Title: THE WOMAN IN THE MIRROR
Author: Rebecca James
For more than two centuries,
Winterbourne Hall has stood atop a bluff overseeing the English countryside of
Cornwall and the sea beyond.
In 1947, Londoner Alice Miller accepts a post as governess at Winterbourne, looking after Captain Jonathan de Grey’s twin children. Falling under the de Greys’ spell, Alice believes the family will heal her own past sorrows. But then the twins’ adoration becomes deceitful and taunting. Their father, ever distant, turns spiteful and cruel. The manor itself seems to lash out. Alice finds her surroundings subtly altered, her air slightly chilled. Something malicious resents her presence, something clouding her senses and threatening her very sanity.
In present day New York, art gallery curator Rachel Wright has learned she is a descendant of the de Greys and heir to Winterbourne. Adopted as an infant, she never knew her birth parents or her lineage. At long last, Rachel will find answers to questions about her identity that have haunted her entire life. But what she finds in Cornwall is a devastating tragic legacy that has afflicted generations of de Greys. A legacy borne from greed and deceit, twisted by madness, and suffused with unrequited love and unequivocal rage.
Is there anything better than a creepy ghost story? I was supposed to read this book as a group read, in three instalments. I started it in the morning, and read the whole book in a day. I blame the ghost of Winterbourne Hall for this buddy-read fail – I am convinced that it bewitched me! So enter carefully, at your own risk, because this book will get under your skin.
Rebecca James has mastered what a lot of writers have tried and failed to do – found the perfect formula for a creepy, Gothic ghost story which never crossed the line for me into the over-the-top paranormal, eye-rolling ridiculousness or graphic horror. And yet its undertones of menace and danger to our main protagonists creeped me out enough that the story followed me into my sleep in the form of bizarre dreams.
As another sign of the author’s skill, the dual timelines in the book worked perfectly here. I often find that one timeline will overshadow the other, or one character be more interesting than another. As the 1940’s timeline gave way to the present, I was briefly concerned that modern, big city girl Rachel would not be as enigmatic as the poor hapless Alice who took on the nannying position at Winterbourne Hall. But I should not have worried, because soon Rachel was in just as deep as Alice as the house was weaving its evil spell. Blimey, this book was a great read from start to finish! And the best bit was the final sting of the scorpion’s tail just when everyone thought that the danger had passed. *applause* Well done, Rebecca James!
All in all, if you are looking for a spooky, Gothic Halloween or autumn read, then look no further. There’s witchcraft, an evil spell, a haunted old mansion (with gargoyles, no less), a remote atmospheric setting, a pair of creepy twins and an undercurrent of menace and danger that will get under your skin. Whilst it wasn’t as scary as some in our reading group would have liked, the balance was just right for me and THE WOMAN IN THE MIRROR will definitely go on my list of favourite ghostly reads. I thoroughly enjoyed it!
Thank you to Edelweiss and Minotaur Books for the free electronic copy of this novel and for giving me the opportunity to provide an honest review.
Title: THE CORSET
Author: Laura Purcell
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?
“Victorian chiller” is a perfect description of this book, because it chilled me to the core! Not only are the descriptions of life for poor young women in the Victorian era a sober reminder of hardships regularly endured in those times, but there is also an underlying menace and a faint air of the supernatural that makes this a perfect Halloween read.
Both main protagonists are fascinating and enigmatic female characters. Ruth Butterham is a young seamstress sold to an evil dressmaker to pay off her family’s debts, endowed with an uncanny skill of embroidery that may hold more power than just being admired for its fine needlework. On the other hand we have Dorothea Truelove, an intelligent, free spirited gentlewoman dependent on her stern father who seems only interested in marrying her off to the best suitor because her spinsterhood at 25 is an embarrassment to him. The two women meet through Dorothea’s charitable work and interest in phrenology as Ruth is imprisoned for murdering her late mistress. As Ruth confides in Dorothea what has brought her to this point in time, the sorry tale of her childhood and abuse at the hands of her late employers unrolls, and it was a chilling tale indeed!
Apart from the constant tension and air of mystery underlying the story, I found Purcell’s descriptions of life in the Victorian era fascinating. If you have never heard of phrenology, it is a pseudoscience involving the measurements of bumps and irregularities of the cranium to predict personality traits, such as the murderous tendencies Dorothea is trying to predict in her female prisoners. First founded in the 18th century, this was apparently a popular belief in the Victorian era and the first time that different functions were attributed to different areas of the brain.
Also fascinating were the beliefs of witchcraft and sorcery as causes of terrible illnesses that thankfully have become nearly extinct today thanks to immunisation, such as diphtheria, which claimed many infants, including Ruth’s baby sister. And then there is poison, seemingly a preferred choice of the times to do away with unwanted relatives or rivals. It made me shiver!
As the two women are thrown together by fate, the stark division of class in the Victorian era is exposed. However, this does not mean that Dorothea does not have her own obstacles to overcome, as we soon found out. Both POVs were so well written that they captured me equally and filled me with a terrible sense of dread. I do love such deliciously wicked Gothic tales!
But best of all was the final twist, which still makes me wonder whether Ruth’s gift was real, or merely a figment of her imagination and the superstitions of the era. I’ll let you work that one out for yourself. It may have seemed like a slow-burner of a story, but it had an undercurrent of menace and danger that made my heart race. I thoroughly enjoyed it!