Sunday, 30 October 2011

Review: 'Fallen' by Lauren Kate

Date finished: 03 October 2011

Rating: 2 stars

Format: eBook

Source: Bought

Genre:  Paranormal romance; Urban fantasy; YA

Published: by Delacorte Press in December 2009

The Synopsis [taken from Goodreads.com]

There’s something achingly familiar about Daniel Grigori.

Mysterious and aloof, he captures Luce Price’s attention from the moment she sees him on her first day at the Sword & Cross boarding school in sultry Savannah, Georgia. He’s the one bright spot in a place where cell phones are forbidden, the other students are all screw-ups, and security cameras watch every move.

Even though Daniel wants nothing to do with Luce–and goes out of his way to make that very clear–she can’t let it go. Drawn to him like a moth to a flame, she has to find out what Daniel is so desperate to keep secret . . . even if it kills her.

The Review

In order to try and avoid the metaphorical rotten fruit throwing, there are a few things I think I should share before I proceed with this review:

1.  I have read, and enjoyed, the Twilight saga.  I am not, therefore, a YA/Paranormal romance snob or hater; 

2.  I am a self-confessed fantasy nerd - give me a mage/inexplicable natural gift/magical creature over natural human capabilities any day;

3.  When I was a teenager, I was all but obsessed with David Boreanaz a.k.a. Angel from Buffy the Vampire Slayer; men being all brooding and aloof is clearly not a problem for me.

So, all things considered, I should have loved Fallen.

But I didn't.

My main problem was the protaganist, Luce.  Apparently sent to the Sword & Cross boarding school as a result of having been involved in the seemingly "minor" misdemeanor of causing her former boyfriend's death, Luce struggles to fit in and is supposed to (I imagine) be a figure to inspire pity.  Saved from the drudgery of isolation by Arriane, Luce begins her term.  Shortly thereafter she spies the brooding and tempting Daniel and, sacrificing her dignity somewhat, proceeds to gawp.  On noticing her staring, Daniel "flicks the V" at Luce.  Charming. 

Only, apparently, it is charming.  Despite being the object of the equally handsome, effortlessly charismatic and thoughtful Cam's affections, Luce chases after the attention of a man who can do nothing but swear at her.  Do I mean "chases after" in the sense that she wears more make-up and giggles excessively in Daniel's presence in the style of a typical teen?  No, I mean that she abandons all sense of pride and stalks the basements of Sword & Cross to dig out his student records.  I know that we're meant to believe that this is all because she is struck by an overwhelming and desperate love but I found the whole thing hard to buy into.  And all that's without taking into account her lack of consideration of her last love interest's demise.

That's not to say that the book is all bad.  I came close to not finishing it but I did, because there are some redeeming features.  The minor characters at Sword & Cross are the subject of varying degrees of intrigue (my favourites were the quirky Arriane and lovely Penn).  The religious references lend a gothic air to the story and the allusions to mythology are a nice touch. 

The pace is quite slow to start with while the reader accompanies Luce as she bumbles her way through her first weeks at Sword & Cross.  For me, this part was drawn out a bit too much and I became weary of the inner Daniel versus Cam dilemma.  After it becomes apparent that the school's residents aren't quite as they appear, however, the pace picks up a lot and you'll probably be dragged along quite happily through the climax and out the other side.  There are some unexpectedly dark moments and  I found myself disappointed that the whole book couldn't have maintained the menacing atmosphere that it acquired later on. 


Overall:  This book is okay.  If you're a woman and can suspend every inclination towards feminism that you've ever had, you'll be ok.  If you're a man and would like to maintain the delusion that 'treat them mean, keep them keen' is a valid mantra, you will also be ok.  Other than that, I'd suggest that you tried a better example of what YA fantasy fiction has to offer, like, say Maria Snyder's Study series or Kristin Cashore's Graceling

Wednesday, 26 October 2011

Thoughts on 'Dracula' by Bram Stoker

When it was released in 1897, Dracula was praised as "the sensation of the season" and "the most blood-curdling novel of the paralysed century".  114 years later and Count Dracula continues to haunt modern readers both in Stoker's original words and as the forefather of a whole sub-genre.  You don't need to me to tell you that, even if the vampire craze wasn't what it is, you should read this book.   

