Book Review: The Kitchen House by Kathleen Grissom

the kitchen housethe kitchen house 1

Book: The Kitchen House

Author: Kathleen Grissom.

Rating: 7/10

The first confession I must make, before beginning this review, is that ‘The Kitchen House’ was not a book I would have ever chosen for myself. Whilst staying in my aunt’s house, my aunt passed on this book to me, as she is quite the avid reader herself. Upon receiving it, I immediately had doubts. It is after all a book based around the topic of slavery in America. Not a subject I was that familiar with and usually would avoid due to the heartbreaking nature of it. However having nothing else to read at that moment in time, I decided to take on the challenge. This book came recommended to my aunt also, so with a book valued in such high esteem, how could I not read it. My second confession to you all, is that I didn’t really quite know what to think of this book, once I had read it. On one hand it is so rich in history and the whole issue of slavery, as it was quite new to me, was quite educating and interesting if not disturbing on so many levels. The characters were captivating and in truth the story was different to anything I have read before, so I should have loved it. However and that is a big however, having completed the book I do not really understand why so many people recommended it. Let me begin my review to explain my thinking.

The novel is set in the Plantation-dominated south and the events take place within the late 1700s and early 1800s. The story itself is based around a tobacco plantation, called Tall Oaks, in Virginia. Almost immediately, the reader is made witness to the harshness of conditions for slaves on these plantations. It is important to note that this is not a happy novel, in fact devastation and tragedy are major themes that occur almost every few pages. The story is told in two point of views, that of a little Irish girl called Lavinia, who has no memory of the events leading to her arrival by ship to America. The captain, not knowing what to do with her, decides to bring her back to his home. Lavinia arrives, shell shocked and mute, terrified of everything around her. She is made an indentured slave and is left to be raised by the family of slaves who run the kitchen house on the estate. However being of white skin means that she is always in some kind of limbo, not truly belonging anywhere. The second narrative is from a slave of mixed race called Belle, who takes the role of surrogate mother to little Lavinia. Belle herself has many dark secrets she keeps under wraps (I cannot really explain, as it is a major plot spoiler).

As Lavinia grows up, her struggle to belong becomes more and more apparent. She cannot understand that while she can play with the children of the wealthy family, she is not one of them, as she is a slave. She also struggles to come to terms with how they treat her adopted family of black slaves. Lavinia constantly struggles with who she should remain loyal too. She desperately wants her kitchen family to love her, like they love their own children, but skin colour sets her apart. So while they love her dearly, she will never truly be one of them and they constantly keep her shielded from the horrific events that occur when in truth, Lavinia needs to witness these horrible events. I feel like there are ‘Mansfield Park’ (Jane Austen) moments to this story. Like in ‘Mansfield Park’, Lavinia is characterised like Fanny Price, insofar that she is the outsider to the wealthy family, whose own children are complete ninnies and like Franny, Lavinia ends up taking care of the ailing mother and family and being the child that the parents wished they had.

In terms of plot development, drama is key to this story, and not necessarily in a good way. There are many antagonists in this story that provide the major drama. There is the overseer of the slaves, who is cruel and abusive in his treatment of them. There is also the heir to the plantation, who transitions from a boy who desperately wants to please his father, to a psychotic adult who is intent to harm anything that comes in his way. This book is filled with melodramatic moments. I literally believe the author threw anything dramatic she could possibly think of, into the mix. The reader will witness rape, alcoholism, drug addiction, affairs, disease, escapes,  mistreatment of slaves, violence, deception, dishonesty and plenty of mystery. I would like to therefore note, that if you are not a fan of overly dramatic novels that this story is not the one for you. I have heard others complain about the overuse of violence and tragedy in the novel. Nonetheless although I found moments such as these a tad bit over the top, I remained determined to finish the novel and I am glad I did.

The story, as previously mentioned, has so much potential. The historical element of slavery is fascinating. I have observed movies relating to slavery before, but this novel goes into so much more detail. The reader will witness the culture of the slaves, through every aspect of the story, such as wedding ceremonies, song singing and religion. Family is a major theme in this novel also. The slaves all band together in unity to protect their own, and Lavinia, having no family herself, desperately wants to be part of this. We also see the comparison between family life with the slaves and that of life in the big house. It is evident which one is more loving.

In terms of characters, there are a lot of characters in the story to follow, and one will often find themselves having to flick back through the book in order to work out who is who again. However the main cast of characters are the backbone to this novel and the author really evokes emotions from sympathy to outrage when tragedy befalls these characters. My favourite character is that of Mama Mae, she is the grandmother everyone would want and her wisdom, wit and passion to protect her own, provide mettle to this otherwise overly dramatic story.

