Into the Silent Sea by Claire Stibbe – An American thriller with an Unreliable Narrator

This is a book of obsession. Told in the first person this is the story of a woman who is an unreliable narrator of her own story. She is a hunter, a thinker, a commentator on her own situation in all its gory detail. This is a story that pulls no punches in describing the minute details of her progress; as the tale proceeds the reader is caught up in a campaign of observation, full of the underlying threat of murder. A woman scorned is indeed a dangerous thing, and this is a book full of dark hints that it is only a matter of time before murder is done. This is an intriguing book to review for a blog tour, so I am grateful to receive a copy.

“Clo”, a shortened form of a name which is difficult to find the truth of, discovers that her husband is a having an affair. Moreover, he returns to their home and demands a divorce, with physical violence to emphasise his point. Using her skills as a police forensic photographer and her knowledge of murder investigations, she plans to get her revenge against her husband’ mistress. As this is contemporary America, she has a gun which she knows how to use, and she visits The Hamptons, the beautiful houses which look out onto a stunning beach, to find out how to gain access to her target. She carefully swops cars, parks out of sight, adopts a disguise and views the beach, house and lifestyle of the amazing Marion. While she has carefully worked out all the angles, the use of drugs to calm her excessive anxiety, a lot of caffeine and some alcohol begin to make her more unreliable as a narrator, especially as she is increasingly anxious about her husband and her own welfare. Chillingly, she dyes her hair and has been dieting to make her appearance similar to Marion’s; this is a woman with full knowledge of what she wants to do, but uncertain the best way to do it. She is hampered by a colleague who is intrigued by her situation, and things begin to swirl out of her control as the unexpected and terrifying begin to close in on her.

This is a thriller set in two very different communities in contemporary America, where advanced technology contributes to the oppressive tension of a woman on a mission. Clo’s actions swing from the precise to the inexplicable, as she becomes increasingly desperate and events crowd in on her. I found this book unsettling and sometimes confusing, as the author seemed to find it necessary to repeat certain feelings and actions by the protagonist, though this was probably a device to illustrate her confusion and fear. This is not an easy book to read on many levels, with an uncertain time line, changing characters and a degree of brutality which can be off putting. It does succeed in creating an atmosphere, a sense of place, and a voice for a woman pushed over the edge. This is a frightening book because it is so intense, so vocal in terms of what could and will happen, fearsome because Clo becomes so embroiled in her plans. Undoubtedly a strong book, this is a female led thriller which lingers in the mind.

Yesterday we went to see something very different from the above – the film “Mary Poppins Returns”. Having many happy memories of the original 60s film, and the more recent “Saving Mr Banks”, we were keen to  find out what this new film was like, and we were not disappointed. The acting was superb, the photography very special, and the score quite wonderful. I did feel it was a little long, especially for a younger audience, but it is certainly a worthy sequel to the first film, and i would love to see it again.

The Six Loves of Billy Binns by Richard Lumsden – a moving, realistic account of a life

A gentle, often funny, always absorbing book which follows the life of a person throughout the twentieth century in all its ups and downs. This is not a sanitised tale of rural idyll or great house generations; rather this is a book featuring an unreliable narrator, whose age and motives mean that his own history slips and slides from his grasp. He is not trying to remember great social upheavals, his working life or even his wartime experiences, just trying “To remember what love was like”. Evoking the careful documenting of loves and lives in such books as Boyd’s “Any Human Heart”, this is a book of an ordinary man doing his best to survive, find love and recall his loves as a very elderly man in an ordinary care home. I was delighted to be invited to read and review this book as part of a blog tour.