The Story


Jonathan Harker, a newly-qualified and fresh-faced solicitor, flits off to Transylvania to take the instructions of the mysterious Count Dracula.  Unsurprisingly, things turn out to not be quite as they seem for poor Mr Harker.

Some time later, shadows start shifting in England when a ship manned only by a corpse is wrecked in Whitby, a beautiful young woman finds herself haunted by night terrors and discovers strange puncture marks on her neck and the inmate of a lunatic asylum builds himself into a frenzy raving about the arrival of the 'Master' and his steady approach. 



My Thoughts

As you might expect, this book is creepy.  Not in a blood-and-gore-everywhere-women-screaming kind of way but in a subtle, building way that will leave you checking over your shoulder while out in the dark even though you have no idea why.  It is a fine example of everything that makes Gothic literature so appealing - thunderstorms over great, looming  asylums for the insane, the sound of howling wolves carried on the wind, mysterious castles and a good amount of hanging around in graveyards.

My favourite thing about the book?  The fact that no detail, no matter how seemingly incidental, is superfluous.  After the story moved back to England, Stoker spends a lot of time building up his characters and 'setting the scene'.  Renfield is a perfect example.  Unsettling though the ramblings of a 'lunatic' no doubt are, there doesn't appear to be much point to the man who eats flies and rambles on.  He's a great distraction for Dr John Seward, of course, but didn't appear to be much more than that.  How wrong I was!  Likewise Lucy's suitors.  Even though their wanton proposals of marriage did irritate me (see later mini-rant...), Lucy's descriptions of them serve as a brilliant introduction to Quincey Morris, Arthur Holmwood and Dr Seward.

I loved pretty much all of the main characters of Dracula.  Mina Murray is a fantastic female character, especially considering the time in which she was written.  She's smart, feisty, devoted and witty.  Most importantly, she doesn't simper or faint.  She may be pretty too (I seem to remember her being so described at some point...).  The band of unlikely heroes (Quincey Morris, Arthur Holmwood, Dr Seward and Dr Van Helsing) are also great.  My undisputed favourite was John Seward for his sensitivity, respect (mostly) in his dealings with Renfield and his selflessness.  Quincey Morris is a close second for just being so refreshingly gung-ho about vampire chasing!

The least appealing aspect of the book for me was a small one but one that grated on my nerves more than once:  how fervently everybody seemed to love Lucy.  For some unusual reason, three men propose to her on one day.  My guess is that we're supposed to be being shown how wonderful she is so that later events have more impact.  Possibly also as a way of binding the characters more tightly together.  For me, though, the abundant declarations of love were unnecessary.  The characters were strong enough without them.

Oh, and perhaps I could have had one or two less of Van Helsing's speeches on science, morals, history etc.  His 'voice' is occasionally tough to read because he's Dutch and his letters/diary entries etc are written authentically in a Dutch-man-speaking/writing-English structure and tone.  It is endearing, in a way, but also hard work.  Bear with him!   

I couldn't write anything about this book, either, without mentioning the obviously incredible atmosphere.  There's a constant feeling that something is lingering around the corner and Stoker writes gloomy, windswept and haunting vistas like nobody I've ever read.  It helps that I visited Whitby only a couple of months ago and had walked up to the Abbey visited regularly by Mina and Lucy and remember saying how desolate it must be in the winter (let's ignore the fact that it was sunny for the time being...) It made it easier to imagine a lot of the scenes there and added an extra layer of disturbing realism. 

Overall:  You probably think you know everything about this book.  In reality, you probably don't.  (Unless you've seen a film version or something, in which case, you're probably right and do know a lot...so shhh...)  There's so much more to this story than a rampaging blood-sucking fiend.  This story is all kinds of dark, deftly woven, extremely clever and genuinely gripping.  It's a must-read for anyone curious about the Count that brought vampires into mainstream fiction and a great choice for a dark, stormy evening.  Just maybe close the curtains first...

