Mr Splitfoot by Samantha Hunt

imageSo whilst this isn’t technically part of my Spring into Horror read-a-thon reading, as it is billed as a gothic horror, I had thought that reviewing it today would be a good way to start the week.  Thought being the operative word as a) I’m not sure I would call it a horror, gothic or otherwise and b) it wasn’t that good, which I find myself really disappointed by as I was so looking forward to it when I started reading.

It starts off really well, with the oppressive atmosphere of an overly religious orphanage and two late teens – Ruth and Nat – talking to the dead, parents of other children left to basically rot in the upstate New York childcare system. It is a way of trying to take control of their lives and hide from the fear of not knowing what comes next (they are 18 in a year and will be without any home – good or bad – at all).

Then, one day, they meet Mr. Bell – a man without a home but with a vision of the lives they can all lead thanks to Nat’s ability to see dead people…or at least pretend to see dead people because it isn’t real (or is it? the book, on this part, keeps you guessing for a while).  As with all things in this book, however, Mr. Bell isn’t quite what he seems.  And neither is Zeke, Ruth’s suitor who appears out of nowhere.  Or Ruth or Nat or the Father who runs the orphanage with religious zeal.  It’s all a bit too much.

And then it gets more complicated because Ruth and Nat’s story is in the past and it’s running alongside Ruth and Cora’s story in the present.  Cora is Ruth’s niece, pregnant and persuaded by Ruth to walk across New York state without any reasons given.  They walk and walk and come across random strangers who behave in random ways.  Not one person in this book is normal or undamaged and, again, it’s all too much.  I feel like I was supposed to get something from it, from the ways they spoke, the things they said, that I just couldn’t because I was just so confused by what was going on.

The language, which was flowery and wandered, didn’t help and neither did the characterisations…I didn’t like anybody…but my main problem was my just not understanding what was happening or why.  Characters like Zeke came, went and then came back as someone else (without a nose which was never properly explained and didn’t seem to do much for the plot).  They all spoke a certain way, meaning people blurred into one, and their motives were questionable at best when revealed.   In fact, I’m not sure why I even finished reading, other than I hate putting a book down before the end.  Maybe I should have left this one alone and I wouldn’t have felt quite so disappointed – not one for me – Sorry!

Emma

The Gingerbread House by Carin Gerhardsen

imageIngrid Olsson returns home from a Stockholm hospital to discover a man in her kitchen. She’s never seen the intruder before. But he’s no threat – he’s dead.

Criminal Investigator Conny Sjöberg takes the call, abandoning his wife Åsa and their five children for the night. His team identify the body as that of a middle-aged family man. But why was he there? And who bludgeoned him to death?

Lacking suspect and motive, Sjöberg’s team struggle until they link the case to another – apparently random – killing. And discover they face a serial killer on a terrible vendetta . . .

The Gingerbread House is the first in the Hammarby series, set in Stockholm and following a team of detectives led by Conny Sjoberg. Not that long ago, I read the second in the series, Cinderella Girl, which I really enjoyed. However, there were elements of the plot that I didn’t quite get because they linked to book one, which I immediately went and requested from the library. It arrived this week and I couldn’t wait to read it.

Plot wise, this wasn’t as complex as Cinderella Girl, but it was clever, leading you down one path and – you think – to one suspect before turning things on their head – and, despite their being a very angry serial killer at the centre, doing it without too much blood, guts and gore. And I say angry but there is childhood bullying at the heart of this so it might be better to say sad serial killer (not a spoiler as this is part of the prologue). It is amazing how cruel children, and adults, can be to each other.

The Gingerbread House was well written and translated with quite a sparse style. The story was told in days so you get to follow the investigation as it develops and the deterioration of the killer at the same time. I liked this. I didn’t have to follow too many timelines and, with a pretty large number of characters, this made it easier than if they had each had their own chapters.

That said, there is a sub-plot involving one character, Petra, which is where I felt I was missing something in book 2 as it is this that is carried forward. I am glad to say gaps are now filled. It was also good to understand a bit more about where Petra was coming from. Her character felt well-developed and I would say The Gingerbread House takes time to introduce all the characters; Sjoberg especially is well-rounded with a wife, children and fairly normal home life (always nice to see versus the drink-addled detective I find in a lot of books). It made me like them and the book (a lot). – this is a great and recommended read.

