some featuring beloved detectives Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple, is an essential omnibus for Christie fans and the perfect holiday gift for mystery lovers.

My Rating:

My Thoughts:

Midwinter Murder offers up a collection of twelve short stories of mystery involving an array of Christie’s well-known characters including Poirot and Miss Marple.

The collection begins with Poirot and Hastings sitting beside a fire as Poirot tells of a time when he considers that he did in fact, shockingly, fail to solve a case.
From there we’re introduced to Miss Marple, Tommy and Tuppence, Mr. Parker Pyne and Mr Quin.
This latter is a character I’ve never come across before and I was quite taken with the stories involving him. He’s very mysterious, just apparently appearing on the scene, involving himself and having some part to play in events before disappearing again, almost like some kind of ghost. There’s definitely a slight touch of the eerie or supernatural about his presence, especially in the second story in which he features in this collection. I’ve since discovered that Mr. Quin appears in his own story collection, so I do think I’ll probably end up seeking them out at some point.
As for the rest, I think I prefer the full-length Poirot tales to short stories, but then that‘s true generally. I seem to go for longer novels most of the time.
So far I’ve yet to read any Miss Marple and I’m not sure whether I’d find the same enjoyment in them as I do in Poirot, but I wouldn’t rule out trying at least one just to find out.

Midwinter Murder is an enjoyable read to dip into for a story to fill a short space of time. I picked it up as I wanted a festive Christie read, and it offers a nice glimpse into Christie’s characters for anyone wondering whether to try a Poirot novel, or a Tommy and Tuppence tale. For now I think I’ll be sticking to the Poirot novels, but Mr Quin is mysterious and intriguing enough to read more about too.

Book Review: The Invisible Library (The Invisible Library #1) by Genevieve Cogman

Name: The Invisible Library (The Invisible Library #1)
Author:
Genevieve Cogman
Number of Pages:
 337 (ebook)
Published:
December 15th 2014 by Pan
Genre:  Fantasy

Goodreads

Irene must be at the top of her game or she’ll be off the case – permanently . . .
Irene is a professional spy for the mysterious Library, which harvests fiction from different realities. And along with her enigmatic assistant Kai, she’s posted to an alternative London. Their mission – to retrieve a dangerous book. But when they arrive, it’s already been stolen. London’s underground factions seem prepared to fight to the very death to find her book.
Adding to the jeopardy, this world is chaos-infested – the laws of nature bent to allow supernatural creatures and unpredictable magic. Irene’s new assistant is also hiding secrets of his own.
Soon, she’s up to her eyebrows in a heady mix of danger, clues and secret societies. Yet failure is not an option – the nature of reality itself is at stake.

My Rating:

My Thoughts:

The story begins with a library, but not one of the usual variety. The Invisible Library is a place of magic and mystery, and as the name suggests, it contains many, many books. It also has links to a great variety of alternate worlds in which some of these books resided prior to their residence in the Library.
Irene is a junior agent of the Library and tasked with novice Kai to venture to an alternate London to retrieve a manuscript, a certain edition of Grimm’s Fairy Tales. It’s like a Victorian steampunk version of London, so I loved the feel of the place. Not only that, it’s a world with a chaos infestation, so all you think you know may not apply. Retrieving the book should be simple, but it turns out that actually it’s already been stolen so Irene and Kai set out to find it before they return to the Library.

The Library is a great place, and I hope more time is spent there as the series continues. The whole endless supply of books, both magical and mundane, drawn from all these alternate worlds is fascinating. Initiates of the library have agelessness conveyed upon them while they’re within the walls. They do age gradually as they go out into alternate worlds but could in theory have some degree of immorality if at some point they decide to stay within the library.

There’s a lot going on in this novel – a murder mystery (a vampire murder actually), the theft of the manuscript, and the presence of the dangerous but alluring Fae, creatures of chaos. A famous detective is on the same trail as our leads and a legendary former Library agent gone rogue may be in the vicinity. To complicate things further a colleague/rival of Irene’s who may be more involved than she’s letting on appears in this alternate world. And then of course there are the werewolves and mechanical centipedes and zeppelins flying around the place.

