Book Reviews





Rosemary's Baby - review

Let's just say, I'm not old enough to have been there the first (or perhaps even second?) time round. Rosemary's Baby was, to me, just one of those stories that you kind of knew without reading the book or seeing the famous film adaptation. It was like legend among my friends as children, when it was retold at sleepovers by the lucky/naughty few who had stayed up late with the babysitter one night and witnessed Mia Farrow's harrowed distress. It is a classic that has become almost a definition of it's genre. And it was about time I read it.

I'm so glad I did! What I had been missing out on all these years was a tense thriller of "is she?/isn't she?" madness and unexplained goings on, bustling with great characters. The edition I bought had an introduction by Chuck Palahniuk, and I think he was the perfect voice to set you up for the story that followed. (Not unfamiliar to a freaky story himself!)

When Rosemary and Guy Woodhouse move into "the Bram" block of apartments in New York, they do so despite warnings from their close friend Hutch, who tells them of a series of disturbing events (cannibalism, deaths, occult conjurings) that have occured at the apartments throughout history. The young couple put the stories of bad luck down to hearsay and coincidence, and begin their life at the Bram with much hope of starting a family. They meet their neighbours in the block - Mr and Mrs Castavet - and begin an unlikely friendship with the old couple, who they see almost as parent figures. They share dinners, chores and stories, and quickly get to know each others' circle of friends.
When Rosemary falls pregnant, however, she begins to suspect her neighbours' meddling intentions as something far more sinister: what is in the drinks Mrs Castevet keeps bringing her? Why is Rosemary being told the constant pain she is in is nothing? Why has Guy suddenly fallen into such unlikely good luck with his acting career?

In his introduction, Chuck Palahniuk describes how Rosemary's Baby brought horror to the normal lives of readers. No longer were these sinister goings on in a motel on the highway, or in a cabin in the woods. Now, they were on your doorstep, and they were after your baby. I agree with him that the genius of Rosemary's baby is in the everyday familiarity of it. I can imagine that in a time where such neighbourly community was common place, the horror at discovering they had dark secrets would have been unthought of!


I think another sign of it's time though, was the ending. When the book was first published, the birth of Satan's child would have been fairly controversial - but reading it today, I felt it just a little bit ... camp. The description of the child felt cliched, the group mentality of the cult felt tired and the anagram of the name was of no suprise to me - but I have a feeling that is simply because this book spawned so many copy cats. I have to remember that this book came way before me, and far before anything else I have probably read on the theme.


Overall, Rosemary's Baby was a brilliant book to read. Highly recommended to those who don't yet know it, or who want to find a modern classic of the horror genre.

Underneath - review

Kealan Partick Burke... Now, where do you place this writer in the grand scheme of literature labels? While reading Underneath, I found myself asking this question more than once.

For a suprisingly short novella, Underneath packs in an incredibly dark story of vanity, reputation, peer pressure, bullying, guilt, destruction and manipulation. When the high school bully Freddy dares Dean to ask out the "scarred girl" Stephanie - who has facial burns from a fire - he does so only to avoid another beating so severe he "pees blood". As the date gets closer, Dean tries to get himself out of it, but is too much of a coward to admit the truth to Stephanie and hurt her feelings, and can't face the thought of another beating at the hands of Freddy.
Sat in the car with Stephanie on the Peer, Dean begins to see the girl that exists beneath the scars, and warms to her. Things swiftly move from one thing to the next... until the unthinkable happens. Freddy crashes the date in violent and humiliating fashion, leaving Dean with scars he will never be able to see past.

This book is currently FREE on Kindle, from Amazon - but be warned. The book comes with a clearly stated warning of violence and stong language... which leads me to the question: What kind of writer is Kealan Patrick Burke, exactly?

A high school setting would automatically assume itself YA status - until the violence of the story steps in, in a very adult manner... But this violence is directly related to teenage issues, so is it adult? The story's themes are adult, and the heaviness of the concepts of guilt and helplessness aren't that common to the YA genre, but when they are eminating from teenagers in direct response to "relationships" and "bullying", does this change things?

When reading Underneath, I came to a conclusion by the end: Kealan Patrick Burke wants to f*** with your head. If you're an adult, he wants you to worry about what your kids might be reading. If you're a teenager, he wants you to question yourself, and the good person you thought you were. After all, you chose to read this.