Emma

The Heart Goes Last by Margaret Atwood

imageLiving in their car, surviving on tips, SCharmaine and Stan are in a desperate state. So, when they see an advertisement for Consilience, a ‘social experiment’ offering stable jobs and a home of their own, they sign up immediately. All they have to do in return for suburban paradise is give up their freedom every second month – swapping their home for a prison cell. At first, all is well. But then, unknown to each other, Stan and Charmaine develop passionate obsessions with their ‘Alternates,’ the couple that occupy their house when they are in prison. Soon the pressures of conformity, mistrust, guilt and sexual desire begin to take over.

So I originally planned on posting this review on Monday.  Then I didn’t.  Why? Because I was struggling with how I felt about the novel and what I had written didn’t feel right – and it didn’t, if I’m honest, feel honest which I always try to be.

My problems started with the fact that I love Margaret Atwood.  I have read the majority of her books and I can (honestly this time) say there isn’t one I haven’t liked and a lot of which I’ve loved. That includes the Maddaddam trilogy which I know not everyone enjoyed and did, I admit, take some getting used to.  Once I’d settled into the rhythm of the first book though, the language and the imagry, I was hooked on the stories of a disparate group of people trying to survive in a world wiped out by man-made plagues and problems.

There are many of the same themes in The Heart Goes Last.  The world hasn’t been wiped out by a virus but it has been hit by the financial collapse and the central characters, Stan and Charmaine are struggling as a result having lost their jobs and home and finding themselves living in a car.  When Charmaine sees an ad for a town of Consilience where she can have a house again, clean sheets, a job in return for living an alternate lifestyle as a prisoner every other month she can’t say no  – and, because he loves her, neither can Stan.  Like his brother tells him though if it looks too good to be true, it probably is.

At first, all seems well but slowly the dream becomes a nightmare.  They can’t leave Consilience and they can’t talk to the outside world.  There are people watching all the time and big, black, cars silently cruise the streets.  Big corporations with no moral compass are in charge.  Greed, lust, and power are what they care about, not helping people live better lives as they promised.  Not unless you are rich, of course, and can pay for the organs harvested from prisoners who won’t reform or the baby blood sold to make you young again.

These are all things that were touched on in the Maddaddam books and they are all things that scare me because they feel like they could be real and make me think that the world is going to hell in a handbasket.  The thing with this book though, was that I found I didn’t care.  I didn’t feel scared.  And that’s because I didn’t believe in any of the characters or the world Atwood had created in Consilience and beyond.  I wanted to, I really did, but I didn’t.  Instead, Stan and Charmaine annoyed me. I found them weak and ineffectual.  The other central characters were just as bad, flat and stereotypical.  I really didn’t care if they did have their minds wiped because Ed, the man in charge, felt like it.

Even Atwood’s language, which I normally find paints a picture for me, let me down.  It felt like she was going through the motions before beating me over the head with her message in the final pages – just in case I hadn’t understood.  This was originally a series of magazine articles I think or short stories, and maybe that was the problem.  Maybe if I’d read them as that I’d feel differently.  But, unfortunately, I don’t – which means (and I can’t believe I’m saying this) this wasn’t one for me.  Sorry!

Emma

 

Harry’s Last Stand by Harry Leslie Smith

HARRYS LAST STAND-B-HB.inddWhen I read this book a few weeks ago I hadn’t originally planned on reviewing it, although I’d enjoyed reading it. Then, over the weekend, with Ian Duncan Smith talking about trying to build a fairer Britain all over the news, the book kept coming back to me and I changed my mind because the messages it is trying to get across are ones I think we should be listening to.

Published in 2014, the book is a series of essays which reflect Harry’s thoughts and feelings about growing up in the Great Depression and the pride he felt in the country after the war when we created the welfare state so no one would have to suffer the indignities and inequalities he did as a child. And they show his anger and despair at the dismantling of this welfare state by the then coalition government.

It is a highly emotive but also sobering read. Harry’s sheer frustration at what he sees happening is apparent, as is how little he feels he can do about it – hence the essays. A lot cover the same ground and they follow the same format; snapshots from his childhood followed by a comparison with today’s society.  There are facts and figures woven through which, though few years out of date, are startling and saddening.

There are memories of his life as a young man, newly returned from the war, and as a young husband – a time when he was able to prosper but also lived knowing there was a safety net if things went wrong. It is a safety net he and many others hadn’t experienced as children. It is a safety net that I, as a child of the seventies, grew up expecting to be there for me – though I have been lucky enough to never need it – and my family.