Billy Binns is old. The eldest man in the home, possibly the oldest man in the country. The same age as the century, he fully grasps the life of the home around him, as his fellow residents arrive and depart, sitting in the same armchairs, being versions of themselves when younger. Although no one visits him, he suddenly decides that he must leave his memories written for his son, Archie. Tapping away on a borrowed typewriter, he strives to remember the women he loved. In the process he recalls his service in the First World War as an aerial spotter, and it is this part of the book that research is so carefully embedded in the writing that the reader is drawn in, following the progress of the wounded man as he recalls the grim realities of life and death on the Western Front. The actions and reactions of that time will stretch into his later life, as the accidents, coincidences and sheer living of life in a certain part of London dominate his memory. The effort of memory, of trying to feel what love actually means, slips in and out of focus as life and death in the Home carries on, with revelations of how unreliable his recollections can be in reality. The thread of a life carries on through his guilt and disappointment, laced with sadness and some pleasure, made vivid through the smells, sounds and sights of London and beyond. Even though the Second World War is not his war in his view, his blitz experience is momentous, and leads to some strange, even bizarre behaviour on his part.

I found this book moving, at times tender, fascinating and at times gritty in its realism. This book is not sentimental, but some of the actions stick fast as I realised that love is not always obvious, and there are several sorts of love portrayed in this book. This novel breathes life, love and the determination to live in the best way possible, even if that sometimes feels so difficult. Billy is no saint, but often more sinned against than sinning, and he is an essentially human creation. This book does more than draw the reader in; it gently shocks, yet it also explains why and what happens so skilfully that the reader discovers alongside Billy the reality of his actions and reactions. I recommend this book for its empathy, its quiet power, and its moving recall of life in the twentieth century.

Yes, it is the actor! I was trying to remember where I had seen him; it turns out he was in “Sense and Sensibility”. This book certainly proves he is multi-talented.

In other news, the next big Book Sale in happening in March. We have decided that this time it will largely be in aid of Ronald Mcdonald House charity https://www.rmhc.org.uk/  which offers accommodation for families when a child is in hospital – we stayed in one in 2004 when one of our sons was in a London hospital, and they were amazing.  They are still very much active in the UK, making a real difference in lives. So, many books, a good time, and money raised for charities. Sounds good to me!

Midland by James Flint – Family Life in the twenty – first century

Careful, thoughtful and of its (recent) time, this is a book of precision writing, immense research and considered construction. “Midland” features not only the people of a geographical area of Britain, without extremes and in contrast to an exotic lifestyle enjoyed by some of the characters. This is a book which carefully looks at both the obvious motives and the deeper feelings of several characters, so that events are seen from various viewpoints, felt at a micro level. Always told in the third person, as we follow one or another male character, we learn their reasoning behind their actions, often in response to the surprising and illogical events around them. Pinned to newsworthy events as a whale being stuck in the Thames, the destruction of the twin towers, and the financial threats of the early twenty first century, this is very much a novel of the current day, while attempting to create the idea of truths about family life and people which transcend a particular era. I was pleased to be given the opportunity to read and review this book as part of a blog tour.

The book opens with a character, Alex, behaving in a completely unlikely way. Working in the financial sector and handing significant sums of money on a daily basis, and “living in the London of the £65 million townhouse, the £15 million restaurant refit, the £2 million studio flat”, he lives an idyllic life with the beautiful Mia and little Rufus. Suddenly he feels the urge to walk into the river Thames to try to assist a whale who has taken a wrong turn, thereby ruining his eye wateringly expensive suit and shoes. Obsessing about the whale, he remembers the fate of the Twin Towers in 2001, when he was on an exotic beach. He is further jolted into uncomfortable memories by the news of the death of his mother’s first husband, Tony, a difficult man. As families gather, the return of Jamie disrupts and dismays, and it is only by sections which go back into history that the exact reasons emerge; how youthful love felt deeply by Matthew has shaped his thinking, how instant attraction for Alex and Mia has affected Sean, how the causal drug taking of several of the characters may have been an important feature of lives which have failed in some senses. All of this somewhat disjointed narrative, moving backwards in time, shows how discoveries and trauma have happened, even without aggressive intention by anyone.

