Book Review ~ House of Glass by Susan Fletcher

I was recently offered the chance to read and review House of Glass, published today by Susan Fletcher. I received a copy of the book from the publishers, in exchange for a review.

Synopsis of House of Glass

June 1914 and a young woman – Clara Waterfield – is summoned to a large stone house in Gloucestershire. Her task: to fill a greenhouse with exotic plants from Kew Gardens, to create a private paradise for the owner of Shadowbrook. Yet, on arrival, Clara hears rumours: something is wrong with this quiet, wisteria-covered house. Its gardens are filled with foxgloves, hydrangea and roses; it has lily-ponds, a croquet lawn – and the marvellous new glasshouse awaits her. But the house itself feels unloved. Its rooms are shuttered, or empty. The owner is mostly absent; the housekeeper seems afraid. And soon, Clara understands her fear: for something – or someone – is walking through the house at night. In the height of summer, she finds herself drawn deeper into Shadowbrook’s dark interior – and into the secrets that violently haunt this house. Nothing is quite what it seems.

 

House of Glass Susan Fletcher

Quite simply, House of Glass is a beautiful novel. It’s been a while since I read anything as evocative as this story of a young woman living in a strange house. The beauty of it is that it’s part mystery, part horror, part historical fiction, and part romance, and all the different strands are woven together beautifully.

Our main character, Clara, is a compelling woman; she has spent her entire childhood ensconced in her family home, never leaving for fear of breaking a bone due to a medical condition called Osteogenesis Imperfecta. Her bones are fragile, and rather than risk serious injury or death, her parents decide that the best course of action is to keep her safe indoors, where she retreats into books, gaining all of her knowledge from encyclopedias and reference books. Clara is exceptionally well-read, but has none of the life experience that she needs, and it isn’t until the death of her mother that she decides to really venture out. In her grief, she makes friends with a gardener from Kew Gardens, which in turns leads to her taking a job at Shadowbrook, working in the glass house of the title.

To give too much detail about the plot would be to spoil the gradual way in which the story unfolds, but it’s an engaging read that I think will pull in even the most jaded of readers. Clara’s journey, from someone with so much conviction in her beliefs, through a period of doubt and questioning, is wonderful to be a part of. She’s a woman who feels almost out of time; her necessary confinement means that she hasn’t grown up around the people who would seek, in 1918, to tell woman that they have a specific place in the world, and they aren’t expected to make their opinions known.

Any book that explores grief, particularly when concerned with the loss of a mother, is one that will speak to me, and when it’s done well, I can completely recognise myself and my own grief in it. One of my favourite quotes from the book conveys this entirely:

“It never goes,” he said. “You survive it – you do. But it is a different life to the one you had before.”

House of Glass by Susan Fletcher
Publication Date: 1st November 2018
Virago
Provided by publisher

August & September 2018 Book

Aug-Sept-Books

 

Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret by Judy Blume

I truly believe that I’ll never stop loving Judy Blume, even reading these books thirty or more years after they’ve been published, and even when it’s my fifth or sixth re-read. In the case of Are You There God? It’s Me Margaret, this was actually the first time that I’d read it. As ever, the stories of friendship in Blume’s books are what keep drawing me back in; though I love the angst of teenage relationships, it’s the stories of friendship between young women that keep me coming back for more! This book is a bit of a mix of the two; Margaret is an eleven-year old who moves from the city to the suburbs, and the main focus of the story is her questions about religion. She’s also dealing with the usual thing a girl of her age faces – periods, hormones, first kisses. It’s not my favourite Blume, but I’m glad to have added it to the read list!

Here’s to You Rachel Robinson by Judy Blume

Talking of favourite Blumes – here we are (though I can never work out which is my actual favourite, this or its predecessor, Just As Long As We’re Together.) Rachel Robinson is a high-achiever at school, top of her class, doing lot of extra-curricular activities, but her home life is in disarray, with the return of her brother, the troubled Charles. Again, there’s a love interest (the swoon-worthy Jeremy Dragon, and a crush on a much older guy), but the focus is much more on Rachel’s friendships with Stephanie and Alison, and how she is dealing with the pressures of school and family. In the first in a new blog series with which I will inevitably never continue, I wrote a letter to the grown up Rachel.