Now, if I’m honest, I don’t think this would be the case. When I see people queuing at food banks on the news or here about the indignities people with disabilities go through to receive support for the necessities for living a decent life, I feel sick…and think it doesn’t take much for any of us to end up there, just one job loss or accident. It’s depressing and frightening – yet it feels like a lot of us have our heads in the sand and think it could never happen to us.

It’s why I decided to write this review after all because it made me think and wonder if I can do anything (I’m not sure what) and also slightly embarrassed I haven’t done much so far but turn out to vote.  Maybe it will do the same for a few others and we can end up with the society Harry dreamt about as a young man.

Emma

The Well by Catherine Chanter

Iimagen the not so distant future, the world is falling apart. In the UK there has been years of drought, impacting the economy and the way people treat each other. Religious worship is on the rise as people search for answers and government policy is becoming dictatorial. Into the chaos step Ruth and Mark, a middle-aged couple who move to the countryside in search of a new life.

Living and working on a farm has always been Mark’s dream and Ruth goes along with it, hoping it will save them and their marriage. Arriving at The Well, though, she realises is isn’t just for Mark, it is for her. It couldn’t be more perfect. And it couldn’t be more fertile. Whilst the rain refuses to fall in the rest of the country, at The Well it falls most nights. When it doesn’t the land draws nourishment from the natural streams that runs through it’s property.

Lost in their own private oasis, the couple are slow to realise just how much their good fortune is rubbing their neighbours up the wrong way, and drawing attention they don’t need from the wider world. As government agencies start to become interested and worshippers appear at their gate, Ruth and Mark begin to fall apart, each responding differently but each pretty badly to the situation and neither seems to realise the other is struggling. When the sisters arrive things go from bad to worse and death follows.

All this is told from Ruth’s perspective with a sense of doom for things that have already happened, tragedies lived through and decisions made that cannot be undone. It’s a mix of past and present, with Ruth gradually piecing things together. It is all just a bit depressing, a vision of a world where things have gone wrong and nobody knows quite how to make them right again. The world of The Well is a microcosm of what is going on everywhere and you know it can’t end well. Which it doesn’t.

Given that Ruth was under house arrest when the story starts this isn’t a surprise. How the story unfolds is – the slow deterioration of her marriage and her mind before the final rush towards disaster, the lack of understanding of just what is happening and unwillingness to face facts. And the kindness of strangers, showing the world isn’t always all bad.

My library has this book categorised as crime and there is a murder but it feels like more than that. It is about how a lot of people are hanging on by a thread and how it doesn’t take much for that thread to snap. And it is a warning about how easy it is for the world to fall apart thanks to the vagaries of nature, especially if we keep destroying the planet the way we are.

Given the subject matter, I can’t say that this is a book everyone will enjoy, though I did. It’s well written, with great characterisation (even if I didn’t completely like anyone, I did feel for the most) and I would think would be something any fan of dystopian fiction should give a go.  An excellent debut – liked it a lot!

Emma x

All The Little Pieces by Jilliane Hoffman

imageWhen Faith gets into a fight with her sister, who she’s visiting, she decides not to spend the night as planned but grabs her five year old daughter Maggie and heads home.  It’s a long drive, over two hours, and she has maybe had one too many drinks and before she knows it she is lost in the Florida glades (I think it was the glades) with a storm approaching.  Deciding to sit the storm out, she pulls over in a small town and falls asleep.

She is woken by a knock on the window – a young woman is begging to be let in.  She looks scared.  But she also looks dishevelled and the man who comes up behind her looks rougher still.  With Maggie asleep in the back seat, Faith decides not to open the door and watches as the girl is led away before driving back into the night.

The next day, back at home, she decides that the girl was probably fine.  The guy was her boyfriend and the other man who she saw walking out of the woods as she drove away nothing to do with anything, including her.  Until missing posters appear and she realises that nothing was fine at all and, because of her, the young woman is now probably dead.

At this point, anyone else would probably pick up the phone and call the police.  Not Faith.  She doesn’t tell anyone, not even her husband.  In fact, she gets her car fixed because while she was out in the glades she hit something.  And that is where it might have ended if Maggie hadn’t spoken up.  It turns out she wasn’t asleep after all.