Sunday, 23 October 2011

My 'Genre Nemesis': Poetry

I have been meaning to post about 'Dracula' for the past few days but haven't because I can't work out how to sum up the book that is the great-great-great grandfather of the whole vampire extravaganza - I loved it (in spite of myself) so am choosing my words carefully.  Clearly, that is taking a while! 

So instead of that, I will "treat" you to some musings on a genre that I have neglected for years:

POETRY 

You may well now want to pull me apart for describing a whole swathe of literary works as a single genre OR I'm actually right without knowing it.  Either way, the fact remains that I never read poetry.  A fact that I was discussing this very week with a colleague.  He's a big poetry fan so his first question was, "But why?"

Perhaps because my last memory of poetry is the final exam in my English Literature A-Level (sorry, I have no clue what the US equivalent is...).  A three hour paper in which to write two essays: one about Shakespeare's Sonnets; one about The White Devil by John Webster.  These were to include a fair amount of quotations so that we could back up whatever nonsense we chose to spout with 'proof'.  We were not, however, allowed to actually take in copies of either.  And so my most recent poetry experience was learning sonnets off by heart with the sole intention of regurgitating them in a semblance of order and highlighted by some random relevant facts about Shakespeare and/or Webster, as the question dictated.  Fun?  No.  Unsurprisingly, fun it was not...


And just like that, poetry became all about technical terms and linguistics.  I dimly remember my first look through Shakespeare's sonnets and enjoying them but, regrettably, that memory is now blurred into 90 minutes' worth of writing faster than my brain could think.

As so many people do when you tell them you don't like something they love, my colleague decided that he would fix this apparent deficiency of mine by lending me a book cheerily entitled Staying Alive:  Real Poems for Unreal Times edited by Neil Astley.  According to Watersones, it is an "international anthology of 500 life-affirming poems fired by belief in the human and the spiritual at a time when much in the world feels unreal, inhuman and hollow".

I know that I should (a mere 7/8 years after that last fateful experience) try poetry again.  It is silly that I profess to love literature and all things lovely and written but with no small amount of ignorance dismiss a huge volume of work.  So, although this would perhaps be better served as some kind of New Year's Resolution, I plan on taking a couple of months to browse through this anthology and see where it takes me!

Do any of you have genre nemeses?  Do you ever feel the need just to see whether that genre is still quite as hideous as you remember?

Saturday, 15 October 2011

Review: 'The Auschwitz Violin' by Maria Angels Anglada


Date finished: 01 October 2011

Rating: 4 stars

Format: Paperback

Source: Bought

Genre:  Historical fiction; Literary fiction; Non-fiction (in places)

Published: Originally published in 1994; Published by Consair (in English) in September 2011

The Synopsis [taken from Waterstones.com]

In the winter of 1991, at a concert in Krakow, an older woman with a marvelously pitched violin meets a fellow musician who is instantly captivated by her instrument. When he asks her how she obtained it, she reveals the remarkable story behind its origin...Imprisoned at Auschwitz, the notorious concentration camp, Daniel feels his humanity slipping away. Treasured memories of the young woman he loved and the prayers that once lingered on his lips become hazier with each passing day. Then a visit from a mysterious stranger changes everything, as Daniel's former identity as a crafter of fine violins is revealed to all.

The Review

In 2008, Boyfriend and I went to Krakow (and the photos scattered around this review are ones that I took while there).  I was continuously surprised by the city.  It was architecturally beautiful, because World War II was over before it could be invaded and destroyed (unlike, say, Warsaw).  It was kooky and fun with adorable boutique-style restaurants and bars (we spent one evening drinking in a bar where all the tables were renovated Singer sewing machines, for example).  We had already decided that we would visit Auschwitz Birkenau and I thought that would be at least one part of the trip where I knew what to expect.  I knew it would be an emotional day and I knew it would be humbling and would put all of our "problems" into perspective; I just didn't know how emotional and humbling it would turn out to be. 


The scale of the site and the associated horror was for me almost incomprehensible; almost as though it is simply too much to process.  The part that had the biggest impact on me (and that made me cry) was a corridor filled with framed photographs.  Each photograph was a simply shot picture of a woman/man/child in a blue-and-white outfit looking straight at the camera. To this day, recalling the haunted/terrified/devastated looks in the hundreds of sets of eyes can bring me to tears.

