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 Review ~ Floored

40064391_2129872897287143_8150925586143806863_nFloored is a YA novel co-authored by seven of the hottest talents in the genre; Eleanor Wood, Holly Bourne, Lisa Williamson, Melinda Salisbury, Non Pratt, Sara Barnard and Tanya Byrne. Six teenagers get into a lift at a television broadcasting company in Manchester, starting as strangers to one another, before tragedy strikes, and their lives are forever linked.

The One Day of it all comes in when the gang meet up on the anniversary of their time in the lift, once a year. This is a group of teenagers, so hormones and sex and relationships and arguments filter through the years and cause make ups and break ups, and because we only really check in with them once a year, the format allows some things to be explored fully, while others are explained away in a paragraph.

Floored really interesting, if not all that innovative, and its winning hand is definitely in the way the six characters have been written. That being said, I did worry for a while that things were going to be too neatly tied up in a bow; at one point it seemed as if the story was going to end with three male-female couples from the six characters, and I was going to end up really irritated. But there’s plenty of twists and turns, and things turn out differently to how I expected, so that was nice.

The most interesting characters, and the ones that I feel were given the most room to grow, are Hugo and Kaitlyn. Hugo starts off as the most stereotypical, obnoxious rich boy, the type of sixteen year old that you know exists but you truly hope doesn’t. He really is odious, and the first half of the book leaves very little room for sympathy. Without giving too much away, the character development here is great; enough to give you somewhere to go with the character, but not too obvious (though it does take a little leap of faith to go with them on it!). Kaitlyn has to deal with her worsening sight, and how it impacts her young life, but her journey is a positive one, and she is definitely the most interesting of the three female characters to me.

The narrative is split into chapters in which each character is given a voice, with the occasional break for a third-person narrative to see all and give a brief overview of our six heroes. It’s a format that works, with the addition of text messages and some funny search histories.

Floored is a great addition to the UKYA catalogue, and quite a feat, if you consider how hard it must be to mesh seven very distinct authorial voices. It’s definitely worth a read if you’re a YA fan!

Floored
Publication Date: 10th July 2018
Pan MacMillan
Library Book

Book Review ~ The Incendiaries by R.O. Kwon

Synopsis of The Incendiaries

Phoebe Lin and Will Kendall meet their first month at prestigious Edwards University. Phoebe is a glamorous girl who doesn’t tell anyone she blames herself for her mother’s recent death. Will is a misfit scholarship boy who transfers to Edwards from Bible college, waiting tables to get by. What he knows for sure is that he loves Phoebe.

Grieving and guilt-ridden, Phoebe is increasingly drawn into a religious group—a secretive extremist cult—founded by a charismatic former student, John Leal. He has an enigmatic past that involves North Korea and Phoebe’s Korean American family. Meanwhile, Will struggles to confront the fundamentalism he’s tried to escape, and the obsession consuming the one he loves. When the group bombs several buildings in the name of faith, killing five people, Phoebe disappears. Will devotes himself to finding her, tilting into obsession himself, seeking answers to what happened to Phoebe and if she could have been responsible for this violent act.

The Incendiaries by R.O. Kwon

The Incendiaries is the debut novel of R.O. Kwon, and when I was offered a copy of the book to review, I was immediately drawn in by the synopsis. Handled with the right amount of care, terrorism can be a rich theme for novelists to explore in stories, with the additional lure that this is not your run of the mill story about Islamic extremism, but a story that explores fundamentalism of a different kind. I’m also trying to make it a point to read more diversely, so a story about a young Korean-American woman fits into that perfectly.

This is an extremely compelling story, and at just over 200 pages, makes for a short read too. I managed to get through it in a couple of sittings, something that isn’t always a given, no matter how long the book is. The story is one that I wanted to get to the end of, especially as the acts of terrorism were not kept a secret to the end of the novel, and I wanted to find out more; it’s not about what happened, it’s about why it happened.

I don’t read an awful lot of literary fiction, and so every time I do, I have to re-adjust to the style; The Incendiaries doesn’t use dialogue, preferring reported speech, and this isn’t something that I’m used to. But a couple of chapters is all it took adjust, and it’s clear why this choice is made; the novel is split into the narrative of the three main characters (Phoebe, Will and John Leal), but the sense is that we’re hearing someone give us the details of the events, rather than us getting every single last detail.  Phoebe is presented to us through the lens of Will, while John Leal is not fully revealed to us, and he remains a mysterious character throughout the novel.