I do not agree that this book should be avoided, as it is a good read, despite its dramatic nature. Like I mentioned previously if you are interested in historical fiction, in particular pertaining to slavery, then I would promote this book to you without hesitation. Fans of ‘The Help’ would probably like this story. However I do advise approaching this, knowing how overly sensational and theatrical it can be. The author is quite a good story teller, and by using two narratives, that of Lavinia and Belle, we see the story from two perspectives, that of a white person and that of a slave. The author’s wording is quite poetic at times. It is as if she is an artist and the story is her easel and we are made witness to the most vivid description of events and characters. Therefore I do believe Ms Grissom has quite a talent as an author in that regard and would recommend you read the book to behold this wonderful story telling method she uses.

Overall, while this is not the best book I’ve ever read, it is one of note. Some will hate it and some will adore it and I think that speaks volumes of a novel, that it can elicit these major responses in readers and is a mark to Kathleen Grissom’s talent as an author. If you are an avid fan of historical fiction concerning the south and slavery, then this is not a novel to be missed. I did love reading it, but only once I had accepted that it was slightly unrealistic in regards to its theatricality. It is very realistic however, in terms of the daily lives of slaves, and how truly terrifying life was like under the command of psychotic and masochistic overseers. It also highlights how complicated it was for the plantation owners to involve themselves in the politics, in order to help the slaves.

Please give the novel a go. It will not be for all of you, but for the select few who do read it, I look forward to discussing the issues in the novel with you.

As always you can message me or leave your opinion below in the comment section. Or contact me on my social media pages below.

The Busiest Bee 🙂

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/thebusiestbeeblog

Twitter: https://twitter.com/thebeeboss

Instagram: www.Instagram.com/thebusiestbee

 

Advertisements

Book Review:Dark Places by Gillian Flynn

Rating: 8/10

Wow. Each time I read a Gillian Flynn novel I come away feeling shell shocked, purely from the dark, sinister workings of her story lines. Dark Places was up there for me in most messed up stories of all time. Who would ever know from looking at a picture of Gillian Flynn, a normal looking mother of two, that she would have such a morbid and sinister imagination. I found her utterly fascinating as a author, and she really encompasses the old saying ‘never judge a book by its cover’.

Onto the story itself, the book begins by giving us a look into the dismal and depressing life of the main character of Libby Day. And as with all Flynn’s characters, this one has huge issues, namely that of being the sole survivor of her family’s massacre when she was only seven years old. A massacre that took the lives of her mother, and two sisters, each killed by an even more grisly death than the first. Despite all this, Libby managed to escape. The massacre was seemingly as a result of a satanic ritual, and the culprit behind it….none other then Libby’s older brother Ben, who has been imprisoned since this fateful day doing life for murder. It is slowly revealed also that Libby herself had aided prosecutors in putting Ben in jail as they apparently coached her into saying what they wanted her to say.

Fast forward twenty five years and the main character Libby is now thirty one, living an absolute shamble of a life, living off the proceeds of a charitable donations that were set up in her name all those years ago. However now the money has run out and now Libby must learn to fend for herself. The reader is faced with the harsh reality of Libby’s life, she is not a likeable character at all, she lives alone with her cat, has a drinking problem and has an urge to steal things from others on a regular basis. She is a social pariah who doesn’t know how to act around people, and this coupled with her horrific past, causes her to become quite the outcast, not fitting in wherever she goes. Libby has lived off other people’s money for so long that she doesn’t even know how to go about getting a job and feels anger and jealousy towards other missing women cases where as she sees it ‘her’ money is now being directed towards. There are no qualms about it, Libby is an appaling human being.

Faced with poverty she finds an unlikely savior in a young man named Lyle. Lyle is a member of a group of people who have an interest in macabre crimes such as Libby’s family’s massacre. The club itself is named ‘The Kill Club’ and its members have so much of an interest in Libby’s past, that they are willing to pay Libby money for memorabilia belonging to her dead family. Yes, these characters are deeply deeply disturbing. Libby seeing this club as her new lifeline, gladly begins to transact with the club passing over old notes given to her by her dead sisters (not morbid at all) to the club for a couple hundred dollars. This is all easy money to Libby of course who doesn’t seem to bat an eyelid in handing over these precious memories to complete strangers.

However a certain branch of the club (a group of deluded women to be exact) are convinced Libby’s brother was innocent of the crimes he was convicted for and confront Libby on her role in incarcerating her brother. Faced with the harsh truth that she could have been used by prosecutors and her memory of the events from that fateful night might actually be completely untrue, Libby soon becomes deeply embroiled in solving her family’s grisly murders. If it wasn’t her brother that killed her family, then who was it?

The book switches between characters and time frames quite effectively. Beginning with Libby in the present day but flashing back to the day of the murders in the points of view of her brother Ben, the suspected murderer, and also their mother and the events that led up to the shocking climax of events that night. Through each of the characters, the reader is left gripping their seat as they try to figure out ‘who did it’ and ‘why’. It is not predictable in any way at all, and each character is just as messed up as the first that the reader will often find themselves wishing they could throw the book at the wall in frustration with these horrible people. Yet you will not be able to put the book down.