There characters are a great mix, from Irene and Kai, who is also more than he first appears, to the Great Detective Peregrine Vale and Irene’s friend/colleague/rival/former mentor Bradamant. The latter was interesting, their initial dislike based on a shared past turning to reluctantly needing to work together to retrieve the book. I hope these characters cross paths again as the series continues, and that more of their history is revealed.

The Invisible Library is a good beginning to a series that I’m looking forward to discovering. Anything themed around books and libraries and alternate fantasy worlds is going to get my reading attention, and as Irene was dispatched with new orders at the end of this novel, I was almost as pleased as she was that there is more to look forward to in this world of magic and adventure and books.

Book Review: Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

Name: Mexican Gothic
Author:
Silvia Moreno-Garcia
Number of Pages:
 304 (ebook)
Published:
June 30th 2020 by Del Rey
Genre:  Gothic, Horror

Goodreads

After receiving a frantic letter from her newlywed cousin begging for someone to save her from a mysterious doom, Noemí Taboada heads to High Place, a distant house in the Mexican countryside. She’s not sure what she will find – her cousin’s husband, a handsome Englishman, is a stranger, and Noemí knows little about the region.
Noemí is also an unlikely rescuer: She’s a glamorous debutante, and her chic gowns and perfect red lipstick are more suited for cocktail parties than amateur sleuthing. But she’s also tough and smart, with an indomitable will, and she is not afraid: not of her cousin’s new husband, who is both menacing and alluring; not of his father, the ancient patriarch who seems to be fascinated by Noemí; and not even of the house itself, which begins to invade Noemi’s dreams with visions of blood and doom.
Her only ally in this inhospitable abode is the family’s youngest son. Shy and gentle, he seems to want to help Noemí but might also be hiding dark knowledge of his family’s past. For there are many secrets behind the walls of High Place. The family’s once colossal wealth and faded mining empire kept them from prying eyes, but as Noemí digs deeper she unearths stories of violence and madness.
And Noemí, mesmerized by the terrifying yet seductive world of High Place, may soon find it impossible to ever leave this enigmatic house behind.

My Rating:

My Thoughts:

Noemí Taboada is called home early from a party. Her father has received an alarming letter from Catalina, Noemí’s recently married cousin, and he wants Noemí to go and visit, and find out whether her cousin is well or whether she needs help. And so Noemí ventures off to High Place, home of the Doyle family, to discover what is going on at this old family home high in the mountains.

Mexican Gothic exudes a marvellously melancholy atmosphere that seeps through every descriptive passage. High Place, the great old house, from the very first moment Noemí emerges from the mist and lays eyes on the place, is central to the tale. Steeped in a far-reaching dark and violent history, illness, death and murder all feature, stretching back to the days when there was a thriving mining community in the area, and then there’s whatever is going on at High Place during these times.
There’s the English cemetery with it’s grand old mausoleum and stone figures, shrouded in mist and with fungus growing all around. The whole place is really atmospheric.

The house is fantastically imagined, age old grandeur falling into decay and literally mouldering away, wallpaper covered in black mold, ceilings the same, disused rooms with their coatings of dust and cabinets full of the family silver.
And the rules add another layer of strangeness. Hot water not needed for a bath, no need for electric lighting when oil lamps and candles will suffice, and similarly, curtains closed most of the time. No smoking, no conversation over dinner, it’s all so strict and severe and Noemí finds herself having to adhere to these eccentric whims whilst wondering how her cousin could possibly fit in and live in this way.

Noemi – socialite, fashionable, wealthy, flirty, a regular on the party scene, you wouldn’t necessarily think she would be the obvious choice to go to such a forbidding place. She is described early on by her own father as flighty, yet he also acknowledges her smart mindset is well suited to finding out what is happening at High Place and she’s marvellous throughout.
Confronted with open hostility and interference from almost everyone she meets, all the bizarre rules, and persistent attempts to keep her away from Catalina, Noemí remains undeterred.
In the face of repulsive old patriarch Howard Doyle and his unsavoury conversations and interests she still won’t back down, and even when the sensible thing would be to leave while she still can, she won’t abandon her cousin. She was sent to find out the truth, and she remains devoted to this task.