This book is the literary equivalent of those photographs.

It's a snapshot of a tragedy that allows you to forget the statistics and remember that those catastrophic numbers were made out of individuals and families who had their own worries, their own battles and their own hopes.  Daniel's story is a tiny part of a huge attrocity.  I think that too often authors attempt to convey the magnitude of the Holocaust and try to impress their readers with the horrifying numbers.  In the end, though, most of us can't really imagine it or understand it.  Or at least, I can't.  What we can understand, however, is Daniel's sense of loss and hope, his physical and emotional torment and his daily fight to survive.

The story is told very simply, as you would expect for a book narrated by a prisoner in a concentration camp.  Daniel is a wonderful character and I'm sure there's something in him for most readers to identify with, which I took to be part of the point.  And in case you were concerned that this would be too introspective, his fictional endeavours are painted against a backdrop of fact.  Indeed, on one of the first pages of the book is the statement:

"Author's Note:  The documents at the beginnings 
of the chapters are authentic"   

These excerpts are extremely well chosen and timed and the balance of Daniel's emotional narrative with terrifyingly clinical documents is perfect.  Because of this elements, I think that it would be nigh impossible to read this book without having at least one moment where you flinch/look away/sneak away to guiltily remind yourself how lucky you are - I know that I did and it was part of what made the book such a powerful one for me. 

In a way, because of the strengths of the book, I was disappointed by the ending.  I know that sounds strange given the subject matter so I won't say any more than that.  I wouldn't want to ruin it for anybody that wants to pick this up and it could well just be me. Don't let it put you off and do let me know if you read this and have any particular thoughts on the matter.

Overall:  There isn't much more to say; only that, despite the vocabulary and sentence structure being relatively basic, this book is obviously not an "easy read".  It is a short book that I think will stick with me for a long time and one I would certainly recommend.

Plaque at Auschwitz-Birkenau  

Monday, 10 October 2011

It's Monday! What Are You Reading? #2



Another wet and gloomy Monday brightened by Book Journey's 'It's Monday! What Are You Reading?'! 

As you may well have noticed if you've stopped by recently, this past week I participated in the Frightful Fall Read-A-Thon.  It was a great way of 'meeting' other bloggers and it was wonderfully hosted by Michelle @ Castle Macabre.


What have I read during the past week?

Most of Dracula by Bram Stoker - I only have a few nail-biting chapters to go so I'm planning on dashing off after writing this to finish it.  You know, so that I have plenty of time to repress it before I have to sleep!

That's it...

What am I currently reading?  Yep, still Dracula!


What am I planning on reading this week?  I have The Way of Shadows by Brent Weeks loaded on to my eReader and ready to go.  That is definitely my first priority!  Hanna @ Booking in Heels (whose blog is a MUST follow!) reviewed the last of the Night Angel trilogy yesterday and, seeing as I trust her taste in books implicitly and apparently am doomed to just follow her reading path, had no choice but to buy the first!  After that, I'll probably just move right on to Shadow's Edge by Brent Weeks.  I'm predictable like that!

Sunday, 9 October 2011

Frightful Fall Read-A-Thon: Wrap-up Post


It turns out that this Read-A-Thon has for me been less about how much I've read and more about what I've read.

Number of books read:  Erm...almost 1!

Number of pages read:  311

I know, it's teeny when compared to those who managed to read multiple books!

But, when I posted my sign-up post, I mentioned my history with Dracula and the irrational vampire phobia it engendered and how this Read-A-Thon was my kick up the behind.  Having now faced down the vast majority of this classic, I'm surprised to say that I've really enjoyed it so far!  Yes, I've had my moments when I've been home alone and it's been dark and windy and I've had to draw all of the curtains in the vicinity and seek refuge in TV and, no, I won't be enjoying the company of bats for the foreseeable future but the book is just so darn well written that it's becoming easier to move past those bits!

