Monday, June 4

Ransom Riggs: Miss Peregrine's Home For Peculiar Children

From the blurb-
...a horrific family tragedy sets sixteen-year-old Jacob journeying to a remote island off the coast of Wales, where he discovers the crumbling ruins of Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children. As Jacob explores its abandoned bedrooms and hallways, it becomes clear that Miss Peregrine's children were more than just peculiar. They may have been dangerous. They may have been quarantined on a deserted island for good reason. And somehow-impossible though it seems-they may still be alive.
This book is illustrated with a collection of vintage photographs that were the inspiration for the children's various talents. While the said talents would be remarkable I didn't feel it was explained why that would make them dangerous and feel the author could have made more of the for-their-own-protection angle and increased the believability of the work. The story also throws up a number of logistical questions that I don't feel were adequately addressed, though it was good that the author at least acknowledged the difficulty of the situation (and I can't be less criptic without spoilers) and attempted to address it.
But perhaps I am being too picky. This is, after all, aimed at the young adult market and is the author's debut novel.
The story itself is well written and engaging. The hero is a little bland but the author captures the selfishness/thoughtlessness of his age well. The world building is a bit perfunctory but good enough as far as it goes.
After reading a lot of glowing reviews for this work in the mainstream press my expectations were quite high so maybe it was inevitable that I would come away a bit disappointed. And I am a little let down even though I did enjoy the story.-Lynn

Thursday, May 31

Phil Rickman: The Fabric of Sin

From the back of the book-
Garway church was built by medieval Knights Templar, whose stone coffin lids can be seen in its altar steps and window sills. After seven centuries, the Welsh Border village is still shadowed by their mysteries.
A few fields away, the Master House, abandoned and falling into ruin, has been sold to the Duchy of Cornwall. But renovation plans stall when a specialist builder refuses to work there, insisting it's a place that doesn't want to be restored.
Directed by the Bishop of Hereford to investigate, Merrily Watkins is unconvinced, wary of being used and suspicious of the people she's supposed to be helping. But violent death changes everything, and Merrily uncovers hidden layers of sin and retribution in a secretive landscape where local inns have astrological names and a feud between two local families has its roots in medieval history.
Warned off when her inquiries stumble into forbidden areas, Merrily has no option but to conceal a major crime as she goes back to Garway to find fibres of fear stitched into history and insidiously twisted in the corridors-and the cloisters-of power.
I read this quite some time ago and the specific details have become a little fuzzy in the intervening months. I do recall being quite satisfied with the twist ending, which is no surprise really since Rickman is one of my favourite authors and rarely does his work fail to keep my interest. He manages to intertwine the supernatural and the mundane in such a way as to effortlessly convince the reader that this is simply how the world is.
I also like that the presence of evil isn't always attributed to the metaphysical. There is quite enough evil in the hearts of man to be getting on with and Rickman uses this to great effect while still making the spiritual/paranormal an integral element of his stories.
As I said, it's been a while, and I think it's time I picked up the next in this series.-Lynn

Tuesday, May 29

Karina Machado: Spirit Sisters

From the back of the book-
Spirit Sisters illuminates the very personal ghost stories of ordinary Australian women. Journalist Karina Machado has listened to many of these stories and within these pages captures the sorrow, fear, comfort and hope that go along with them. Here she passes on their secrets and shares those incrediable moments when someone leans in to whisper their tale and the hairs on the back of your neck stand up.
Whether you believe in the afterlife or not, reading this book will lead you to question your reality and wonder...maybe?
I sought out this book after reading its follow up Where Spirits Dwell  and just as expected Spirit Sisters offers more of the same. Reading them out of order didn't seem to make any difference both being simple collections of retold experiences.
The strengths and weaknesses of the book remain unchanged. The stories themselves are again related in a mundane language that requires quite a bit of imagination if the reader is to get a sense of the emotions claimed in the blurb but is no less interesting for that. Perhaps sometimes you really do need to be their if you are to truly understand.
Not bad but don't expect scary-Lynn.