There are parts of this novel which I found absorbing, amusing and enjoyable. Other parts, such as a painfully detailed explanation of the LIBOR risks and its potential effects on some of the minor characters, showed that research, which while fascinating, affected the flow of this novel. It is a big read, taking in a large time span and an impressively big interwoven cast of characters, and there is a genuine feeling for the time and place, whether that be the gentle countryside of the Midlands and the mythical Forest of Arden, or the exotic yet subtly dangerous beaches of warmer climes. I was impressed by so much of this novel with its subtle changes from gap years adventure, teenage love, and sharp business, against a background of family life in which people live in such realistic ways such as semi rural houses, and the sorrow of huge events. I found some of the precise writing about the details of discoveries slowed the flow of the book unnecessarily. Overall, this is a superbly written book, reflecting an impressive understanding of people and their motives, and it amounts to an absorbing read.

Living in the Midlands again meant that this book has particular resonance for me. I do enjoy living in the middle of the country where most places, including London, are within reach; at least in comparison with the time we spent in Newcastle. Mind you, the countryside is not as flat as Cambridgeshire – especially when trying to get a wheelchair up and down slopes!

 

 

The Hairy Hand by Robin Bennett – A Children’s book which will entertain all

This is a fantastic children’s book; with shades of magic, extravagant images and undoubted excitement. Funny and exciting, this is a book for children and young people who read well, are not easily shocked, and willing to suspend disbelief in order to enjoy a new perspective on life. A central theme is the relationship between parents and their child, exaggerated for effect, and well written in a very funny way. There is a journey with a quest, amazing discoveries, and an exciting climax. Taking the best of tales of magic and ridiculously bad circumstances, this tale of a child trying to make his life better is an involving read, and I enjoyed it greatly. I am happy to review a copy for the blog tour.

Septimus Plog  lives in a terrible village called Nowhere with his parents, extremely bad thief  Plog the Sneaker, and scary Gertrude Plog. Sept is most unlike his parents, being thoughtful and able to read. Having read all the books he can find, his favourite remains “How to be Happy”, with its messages such as “Think Positive”. After a particularly troublesome incident, Sept is sent to his late Uncle’s house to pay his respects and return with some treasure. He endures a terrifying journey, is baffled by his discoveries at the house, yet returns with the Hairy Hand, who seems to be set to change not only his life, but the lives of his parents and the locals. There are many perils to face for Sept as he tries to do his best for all, and the fantasy expands like much else in this book. Outrageous humour abounds on many levels; this is the best sort of children’s book when the story appeals to adults as sly satire and dark comedy.

This book kept me turning the pages with genuine enjoyment as soon as I got into the rhythm of a book which reminded me of Dahl in its exaggerated pictures of people and their motives. Not horror, but horrible, this represents children’s fantasies of riches and parties, evil plans and frightening tales, all within a complete fantasy world. I can imagine that this is safe reading for children as it is so far out their everyday experience that they know it is make believe rather than on the edge of real life. I would recommend it to children in this well presented format with some suitable line drawings and plenty of room for the imagination.

This is one of the rare occasions that I have read and reviewed a children’s book, but after buying books for my own offspring and teaching for about ten years, I think I have a reasonable idea what might entertain! I recently enjoyed a book shopping trip with a friend for her two daughters. Waterstones in Newcastle has some super books. We ranged from “Goodnight For Rebel  Girls” through to “The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe” and also the Paddington collection. Many hours of happy reading to come, I hope!

Oh, I Do Like To Be…by Marie Phillips – Misunderstandings at the Seaside with Shakespeare…

A strange but funny book, this is an extravagant farce involving one of the best known names in British history – or rather his clone, or two. It has an equally strange title as it is set in a seaside town, and is consequently full of references to the beach and rather sad Bed and Breakfast establishments. Not terribly scientific, but enormous fun as people run in and out of buildings, around the small town and generally avoid the truth for as long as possible, while creating misunderstandings at every step. After readings Phillips’ previous books, I was especially keen to take part in the blog tour for this book by offering a review.

