The Woman in Black by Susan Hill

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I read this ghostly tale in one sitting and have really been impressed with it. It’s a good story, and despite being a little dragged out, it does make you want to read more and get to the bottom of things!

Hill wanted to write a ghost story but not in its conventional form as a short story, but as a novella.
She does this successfully and clearly it has become something of a classic, but when it really boils down to it you could tell the actual bare bones of the story in about 5 minutes.

Arthur Kipps is a solicitor who is reflecting on the past horrors of an experience in his youth which still haunts him. As a way of laying the ghosts to rest he decides to write his story down.
In this story, Kipps is just starting his career and is sent to the funeral of Mrs Drablow, a strange woman who lived in an isolated house.

It has all the trappings of a piece of Gothic literature – the isolated house, the moody weather, the fainting hero or heroine, the terrifying monster…

I won’t tell you more because that might spoil the story. I personally haven’t seen the film but I gather it’s very scary and the play is meant to be fantastic.

Over here in the UK this is a text that is on the curriculum list for GCSE and I was impressed with it as one that was more engaging for young readers. You can do really fun stuff with looking at the genre of horror and gothic literature and I have been really enjoying it with my year nine class!

Have you taught this as a novel before? Do you think it was worth Hill writing it as a novel or should she have kept it as a short story?

Outlander by Diana Gabaldon

DSC_0206It is a huge omission on my part that I have not yet mentioned this fabulous book or series on my blog. I’ve searched and searched through my posts for any mention and there is nothing about Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander at all! Outlander isn’t a new novel and I’m certain that many of you have heard of it and read it already. If you haven’t, here’s my review of one of the best books I have read this year.

Diana Gabaldon I believe has mentioned somewhere that her books are very hard to categorise into a genre. My best label would be historical-romance-epic with minor elements of fantasy and sci fi; specifically time travel.

A quick synopsis:

Claire Randall is on a second honeymoon with her husband Frank in Scotland after years of being apart during the Second World War. She worked as a nurse, he as a soldier. They are getting to know each other all over again, and Frank, who works as a historian, is also researching one of his ancestors who lived in Inverness, the area they are visiting.

Frank and Claire are intrigued by the local superstitions and customs in the area and decide to get up early to watch a druid ritual at the circle of standing stones on the nearby Craigh na Dun. Not long after this, Claire returns to the spot to gather an example of a flower she was interested in. Upon touching one of the stones, Claire blacks out and wakes up to find the world around her has changed. Her mind searches for explanations for the sounds of gunshots and for the fact the soldiers she is seeing are in full historic costumes. On top of this, the first redcoat she meets is the spitting image of her husband Frank!

Eventually she comes to accept that she has fallen through time and that she is separated from her husband by a gap of 2000 years. Not only must she find a way to get home, she must find a way to survive as an Englishwoman in the rough Scottish highlands. This is where the title of the novel comes from – the Scots call Claire ‘Sassenach’ which means Outlander, or foreigner. I believe that it was also published in the UK as Cross Stitch.

I won’t tell you any more because I’ve already given too much away, but I will say that this is a romance novel and with a complicated situation of a husband who doesn’t exist yet it gets very interesting.

Audiobooks are something I really got into while I was travelling this year. I downloaded Outlander  from audible and was chuffed to be getting good value for my subscription with the length of the audio being over 30 hours of listening time! I was also a bit daunted by this, but once I began I was entranced. Davina Porter is a fabulous narrator and her wonderful accents and voices are contagiously good. I think I must have a wee bit of the Scots blood left in me because I keep finding myself using little gems from the book. I wonder what the Scottish highlanders would have made of a New Zealander’s accent if it popped up during this time!

If you are like some of the many in my acquaintance who are disinterested in steamy romance novels, then this series isn’t for you. Simply because it definitely has a lot of sex in amongst the pages of this incredible epic tale. However, if you love a good romance, whether you’re privy to intimate details of it or not, this is a winner. I probably should also mention that there are some disturbing scenes in the book and that it deals with some very heavy content, including rape and abuse. It’s a book for adults and doesn’t gloss over anything.

I just finished reading the sequel: Dragonfly in Amber and I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it ever since. Some books you can finish and just leave behind, but others linger and haunt you. This is definitely a haunter. Pete, my hubby, has been so sick of me going on about getting the next one that he told me that he’d already ordered me the box set for my birthday! I’ve been in anticipation all week! In the meanwhile I’ve been getting my fix watching the first season of the adaptation which isn’t quite as good but it’s been getting me through my withdrawals.

