The Haunting Of Henry Twist by Rebecca F. John – A Review.


I have had such a good run of reading marvellous books recently and this one is no exception.  Again, as is usually the case these days, I had seen The Haunting Of Henry Twist talked about on booktube.  I’d seen people ‘haul’ it but have so far not seen or heard any reviews.

I picked this up with only a very loose idea of the premise which is quite often how I like to approach my reading.  So what’s it all about?..

Well, we’re in 1920’s London with Henry Twist who’s pregnant wife Ruby gets knocked down and killed by a double decker bus (not a spoiler as this happens within the first chapter).  The baby, a girl who Henry names Libby is saved and Henry is left as a single parent.

On the day of Ruby’s funeral a strange but charismatic man named Jack Turner appears outside Henry’s flat and seems to know who Henry is without them never having met.

‘There is a stillness to this man which appears to run right to his middle. Even when he moves, he does so leisurely, as if he has just woken and the lethargy of sleep has not yet worn off. His failure to recall his own identity does not seem to trouble him.

“How do you know my name?” Henry asks.

“I don’t know”.

They stand, the width of the road apart, and as Jack pushes his hands into his pockets and takes a couple of languid paces back and forth, looking up at the house and frowning again, Henry feels a flicker of recognition. Was jack already here when Matilda and Grayson brought him home?….’

We then follow the two men’s story and their complicated developing relationship after this meeting.  Surrounding this central story are some very vibrant characters.  Grayson and Matilda, close friends of Henry and Ruby’s.  ‘Monty’ Montague Thornton-Wells with his garden parties held for the Bright Young Things of the time, and of course Henry and Jack themselves.

Each character is exquisitely written and we are even given a real sense of the kind of woman Ruby was before her demise in the form of little flashback stories told through Henry’s memories.

This whole story is set in the roaring twenties and is so vivid and vibrant, it really draws you in.  It does however deal with some difficult subjects, death, grief, loss, lonliness and post war trauma.  Difficult relationships, marriages and friendships.  Ultimately at the heart of it all is love, of all kinds, between all people.  Even if that love is a painful one.  There are so many heartbreaking moments but also a lot of uplifting moments that get you right in the heart!

The writing style is very atmospheric and at the times almost lyrical.  I found myself invested in each and every character even if at first glance they were not all entirely likeable.  The descriptions of the late night parties in Monty’s garden were almost ethereal, dancing and drinking and having fun until everyone crashed lazily on the lawn to see another dawn break over london before the city had a chance to fully wake up.

This story is beautiful and heartbreaking in equal measure and I adored it.  A definite 5 star read .

 

Mand

 

 

xxx

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The Mermaid And Mrs Hancock by Imogen Hermes Gowar РA Review 

Via Netgalley – Publication date Jan 2018.

When you know, you know, and I knew within the first chapter of this book that it was going to be one of the best books I’ve read this year. I wasn’t wrong.  I requested this one for review through Netgalley having seen it talked about on a couple of my favourite Booktube channels, and luckily I was accepted.

This story is set in Georgian England and follows Jonah Hancock who is a merchant and a widower having lost his wife during childbirth, along with the son she gave birth to.  He owns ships which transport goods and artefacts to various different places.  His business is turned on its head when one of his ships captains decides to sell the ship he’s sailing on in order to buy a mermaid for Mr Hancock to display as an item of curiosity and earn revenue from it in the coffee houses, brothels and anywhere else that will exhibit it.

This mermaid is the catalyst for the meeting of Mr Hancock and one Angelica Neal who is a courtisan of great standing previously under the tutelage of ‘bawd’ Mrs Chappell. The mermaid also opens doors for Jonah within high society and shows him a new way of life.

The relationship between Angelica and Jonah is tested by the capture of this so called Mermaid and there are definite threads of ‘be careful what you wish for’ running through their story and their developing relationship.

Quite often you find that a really outstanding book leans either to having a twisty turny attention grabbing plot OR great characters and character development but not often both together and thats fine, but one of the great positives of this book for me (of which there are many) is that this book is both rich in plot and depth of characters.

