Monday, 22 February 2021

Book Review: THE THIN PLACE by CD Major

 



Title: THE THIN PLACE

Author:  C.D. Major

Publisher:  Amazon Publishing UK

Read: February 2021

Expected publication: 15 April 2021

My Rating: πŸŒŸπŸŒŸπŸŒŸ1/2

 

Book Description:

 

When journalist Ava Brent decides to investigate the dark mystery of Overtoun Estate—a ‘thin place’, steeped in myth—she has no idea how dangerous this story will be for her.

Overtoun looms over the town, watching, waiting: the locals fearful of the strange building and the secrets it keeps. When Ava starts to ask questions, the warm welcome she first receives turns to a cold shoulder. And before she knows it, Ava is caught in the house’s grasp too.

 

 

My musings:

 


I am a total sucker for spooky mysteries involving old haunted mansions, and C.D. Major’s latest book had an edge over all the others: hers was based on a real life location, and an unsolved mystery that has haunted a small Scottish town for decades. Set in Scotland, THE THIN PLACE features Overtoun House, a 19th century country house near the small village of Milton in Scotland. The house has gained notoriety through its attached bridge, a place where up to 600 dogs have jumped to their deaths over the last few decades, giving it its nickname of “the dog suicide bridge”. Add an alleged ghost to the mix and here you have the perfect setting for a compelling mystery with an eerie undertone and a hint of the supernatural.

 

According to Celtic legends, thin places are areas where the boundaries between the real world and the  spirit world are “thin” and one can slip quite easily from one to another. In Major’s novel, journalist Ava Brent gets obsessed with the mystery of Overtoun House after a visit there for one of her news stories. But apart from Ava’s POV, Major also weaves two alternative timelines and voices into her story, creating a truly spine chilling background for current events. As the mystery unravels, Ava will discover her special connection to Overtoun House, which will put her in terrible danger...

 

I just loved the atmospheric setting in this story and of course had to look up hundreds of pictures of the place online, which immediately made me want to travel to Scotland! Major has captured the forbidding and yet somehow captivating aura of Overtoun House perfectly, and I could not have wished for a more perfect location for a spooky mystery. As Ava becomes more and more obsessed with the place, the boundaries between sanity and madness also blurred, and I was truly afraid for her safety.

 

As is often the case with multiple timelines, I initially struggled a bit to be equally invested in all three separate threads. Whilst I found Ava’s by far the most compelling, I was happy to see that all the threads tied together well in the end. Initially I really struggled with Constance’s voice as I am not fond of child narrators, especially if they sound much older than their years, but despite this I ended up enjoying the extra element of suspense and air of menace that Constance’s chapters added to the story.

 

 


Summary:

 


THE THIN PLACE was a fast and compelling read for me, and even though I guessed some of the “twists” early on, as I was loathe to put the book down until I had all the answers. After reading up on the true events connected with Overtoun Bridge, I am still fascinated by its ongoing mystery and intrigue – what a fantastic setting for a book! I look forward to reading more from this new-to-me author.

 

 

 

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


Wednesday, 17 February 2021

Two books I couldn't put down: THE PUSH by Ashley Audrain and THE FOUR WINDS by Kristin Hannah

 


THE PUSH by Ashley Audrain


Title: THE PUSH

Author:  Ashley Audrain

Read: February 2021

Expected publication: out now

My Rating: πŸŒŸπŸŒŸπŸŒŸπŸŒŸ1/2

 

Book Description:

 

Blythe Connor is determined that she will be the warm, comforting mother to her new baby Violet that she herself never had.

But in the thick of motherhood’s exhausting early days, Blythe becomes convinced that something is wrong with her daughter–she doesn’t behave like most children do.

Or is it all in Blythe’s head? Her husband, Fox, says she’s imagining things. The more Fox dismisses her fears, the more Blythe begins to question her own sanity, and the more we begin to question what Blythe is telling us about her life as well.

Then their son Sam is born–and with him, Blythe has the blissful connection she’d always imagined with her child. Even Violet seems to love her little brother. But when life as they know it is changed in an instant, the devastating fall-out forces Blythe to face the truth.

