Book Review : The Animals of Lockwood Manor by Jane Healey

Who doesn’t love a beautiful book?

And they don’t come more beautiful, or indeed unique than The Animals of Lockwood Manor by Jane Healey, published earlier this year by Mantle Books. There was much cover gazing and stroking going on before I even got to the prose. And then you have to tear yourself away from the gorgeous end papers…

But if you can run the gauntlet of the book’s physical beauty, and you are looking for a story with a healthy dose of light and shade, then this book will be just what you are looking for.

The story is set right at the beginning of World War Two, when London is preparing for the worst. In an effort to preserve it’s treasures the National History Museum is moving to the country, to Lockwood Manor to be exact. Over seeing the move is Hetty. Recently promoted to Director of the collection, she is keen to prove her worth. Fastidious to the point of obsession, Hetty is determined that this move will be a success and that she will keep the taxidermy collection safe, whatever circumstances might throw at them.

Having made small mistakes in the past that continue to haunt her, Hetty is determined that, she will make a success of the museum’s wartime home.

But Lockwood Manor is a strange place. It’s owner, Lord Lockwood; the ‘Major’, is a brusque and domineering man. Successful, with more than a streak of ruthlessness, he is used to getting his own way. Also living in the house is his daughter Lucy; beautiful, but fragile following the death of both her mother and grandmother in a recent car accident.

It isn’t long before Hetty finds the museum is under attack. Animals go missing, are damaged and the house seems to emit a general air of threat from it’s very being.

Both Hetty and Lucy have endured difficult childhood’s. Hetty was repeatedly neglected and rejected by her adoptive parents, Lucy’s mother suffered from reoccurring bouts of mental illness and she was often caught in the crossfire of her parents volatile relationships.

Both woman are have been left scarred and seem to be struggling to find their own place in the world . Previously friendless, they are drawn to each other, finding a close connection neither has experienced before.

But can this growing bond overcome the malevolent atmosphere of Lockwood Manor? Is Lord Lockwood merely protective of his grieving daughter, or is his concern motivated by his need to control? And what really lies behind the strange occurrences in the house? Is there a supernatural presence stalking the halls or are it’s secrets bound up in something closer to home but all together darker?

The setting of this novel, right at beginning of World War Two seems a perfect reflection of the uncertainty and fear with the Manor it’s self. The world is changing and those both within and without the Manor are struggling to keep pace.

In the two female characters of Hetty and Lucy we see two woman who both feel they have disappointed by the standards of their age. Neither have married, and both feel themselves judged by the men around them. Both express self doubt, but both ultimately question whether the conventional path society expects them to follow is right for them. These women are complex, and skilfully portrayed as such.

Running through the novel is the feeling of change; the feeling that old norms are beginning to crumble and things that have hidden in plain sight will be revealed.

This novel is truly a thing of beauty, both in style but most importantly in substance. Step into Lockwood Manor. You won’t regret it.

Rachel x

Blog Tour Review: I Am Dust by Louise Beech

It is my absolute pleasure today to be taking my turn reviewing I Am Dust by Louise Beech. Huge thanks go to Louise, Anne Cater and Orenda Books for inviting me along to celebrate this truly unique novel.

The novel spans two time frames, both encompassing the central character Chloe. In the earliest timeframe, Summer 2005, we met Chloe as a teenager. In love with her best friend Jess and involved in the local youth theatre production of Macbeth, she is wrapped up in those heady days of summer.

However when Ryan, Jess’ ‘on/off’ boyfriend suggests dabbling with a Ouija board events take a much darker turn. All three teenagers are talented, all three are looking for bigger and better things, but which one of them has the power to command the game they have begun? And what will the consequences be?

For there are consequences, even if they are not feel until much later.

Fast forward 14 years and Chloe is working as an usher in the iconic Dean Wilson Theatre. She is coasting, unfulfilled both personally and professionally. The scars of her past are emotional and physical. No one, can explain the blackouts she has suffered for years and she hides evidence of longstanding self abuse from her friends and colleagues. Working alone in her room, writing her script she dreams of bigger things, without really daring to reach for them.

Suddenly Chloe‘s world is turned upside when the ailing theatre announces the return of it’s most successful ever show. The musical Dust was the venue’s first performance, frozen forever in cult status. An incredible production made iconic due to the death of it’s leading lady Morgan Miller, murdered in her dressing room during opening week.

The original run of Dust holds many special memories for Chloe, but it’s return is about to bring the past and present together in a spectacular way. The return of a familiar face means that Chloe is forced to face long ignored demons and suppressed memories begin to come to the fore…

I Am Dust is quite simply a book that almost defies classification, It is very much a ghost story, and a breathtaking one at that, but it is so much more.

It is a story which deals with complex relationships. It questions how we define ourselves through the eyes of others and what that means for our personal growth. It considers the lengths people will go to satisfy their desires and how power is a game played with dangerous rules and unforeseen consequences.

The plot and character dynamics of the chosen summer play, Macbeth, are matched by the characters with in the novel. This ‘story within in a story’ sheds new light on the power balance between the three experimenting teenagers. The roles they take on in Macbeth offer insight into their personalities and ultimately clues to their fates.