What really shocked me in this novel, is the portrayal of the women. We have Libby who is a mess of a woman, who is dependent on people’s charity and cannot form a healthy relationship/friendship with any one. Then we have other female characters who are prostitutes, liars, druggies, attention seekers, blackmailers and the list goes on and on. Never before have I read a book where women were such horrible creatures, but maybe that’s what makes this novel so refreshing. It is not after all the men you have to watch out for, but the women!

There are so many twists and turns in this novel and so many ghastly events that make you feel as if you should feel guilty for reading anything this atrocious, and yet somehow you come out at the end of the reading experience, feeling exhausted yes, but also feeling like your eyes have been truly opened for the first time. Flynn is an excellent writer in this regard, she is not afraid of social norms, the killer is always someone you least expect, never the typical villain but someone who is the wallflower, the innocent turned evil. It is a truly amazing reading experience. It is not an easy read at all in terms of its graphic nature for example the gruesome animal killings and even the family murders described in such detail you feel out of breath by the end of the story.

This book is definitely not for the fainthearted. That is for sure. You will experience a roller coaster of emotions including absolute distress at some parts of the novel. With Gone Girl I found I didn’t really care what happened to the characters at the end as they were so utterly detestable, and with ‘Dark Places’ they are equally as disturbing. However the story is so riveting and Flynn really knows how to reel you in that you will be hooked from beginning to end. It is also so hard nowadays for me personally to find a book where I can’t guess whats going to happen next so for that reason it really appealed to me. It is cold and calculated read, but by God am I awaiting Flynn’s next novel with excitement.

My final verdict, it is well worth a read if you’re looking for something different and if you have a strong constitution for gorey details! It certainly won’t disappoint!

As usual if you have any queries at all comment below or contact me on my social media pages.

The Busiest Bee 🙂

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/thebusiestbeeblog

Twitter: https://twitter.com/thebeeboss

Instagram: www.Instagram.com/thebusiestbee

 

Book Review: The Last Summer by Judith Kinghorn

15751752last summer newversion

Book: The Last Summer

Author: Judith Kinghorn

Rating: 9/10

I would love to share my review of one of the loveliest books I’ve ever read. ‘The Last Summer’ by Judith Kinghorn, an epic love story, set against the background of the outbreak of World War One.

Others have likened this novel to ‘Downton Abbey’, and I understand the comparison. However I do feel this novel portrays more than just the romance of the era, it also gives an in depth view of it’s rather less romantic issues such as the evils of war, the harshness of class divisions and utter tragedy of roads not travelled for if they had been happiness would have been achieved. Nonetheless, fans of the award winning show will adore this novel, and it echoes the works of such renowned authors such as Jane Austen. 

The novel begins, following the story of the sixteen going on seventeen year-old Clarissa Granville, who’s naive and eager personality immediately draws the reader in. Clarissa is the daughter of some-what wealthy parents who purchase ‘Deyning Park’ from an impoverished earl. Clarissa lives, in a life of innocent bliss, with her parents and three brothers. As with any girl of that age in this era, the only thing of import weighing on their minds, is making one’s début into society and ensnaring a wealthy, well connected husband. However Clarissa’s sheltered existence is brought swiftly down to earth with the arrival of Deyning Park’s housekeeper’s son, Tom Cuthbert. Although attending university and patroned by a mysterious benefactor, and being a ‘guest’ of Clarissa’s brothers, the class distinction between Tom and the Granville’s is ever present. Tom is the quiet, gentle, dashing and brooding type of character that every reader loves, and it isn’t much of surprise to discover Clarissa’s feelings for him begin to deepen. He awakens part of her soul she never knew existed, and he is equally enthralled by her charming, innocent personality. She begins to realise the selfishness of her class and Tom is testament to her becoming an altogether better person, who the reader can truly relate to. There are a lot of heart achingly sweet moments, where Tom and Clarissa engage in secret rendezvous’, and again I will say these moments are reminiscent of Jane Austen. 

However with happiness also comes despair in such novels such as these, and it isn’t long before Clarissa’s world begins to shatter around her. For the ‘Great War’ breaks out, stealing Clarissa’s brothers and Tom away. Tensions and miscommunication force Tom and Clarissa apart even further. Other forces such as Clarissa’s parents, also try to keep the two apart, fearing the social repercussions that may occur if Clarissa is left to follow her heart. As a result different emotions begin to emerge from this once beautiful romance. Jealousy, anguish and disappointment are emotions that are to the fore of this novel and the reader will find themselves so utterly frustrated that the two characters do not realise that they love each other and are too distracted by others to realise it. Sigh.