Billy and his sister Sally have just arrived in town. Within seconds we learn about their relationship; she is carrying the bulk of their luggage while Billy delicately pulls a suitcase. Billy tries to come up with observations of the rather tatty scenery, while soaking up the atmosphere and sending his evidently downtrodden sister off to find a place to stay. He is also fed up of whatever he has been doing, as he realises that despite his beginning as a clone of William Shakespeare, he can never create anything really memorable. He is vaguely in touch with his mother, but obviously she has had high expectations of his writing. When Sally returns, he is pleased to hear that she has found a place for them to stay, but is stunned to find a beautiful woman there, among a house full of books that she evidently assumes represent his well received writing. Meanwhile, the original newly arrived in town Sally has encountered Bill, the real owner of the house, husband of the beautiful Thadie, and successful writer. Confusion and much hilarity ensue, as no one seems to be sure who is truly who in a small town where personalities overlap and complications get more dramatic.

I enjoyed this book; it was a light read which I speeded through, while appreciating the characters. It was an intriguing concept; how would the greatest writer in the world truly fare when in the twenty first century? It is not a great literary novel, but a very human one about the problems that real people unintentionally get themselves into everyday, even if these are rather extreme. There are one or two set pieces that are particularly funny, despite the fact that the characters enduring them do not appreciate them at the time. The characters are consistent in their behaviour, and the rather tatty B&B is well described. There are always times when an easy to read book is the answer and for a well written light hearted read this book is highly recommended.

We took a few hours out of the parish today and went to the cinema to see “Colette”. It was less spectacular than “The Favourite”, especially as we went to the small city cinema rather than the front row of a multi screen! It was brilliantly well acted, the costumes were superb, and the filming of the French countryside seemed pretty good to us. Both films are to be recommended, and soon I would like to see another female dominated film – Mary, Queen of Scots…

Seaview House by Elizabeth Fair – a novel of 1950s small town life, full of wonderful characters

Image result for Seaview Fair Fair

A peaceful setting, a small family hotel, romance and an obnoxious character – all contribute to a super read full of the rather delicious characters which are standard for Elizabeth Fair’s novels. This book, originally published in 1955, has recently been republished by Furrowed Middlebrow and Dean Street Press, as part of their complete reissue of all of Fair’s novels. It sets a fascinating scene of middle class life, where one family must work hard, in contrast with the sole occupant of another house who is cossetted and permitted to attempt to meddle in other people’s lives. This picture of sedate country lives is a superb comfort read, and I was glad to receive a review copy.

The novel opens with a description of Caweston, a seaside resort where Edith and her sister Rose own and run a large house as a hotel. It is packed with the paintings and furniture belonging to their late father, Canon Newby, and his memory has become sacred within the sisters’ need to earn a living. The scene is set for an unexpected visit by Mr Heritage, a self satisfied single man for whom women are destined to be listeners and admirers. Mr Heritage has views on widows such as Rose, “They were bold, they were cunning, and they would probably aspire to marry him.” He also dislikes her daughter, Lucy, for no better reason than “Rose would insist on talking about Lucy when he wished to talk about himself”. The reader soon discovers that Lucy, a young woman who attends a secretarial college, is one of the more sensible people around, though she has grown up believing she will marry Nevil, a rather self regarding young school teacher. It is when Edward, who proves to be Mr Heritage’s godson, turns up as one of the architects working on a new group of houses, that the picture gets confused. Set pieces such as a picnic at a supposed castle, a difficult tea party and an amazing lunch party are funny and so realistic. The portrait of people is so lifelike, and in many ways Mr Heritage is a great comic creation as he connives to get Edward onside and show him off to everyone. An incident in which a minor character, Mrs Turnbull, gets locked inside a caravan is truly funny, and it is a tribute to Fair’s writing that even minor characters doing fairly mundane things are beautifully described. Even the weather contributes to the tale’s atmosphere, as walks on the beach and explosive emotions seem to fit the temperature. Small boys get covered in oil as the action ventures into the little private school where Nevil teaches, and generally the effect of the humourous touches makes this a novel to savour.