The Push is a tour de force you will read in a sitting, an utterly immersive novel that will challenge everything you think you know about motherhood, about what we owe our children, and what it feels like when women are not believed.

 

My musings:

 


I am emotionally destroyed right now! This book broke my heart into a million pieces, and freaked me out a bit as well. THE PUSH definitely had some WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT KEVIN vibes, one of the most disturbing books I have ever read. Nature vs nurture, motherhood, marriage, the legacy of abuse and neglect, it was all there. presented in Audrain’s modern tale that swept me along in a tide of dread and suspense. The undercurrent of menace and danger was so strong at times that I almost had to put the book down to give myself a break, and yet couldn’t tear myself away.

 

I can see why this book got so many rave reviews and hype on social media. Short and punchy chapters and multiple POVs make THE PUSH a fast and compulsive read. “Just one more chapter” seems doable, until you realise you’ve read twenty of them and it’s long after midnight and you still can’t put the book down. Blythe’s voice will resonate with mothers everywhere, because motherhood is not all milk and honey and rose tinted glasses. It’s often hard work, and can seem exhausting and thankless.

 

“You used to care about me as a person—my happiness, the things that made me thrive. Now I was a service provider. You didn’t see me as a woman. I was just the mother of your child.”

 

It’s even tougher if you have never experienced the loving, nurturing side of motherhood when growing up, and neither Blythe nor her mother Cecilia have lived happy childhoods. The legacy of Etta’s abuse and neglects continues with Cecilia’s indifference towards her daughter Blythe, and in turn, with Blythe’s difficulties in bonding with Violet. Blythe’s voice, told entirely in the second person as she is speaking to her husband Fox, is open and often brutally honest when it comes to discussing the difficulties of motherhood.

 

Most mothers will remember that first moment of holding their first newborn, but from here the journey can be vastly different. What if you don’t immediately fall in love with your child? What if motherhood seems like a constant struggle, and yet everyone else around you seems to be sailing through it and loving the journey? What if you have no one to talk to about your real feelings, your fears, the heavy weight of expectations crushing you? What if your partner does not understand any of your concerns, and you feel your marriage slowly disintegrating under the strain? And worst of all, what if you’re afraid of your own child and what you think them to be capable of, but everyone else dismisses your concerns? There are so many topics Audrain touches on in her novel, and I related to quite a few of them. But most of all, I was quickly sucked into the maelstrom of ever mounting dread and danger as the story progressed.  With good reason, because the heartbreak that followed left me totally drained and hollow.

 

“A mother’s heart breaks a million ways in her lifetime.”

 


Summary:

 


In summary, Audrain’s book was so much more than the psychological thriller I had expected. If her examination of the different faces of motherhood was not enough, there is also the whole nature vs nurture debate and of course the one question that will remain on your lips as you turn the last page – which I will not mention here because I am not going to spoil this for you. Just go and read THE PUSH today, you won’t regret it. It’s honest, it’s gritty and it’s deeply disturbing. I freaking loved it!





THE FOUR WINDS by Kristin Hannah


Title: THE FOUR WINDS

Author:  Kristin Hannah

Publisher:  Pan Macmillan

Read: February 2021

Expected publication: out now

My Rating: πŸŒŸπŸŒŸπŸŒŸπŸŒŸ1/2

 

Book Description:

 

Texas, 1934. Millions are out of work and a drought has broken the Great Plains. Farmers are fighting to keep their land and their livelihoods as the crops are failing, the water is drying up, and dust threatens to bury them all. One of the darkest periods of the Great Depression, the Dust Bowl era, has arrived with a vengeance.

In this uncertain and dangerous time, Elsa Martinelli—like so many of her neighbors—must make an agonizing choice: fight for the land she loves or go west, to California, in search of a better life. The Four Winds is an indelible portrait of America and the American Dream, as seen through the eyes of one indomitable woman whose courage and sacrifice will come to define a generation.



