The Daylight Gate … a review

I was at Lancaster University last week and spending some time walking around Pendle College and ended up at their very impressive student library. What do I do when that happens? Pick up a book and make a beeline for an empty couch! I picked up this book because I had been to Lancaster Castle the day before and only just found out about the area’s connection to witches!

The book is set in 1612, when James I, a Protestant King, is on the throne. He was James VI of Scotland, of course, the son of Mary Queen of Scots. Apparently, he was obsessed with ridding his realm of twin evils, witchcraft and Catholicism, at any price…

The narrative has an old fashioned writing style, it is not halting though, just different. The local sheriff at Pendle hill interrupts a strange meeting as he suspects it to be a witches’ Sabbat. I won’t tell you how, but even Shakespeare plays a cameo – how cool is that!?

It is a very short read although it looks deceptively thick. It took me a couple of hours and a bit to read, although I was totally engrossed in it. The library was fab and the weather outside was, well, underwhelming, so there.

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The True Deceiver … a review

I picked up another Scandi noir, this time, set in Norway. Really, their harsh winter landscapes with piles and piles of snow make for such good murder mystery backgrounds. I’m struggling with a blurb here, so I’ve lifted this straight from Goodreads:

“Snow has been falling on the village all winter long. It covers windows and piles up in front of doors. The sun rises late and sets early, and even during the day there is little to do but trade tales. This year everybody’s talking about Katri Kling and Anna Aemelin. Katri is a yellow-eyed outcast who lives with her simpleminded brother and a dog she refuses to name. She has no use for the white lies that smooth social intercourse, and she can see straight to the core of any problem. Anna, an elderly children’s book illustrator, appears to be Katri’s opposite: a respected member of the village, if an aloof one. Anna lives in a large empty house, venturing out in the spring to paint exquisitely detailed forest scenes. But Anna has something Katri wants, and to get it Katri will take control of Anna’s life and livelihood. By the time spring arrives, the two women are caught in a conflict of ideals that threatens to strip them of their most cherished illusions.”

I am not very sure what I felt about this book. It is a very well-written book. So much so that as a reader I was hooked even if no action was taking place. The descriptions of Anna’s ‘rabbit house’ of the dog with no name and of the boat ties the parts in quite effortlessly. Katri reminded me of Mrs Danvers, and that’s never a bad thing. But I was a little disappointed in the climax appearing almost at the very end. Then again, it is not a very long book. So it wasn’t like I had to wait ages for it. I finished the book in two evenings of reading so overall, I would recommend it as a trialling of this new author I haven’t read before.

Entry Island … a review

I enjoyed reading The Lewis Trilogy greatly. And so I picked up this book, quite pleased that it was a standalone read. It is a long book, and so it was good that it was one-off. I was not wishing to be caught up in a long saga-like tale just now, as I have a lot of TBR on my plate. Anyway, this book is about our protagonist and police detective Sime (pronounced Sh-ee-m) who is sent to Entry Island because, like the islanders, her speaks English. Other islands in the area are part of the Qubecois Canada and so, speak French.

A man has been murdered and suspicion falls on his wife, Kirsty, who has no other alibi and has enough reason to want to kill her husband. But from the very first meeting, Sime wants to believe her. And strangely, feels that he knows her, even though both of them agree that they have definitely never met before.

Also part of the police team on the island is Sime’s ex-wife Marie-Ange, and when was that ever a good thing!? Caught in between these two women, one of whom might be a murderer, Sime goes through bouts of insomnia. Interspersed with the scenes in his dreams are scenes from his ancestor’s diary, which he has started reading.

Personally, I loved the ancestor’s story. It begins in the highlands of Scotland, centuries ago. The backdrop is the potato famine followed by the highland clearances. And as always, a poor farmer’s boy in love with the landowner’s daughter… I had not read much of either of those bits of Scottish history and so I really enjoyed reading about them. Well, no so much enjoyed as be distressed by, but you know what I mean.

Overall, I thought this book wasn’t as riveting as the earlier trilogy, but the interspersed stories, dream sequences, evil ex-wife, I enjoyed this book a lot!

Earth … a review

Earth is the debut novel of author Caroline Allen, and in it we found a connection to one of the elements. The protagonist of the story is a thirteen year old farm girl from Missouri, who has visions of turning into a tree. While on the surface, that seems to be the case, the novel is actually about what it means to be ‘different’. The family is slightly dysfunctional – the mother is aloof and detached, the older sister has run away, and the father is abusive and strict. All our protagonist Pearl has, is religion and a vague notion of growing up. There is an aunt too, who is referred to as having visions, but in true style of a mob, she is ostracized by the rest of the family.
What I liked about this book was the atmospheric scenes of the visions; it is reminiscent of Adiche, who I quite like. I liked the theme too; it is unusual in its mix of modern day with the elements of Pearl’s relation with The Osage, an ancient tribe that she feels a connection with, for their portrayal and respect of the elements. Te visions and their aftermath dealt with many emotions all of us have felt – confusion, a sense of injustice, the anger of having been different, and the fear of what this all means. Being thirteen is not easy for anyone, let alone someone struggling to find meaning in a rural farm in mid-century America. There is some sense of mystery that runs through the entire novel and as a reader, I could not quite put my finger on the cause of my sense of uneasiness.
The style of writing is slightly halting, in my opinion. Of course, it is the author’s first novel and no doubt, there is the potential for lucidity. It was just not my style. It possibly also did not help that I was down with the flu, but this made for a good in-bed read with a bowl of soup.

Letters from Skye … a review

The title of this book contains two favourite words, so even before I began reading it, I knew I would like it. The entire book is written in the form of letters – between a poetess Elspeth from Skye and her pen pal David from America, and parallely Elspeth’s daughter Margaret’s letters to various people. Elspeth and David correspond during World War I and Margaret’s letters are based around the Second World War. It all begins when, upon the publication of a book of poems, Elspeth receives a rather sweet letter from a ‘fan’ in America. The story spans two generations, about two decades, two wars, and two continents – finally reaching culmination at the St Mary’s Episcopal Church in Edinburgh (it’s on Palmerston place on the West end, it’s beautiful).

The book is very well written. There isn’t much surprise in the way of the plot because the letters alternate between the two women’s stories and Margaret’s story fills us in on the gaps left in Elspeth’s. So, no surprises, really, but I enjoyed the concept and the backdrop of the war and of life on Skye. Skye is stunning and the idea of a poetess penning her thoughts as poems and letters and slowly but surely falling in love with a man she’d never met is just my type of thing. Let me warn you, however, it might not be everybody’s cup of tea; which is possibly why this book has got mixed reviews on websites etc

But like I said, I thoroughly enjoyed it. It brought scenes from Skye, Edinburgh, and London quite vividly in my head. The writing is atmospheric and evocative; the emotions expressed are very natural and believable. I’d recommend it.