The story line is so engrossing and my god the characters just leap off the page! They are so well developed and stunningly written I felt as if I was watching them play out the various scenes right in front of me. They are colourful, brimming with life, sometimes vile, sometimes very easy to dislike but always, always engaging.

Another really enjoyable element of this book for me was all of the Georgian detail. I’m usually a Victorian period lover but I’ve now had my eyes opened. This book makes you want to go and research that era (as indeed the author must have spent countless hours doing judging by the minute finer detail). I found it totally fascinating. Particularly the class system, the social ‘season’ and the Georgian interest in curios and anything out of the ordinary or beyond the realms of science.

This book left me so invested in the characters that I feel I now need to know what has become of them. I need them back in my life!

I’m loathe to make a comparison of any book but this one put me strongly in mind of The Crimson Petal And The White by Michel Faber which incidently is one of my favourite books ever. Both books are beautifully detailed with such richly written characters with so much depth.

If you’re a Crimson Petal fan you will surely love this book. An absolutely bewitching debut novel which will stay with me for a long time and which I will certainly be urging everyone to read when it’s published early next year.

A definite 5 star read.

The Upstairs Room By Kate Murray-Browne – A Review

Via Netgalley – Publication date 27th July 2017


I’d heard this book talked about on a few booktube channels and just thought that the premise sounded right up my street. I enjoy anything a bit mysterious and creepy and this with its sinister house right at the centre of the story was very appealing and I was grateful for the advance download via Netgalley.

So, what is this book about? Well our protagonists are Eleanor and Richard a married couple with 2 young daughters Isobel and Rosie. They have just bought a large old Victorian house which has stretched them financially but is supposed to be a new start and a renovation project which will  eventually get them their dream home.

They are so financially stretched that they take in a lodger called Zoe who inhabits the basement rooms.

When viewing the house they are shown the upstairs room which has walls covered in scrawled odd drawings of faces and birds, along with the name ‘Emily’ written over and over again. Eleanor quite rightly feels uneasy about this but explains it away by putting it down to a naughty child etc.

Not long after they move in Eleanor starts to feel physically ill, things start to move around and turn up where they never should have been.  The couples 3 year old daughter Rosie begins to act oddly, tantrums and making strange noises, awful night terrors and telling stories of ‘Girl’ who she can see.

As Eleanor becomes more and more physically ill, vomiting and crippling debilitating headaches which strangely ease when she is out of the house, she becomes obsessed with finding out just who ‘Emily’ is and what exactly happened to the family that lived in the house before them.

She struggles to bond with their lodger Zoe even though Zoe herself is experiencing strange happenings in the house and she also struggles to convince Richard that it’s the house making her so ill.

What I loved about this book was the pacing. I really enjoy it when sinister things happen almost imperceptibly. With this book there is a slow build up with various little things happening which can almost be explained away as normal up to a certain point. This style of drip feeding kept me gripped right up to the end.

“Eleanor wasn’t surprised when things started to move.  Feeling ill made everything gauzy, and they were tiny things, easy to explain away.  She’d find a door wide open when she thought she’d shut it.  The cutlery in the wrong compartments; her house keys in the fridge”

You are on the journey with Eleanor trying to find out just who Emily is and what happened to her and her family.  You feel her desperation at becoming so ill and not being able to convince her husband that the house is to blame, not when it’s his dream home and he’s invested so much money into its renovation.

“Everything was out of place.  A spoon in the oven.  A pair of nail scissors in the bread bin.  Feeling her way through the cloudy water of the washing up bowl, Eleanor’s fingers touched something familiar and wrong.  She fished out her glasses, dripping, covered in soap and grease.  Three days later she looked down at the cup of tea she’d made, and saw something solid and glistening floating towards the top.  She dredged it out with a fork, half knowing: it was the salmon skin from their plates, thick, silver, gorgeous, hideous….”

There were times when I was reading this at night thinking ‘what the hell am I doing?!’ You can almost imagine it happening in real life and feeling the very real fear. There’s one particular part where Zoe is playing hide and seek with Rosie which sent shivers down my spine!

