Book review: The Loney by Andrew Michael Hurley

The book:

The Loney by Andrew Michael Hurley
Published by John Murray in 2016
Pages: 368

My copy: Secondhand paperback


The blurb:

Two brothers. One mute, the other his lifelong protector.

Year after year, their family visits the same sacred shrine on a desolate strip of coastline known as the Loney, in desperate hope of a cure.

In the long hours of waiting, the boys are left alone. And they cannot resist the causeway revealed with every turn of the treacherous tide, the old house they glimpse at its end . . .

Many years on, Hanny is a grown man no longer in need of his brother’s care.

But then the child’s body is found.

And the Loney always gives up its secrets, in the end.

My thoughts…

A creepy setting, mysterious goings on, a silent boy and some religious fanatics. Good ingredients for a novel! From the very start, the atmosphere is created with descriptions of a violent storm and a dead baby. We are then plunged back 30 years where we find out more about our narrator, nicknamed Tonto, and his older, mute brother Hanny. Desperate for a cure for his muteness, their devout parents take them on an annual pilgrimage to the Loney where they carry out a range of rituals designed to heal their son. Tonto is about 15 or 16 when most of the action takes place, as they travel to the Loney for Easter once again, despite not visiting for several years following the death of their priest…

I found the build up of this novel to be really tense and gripping. It reminded me in some ways of The Wonder by Emma Donoghue, which was also set in a brooding, atmospheric place and featured characters with strong religious views – but also of His Bloody Project by Graeme Macrae Burnett in the way the tension and mystery slowly builds.

I liked learning about all the characters, and I found the way that the narrator behaves towards his older brother to be very sweet and touching, especially in contrast to his mother’s acts of desperation to get him to talk and be ‘normal’. Tonto is more accepting of his brother the way he is, and has learnt to communicate with him, whereas his mother will not rest until God cures him.

There is something sinister about the place they spend their Easter holidays from the very start, and there is a real feeling of creepiness about the setting, that adds to the tension in the novel. There are lots of little hints and clues scattered around the novel, such as a mysterious locked room, the strange locals (you have to have strange locals when a novel is set in a place like this!), and a range of unsettling events taking place around the area. Again, this helped to build up a real sense of tension – but then as the novel reaches it conclusion, I felt that the story just fell a little flat.

This book leaves a lot of elements unexplained – and while I don’t necessarily need everything tied up beautifully at the end of a book, this one perhaps took it a little too far and left a few too many questions and loose ends. There could have been a little less build up and a little more conclusion. There is a lot left unsaid, which is good as it leaves you thinking – but a little more clarity on some of the points might have been nice!

Despite this, I still really enjoyed reading this book and loved the sense of atmosphere it created. There are many parts of the book that will stay with me for a long time, and overall I enjoyed it.

My rating: 7 out of 10

Teaser Tuesday – 16 May 2017

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly meme hosted by the Should Be Reading blog.

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If you fancy joining in, here’s how…
• Grab your current read
• Open to a random page
• Share two teaser sentences from somewhere on that page
• BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS!
• Share the title and author so other TT participants can add the book to their TBR lists if they like your teasers!

I very rarely read non-fiction – probably only two or three books a year, but I’m already on my second of the year (the first was Lion by Saroo Brierley) so maybe I’ll beat my usual total in 2017. My current non-fiction read is Room Full of Mirrors by Charles R Cross, which is an autobiography of Jimi Hendrix. I’m nearly finished with it, and have enjoyed it in the main. The two most interesting elements have been his upbringing, as he had really quite awful parents, and his rapid rise to fame the minute he set foot in London. 

Here are a few sentences taken at random from p111…


“No one on the scene was more impoverished than Jimi, and Fat Jack offered him a job hustling drugs. Jimi resisted that temptation and remained steadfast in his belief that music was to be his only calling in life.”

If you’ve published a teaser today, feel free to link to it here!

Book review: The Comfort of Others by Kay Langdale

The book:

The Comfort of Others by Kay Langdale
Published by Hodder & Stoughton in 2017
Pages: 256

My copy: Library

The blurb:

Minnie and her sister Clara, spinsters both, live in a dilapidated country house in the middle of a housing estate, built when their father sold off the family’s land. Now in their seventies, their days follow a well-established routine: long gone are the garden parties, the tennis lessons and their suffocatingly strict mother. Gone, too, is any mention of what happened when Minnie was sixteen, and the secret the family buried in the grounds of their estate.

Directly opposite them lives Max, an 11-year-old whose life with his mum has changed beyond recognition since her new boyfriend arrived. Cast aside, he takes solace in Minnie’s careful routine, observed through his bedroom window.