There are other books that the atmosphere of Mexican Gothic called to mind. It has a very slight air of Dracula in Noemí’s initial journey up into the mountains to High Place, and the mention of European soil shipped over to Mexico for the garden led me to half expect old Howard Doyle would turn out to be a vampire. The truth regarding that particular character is pretty stomach churning.
There’s also something a little Rebecca in that Florence has a similar presence as Mrs Danvers, overseeing the running of the house and ensuring that the rules are followed.
And yet Mexican Gothic is something unique in itself, from Noemí as the central character to the revelations that eventually come to light regarding High Place and the Doyle family.

The story is a really involved slow burn for the first two thirds, the tension gradually ratcheting up until the awful truth is revealed and from there the descent into horror is rapid and vivid. It’s almost as stomach churning as the moment a rollercoaster reaches the peak and drops suddenly. You know something is about to happen because there are so many things wrong at High Place, so many dark secrets, and it’s tense reading discovering whether Noemí will be able to save her cousin, and even by the end, herself.

Book Review: Shades of Milk and Honey (Glamourist Histories #1) by Mary Robinette Kowal

Name: Shades of Milk and Honey (Glamourist Histories #1)
Author:  
Mary Robinette Kowal
Number of Pages:
304 (ebook)
Published:
August 3rd 2010 by Tor
Genre:  Historical, Fantasy, Romance

Goodreads

Shades of Milk and Honey is an intimate portrait of Jane Ellsworth, a woman ahead of her time in a world where the manipulation of glamour is considered an essential skill for a lady of quality. But despite the prevalence of magic in everyday life, other aspects of Dorchester’s society are not that different: Jane and her sister Melody’s lives still revolve around vying for the attentions of eligible men.
Jane resists this fate, and rightly so: while her skill with glamour is remarkable, it is her sister who is fair of face, and therefore wins the lion’s share of the attention. At the ripe old age of twenty-eight, Jane has resigned herself to being invisible forever. But when her family’s honor is threatened, she finds that she must push her skills to the limit in order to set things right–and, in the process, accidentally wanders into a love story of her own.

My Rating:

My Thoughts:

Shades of Milk and Honey is a charming beginning to the Glamourist Histories, a series of Regency era tales of romance and magic.

The story centres around the Ellsworth family, particularly two sisters, Jane and Melody, and their friendships, relationships, and dramas of varying kinds. It’s a world of courtesies, social engagements and romantic attachments, much like many a story told before, but in this world there is also magic, more specifically, glamour. To be accomplished in glamour is a valued talent, so when Glamourist Mr. Vincent arrives on the scene, employed at a neighbouring property, Jane, who has a natural talent for glamour, is interested.

After an initial meeting sets them off on precisely the wrong foot with each other Jane and Mr. Vincent appear destined to be constantly at odds, misunderstanding or unintentionally slighting the other, which makes each of their encounters something to anticipate, be this in company at a great gathering or in a smaller family group at Jane’s home.

The magical flourishes throughout are charming. Glamour can be used to enhance art and add lifelike detail to a painting, or transform a dining room into a forest glade so realistic in sight, sound and scent and anyone in the room could well believe they’d been transported elsewhere, or to create colours in the air to complement a piece of music. It can also be used to modify appearance if you’re so inclined, to make minor illusory adjustments to appearance, something in which Jane refuses to indulge despite hearing herself referred to as plain and also having a fairly critical self-opinion.

There’s a whole host of would-be suitors for the Ellsworth sisters, from the enigmatic Mr. Vincent, to the dashing Captain Livingston and the steady, dependable Mr. Dunkirk. As the story plays out each of these characters is revealed to be more or less than they appear on the surface. Watching their interactions with Jane and Melody, and wondering who, if any of them, would end up together was just reading enjoyment. I don’t tend to read that much along these lines, but some of the scenes in this book, especially the way a certain character’s feelings are revealed are just perfect and I sat there smiling as I was reading.

It’s not all smooth sailing though, there are those with ill intentions and the honour of more than one family may end up being at stake, and into a pretty exciting conclusion our characters are thrown before we find out whether anyone will end up with their own happy ending.

Shades of Milk and Honey was a pleasure to read. Time spent in this gentle world of manners, magic and misunderstandings was reading time well spent. Even better? It’s the first book in a series so there is more to look forward to.

