Category Archives: Fiction

All Souls Trilogy – Deborah Harkness

*This review may contain spoilers*

Oh where to begin?!

I was first introduced to Harkness’ All Souls Trilogy by watching the ‘A Discovery of Witches’ series on Sky and I was hooked. It’s a brilliant adaptation of the first book in the trilogy, and I’m very much looking forward to the rest of series.

But having already watched the series I did find that it impeded my reading of the first book in trilogy, which is titled ‘A Discovery of Witches’. Knowing about the general plot from the tv show and having enjoyed it so much, and being left with such a cliff hanger, made me seriously impatient to find out what comes next. I had to force myself to be patient with book, and allow myself to be fully immersed in the world Harkness has created, in a way only the novels can truly provide.

The plots and characters Harkness has created are wonderful. They are very real, relatable and supernatural all at the same time. As a reader I connected with so many of them, and when one of my favourites seemed about to meet an untimely end I was genuinely horrified – I simply had to carry on reading just to learn their fate in that moment.

The love, romance, hopes, dreams and hardship between Diana and Matthew are stuff great loves are made of. The Romeo and Juliet elements are unmistakable and the paths they travel both together and alone are inspiring.

A tale of witches,vampires, daemons, magic and love – at times the pace of the novel was almost agonizing as Harkness lingers in the details and seemingly mundane nuances, but when the tempo picks up with rapid speed in the way that it does, as a reader you’ll be glad of the reprieve. Ultimately those extra details are what ties the plot, the characters and their relationships together. They also ground the story, making it more relatable, and believable.

The relationships and plot between the books are expertly intertwined. Harkness is careful to allow new experiences to shine, but also doesn’t let the reader forget the key moments, making sure they are gently reminded and teasing them into place book after book.

Harkness’ inclusion of real-world places, objects, life and famous people from history are so satisfying. It makes it all the more intriguing to see how it be done in the tv series to come.

In short I would 100% recommend this trilogy and the accompanying tv series. But consider reading the first novel before watching the series, so you can fully enjoy everything the book has to offer.

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The Stranger Diaries – Elly Griffiths

*This review may contain spoilers*

The Stranger Diaries is the first stand alone novel I’ve read from Elly Griffiths. I admit I was hesitant at first – not because I doubted Griffiths’ skill at all, but because I was worried that my loyalty to Ruth Galloway (from the Ruth Galloway series) would spoil it for me.

I am am so pleased I shoved that feeling to one side, because The Stranger Diaries is most definitely well worth the read. I would even go as far as to say that it would make a perfect introduction to Griffiths’ work.

The Stranger Diaries is a fantastic detective thriller, with a wonderful cast of well rounded and diverse characters. I’ve read my fair share of teen fiction, and it was nice to have a thrilling plot and a teen character who didn’t radiate teen angst and nothing more.

Quite often I find that crime fiction writers can become predictable – you can see how the plot will likely develop, you recognise the characters from their other work and you have a strong idea of who the suspect will turn out to be. I had none of these problems with The Stranger Diaries.

Strong writing mixes some great plot twists and dramatic killings, with softening for the main characters in all the right places. Of course about 3/4 of the way through I had some ideas of who the killer would turn out to be, and one of them was right! But rather than being being boring or predictable, Griffiths makes possible for it to be fun for the reader to have a guess, but still not actually know who it would be, right until the very end.

One of my favorite things about this book was Griffiths’ skill at making the right characters seem aloof and dodgy, and at the same time the right characters were also relatable and just like me and you – even their quirks, dreams and habits like keeping a diary. I mean, who hasn’t kept a diary of some sort at one time or another?

The pace of this novel was spot on – it allowed for plot twists and turns as well as character development. It didn’t stop me devouring it in 2 days though! I just couldn’t put it down – I was actually worried for the safety of the main characters and needed to know what happened next, and that they would be safe. That truly proves the skill of a good writer, when they can conjure such strong emotions for characters – people who don’t exist outside those pages – and literally keep the reader awake.

Over all this novel is a knock out and I would definitely recommend not only this book, but Griffiths’ other works to anyone wanting to try or are already fans of crime fiction.

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The Gift – Cecelia Ahern

*This review contains spoliers*

So it’s been quite a while since I wrote a review for a book I’ve read, but during this Lockdown I’ve re-discovered my love of books and how to make more time for reading.

I’ve read quite a few novels over the last few weeks and I will be writing reviews for those that I’ve felt strongly about.

On that note I’m starting with The Gift, by Cecelia Ahern. 