Over the course of the summer, both begin to tell their stories: Max through a Dictaphone, Minnie through a diary. As their tales intertwine, ghosts are put to rest and challenges faced, in a story that is as dark as it is uplifting.

My thoughts…

I’m becoming increasingly convinced that the books I tend to love most are those picked up completely on a whim, rather than those I have been dying to read for ages! This is a case in point – grabbed completely randomly in the library, and ended up loving every page of it. The novel tells two stories that are not directly related – other than that the two narrators are neighbours – yet despite the flitting between mainly unrelated tales this works brilliantly.

On one side of the road, living in a small house on an estate with his beautician mum, is Max. He’s enjoying the summer holidays before he starts secondary school – until the boiler repairman turns up and ends up dating his mum. The man, who is nameless throughout most of the novel, is pretty horrendous to Max, but the stoic boy suffers mainly in silence as he can see his mum is happy, but occasionally he pops to the huge manor house over the road to speak with Minnie.

We also hear about Minnie’s past, through a diary she starts writing, and we find out why she and her sister Clara live such quiet and isolated lives in the big house. Her story is terribly sad, and somehow worked perfectly set against Max’s modern day worries. The two voices were very distinctive and again worked perfectly, giving the contrasts between the present day and Minnie’s tragic past. Max’s story, although sad too, still has lighthearted touches, and this helped to lighten the novel and offered a different tone to Minnie’s story.

I loved both our narrators and found myself rooting for them both, and hoped they would form a strong friendship with each other, which slowly starts to develop over the course of the book. This is a short novel, but it is so beautifully written that you feel you really get to know the characters, even the minor ones.

I had never even heard of this author until I picked this book up in the library, but I went straight out and grabbed two other novels by her as soon as I had finished this one. If they are half as good as this I will be a happy reader. This novel was perfect and I absolutely loved it, and was only disappointed when it ended.

My rating: 10 out of 10

The Night Visitor – Lucy Atkins

Cleopatra Loves Books

Psychological Thriller
5*s

A book that captured me from the first page where we meet Olivia Sweetman making her way to address all two hundred guests gathered at The Hunterian Museum, Royal College of Surgeons in London. All those people are amongst the jars of organs to celebrate the publication of historian Olivia Sweetman’s book, Annabel, a study of a Victorian woman who became one of the first surgeons, a woman who also had a sensational personal lifetoo, captured within Annabel in her own words.

After the celebrations the book switches to the run up to the publication of the book, eventually as far back as when Olivia first saw Annabel’s diary in Ileford Manor in Sussex in the hands of Vivian, the housekeeper cum research assistant that Olivia would come to depend on as she juggled her television appearances as a celebratory historian, her marriage to David, busy…

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Book review: Hate List by Jennifer Brown

The book:

Hate List by Jennifer Brown
Originally published in 2009
Pages: 432

My copy: Paperback


The blurb:

5 months ago Valerie Leftman’s boyfriend opened fire on their school cafeteria, killing five students and one teacher before turning the gun on himself. Valerie, who was shot trying to stop him, is initially implicated in the shootings because of the hate list she helped create. The hate list her boyfriend used to pick his targets.

As Valerie integrates back into school, more of an outsider than she ever thought she was before, she is forced to confront her feelings of guilt and loneliness. Exploring the gray area between hero and villain, she navigates the rocky relationships with her family, her former friends, with the memory of the boyfriend she still loves, and with the girl whose life she saved five months ago. As she moves toward graduation and the year anniversary of the shooting, Valerie must come to grips with the tragedy that took place and her role in it all in order to make amends and move on with her life.

My thoughts…

Five months after a fatal school shooting, the girlfriend of the now dead shooter has to return to school and face the music. Will everyone blame her for the shooting? After all, she did write a hate list which included the names of some of Nick’s victims – but she never really wished anyone dead.

I thought this was such an intriguing premise for a book, and I whizzed through the first half. The flashbacks to the day of the shooting were particularly interesting, and there was a lot of tension as you piece together what has happened on that awful day. But although the events are tragic, and we get another dimension by hearing more about the victims via newspaper accounts, the novel makes us really think about other issues such as bullying and its impact on the victims.

Where the book fell down for me was the focus on Valerie, mainly around her recovery from the incident – physically and mentally. I really wanted to find out more about Nick and what made him carry out the shooting. Early in the novel we find out he had a new friend called Julian, a bit of a loser by all accounts, and there are hints that Nick might have been influenced by Julian, and was dabbling in drugs. I would have loved more from Nick’s perspective or more insight into his family life and so on, as the small hints we get suggest he was a kind boyfriend to Valerie with a loving mother – not the typical villain at all. But these themes are never explored and Julian also disappears completely early on in the book, which felt like a really missed opportunity.

