Tuesday, 20 October 2020

Two great Halloween reads: THE WOMAN IN THE MIRROR (Rebecca James) & THE CORSET (Laura Purcell)


 

Title: THE WOMAN IN THE MIRROR

Author:  Rebecca James



Book Description:

 

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. 

 

My musings:

 


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.


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Title: THE CORSET

Author:  Laura Purcell



Book Description:

 

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 musings:

 


“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!





Sunday, 18 October 2020

Book Review: THE GILDED CAGE by Camilla Lackberg

 



Title:  THE GILDED CAGE

Author:  Camilla LΓ€ckberg

Publisher:  HarperCollins Australia

Read: October 2020

Expected publication: out now

My Rating: πŸŒŸπŸŒŸπŸŒŸ1/2

 

Book Description:

 

People would kill to have Faye von Essen’s life. She lives in an ultra-swanky apartment in the most exclusive area of Stockholm, she has a gorgeous husband who gives her everything she’s ever wanted, and she has an adorable daughter who lights up her world. Faye’s life is perfect.

So how is it, then, that she now finds herself in a police station?

The truth is that Faye’s life is far from what it seems. The truth is that Faye isn’t even her real name. And now she’s been caught out. There’s no way she’s going to go down without a fight. The only question is – who will escape with their life?

 

My musings:

 


WTH??? What a thoroughly twisted, evil little tale this was! Some of the revelations made me rejoice in the sisterhood, others sent shivers down my spine, and some made me want to have a shower. This book is definitely not for the faint hearted.

 

THE GILDED CAGE was my first book by Camilla Lackberg, but it won’t be my last. With a penchant for dark, Nordic noir, I am wondering why it has taken me so long to pick up her books?

 

The reference to the gilded cage relates to Faye, our main protagonist, as she finds herself trapped living the life of a rich man’s wife – she may have all the money she can possibly want at her disposal, but her marriage is far from healthy. As Faye’s confidence is slowly being eroded by her husband’s emotional abuse, she is also harbouring suspicions that he is cheating on her.

 

If the theme of rich arrogant men trading in their wives for younger models (and making a point of mentioning to their wives that they have become too old, fat and boring to be worthy of their love) makes you wild, then you will have steam coming out of your ears like the Hogwarts Express reading the first half of the book. Do not despair, because vindication is nigh. Although I must say that it is more twisted than sweet, and I felt slightly sullied by each and every character in this book. That doesn’t mean I didn’t enjoy the ride though, and it was truly a crazy journey.

 

THE GILDED CAGE is as steamy as it is dark. I soon felt myself swept away by this tale of love, betrayal, revenge and the force of a woman scorned. Lackberg has a unique writing style that fits well with the Nordic noir theme I love, and I am very eager now to read some of her other novels.

 

 


Thank you to Netgalley and HarperCollins Australia for the free electronic copy of this novel and for giving me the opportunity to provide an honest review.


Thursday, 15 October 2020

Book Review: THE MYSTERY OF MRS. CHRISTIE by Marie Benedict

 



Title: THE MYSTERY OF MRS CHRISTIE

Author:  Marie Benedict

Publisher:  Sourcebooks Landmark

Read: October 2020

Expected publication: 12 January 2021

My Rating: πŸŒŸπŸŒŸπŸŒŸ1/2

 

 

Book Description:

 

In December 1926, Agatha Christie goes missing.

Investigators find her empty car on the edge of a deep, gloomy pond, the only clues some tire tracks nearby and a fur coat left in the car—strange for a frigid night. Her husband and daughter have no knowledge of her whereabouts, and England unleashes an unprecedented manhunt to find the up-and-coming mystery author. Eleven days later, she reappears, just as mysteriously as she disappeared, claiming amnesia and providing no explanations for her time away.

The puzzle of those missing eleven days has persisted. With her trademark exploration into the shadows of history, acclaimed author Marie Benedict brings us into the world of Agatha Christie, imagining why such a brilliant woman would find herself at the center of such a murky story.

What is real, and what is mystery? What role did her unfaithful husband play, and what was he not telling investigators?

A master storyteller whose clever mind may never be matched, Agatha Christie's untold history offers perhaps her greatest mystery of all.



My musings:

 


Ever since reading Agatha Christie’s autobiography as a teen, after having binge-read my way through all her books, I have been intrigued by the real life mystery surrounding her ten-day disappearance in 1926, a secret she has taken to the grave with her. I was therefore very excited to read Marie Benedict’s interpretation of what could have happened, and I must say that I liked this version very much!

 

The handsome and yet stiff-upper-lip arrogant Archibald Christie did little to endear himself to me in Benedict’s book, and yet the format of the two separate POVs – one told by Agatha and one by Archie – worked very well here. Whilst Agatha recounts her love affair with her handsome husband from the day she met him to the day she vanished, Archie’s timeline starts at the time of Agatha’s disappearance. An air of foreshadowing hangs over his head like a dark stain, and I became increasingly more disenchanted with him as the story progressed.

 

I won’t say much more about the story here, as the facts are well known and Benedict’s interpretation should remain a surprise until you read it, but I can say that I found it very satisfying. There also followed a period of furious googling to read old newspaper articles about Agatha’s disappearance, and look at some old photos from the time, and again it got me wondering ...

 

THE MYSTERY OF MRS CHRISTIE is a satisfying, fun read that tackles one of the great unsolved mysteries of our time. Whilst there are many theories about what happened to Agatha Christie in the ten days she was “missing”, no one really knows the truth. I take my hat off to Marie Benedict for tackling such a prominent historical mystery and do it justice. Well done!

 

 


Thank you to Netgalley and Sourcebooks Landmark for the free electronic copy of this novel and for giving me the opportunity to provide an honest review.

