Tuesday, 23 February 2016

Review: Kate Riordan - The Shadow Hour

*Thanks to Francesca Russell at Penguin Random House for sending me a proof copy of this book in exchange for a review!*

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Harriet Jenner is just twenty-one when she walks through the gates of Fenix House. Reeling from a personal tragedy, she doesn't expect her new life as a governess to be easy. But she certainly does not foresee the spell Fenix House will cast.

Almost fifty years later, Harriet's granddaughter Grace follows in her footsteps. For Grace, raised on Harriet's spellbinding stories, Fenix House is a fairy tale; a magical place suspended in time.

But the now-faded grandeur of the mansion soon begins to reveal the holes in Harriet's story and Grace finds herself in a place of secrets and shadows. For Fenix House hides truths about her family, and everything that she once knew is about to change...

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The plot of this novel instantly appealed to me - I'm a sucker for a crumbling ancestral home full of secrets. The governess theme invariably draws comparisons with Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre - a novel which is actually referenced a number of times throughout the course of the book - but Fenix House hides far more than a mad wife in the attic.

Dual narrative plots don't always work for me, but this one drew me right in and it's tricky to say whose narrative I preferred - just as I was getting into Grace's story it would switch to Harriet's. The first and third person narrations make it easy to determine whose story we are in, and looking back on it there are so many subtle hints interwoven in the plot that come into play in the final chapters. The whole thing is very cleverly plotted and put together. The novel progresses slowly as we are essentially drip-fed information and begin to piece together what's happened - then all of a sudden it picks up the pace to the point where I couldn't put it down! Thanks to the dual narrative we are a few steps ahead of Grace in figuring out what happened to Harriet, and I had a couple of theories as to how both narratives might end - neither of which were accurate.

Kate's writing style and attention to detail made for an absorbing and atmospheric read. I found I could easily picture the house and grounds as if I were looking at photographs of it! By the end I was sad to leave Fenix House (a character in itself) and its inhabitants, and although all of the loose ends of the past were neatly tied up, I was left with questions as to the future of all of the characters - particularly Grace, David and Agnes (as it seemed that the family were on the brink of discovering her secret). My favourite character though has to be dear Bertie, who never had anything but the best of intentions in everything he did - oddly enough both the younger and older incarnations of his character reminded me of an eager puppy/dog.

5/5 stars: I've not read any of Kate Riordan's previous work, but I enjoyed this one so much that I have already started reading her previous novel The Girl in the Photograph, and am loving that so far too.

Sunday, 7 February 2016

Review: We Were Liars by Emily Lockhart

We are liars
We are beautiful and privileged
We are cracked and broken
A tale of love and romance
A tale of tragedy

Which are lies?
Which is truth?
You decide

I finished reading We Were Liars an hour ago. Usually I wait a while to gather my thoughts before writing my reviews, but when a book renders you this speechless I feel compelled to record my initial reactions. I've noticed that a lot of reviews for this are quite short, because spoilers, and I really don't want to give anything away. All I will say is that I cried at the end, and I never cry at books, ever! So it's clear that this one really packs an emotional punch. More than a punch - it floored me.

We Were Liars is narrated by Cadence Sinclair. Every summer she and all of her family gather at Beechwood Island, the family seat governed by her grandfather. There she spends her days with the Liars - her cousins Johnny who is 'bounce, intelligence and snark' and Mirren who is 'sugar, curiosity and rain'. Then there's Gat, son of Johnny's mum's boyfriend. He is 'comtemplation and enthusiasm.. ambition and strong coffee', and Cady is smitten. When Cady is fifteen years old she has a mysterious accident on the island, which leaves her prone to horrendous migraines and dependent on pain medication. She has no recollection of what happened. When Cady is seventeen she returns to the island and slowly begins to piece together what happened to her that summer two years ago.

There's a quote on the back of my edition with a review from Publishers Weekly: 'Lockhart has created a mystery with an ending most readers won't see coming... it will prompt some to return immediately to page one to figure out how they missed it'. So true. As soon as the twist came I was thinking back to all the plot points, and how it's actually quite obvious, and yet not obvious at all. Lockhart's writing style for this novel is very unusual and very poetic as you can see from the character descriptions above. I personally think it works really well. I know some other reviewers found it irritating, but it is truly beautiful in places, and makes the whole novel very quotable.

5/5 stars - We Were Liars may well be listed as a Young Adult book, but it is one that I would very much recommend to adult readers too. Beautifully written and very cleverly plotted, We Were Liars is a book that you won't forget in a hurry. I just can't believe that it's taken me this long to read it!