On a related aside, having read this now I'm 25, I have no idea how much I can even have understood at 7 (I checked with my mum to make sure my recollection was right about the age).  I was always ahead in the 'reading age' tests at school but still can't imagine how I managed to negotiate Stoker's prose at that age.  Perhaps the version that I found was an abridged version or perhaps I was skipping over the parts that I didn't understand and just grasped enough to appreciate what was scary.  Perhaps, even, I'm underestimating my seven-year-old self!  Obviously, I'll never know but I do wonder...

I won't be reviewing Dracula until about October 16th, as part of the October Group Read at A Literary Odyssey, but it's been an excellent read so far and I'm mostly just kind of relieved that I haven't been reduced to a quivering teary wreck (yet...)! 

I know that Michelle (who blogs both at The True Book Addict and Castle Macabre) has put a ton of work into this Read-A-Thon so I owe most of my Dracula-defeating-gratitude to her - so THANKS!  I have most probably read the least of any of your participants but it's been fun and I've found some great new blogs to follow so, all in all, a good reading/blogging week!

Friday, 7 October 2011

Review: 'Leviathan' by Scott Westerfeld

Date finished: 29 September 2011

Rating: 4 stars

Format: Paperback

Source: Bought

Genre: Alternative History; Steampunk

Published: by Simon & Schuster in May 2010

The Synopsis [taken from Waterstones.com]

Two opposing forces are on the brink of war. The Clankers - who put their faith in machinery - and the Darwinists - who have begun evolving living creatures into tools. Prince Aleksandar, the would-be heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne, comes from a family of Clankers, and travels the country in a walker, a heavily-fortified tank on legs. Meanwhile Deryn Sharp, a girl disguised as a boy, works for the British Empire, crewing the ultimate flying machine: an airship made of living animals. Now, as Alek flees from his own people, and Deryn crash-lands in enemy territory, their lives are about to collide...

The Review

On June 28 1914, Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife Sophia were assassinated in Sarajevo. Following that and a number of selfish moves by some powerful people, World War I started. And so, in a way, does Leviathan.

This story continues to centre around two factions in an alternate version of World War I: the Clankers and the Darwinists. The Darwinists figured out how to 'mix' DNA and life threads to create hybrid creature-machines to breed the weapons and tools that they need to develop their industry and, now, win the war. The Clankers view the Darwinists' activities, however, as ungodly and prefer to rely on engines and pistons to drive their ambitions forward.

Prince Aleksander is the (fictional) son of Franz and Sophia, forced to go on the run from those that want him out of the way of potential supporters. On the road with his former fencing instructor and an expert pilot, Alek finds himself running around the countryside in a tank-on-legs walker and learning how not to be a royally spoiled teen! There are of course some moments in which he is extremely frustrating but, worry not, he does become kind of loveable!

I was also kind of worried about Deryn at first and whether or not she would get on my nerves. As you'd expect for a girl in 1914), her pursuit of a career in the airforce is a big deal. My concern was that Deryn would just go on and on about it and it would get in the way of seeing more of her as a character. As it happens, that wasn't the case at all! Deryn really does fit into the "man's world" that she's chosen and she does so without effort, without moaning and without it detracting from how downright brilliant she is. Her occasional rants about gender inequality, as with everything in this book, just fit. I appreciated her more for just getting on with making herself successful than I would have if she'd shoved her successes in my face all the time. Because that's just the way I prefer things.

The alternative history elements of Leviathan are more deeply ingrained and complex than in other books that only have a vague grounding in a historical period. I won't spoil the book for you by giving you any more details. Suffice it to say, this book is a very clever mix of fact and fiction (with a handy Afterword to tell you which was which, in case you find yourself confused!)

The creature-machine fabrications are fascinating and makes the story full of surprises. Just when you think you know where you are with the whale that's also a flying machine, you're hit with bats that eat metal and then expel it onto unsuspecting enemies. It's unpredictable and just wonderful!

I really enjoyed the moral slant that occasionally creeps in too - genetic engineering and scientific development are hot moral property and frequently discussed in the media. Fortunately, these issues are acknowledged by the characters but are never out of kilter with the book as a whole or its characters. I have read books in the past where the author can't help but use their characters as thinly-veiled mouthpieces for their political/scientific/moral ruminations and it always sticks out horribly. This book, however, has the perfect balance between allowing its readers to consider the implications of scientific advance without having to stomach an essay on it. I respected Westerfeld a lot for trusting in the intelligence of his readers that way.