Ryan is Macbeth; desperate for the power but weaker than he seems. Jess is Lady Macbeth; initially appearing submissive but driven to ruthlessness and regret. Chloe is one of the witches; nameless, overlooked but possessing the ultimate power.

Throughout the novel there is a feeling of duality. Love quickly spills into hate, admiration into envy, life into death, truth into lies. The dual time frames are skilfully and seamlessly woven together to create a feeling of reckless inevitability as history looks destined to repeat it’s self.

If you are looking for a cracking ghost story look no further. But I repeat my assertion that this novel is so much more.

I Am Dust is a book that drives you forward in a mesmerising rush. But stop…take some time to savour what Louise Beech has created here…

Because, believe me, it is special…

Rachel x

And there is more…

For more reviews of this gem of a book, check out the rest of the tour …

Book Review : The Wayward Girls By Amanda Mason

I am pretty sure that in the few short months that I have been blogging I have managed to mention my innate love of ghost stories, at least once or twice!

So when The Wayward Girls by Amanda Mason, due for release on 5th September hit my radar I suspected I was in for a treat.

The Wayward Girls by Amanda Mason

Set in the long hot summer of 1976 this is the story of a family living in a remote farmhouse whose world is turned upside down by strange and quite frankly terrifying happenings. Excited yet ?

Well you should be. Because if like me you like to be just a little bit scared by your reading matter this is one not to be missed…

When the Corvino family move to Iron Sike Farm it is in search of an alternative and simpler life. Cathy, a rather harassed Earth mother and Joe a struggling artist arrive with their five children Dante, Lucia, Bianca, Florian and Antonella in the spring. But by early summer the cracks are starting to show.

Dan and Bee, the elder children resent being ripped away from the city and their friends. Loo is struggling with the new regime of home education and home cooking. Cathy is drowning in housework and child care and Joe’s creative muse has left him.

When Joe disappears, allegedly ‘working away’ the frustration and boredom on all sides of the family reaches fever pitch, suddenly to be replaced by something much darker.

The haunting began quietly once the Corvino family had settled into their new home; the girls heard it first, the knocking inside the walls.

Extract from A Haunting at Iron Sike Farm by Simon Leigh

(Chapter 1 – Now)

Beginning with unexplained noises, missing property and uneasy feelings, events at the farm rapidly lead Cathy to seek outside help. When local press photographer Isobel gets wind of things it isn’t long before the farm becomes the focus of a team of paranormal investigators. Experienced Professor Michael Warren and rookie Simon Leigh are fascinated and excited by the unexplained events, all of which seem to be centred around the two girls Bee and Loo.

As the summer heat intensifies events soon spiral out of control, changing the lives of those involved forever.

The telling of the story divided across two time frames. As well as concentrating on the summer of 1976 we join the grown up Loo. Now Lucy, she has spent the intervening years trying to put the events at the farm behind her. But as her Cathy begins to decline the past returns to haunt both of them. And when Simon’s daughter Nina makes contact, determined to pick up her late father’s investigation, Lucy finds herself back at the farm and is forced to confront a past she hoped was firmly behind her. Will the new teams findings shed further light on what resides at the farm? It are somethings just best left alone?

All the hallmarks of a great ghost story are firmly stamped on this novel. From the moment I picked it up I was drawn in and held in it’s grasp. Right from the start there is an an air of inevitability and urgency, an uneasiness with past events not yet settled.

The structure of alternating time frames is used to create the palpable feeling of tension within the novel. As we move from the past to present and back again, the story seems to builds with a life of it’s own. Each event and revelation slowly adds another layer of anticipation and pulling the reader further in.

The girls Loo and Bee are undoubtedly the focus of the seemingly paranormal activity. They are girls, on the edge of womenhood, who suddenly find themselves the centre of all kinds of attention. Michael is convinced that the girls have attracted a poltergeist, their teenage energy acting a a conduit.

Yet continually the author allows doubt to creep into the narrative. The girls are clearly unhappy. Bee especially is seeking adult attention, and both girls are drawn to the young and attractive Simon, possibly seeking a father figure after Joe’s departure. Simon becomes a source of tension between the two, revealing the strength of feelings of Bee in particular.

And if Bee is at times reckless in her behaviour, she isn’t the only . Caught up in the unreality of the situation there is a feeling that all normal rules and conventions have been forgotten or at least disregarded. It is as if a spell has been cast over the farm, a place where adults are pushing the boundaries as they seek answers, playing a dangerous game and overlooking the risks.

A long unbroken summer is not the traditional weather to accompany an ghost story. There are none of the swirling fogs or crashing storms of other gothic tales. And yet the juxtaposition between light and dark works. The unrelenting almost mythical heat reflects the air of unreality created by events on the farm. It is as if real life is suspended and people have lost touch with reality.

And who is in control? Who can be trusted in this place? Indeed who can we the reader trust in this tale?

Right to the last page the sense of unease continues. As a reader we swing between time frames and view points continually questioning and reassessing. This may sound like a cliche but this one really will keep you on your toes until the very last page.

The Wayward Girls is an accomplished and complex novel, and as a debut it is a stunner. Look out for this one when it is published on 5th September by Zaffre Books.

I can’t wait to see what Amanda Mason does next…