Posts Tagged ‘gothic’

A Love Like Blood – Marcus Sedgwick

Posted in Historical Fiction, Proofs, Thriller on March 27th, 2014 by admin – 2 Comments

Marcus Sedgwick is already established as a gifted, award-winning author of YA novels but A Love Like Blood marks his first venture into the adult market.  So is it a tentative dipping of toes in the water or all-out submersion?  A bit of both, I would say,  as the narrative displays the same intelligence and curiosity of Sedgwick’s YA work whilst eschewing the typically teen Twilight approach  to vampire stories.

Our narrator Charles Jackson has been haunted by what he witnessed in 1944 shortly after the Liberation of Paris.  In a bunker in Saint-Germain he thinks he saw a man crouched over the body of a young woman, drinking her blood.  He tries to put the horrifying sight out of his mind but seven years later, during a return visit to Paris, he sees the same man and feels compelled to investigate further.  What ensues is a gripping, psychological thriller which spans 24 years as Charles hunts for and is hunted by the mysterious stranger.

Charles specialises in haematology, the study of blood, and this story also focuses on blood, Charles’ and indeed humanity’s obsession with blood.

I learned at medical school how the colour of  blood  changes with its state of oxygenation, from dark, almost purplish, through to the brightest lurid red, but whatever its precise colour, our earliest selves must have formed a deep relationship with it.  Relationship, that’s the only word I can use, and still, after all my time thinking about it, I cannot find an answer to the question of blood.

This is a story of love, of extremes, passion, revenge, obsession, questioning the very primitive essence of man.  It has that gothic vibe which imbues Sedgwick’s earlier books – think more modern Bram Stoker than cute teen vampires and less vampire than Freudian ponderings.  The pace has a steady ebb and flow much like the blood pulsing through our veins and the pressure increases steadily as Charles’ quest takes him across Europe.  At times it is unclear as to who is hunting who – is Charles the prey or the predator?  Some of the chase is reminiscent of The 39 Steps and that classic black and white film starring Robert Donat.  Charles is not your typical hero and his flaws make him all the more realistic.  At times I also felt touches of Carlos Ruiz Zafon in the European Gothic style.  Having said that, I think it’s fair to say that Sedgwick has his own distinctive, elegant style.

A Love Like Blood will introduce Marcus Sedgwick to a much wider readership but I hope he will also continue to feed the curious minds of children and Young Adults with his other material.

A Love Like Blood is published by Mulholland Books – release date – 27th March 2014.

 

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Bellman and Black – Diane Setterfield

Posted in Historical Fiction, Literary Fiction on September 3rd, 2013 by admin – 4 Comments

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Hardcover, 320 pages
Expected publication: October 10th 2013 by Orion
Source – www.lovereading.co.uk
My Rating – 3 stars

Bellman and Black will probably be one of my most memorable reads this year but for all the wrong reasons unfortunately.  I loved Diane Setterfield’s debut, The Thirteenth Tale and have been anxiously awaiting her second novel for seven long, long years.

 

The premise is promising – it’s a Victorian tale of love and loss and it focuses on the very Victorian obsession with mourning.  It begins with an incident during William Bellman’s childhood when he kills a rook with his slingshot – a regrettable mishap which will have long-lasting consequences.  William is successful in business, running a mill and later on a mourning emporium but his personal life is dogged with grief and disappointment.

 

Plot-wise, very little happens and this isn’t usually a problem for me as I enjoy slow-paced novels.  However I waited and waited to be drawn in but never quite got there.  At 320 pages, it’s not overly long but it became a chore to pick it up and continue reading so it took me 10 days to read a book which I should have devoured in a day or so.  Not a good sign!  At times it read like the outline of a better book, a black and white sketch waiting for someone to colour it  in.  It also felt a bit like a novella which had been stretched, kicking and screaming,  into a novel.

 

 

On the positive side, it’s well written, you’ll learn something about rooks and it captures the Victorians’ morbid fascination with death but it left me cold.

 

 

My thanks to Lovereading for giving me an ARC to review.  You can read more reviews of Bellman and Black on their site here. 

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The Watcher in the Shadows – Carlos Ruiz Zafon

Posted in Children's Books, Historical Fiction, Proofs, YA Fiction on May 7th, 2013 by admin – 2 Comments

The Watcher in the Shadows

Published
09/05/2013

Publisher
Orion Children’s Books (an Imprint of The Orion Publishing Group Ltd )

ISBN
9781444001655

Source
Publisher

My Rating
5 stars

I am a big fan of Carlos Ruiz Zafon’s writing, both his adult and children’s novels, since I first read The Shadow of the Wind when it was published in 2004.    Since then I have enjoyed his two other books in the Cemetery of Forgotten Books cycle,  The Angel’s Game and The Prisoner of Heaven.  There has been quite a gap between each adult novel being published but Zafon aficianados have been sustained in the interim by his Niebla (Mist) series for Young Adults which were originally written in the 90s but have recently been translated by Lucia Graves who did such a splendid job of translating Zafon’s adult novels.