Also Valerie’s parents are just utterly horrendous, and seem to blame and – at times – almost despise Valerie for what has happened. I really wanted Valerie or someone else in the book to confront these horrible parents, but it never happened.

I think this book held a lot of promise but it didn’t all quite click for me. The novel felt too long, and by the second half my interest started to wane as all the attention was on Valerie. I wanted more about Nick and what made him tick, and why he finally flipped and carried out the shooting, but sadly this ever came. 

My rating: 6 out of 10

Teaser Tuesday – 9 May 2017

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly meme hosted by the Should Be Reading blog.

download

If you fancy joining in, here’s how…
• Grab your current read
• Open to a random page
• Share two teaser sentences from somewhere on that page
• BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS!
• Share the title and author so other TT participants can add the book to their TBR lists if they like your teasers!

I recently picked up The Loney by Andrew Michael Hurley. I’m about 70 pages in and am gripped – it is creepy and intriguing and I’m thinking I’ll get through it in the next day or two easily! 

The blurb:

Two brothers. One mute, the other his lifelong protector. Year after year, their family visits the same sacred shrine on a desolate strip of coastline known as the Loney, in desperate hope of a cure.

In the long hours of waiting, the boys are left alone. And they cannot resist the causeway revealed with every turn of the treacherous tide, the old house they glimpse at its end . . .

Many years on, Hanny is a grown man no longer in need of his brother’s care. But then the child’s body is found. And the Loney always gives up its secrets, in the end.

And here are a few sentences taken at random from p45…

“He turned up the path to the front door along the miniature boulevard of apple trees that were still winter-naked, their branches speckled with blight like the putrefying windfallen fruit that lay beneath. There was always something rather sad about those trees, I thought. The way they dutifully grew their produce every summer only for it to blacken and fall off uncollected.”

If you’ve published a teaser today, I would love to read it so feel free to link to it here!

Book review: A Quiet Kind of Thunder by Sara Barnard

The book:

A Quiet Kind of Thunder by Sara Barnard
Originally published in 2017 by Macmillan Children’s Books
Pages: 320

My copy: Paperback


The blurb:

Steffi doesn’t talk.
Rhys can’t hear.
They understand each other perfectly.
Love isn’t always a lightning strike. Sometimes it’s the rumbling roll of thunder…

Steffi has been a selective mute for most of her life – she’s been silent for so long that she feels completely invisible. But Rhys, the new boy at school, sees her. He’s deaf, and her knowledge of basic sign language means that she’s assigned to look after him. To Rhys it doesn’t matter that Steffi doesn’t talk and, as they find ways to communicate, Steffi finds that she does have a voice, and that she’s falling in love with the one person who makes her feel brave enough to use it.

My thoughts…

Last year I read Beautiful Broken Things by Sara Barnard, and thoroughly enjoyed it. I was really looking forward to reading this, her new book, but sadly, overall, this book didn’t quite live up to her first for me personally.

Stefi is a selective mute. Rhys is deaf. They are able to communicate with each other using sign language, which works for both of them, and they find themselves forming a strong bond with each other almost immediately. I found the different ways the two found to communicate with each other to be really interesting, and I also felt for Rhys, who had decided to attend a normal sixth form but wasn’t well provided for. Despite this, he’s a strong and determined character. Stefi, meanwhile, battles her own demons, but finds that having someone to communicate with in sign language helps her to regain some confidence.

It was also interesting reading about Rhys and Stefi’s families, and I felt that I could definitely see where Stefi’s parents were coming from when they worried about her so much – even when this worry was sometimes unjustified. 

I sometimes find in young adult novels that diverse characters are shoehorned in, and it can often feel contrived. But I think this book really nails the diversity aspect incredibly well, and what made this work for me was that the characters were a natural part of the story, instead of it being obvious.

However despite the positives, this novel didn’t seem to me to be as complex or interesting as Beautiful Broken Things, and it did feel like a fluffy romance a lot of the time. Beyond the issues faced by the two protagonists, there just wasn’t enough here to keep me interested, and although the book was perfectly nice and easy to read, there really was nothing that made me want to pick it up each time I stopped reading. Rhys and his family are all just a bit too sweet and perfect, and there just didn’t seem to be a meaty enough plot here to keep me going, and it definitely lacked something for me overall.

But there is still enough here for me to think this is a good, worthwhile book with very positive representations of a range of characters. I wish there had been a bit more plot-wise, but I think many readers of young adult novels will still enjoy this. 

My rating: 6.5 out of 10