There is nothing "nice" about this book. There is no happy ending, the conclusion has an eerie lingering question you can't quite grasp, it's horrific in most ways. It's horror writing, and it's good horror writing - but do not be fooled by it's YA elements. It is probably anything BUT what you're expecting.

I have read Kealan Patrick Burke before (The Turtle Boy), and I would read more of his novels. I like the fact that he is so unpredicatable and it can't be denied that he has talent for gripping short stories that are truely dark at their very heart. I would not, however, recommend him. I think his stories have the ability to offend a good many people - and while I'm ok with being horrified, I won't make that decision for others.

Read at your own risk! haha

The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox - review

The front cover of this book declares The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox by Maggie O'Farrell "almost ridiculously pleasurable" - and I am inclined to agree with it.

Sisters Esme and Kitty move to Scotland from India as young girls, after the tragic death of their baby brother. While Kitty adapts to her new life admirably, Esme struggles to fit into Scottish ways and has little interest in the "proper" customs of courtship and expectations of women in the 1920s.

Esme becomes a wild child in the eyes of her parents, and an embarrassment to Kitty due to her controversial behaviour. When Kitty has her heart set on a young bachelor who falls for Esme instead, a wedge is driven between the sisters that lasts over sixty years.

Things come to a head when Esme is put into a mental institution at the hands of her parents. She is institutionalized not knowing it was Kitty's statement that sealed the deal, and also harboring a dark secret of her own.

60 years later, Iris learns that she has a great aunt due to be released from the local loony bin, and that she has been named as the next of kin. She has never heard of Esme - supposedly her grandmother Kitty's sister - but how can this be? When she visits Esme to find out more, a heartbreaking story of loss is unraveled.

I will admit that the premise of this novel sounds like a Catherine Cookson / Danielle Steel type book - but don't let this put you off. The story is beautifully written, well paced and pulls you into the polar worlds of the two sisters brilliantly. All the characters were believable and although dialogue was rare, what was said was important and I didn't feel the scarce conversation affected the pacing in a bad way.

If there was any detriment to the novel, I would say that it was the present tense the book is written in. The book is constantly time-shifting into different eras of the girls' lives - not denoted by any visual aid / new chapters etc. - and, due to the present tense, the fact that a time shift had occurred often came as a surprise midway through a topic. It's only a small gripe, but I found that it interrupted the flow of the story to be jolted into this realisation every now and then...

Overall I would highly recommend The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox. It's a great book of characters, and shocking without being ludicrous. It often reminded me of Downton Abbey, if I can be forgiven for saying that(!) and I was a little sad when it ended - especially with the way events were left at the conclusion.

If you have read this book - why not leave your own thoughts in the comments?

Gifts for the bookish - him, her and the little monsters!

Struggling to find that perfect gift for a book lover? Last year, I earnestly tried to persuade the reluctant bibliophile into the technological ways of the e-reader, and I still fervently fight that battle! However, for those that listened - and those already comfortably e-reading - here are a few more ideas as Christmas makes it's marry way around to us again:

For her:

1. Owl Kindle skin - those with e-readers, I salute you!
2. Dracula pendant - literary jewellery for those of gothic persuasion
3. Spectacle frames- practical and fashionable <3 nbsp="nbsp" p="p">
4. Paperblanks journals- my favourite of all the "branded" notebooks
5. Reindeer cushion- To snuggle up with a book by the log fire (or radiator...)
6. Avid reader clock- Never enough time in the day!

For him: 
 1, Bronze Dragon Kindle skin- Who doesn't like a dragon?!
2. Reading light - Super stylish and functional
3. The Eagle of the Ninth - beautifully illustrated with gorgeous cover
4. Book ends - Shabby chic and perfect for the office
5. Pillars of the Earth DVDs - A wonderful book becomes one of the best TV series I've seen
6. Penguin classics pencils and mug - bringing a little inspiration to your work!

For the little monsters:
1. Gruffalo toy - huggable monsters!
2. Personalised Christmas book - Kids will love being the star of their own adventure
3. Woodland happy tree - possibly one of the priciest things you may ever buy your kid, but LOOK how cute it is!
4. Harry Potter audio books - Audio books are great before bed
5. Revolting recipes - A classic. Roald Dahl and Quentin Blake help your kids get culinary, in wonderful style!
6.Muppets Christmas Carol - I loved this film as a kid, and still do now. Family festive fun :)

I hope you have found some inspiration - leave any more ideas you have in the comments below!


