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Sarah W (North West London)
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The English Monster (Charles Horton 1)
The English Monster (Charles Horton 1)
by Lloyd Shepherd
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.99

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Over-ambitious scope and a disjointed story, 16 Feb. 2015
I really wanted to like this novel, it sounded so promising and very much 'my thing' given its setting and themes. It started well, the first couple of chapters were beautifully written and conjured up London scenes and characters, but that early promise quickly petered out. I found the two narratives disjointed and the endless movement backwards and forwards in time distracting and irritating. It was clear the author had done plenty of research - all too clear, as parts of the story sounded as if this was simply being paraphrased by characters - but the scope of the story was too ambitious and came at the price of characterisation and coherence. I'm afraid I gave up more than halfway into the book as it didn't engage me and I never felt inclined to pick it up. Perhaps, had I persisted, it would have picked up or concluded so spectacularly it would have been worth the effort, but I didn't enjoy what I read of it so decided to cut my losses. I feel the author was trying to do too much too soon in his debut novel, perhaps subsequent works might be worth a try.


The Quincunx: The Inheritance of John Huffam
The Quincunx: The Inheritance of John Huffam
by Charles Palliser
Edition: Paperback
Price: £16.99

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A work of crazy genius that explores (and creates) obsession!, 16 Feb. 2015
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The Quincunx is a compulsive masterpiece of a novel, offering genuine escapism. It is a brilliant page-turner, a hidden story within a story, a perfectly-proportioned Victorian pastiche presenting a mystery that keeps you up all night and leaves you wondering at the end (and wanting to return to the beginning to examine the plot in more detail). It is incredibly intricate and lengthy but never dull. I dashed through the roller-coaster narrative, reading like a child, unable to discipline myself to pause and reflect; I just wanted to know what happened next. Palliser is a brilliant story teller, first and foremost, and to appreciate the plot and unravel the hidden story, I think you need to re-read the novel, which is something I intend to do in the not-too-distant future. The Author's Afterword hints at some of the mysteries to revisit and tempts you back to Chapter 1. One warning to the reader: this book can become an obsession. It has spawned a blog forum that has been running for more than 10 years where interpretations and theories are still being discussed and hotly-debated! Nobody has claimed to be able to explain every single element despite endless re-readings and reseach. If that all sounds a bit much and you would prefer to start with a shorter novel of Palliser's, I would also recommend his most recent work, Rustication (an excellent 'gothic puzzler' - to quote the Guardian review - a joy to read, though not quite as compelling as The Quincunx to my mind). I have just bought The Unburied and am expecting more sleepless nights ahead?!


Gillespie and I
Gillespie and I
by Jane Harris
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.99

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A first class Victorian gothic thriller, 5 April 2013
This review is from: Gillespie and I (Paperback)
This perfectly-paced Victorian gothic thriller is worthy of six stars and is certainly one I will read again. Filtered through the eyes of intriguingly unreliable narrator, Harriet Baxter (respectable, elderly, articulate and waspishly witty) it looks back on the life and untimely death of artist Ned Gillespie, the events leading up to this and Ms Baxter's not insignificant part in these.

The story unfolds gradually, keeping the reader guessing; it is never slow and every detail is relevant. At times unsettling, at others, downright menacing, this novel is as entertaining and psychologically complex as the narrator herself. Author Jane Harris plays on the reader's expectations, toying with us until the very end, but leading us effortlessly to a satisfying conclusion, via stylish prose and masterful storytelling.

Reminiscent of Sarah Waters at her very best (Fingersmith; Affinity; The Little Stranger), this novel is well worth reading. As you may be able to tell, I cannot recommend it highly enough!


Florence and Giles
Florence and Giles
by John Harding
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.99

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Better than The Turn of the Screw!, 5 April 2013
This review is from: Florence and Giles (Paperback)
I read this last year and it was my book of the year. The narrator's hugely original voice can be a little off-putting at first, but stick with it, this is a stunningly well-written, page-turner of a ghost story, along the lines of The Turn of the Screw (but much more disturbing, to my mind). It grips the reader's attention from beginning to end and keeps you guessing. If you love a ghost story/gothic horror/psychological thriller, this is absolutely for you.


Human Remains
Human Remains
by Elizabeth Haynes
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.99

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A very average thriller, 5 April 2013
This review is from: Human Remains (Paperback)
I found this a little slow, lacking in tension and bogged down with slightly dull details about working as an analyst (it's what the author does, she couldn't help it). There was an interesting theme of loneliness which could have been explored more fully, but the narrator came across as inhibited and charmless rather than having hidden depths. I found her depressing, it was a relief to return to the exploits of the anti-hero, whose crimes and psyche were at least a little more intriguing. I read the novel to the end and didn't hate it, but had I lost it halfway through, I wouldn't have sought out a new copy.


Blue Monday
Blue Monday
by Nicci French
Edition: Hardcover

57 of 62 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Disjointed and disappointing, 30 May 2011
This review is from: Blue Monday (Hardcover)
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I've read all Nicci French's novels - often in hardback - and have mostly enjoyed them for what they are: better-than-average psychological thrillers with intriguing scenarios, pacey plots and genuine tension. Unfortunately, 'Blue Monday' is one of my least favourite, with a bitty - very unlikely - plot that doesn't really add up, sketchy characterisation and a complete lack of tension. It's easy to snare the reader's attention with a story about kids going missing, but the plot doesn't deliver. There is a twist, which comes too late, and is not very original. It feels like this book has been written to launch a new series and is more about introducing the heroine and her associates than telling a compelling story. In fact, it feels written with a TV series in mind.

