Review: The Turn of the Screw ~ Henry James

turn of the screwISBN ~ 978-0140620610
Publisher ~ Penguin Books
No. Of Pages ~ 120 pages
Links ~ Penguin, Amazon, Barnes & Noble

A very young woman’s first job: governess for two weirdly beautiful, strangely distant, oddly silent children, Miles and Flora, at a forlorn estate…An estate haunted by a beckoning evil.

Half-seen figures who glare from dark towers and dusty windows- silent, foul phantoms who, day by day, night by night, come closer, ever closer. With growing horror, the helpless governess realizes the fiendish creatures want the children, seeking to corrupt their bodies, possess their minds, own their souls…

But worse-much worse- the governess discovers that Miles and Flora have no terror of the lurking evil.

For they want the walking dead as badly as the dead want them.

4 Thumbs-UpNo one seems to do gothic horror and be able to make the hair on the back of my neck stand up as well as Authors from this era; whether they are hinting at insanity or embracing it and giving it coffee, this novella has to rank up there with The Yellow Wallpaper.  When the reader first embarks into this tale it would seem the perfect accompaniment to a cold winter night and a cosy fire-place, after all it’s short in length and reads fairly quickly if you can come to grips with the style in which it is written, but don’t make any assumptions about this book.

The main character is also the narrator for the tale, and the reader sees the whole sequence of event unfold through her eyes.  In the main lead, the reader is introduced to a character who definitely does not know herself and shows no signs of getting to know herself as the tale progresses.  As we view the world through her eyes the reader is her companion as she descends into madness; or does she, and this is where one of the many twists enter the tale and have the reader wondering.  At times I felt sorry for this character, at others she just grated on me to no end, this I put down to the time period in which the book is set and not the fact the fact that the character was badly written.  In fact none of the characters in this novella are badly written, and each brings their own flaws and traits to play as the storyline unfolds.

This book is definitely ‘old school’ horror genre, rather than being in your face gory and ghastly, an atmosphere is created in this novella that is suggestive and lends itself perfectly to being able to scare the stripes off a zebra.  Eerie and creepy descriptions are used to full effect in this tale and, although only a mere 120 pages long, I found myself getting up and turning a light on part way through.  All the requirements of a truly good ghost story are included in the covers of this novella, and the fact that the reader’s imagination is able to hold full sway over the way in which they react to the occurrences.  I have to say this is one of the better pieces of writing by this Author that I have read, and if it had been a few pages longer it would have received a full 5 thumbs review.

If you are looking for a truly good ghost story to fill your holiday season, but not overtake it completely then I would highly recommend you read this novella.

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Review: Bellman & Black: A Ghost Story ~ Diane Setterfield

Bellman & BlackBellman & Black is a heart-thumpingly perfect ghost story, beautifully and irresistibly written, its ratcheting tension exquisitely calibrated line by line. Its hero is William Bellman, who, as a boy of 11, killed a shiny black rook with a catapult, and who grew up to be someone, his neighbours think, who “could go to the good or the bad.” And indeed, although William Bellman’s life at first seems blessed—he has a happy marriage to a beautiful woman, becomes father to a brood of bright, strong children, and thrives in business—one by one, people around him die. And at each funeral, he is startled to see a strange man in black, smiling at him. At first, the dead are distant relatives, but eventually his own children die, and then his wife, leaving behind only one child, his favourite, Dora. Unhinged by grief, William gets drunk and stumbles to his wife’s fresh grave—and who should be there waiting, but the smiling stranger in black. The stranger has a proposition for William—a mysterious business called “Bellman & Black” . . .

2 Thumbs-UpAfter having read The Thirteenth Tale, I picked up this book with some trepidation as well as hope that this Author would have developed her writing style and character development into something a little more enjoyable.  However, for those readers picking up this book and expecting the ghost story mentioned in the title, they will be disappointed.  It does have ghostly elements to it, but not enough to make it the ghost story some may be expecting when they open its covers.

In deciding to read this book, one of my main hopes was that the Author would have invested more time and energy into the development of her characters; unfortunately this was not the case.  The main character was as flat and emotionless as the paper upon which he was written, and I found no redeeming traits that would lift my opinion of him as I progressed through the book.  Because of his lack of personality I almost missed a major event in this characters story that was an integral part of the plot and, to be quite honest I really couldn’t care less about his decline by the time this incident took place.  With some of the other characters it appeared as if the Author had invested more time in developing them, but even this could not save this book and turn it around.  The dialogue was pretentious to the point of not reflecting the time period accurately, and every time someone spoke it was more an irritating buzz in my mind rather than something that would propel the storyline to its conclusion

If you are interested in the intricate details of the day-to-day running of a mill, then this is the book for you as page after page is filled with descriptions of how to run and manage a successful business in this area.  In fact the novel goes into so much detail that I felt as if I could manage the task of running one of these mills myself, but overall it just became boring and monotonous to the point where I actually started to skip these paragraphs.