Leah on the Offbeat by Becky Albertalli

It took me a while to get to this since it was released earlier this year, but I’m nothing if not perpetually behind the popular culture curve. I read Love, Simon (originally Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda) earlier in the year, having watched the film, and I just wanted to spend more time with this group of kids who were really good company. So I was more than happy that there was an already-released sequel for me to get to. This one is the story of Simon’s friend Leah; a bisexual, socially uncomfortable teenager who takes refuge in her drums. Much like Love, Simon, it’s just a good high school story, and I do love a good high school story. I’d be interested to see if this one makes it to film – bisexual teenage girls aren’t known for their visibility in the Hollywood mainstream!

The Incendiaries by R.O. Kwon

Read my full review of The Incendiaries.

Floored by Eleanor Wood, Holly Bourne, Lisa Williamson, Melinda Salisbury, Non Pratt, Sara Barnard and Tanya Byrne

Read my full review of Floored.

Murder Most Unladylike by Robin Stevens

Read my full review of Murder Most Unladylike.

The Early Birds by Laurie Graham

Yet another sequel on this month’s list; this book follows The Future Homemakers of America, which I read last year, and loved. I can’t say that I felt quite so enamoured about The Early Birds. While it was great to catch up with characters that we first meet in the 1950s in the original book, there was none of the magic from the first book for me. To begin with, one of the things I loved the most about the first book was the large expanse of years, following the same characters and their families through decades. This book doesn’t do that, we’re limited to a few short years, and the majority of the story takes in the 2001 New York terror attacks. For me, the story gets totally bogged down with 9/11 conspiracy theories, and I just have no interest in that, so it wasn’t a storyline that appealed to me. I liked catching up with the characters, but there just wasn’t a spark for me, so I was a little disappointed.

Books so far in 2018 – 39

Book Review ~ Murder Most Unladylike by Robin Stevens

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It’s a stroke of genius to take a murder mystery and set it in a boarding school. It taps into two very popular literary genres – I know that I am not the only person to have grown up reading boarding school books such as Malory Towers, and there’s no doubting the popularity of the murder mystery.

When I picked this up at the library, though I grabbed it from the children’s section, when I got home, I realised it didn’t have a sticker on it, and I couldn’t remember which age range it was written for. It’s definitely for children, but it’s written in such a way that it’s perfectly suitable for adults. Of course, that’s true of the vast majority of children’s stories, but it really struck me that Murder Most Unladylike is a mature book, written in the assumption that the children reading it can deal with the adult themes. That’s not to say that there’s anything in it that is unsuitable, rather that it treats its young readers as intelligent and mature.

The story is written from the perspective of Helen Wong, a young pupil from Hong Kong, and while Daisy is the driving force behind the detective agency, it’s Helen’s voice that gives us all of the details. In this, she’s the Watson of the story, a trope that is highlighted by Daisy and Helen themselves. It’s an amusing tale, written as a boarding school story from the 1930s, but from the perspective of a 21st-century writer, meaning that the casual racism that we get to hear about towards Helen is not entrenched in the writing as it would be in the tales that I loved to read as a child. There’s also some lovely moments that highlight the fact that not all teachers at boarding schools at this time were single women; one of the prime suspects in the story is gay, and her reason for being a suspect is that she was in a relationship with Miss Bell before her death.

It’s just a fabulously written story, full of the suspense and intrigue that makes a good murder mystery, but also staying true to the boarding school story tradition. I loved Murder Most Unladylike, and I’m already looking forward to reading the others in the series!

Murder Most Unladylike
Publication Date: June 2014
Corgi
Library Book

Top Ten Tuesday ~ Autumn 2018 TBR

A long, long time ago, I started joining in with Top Ten Tuesday posts; a bookish prompt was provided, and then people wrote all about it, and shared their posts. I only did it a few times, but I’ve recently come across it again, and realised that it might help me to get back into the groove on writing regularly on this blog, something I wish I could do ALL the time. So I’m giving it a go!