Like Zafon, I fervently believe that storytelling transcends age and that his YA novels appeal to any reader who  loves magic and mystery so I was delighted to dive into The Watcher in the Shadows, the third of the Niebla series, a cycle of books which can be read as stand-alone novels as their linking theme is mystery and adventure rather than a series of characters.

In The Watcher in the Shadows you can see the first germinating seeds of Zafon’s masterful storytelling skills, that elegant Gothic style steeped in mystery and magic with an aura of malevolence haunting the narrative.  Our setting is Normandy, France in the summer of 1937.  Recently widowed Simone Sauvelle and her young children Irene and Dorian hope to make a fresh start in the small coastal village of Blue Bay where Simone has secured a post as housekeeper to Lazarus Jann, an inventor and toy manufacturer, who resides in a secluded mansion with his invalid wife.  Lazarus is the only person allowed to attend to his wife and they lead a rather unconventional life surrounded by the automatons and other fantastic pieces created by the toymaker.

At first, the omens look favourable for the Sauvelles.   Young teen, Irene, falls in love with a local boy.  Dorian is taken under Lazarus’ wing.  Simone feels settled and happy in her work.  Perhaps it is all a bit too perfect?  Indeed, fortunes change when a dark, malevolent force is unleashed and the reader is led on a breathtaking adventure with plenty of scary moments en route!   Its a fabulous, rollicking tale filled with suspense and mystery – a story which harks back to ripping yarns of years gone by but don’t expect a fairytale ending…  Highly recommended for both young  and old(er) adventurers.

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Midwinterblood -Marcus Sedgwick

Posted in YA Fiction on February 6th, 2013 by admin – 2 Comments

Midwinterblood

Paperback, 263 pages
Published by Indigo (first published October 6th 2011)
ISBN
1780620209 (ISBN13: 9781780620206)
Source – from the publisher

Midwinterblood is a cleverly constructed and deliciously dark read.   Using reverse chronology it begins in June 2073, on remote Blessed Island, where journalist Eric Seven has travelled to research a story on the islanders who are rumoured to live forever.  Divided into seven sections, we hear of seven different stories over the ages right back to Time Unknown.  The link in each story is Eric, in various incarnations, and his connection with a girl called Merle who seems to elude him over the centuries.

I was quickly drawn into this tense, atmospheric tale told in stark, simple prose.   There are echoes of The Wicker Man with suspicious islanders and the outsider, Eric, but he isn’t really an outsider and as you read on, you discover his link with the island.  Love, reincarnation, mortality, sacrifice, family ties, fate, symbolism, nature – there’s a lot of food for thought here all wrapped in a gloriously gothic style.

This is a story you will want to read again as soon as you have turned the final page.  A Young Adult read which will be enjoyed by readers of all ages.

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The Countess – Rebecca Johns

Posted in Historical Fiction on October 26th, 2011 by admin – 2 Comments

The Countess: A Novel

“The Countess” opens in Hungary in 1611 with Countess Erzsebet Bathory being walled up in a castle prison to spend the remainder of her life in solitary confinement.  What crimes did she commit to warrant such a brutal punishment?   She and a number of her employees were accused of the murder of hundreds of local young girls who had incurred the wrath of their mistress, later known as the Blood Countess.  Erzsebet has been the subject of numerous myths and legends which portray her as the most prolific female serial killer, on a par with Vlad the Impaler, but she never stood trial and the truth remains a mystery.

I hadn’t heard of Erzsebet before reading this novelisation of her life but I found this version very readable and engaging.  The author refrains from sensationalism with little reference to the blood and gore attributed to the Countess but I felt the story had more substance as a result.  Erzsebet is portrayed as an ambitious, intelligent woman, married off at a very young age to a man who is more concerned with battles than the bedroom.  Left to her own devices, she becomes an astute businesswoman, successfully managing her husband’s estates during his lengthy absences. 