My musings:

 


What an utterly captivating, heart-wrenching story this was! It’s been a while since I devoured a big book in a couple of sittings, totally neglecting reality because I felt transported into the world of my fictional characters.

 

Ever since reading Steinbeck’s THE GRAPES OF WRATH, I have been fascinated with the era of the Great Depression in fiction. There is something about people overcoming hardship and adversity that always speaks to me as a reader and inspires me, and this could not come at a better time than during a global pandemic. It is also a reality check, because compared to Elsa Martinelli’s problems, mine appear miniscule in comparison!

 

Elsa Martinelli is the kind of strong female character who drives a story. Battling her whole life with adversity, she is yet determined to overcome all odds through sheer hard work and courage. Strangely, Elsa does not think of herself as courageous, even as she slaves away day and night through drought conditions and dust storms to keep her kids fed and clothes. Or when her husband up and leaves the family, abandoning Elsa to fend for herself and her children. Or when she has to uproot her family to travel to the other side of the country in search of a better future and to save her son’s life – a woman on her own in a time when women were only viewed as fit to care for the household, not make heroic journeys in dangerous conditions in the hope for a better future. Elsa is representative of all the tough women of the depression era, keeping their kids fed and clothed and putting on a brave face - an inspiration to anyone who has ever doubted their own resilience. And even when I wanted to yell at her at times and tell her to just think of her own needs for once and see her own worth, she was always the constant force driving the book towards its finale. The best thing was to watch Elsa grow as a woman – from a young girls with little confidence and self-worth, to wife and mother still striving to be loved, to fierce mumma lion when her kids’ lives were at stake.


“It wasn’t the fear that mattered in life. It was the choices made when you were afraid. You were brave because of your fear, not in spite of it.”

 

If you feel slightly intimidated by the book’s whopping 464 pages, let me assure you that I would happily have read 464 more to keep following the Martinelli family on their journey. As inspiring as the fictional characters were, as valuable was the rest of the story as a history lesson. From the terrible fate of the farmers in the dust bowl during the lean years of the 1930s, to the way the “land of milk and honey” treated the migrants flocking west for a better life. History repeats itself, and there are many parallels to be drawn to present times, which make the story even more compelling.

 

As the story progressed, I went through a whole palette of emotions: I laughed, I cried, I was livid with outrage. At the end, I was an emotional wreck, and yet did not want the book to end. The only thing I usually find a bit over the top with KH books is the melodrama towards the end of her novels, and if you read this one you will know it when you get there. It didn’t take away my overall reading pleasure though, and I guess it did allow the story to end where it did.

 

 


Summary:

 


All in all, THE FOUR WINDS was the type of historical fiction I love, with an atmospheric setting and true to life characters that allowed for time travel to another era. It was a story I got totally lost in, and I loved the journey even though it ripped my heart out and ground it into the dirt until I was an emotional wreck. Lovers of historical fiction or books with courageous, compelling female characters should definitely not miss this one!

 

  

 

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


Monday, 15 February 2021

Book Review: THE GIRL WHO DIED by Ragnar JΓ³nasson

 




Title: THE GIRL WHO DIED

Author:  Ragnar Jonasson

Publisher:  Penguin Michael Joseph UK

Read: January 2021

Expected publication: 29 April 2021

My Rating: πŸŒŸπŸŒŸπŸŒŸπŸŒŸ

 

Book Description:

 

Una is struggling to deal with her father's sudden, tragic suicide. She spends her nights drinking alone in Reykjavik, stricken with thoughts that she might one day follow in his footsteps.

So when she sees an advert seeking a teacher for two girls in the tiny village of SkΓ‘lar - population of ten - on the storm-battered north coast of the island, she sees it as a chance to escape.

But once she arrives, Una quickly realises nothing in city life has prepared her for this. The villagers are unfriendly. The weather is bleak. And, from the creaky attic bedroom of the old house where she's living, she's convinced she hears the ghostly sound of singing.

Una worries that she's losing her mind. And then, just before Christmas, there's a murder... 