So far, so good from my point of view.  As a reader (or rather listener as I had this on audio), I was hooked.  The build up had me feeling tense and I had a vision of what might be coming next in my mind.  Unfortunately, it all went a bit wrong from there.  And it all went on a little too long.  Faith’s inability to tell the truth to the police became annoying.  I understood why she didn’t at first but once the secret was out, I didn’t see why she couldn’t just tell them what happened.  It made me really dislike her.

Then there were the bad guys themselves.  They were stereotypes of deliverance.  They spoke strangely and wore baseball caps and checked shirts.  I didn’t believe in them as baddies.  And the fact that they tracked Faith and her family down and approached them in public and the police did nothing.  It felt like there should be something scary here but there just wasn’t.  I didn’t feel any type of jeopardy for Faith or Maggie.

As the story progresses, the police investigation takes over and then the court case before getting back to Faith and her being in danger.  It was all too much and there were too many characters to keep track of – and, if I’m honest – not care about.    And I wanted too – but even Maggie drove me mad by the end.  Maybe I’d have felt better if I’d have read rather than listened to the book but as it is I have to say I didn’t enjoy it – not one for me I’m afraid.  Sorry!

Emma

Disclaimer by Renee Knight

imageFinding a mysterious novel at her bedside plunges documentary filmmaker Catherine Ravenscroft into a living nightmare. Though ostensibly fiction, The Perfect Stranger recreates in vivid, unmistakable detail the terrible day Catherine became hostage to a dark secret, a secret that only one other person knew–and that person is dead.

Now that the past is catching up with her, Catherine’s world is falling apart. Her only hope is to confront what really happened on that awful day even if the shocking truth might destroy her.

I had been wanting to read Disclaimer ever since reading some really good reviews last year.  Plus, I loved the concept – it sounded different (well somewhat – there was still a deep, dark, secret to be discovered as in the majority of books I read!).

I am pleased to say I wasn’t disappointed. This is a debut novel and well written and plotted.   The idea of a novel about a novel is  clever and shows how easily fact and fiction can be distorted. I was gripped from the beginning, with Renee Knight getting straight into the action and speeding along to a conclusion I didn’t see coming (well not till it was almost too late to feel any level of smugness for having figured out the secret).

Catherine isn’t he most likeable person and her husband made me mad pretty much from the moment he found out what was happening but that didn’t put me off because my sympathy for the person who is, technically, the bad guy.  I understood his motives, even if I didn’t agree with his actions.  It meant I wanted to know what happened to everyone involved in the end and that – as a result – I loved this book.  Highly recommended!

Emma

 

 

 

 

 

One Step Too Far by Tina Seskis

22206746An apparently happy marriage. A beautiful family. A dream home. So what makes lawyer Emily Coleman—a woman who appears to have everything—get up one morning and walk right out of her life to start again as someone new?

Deliberately losing herself in London, Emily quickly transforms herself into Cat. Along with her new name, she finds a new home in a shared house in North London teeming with an odd assortment of flatmates, and a new job as a receptionist.

Soon Cat has buried any trace of her old self so well, no one knows how to find her. But she can’t bury the past—or her own painful memories. As the days turn to months, thoughts of all she’s left behind begin to consume her. She cannot outrun the ghosts that haunt her, no matter how hard she tries to elude them. And soon, she’ll have to face the truth of what she’s done—a shocking revelation that may push her one step too far.

Tina Seskis is one of those authors I have always meant to read but never have – for no real reason other than there are too many books in this world and too little time. I’m glad I finally found the time for One Step Too Far though, her debut from a few years ago, because it was great.

On a gray Manchester morning, Emily boards a train to London, arriving as Catherine (before becoming Cat) – a woman who has left a not so nice boyfriend and is looking for a new job and a new life. Apart from it isn’t a boyfriend she is running away from – it’s her husband – and the memory of events she can’t quite face (which you, as the reader, start to guess at but don’t know for certain either).

Once in London, her life becomes one she would never have imagined, for better and for worse. She becomes a different person and behaves in ways she would never have thought. The life she left behind though is always there in the background. No matter how hard she tries, she can never quite erase it. And then, through a twist of fate, both the past and the present collide.

Whilst I kind of saw the ending for this coming, I still thought it was cleverly done and the book is well written. Cat is a complex, interesting character – though possibly not the smartest when it comes to decisions – and the supporting cast are nicely drawn.

