Tag Archives: Book Review

Jemm Frances Reads…This House Is Haunted by John Boyne

“I blame Charles Dickens for the death of my father.” 

If this first line intrigues you, you are not alone.

This is the declaration John Boyne uses to open his gothic Victorian ghost story, This House Is Haunted, and while it might be the first, it certainly isn’t the last nod to Mr. Dickens in this story. A few chapters in we even discover an office clerk named Cratchett!

I’m a bit of a sucker for ghostly Victorian tales but had previously only read one other of John Boyne’s books, The Boy In The Stripped Pajamas so I was curious as to what this book had to offer. From the captivating and macabre first line the scene is set, the year is 1867, let the story begin.

This House Is Haunted

Amidst the dense London fog Eliza Caine looses her only surviving parent thanks to Charles Dickens. Now alone in the world and a mere schoolteacher she struggles to pay the rent.

Answering a peculiar advertisement requesting the services of a governess, Eliza goes in search of a new life away from the city and the only home she has ever known. 

Disembarking at a Norfolk station on a chilly night Eliza gets the creeping feeling that something is amiss when an invisible pair of hands try to push her into the path of an oncoming train, but it’s too late to turn back now. An unsettling journey to Gaudlin Hall, her new home, does little to appease her fears. On arriving at the imposing country pile Eliza finds no adults there to receive her; no servants, no parents and no sign of her mysterious employer. 

Instead she is welcomed by her two young charges, Isabella and Eustace Westerly who appear to be alone in the house. The children offer no explanation as to the strange circumstances and do not answer any of Eliza’s questions. The new governess, the sixth in less than a year, is shown to her room and bid goodnight. However it soon becomes apparent that the children, and now Eliza, may not be alone in the house after all.

As Eliza Caine goes about her duties taking care of the Westerly children she feels stalked by a hostile presence intent on causing her harm. She knows that if she is to succeed where past governesses have failed she must uncover Gaudlin’s past and dig up its long buried secrets. This she must do if she is to save the children, and herself. 

Can this Victorian heroine rid Gaudlin of its ghost?

This book contains everything that a true gothic ghost story should. Bad weather, bumpy carriage rides, unhelpful villagers, a haunted Hall, odd children, hidden secrets and murder. Eliza Caine is the perfect protagonist providing a strong and feisty first person narrative in a time when young women were thought better to be seen and not heard. The suspense builds with every chapter in the run up to the final page, which like every good ghost story contains a twist at the end.

Not so terribly scary as to keep you awake at night but certainly spooky and atmospheric enough to keep you turning the page. 

If you read and enjoyed Susan Hill’s The Woman In Black you’ll love this creepy tale.

Bookworm Business: Have you read This House Is Haunted? What did you make of it? Have you read anything of John Boyne’s before? Will you be giving this book a try?

Jemm xoxo

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Jemm Frances Reads…Life After Life by Kate Atkinson

One of the best things about reading is finding an unexpected gem. Discovering authors you’ve never read before and then falling into their imagination like Alice down the rabbit hole.

For me, Kate Atkinson is one such author. I’d never read anything of hers before but the whole idea of Life After Life caught my attention.

If you were given the opportunity to live your time again how many chances would it take to get it right? One, two, ten? Would you learn from your mistakes? What would you do differently? Would you change direction and explore a different path? Would you try to change your own destiny or that of someone else? And when your past foretells the world’s future do you have a right to try to change it?

Life After Life is the reoccurring, ever changing story of one young woman’s journey as she lives through the major events of the twentieth century.

Life After Life

“Don’t you wonder sometimes, if just one small thing had been changed in the past, surely things would be different.”

Ursula Todd is born during a terrible snow storm in 1910 and dies before taking her first breath, the doctor has no time to reach her. Turn the page and Ursula Todd is born again in the same snow storm in 1910 and lives. Thus starts the pattern of Ursula’s life. And death. And life again.

Throughout her story Ursula’s life ends in numerous ways; drowning and falling from the attic roof as a child to being shot and buried under the rubble of a bomb blast as an adult. But Ursula’s unique gift means she is also given an infinite number of chances to live her life over with the hope, that this time, she will get it right.

As Ursula haltingly travels down the many avenues her life takes after death; that of a quiet little girl, an odd young woman, a battered wife, a German citizen on the cusp of WW2, a mistress, a mother, an ARP warden at the heart of the Blitz and a single, independent government worker she demonstrates how one choice, one decision and one moment in time can mean the difference between living and dying, and the power that these moments have to change everything. The past. The present. And the future.

