Book Review: The Girl in the Tower by Katherine Arden

Name:  The Girl in the Tower
Author:  
Katherine Arden
Number of Pages:
  346 (Paperback)
Published:
June 26th 2018 by Del Rey
Genre:  Fantasy, Historical

Goodreads

For a young woman in medieval Russia, the choices are stark: marriage or a life in a convent. Vasya will choose a third way: magic…
The court of the Grand Prince of Moscow is plagued by power struggles and rumours of unrest. Meanwhile bandits roam the countryside, burning the villages and kidnapping its daughters. Setting out to defeat the raiders, the Prince and his trusted companion come across a young man riding a magnificent horse.
Only Sasha, a priest with a warrior’s training, recognises this ‘boy’ as his younger sister, thought to be dead or a witch by her village. But when Vasya proves herself in battle, riding with remarkable skill and inexplicable power, Sasha realises he must keep her secret as she may be the only way to save the city from threats both human and fantastical…


My Rating:

My Thoughts:

I loved every moment of this tale of bravery, adventure, escape, mystery and scheming. Driven from her home following events of the first novel and rumours that she is a witch, we meet up once again with Vasya as she tries to make a new life in which she can be free. Disguising herself as a boy, Vasya heads out into the icy wilderness of the world, where all is not well as villages are being burned and people taken from their homes.

At the heart of this tale is Vasya. Brave Vasya, who refuses marriage, refuses the convent, stands against a frost-demon and insists she wants to see the world. She’s lost so much and yet she’s not broken. She wants to fight, to make a difference, and to help where she can, going into dangerous situations with her faithful stallion Solovey at her side.

How can one of my favourite interactions in a book still be between a spirited young woman and a talking, magical bay stallion? I can’t believe I’m even writing that, but it’s true. Solovey is such a character in his own right, and his loyalty to Vasya, and his observations and asides are just great.

The relentlessness and harshness of bitter frost, snow, and wind during winter in the forest was so vivid. Yes, it helped a little that the day I started reading this it started snowing, but this book is all atmosphere without the added weather effects in the real world.

And I have to mention Morozko and Vasya. I love the pair of them, separately and together – the whole ‘will they, won’t they, how can they fall in love when he’s an immortal frost-demon?’, and what exactly isn’t he telling her about the sapphire necklace and witches and horses by the sea? See, all these vague little suggestions just add to the mystery.
It’s utterly enchanting. He’s always there, making sure she’s okay as she ploughs forth into battles that should certainly be beyond her. As Vasya herself admits at one point, girls don’t handle weapons, and yet she’ll face down bandits and fight beside princes.

There are family reunions, political intrigue, plots, schemes, new monstrous villains and so much more to this great story. I’m so glad that I already have The winter of the Witch on request from the library, because I don’t want to leave this richly-created world and these fascinating characters behind just yet.

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Book Review: The Psychology of Time Travel by Kate Mascarenhas

Name:  The Psychology of Time Travel
Author:  
Kate Mascarenhas
Number of Pages:
  372 (Kindle)
Published:
August 9th 2018 by Head of Zeus
Genre:  Science Fiction, Time Travel

Goodreads

A time travel murder mystery from a brilliantly original new voice. Perfect for readers of Naomi Alderman’s The Power and Emily St John Mandel’s Station Eleven.
1967
Four female scientists invent a time travel machine. They are on the cusp of fame: the pioneers who opened the world to new possibilities. But then one of them suffers a breakdown and puts the whole project in peril…
2017
Ruby knows her beloved Granny Bee was a pioneer, but they never talk about the past. Though time travel is now big business, Bee has never been part of it. Then they receive a message from the future – a newspaper clipping reporting the mysterious death of an elderly lady…
2018
When Odette discovered the body she went into shock. Blood everywhere, bullet wounds, that strong reek of sulphur. But when the inquest fails to find any answers, she is frustrated. Who is this dead woman that haunts her dreams? And why is everyone determined to cover up her murder?


My Rating:

My Thoughts:

The Psychology of Time Travel is a really engaging read. Time travel as a theme can be a bit hit and miss for me. I sometimes find it overly confusing to the point that I lose interest but this story was one I think I (mostly) kept up with quite well. That said, trying to give you an overview of the plot is probably going to leave you far more confused than simply saying you should certainly give this book a try.

There’s the ultimate locked-room murder mystery, for how do you find a killer when it turns out they could be anywhere in time? And it doesn’t help matters when the victim cannot be identified either. It really opens up ‘means, motive, opportunity’ issues, because it could literally be anybody, from anywhere, at any time. It will take a very determined and committed person to sort that one out!

There’s also a lovely time travel romance which was an absolute pleasure to watch unfold, despite the many complications of loving someone from an entirely different era who has the capacity to disappear from day to day life at will and reappear again as an entirely different version of themselves. The way these particular characters came together made me want to go back and read their first meetings all over again.

There are characters you want the very best for, and those who seem to lose something of their humanity along the way as they strive to protect the reputation of the industry they built all those years ago. There’s a young woman determined to get to the bottom of the murder at the toy museum, to find out ‘why’ and answer the questions that play on her mind so she can be at peace.

I can’t say I’ve read that much time travel, but one thing I’ve never come across before which is used to great effect here is the idea that you can actually meet your younger (green) or older (silver) selves in the past and the future. You can in fact meet with them, converse with them, or wake up to find your older self preparing breakfast in the kitchen. The other selves can to some extent offer help or hints, and I really liked this idea.

The story weaves together and there are many strands and many secondary characters. At times it did get a little confusing and convoluted, especially when a character could be on their way to pick their child up from school only to end up meeting an adult version of said child, so you do need to pay attention, but in the end it all ties together and drives towards a satisfying conclusion. I’m glad I picked up this book for the originality, the mystery and the memorable characters.

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.

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.