Top Ten Tuesday now lives on That Artsy Reader Girl, and you can find the future and past prompts here. This week’s prompt is Books on my Fall TBR. So I’ve picked out ten future releases that I’m particularly excited about, though as I’ve never been too concerned about reading things as soon as they come out (Book of Dust is *still* on my bedside table), who knows how many of these I’ll actually end up picking up before the end of the year!

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This Will Only Hurt a Little by Busy Philipps – released 18th October
I’ve been a fan of Busy Philipps since she was Audrey on Dawson’s Creek, and now I, like millions of others, watch her Insta stories. A book was always going to be in the offing – you don’t amass an audience that size without a publisher wanted to use it to sell a book – but the early reviews seem to be that it’s a really good read, honest and well-observed. We’ll see, but I can’t wait to get my hands on it.

Becoming by Michelle Obama – released 13th November
Another memoir that I just cannot wait to read, as I’m so eager to hear what Michelle Obama has to say. She’s an icon, and a true hero, and I have no doubt that this book will be as erudite, fascinating and warm as I believe she is. This is definitely top of my list for autumn reads.

Lethal White by Robert Galbraith – released today
I actually have issues with the Cormoran Strike series, not least that I think each book so far could have lost probably a third of the pages and still made sense, but J.K. Rowling gets away with murder because of who she is. I know she’s problematic these days, and I can’t say that in all honesty I’m her biggest fan, but I do love the stories she tells here with Strike, and I’m looking forward to seeing where the story goes next.

How Does it Feel by Mark Kermode – released 20th September
It’s been a while since I mentioned Mark Kermode on the blog, but he’s out with a new book at the end of the week, so he’s made it into this list. I’m a huge fan of him as a film critic, but also as an author, so I’m really looking forward to his new offering, How Does It Feel, in which he tells the story of his life in music. I’m heading to the launch of his band’s new album on Friday, and hoping to grab a copy of the book at the same time, so expect a review very soon!

The Clockmaker’s Daughter by Kate Morton – released 20th September
I have only read one other Kate Morton book so far, but my sister is a big fan, and I always mean to pick up the ones I have missed and give them a read (if only that TBR pile wasn’t so tall already…). Not only does The Clockmaker’s Daughter boast a beautiful cover, the story sounds fascinating – I do love a dual narrative that weaves together a story from the past with a story from the present.

A Keeper by Graham Norton – released 4th October
Graham Norton’s debut novel, Holding, was one of my favourite books of 2016, not least because who knew that Graham Norton was such a talented writer? Now, the early reviews for A Keeper are great; it sounds a lot darker than Holding, and everything points to it being another favourite read of the year.

In Pieces by Sally Field – released today
For someone who doesn’t read an awful lot of memoirs, this is the fourth one on this list! But Sally Field is genuinely one of my favourite actresses, and again, it sounds as though she has written an honest and raw account of her life, which I’m sure will be fascinating to read.

What If It’s Us by Adam Silvera and Becky Albertalli – released 18th October
I’ve not read any Adam Silvera books yet, though I hear nothing but good things. But I have read two Becky Albertalli books: Love, Simon and Leah on the Offbeat. So I’m sure that I will enjoy this YA novel from the two of them, about two boys who meet in New York. It sounds delightfully romantic and angsty and everything you want from a YA novel.

Hazards of Time Travel by Joyce Carol Oates – released 29th November 
Again, Joyce Carol Oates is not an author I’ve read before, but when I was looking through future releases, this one really caught my eye. It’s a dystopian story of a young woman who defies the conventions of the tightly controlled society in which she lives, only to find that she is sent back in time to the 1950s to be taught a lesson. I love stories about time travel, and this sounds as though it will be fascinating!

Life Honestly: Strong Opinions from Smart Women – released 20th September
This is a collection of essays and articles from writers at The Pool, a website I read regularly and really enjoy. This book is billed as a “collection of advice, comment and opinion that acts as a complete guide to modern life.” Definitely right up my street and one that is going straight on my library reservation list!