Life After Life is an incredibly clever, well written, thought provoking book. Atkinson takes the ‘ground hog day’ idea and works it into something brilliant. Having never read anything quite like this before I was wondering what to expect but Atkinson certainly doesn’t disappoint with her unique plot line, skilful structure and engaging characters.

On hearing of the premise of this book you could be forgiven for thinking that the repetitious nature of the story will be confusing or even boring but you couldn’t be more wrong. It is exactly this aspect of the plot that makes it so interesting and remarkable. As soon as darkness falls and Ursula’s life ends at the end of one chapter, you can’t wait to turn the page and find out how she will live again in the next. 

This is just one of those books which requires the reader to give it a chance. As soon as you get an understanding of the pattern of the story you are quickly drawn in to Ursula’s (unconventional) life and that of her family. You get to know those people closest to her and experience some of the most turbulent, world changing social events of the twentieth century. 

Inventive, imaginative, descriptive and intelligent this is a book that will stay with you long after reading the last page. If you had a second chance what would you do differently? If you were given more time could you put things right? If you had the foresight and an opportunity to change it could you alter the course of history?

From one book lover to another I would strongly recommend you read this book, I know I’ll be going back to read it again.

Bookworm Business: Have you read Life After Life? Are you already a fan of Kate Atkinson? Let me know! Will you be giving this book a go?

Jemm xoxo

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Jemm Frances Reads: The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield

The Thirteenth Tale is Setterfield’s first and only novel to date. What better compliment can I give this story than to say that ever since I turned the last page I have been eagerly awaiting Diane’s second offering. Alas, so far, my waiting has been in vain. But I’m getting quite ahead of myself.

I picked up this book expecting it to be like all the other books that I like to read, but there is something special about this one that sets it apart from the rest. The Thirteenth Tale has everything that makes bookworms want to read: secrets, mystery, tragedy, loss, ghosts, romance, history, libraries and dark and stormy nights. A book for book lovers if ever I’ve found one.

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Margaret Lea has so far lead a quiet life hiding amongst the books of her father’s old bookshop; the stories keep her company and her confidence. When she returns home one day to find a waiting letter, a letter from a popular and reclusive authoress named Vida Winter, Margaret is set on a journey that will rewrite history.

Enigmatic Miss Winter has spent her entire life spinning a storytellers yarn; fooling those around her. She has spent her whole career telling false tales of her life to journalists and biographers, so much so that no one knows who Vida Winter really is. But Miss Winter is dying and she knows that time is running out. The truth needs to be told and the only person she is willing to tell it to is Margaret Lea.

Sequestered in the library of the writers rambling home, Margaret begins to learn and unravel the thirteenth tale, the story that until now Miss Winter has never been able to tell. It is the tale of Angelfield House, once the home of two feral young twins Emmeline and Adeline March, but is now nothing more than a burnt out shell. It is the tale of unspeakable family secrets and their echoing consequences down the years.

Why has Vida Winter kept these secrets for so long and why is she willing to give them up now? What terrible fate befell Angelfield house? What do the inhabitants and their stories have to do with the famous Miss Winter? And why does Miss Winter’s final tale strike such a cord with Margaret Lea? 

The Thirteenth Tale almost has a fairytale air about it and is reminiscent of classics such as Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights (both of which are referenced repeatedly in this book.) The character of Vida Winter brings to mind a modern day Miss Havisham.

Setterfield’s language and description richly brings to life the unique characters and constantly twisting plot. This book is honestly one of the most intriguing, compelling and captivating I have had the pleasure to read. A favourite I go back to again and again.

“There is something about words. In expert hands, manipulated deftly, they take you prisoner.” A line written by Setterfield and it certainly rings true for her story. Please, please, please write that second novel Diane!

I’m going to leave it there because if you have never read this book I’m going to let you get on with it as Setterfield tells it much better than I can describe it.

Bookworm Business: Have you ever read The Thirteenth Tale? What did you think? If you’ve never read it are you going to give it a look?

Jemm xoxo

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Jemm Frances Reads: The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

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This is a bit of a rare one. This book had me at the blurb and captured my imagination from the very first sentences.

The circus arrives without warning.

It is simply there when yesterday it was not.

To be honest I wouldn’t usually choose this type of book. I’m not a fan of fantasy; those kinds of novels never generally hold my interest. Harry Potter is as fantasy as I get. But everything about this book drew me in from the monochrome cover to the black edged pages to the magic that I just knew was contained within.

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Let me tell you about the Night Circus.

Out of nowhere it appears. No advertisements or announcements preceded it. Almost, as if by magic, it is there. This mysterious circus, eerily silent by day brings the night alive when darkness falls with flickering lights and the smells of cinnamon and caramel. In the blink of an eye it arrived, and just as quick it will be gone. You’d be a fool to miss it. Just as well your curiosity gets the better of you.