Phoebe is the character who is the most polarising, because it is so easy to identify with her, while at the same time wanting to distance ourselves from her actions. It’s terrifying to watch her fall under Leal’s spell, further away from Will’s attempts to save her, and it did make me wonder how quickly a cult leader could work his magic on me. Though I consider myself a fairly strong character, if I was as vulnerable as Phoebe, trying to escape from a tragic past, would I be able to resist?

This is a wonderful debut, and though the story and the short length propel the narrative making it a quick read, it’s anything but an easy book. It’s a thought-provoking story that I’m sure will stay with me.

The Incendiaries
Publication Date: 6th September 2018
Virago
Provided by publisher

July 2018 Books

July-2018

 

The Six Wives of Henry VIII by Antonia Fraser

I watched The Other Boleyn Girl, and realised that beyond what I learnt about Henry VIII and his wives at school, I don’t actually know that much about them. So I used one of my stockpiled Audible credits to download this audiobook. It was a really easy listen, not too dense, and as the title would suggest, it focused on the women in Henry’s life, rather than the man himself. Anne Boleyn is covered in some detail, for obvious reasons – as his second wife and the first to be executed, hers is an interesting story, but it was also nice to read about the women that seem to be less remembered by history.

Freshers by Tom Ellis and Lucy Iveson

I grabbed this in the library, and due to being early for meeting a friend for lunch, and then having a long bus journey home, I managed to finish it in a day, something I don’t tend to do that much any more (more on that later). It’s a fairly straightforward YA story about a group of young people starting university, with our main character, Phoebe, starting her first term already harbouring a crush on a boy from school who has ended up at the same uni. It’s a fairly by-the-books female-male romance, with a group of misfit friends thrown in for good measure, and there’s absolutely zero diversity here – no main characters who are anything other than white, straight, able-bodied etc. But there are just a few threads of feminism woven in, and it’s really readable, with an enjoyable enough ending that didn’t make me roll my eyes. This makes it seem as though I’m damning it with faint praise, but I did enjoy it – evidenced by the fact that I read it so quickly!

Once Upon a Dream by Liz Brasswell

The Disney Twisted Tales were everywhere for a while, so when I was taking advantage of a 3 for £10 offer at the end of last year, I picked the Sleeping Beauty one up to give a read. I finally got around to it recently, and I can’t say that I was overwhelmed! It reimagines the Disney tale as though Aurora didn’t awake at the end of the story, and Maleficent wasn’t vanquished by Prince Phillip. At first I was really enjoying it; the alternate universe that the characters were in really worked, and I was eager to see where it went. But then it got really bogged down and dense, and I just stopped caring; I put it down for weeks before finally picking it up to finish it off, just so I could tick it off. I’m sure that there are interesting stories to be told in this vein, but it doesn’t feel as though they have tried particularly hard, being more concerned with the concept rather than the execution of it.

Invincible Summer by Alice Adams

Another book that I read in a day! I had seen this in a list of ‘best summer reads’, so reserved it at the library, and read it the same day that I picked it up. It’s billed as a great read for anyone who enjoyed One Day, in that it follows a similar structure: we meet this group of friends as they finish their first year at university, and then catch up with them over the next 20 or so summers. It’s not as rigid in its structure as One Day; sometimes we catch up with the gang twice in one year, and sometimes a couple of years pass before we find out what they’re up to. At the heart of the story is Eva, a physics graduate who finds in her friends a family that she lacked growing up. Benedict is a fellow physics student, while Sylvia is an artist, and Lucien, her brother, is not a student but a firm part of the gang. There are romantic entanglements to contend with, and there’s a definite will-they-won’t-they that plays out over the course of the two decades, but there’s much more to it than that, and that’s why I found it so compelling.

Conversations with Friends by Sally Rooney 

This was the final book of my three-book weekend; again, I finished this in one sitting, because I just couldn’t put it down. It’s funny, because there’s not really one character in there who I would describe as likable; they are none of them particularly nice people. The story is told from the point of view of Frances, a young undergraduate who performs poetry with her best friend and ex-girlfriend Bobbi. Their lives collide with those of an older couple, Melissa and Nick, with Bobbi being fascinated by Melissa, and Frances and Nick embarking on an affair. I’m finding it hard to describe what I liked so much about it, especially given that the characters are so unlikeable. They aren’t people that I particularly wanted to spend time with, and yet I raced through the book, eager to get to the end! Maybe it’s simply that it’s especially well-written – I felt as though I was completely immersed in Frances point of view, feeling every bit of physical and emotional pain that she went through.

Books so far in 2018 – 32