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

Book Blog Tour ~ Spandex and the City by Jenny T Colgan

Holly9780356505442 (1) Phillips is a mild-mannered publicist, perpetually unlucky in love. When the handsome stranger who flings her over his shoulder turns out to be ‘Ultimate Man’, a superpowered hero, Holly is thrust into the limelight, earning her fifteen minutes of fame, and putting her into the path of the city’s most famous villain.

There’s no denying that the inclusion of a superhero as a romantic interest for this modern fiction novel errs a little bit on the silly side. As soon as you know that you are dealing with a superhero in a purple spandex suit, you know what to expect really.

And this book delivers on that, but manages to go a little bit further, and ends up not being the typical romance novel that you first imagine it will be. Holly is a relatable heroine; interesting and modern, but with enough flaws that you can recognise yourself (or yourself in your late twenties) in her. She isn’t entirely sure where she is going at the beginning of the novel, but as things start to take a turn, she discovers more about who she is and what she wants.

Positing this as a superhero story is possibly taking it too far, as ultimately it is a story about a boy and a girl, but there are enough twists and turns to make it an enjoyable one. Most importantly, it doesn’t take itself too seriously, allowing you to grab on and go along for the ride!

Spandex and the City by Jenny T. Colgan
First published: May 2016
ISBN: 9780356505442
Orbit Books
Provided by publisher

Book Blog Tour ~ English Animals by Laura Kaye

english-animals-jacketMirka is 19, Slovakian, and starting a new job at an English country house. Her employers, Sophie and Richard, are upper-middle class, with no children, and Mirka is unsure at first what her role is to be. She becomes a live-in assistant, helping Richard with his fledgling taxidermy business, and providing domestic support to Sophie. The lines are blurred; is she domestic help, business employee, friend?

Mirka’s ability as a taxidermist soon surpasses Richard’s; for him it is another business venture to try and keep afloat amidst the troubles of keeping a large house running. But Mirka, though reluctant at first, finds an art in it; the English animals that she preserves become a way of expressing herself, and taking inspiration from old fashioned anthropomorphic taxidermy, creates a name for herself, eventually being featured in a magazine.

 

The taxidermy is expertly described, down to the smallest detail; if Laura Kaye has no experience of the craft herself then she has certainly done her research. But it provides a mere backdrop to the more important English Animals that are at work here; Richard, Sophie, and the supporting players throughout the story.

Mirka finds Richard an easy man to like when he is being warm, generous and funny; she shares a close friendship with him that includes trips to the pub and hunting expeditions (even if Mirka does ultimately balk at the idea of shooting an animal).

Sophie, the lady of the house, is an enigmatic, privileged woman who is used to having what she wants; though what she wants more than anything is the one thing she can’t seem to have – a baby. Mirka struggles at times to understand Sophie’s motivations, accusing her of seeing everything as a toy to play with. Sophie admits as much herself; she just wants to feel wanted.

The entrance of Mirka, an Eastern European, into a middle England village in this day and age certainly reflects a Brexit state of mind; in groundskeeper David we get a man who almost certainly would have voted leave, threatening Mirka and making it clear that he thinks she should go back to where she comes from. Sophie’s father, though slightly more caricatured than David, has similar views on foreigners, failing to recognise the irony in having a house in France that he lives in year-round.

The quirkiness of the English middle classes; isolated in their rural communities, is emphasised by the fact that the entire story is told from the perspective of Mirka, whose first language is not English. She has no handle on idioms, unable to help Sophie with the cryptic crossword until something finally clicks towards the end of the novel. Mirka’s sense of disorientation at this previously unknown culture helps us to see these people through her eyes. Her discomfort at Richard’s birthday party – a bad taste fancy dress party where people dress as dictators, pregnant nuns and child molestors – is palpable, and in stark contrast to another party she attends with some hipster types in East London, where she feels at ease, with her ‘own tribe.’

This really is an exceptional piece of work, particularly given that is a debut novel. It’s easy to read without lacking in scope, and the plot drives the momentum of the story beautifully. Laura Kaye is most certainly a novelist with a bright future.

English Animals by Laura Kaye
First published: January 2016
ISBN: 9781408709450
Little Brown
Provided by publisher

 

Book Blog Tour ~ The Dry by Jane Harper

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The worst drought to hit Australia in a century is already causing tensions to run high in Kiewarra, a small farming town that hasn’t seen rain for two years. Things become unbearable when a local family is murdered, and the only suspect is Luke, husband and father, who appears to have killed himself after gunning down his wife and son.

Luke’s childhood friend Aaron Falk is the protagonist who leads the reader through the story. As a police officer himself, he is drawn into the investigation into the family’s deaths, and his presence in his childhood home forces him to confront some of the lies and secrets that caused him to leave in the first place.

Through the clever use of flashbacks, the reader learns that Aaron and his father were implicated in the death of a teenage girl decades earlier, after she drowned and left a note showing only one word – their surname. This old mystery runs alongside the current investigation into the murders of the Hadlers, and though Aaron would rather leave the past in the past, secrets refuse to stay buried, and the two cases become intertwined.

The crime at the centre of the novel is a strong one, and one that will keep readers guessing. The oppressive feeling of returning to a place long consigned to memory is compounded by the heat of the weather; Aaron is struggling with his return to a community that effectively ran him out of town, and this feeling is emphasised by the brutality of the drought conditions. There is no respite from the weather, or the lack of weather as far as rain is concerned, and the pressure mounts throughout the novel as it becomes clear that this community is on the brink of total devastation.

The Dry is my first read of 2017, and it was a pleasure to read it. The film rights have already been acquired, and it’s obvious that in the right hands, this could be adapted to a taut and atmospheric crime thriller.

Friday