Nonetheless, Tom and Clarissa are bedazzled by each other, and are magnetised by an invisible force, that even when they have other commitments… (trying not to spoil the plot here), they cannot help giving in to their feelings for one another. One could argue that this is quite an unhealthy obsession, Tom is the Heathcliff to Clarissa’s Cathy, and how their love for another is almost damaging and tragic. Events occur which further causes Tom to distance himself. When he finally returns, it appears that he has become a different man, with a huge fortune in tow and finally garners the attention he so deserves. The events in this novel take place over a sixteen year period, so prepare yourselves for a long, but excellent love story.

I found this novel to be so enlightening. Before when reviewing another novel, I had mentioned how I couldn’t stand the indulgent, spoiled, little girls with rich daddies. However, Clarissa’s character literally changed my opinion of the aforementioned type of girl character. This is where the author’s talent lies, in my opinion, as she allows the reader to actually relate to someone you would never think you could relate to before. For example we see the world of pre-world war England through Clarissa’s eyes as she grows into adulthood and faces the harsh realities of her class, gender, love, and her inner battle to find her place in the world. The author elegantly portrays such personal upheaval with such magical descriptions that are so powerful and emotive, it is with such ease that the reader immediately identifies with the characters. Here is a passage from the novel that demonstrates the author’s talent:

“the vibration of change was upon us and I sensed a shift: a realignment of my trajectory. It was the beginning of summer and, unbeknown to any of us then, the end of a belle époque…”

In terms of other characters, Other readers who have read this novel, have expressed to me that they view Clarissa as quite the feminist, but I do not really think this is the case, or if it is, its more of a subdued part of her character. I think having come from the background she has, the social constraints were quite difficult and when finally giving the freedom to do what she wants, she literally throws herself into a lifestyle that does have a touch of scandal attached to it. Does that make her a feminist??? Not really sure myself, perhaps I shall leave that up to you avid readers to decided. On the topic of Tom Cuthbert, he is everything you could possibly want in a male lead. Courageous, gentle, dedicated, and terribly handsome are just some adjectives I would use to describe him. Yet I must admit that due to certain actions he takes in the second half of the novel, I was utterly baffled and disappointed in his ability to handle certain issues (really trying hard not to spoil for you lovely readers!). Also his treatment of other characters was a bit shocking at times. Despite this, the reader must remember that all that Tom Cuthbert does, is with Clarissa in mind, so try to ponder on that when you feel the need to throttle him, imaginatively of course.😉 I loved the upstairs, downstairs aspects of the novel also, the staff of ‘Deyning Park’ all provide wonderfully to this lovely novel.

Overall, I love this novel most dearly and I beseech you all to pick up a copy. If you are an avid reader of historical fiction pertaining to the first world war, and also love a good forbidden romance story, then this is the book for you my dear friends. Judith Kinghorn is an amazing author, who would even make reciting the phone book sound amazing! Her magical descriptions of events, emotions and characters are simply divine. I understand some might not like this kind of novel, each to their own, but I genuinely loved it and would recommend it most sincerely. 

As always please feel free to give your opinion, I love to get feedback. 

The Busiest Bee 🙂

Book Review: The Alchemist’s Daughter by Katherine McMahon

alchemists daughteralchemists-daughter[1]

Book: The Alchemist’s Daughter.

Author: Katherine McMahon.

Rating: 5/10

 It has taken me such a length of time to finish this book, and not all due to the hectic days I have been having, but also because I found this novel utterly disappointing. It bothers me to no end, that the first review I must write after so long, is a negative one. Alas, I have promised to give honest reviews and so I must proceed with this one much to my own reluctance.

‘The Alchemist’s Daughter’ is set in the early 1700s onwards and tells the tale of Emilie Selden, a quiet, sheltered girl who has been raised in an old run down family estate in Bukinghamshire, almost in captivity if you ask me, by her philosopher father, a well renowned alchemist and scientist. whose aim is to make Emilie his apprentice and sees her, a female, as an experiment also. Emilie craves attention and more importantly love and affection. Her father although apparently raising her lovingly, and gifting her with his teachings of alchemy, has moulded Emilie into a well educated young lady, capable of holding debates with most learned of men. Emilie herself, a curious girl desperate to make her father happy, loves alchemy and treasures the moments spent with her father, in his unending search for the theory of what causes fire. Emilie also seeks the truth of who her mother was, and as her father is so unwilling to impart his knowledge of her mother, Emilie lives in a state of utter frustration, as she tries to come to terms with who she is and what her role is in the world. However it soon becomes apparent to the reader, that even though Emilie is highly educated, she is completely clueless about how women should behave and has simply no idea what the real world is like. 