Friday, May 18

Amanda Stevens: The Restorer

From the back of the book-
Never acknowledge the dead.
Never stray far from the hallowed ground.
Never associate with those who are haunted.
Never tempt fate.
My name is Amelia Gray. I'm a cemetery restorer who sees ghosts. In order to protect myself from the parasitic nature of the dead, I've always held fast to these rules passed down from my father. But now John Devlin, a haunted police detective, has entered my world and everything is changing.
It started with the discovery of a young woman's brutalised body in an old graveyard I've been hired to restore. The clues to the killer-and to his other victims-lie in the headstone symbolism that only I can interpret.
John needs my help, but his ghosts shadow his every move, feeding off his warmth, sustaining their presence with his energy. To warn him would be to invite them into my life. I've vowed to keep my distance, but the pull of his magnetism grows ever stronger even as the symbols lead me closer to the killer and to the gossamer veil that separates this world from the next.
This story offered an interesting spin on the traditional murder mystery and I found myself pulled in from the very start.
The main characters have a depth that I didn't expect to find in pulp fiction and their budding romance is entirely realistic.
The mystery itself is intriging without becoming overly complicated and kept me guessing until the end without introducing unbelievable twists. Which isn't to say that things don't become quite dramatic as the story reaches its climax because they do.
Overall an enjoyable light read that can stand alone, though I am pleased to discover that it is the first in an anticipated quartet. Naturally I will be continuing with this series.-Lynn

Monday, May 7

Karen Machado: Where Spirits Dwell

From the back of the book-
There are houses that are as seductive as lovers. There are houses that draw us close and never let us go, there are houses that haunt us. And then there are houses that are truly haunted, houses where spirits dwell. Are you ready to step inside?
Where Spirits Dwell unearths the creaking, spine-chilling moments when ghosts appear in suburbia. Alongside infamous Australian haunted houses, like Sydney's historic The Abbey, Karina Machado takes us away from stereotypical rundown mansions and into everyday homes-from far north Queensland to Sydney's north shore, from Tasmania's desolate coast to Melbourne's outer suburbs.
There are stories in this book that will chill you, shock you and break your heart. Meet the beautiful girl with honey-blonde hair, the stern old lady in a high-necked gown and the malignant poltergiest who lurks in a red-brick bungalow. Spirits dwell everywhere: inside restaurants, hospitals, shoping centres and even our hearts. If you dare, lose yourself in these true-life encounters of ghosts that terrorise, comfort, torment and console.
This collection of ghost stories is told in the words of those who experienced the events. While this gives the reports a ring of authenticity, it does mean they lack narrative flair. Undoubtedly the experiences were terrifying for those on the scene but the retelling, for the main part, doesn't convey a strong sense of atmophere to the reader.
The author does have a tendency to self reference an earlier work that I was not familiar with, something that would normally put me off but in this case has made me curious.
I quite like the fact that the stories were local and the settings mundane. In that respect the author has validated my own experience of growing up in a haunted house and hilighted the fact that not only grand old buildings are home to the unexplained.
An interesting collection of stories but not 'spooky'in the traditional sense.-Lynn

Friday, May 4

Carol Goodman: The Ghost Orchid

From the back of the book-
For more than one hundred years, creative souls have traveled to upstate New York to work under the captivating spell of the Bosco estate. Cradled in silence, inspired by the rough beauty of overgrown gardens and crumbling statuary, these chosen few fashion masterworks-and further Bosco's reputation as a premier artists' colony. This season, five talented artists-in-residence find themselves drawn to the history of Bosco, from the extensive network of fountains that were once its centerpiece but have long since run dry to the story of its enigmatic founder, Aurora Latham, and the series of tragic events that occurred more than a century ago.
Ellis Brooks, a first-time novelist, has come to Bosco to write a book based on Aurora and the infamous summer of 1893, when wealthy, powerful Milo Latham brought the notorious medium Corinth Blackwell to the estate to help his wife contact three of the couple's children, lost the winter before in a diphtheria epidemic. But when a seance turned deadly, Corinth and her alleged accomplice, Tom Quinn, disappeared, taking with them the Lathams' only surviving child.
The more time she spends at Bosco the more Ellis become convinced that there is an even darker, more sinister twist to the story. And she's not alone: biographer Bethesda Graham uncovers stunning revelations about Milo and Corinth; landscape architect David Fox discovers a series of hidden tunnels underneath the gardens; poet Zalman Bronsky hears the long-dry fountains' waters beckoning him; and novelist Nat Loomis feels something lingering just out of reach.
After a bizarre series of accidents befalls them, the group cannot deny the connections between the long ago and now, the living and the dead... as Ellis realized that the tangled truth may ensnare them all in its cool embrace.
I write this review some considerable time after having read the book in question, yet still the story haunts me. A well developed central plot with unexpected twists is peopled by fascinating characters in a beautifully described setting.
This writer has the knack of leading the reader up the garden path (in this instance quite literally) in such a way as to make us follow willingly and be delighted when the expected doesn't eventuate.
Great mystery, with a touch of romance and a sprinkling of chills, this is a good modern gothic.-Lynn