Psychotherapist Frieda Klein is a promising protagonist, a self-composed, quirky loner who is 40-something, single and seemingly comfortable in her own skin. However, I didn't engage with her, and we are told about her characteristics, rather than discovering them in the course of the writing. The supporting characters are either window-dressing or devices. In most (if not all) of their previous books (husband and wife writing team) Nicci French have written first person narrative, which is an easy way of drawing the reader into the world - and mind - of the central character. Here, third person narration is used, requiring more skillful, consistent writing in order to weave together different perspectives and threads of plot. The writing falls short. I could almost 'feel the joins' where it ought to have been seamless.

I hate to be so negative, having enjoyed earlier novels such as 'Land of the Living' and 'Beneath the Skin' but 'Blue Monday' didn't work for me; if it is the start of a new series, I'll give the next one a go, but that might well be my lot!
Comment Comments (9) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Aug 1, 2015 9:54 PM BST


My Last Duchess
My Last Duchess
by Daisy Goodwin
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.99

4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Superior, but not superb, historical romance, 28 Feb. 2011
This review is from: My Last Duchess (Paperback)
This debut novel, by journalist Daisy Goodwin, is the pleasantly enjoyable, but not deeply complex, story of an American heiress thrust into the midst of 19th century English aristocracy. (Cash poor Brits allying themselves with nouveau riche Americans, Downton Abbey style!) It's nicely-written, entertaining, borrows atmosphere (a little shamelessly) from Daphne du Maurier's Rebecca, and has an unexpected - but arguably refreshing - ending. However, it's an age-old story, dialogue is somewhat naive and awkward in places, and the characterisation slightly stereotyped. Edith Wharton it ain't!


Snow Storms In A Hot Climate
Snow Storms In A Hot Climate
by Sarah Dunant
Edition: Paperback
Price: £9.99

4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Tense and intriguing thriller, 27 Feb. 2011
I highly recommend this tense, intelligent thriller which explores the nature of relationships between several key characters, while delivering a compelling story centred around the cocaine trade. Narrated by complex, emotionally self-contained Marla, through whose eyes the story is filtered (she is not unreliable, exactly, but she is certainly not unbiased; her account should be considered in light of her personality trains, secrets and obessions that come to light as the story progresses), the plot unravels gradually without recourse to obvious twists or cheap thrills. The ending is intriguing: simultaneously fixed and open to interpretation. There are few 'black & white' certainties in this novel, simply interpretations. My only small criticism is that while this was, for me, a page-turner, read in a matter of days, arguably there was scope to ratchet up the tension a little further in places. Excellent writing from Sarah Dunant, however; her characterisation is thoughtful and intricate, her heroines always a little unusual. I look forward to reading Transgressions next.


Her Fearful Symmetry
Her Fearful Symmetry
by Audrey Niffenegger
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Gothic ghost story that lacks suspense, 24 July 2010
This review is from: Her Fearful Symmetry (Paperback)
What a genius idea for a gothic ghost story and what a disappointing delivery. Though a readable novel, this could have been so much darker, so much better. The central idea is intriguing, but where is the suspense, the tension, the slow build up of plot, the devastating conclusion? The central twist feels a bit wasted, somewhere towards the middle.

As a ghost story, this failed (for me) to capitalise on its promising ingredients: the setting of Highgate Cemetary; a ghostly central character; two sets of mysterious twins; and abundant opportunity for symbolism. Sub-plots get in the way, the Edie & Elspeth 'twin twist' is confusing, unnecessary even, there is a larger-than-necessary cast of characters, so their thoughts and motivations are no more than sketched. Characters'thoughts are stated, rather lazily, in itallics.

Though I chose Audrey Niffenegger's novel for the ghost story and the Highgate link (nb the historical facts sounded as if they'd been copied straight out of a guidebook, they were not blended in), I preferred the non-supernatural elements: the exploration of the twins' relationship, the power struggle between two people who have been bound together from conception; and the portrayal of another character's OCD.

Overall, this is not an unenjoyable, unintelligent read, but being neither a suspenseful ghost story nor a rounded study of twinship, it is not as satisfying as it might have been.


Walking in Pimlico
Walking in Pimlico
by Ann Featherstone
Edition: Paperback

4.0 out of 5 stars Atmospheric & artful psychological, historical thriller, 24 July 2010
This review is from: Walking in Pimlico (Paperback)
An almost five-star novel, only let down (a little) by a slightly unlikely ending. Please don't let that put you off, it doesn't much affect enjoyment. 'Walking in Pimlico' is a skillfully-written, atmospheric historical/psychological thriller in a Sarah Waters vein, with several (perfectly pitched) narrators and a page-turner quality that makes it difficult to put down.

Has anyone else read Peter Ackroyd's 'Dan Leno and the Limehouse Golem'(also published as 'The Trial of Elizabeth Cree'? I read it years ago and I'm sure both these novels must have been sparked by the same idea (or historical happening) as there are definite similarities, both perhaps sharing the germ of an idea. If you loved 'Walking in Pimlico' I'd recommend 'Dan Leno..' as your next Amazon purchase!


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