This is a classically enjoyable novel, full of brilliant characters, detailed settings and little gems of characterisation that make it come alive. Though very much of its day, this book has much to say about women who have to scrape a living and are criticised for doing so, young women who see a suitable marriage as their only option, and men who believe that their way is the only way to live. I recommend this book to anyone who enjoys a largely restful book of small incidents which add up to a refreshing novel of lives in a small town.

Life here continues in its usual merry way, with a meeting about my dissertation and future plans for book reviews among other delights. Lots of books to come!

A Heart in the Right Place by Heide Goody and Iain Grant – black comedy and farce?

A dark comedy which starts in the mundane realities of contemporary life; a misdirected package starts a chain of events in which two of the characters compare films which feature similar scenes of blood and gore. Cold blooded murder, some torture and inventive death feature heavily, and this is certainly not a book for those of a nervous disposition. There is also humour and some surprisingly tender moments as misunderstandings and misapprehensions abound. The characters are all very different, and well drawn contemporary people put in dramatically unusual situations. Despite the sometimes disturbing descriptions, I found this was a book that was a compelling read. I was pleased to be asked to read and review this book as part of a blog tour.

Nick has several dilemmas to cope with for one morning. Despite his extensive precautions a precious bottle of whisky is delivered to another address, and after fruitlessly trying to contact his neighbour, a certain Oz Bingley, he goes into work. He is teased by his ex girlfriend as he realises his spectacular failure (though very funny) in an advertising presentation. He is planning to take his very ill father on one last weekend away to Scotland, to satisfy a fantasy of whisky, log fires and clay pigeon shooting. Meanwhile, an assassin or secret operative are searching for Oz for strange reasons which take some time to emerge. Casual brutality becomes the order of the day as the hapless Nick, now absolutely filthy, his unwitting father, Tony, a newly acquired dog, Pickles and a strangely loaded car are pursued to a strange and violent conflict. Finn and associate, Adam, have used some disturbing means in pursuit, but nothing will stop them in their mission. There are touching moments as the relationship between Nick and Tony becomes more honest, and life and death become reality in frightening ways. Nothing is held back as bodies, creatures, blood and gore flow freely, Nick and Tony discuss film series, and the comedy can only get more dark and ridiculous. It is never certain who or what will survive, and only by reading on that the sometimes bewildered reader can attempt to keep up with what is going on.

This is a book that can exasperate, confuse and disturb, while entertaining and intriguing the reader. I found that it sometimes overstepped belief and taste, but was just about rescued by its humour and accurate portrayals of its hapless hero, Nick. I am not sure that some of the excruciating detail was necessary, but I can see that many small incidents contribute to the overall achievement of the book. Nick is a clever creation as everyman assailed on every side, and I found his conversations with Tony fascinating. Finn is a frightening character, determined, driven and destructive, who is sometimes beyond belief. There is an element of farce in this book, with characters colliding in all senses and forces seemingly beyond anyone’s control. This book pushes many limits in my opinion, and there were parts that I found a little disturbing and unnecessary, but it is definitely a romp of a very contemporary type.

 

Image result for a heart in the right place Goody and Grant

Yes, another post, as I try to sort my reviews out. As I frequently say, so many books!

The 13th Witch – A Conrad Clarke Novel by Mark Hayden – a fantasy novel set in hard reality

A thriller with fantasy elements, a mystery with a magical twist; this book is all these things and more. This is the first tale in a series where an established hero from another setting discovers that he is capable of more than courageous cunning, even if that has kept him alive so far. It is quite a cheeky book, as it gently overlaps with a certain series where a boy discovers his magical abilities, and sets out the adult realities, responsibilities and dangers of a hidden world. Dramatic events, working out of clues and deciding on strategies sit alongside some wonderfully accurate pictures of people living in our own society in all their bewilderment, sympathies and abilities. I enjoyed this novel immensely, as it works up to a climax where courage, luck and humanity are tested. I was very grateful to be offered a copy to review as part of a blog tour.