Thursday, May 3

Sarah Waters: Affinity

An upperclass woman recovering from a suicide attempt becomes a volunteer visitor at Millbank women's prison. It is 1874, spiritualism is at its height, and one of the inmates is a genteel medium convicted of fraud. This woman stands out amongst the murderers and thieves who surround her.
The visitor develops a special bond with the medium and after a sceptical start becomes convinced that her abilities are real. Eventually she falls in love with the woman and helps her plan her escape. She is to arrange the mundane aspects of their getaway, while the woman insists that the spirits will help her with the actual prison break.
But will, the desperate plan work?
I have mixed feelings about this work. I have quite enjoyed stories by Waters in the past but I don't feel that this one lived up to its potential.
The pace was very slow and at times I felt I was reading a tract on the conditions and workings of ninteenth century prisons.
Having said that, the story had a feeling of truth to it, the characters were quite believable, if somewhat unsympathetic. The ending is good in that it brings everything to light but somehow it still felt loose to me.
I think there was a lot that might have been done here that wasn't, a shame because the author's voice is strong and capable.-Lynn

Tuesday, February 21

Scott Mariani: The Mozart Conspiracy

From the back of the book-
Ben Hope is running for his life...
Enlisted by Leigh Llewellyn-the beautiful opera star and Ben's first love-to investigate her brother's mysterious death, former SAS operative Ben finds himself caught up in a centuries-old puzzle.
Officially, Oliver died in a tragic accident whilst investigating Mozart's death, but the facts don't add up. His research reveals that Mozart, a notable Freemason, may have been killed by a shadowy splinter group of the cult. The only clues lie in an ancient letter, believed to have been written by the composer himself.
When Leigh and Ben receive video evidence of a ritual sacrifice being performed, they realise that the sect still exists-and will stop at nothing to keep its secrets.
From the dreaming spires of Oxford to Venice's labrinthine canals, the majestic architecture of Vienna and Slovenia's snowy mountains, Ben and Leigh must forget the past and race across Europe to uncover the truth behind THE MOZART CONSPIRACY.

This is the literary equivilent of an action flick. The body count is high, character development low, plot thin and pace fast.
The title and blurb are a little misleading. Mozart's death and any possiblilty of a conspiracy surrounding it play no part in this novel (except as an off page trigger for the action covered by the story). There is no historical component to this story worth speaking of and very little conspiracy either for that matter. And just ofr the record, I'm not happy with the freemasons being labelled a cult. But I begin to digress.
The ending felt contrived. It read as if the author wanted to add just one more surprise twist. In doing so he pushed that bit too far and left this reader disappointed and wishing he'd left the last six chapters out.
This is a straight-forward action adventure story, unapologetically pulp fiction, where the bad guys are pointlessly ruthless and the good guys difficult to distinguish. Not that there's anything wrong with that. One of the few books that would probably make a better film. Go in with expectations low and enjoy the ride.-Lynn

Tuesday, February 7

Kaye Fallick: Get a New Life

From the back of the book-
Forget the quick-fix approach of extreme makeovers shown on reality TV. Real change is about finding out what's right for YOU-planning, researching options, discovering your own intrinsic qualities and matching them to the people, the places and the activities which sing to your soul.
What's stopping you from changing the way you live?
If you crave a more balanced life, are suffering from MTL syndrome (there's got to be More To Life than this), or have had change dumped upon you through bereavement, retrenchment, retirement or illness, taking control is the first step towards successfully managing this change.
Packed with checklists to help you determine your change-readiness, practical advice about managing your finances and inspiring profiles of those who have done it, this is the essential road map for the life you really want to live.
I must disclose straight up that I didn't read this book in its entirety but dipped in and out of the sections that I found most interesting or relevant. So while I did get through most of it, I did not read it all and my comments should be considered accordingly.
The book is divided into four parts. The first section discussed the nature of change and highlights some of the things that need to be taken into consideration before committing to any course of action. Quite frankly I found this part a bit dull and skimmed it for the most part.
The other three sections each focus on a different aspect of life and the possible choices a person might be faced with therein. They present a more practical guide for instigating change offering various checklists, goal planning advice and noting some of the resources available at the time of publishing (in the form of web sites, books and organizations that might be worth following up).
I am indebted to this book for introducing me to the concept of portfolio or modular work, an idea that has very strong appeal to me and one that I will investigate further.
The real value though, I feel, is to be found in trying to answer the oft repeated question "What's stopping you?". Are you being held back by excuses or do you have genuine reasons for not following your dream? Either way this book offers methods to help you adapt to, or overcome, obstacles.
Certainly a book worth a look if you are wanting to change but don't know quite where or how to start.-Lynn