Rebecca Johns succeeds in painting a very vivid, human picture of a flawed woman whose all-consuming ambition is her downfall.  We will never know the whole truth about her crimes but The Countess is an absorbing account of a woman who strove for independence yet made the mistake of thinking herself invincible at a time when women were supposed to be meek and mild. read more »

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The Devil Walks – Anne Fine

Posted in Children's Books on September 16th, 2011 by admin – 2 Comments

“The Devil Walks” is a gothic thriller for older children and just the right kind of book to curl up  with as the nights draw in.  Our tale is narrated by Daniel who has spent his childhood years sequestered in his bedroom, a reclusive invalid cared for by his widowed mother.  However, all is not as it seems, it turns out that Daniel’s background is shrouded in secrecy and as his story progresses, we discover what dark and dastardly skeletons lurk in the family vaults.

I’m deliberately not giving away any of the plot – suffice to say that those who love a touch of gothic will be very impressed this wonderfully eerie tale.  Family secrets, a mysterious dolls house, a psychotic uncle holed up in a creepy old house – everything to tempt the Gothic gourmand!

Daniel is a really engaging character, not one for snivelling and whinging, he just gets on with things and is determined to discover what motivated his mother to hide him away from the world.  Each revelation serves to further increase his emotional turmoil.  His uncle Severin is evil personified, switching between benevolent and malevolent at the drop of a hat. 

The plot moves swiftly with lots of twists and turns and the language is exquisite, ideally suited to the period setting but not too convoluted as to dissuade young readers.  An extremely well crafted, atmospheric tale which will appeal to all ages.

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The Secrets Between Us – Louise Douglas

Posted in Contemporary Fiction on September 9th, 2011 by admin – 4 Comments

This is my second book choice from The Transworld Reading Challenge and, I’m delighted to say, another good selection.  I haven’t read any of Louise Douglas’ back catalogue as I am not usually fond of “romance” novels but the comparisons with Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca attracted me to this, her latest novel.

Sarah has experienced more than her fair share of misfortune recently and she hopes to find some tranquility when she joins her sister and her brother in law for a holiday in Sicily but instead she discovers Alexander and his young son, Jamie.  The mysterious Genevieve,  Alexander’s “perfect” wife, has apparently vanished off the face of the earth but Sarah is smitten with Alexander and Jamie and she jumps at the chance of a new romance and a new life with them in sleepy Burrington Stoke.  However, there are too many secrets and unsolved mysteries for life to run smoothly.

I really enjoyed this riveting story, full of twists and turns and found it hard to put down.   Sarah’s friends and family are convinced that she has set herself up for a fall and Alexander does little to prove them wrong.  There is a ghostly feel to the story, Sarah is haunted by her own past and also feels the presence of Genevieve at Avalon.  You’re kept on the edge of your seat, constantly wondering who is the real villain of the piece.  Yes, you have to suspend disbelief at times but this is such a gripping storyline, who really cares – the more fantastical elements are neatly balanced by vivid, fleshed out characters.  An absorbing read from a very talented storyteller.

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The Prestige – Christopher Priest

Posted in Dual Time Frame on June 22nd, 2011 by admin – 8 Comments

Published in 1995 and made into a successful movie in 2006, The Prestige is the ninth novel by acclaimed Sci Fi author, Christopher Priest.  Science Fiction is not a particularly familiar genre for me but this novel’s Victorian setting and story about rival magicians really appealed to me.

The story is told from the perspective of four different narrators, two from the present day, Andrew Westley and Kate Angier and two from the late 19th century, Alfred Borden and Rupert Angier.   Andrew and Kate are the descendants of Alfred and Rupert who were Victorian magicians embroiled in an, at times, vindictive feud which still has repercussions in the modern world.   The historical narrative is conveyed via journals/diaries so it’s a type of epistolary novel with most of the material focussing on Rupert Angier, the aristocrat who uses his financial advantages to purchase the secrets of each magic trick he performs whilst working class Alfred has to struggle for every penny.   Their feud is predictable in so far as it is difficult to pinpoint what was its catalyst – great disputes from little altercations grow.  

What I loved about The Prestige was the sensation of being immersed in Victorian music halls, allowed in on the secrets behind the illusions, witnessing each man striving to find that mind-blowing, inimitable illusion, seeing how far a man will go to be the best – in this case, half way across the world to enlist the help of scientist, Nikola Tesla!   Indeed, this novel keeps the readers on their toes, you can never be sure as to what is illusion and what is reality.  As usual, I found the modern day setting a bit flat but it’s a very small part of the story and does serve its purpose.  Borden and Angier are two extremely unlikeable characters, their self-obsessed, single-mindedness doing little to endear them to any reader but I found them all the more intriguing as a result.