What attracted me to this book:

 

I love Icelandic noir, and Ragnar Jonasson is one of my favourite Icelandic authors – with good reason. I was thrilled to be able to read and review his latest stand-alone novel, which delivered the same kind of atmospheric setting as his Ari Thor Arason books. With the added bonus of a spooky element! 



My musings:

 


Let’s talk a bit more about setting, which was my favourite element of the novel. A hostile little village – both in its isolation, the harsh weather and the suspicious and outwardly unfriendly villagers – made for the perfect claustrophobic setting. Very cleverly, Jonasson chose a 1980’s timeline for his story, which completed the sense of utter isolation. No cell phones, no internet, not even TV to keep in touch with the news. Can we even still imagine such a life? This is the situation Una, a city girl through and through, finds herself in when she takes on a remote teaching post in the far East of Iceland. I have been to the area Jonasson describes in his novel, and even though I found it breathtakingly beautiful, I could imagine that the long nights and harsh weather would soon wear a bit thin, and the lack of human kindness would soon get to you.

 

Not only has Una discovered that most of the locals are not very friendly, and don’t want her here, but she is also aware of some supernatural happenings in the house she is staying in. I give credit to Jonasson for striking just the right balance with his paranormal element to make it just the perfect degree of creepy without going over the top. I also loved the way he employed the setting to ratchet up the creep factor.

 

I found myself very involved in Una’s narrative but thought that the 2nd POV didn’t marry well with the overall story and didn’t add much for me. I would even go as far as saying that it was superfluous and could easily have been merged into Una’s POV by letting Una discover the “secret”, which would have given the ending a much bigger impact. As it was, I wasn’t invested in those chapters at all.

  


Summary:

 


All in all, THE GIRL WHO DIED was an atmospheric and slightly creepy mystery with that sense of claustrophobia and darkness that makes Icelandic noir so compelling for me. It’s a slow burning mystery which will appeal to readers who value atmosphere, setting and an underlying sense of unease over action and plot. I thoroughly enjoyed it and loved reading a standalone novel by one of my favourite Icelandic authors!

 

 

 

Thank you to Netgalley and Penguin Michael Joseph UK for the free electronic copy of this novel and for giving me the opportunity to provide an honest review.


Thursday, 11 February 2021

Book Review: THE SANATORIUM by Sarah Pearse

 


Title: THE SANATORIUM

Author:  Sarah Pearse

Publisher: Random House UK

Read: 2020

My Rating: πŸŒŸπŸŒŸ1/2

 

Book Description:

 

An imposing, isolated hotel, high up in the Swiss Alps, is the last place Elin Warner wants to be. But she's taken time off from her job as a detective, so when she receives an invitation out of the blue to celebrate her estranged brother's recent engagement, she has no choice but to accept.

Arriving in the midst of a threatening storm, Elin immediately feels on edge. Though it's beautiful, something about the hotel, recently converted from an abandoned sanatorium, makes her nervous - as does her brother, Isaac.

And when they wake the following morning to discover his fiancΓ©e Laure has vanished without a trace, Elin's unease grows. With the storm cutting off access to and from the hotel, the longer Laure stays missing, the more the remaining guests start to panic.

 

My musings:

 


Given the atmospheric, claustrophobic setting in the Swiss Alps during a blizzard I expected to like this book much more than I did – I wonder what went wrong here?

Let’s start with the things I did enjoy, and the setting is definitely a treat. An old sanatorium high in the Swiss Alps that has been converted into a fancy but sinister hotel – it doesn’t get much better than this. And when a massive blizzard cuts off the hotel from civilisation, and people start dying, the stage is set for a tense closed door mystery. Pearse brings her setting to life with vivid descriptions of the old TB sanatorium and its eerie presence despite having been remodelled into a fancy resort. With a shady history, the building itself seems to exude an air of menace and danger that made for a wonderful backdrop.

So why didn’t it work for me? Probably a few reasons, and mostly to do with reader preference.