Emilie’s sheltered existence comes under threat by the arrival of two men, polar opposites, who both become enamoured by Emilie’s beauty and intelligence. Reverend Shales is a quiet, kind man who is besotted with Emilie and encourages her curiosity but with less emphasis on Alchemy, since he is a reverend and is duty bound to disagree with the laws of Alchemy. Aislabie, is a flamboyant, charismatic, passionate man who sets his sights on Emilie, but secretly has ulterior motives. Emilie being so clueless and naive, allows herself to be seduced and destroys everything her father had been dreaming for in a simple selfish act, in her search for affection that has been lacking in her life up to this moment. Emilie’s small world is soon torn apart, as she now finds herself in a universe in which she knows nothing of, and must act a role she has never been trained for. Heartbreak and loneliness become huge themes in the novel following these events as Emilie is led down a path, she should never have gone.

I hated this novel. I cannot believe I am saying this as in theory the novel has everything needed to become a success. It has a wide range of interesting characters, it provides an in depth look at alchemy and the fascination scientists had for it in the 1700s. It provides a fascinating love story with plentiful love scenes that would make any reader blush. It has many moral arguments that any reader would like to sink their teeth into. Yet for some reason I was so utterly frustrated by this novel. The first half of the novel crawled by for me personally, I kept finding myself putting the book down. The second part of the novel, even though it picked up pace and contained much more exciting moments than the first half, was so full of over the top, dramatic, baffling moments that I started counting pages to see how much left of the book I still had to read before it was over.

The whole theory of Alchemy, although interesting and mildly captivating, was detailed in such a complicated manner, that a lot of it for me went over my head. I found myself yawning through the scenes in which Emilie and her father perform numerous experiments, when I should have been suffering from ‘mind blowness’ as I would like to call it. Although the author clearly did a lot of research on the topic which is what any reader would want, I do believe she could have written it in a more straightforward manner. Not all of us understand the scientific nature of the world and do in fact need it to be ‘dumbed’ down for us mere mortals. 

That being said, I was willing to overlook this issue had I been able to relate to the characters more. However this was not the case. I wanted to fell sorry for Emilie, as would any reader, for living such a uneducated existence when it comes to the real world and what would be expected of her in it. After all, had her father simply imparted pieces of information regarding her mother and even given Emilie the slightest bit of affection, he would have armoured her instead of leaving her defenceless to the evils of the world. Instead of feeling empathetic for Emilie, I felt such a deep level of annoyance with her character. Aislabie is clearly a rake, and no matter how naive someone is, his arrogance and seductive manner would have sent clear warning signs to even the dumbest of characters. She could have clearly gone down a safer path with the Reverend Shales but no, that would have been too easy and wouldn’t have provided the reader with such a overly dramatic plot.

Emilie also is unwilling to see things from others perspectives, she does not understand that the world is a complicated place in which people make decisions and that there are consequences to such decisions. She is altogether quite selfish at times, but again this is due to her ridiculous upbringing. She is the result of ‘the sins of the father’ so to speak. She is both emotionless/heartless and yet emotional at the same time, it is as if the author couldn’t decide what kind of character she wanted to create. Detached is the word I would use to describe this character. There are certain scenes in the novel where I literally wanted to shout at her character for being so deficient and gutless. Even though one must admit that she is also a different kind of female, then is expected for that era, it would have simply be unheard of for a female to have an education like Emilie has. Nonetheless I found her character spineless when I wanted her to stand up for herself and make her mark. For example If someone was forcing me to change myself, to tear down my family home and give up a career that was once so important to me, to fit into a mould of a perfect wife, I would not stand around and do absolutely nothing, and allow an attractive man to distract me from this, by using affection as a tool. I just do not understand it, and why anyone would want to write a character such as this, is astonishing to me.

I also resented the other characters in the novel, who could have stepped in at any moment to prevent Emilie’s downfall. Mrs Gill for example, the only motherly figure Emilie knew, practically turned her back to Emilie when she needed her most. Even Reverend Shales, for all the good he represented, could have whisked Emilie away from such a dreadful path. Instead he just warns her vocally and very insipidly, instead of actually doing something in an act of prevention. Once again in relation to her father, by keeping Emilie oblivious to the outside world, he set her on this depressing life journey. It is his fault, in my opinion, that all these events occurred. He created Emilie in his image, and while that image might work for him, it does not work for a young woman in the 1700s who hasn’t a clue how women act in this era. It was all so utterly frustrating to me as a reader. 

What I also don’t understand, is what kind of novel McMahon is trying to achieve. Is it historical fiction? or is it trying to be a scientific fiction? or a bodice ripping romance? I shall leave it to you readers to determine should you wish to read this novel, but I was completely confused as to what kind of novel I was reading. The first part of the novel, as mentioned previously details so much scientific inquiry, that is so complex, that one does feel they are reading a scientific journal. However the addition of historical figures such as Isaac Newton and various other famous philosophers, and the various mentions of how these famous characters brought about the age of enlightenment, challenging the church and whatnot, has lead me to believe it could be a historical fiction. Then there is of course the various amorous scenes in the novel, that would allow it to compete with any Mills and Boon novel. Its genre is terribly confusing as a result. 