Fracture - review

I am slowly reacquainting myself with "proper" YA fiction. Not the type that was written "for adults too", but the pure, teenage targeted, angst and emotion fuelled drama so familiar to my own teenage reading years. 

Fracture by Megan Miranda was the first of my rehabilitation, and it was a very good start.

17 year old Delaney Maxwell drowns in a frozen lake and wakes from a coma 6 days later, to discover she actually died for a short time when she was rescued. Pulled from the waters by her best friend and neighbour Decker, both struggle with the implications of what happened. Delaney should be dead. At the very least she should be severely brain damaged. But she seems fine, except for an inexplicable magnetism towards the dying. As she is drawn to situations of impending death, Delaney meets Troy - who seems to have awoken from a coma with the same attraction to the dying as her. As she struggles with her feelings towards her hero, Decker, and the person who seems to understand her new existence the most, Troy, Delaney is torn between the light and the darkness that her second chance offers.

I finished Fracture in 9 hours on trains to and from Leeds. It kept me entertained the entire way through. Well paced, mysterious and with brilliant characters, the book tackles some great issues while also providing romantic relief - YA gold.

My favourite "issue" portrayed in the book was the relationship between Delaney and her over-protective mother. I could see that the mother's actions were out of fear and love - having already "lost" her child once - and I felt Delaney's reactions to her mother were very honest and believable. The author created the characters with a great sympathy and it really came across well. Delaney also didn't hate her parents - a trap a lot of YA seems to fall to - but disagreed with their treatment of her and rebelled. However, throughout the book, she also came to empathise with her mum. She was simply having teenage reactions to normal parenting. It was subtle, but it made such a difference to the story.

I also enjoyed the romance element of the story (*gasp!*) and I think this was because although it was important, it wasn't central to the plot, and again it felt very honest and unforced.

I wholly recommend this book to any Young Adult fiction fans. Unchallenging but thought provoking, the book is a great read and will definitely be a good companion on these windy, wet , winter days.

The Small Hand - Review

Susan Hill, ghost story author = Mab, excited reader.

I love The Woman in Black, in all it's representations. It's such a "classic" modern ghost story. It's got all the right elements, in all the right places. Scares, story and sentiment. The Small Hand, sadly, didn't quite live up to it's greatness, but it was everything a ghost story should be.

Adam is a man who helps rare book collectors acquire their conquests. While on his way back from meeting his favourite client he takes a wrong turn on a country lane and encounters The White House, looking for someone to ask for directions. Dilapidated and set in acres of overgrown garden, The White House stands forgotten - or so Adam thinks, as he explores beyond the gate, until the ghost of a child's hand holds his own.
Adam becomes obsessed with the house and the hand, until he begins to get the urge to throw himself into deep water, or over cliffs... Much like his brother Hugo once did before him.

This ghost story is packed with intense moments, great descriptions and intriguing characters. I enjoyed the settings both in the UK and in France, and the "unexplained" parts of the tale were clever and didn't feel like cop outs (mostly... more on that in a sec!)
The Small Hand is part of a set of novellas, and I feel the story worked well in the shorter format. The action was well paced and the narrative was simple but effective.

But! Yes, I'm always weighing up the "buts", sorry!

But... I felt the writing itself was a little confusing. I found myself asking more than once whether the story was a retelling of events from the narrator, or whether the action was currently happening. I also wasn't sure of the time period at a number of points. At the beginning of the book I considered it to be the early 1900-esque era of The Woman In Black, but later we are introduced to the existence of e-mail and voicemail. It was these facts that held The Small Hand back from being as affecting as The Woman In Black, in my opinion.

Another small (very small!) gripe I had with the book was that Hugo's motives for his "act" as a boy were never told. It brought a bit of a plot-hole to his character, which until then had been very intriguing. Bit of a shame.

I would recommend The Small Hand to lovers of ghost stories, but to newbies to Susan Hill, I would suggest starting with The Woman in Black.

The House at Midnight - Review

**Warning, this review contains spoilers - I'll let you know when they're about to appear**

Lucie Whitehouse's The House at Midnight is a book in the much-alluded-to vein of The Secret History. It's a book about a close-nit group of university friends and oppressive settings. It is a book concerned with the strain of friendships, relationships and the secrets of families. It embraces art, and culture, and historical pretences. In a strange way, it is a book so similar to The Secret History it's almost painful to see how far it misses the mark...