1) Mainly, I found the whole premise extremely unbelievable, from the strange way that people suddenly start dying, to the investigative efforts of a British policewoman on leave for PTSD (who has absolutely no jurisdiction in Switzerland), to the reveal of the final culprit and the motives of the murder spree. I felt that the book suffered from the problem of “trying too hard” to fit in everything under the sun to make it a twisty read, only to end up being confusing and lacking cohesion.
2) The characters: even though I liked the premise of Elin, a policewoman with PTSD, I felt that she always kept me at arms’ length and I didn’t bond with her throughout the entirety of the book. As a detective she didn’t ring true for me, even considering that she was recovering from a recent breakdown. As for the other characters, not only did I find most of them thoroughly unlikeable, but they also lacked believability for me. Some remained mere stereotypes I never really got the hang of. I felt entirely emotionally detached throughout the book, which took away a lot of the enjoyment for me.
3) I have found from previous experience that I do better with closed-door mysteries if they are told from one POV only, which helps build suspense for me. Here, the POVs from the murder victims made the story appear choppy, added an added element of having to suspend disbelief and took away a lot of the mystery for me. Again, personal preference, other readers will totally disagree with me here.
4) The final reveal: given that the body count rises throughout the book, I expected an evil villain with a strong motive and found the final reveal just a bit lacklustre and – again – farfetched.



Summary:

 


All in all, THE SANATORIUM was a book that contained all the things I usually love in a novel, but for various reasons did not end up working well for me. With a wonderfully atmospheric setting and a mounting body count, it will undoubtedly thrill other readers, though, so it’s one you need to pick up and try for yourself rather than taking my personal reader preferences into account here.



 

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


Book Review: THE HUNGER by Alma Katsu

 



Title: THE HUNGER

Author:  Alma Katsu

Read: February 2021

My Rating: πŸŒŸπŸŒŸπŸŒŸ1/2

 

Book Description:

 

Evil is invisible, and it is everywhere.

Tamsen Donner must be a witch. That is the only way to explain the series of misfortunes that have plagued the wagon train known as the Donner Party. Depleted rations, bitter quarrels, and the mysterious death of a little boy have driven the pioneers to the brink of madness. They cannot escape the feeling that someone--or something--is stalking them. Whether it was a curse from the beautiful Tamsen, the choice to follow a disastrous experimental route West, or just plain bad luck--the 90 men, women, and children of the Donner Party are at the brink of one of the deadliest and most disastrous western adventures in American history.

While the ill-fated group struggles to survive in the treacherous mountain conditions--searing heat that turns the sand into bubbling stew; snows that freeze the oxen where they stand--evil begins to grow around them, and within them. As members of the party begin to disappear, they must ask themselves "What if there is something waiting in the mountains? Something disturbing and diseased...and very hungry?"

 

My musings:

 


If you are a bit disillusioned that some historical fiction has become a disguise for romance and doesn’t have much grit, then THE HUNGER will soon dispel that notion. Based on true historical events, the book weaves facts surrounding the fate of the doomed Donner-Reed Party into a chilling tale of survival in the Sierra Nevada mountain ranges in 1846. And as if this particular part of history was not gruesome enough – after all, of the 87 people who had set out on the wagon train to California only 48 survived – the author adds some truly chilling and gruesome supernatural elements to her tale.

 

The fate of the wagon train led by George Donner on the Oregon Trail has been widely published and is well known, so you know that this tale is going to contain some gritty detail and heartbreaking moments as the group loses family members to hunger and disease. However, you may not be prepared for the horror elements the author has woven into the story, which become more sinister as the group finds themselves trapped in the wintry mountain ranges. I could easily visualise people’s minds slowly disintegrating and playing tricks on them as they were slowly starving to death, so even if you scoff at paranormal events, these can easily be explained as interpretations by people who are trapped, scared and close to their own death. For me, these elements highlighted the isolation and the often frightening power of nature, but also the sinister atmosphere of a landscape that is powerful and alien and not always friendly.