I was grateful for the chapters involving Zoe and her romantic relationship outside of the house as they were almost light relief. The chapters that dealt with Richard and Eleanor’s early relationship gave some basis as to the kind of characters they were and how they’d come to be in their current situation.

As for the ending, well I’m not someone who needs an ending to be all sewn up neatly with a bow on top but this ending was a little ambiguous and not very detailed. I’m hoping that it will maybe pave the way for a sequel which might offer more of an explanation as to the why’s and how’s. The door was certainly left ajar for this possibility in my opinion so here’s hoping!

All in all I found this a very sinister, interesting read and would definitely recommend it.

 

 

Mand xx

Stay With Me – Ayobami Adebayo


I have to hold my hands up and say that I only read this book because I felt like I was missing out. I’d heard lots of rave reviews on Booktube and even though the premise of the story didn’t really grab me, I felt like I was missing the bandwagon and so I took the plunge and reserved it at the library. (Albeit poutily).

When it came in I STILL didn’t turn to it straight away. It lay languishing at the bottom of my TBR library pile. It was only because I knew it was nearing its due to be returned date that I felt the pressure to finally pick it up. I must also admit I very nearly took it back unread because I knew it wasn’t renewable because someone else had reserved it.

I am so glad I didn’t return it unread. This is the kind of book that in an ideal world I would have liked to sit down and devour it in one sitting. Alas, work and children and actually having to participate in adult life kinda scuppers that. The best laid plans eh?…

So I read it in intense bursts on the bus to work or before bed at night and thoroughly ate it up.

I don’t usually have any trouble conjuring up the images to go with a story. I’m quite quick to develop an idea of what a house looks like, a person, a landscape etc but this book was super fast at depicting the imagery without really going into reams of detail. It was as if in the opening few pages my brain had been opened up and the pictures and images dropped inside. I immediately felt as if I was there in the room with the opening characters.

So just to give some explanation of the story (without giving too much away of course) and assuming you’ve not already heard lots about it already.  The central characters are Yejide and Akin a married couple living in Nigeria and the story is told from both of their view points. They have been married for (I think) 4 years and are desperately trying for a baby with no success. Yejide has been coerced by various family members into participating in various rituals, prayers, ceremonies of sorts and trying remedies, potions etc all to finally become pregnant.  The outside pressure on the couple to have a baby is tremendous and this ultimately begins to erode their marriage.

“I had expected them to talk about my childlessness.  I was armed with millions of smiles.  Apologetic smiles, pity me smiles, I-look-unto-god smiles – name all the fake smiles needed to get through an afternoon with a group of people who claim to want the best for you while poking at your open sore with a stick – and I had them ready.  I was ready to listen to them tell me I must do something about my situation.  I expected to hear about a new pastor I could visit; a new mountain where I could go to pray; or an old herbalist in a remote village or town whom I could consult.  I was armed with smiles for my lips, an appropriate sheen of tears for my eyes and sniffles for my nose.  I was prepared to lock up my hairdressing salon throughout the coming week and go in search of a miracle with my mother-in-law in tow.  What I was not expecting was another smiling woman in the room.  A yellow woman with a blood red mouth who grinned like a new bride.”

It’s quite difficult to talk about this book in too much detail as I don’t want to give away any spoilers, but lets just say that Yejide does eventually get pregnant but there are various occurrences along the way which do not make life easy for the couple starting within the first chapter with the discovery that Akin is has taken a second wife in the hope that she will become pregnant first and somehow this will invite children into his marriage with Yejide, the woman he actually loves.

At times this story is heartbreaking, lots of anguish and despair but ultimately has moments of hope.  I was fascinated by both the Nigerian culture and the lifestyle described by the author.  She wrote about it all so assuredly that each image was depicted perfectly, it was almost as if I was there knowing nothing about African culture yet living it with the characters.

I was unsure how it was going to end and was afraid there would be some loose ends left.  However I think the conclusion was perfect and left no ambiguities.  I would thoroughly recommend this book and give it 4 stars.

See you soon with another review. 
Mand xx (@Bookishchat)