And in case you've got this far and think that this book is all about science and politics, it isn't. There are plenty of battles (as you'd expect in a war!) to keep things entertaining. Plus, of course, a whole host of the quirky inventions and action that makes steampunk so much fun. The story was a bit slow at first but after about 100 pages, I was utterly hooked and enjoyed every minute!

From reviews I read that were written by people who had also read Behemoth, this book is a lot about setting up the characters and their world so I'm really looking forward to seeing where they're all taken. Needless to say, I will definitely be getting hold of the next instalment (to feed the ever-demanding steampunk addiction!). Particularly now that the last book in the trilogy, Goliath, is also hovering around the blogosphere taunting me.

Overall: There's a fantastic 'Afterword' by Westerfeld that sums up what this book is much better than I ever could:
"So Leviathan is as much about possible futures as alternate pasts. It looks ahead to when machines will look like living creatures, and living creatures can be fabricated like machines. And yet the setting also recalls an earlier time in which the world was divided into aristocrats and commoners, and women in most countries couldn't join the armed forces - or even vote.

That's the nature of steampunk, blending future and past."

Tuesday, 4 October 2011

Frighftul Fall Read-A-Thon: My 'official' sign-up post (and some updates!)

I sort of covered this off yesterday but I wanted to post about Michelle's Frightful Fall again so that I could a) use her pretty picture and b) congratulate myself on my tremendous bravery at starting 'Dracula' by Bram Stoker.

Dracula is one of those books that I've hidden away from for years. When I was (about) 7, my family and I went on holiday to the France. I ran out of books so my dad took me to the library on the site where we were staying. For some reason that I still can't fathom, I chose Dracula and started reading it at the pace I read everything at that age (quickly...). That night I was plagued by nightmares of bats and scary vampires and for years (yes, literally!) slept with my window firmly closed. I read Matilda over and over for the rest of the week to cheer myself up. That stayed with me for years too, as my go-to comfort book! I realise that is all utterly incidental but I thought I'd blab on about why tackling this book is almost cathartic as an intro!

SO my plan for the Read-A-Thon is to take down Dracula. Then, I quite fancy reading The Turn of the Screw by Henry James, because it's been languishing on my eReader for long enough. And, if I make it through both of those without having a nervous episode, I'll have a scout around for either The Woman in Black by Susan Hill or The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson (which looks great, thanks for the recommendation Michelle! :) )

If you fancy joining in with some creepy giveaways and all round pre-Hallowe'en fun, head over to Castle Macabre sharpish!

Read-A-Thon update on 7 October 2011: Ah, annual leave how I love you! The past few days at work have been somewhat hectic and I've only managed to snatch the odd half-hour here or there! I'm 92 pages into Dracula and so far I'm not traumatised, which is nice! Anyway, today I'm off work for the day to use up some annual leave I had hanging around so I'm hoping to get some hardcore reading done! Hope all of you other read-a-thoners are having a great (if scary) time!

Monday, 3 October 2011

It's Monday! What are you reading? (#1)


Coming to you from a gloomy evening in Yorkshire, England is my inaugural 'It's Monday! What Are You Reading?' post! Hosted over at Book Journey helps book bloggers the world over share their past, present and future reads - simple but effective!

So...


What have I read this past week?
I know it won't seem like much to those readers that power through books at a pace that makes me feel inadequate but this has been an excellent week for reading for me and I have actually finished 3 books! That is in no small part owing to the fact that we experienced some rare sun and I took terrible advantage by lounging around in it all Saturday with my eReader...This week's books were:



Leviathan
by Scott Westerfeld

The Auschwitz Violin by Maria Angels Anglada

Fallen by Lauren Kate




Leviathan
and The Auschwitz Violin were both wonderful, although obviously in very different ways. I'm undecided on Fallen for the time being (I only finished it half an hour ago and just can't make up my mind about it!)...