Where to start? Firstly, I’m just going to come right out and say it: I did not enjoy this Christmas story.

By all means, this opinion does not mean that it’s bad or poorly written. It’s actually very well written and concise in all the right places. But no amount of clever plot twists were able to detract from the fact that I disliked most of the characters and the character arc was just too little, too late (literally).

Ahern clearly had an agenda and a moral story to tell with this Christmas themed novel – but I felt the little references to Christmas that did feature were lack luster. Half the time I had forgotten that it was set at Christmas time, until another faint reference or scene crept in.

I’m not entirely sure if this apathy towards Christmas was meant to be reflective of the main character Lou – if so then it’s definitely fitting of the character and adds to the atmosphere. But as a reader, when I read any novel set at Christmas time I want to feel like it’s Christmas – even if it’s the middle of May (and I’m definitely not driving home for a while). I’m not saying that all novels set at Christmas need to be chocolate box village Christmas or even happy, but I do expect to at least feel like it’s Christmas when I’m reading it, regardless of the plot.

Of course it is testament to a good writer to make their reader feel strongly about their characters. By the time I was half way through reading The Gift I had very strong feelings about most of the characters. Not in a good way.
I had hoped that the developing character arc of the main character Lou would draw me towards him, and I would find some redeemable qualities in him, and maybe even like him a bit by the end. Sadly I felt the complete opposite. I was glad to have reached the end; and maybe others will be able to find those elusive redeemable qualities, but I was so disappointed and frustrated. The lessons he learns too late and tragedy at the end were just too much of dampener.

Why have such a strong moral case to your plot if the lesson is going to be swallowed up by the events, to the point where it has to be spelled out in the final chapter? It may have been for the benefit of a younger minor character, but I couldn’t escape the feeling it needed to spelled out a little bit for me too.

There are some delightfully clever quips and scenes within The Gift. Unfortunately this is one book I won’t be recommending to my friends and family – for the simple reason that this is not want I want from a Christmas story.
Yes I know it might be a cliche, and I said that not all Christmas stories have to be happy – but for me I do want more happiness than sadness or tragedy. I want to feel Christmas running through the entire plot and I want to be excited to be making my present list for those I love.

So there you have it. I do hope you give it go, and make you’re own minds up about what a Christmas story should be for you

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The Ghost Fields – Elly Griffiths

When the novel you pick up to read during a weekend away is set during a heatwave in Norfolk, I bet your mind conjures images of a sunny beach, romance and flirty plot twists. Until you read the title The Ghost Fields that is.

Elly Griffiths’ The Ghost Fields is a novel which would suit readers who enjoy crime thrillers, or those with an interest in World War Two history or both. Griffiths’ offsets gripping, stark, intense and engaging drama with intrigue, seeming historically sound descriptions and a romantic subplot of unrequited love. It has been a long time since I read a crime thriller which is this well written, I simply couldn’t put it down.

The Ghost Fields

The Ghost Fields is well paced, fast moving in all the right places, and slows to allow the reader to take a breath exactly when needed. Some moments in our heroine’s story hit some particularly dark places deep down, which many readers will be able to relate to. Equally there are some much lighter and less tense moments, which whilst they still carry an air of awkwardness; are a reflection on the development of the main character as both the reader gets to know her, and as she makes decisions which reveal more about her inner desires to her own self.

A few crime novels I’ve read in the past have fallen into the trap of being too focused on the hard facts and not enough on the emotional state of their characters. Books which include references to real events such as World War Two can often become too engrossed in the history and do not clearly link their relevance to the present day in the novel. The Ghost Fields has neither of these problems. As a reader with more interest in the crime side of things than the World War history, Elly Griffiths does well to bring emotion to the history and keeps it relevant to the modern day. Whilst there is just enough dramatic tension to keep you reading, without exhausting the reader.

At times it felt like I was left with more questions than answers, but by the time I had finished reading it, all the secrets had come out and the answers were supplied readily. Reaching the end was as satisfying as it gets for a book lover. All the I’s were dotted and T’s crossed. Granted, I didn’t necessarily get all the happy endings I wanted, but I had answers either way.

If you’re looking for a modern twist on a crime thriller to try, I’d definitely recommend you read The Ghost Fields.

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Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters – Jane Austen and Ben H. Winters

Given how much I enjoyed Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, I decided to give another Austen adaptation a try – Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters. I had high hopes, but my only expectation was that the main plot points remained the same, and on that front the novel did not disappoint.