Book Review: Hallowe’en Party (Poirot #39) by Agatha Christie

Name: Hallowe’en Party (Poirot #39)
Author:  
Agatha Christie
Number of Pages:
244 (ebook)
Published:
Harper Collins (first published November 1969)
Genre:  Mystery

Goodreads

A teenage murder witness is drowned in a tub of apples…At a Hallowe’en party, Joyce – a hostile thirteen-year-old – boasts that she once witnessed a murder. When no-one believes her, she storms off home. But within hours her body is found, still in the house, drowned in an apple-bobbing tub. That night, Hercule Poirot is called in to find the ‘evil presence’. But first he must establish whether he is looking for a murderer or a double-murderer…

My Rating:

My Thoughts:

More than one Readers Imbibing Peril has passed where I’ve added this book to my potential TBR pile and never got around to reading it, so this year I did. It fit the time of year, it fit the theme for my readathon. It’s a novel little touch, having the murder take place towards the end of a Halloween party, but that aside there isn’t actually much more of a Halloween theme throughout the book; you could pick this one up at any time of year.

Joyce Reynolds is one of many people attending a Halloween party. Preparations before said party see a group drawn together and Joyce, attention seeking and carried away at the presence of novelist Ariadne Oliver boasts that she once witnessed a murder, only she didn’t realise until some time afterwards that it was in fact a murder.
Later that night Joyce meets her end by way of an apple-bobbing tub.
Mrs Oliver calls on her good friend Poirot to try and get to the bottom of what happened, and whether Joyce did indeed witness a murder and if that was why this crime was committed.

A highlight for me was Ariadne Oliver. I think she features in other Poirot novels, but this is the first time I’ve come across her, and I like her wit and her easy friendship with Poirot. She’s not really in awe of him, jokes with him about his fussiness over dressing smartly, and offers up her own thoughts as to what is going on. She even manages to find out certain important information before Poirot. She’s an interesting companion for Poirot and I’ll certainly look out for the other novels in which she features.

Poirot is of course his usual dependable self, going about asking seemingly unrelated questions to a variety of people to gather a picture of events from years gone by and work out just how and where this original murder occurred, if it occurred at all, and who may have cause to continue in the same way now in order to conceal past crimes.

A tangled web of lies, deceit, forged wills, a possible murder from years ago, and a big cast of characters who may have played some part in events of the past made this an interesting one to guess at. I fell in for at least one red herring, but I don’t mind that, it makes it more of a surprise when the truth is revealed.

If you’re looking for a murder mystery with a very slight seasonal touch, or fancy something a little Halloween-ish without the ghosts and monsters that reside elsewhere in books, then this might be worth a read.

Book Review: The Turn of the Screw by Henry James

Name: The Turn of the Screw
Author:  
Henry James
Number of Pages:
137 (ebook)
Published:
September 26th 2017 by AmazonClassics (first published October 1898)
Genre:  Mystery, Horror

Goodreads

A young governess arrives at Bly, a country home in Essex, England, to care for Miles and Flora, two precocious and pure children. But as ghostly visions take shape, the obsessively protective governess soon fears for the safety of her wards – only to wonder if these hauntings are a conjuring of her own imagination.
In challenging what we see – and what we believe we see – in the dark of the night, The Turn of the Screw stands as one of the boldest and most chilling ghost stories ever told.

My Rating:

My Thoughts:

I finally picked up The Turn of the Screw as a while ago I watched a movie called The Turning, and more recently I’ve started watching The Haunting of Bly Manor. Both of these adaptations are based on this book, so I thought it was time to check out the original tale, and what better than a ghost story for a dark autumn night?
I have to admit, The Turning was okay, up until the ending. I wasn’t that struck by the ending. I haven’t watched enough of Bly Manor yet to have an opinion, but what I have seen so far I’ve enjoyed. Going into this story with the idea of that ending in mind left me curious as to whether the book would be the same.