 


Wednesday, 14 October 2020

Book Review: INVISIBLE GIRL by Lisa Jewell




 

Title: INVISIBLE GIRL

Author:  Lisa Jewell

Read: September 2020

Expected publication: out now

My Rating: πŸŒŸπŸŒŸπŸŒŸπŸŒŸ

 

Book Description:

 

Owen Pick’s life is falling apart.

In his thirties, a virgin, and living in his aunt’s spare bedroom, he has just been suspended from his job as a geography teacher after accusations of sexual misconduct, which he strongly denies. Searching for professional advice online, he is inadvertently sucked into the dark world of incel—involuntary celibate—forums, where he meets the charismatic, mysterious, and sinister Bryn.

Across the street from Owen lives the Fours family, headed by mom Cate, a physiotherapist, and dad Roan, a child psychologist. But the Fours family have a bad feeling about their neighbor Owen. He’s a bit creepy and their teenaged daughter swears he followed her home from the train station one night.

Meanwhile, young Saffyre Maddox spent three years as a patient of Roan Fours. Feeling abandoned when their therapy ends, she searches for other ways to maintain her connection with him, following him in the shadows and learning more than she wanted to know about Roan and his family. Then, on Valentine’s night, Saffyre Maddox disappears—and the last person to see her alive is Owen Pick.

 

What attracted me to this book:

 

I have loved Lisa Jewell’s books ever since reading THE HOUSE WE GREW UP IN (which still remains my favourite book of hers) a decade or so ago, and she has been an auto buy author for me ever since. I particularly love the way she presents us with an insight into the psyche of her well-rounded characters, in a way that makes them come to life on the pages.



My musings:

 


I am happy to say that Jewell has come through for me again with her latest book – here we have her trademark troubled characters, all wrapped up in a multi-layered, suspenseful domestic mystery. The secret lies in the slow simmer of danger as things are trending South in our protagonists’ lives, like a train destined to plunge into the abyss as all brakes have failed. Such is the situation for Owen, a loner in his 30s who is so socially inept and afraid of women that he has never yet had a sexual partner and still lives with his forbidding aunt in a tiny portion of her house. When a spade of sexual attacks occurs in the area, and a young girl disappears, everyone is very eager to point their finger at the “weirdo” living in the neighbourhood.

 

The premise of this one seemed all too real, because we all tend to find scapegoats in the people that don’t quite fit into society. I found it both heartbreaking but also interesting as I challenged my own prejudices and misconceptions. If I was a parent, would I too be afraid of the strange man living next door? Just on account of him being different? As Owen is accused of the crimes and his life slowly unravels, my heart ached for him, even though I admit that I also found him slightly creepy.

 

I did feel at times that the underlying themes were chosen to reflect the current political climate and came a little bit close to preaching a message at times, especially towards the end. However, it did prompt me to reflect, and kept me turning the pages, so I cannot complain!

  


Summary:

 


INVISIBLE GIRL is a slow burning and yet complex mystery that will appeal to readers who appreciate a character driven story that delves into the psyche of different people and explores the way they think and act. Jewell has mastered the art of creating suspense without any of the hard hitting gore and horror of other mysteries, but rather uses our society’s prejudices and biases to raise our hackles. In the end, it’s those preconceived ideas that will prompt reflection as the answers are revealed in a satisfying finale. I really have come to love Jewell’s writing style and can’t wait to read her next novel.

 

 



Tuesday, 13 October 2020

Book Review: THE SURVIVORS by Jane Harper

 



Title: THE SURVIVORS

Author:  Jane Harper

Publisher: Macmillan Australia 

Read: September 2020

Expected publication: out now

My Rating: πŸŒŸπŸŒŸπŸŒŸ1/2

 


Book Description:

 

Kieran Elliott's life changed forever on the day a reckless mistake led to devastating consequences.

The guilt that still haunts him resurfaces during a visit with his young family to the small coastal town he once called home.

Kieran's parents are struggling in a community which is bound, for better or worse, to the sea, that is both a lifeline and a threat. Between them all is his absent brother, Finn.

When a body is discovered on the beach, long-held secrets threaten to emerge. A sunken wreck, a missing girl, and questions that have never washed away...

 

My musings:

 


Jane Harper is a master at creating a tense, atmospheric setting, and her latest book is no exception. Whilst she has previously taken us to remote outback locations, THE SURVIVORS is set in a small Tasmanian beach town, which is still reeling from the loss of three people in a massive storm ten years ago and has left lasting scars in the community. I loved the wild and beautiful setting, a rugged coast with hidden caves and rip tides and a small community where everyone knows each other’s business – it really made for the most divine setting!

 

Whilst THE SURVIVORS was perhaps not as gritty as Harper’s previous novels and took a little bit longer to grip me, I really enjoyed the slow unravelling of family secrets heavily burdened by past guilt in a community where the loss of lives has left lasting scars. Living in a small beachside community I could relate to a lot of the dynamics described here. And of course if you are looking for some great armchair travel to beautiful Tasmania, it doesn’t get much more atmospheric than this! Even though the mystery itself was not as thrilling as I had expected, and the ending a bit of an anti-climax for me, I still enjoyed the overall experience. Trying to pinpoint what exactly made this novel very different from Harper’s previous books made me reflect that the main character, Kieran, remained a somewhat remote character and one I found difficult to bond with. Not being a detective who was involved in the murder investigation kept him as well as the reader on the periphery of the crime committed at the start of the story, which may have accounted for the slower pace and the lack of gritty details I appreciated in Harper’s previous books. I  recommend it to readers who enjoy a slower, broody mystery revolving around families, the burden of guilt and grief and overcoming past trauma.

 

Thank you to Netgalley and Macmillan Australia for the free electronic copy of this novel and for giving me the opportunity to provide an honest review.