Conrad Clarke, battered ex RAF officer and more recently involved in shady dealings, returns to the family home for Christmas. His parents greet him, confused by his latest injuries, and keen to hear more of his romantic life. I particularly enjoyed the portrait of his mother, retired code breaker and struggling cook. As his father tries to find out more, and the pub with a family interest beckons, Conrad encounters a mysterious figure with supernatural powers and the offer of work. As Conrad discovers more by working out how to contact the next layer of a complicated system, and deal with the keeper of the way, the encounters are frequently funny in some ways, and always fascinating. Hannah, senior officer and damaged person was a character I wanted to find out more about, and while the hero is male, he cannot function without the strong women he encounters as he lies, speculates and generally tries to work out what is going on. Some of the techniques and resources he calls on are remarkable, yet all are based on solid everyday life. His relationship with Mina is also fascinating, and I look forward to finding out where that narrative strand takes her and Conrad.

There are many entertaining strands to this story and a terrific amount of clever plotting and thought which transforms this from a fantasy into a solidly grounded contemporary novel, while maintaining the magical elements. The descriptions are so well written that I could visualise the settings and equipment used, especially as Conrad visits the London sites. I found Conrad to be a fascinating character as he methodically goes through his next steps, but has to mix in spontaneous elements to survive. I found the details extremely interesting, such as the small carvings of one of the types of beings that Conrad encounters and how he deals with a giant creature. The women who help him are varied and far from mere back up characters; I enjoyed the snapshots of village life which thread throughout the book. It all adds up to be a really readable novel which kept me turning the pages and I would be really interested to read what happens next to Conrad, Mina and how he experiences “The King’s Watch”.

We have just returned from our post Christmas break in sunny, snowy and chilly Northumberland, where I think that we experienced every sort of weather within a seven day period! Still, it was a very cozy cottage and we really enjoyed seeing friends so all was well. I struggled a little with the internet, but everything was posted in a timely way (just!) so now just a pile of books to work through… watch this space ….as ever!

The White King – Charles I by Leanda de Lisle – A Vivid Portrait of a Controversial King

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This is a book that in many ways reads like a novel. That said, it is also a non- fiction history book, well presented with at least some of the hallmarks of a scholarly book: extensive notes on the chapters with bibliographic details and full index. As with her previous book on the Tudors, de Lisle manages to combine her research with an eye for a readable story in which seems an effortless combination, though I am sure it is the result of living with the research. This is the story of a king whose fate is well known, as he literally fought for his throne only to die in a public execution. Despite this, the book manages to convey the humanity of not only Charles “Traitor, Murderer, Martyr” as it states in the title, but also his family and those who followed him, even to their own executions.

The Author’s Note at the start of the book describes de Lisle’s attitude to the “White King”: “The real Charles was neither a saint, nor his wife’s puppet, but a man of strengths and failings”. She does not worship the man that this book portrays so well; she knows that his “flaws and misjudgements lead to his ruin”, and that he is not a victim of a long and exhaustive plot. However, she undoubtedly recognises him as courageous and with high ideals, and this book is the story of a man whose dependence on the self-interested and misguided led him into many difficulties, as well as a role as king of an uneasy combination of English and Scottish interests. His father’s example was one of personal unattractiveness but overset by sufficient statecraft to maintain his uneasy kingdom; Charles was forced to deal with all the problems of a religious settlement challenged by the perception of continuous Catholic threat personified in his wife. The problems of a Europe riven by discord that he felt obliged to involve himself in meant continuous strains on a royal purse that was far from bottomless, and laid him open to disloyalty and even attack. He was loyal to those around him; eventually his wife and children were his first concern and when they were under perceived threat his political judgement was less than acute. This is a decidedly chronological story as de Lisle works through the story of a man beset with difficulties, whose tastes for the beautiful and visual in his collection of art works are not matched by a political intelligence which may have saved him and his throne. He was arguably more sinned against than sinning; he ascended a throne in default of an elder brother and perhaps never replaced him in his own eyes let alone those around him. This book conveys so much of the humanity of those involved, as his family’s reaction to his execution shows. Charles is shown as a man in the midst of difficulties, whose inability to see the long term effects of his actions probably led to his downfall.