The story – a governess goes to Bly to undertake the care of two orphaned children, Miles and Flora. At first all seems well, the children are perfect and the governess is happy, but odd things start to happen. Strange noises, an unknown man to whom the governess has not been introduced appears on the battlements, only to disappear again.
There’s also some secret as to why Miles has been expelled from school.
The governess is soon convinced that she’s seeing ghosts, having taken the housekeeper, Mrs. Grose, into her confidence. She believes she’s seeing Peter Quint and Miss Jessel, former inhabitants and employees at Bly who shared an eventful past and are now looking for trouble.
Worse than that, she becomes convinced that both Miles and Flora know about these things, and can see both of them, and actively encourage their presence, or sometimes that the ghosts are after the children.
But what is the truth? Are there really ghosts at Bly, can the children see them, or is the governess victim to her own vivid imagination?

How much you enjoy this story may partly depend on how much you like the ambiguity. That was what I didn’t like too much about the ending of The Turning. I won’t say more in case you want to watch that film. I did find though that it seemed to work better in a book than shown onscreen for some reason. I don’t know whether it was because I went into the book with that in mind, or just because it was somehow more plausible because of the way the story was narrated. That said, I did find the ending when it came was quite abrupt.

Then there’s the writing style. I don’t know how to describe it other than to say it’s very wordy, with a lot of punctuation. I came across words that I checked the meaning of (an advantage to the e-book version here), and found myself going back over some of the longer sentences and rereading to make sure I’d got their meaning because at times I did feel a bit lost in too many words. It was convoluted but once I sat down to read for a longer time I found it a little easier to follow. It wasn’t a book you could just grab a quick chapter in a few spare minutes.

In the end I’m a little conflicted over The Turn of the Screw. I quite liked elements of the story, and the ambiguity around what was going on worked well in the book – the ’make of it what you will’ element.  It left me with many questions, partly through that abrupt ending, but the writing style definitely outweighed my overall enjoyment which influenced my rating for this one.

Book Review: The Sun Down Motel by Simone St. James

Name: The Sun Down Motel
Author:  
Simone St. James
Number of Pages:
336 (ebook)
Published:
February 18th 2020 by Berkley
Genre:  Mystery, Thriller, Horror

Goodreads

Something hasn’t been right at the roadside Sun Down Motel for a very long time, and Carly Kirk is about to find out why in this chilling new novel from the New York Times bestselling and award-winning author of The Broken Girls.
Upstate New York, 1982. Viv Delaney wants to move to New York City, and to help pay for it she takes a job as the night clerk at the Sun Down Motel in Fell, New York. But something isnʼt right at the motel, something haunting and scary.
Upstate New York, 2017. Carly Kirk has never been able to let go of the story of her aunt Viv, who mysteriously disappeared from the Sun Down before she was born. She decides to move to Fell and visit the motel, where she quickly learns that nothing has changed since 1982. And she soon finds herself ensnared in the same mysteries that claimed her aunt.

My Rating:

My Thoughts:

Imagine a motel, in an isolated location, surrounded by woods, in a town with something of a history regarding unsolved crimes and disappearances. Imagine being the solitary employee working the night shift in such a place, with few if any residents, then imagine doors opening of their own accord in rooms known to be unoccupied, sudden noises, strange smells, the lights go out, and then…

That’s the situation at the incredibly creepy Sun Down Motel, where in 1982 Viv Delaney finds herself accepting the job as night clerk having left home with ideas to go to New York. She witnesses much at the motel, the cheating couples, the unique characters with their own schemes, but she also sees what others don’t, previous occupants of the motel who apparently never left. Viv starts to wonder who these people might be, and during her stay in Fell she starts to put together a tragic and possibly dangerous picture of accidents and incidents which may go some way to explain these ghostly appearances at the motel.
And then Viv disappears…

35 years later Carly, Viv’s niece, cannot accept that no one ever found out what happened to her aunt and follows the trail straight to the Sun Down, a coincidence seeing her assume the role of night clerk, the way her aunt did all those years ago. And the strange events start to repeat all over again.

The story combines an old murder mystery with some wonderfully creepy scenes at the motel. The dead of night, the isolation, the threat from something apparently real but not real, I definitely had a moment or two when I was glad I’m come across certain scenes during daylight hours, or I may have had to put the story aside for a while. And that’s just the kind of read I was seeking for October.

Away from the creepy atmosphere of the motel a cold-case murder mystery unfolds as both Carly and Viv uncover certain facts and one narrative feeds seamlessly into the other as both women tread the apparent same path 35 years apart. The mixture of the cold-case investigations into a number of unsolved crimes and the combination of thriller and ghostly mystery appealed to me.