Overall for me, it was a terrible novel and one I would not recommend to my dearest friends.I must begrudgingly admit that although I found the events in the novel terribly predictable, from the second part of the novel onwards, I could not put the book down. Even though I knew what was going to occur and knew that it would not be the ending I would like, I still persisted reading through it and was disappointed at the end as I foresaw. In fact the ending was so lifeless it is as if the author gave up. I am of the opinion that once I start a book, I must always finish it. However I really wish that after the first half of this novel, I should have realised it wasn’t going to get any better and I should have put it down, even though it goes against everything I believe in as a reader. I was actually aghast when reading other reviews of this novel that some readers actually quite liked the story. Nonetheless I do realise everyone has their own opinion on what works for them when it comes to novels. This unfortunately did not work for me. 

As always, please feel free to leave a comment on my blog or twitter page, I love getting feedback.

The Busiest Bee 🙂

Book Review: Supernatural Ghost Busting Series

Reviews

May I begin by saying that like most people I approach the supernatural genre with reluctant intrigue. It is not that I am ashamed of reading the paranormal, but I do understand that when one wants to recommend books to others, a supernatural book would not be the first on my list only out of fear of appearing altogether ridiculous. However the supernatural genre has always and will always be a guilty pleasure of mine and it is only with choice friends can I really indulge in discussion over such books. I wish it wasn’t so but alas the real world is a cruel one where we all are judged based on our interests. However having been raised on back to back episodes of TV shows such as Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Charmed, the supernatural genre is in my blood and unfortunately for some, it isn’t going anywhere any time soon. So without further ado I shall begin my latest review of a new ghost busting series by a talented author Simone St. James. 

Haunting-of-Maddy-Clare-400download18114136

Oh yes, even the name of the author sets the tone for this captivating book series. Simone St. James, what a brilliantly refreshing name. I congratulate the author on it’s brilliance. Now as to the books themselves. ‘The Haunting of Maddy Clare’, ‘An Inquiry Into Love And Death’ and the last ‘Silence for the Dead’, this is the order of the books in the series also.

In the first book, The Haunting Of Maddy Clare, we meet our heroine, Sarah Piper, in the post World War one era. Society is a most depressed state, and Sarah herself adds to this depressive background. She seems to have no family or friends and very little to call her own. Sarah is a temp worker and the novel begins with her being assigned to assist a rather radical ghost hunter by the name of Alistair Gellis, a scarred world war one soldier, who is tracking down a ghost who hates men hence the need for Sarah’s presence. Sarah in need of quick funds accepts the job offer. The story is quite fast paced and literally begins once Sarah accepts the position. We meet a variety of colourful characters, including the aloof and mysterious Matthew Ryder who is physically scarred from the war and has an almost overbearing demeanour, but opposites attract which is evident from this novel as Matthew is the love interest for the wet rag that is Sarah. Perhaps a harsh criticism of a character, but throughout the book I find myself at odds with her character, I found her quite the damsel in distress at times, and wanted to shout at her to grow a backbone. However I must admit the other characters balance the naivety of Sarah rather well, but altogether very clear male/female roles in the story. As for the story itself, perhaps a tad predictable in certain areas but as a whole rather enjoyable, with plot twists galore, numerous hair-raising moments and a moment or two of saucy scenes. I would recommend it for those who love a good spine chilling horror with a gothic twist. Also a must for World War One fans and romance lovers naturally. Overall rating: 8/10

 

In the second book of the series, we meet quite a different heroine by the name of Jillian Lee, an Oxford student, who from the outset would rather remain in college then clear out a house that belonged to her recently and suddenly deceased uncle Toby, who fell to his death off a cliff. The major difference with this character compared to the first novel is that she seems to be from an exceedingly wealthy background. Her parents are away holidaying somewhere and so it is left to poor Jillian to gather together her Uncle’s possessions, which she is only doing out of duty having no real connection to her aloof uncle. Her uncle Toby lived in a seaside village with nosy neighbours, whose comings and goings seem to be quite odd. It doesn’t take Jillian long to realised that all is not what it appears to be, eerie incidents begin to take place in Uncle Toby’s little cottage and Jillian begins to discover secrets about her Uncle that she never knew, the most prominent being that he was a ghost hunter. And so we find a common ground with St. James first novel. Everyone is convinced her Uncle committed suicide, but Jillian is determined to prove that his death was not intentional and so joins forces with a charming and alluring Scotland Yard Inspector Drew Merriken, who believed that Toby’s death was as a result of murder. Drew himself, as usual with these books, has a dark past himself and the two find themselves drawn together, quite physically and quite a lot!😉 In fact their relationship tends to take away from the actual plot of the story due to the insistence that these characters just can’t stay away from each other, so this in my opinion hinders the pace and richness of the plot, to the point I actual found myself shouting at the character to ‘just get on with it’! I think it is the background characters that make this story intriguing with their suspicious ways, you find yourself acting as you would in a game of cluedo, guessing who is the killer and what was their motive. I found it quite difficult to attain a connection with the main character, and her relationship with Drew annoyed me to no end. Particularly with him being a ladies man his whole life, he can suddenly switch off this side of his personality because he’s suddenly found the one in the uninteresting character of Jillian. Overall one cannot ignore the fact that St. James is a pro at the game of suspense. Her clever plot thickenings and twists give any reader the thrill of the journey to discover the truth, but in the series itself, an Inquiry lacks the pace and well roundedness of the other books and would be my least favourite I must admit. Overall rating: 6.5/10