Overall the novel was mostly consistent, and generally well written. There were a few times, I felt that some passages were a little long-winded and perhaps not as concise as they could have been. It was in those moments I felt the shift between the tone of Austen and that of Winters’, the subtle differences were all of a sudden much more obvious. In my opinion that was a shame, as I felt it disrupted my flow as a reader. I kept having to remember that the book is an adapted contribution from two different writers.

Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters

As you would expect from an adaptation, there were plenty of new plot twists and new character development moments to enjoy. Some I would arguably say are more exciting than others, some I would say might not matter if they had been included or not. But combined they certainly added a new layer to the original novel.

This added layer was most evident in the new character traits attributed to the Dashwood’s and the Steele’s. Elinor Dashwood in particular, became a much more exciting and likeable character, than was possible in the Austen’s original version. This was simply achieved by a slightly more up-tempo pace throughout, and of course the addition of new events into the plot.

It was good to see that although this was an adaptation, Winters’ had taken care not to leave any wide open plot holes, or major character misalignments. Sure if you’re specifically looking for them I’m sure you’d find them, as you would in any book, film or play. But for me, Winters’ took enough care and paid enough attention to detail, that by the end of novel I felt that all the interlocking stories had been satisfyingly concluded.

Whether you’re a fan of adaptations or a fan of Austen, this is definitely a novel I’d recommend other readers try. But, for a true comparison, it is always worth reading the original too – and I do mean READ, not watch a film or TV series adaptation!

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Filed under Adventure, Fantasy, Fiction, Jane Austen

The Woman in Black – Susan Hill

My latest read was fuelled by a desire to conquer my fear, a genuine attempt at tackling one of my long-standing fears head on. So I read The Woman in Black by Susan Hill.

Firstly let me clarify that I have had a fear of The Woman in Black since I was 16! My first encounter was seeing the play at the theatre with the rest of my Drama class. As much as I could tell you what an amazing performance it was, and how the minimalist effects were perfectly executed- it was so much more. It was an outstanding performance which has successfully cemented a fear in me of The Woman in Black. Just thinking about it makes me shiver, and afterwards I had nightmares for 2 months. Now that’s some performance!

Then there came the film with Daniel Radcliffe in the role of Arthur Kipps. Admittedly there are differences between the film and the theatre adaptations, but these were to be expected. But the film succeeded in re-instating my fear of The Woman in Black, and taking it to a whole new level. The film brought The Woman in Black’s dreadful and terrifying face right into my personal space- I must get round to writing a thank you card to the relative who bought me the DVD!
To this day there are parts of that film that I have not been able to watch, simply because I was able to watch the sequence leading up to it, and then my nerves gave out and the cushion moved in front of my face, so fast it’s become a permanent reflex whenever The Woman in Black is mentioned.

It wasn’t until I saw my brother with a copy of Susan Hill’s novel The Woman in Black, that I then realised that both the film and theatre productions are adaptations from an existing work; therefore I’d done it all backwards!

The Woman in Black

So moving on to my most recent encounter with The Woman in Black….Susan Hill’s novel was much more subtle and eerie than I imagined. She successfully depicts the drab and desolate Eel Marsh House so poignantly that it’s an image hard to forget.
I didn’t know what else to expect from the novel, but I enjoyed the reminiscent ‘retelling’ perspective. Whatever horrors the story revealed, there was a survivor, able to tell the harrowing tale in great detail.

Somehow when reading Kipp’s tragic story, it hit me much harder than it did when I saw the play or film- and don’t forget the film ends completely differently to the book. Hill shows literary skill in creating such an ordinary character, whose life bears no resemblance to my own; and yet throughout the novel I cared for him. I cared for his welfare; for his sanity and for his family; almost as much as I care for my own.

What many readers forget in heavy action or mystery novels are the easy to miss, mundane and everyday occurrences. But rather than skip these events, Hill uses them to build her readers a solid picture of Arthur Kipps; giving us a reliable and believable centre for the plot. The relating of normal, everyday events makes the supernatural events starker than they would have been if the entire novel was littered with them. In fact I was surprised by the end, when you count the relatively few encounters Arthur Kipps has with The Woman in Black, the affect those encounters had not only on Kipps but myself as well…if you’re not even slightly shaken by the retelling of Kipp’s story, then you’re made of stronger stuff than me.