There is no doubt that the last part of the novel is the most gripping so the opening chapters might seem a bit slow-paced in comparison but I enjoyed this gradual building up of tension.   If you like a taste of Gothic, an unsettling, eerie atmosphere and don’t need everything laid out for you in black and white, then you will savour this multi-layered tale of power struggles and intrigue.   I’m now looking forward to watching the film and seeing how it compares with the original novel.

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Gillespie and I – Jane Harris

Posted in Historical Fiction, Literary Fiction on June 9th, 2011 by admin – 5 Comments

2006 was an excellent year for me as I read two of the most memorable debut novels, The Observations by Jane Harris and The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield.  I’m not holding my breath re a new offering from Ms Setterfield but I can’t tell you how excited I was last year when I heard about Gillespie and I.   I had to put myself out of my misery, buy the hardback tout de suite and dive straight in.

Well, I can assure you that if you were even remotely titivated by The Observations, then you will love Gillespie and I.  Our narrator is 35 year old English woman, Harriet Baxter, who finds herself in Glasgow in 1888 for the International Exhibition.  Following the death of her aunt for whom she was full-time carer, Harriet comes into a modest sum of money and decides to move temporarily from London to Glasgow for a change of scenery.  The book takes the form of a memoir about her time in Glasgow which she writes in 1933, in London where she now lives on her own. attended by a series of carers, none of whom appear to stay very long in her employ.  We are fed little crumbs of information along the way which let us know that her time in Scotland does not end happily and that her initially halcyon relationship with the Gillespie clan, in particular, with Ned, the artist, is doomed to disaster.  However, as the narrative progresses, we realise that all is not what it seems and we might very well revise our initial impression of Harriet as a thoroughly objective observer.

I won’t spoil things by revealing anything more about the plot but suffice to say that Jane Harris has created a compelling, dark, psychological narrative which belies its benign facade.  Harriet isn’t quite the cute, fluffy puppy she’d have you believe!   The whole novel is a delight from start to finish, peopled with vivid, engaging characters from Ned’s interfering mother whose attempt at a posh accent results in Harriet being transformed into Herriet Bexter to Ned’s truculent eldest daughter, Sibyl.  Indeed all of the characters have their very own, distinctive voices and all have their role to play in this dramatic tale.   Such is the power of the writing that even a 160 page account of a trial continued to engage me and indeed I didn’t want it to end. 

Gillespie and I is one of those rare books which will remain with me for a very long time.  Its characters are extremely believable and although I’m not entirely sure if any of them are that likeable,  you certainly won’t forget them in a hurry.  It’s a carefully nuanced portrait of a family torn apart by tragedy yet it has its sublimely comic moments too – it’s been well worth the five year wait!

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The Distant Hours by Kate Morton

Posted in Dual Time Frame, Literary Fiction on November 25th, 2010 by admin – 12 Comments

An old country pile, a lost letter, family secrets all wrapped up in a complex dual time frame narrative – the perfect ingredients for an engaging winter read.  Yes, at 670 pages, it’s rather daunting but don’t let the size put you off.

It started with a letter.  A letter that had been lost a long time, waiting out half a century in a forgotten postal bag in the dim attic of a nondescript house in Bermondsey.

In the contemporary narrative, set in London in 1992,  Edie Burchill’s mother receives a letter which was sent in 1941.  This letter is the catalyst for a mystery which leads to Edie visiting Milderhurst Castle where her mother had been evacuated during World War II.  The castle is still inhabited by the sisters Blythe, twins Percy (Persephone) and Saffy (Serafina) and their younger sister Juniper who has never recovered from being abandoned by her fiance during the war.  The contemporary and historical narratives combine to aid Edie in unraveling the mysteries surrounding her mother’s past and that of the eccentric sisters but of course there are many twists and turns before we learn the bitter truth.

Milderhurst Castle really dominates this tale with its imposing architecture and resistance to any overtures from the National Trust.  It is a living, breathing creature filled with the echoes and voices of previous inhabitants and it inevitably weaves a spell over those who enter it.

The characters are very engaging and we have all the usual gothic elements of mystery, gloom and menace - there are similarities to novels such as Rebecca, The Mysteries of Udolpho, Great Expectations, I Capture the Castle, perhaps too many at times?  It is a very cleverly structured narrative and Kate Morton is an expert at manipulating all the different threads and making the joins apparently seamless.

I did enjoy this atmospheric family saga but would agree that it could do with some judicious pruning – I’m a very patient reader, usually  willing to go with the flow be it fast paced or slow, but must admit to some jaw clenching moments when I just wanted them to “get on with it”!  So, it would be a 4* as opposed to a 5* read for me, one which those who are already Kate Morton fans will probably enjoy but not one to convert those who are not already devotees.

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