Lucas is the inheritor of a grand house in Stoneborough when his uncle Patrick commits suicide under mysterious circumstances. To help him cope with being alone in such an enormous place, and his raw emotions, Lucas' group of friends rally round him every weekend at the house - to live in it's splendour and enjoy the grandeur of a private country life and each others' company. The place becomes an escape - a summer paradise - until tensions become evident among the group.

Danny loses his high-positioned job, and begins having secret relationships with members of the group - male and female; luring them into his world and then breaking their hearts while noone else is any the wiser. Jo is falling in love with her friend Rachel's boyfriend, Greg, while starting a new relationship with her own best friend, Lucas; at the same time she is noticing a hateful attitude towards her in Danny. Lucas is drinking far too heavily - much like his estranged, dead father - and bailing Danny out of thousands of pounds of debt with his inheritance money.

All the time, Patrick's suicide looms over the group, much like the fresco painting in ceiling of the house's entrance hall: a mythical Greek representation of Zeus and the goddesses that Jo becomes fascinated by. She soon comes to realise the painting is not mythical at all, but that it depicts real people. History seems to be repeating itself...

As everything comes to a head, The House At Midnight is gripping. I was looking forward to the revelations, the fallout of the friends' actions... but this never quite arrived. The crescendo of this book is about 150 pages from it's end, and if I'm very honest, I wish it had drawn a quick conclusion right there.

Claustrophobic portrayals of houses, emotional tensions, betrayals, secrets and sex should all add up to a tense mystery thriller, but The House at Midnight seems to end on something of a sparkler, rather than the catastrophic bang I thought it was building up to. I feel that a lot of this has to do with the confusing characterisation of Danny.

**Spoilers start here**

Danny, it turns out, is the key character in this book. All the while, the serial dating, cougar-catching, film making, gold-digging Danny was supposedly so over-wrought with obsessive love, jealousy and desire for Lucas, he was murderous. Who knew?! I think it was meant to be a twist - I certainly never suspected it, but I also think the denoument was poorly executed for this fact. It just didn't seem to fit the Danny we had read about for the last 200 or so pages...

To add to the out-of-the-blue "revelation" of Danny's dark intent, he is never actually seen in the last part of the book. We are simply told by a dying Greg that Danny gave Lucas a gun, and manipulated him with poisonous words into shooting Greg. We are told that Danny had been brainwashing Lucas in his vulnerable greiving state, with the ultimate intention of this murderous act... We are told he loved Lucas too much and wanted him to himself...But there, the book ends! We are never shown anything. Danny is never found - he simply "ran away". Greg dies, Lucas is also found dead... Danny is gone, and the author probably thought not tying up that loose end left something or other for the reader to conclude. Gosh, it was lost on me, I'm sorry... I seriously thought a chapter was missing from my book.

**Spoilers end here**

Something else I found confusing in the book was the house. It was described well, physically, but it was the non-physical descriptions I was unsure of... Jo hears a "heartbeat" in the house, a thumping beat that keeps her awake and panics her while she is there. She also continually mentions the feeling of a "presence". She recognises the way being in the house changes the way the people around her behave.

Anyone who knows me and my books, will understand why this had my interest perked - ghosts! However, though there were clues that alluded to a ghost, or of some sort of imprint on the house, it was all forgotten in favour of the Danny storyline (for which, I say again, there was no allusion to!) It seemed a confusing waste of effort to bring a haunting to a house that has no part in the story?

Speaking of concerted effort in details that come to nothing - Jo's asthma. She was puffing away on her inhaler so often (and so jarringly in the flow of whatever was going on - as if to make a point) I felt damned sure an asthma attack would be a key part of the narrative. But alas, she just had asthma... that's "characterisation" folks: she has A FLAW!

All in all - I really enjoyed The House At Midnight all the way up until about 2/3rds of the way through. I felt it lost it's way at the end, and that the official "end" of the book was frustrating and unnecessary. I'm not sure that I would recommend this book to anyone, as it skirted too much around different ideas and never quite settled on one, so I wouldn't in fact know who to recommend it to! It is dark in subject matter, and it creates quite a tense atmosphere until the final party and the resulting action. I guess if I have interested you in the story you should definitely read it, as I would love to knwo what you think!!! Leave comments below :)