I did find the ending a little bleak as it seemed to just tail off into nothing. It did end for Mr Kipps at least, that much was clear. But it was a little abrupt; it’s not quite a cliff-hanger so there’s no build up or expectation for a second novel; but you don’t get much satisfaction in it either. I suppose I shouldn’t have expected more from a thriller/ horror novel, but I did want more for poor Mr Kipps.

Did reading the novel put my fears to rest? Well not so much, for a few nights I was jumpy amongst the hallway shadows. But I did feel I understood Arthur Kipps and his story much better, and enjoyed the experience whilst reading it. Those chapters which delved into the back story of The Woman in Black were fascinating, I simply wanted to get to the bottom of the mystery- I wanted to be able to put her spirit to rest. When a book can give you the same chills as a play or film, then you know you’re onto something good!

© Gemma Feltham, 25th July 2015

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Filed under Fiction, Horror, Supernatural, Thriller

Carrie- Stephen King

Stephen King is one of the most recommended and loved horror novelists, until now I’d only seen two films based on King’s work, so as my first introduction to Stephen King’s novels I selected Carrie.

The first thing that hit me when I started reading Carrie was curiosity as to how similar the novel and film would be. But I quickly forgot about any kind of comparison; as the novel quickly had me engrossed in the narrative and compelled to keep reading right until the very end.Carrie The format of Carrie threw me at first, written from numerous perspectives, jumping between different time frames and interjections written in note format throughout- it certainly wasn’t your typical novel style, and not what I expected. Once passed the first few chapters I had gotten used to the flow of novel- I found the trick was to simply read it, not try to analyse it, not trying to remember what happened next in the film, and not trying to make the flow of events or how they are dictated; fit to any other written style.

I had high expectations for King’s narrative style, his reputation would not be what it is if he couldn’t deliver- and I was not disappointed. His attitude to Carrie’s story is extremely sympathetic, and his true skill in manipulating the reader really shines when by the end of the book it’s still Carrie White that the reader feels sorry for; despite all the death she causes.

Admittedly knowing the ending of the book was slightly disappointing but, reading the run up of events, finding out about Carrie’s history with her mother (much more than you get from the film) was very entertaining, it kept the novel grounded in a recognisable reality, despite its paranormal plot.
Carrie herself is a character which many readers would understand on some level, sharing some of her experiences and emotions and having that connection to the main character is what makes this novel more terrifying- the idea that perhaps you, the reader, could be as destructive a force as Carrie would make you think twice.

Overall Carrie was an enjoyable read, it may not have left me with nightmares but I’m certainly not complaining. The plot was gripping the twists were engaging and for the most part the characters were realistic and believable. If you’re considering trying King’s work I would recommend Carrie as the novel for dipping your toe into the horror genre.

© Gemma Feltham 13 June 2015

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Filed under Fiction, Horror, Supernatural

Gone, Lisa Gardner

Gone by Lisa Gardner is a complex, thrilling and extremely fast paced novel. If you are trying crime thriller for the first time this would definitely be one to recommend.

Having said that this isn’t for the faint-hearted, Gardner works hard to include as many emotions as she does plot twists. Throughout the whole novel I had a suspect in mind- I couldn’t have been more wrong. Not only does that say something about my terrible detective skills, but also it says a lot about Gardner’s ability to surprise her readers, and to confine the reader’s knowledge to what is necessary- trying to read between the lines did nothing to reveal the true criminal’s identity.

Going back to the pace, it was very fast- my advice to any reader giving this a go is to take your time, don’t read it when you’re very tired as you will miss interesting revelations and small details; also pay attention to the start of each chapter- every new chapter starts with a date and time-stamp which is crucial to keep in mind, when trying to keep up with the pace of events within the novel.

Gone is such a successful and compelling novel because it is so character driven. Rather than the requirements of the plot dragging the lead and supporting characters behind it; I very much felt encompassed by the array of lively and believable characters, Gardner very much fills the novel to the brim with supporting characters. Sometimes this technique is hard to pull off quite as well as Gardner does, it can feel crowded, but Gardner is wholly successful.

Descriptively again Gone is full to the brim, the emotions run raw and believable throughout and there is a brilliant mix of past and present tense; that keeps the current story alive and also gives the reader the character background they need, to feel more akin to the victims and supporting characters alike. There were so many plot twists and interesting facts littering each chapter than I couldn’t bear to put it down.

Gone lisa gardnerI really couldn’t find fault with this novel and if anyone is thinking of trying Lisa Gardner’s novels I say go for it- I myself am currently reading another of her novels- proof that I truly did enjoy reading Gone.

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Filed under Crime, Fiction, Mystery