Le Cirque des Rêves, the Circus of Dreams it may be, but this is a spectacle best viewed with eyes wide open. Fortune tellers, contortionists and acrobats, this monochrome wonderland has it all. But as you walk its circular paths you may discover an ice garden or come upon the opportunity to make a wish on the wishing tree. As you’ve probably realised, this is no ordinary circus.

Within its confines a war is being raged. A battle being fought. A game being played. Unwitting, and at first unwilling, the two opponents, an enchanters daughter and a sorcerers apprentice are pitted against each other in this spellbinding arena. 

While the rêveurs (the dreamers), enthusiasts of the circus marvel at its magic, Celia and Marco at the behest of their masters must compete, filling the striped tents by pushing the very boundaries of magic and imagination. Each trying to out do the other. The game will only be won when one of them kills the other. Until then they have no choice but to play. But what to do when the two competitors fall in love? And what are the consequences for the Night Circus?

I’ve written a lot of book reviews and very rarely do I struggle in the writing of them. But when it came to adequately describing this debut novel I have to admit to being stumped. How do you put all your wildest dreams and the limits of your imagination into words? Erin Morgenstern has certainly managed it.

This story is truly enchanting. It houses an eclectic cast of characters, non more intriguing than the black and white circus itself. It seems Morgenstern’s imagination knows no bounds. Her description makes the reader feel like they are actually there, at the circus, caught up in the middle of its magic. Which of course you are. 

The fragmented timeline of the story keeps you on your toes, but don’t worry, it all comes together in the end.

The film rights to this book were snapped up before publication and I have to say I’m not at all surprised.

I suppose I’m a rêveur myself, because I will return to this book again and again for the opportunity of catching the Night Circus, where dreaming leads to seeing and seeing is believing. 

Bookworm Business Have you read The Night Circus? What did you think? Which tent is your favourite?  Those who haven’t read it do you think you’ll give it a try? As always comment in the box, write on the Facebook wall or tweet me @JemmFrances.

Jemm xoxo

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Jemm Frances Reads: The Secret Of Crickley Hall by James Herbert

I love a good ghost story so it’s surprising that I wasn’t familiar with the work of James Herbert, what with him being hailed as something of a master in the thriller/horror genre. I’d obviously heard of him before but never really thought to try any of his books.

Not until that is, Crickley Hall was serialised as a BBC drama back in December. After tuning in and watching the Caleigh family drama unfold, Papa Smith informed me that he had read the majority of Herbert’s books and enjoyed them. So the next time I was in the bookshop I picked up a copy of Crickley Hall and decided to give it whirl.

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Crickley Hall has stood empty for years due to the fact that none of it’s residents have ever wanted to stay for long. Footsteps in the attic, knocking from the cupboards, pungent smells permeating the air, unexplained pools of water and an creaky cellar door that refuses to stay shut are just some of the strange goings on that add to the general air of doom and gloom that hangs over the old hall. 

It therefore seems a peculiar choice for the Caleigh’s when dad Gabe moves his wife, Eve, and daughters Loren and Cally, down to Devon from London, to the small seaside town of Hollow Bay to try and get over a devastating family tragedy. Despite initial misgivings and hostility from local residents Eve and Gabe decide to make the hall a home.   

But it isn’t long until Crickley Hall’s murky past begins to make itself know and an old evil returns to haunt and harm it’s new residents. The mystery dates back to the war torn 1930’s but will it be solved in time to set the inhabitants of the hall, both past and present, free? And what of the Caleigh’s own heartbreaking search? Will it find the resolution they so desperately crave? And is it inextricably linked to the happenings at Crickley Hall?

After watching and enjoying the television series I’m glad I picked up the book as it offers much more detail and insight into the characters and their circumstances, and gives the story much more weight and depth than the time restraints of the TV series would allow. The haunted house plot is old ground but Herbert creates a disturbingly spooky atmosphere and throws in enough twists and turns to keep the reader interested. 

I have to admit to every so often, after one of the characters (frequently) commented how creepy the place was, to thinking “Jesus just pack your bags and move out then!” But I suppose you have to admire the tenacity of the Caleigh family and their determination to solving a mystery. However after all their own troubles I find it hard to believe they’d want the bother. 

But if, like me, you love being spooked, if you watched it on the BBC or you meant to catch it and just never got the chance then this book is for you. It has everything a good ghost story should; a creepy old house, lots of ghost, even more secrets, an evil spirit, a thunder storm or two, a family willing to get to the bottom of it and more than one mystery to untangle.  A chilling page turner at its best.

Jemm xoxo

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