 

This leads us to the last and most recent book in the series (one more still to come in April 2015). Silence for the dead, is in fact my favourite of the book series. I shall try to explain why but first I’ll give the plot summary. In this book we meet the rather amusing and brazen character of Kitty Weekes, who although is the worst named character of the book series to date, is beyond my favourite. From page one the mystery that surrounds Kitty, who seems to be on the run from something or someone, immediately captures the attention of the reader. She is not your normal heroine in this book series. She is no damsel in distress (hallelujah!) and so overturns the usual male/female roles. At the beginning of the book we see her lying to obtain a position as a nurse in a hospital dedicated to the care of troubled World War One veterens, who have been left shell shocked by the horrors they have faced in the war. This hospital has an altogether Gothic name of Portis House, and a Gothic setting seeing that it can only be reached by a bridge as it is built on an island. So basically if any storms occur or if any spine chilling incidents occur, the inhabitants of the hospital are on their own. Literally. The hospital itself has seen better days, the place is practically falling apart, there is not enough staff to run the grounds or the hospital itself. Most of the building has been abandoned and was left in disarray quite abruptly by it’s previous owners (which is one of the main plots in this story). This story is not as predictable as the others and the characters themselves have to be some of the best I’ve ever imagined reading. This is a true Gothic novel. From page one we are given the plot, the problem and the person who is set upon solving a mystery. Kitty is a vivacious and brave character, if not a little bit nosey, who realises all is not what it seems in this dilapidated hospital and sets about trying to solve the mystery. Then enters the mysterious, aloof and magnetic character of Jack Yates, or patient sixteen, who Kitty is warned to stay away from, but as per usual with these kind of characters their fates are always entwined. Yates really did appeal to me as the surprising hero in the story, his back story is intriguing and his connection and how his relationship with Kitty develops, is compelling and entertaining. The other characters also balance the plot, the Matron, who at the beginning of the story catches on to the fact Kitty is not what she seems, but is desperate for the help in the hospital, and almost admires Kitty’s deviousness. We have plenty of antagonists in the story to choose from and keep us guessing who is behind the mysterious goings on. We have a brave, outspoken and slightly reckless female lead. We have a compelling love story, we have a haunting and a murderous plot, all set against a back drop of the miseries of war. Once more St. James proves herself as a capable suspense writer and I must congratulate her on this gem of a story. 

Overall rating: 9/10

 As per usual, I’d love to hear your comments/opinions!

The Busiest Bee :)

Book Review: Outlander by Diana Gabaldon

Book: Outlander 

Author: Diana Gabaldon

Rating 10/10

Quite possibly one of the best books I’ve ever read. That is how I would like to open this review. From page one of this novel the reader is bombarded by an assortment of characteristics that immediately attack the senses. The richness of the language used, the colourful characters, the scenic landscapes that you can vividly imagine, the charm of the Scottish and most importantly the intense, passionate love story that is the heart of this novel, lays the groundwork for this epic best-seller by the author Diana Gabaldon. Wow. This is a book that truly left me breathless from the outset and throughout.

So what is it about? As plainly as I can put it without giving too much away, Outlander is a story based around the strong willed character of Claire Randall, who throughout the novel both infuriates and delights me with her brazen, domineering personality. At the start of the novel we meet her as a world war two nurse who has finally reunited with her husband, Frank Randall, for a much needed second honeymoon, after being separated due to their duties in the war. The couple decide on Inverness as their honeymoon destination as Frank is trying to trace an ancestor of his by the name of Captain Jack Randall. Whilst his head is stuck in the books, our self assured heroine decides to wander around the area, in search of flowers and plants and visits the infamous ruins of standing stones by the name of Craigh na Dun. Claire touches one of the stones and faints, the stone turns out to be some kind of time travelling machine and when we next meet Claire she wakes up in a completely different era, the 18th century to be exact. (history recap, it’s the eve if the Scottish Jacobite rebellion)