I was hooked from start to almost finish with this book – the almost being the last few chapters where Cat’s life for the decade or so after the “big reveal” were spelt out.  With these type of books I like a bit of mystery at the end and to plan my own futures for t characters so I could have done without this.  Still, it’s a personal preference and doesn’t take away from a good story that is well worth a read if you haven’t come across it already – liked it a lot!

Emma

(Revisiting) The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists by Robert Tressell

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Many, many – possibly showing my age hear but – many moons ago, whilst doing an A level in government and politics, my teacher recommended I read The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists.

Despite leaning to left so far at the time I am amazed I didn’t fall over, I had never heard of the book – which promotes socialism over capitalism as the only real option if the working classes are to ever have a decent standard of living and reap the rewards of their labours.

I immediately went out and read it, though it wasn’t the easiest book to get through, and it has stuck with me ever since. I remember it made me angry at times, sad at others, and utterly depressed for most of it. Life for the characters in this book was harsh, bleak, and – often – short. They worked hard (or rather were worked hard) for little pay and, when they didn’t work, there was no safety net to catch them.

Recently, it came up in conversation and I decided maybe the time was right to read it again. I couldn’t remember the plot, I realised, but still had images of the painters and decorators the story centres around in my head and also one scene in particular where someone dies hadn’t ever left me.

As soon as I started reading, the story came back to me pretty much straight away, as did the indignation I felt for and the frustration I felt with the characters. They are treated so badly – yet they don’t stand up and say no. Of course, with no welfare state to protect you and plenty of other men willing to take your job, it’s probably no surprise.

This isn’t a subtle book. It’s one that beats you over the head with it’s message, which it repeats pretty consistently throughout the book to make sure you get it. It paints a picture of a world I wouldn’t want to live in – one that in the grand scheme of things isn’t that long ago. Reading it, part of me thinks how far we’ve come – with employee rights and state benefits – whilst part of me wonders if we’ve come very far at all and if we are maybe just more comfortable in our chains thanks to satellite TV and smart phones.

Reading back over what I’ve written I realise I’ve gotten quite feisty, which is what the book was no doubt written to do – to light a fire and wind me up (in a political way). It is how I felt back as a teenager and how I hope other people will feel reading it.

Despite being over a 100 years old a lot of the messages in it are relevant and just need looking at with a modern eye.  I’m not saying we should all storm the barricades but I am saying, after reading it, in this capitalist world maybe we should think about how we treat each other and those that work for us / wish us.  This one is worth a read if the news of more cuts to welfare make you feel uncomfortable or you are a political bent – though appreciate it’s not for everyone.

Emma

I Let You Go by Clare Mackintosh

image

A tragic accident. It all happened so quickly. She couldn’t have prevented it. Could she?

In a split second, Jenna Gray’s world is shattered. Her only hope of moving on is to walk away from everything she knows to start afresh. Desperate to escape her past, Jenna moves to a remote cottage on the Welsh coast, but she is haunted by her fears, her grief and her memories of the cruel November night that changed her life for ever.

DI Ray Stevens is tasked with seeking justice for a mother who is living every parent’s worst nightmare. Determined to get to the bottom of the case, it begins to consume him as he puts both his professional and personal life on the line.

As Ray and his team seek to uncover the truth, Jenna, slowly, begins to glimpse the potential for happiness in her future. But her past is about to catch up with her, and the consequences will be devastating .

So I’m sat here trying to write a review for I Let You Go and I don’t quite know where to start. Not because it’s not good (it is) or I didn’t enjoy it (I did) but because as soon as I start typing there are spoilers. There is such a good twist in this book, one I didn’t see coming and I don’t want to risk giving away. What I can say is, for me, it made the book and I understood why I had read so many good reviews last year.

I have to admit, I had been wondering before then what the fuss was about. Yes, it was well written and the characters were developing well but it wasn’t that thrilling for a thriller. Then, with one line, my whole perspective on what I’d been reading changed and I saw everything in a new light, just as the characters did, and my relationship with each of them changed as did how sympathetic I felt.

It felt great and reminded me why I love to read. It also felt nice to be surprised because it doesn’t happen that often. Things are generally signposted and , whilst I can see the path I was taken down in hindsight, I had no idea while it was happening. Making this a very clever book and an impressive debut. I loved it and would recommend to anyone who hasn’t read it yet!

emma x