What am I reading now? Oddly enough, nothing! I finished Fallen and turned on my laptop straight away to reload my eReader.

Reading plans for this week: I haven't quite decided yet but I do know that I always need a big kick in the trouser-area to make me even consider picking up anything remotely creepy so I'm thinking that I'm just going to head over to sign up to Michelle's Frightful Fall Read-a-Thon hosted at her Castle Macabre blog - any recommendations for scary(ish!) books that aren't going to leave me sleeping with the light on for the rest of my life are welcome! :)

Saturday, 1 October 2011

Review: 'The Small Hand' by Susan Hill

Date finished: 21 September 2011

Rating: 2.5 stars

Format: eBook

Source: Bought

Genre: Thriller

Published: by Profile Books Limited in September 2010

The Synopsis [taken from Waterstones.com]

Returning home from a visit to a client late one summer's evening, antiquarian bookseller Adam Snow takes a wrong turning and stumbles across the derelict old White House. Compelled by curiosity, he approaches the door, and, standing before the entrance feels the unmistakeable sensation of a small hand creeping into his own, 'as if a child had taken hold of it'. Intrigued by the encounter, he determines to learn more, and discovers that the owner's grandson had drowned tragically many years before. At first unperturbed by the odd experience, Snow begins to be plagued by haunting dreams, panic attacks, and more frequent visits from the small hand which become increasingly threatening and sinister...

The Review

I think that I bought this as part of the frenzy of eBook buying that occured shortly after I got my eReader but can't quite remember. Suffice it to say, this has been lurking around in my electronic life for a long time. Having witnessed the great love that a lot of people have for The Woman in Black by the same author and it being very wintery outside, I figured that a good ghost story would be just the ticket! Sadly, that wasn't to be...

Before I start this review, you should know that I am undoubtedly one of the greatest wimps around - I don't watch horror films (ever!) because I'm deeply impressionable and find myself haunted by horrid images for weeks and I rarely read properly scary books for the exact same reason. I am not difficult at all to creep out. It's a failing, I admit but one that means I can read even marginally creepy books and find them delightfully disturbing. This book was not one of those books and I was greatly disappointed. Once I've decided to ignore my inner coward, I at least want to have some night-time shivers to show for it!

Adam Snow is an antiquarian bookseller that is visiting a rich client when he becomes lost and comes across the ill-fated White House and its dilapidated gardens. I started out really enjoying this book. The scene where Adam first feels the "small hand" in his is ominous and atmospheric. Eventually, though, both the fact that Adam is a bookseller and the 'small hand' become overdone. There isn't a lot of time in 160 pages to build atmosphere and every time I felt the book was going somewhere, Adam disappeared on a business trip and the tone shifted and all of the tension was gone. The small hand appears out of nowhere and the pages crackle but then it's a repeat of what has gone before...

Adam, his brother and the owner of the small hand are the centre pieces and each one of them falls a little short of what you'd hope. Adam quickly becomes whiny and self-pitying, while Hugh is that way from the start. There's some back story there but by the time I "found it out" (some elements are obvious way before The Big Reveal), I just couldn't summon the interest to be shocked or care. The mysterious ghostly presence starts off as unique and intriguing but it just doesn't develop enough. I know the book is short and time for development is limited but I constantly felt that if just some of the superfluous details were cut, we'd have more time for the chills! If you're looking for thrills and goosebumps, this disembodied hand just isn't going to do it for you!

I think a large part of my irritation with this book also stems from the fact that the ending was half-hearted. The last quarter of the book is hinting at and dancing nimbly around a revelation that in the end only half materialises. The Big Reveal fell really flat for me. What I'd already suspected was confirmed but there were no explanations or filling in of the gaps - if anyone's read this one, I'd love to hear what you thought and whether you were left with the same gnawing annoyance as me!

Overall: For such a short book, this has a lot of filler and details that are distracting and turn out not to be relevant. I am struggling to imagine who I would recommend this book to and suppose that's because I wouldn't really recommend it...The characters are only partially drawn and the ghosts are lacklustre - not one to take t0 a campfire with this Hallowe'en, if you ask me!