After a being assaulted by a man who looks oddly like her husband, she is rescued by a band of kilted Scots,led by a grumpy but captivating man called Dougal MacKenzie, who naturally upon hearing her accent presumes her to be a spy for the British, a ‘Sassenach’ meaning outlander. Claire tries to prove her worth by using her medical training to re-align a dislocated shoulder of one of the Scots, a Jamie MacTavish (or Jamie Fraser as he is later known). Jamie of course becomes the second half of the novel’s love story but all will be explained in time. Claire is taken back to their Clan leaders home, Castle Leoch. Here Claire has to prove herself, using her medical knowledge, to persuade the Clan leader, Colum MacKenzie, Dougal’s brother, that she is not a spy. However Claire’s headstrong qualities result in her ending up in the most dangerous of situations,as she tries to escape the suspicious Scots to try and find her way back to Craigh na Dun. Her bids for escape become more and more futile, and desperate, Claire feels utterly and physically lost, but she has an unlikely ally in the dashing, brave and charming red head, Jamie, who has secrets of his own. With this in mind, the two strike up an interesting friendship and Claire keeps finding herself utterly drawn to his company. 

And so begins one of the greatest love stories of all time. Torn between her loyalty to her husband in the 20th Century, but emotionally and politically tied to Jamie (trying so hard not to give too much away), Claire is ultimately faced with a choice, does she use her knowledge of history from the 20th century and chose to live a life in 18th century Scotland? Or does she remain loyal to a husband that she has been parted from for years due to the Second World War? 

Oh the suspense! This book is fast paced, but at the same time takes forever to get through, as there is so much back story, characters introduced and plot thickenings, that you must concentrate in order to get your head around it all. The story supplies you with everything you would want in a novel: adventure, mystery, romance, history, murder and lots and lots of drama. The romantic moments are often so intense that one might find themselves blushing and thinking that Game of thrones has nothing on the love scenes in Outlander!😉However everything fits right in this book, the romance between Jamie and Claire is so enlightening and really over turns male/female roles at times. Claire is the teacher and Jamie is the student. However their passionate arguments also portray Jamie in a truly macho, man protects the woman role too. It’s all utterly contradicting, it’s brilliant!

What truly shocked me about the novel however, is the depth of violent happenings that occur throughout the novel. From witch trials to rape to female beatings to public whipping, I was left sick to my stomach with the graphic nature of these scenes. The reader is truly left gasping for breath, It’s shocking in nature and how the author captures the depravity of these situations is truly genius. I have read a lot of books in my time, and never have I come across such harrowing accounts of violence and such emotionally charged scenes. This is what sets Outlander apart from any other type of novel in this genre. With most books one begins to predict how the story will conclude, but I can assure you most certainly, you will never, ever predict this one.

This leads me to question what I like and dislike about the book itself. One issue I always return to, is my liking of the main character Claire Randell. On a whole, she is everything a woman would like to be, she has a career, she is smart, educated, charismatic and attractive sounding. However as Claire is sent back in time to 18th century Scotland, issues with the character begin to appear. Yes she is clever, but really for that particular day and age I don’t think she should have been so outspoken. In many scenes in the book she comes out as rude and insulting to characters that are quite high up in the pecking order and could annihilate her in mere seconds. And yes I understand her need to return to her real world and be reunited with her husband, but after she invests so much emotionally and physically with Jamie, I find it hard to sympathize with her character when she acts so stupidly and disregards things Jamie has done for her. As to the other characters, they’re all fantastic, well rounded beings that all play a pivotal role in the story. Jamie is perfect as the hero of the story, and the author perfectly balances his ego with a glimpse of innocence now and then. However another issue that I must raise is this so called ‘innocence’ of Jamie, again without giving too much away, I found it very hard to believe that in that day and age, he would be so uneducated about the goings on in the world. Don’t even get me started on how he must punish Claire in one of the scenes of the book, which I’d love to get feedback on people’s opinions of this particular event. It was shocking and unethical but I suppose that is the aim of the author.

Overall however, this book is the most provocative, thrilling, stimulating, intriguing, dramatic, breath taking, shocking, spine-tingling, rip-roaring (I could go on with the adjectives for days) book I have read in a long time if not ever! The author magically gives us this time travelling world that is both realistic and magical. She gives us this epic love story which is the heart beat of the plot, these two characters that are so charismatic, we feel as if we know them. The historical aspect also adds to the drama and flair of the era and provides the reader with an insight into life back then, Also the use of the Scottish accent and dialogue adds to the charm of the novel and really makes the reader want to pack their bags and head to the highlands as soon as possible. 

I could not recommend this book enough and I am thoroughly eager in awaiting comments/opinions from anyone who has also read this book and enjoyed it as much as I did. I would also like to point out that by the end of the book I was trying so hard to slow down my reading speed so I could savour the story while it lasted a bit longer.

I await your comments with delight!

The Busiest Bee.