The writing is really good. It’s easy to imagine the motel with its vivid blue and yellow sign, blighted by tragic events almost from its opening and falling into an almost abandoned, forgotten and unloved 1980s time warp in the modern narrative. So easy to picture the ghosts that haunt the place, the smell of cigarette smoke that comes out of the blue when no one is around, the clink as the doors open of their own accord, the darkness as the lights go out…. Okay, I’ll stop now, but you might say I enjoyed the writing.

The two narratives introduce Viv and Carly. Carly’s part is told in first person as we go back to the motel with her, whereas Viv’s is third person. I liked both of these characters, their bravery in facing that motel, going back night after night despite the things they had seen and could not explain, and the details they uncovered about events linked to the motel.
Viv’s determination to see her theories through despite great risks to her own safety made her chapters tense reading at times.
Carly is interesting, and I liked her friendship with Heather, a young woman who becomes her roommate and friend, who knows all the local history of Fell, the stories, the disappearances, the ones that were solved.
I liked the cast of characters throughout, from the two main characters to the array of people who pass through the motel, the travelling salesman who keeps giving a false name, Helen and Robert, the cheating couple, and the wonderful Marnie, the woman on their trail, and the only female officer in Fell, Alma Trent.

The Sun Down Motel is a great mix of mystery and ghost story, and perfect for those autumn nights when the darkness is drawing in and you’re looking for a story to get lost in.

Book Review: Endless Night by Agatha Christie

Name: Endless Night
Author:  
Agatha Christie
Number of Pages:
292 (ebook)
Published:
October 14th 2010 by Harper (first published October 30th 1967)
Genre:  Mystery

Goodreads

Agatha Christie’s disturbing 1960s mystery thriller, reissued with a striking cover designed to appeal to the latest generation of Agatha Christie fans and book lovers.
Gipsy’s Acre was a truly beautiful upland site with views out to sea – and in Michael Rogers it stirred a child-like fantasy.
There, amongst the dark fir trees, he planned to build a house, find a girl and live happily ever after.
Yet, as he left the village, a shadow of menace hung over the land. For this was the place where accidents happened. Perhaps Michael should have heeded the locals’ warnings: ‘There’s no luck for them as meddles with Gipsy’s Acre.’
Michael Rogers is a man who is about to learn the true meaning of the old saying ‘In my end is my beginning…’

My Rating:

My Thoughts:

I think I went into this expecting something a little different than I got, and that probably affected my enjoyment. Reading the description, which was different than the one I’ve included above, I mistakenly thought there’d be a house, an old place with character into which our characters would move unsuspectingly and then the creepiness would begin. That’s not what happens at all. And I sort of hoped for the house.

This is a tale narrated by Michael Rogers, a young man who dreams of a house of his own, a dream house, and his perfect companion with which to share his dream and his life. He recounts, in a very conversational fashion, meeting Ellie, their love for each other, their marriage and the purchase of a plot of possibly cursed land. There is a house, eventually, but it’s not an old, creepy house; the ruins of a previous residence are actually removed and a new dream home is constructed under the supervision of Michael’s architect friend Rudolf Santonix.

There’s certainly an air that something is not right, and many intriguing characters, from Santonix the architect, to Ellie’s good friend and companion Greta, and that kept me reading even as I realised this wasn’t going to be the kind of story I thought at the outset. The pace picked up for around the last quarter of the novel as the truth came to light.

It’s hard to say too much without risking spoilers but I will say that there was such an air of something not right about a certain situation that I questioned a lot of what was going on and I did suspect at least one thing. When the revelations finally came I was partially right but had suspected so much that the main surprise wasn’t such a great shock. The signs were there, although I was surprised at the depth of it all. Also, trying to be vague here, a similar thing had happened elsewhere in another novel, and that time it definitely got me, it was marvellous. Here, I didn’t have that same sense of amazed disbelief.

Endless Night probably isn’t going to be one of my favourite Christie novels but I’ve enjoyed quite a few now so it was inevitable there’d be one I enjoyed less. I am hopefully going to read Halloween Party soon as October is upon us, and I’m looking forward to that.