There are many possible readings of the reign and death of Charles, as with so much of history. In this confident and controlled book de Lisle makes her account an intensely human one, full of the small details that make up a complex life in which Charles is more than a victim, yet flawed and often struggling to assert an authority he was uncertain of, despite his high ideals of kingship. This book offers much to the non-specialist reader who is interested in the story of a king and those around him. It also serves as a basis for further study for those willing to pursue his story.

This review originally appeared on Shiny New Books, but as I noticed that this book has now gone paperback for early 2019 I thought that I would republish it. I do actually consult lots of non fiction books, but do not read them to cover to cover; this one was so readable that it flows well as a fascinating read. I received some impressive history books over the festive system – I wonder when I will finish them!

The Story Keeper by Anna Mazzola – layers of atmosphere, stories and fear

This is a book with so many layers. A historical novel full of the atmosphere and truth of another age, yet offering a subtle commentary on the treatment of girls, of women. A mystery novel, but with far more than the solving of a death. The tale of a young woman in search of a better way than marriage or keeping silent about wrongdoing. A story of a group of people losing everything they value. The front of the book states “First the land was taken. Then the stories. Then the girls”. This is a novel of fear, of layers of confusion. A painful book, but a tribute to the human spirit, even when that is expressed in unconventional ways. This is a book of landscape, of a powerful understanding of life on the edge, of communities of fear. The power of the writing should be self evident; this book boarders on Gothic horror which has effectively terrified so many over generations. I was taken aback by much of this book, and I am grateful to be given the opportunity to read a copy for review on a blog tour.

The book opens as Audrey, a young woman, is sailing to the Isle of Skye. It is September 1857, and already the weather and the birds, are signalling the coming of winter. Audrey is running away, moving from her father’s home in London and the life of a relatively well off young woman, already tired of her stepmother’s attempts to marry her to a suitable man. As Audrey helps an obviously unwell girl, it begins to emerge that she cares deeply for such poor girls, quietly indignant at their treatment and the treatment they receive at the hands of more powerful men. She is going to seek employment and independence, having followed an advertisement for a folklorist, someone to assist in the collecting and ordering of tales of the people, the folk tales that have emerged and developed over generations. To some on the island these are nothing more than complex superstitions, growing as a result of the unique weather and natural life of the islands. As Audrey encounters the mysterious Miss Buchanan and the mysterious house to which she is confined, she realises that she must explore the island, meet its people on a level in which they feel confident to talk with her, and deal with those who want to rationalise the use of the land. She is shown and told of the suffering which the effective clearances are causing; displaced and desperate, they either scratch for survival or are exiled to countries from which they will never return. The chance discovery of a body means that the stakes are raised to an unbearable level, as the stories are not just to be collected, but feared, as the weather, birds and land all seems to wrench at ancient and more recent secrets.

It is difficult to capture the successful way in which Mazzola creates the sense of a world, both threatening and disappearing as Audrey strives to understand what is happening around her. The offstage threat of London, her own earliest memories, and the almost supernatural fear which pervades this book makes it a truly compelling read. An absorbing tale, I found this a gripping story which was subtly brutal, yet never needlessly violent. This is a book which works on so many levels, and I thoroughly recommend it as a fascinating novel.

So another blog post about a book which I believe turns paperback soon – it is certainly worth finding! Meanwhile I have a mini break from blog tours while I catch up with more books that are begging to be reviewed. I have been acquiring some lovely books in an independent bookshop today – hurray!