Here is the beautiful box set in all its glory! It arrived today and I am just itching to get into Voyager! They’re deceptively small for such long and epic novels!DSC_0208

It’s a mammoth series with eight novels so far (yes, they’re still going!) and a few novellas and short stories. Gabaldon takes about three years to research and write each novel so I have a few years to catch up before the ninth one comes out!

My rating is definitely a 5/5 because I am just obsessed.

Here are a few Outlander related links:

  1. Buy the book (or all of them)
  2. Buy the audiobook (you can do a free trial of audible and get it free)
  3. Outlander Film Locations
  4. Diana Gabaldon’s Website (and the books listed in recommended reading order)
  5. Watch Season 1 on Amazon (you can do a free trial of prime to watch for free)

 

These Shallow Graves by Jennifer Donnelly

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These Shallow Graves is a historical mystery novel set in New York. It follows the story of Jo Montfort as she investigates her father’s untimely death and finds herself in over her head and experiencing the dark side of the city she thought she knew. Jo finds herself some unlikely companions to assist in her amateur detective work: a handsome but poor journalist, and a Sherlock-esque mortician. Risking her life and her reputation (rather naively) Jo won’t let anything stop her from solving the mystery of her father’s death.

As a fan of her previous writing in The Tea Rose series, I had high hopes for Donnelly’s latest book These Shallow Graves. This latest novel is aimed at Young Adults as opposed to being a historical romance and I think that accounts for a lot of the differences. It is a simpler story, with the mystery element taking the focus and the love story working alongside it. I wasn’t convinced by the protagonist Jo in this story and not so drawn in to the setting of New York as I was to the setting of London in The Tea Rose. However, it is an intriguing story and entertaining as a whodunnit. I guessed fairly early on who it would be, but it’s well plotted and not too too obvious. I always find that’s part of the fun!

Continue reading

Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys

20151003_102225Whenever I’ve mentioned Between Shades of Gray to people they seem to think it’s somehow linked to a certain other series of books with the words ‘Shades’ and ‘Grey’ in the title. It’s definitely not, but I can’t decide if the association is a drawback or not – perhaps people seeking a more illicit reading experience will be pleasantly surprised by a heartbreaking tale of loss and suffering of Lithuanians during the Second World War. Or perhaps people will assume it’s something they wouldn’t want to be caught reading and steer clear, missing out on a beautiful story and the opportunity to see another unique angle of WWII experiences.

Lina, our protagonist, is a fifteen year old Lithuanian whose life is turned upside down when her family is arrested by the Soviets and deported. Lina and her mother and brother endure a harrowing journey, taking them to concentration camps in Siberia. Lina’s father worked at the university and was arrested separately to his wife and two children. Lina is determined that her family will be reunited and goes to great lengths to pass on messages – using her skill as an artist – to find him. For Lina, her only way of processing the traumatic event she is witnessing and experiencing is to draw.  Continue reading

Queen of Shadows by Sarah J. Maas

20151018_213811This has been my most anticipated read of this year. If you’ve already read my review of the first book in the series, Throne of Glass, then you’ll know that this is one of my favourite series in a long time! It’s fantasy with fairy tale inspirations; but the depth and complexity of a political drama. There’s a neat balance of action and adventure with romance.

I don’t think there is a single part of the story that I’m bored by. You know how in some fantasy novels with multiple perspectives the author really seems to punish you with boring but important chapters before rewarding you with the good stuff? (I’m looking at you George R. R. Martin!) Well, I haven’t had that even once in this whole series. And I think that says something about the genius of Sarah J Maas. Continue reading

Steelheart by Brandon Sanderson

IMG_20150912_132113Steelheart is yet another fantastic novel from fantasy author Brandon Sanderson. He is a master of worldbuilding, and in this series our world is a more modern environment where in amongst the ordinary humans, beings with supernatural powers have started to emerge. They call them Epics and at first they are a marvel, heroes and all that. But it soon becomes clear that the Epics are not friends to the human race. And no-one challenges them, because they are that powerful.

No-one except the Reckoners. Continue reading

One by Sarah Crossan

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One is the story of conjoined twins, Grace and Tippi. Their friendship and sisterhood, their trials and their joys. It’s a beautiful story which has been beautifully written. Every chapter is written and laid out as a free verse poem, and the effect is fantastic.

The narrative is told through the eyes of Grace, who is the quieter and more reserved of the two. It begins with their transition from being home schooled into a private school where they are surprised to find they make friends and even enjoy themselves.

But the story isn’t all happy clappy, there are challenges around every corner for our protagonists. Continue reading