 

THE HUNGER has a rich cast of characters with true historical origins, and I thought that the author did a great job in bringing them to life, even if some facts are very open to interpretation and may have been tweaked to fit her tale. I particularly enjoyed the way tensions slowly build and tempers flare as opinions differ and personalities clash. Add a crisis to the mix and you can imagine that this group was never going to be a harmonious bunch for very long. As the story progressed it became more sinister and dark, and I admit that I found some aspects of it very disturbing (if you know anything about the real life fate of the group then you can probably guess what I am referring to). I did think thought that the atmosphere of the vast landscape could have been exploited more to create tension. As it was, I felt that the later part of the story, as the party is trapped in the wintry mountains, was more rushed than the build-up, and the claustrophobia and hopelessness of the situation, which would make for a lot of tension in itself, got a bit lost in the rush to the finale and the paranormal element taking over. 

 

 


Summary:

 


All in all, THE HUNGER was a dark, sinister and captivating story based on true historical fact woven together with a paranormal element. As it was, I did not find it as creepy as other novels of its ilk, such as DARK MATTER by Michelle Paver, but some elements were definitely more disturbing on an altogether different level. If you know anything about the real fate of the Donner Party, then you will know that this tale is not for the faint of heart, supernatural element or not.


Tuesday, 9 February 2021

Book Review: THE LAST MIGRATION by Charlotte McConaghy

 


Title: THE LAST MIGRATION

AuthorCharlotte McConaghy 

Read: December 2020

My Rating: πŸŒŸπŸŒŸπŸŒŸπŸŒŸ

 

Book Description:

 

A dark past. An impossible journey. The will to survive.

How far you would you go for love? Franny Stone is determined to go to the end of the earth, following the last of the Arctic terns on what may be their final migration to Antarctica.

As animal populations plummet and commercial fishing faces prohibition, Franny talks her way onto one of the few remaining boats heading south. But as she and the eccentric crew travel further from shore and safety, the dark secrets of Franny’s life begin to unspool. A daughter’s yearning search for her mother. An impulsive, passionate marriage. A shocking crime. Haunted by love and violence, Franny must confront what she is really running towards – and from.

The Last Migration is a wild, gripping and deeply moving novel from a brilliant young writer. From the west coast of Ireland to Australia and remote Greenland, through crashing Atlantic swells to the bottom of the world, this is an ode to the wild places and creatures now threatened, and an epic story of the possibility of hope against all odds.


My musings:



“What are you reading?” My husband asked.

“Oh, it’s this fantastic story about climate change, and all the birds and wild animals have become extinct, and there is this one woman who wants to follow the last of the Arctic terns on their final migration to Greenland ...”

“Ewww, that sounds terribly sad and depressing!”


Sad, yes, heart-wrenching. Eye opening. Gut-punching. Haunting and thought provoking. And if you think it’s dystopian, then sadly we are on this very path of destruction of our beautiful planet, which also made it very relevant.


In Frannie, Charlotte McConaghy has created the perfect character for this type of story. Flawed, single-minded, deeply scarred and emotionally unstable, Frannie is not only following her dream of seeing her beloved birds’ last migration but is also outrunning her dark past. The multiple timelines worked well here to piece together various pieces of Frannie’s past to explain what motivates her on this final journey. Set against the stunning backdrop of Greenland and the wild Arctic waters, the story soon swept me along in its wake.


THE LAST MIGRATION is not a happy story, but it is a beautiful written and very poignant one. If you find dystopian a bit hard to swallow, you might enjoy a story that is closely linked to the trajectory we are finding ourselves on at the moment. It certainly gave me many unpleasant truths to reflect on, and for this I am grateful. But there was also great adventure and courage, and characters I deeply felt for. And when the final truth was finally revealed, I suddenly understood why Frannie felt so driven to self-destruction.

  


Summary:



In summary, THE LAST MIGRATION was a touching story about loss, grief and survival in a world that is not so very removed from our own. It’s terrifying in a way that only a dystopian novel with its roots in the truth can be. Beautifully told and with a stunning wilderness setting, the book will take you on a journey to the edges of endurance but still leave you with a spark of hope.