After having now read two of this Authors works, I doubt very much if I will read anymore; because of this and the disappointment I felt at the underdevelopment of what could have been a gripping ghost story in the true sense of the word, I am reluctant to recommend this book to anyone.

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My Ghost ~ Robert Graves

poet-rg

I held a poor opinion of myself
When young, but never bettered my opinion
(Even by comparison)
Of all my fellow-fools at school or college.

Passage of years induced a tolerance,
Even a near-affection, for myself –
Which, when you fell in love with me, amounted
(Though with my tongue kept resolutely tied)
To little short of pride.

Pride brought its punishment: thus to be haunted
By my own ghost whom, much to my disquiet,
All would-be friends and open enemies
Boldly identified and certified
As me, including him in anecdotal
Autobiographies.

Love, should you meet him in the newspapers
In planes, on trains, or at large get-togethers,
I charge you, disregard his foolish capers;
Silence him with a cold unwinking stare
Where he sits opposite you at table
And let all present watch amazed, remarking
On how little you care.

Robert Graves

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Review: The Cheesemaker’s House ~ Jane Cable

Cheesemaker's HouseInspired by a framed will found in her dream Yorkshire house, which had been built at the request of the village cheesemaker in 1726, Jane Cable discovered the historical aspect of her novel. Set near Northallerton in North Yorkshire, The Cheesemaker’s House is a page-turner that will have readers hooked instantly.

The novel follows the life of Alice Hart, who escapes to the North Yorkshire countryside to recover after her husband runs off with his secretary. Battling with loneliness but trying to make the best of her new start, she soon meets her neighbours, including handsome builder Richard Wainwright and kind café owner Owen Maltby. As Alice employs Richard to start renovating the barn next to her house, all is not what it seems. Why does she start seeing Owen when he clearly isn’t there? Where – or when – does the strange crying come from? And if Owen is the village ‘charmer’, what exactly does that mean?

4 Thumbs-Up

This is a debut novel for this Author and, in my opinion, signifies the beginning of a long and illustrious career as a writer with this gentle and mysterious ghost story.

The main protagonist in this book is a recently divorced woman, and the Author does a great job of instilling a feeling of loss and sadness into this character whilst at the same time injecting her with a sense of moving on.  Rather than bring in this character’s back story all at once, in an effort to get it over and done with, the Author gradually introduces all her flaws and insecurities over a period of time; this serves to draw the reader in and, even though they may not be in the same position as the character, they can easily connect with her and put themselves in her place.  This serves to make her have a real aura around her, as if she is someone we know personally.  The other characters in this novel are also well written, and once again, there is no cluttering up of the storyline with information that has no relation to the plot.  Being from Yorkshire myself, I could identify with a lot of the traits the Author places on her characters, and also could actually put some faces of people I know to them, this ability created by the Author  just made this book even more enjoyable for me.  All the characters in this book are shrouded with mysteries of one kind or another and the Author feeds titbits to the reader throughout its pages, to aid them in uncovering them.

The Author writes with a style that hooks the reader from the first page, making them want to keep reading until the end, and the initial mystery laid out before the reader is one that is not easily solved; another great way to keep you hooked until the end.  Despite the mild aspects of romance in the book, I actually enjoyed it.  I didn’t find the Author wrote too much of this side of the main protagonists new life, sticking mainly to the ghost story aspect of the plot.  Where I did feel, however, that the book tended to get bogged down was with the minutiae of village life; there are only so many times you can read about onions as big as your head, and the cut-throat world of the village fete before you never want to tend attend one again.  Other than that though, the Authors description of village life in Yorkshire was spot on, and I thoroughly enjoyed her giving some of the characters in the book the local dialect, which came easily to my mind as I read causing no difficulties.  Other readers not familiar with the dialect may find it hard to decipher, as I do when reading novels containing the southern US dialect.  I particularly enjoyed the historical aspect of this novel, and how pulling on her research into her own home, the Author was able to add realism to her work.

I would highly recommend this novel to lovers of the suspense and crime genres, but if you are totally into romantic fiction you may be disappointed in this read.  Thankfully it was not a major part of this book, and as such means I will be looking for more from this Author if she keeps writing in this way.

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